Joris Luyendijk: “Att stå utanför eurosamarbetet var kanske inte en bra idé för Sverige” (English and Swedish)

Written by: Ruben Dieleman (Swedish translation by Anna Lindvall)

Innan bankkrisen bröt ut år 2008 visste den nederländska journalisten och antropologen Joris Luyendijk “ingenting om finanssektorn, förutom att den var väldigt viktig”. Det som hände på börsmarknaden sköttes troligtvis av kvalificerade och kunniga ekonomer – så tänkte han då. Med krisen växte hans nyfikenhet och han bestämde sig för att spendera fem år med banktjänstemännen i London för att försöka begripa finansvärldens alla nyanser och nycker. Resultatet av hans forskning heter ”Simma med hajar”. Boken har blivit översatt till flera språk, sedan den publicerades år 2015. Luyendijk närvarade på Bokmässan i Göteborg för att tala om sin bok och delta i seminarier.

”Jag upptäcker ständigt luckor i min kunskap och försöker sedan utforska dem så mycket som möjligt” – Joris Luyendijk

Efter fem år förstod sig Luyendijk fortfarande inte helt på finansmarknaden. ”Sektorn är helt enkelt för stor för det. Den kräver ett språk som jag fortfarande inte helt kan behärska. När jag började min undersökning visste jag ungefär lika mycket om finanser som vilken människa som helst: ingenting. De flesta nyhetsläsare vill inte erkänna det, men de hoppar över ekonomidelen för att de inte förstår innehållet. Jag brukade också göra det. Mitt antagande att finanssektorn hanterades väl motbevisades under 2008. Konsekvenserna av det som hände då känner vi fortfarande av idag. Men det beteende och besluten som ledde fram till krisen har inte straffats än.”

Enligt Luyendijk borde banktjänstemännen bli kontrollerade på samma sätt som alla andra, på grund av riskerna de har tagit och skadan som de har orsakat världen. Hur de har kunnat komma undan med sina brott övergår hans förstånd. Hans annars lugna och diskreta röst brusar upp och trots att han är trött – ”jag sov knappt i natt” – blir han uppriktigt passionerad och arg när han pratar om misskötseln han upptäckte i London. ”Moralen måste återvända till börsmarknaden.” Luyendijk har inte sett någon förändring sedan kraschen. “Åtgärderna som togs efter krisen var bra, men långt ifrån tillräckliga”.

Nyligen skrev Luyendijk om Brexits potentiella effekter på Europa och på Nederländerna i synnerhet. Han följde utvecklingen med en viss skadeglädje: “Britterna kommer behöva skriva om hundratals lagar de kommande 20 åren. De kommer behöva omdefiniera sin roll i Europa nu, det var det som folket ville. Det kommer bli en smärtsam, svår process för dem. Men det öppnar också upp andra möjligheter, åtminstone för resten av EU. Britterna har alltid varit översittare i Europeiska Unionen. De har blockerat viktiga policybeslut och reformer, de har dessutom alltid drivits av sina egenintressen utan någon större hänsyn till kontinenten. Jag kan bara gratulera att de på eget bevåg går ur unionen nu. För de länder som faktiskt behöver unionen och som har integrerat sig med sina grannländer under flera årtionden, kan detta vara en fördel.”

Samma gäller för Sverige, enligt den bästsäljande nederländska författaren. Men det finns en avigsida. “Sverige har valt att inte sitta vid bordet där alla beslut tas. De har fortfarande sin egen valuta. Att stå utanför eurosamarbetet var kanske inte en bra idé för Sverige. För Nederländerna är det annorlunda. Alltid varit annorlunda, faktiskt. Den holländska valutan var bunden till den tyska D-marken i över ett decennium. För närvarande delar Nederländerna armén, flottan, lagar, förordningar och stora delar av sin ekonomi med Belgien och Tyskland. Från detta perspektiv är risken för en Nexit liten.”

Samtidigt sköljer anti-EU-känslor över kontinenten, av exakt den sorten som gjorde Brexit möjligt och som känns av i både Nederländerna och Sverige. Framtidstron på EU har minskat kraftigt sedan Lissabonfördraget trädde i kraft.  Hur otroligt det än verkar, ska risken för att ännu ett land träder ur EU inte underskattas. Luyendijk kommenterar: ”Så som unionen fungerar just nu är definitivt problematiskt. Om Europas regeringar inte lyckas råda bot på den misskötsel inom EU och missnöje som människor med all rätt känner gentemot unionen, om förändring och rättvisa endast kan uppnås genom att lämna samarbetet, då skulle jag också föredra en sådan utväg. Men jag är inte övertygad om detta än.”

Den oro som märks av i Luyendijks kommentarer ger intrycket av att en apokalyptisk situation är nära. Hur påverkar det författaren själv? ”När jag var korrespondent i Mellanöstern fick jag uppleva många skrämmande situationer. I London kände jag en annan slags skrämmande kyla. Men hoppet, ja, det dör sist”, säger han leende.

ENGLISH:

Joris Luyendijk: “Opting out of the Euro may not have been such a great idea for Sweden”

Before the 2008 banking crisis, Dutch journalist and anthropologist Joris Luyendijk “knew nothing of the financial sector, other than that it was very important”. Whatever happened on the stock market trade floors was probably done by qualified people, or so he thought. When the crisis hit, his curiosity sparked, and he set out to spend 5 years in the City of London among bankers, to try and grasp the world of finance. The product of his research is called ‘Swimming with sharks’, which came out in 2015 and has been printed in several languages. Luyendijk was present on Göteborgs Bokmässa to talk about his book and to provide seminars on various topics.

“I discover holes in my knowledge and subsequently try to find out as much as possible about them.” – Joris Luyendijk

After 5 years, the Dutchman still does not fully understand finance. “The sector is just too big for that. It requires learning a language that I still have not fully mastered. When I started my investigation, I knew as much about it as the average person: nothing. Most newspaper-reading people will not admit it, but they skip the financial segment of the paper because they do not understand. I used to do that as well. My assumption that the financial sector was well taken care of proved wrong in 2008. The consequences of what happened then are still felt today. But the conduct that lies at the foundation of the crisis is yet to be punished properly.”

According to Luyendijk, bankers will have to be disciplined in the same way as anybody else, for the risks that they have taken and the damage they have done to the world. Why bankers keep on getting away with their crimes is beyond him. His voice, calm and low by default, sweeps up, and even though he is tired – “I hardly slept last night” – he becomes genuinely passionate and visibly angry when talking about the malpractices he saw in The City. “Morality has to return to the stock exchange.” Luyendijk has not seen much change since the crash. “The measures that have been taken are good, but far from sufficient.”

Recently, Luyendijk wrote about the impacts the Brexit might have on Europe and the Netherlands in particular. He followed the developments with a certain kind of schadenfreude: “The British will have to rewrite countless laws of the course of the next 20 years. Essentially, they will have to reinvent themselves because the people willed it. That will be a painful, difficult process for them. But it opens up some opportunities, for the rest of the EU at least: The Brits have always been the bullies of the European Union. They have blocked crucial policies and reforms, and they have always pursued their own interest without any consideration for the continent. I can only applaud that they step out of the union by themselves now. For countries that need the union and that have de facto been weaved into their neighbouring countries for decades, it can be beneficial.”

The same goes for Sweden, according to the bestselling Dutch author. But there is a downside. “Sweden has chosen not to sit at the table where all the decisions are made. They still have their own currency. Opting out of the Euro may not have been such a great idea for Sweden. For the Netherlands, where I come from, this is different. Always been actually. The guilder was bound to the Deutsche Mark for more than a century. Currently, the Netherlands shares its army and navy, laws, permits and economy with Belgium and Germany. From this point of view, the likelihood of a Nexit seems small.”

Meanwhile, however, an anti-EU sentiment is sweeping the continent. Exactly the kind that made the Brexit possible, and is looming over both the Netherlands and Sweden. The belief in a future for the union has decreased significantly since the inception of the Treaty of Lisbon. As insensible an idea it may seem, the chance of another exit should not be underestimated. Luyendijk agrees: “The way the union currently function is absolutely problematic. And if the governmental bodies fail to react to the legitimate discontent and mismanagements within the union, if change and justice can only be reached by ways of a departure, then I myself would prefer an exit, too. I am still not convinced of this, however.”

The urgency that Luyendijk puts in his words and work, gives one the impression that apocalyptic scenarios are at hand. How does it affect the author himself? “When I was stationed in the Middle East as a correspondent, I saw many daunting scenes. In London, I experienced another kind of disheartening prospect. But hope, well, hope dies last”, he smirks.

 

I samhällets tjänst

Frivilligorganisationer och civilsamhället har under hösten tagit ett stort ansvar för att möta och hjälpa flyktingar i Sverige. På flera håll i landet har man sett nybildade initiativ som har samordnat resor, mat och boende för människor som har kommit hit. Många kände att kommuner, Migrationsverket och lokala myndigheter inte var på plats i den utsträckning de efterfrågades och att det fanns ett behov av frivilliginsatser för att hjälpa dem som kom till Sverige. Men hur ser aktivisterna som arrangerade dessa insatser själva på sitt arbete, och hur ser de på myndigheternas ansvar i detta? Utblick har intervjuat volontärer från olika delar av Sverige för att ta reda på detta. Vissa av de som Utblick har haft kontakt med har varit engagerade i Refugees Welcome, andra har hjälpt ABF med boendesamordning, och vissa har agerat mellanhänder mellan alla olika initiativ. Men oavsett var i landet och vilken organisation man har jobbat med så har många erfarenheter varit desamma.

Av de volontärer som Utblick har pratat med har de flesta tecknat samma bild. Oavsett om man har tolkat, varit samordnare, letat boende eller stått vakt har erfarenheterna runtom i landet visat på många likheter. Många aktivister vittnar om en stor arbetsbörda och en känsla av att det inte finns något annat val än att hjälpa till. Tydligast är att alla enhälligt säger att myndigheterna borde ha tagit, och fortfarande borde ta, ett större ansvar för de som kommer till Sverige. Klara Schalling i Umeå säger:

Självklart borde myndigheterna tagit en större roll! Kommunens beredskap har varit otroligt dålig och Migrationsverket har visat en oerhörd brist på flexibilitet. Det är helt oacceptabelt att frivilligorganisationer ska ta på sig ansvaret för att ta emot asylsökande, men eftersom myndigheterna har lyst med sin frånvaro har det inte funnits något alternativ.

Flyktingar från Syrien anländer med tåg via Danmark och Malmö i september 2015.
Flyktingar från Syrien anländer med tåg via Danmark och Malmö i september 2015. Foto: Frankie Fouganthin

Man har vänt sig mot att Migrationsverket på flera orter inte har serverat mat efter klockan 18 på kvällen och mot att flera har tvingats sova på golv eller utomhus. Många har även varit frustrerade över att det har känts som att myndigheterna inte har varit intresserade av att samarbeta med frivilligorganisationerna, något som man menar att myndigheterna borde tagit större ansvar för. Det har även framhållits från vissa delar av landet att Migrationsverket och kommunen varit långsamma med att kommunicera sinsemellan och ”skyllt på varandra”, vilket har lett till organisatoriska problem. Samtidigt uttrycker flera en förståelse för att myndigheter inte kunnat vara lika flexibla som frivilliginitiativen:

Vi frivilligorganisationer är givetvis snabbare på att reagera eftersom vi inte har samma byråkratiska process, säger Mathias från Göteborg.

De initiativ som har startats under hösten har dock inte agerat helt själva. Organisationer och initiativ som på olika sätt jobbar med flyktinghjälp fanns även innan höstens stora flyktingvåg, och ökningen i antalet volontärer och initiativ har inneburit ett allt större behov av samordning och samarbete mellan grupperna. Förutom myndigheter har organisationer som moskéer, kyrkor, Röda Korset, ABF och fackföreningen SAC nämnts som samarbetspartners, och flera framhåller att samordningen inte hade gått om inte flera krafter varit samlade.

Något som även har kommit upp har varit den centrala roll som sociala medier har spelat.  Man har startat grupper och sidor som har uppdaterat med vilka saker som behövs och vart nya volontärer ska ringa. Det är också via sociala medier som man har letat boende och samlat in pengar till biljetter för att människor ska kunna ta sig vidare, vilket visar hur viktigt verktyget har varit för aktivisterna. Sara Varghaei från Stockholm berättar:

Det var ett visst antal grupper som gick samman och försökte styra upp flyktinghjälpen, som helt bestod av volontärer som anslöt sig efter att ha sett att det behövdes volontärer genom framförallt Facebook.

Dock menar många att framtidsutsikterna för verksamheterna som aktivisterna har varit engagerade i inte ser ljusa ut. Man behöver ofta omstrukturera verksamheterna, och flera nämner att frivilliga bränner ut sig. Aktivisten Agnes Stuber i Stockholm berättar att verksamheten som hon har engagerat sig i flera gånger pratat om att lägga ner, och att de har ändrat på hur de jobbar nästan dagligen för att anpassa sig till nya omständigheter:

Vi har pratat mycket om att lägga ner verksamheten på grund av att folk till slut inte orkar, det är ju ett heldygnsjobb varje dag att samordna allt. Till en början jobbade vi dygnet runt, men det är givetvis ohållbart. Nu har vi minimerat tiden för att minska stressen och avsagt oss några ansvarsområden, säger Agnes.

Detta sätter fingret på den stora kritiken mot att organisera hjälp genom frivilligarbete; frivilliga och hjälporganisationer är beroende av donationer och ett ständigt tillflöde av människor för att fungera. Vid en avmattning av intresse från allmänheten försvinner ekonomiska bidrag och volontärer, och med dessa försvinner även mycket av de möjligheter som man har haft. Det man vinner i flexibilitet och effektivitet verkar man förlora i långsiktiga möjligheter. Den enda som under intervjun såg en tydlig långsiktig möjlighet för verksamheten var Klara Schalling i Umeå:

Just nu pågår planering och arbete för hur vi kan jobba långsiktigt och med bredare saker som till exempel språkundervisning och läxläsning. Vi tittar också på hur vi kan samarbeta med de organisationer som redan gör detta och tillföra vår kompetens, säger hon.

När vintern nu kommer blir frågan om boende och värme alltmer aktuell och frågan är om myndigheterna kommer att kunna lösa detta utan frivilliginsatser. Aktivisterna har dock varit tydliga i vad de anser: myndigheterna måste ta mer ansvar för de människor som kommer och kunna garantera boende och skäliga levnadsvillkor. Men även om relationen mellan myndigheter och hjälporganisationer har varit frostig, är många av de som Utblick har pratat med öppna för att utveckla samarbeten med exempelvis kommunen för att gemensamt hjälpa dem som kommer till Sverige.

At the Frontiers of Europe

In early May, five members of The Society of International Affairs participated in a project in Palermo, Italy about how civil society can work against organized crime. Sicily is famous for its mafia, yet the understanding of most people abroad is limited to gangster movies and the mafia wars in the 1980s and 1990s. This project was essentially about understanding, on a deeper level, how the strong influence of the mafia affects the everyday lives of people. There were participants from seven different countries, therefor discussing how challenges are similar or differ in different countries was also an important part of the project.

Adam Josefsson was one of the Swedish participants. He sat down with, and interviewed Nicola Teresi from the organization “Libera”. Nicola works in Sicily and Lampedusa with researching and informing about how international trafficking of humans is organized. Although migration wasn’t the main topic of the project in Palermo, it has a clear connection to international organized crime. Understanding this issue is of especially big importance at the moment, because Europe is currently receiving a big wave of refugees, and how the situation should be dealt with is one of the most important policy debates within the EU. Sicily is at the southern frontier of the EU, and so it is one of the places within the EU where the various dimensions of the issue are most noticeable.

[toggle title=”FACTS”] Libera. Associations, names and numbers against the mafias is an Italian association founded in 1995. It followed popular uprising against the mafia. Libera’s aim is to educate how organized crime affects society, and to promote a civic culture that is based on respect for other people. Libera is an umbrella association for the anti-mafia movement, with around 1500 local groups tied to it, including both civil society groups and, for example schools. Libera plays an important role in facilitating the reallocation of confiscated mafia lands to civil society, and Libera sells agricultural products farmed by these cooperatives. There are proven connections between international migration and organized crime, so Libera also works with researching this issue.[/toggle]

What is your relationship to the theme of migration?
Libera is interested in human trafficking. We focus on organized crime and so we have learnt that on the international level there are big and small criminal groups who speculate on the lives of people. So I’m working with research, education and the creation of a culture surrounding the theme of immigration, in which the Italian people can understand what’s happening abroad. We consider all the dead on the Mediterranean, victims of international organized crime.

Which are these criminal groups and what are the links between them?
There are a lot of groups. We can picture a network of international traffic that starts in the home countries of migrants. These are primarily countries in Central sub-Saharan Africa, and on the Horn of Africa. There are also countries in Asia from which people escape from wars and persecution. It’s clear that there are persons already in the home countries who profit from the needs of refugees. They get paid to organize these very long journeys, going through many transit countries. The final destination in Africa is usually Libya, which is the country from which people depart from to Lampedusa in Italy.

These criminal groups are often small and very flexible, and they profit from holding the migrants as slaves. They control their movement and make them call their families and ask for money. If they don’t do this, traffickers can get violent and torture them, and eventually their families are forced to sell practically everything they have to send money and liberate their children. When arriving at the coast of Libya there are criminal groups who control fishing boats that can take migrants to Italian waters. We’ve discovered that these groups are sometimes in contact with European criminal groups, who will then enable migrants to get to other European countries. The refugees often want to go to places where they have friends, relatives and working opportunities, and a refugee reception system that works. The majority of people who arrive in Italy don’t want to stay here. In 2014, around 170 000 migrants arrived in Italy, of which around 100 000 disappeared. We don’t know exactly where they’ve gone, but surely they’ve received help to leave Italy by these criminal groups.

How does the Italian reception system work and what sort of help do the refugees get? Is it true that Italy doesn’t register migrants, as is required according to the Dublin Accord?
In general, the Italian reception system works poorly. We only have a limited number of places in the system, which doesn’t cover the total number of refugees who come here. It’s a precarious system that lacks capacity, and foremost it has been shown in legal investigations that the big cooperatives that own the reception centres benefit from the long time that the refugees have to stay there. This is another form of speculation on the lives of the refugees, and we see a slow processing of asylum applications. What this means in practice is that the more refugees you can fit in one centre, the more money you can earn from it. For example looking at Rome, we can see that criminal groups control the cooperatives running the centres with connections to politicians and businessmen. They receive thousands of refugees, without giving them proper services, which means that they can make big profits. It’s a similar situation in all of Italy, even though the picture sometimes looks different.

There are associations and cooperatives helping immigrants in a great way, but the point is that these are small actors. So the general picture that emerges from the research on this is that the system doesn’t work very well, and in addition to this there are the problems connected to European politics. The Dublin Accord says that the first European country that migrants arrive to must register them, and then they must apply for asylum in that country. So in this case it means that they’ll have to stay in Italy. This system is rather badly constructed and dangerous. It doesn’t allow for a redistribution of immigrants in the whole of Europe, a redistribution that would guarantee solidarity and sustainability of the European reception system. This system constrains the immigrants so that they’ll have to remain in Italy even though most of them don’t want to, and in any case the Italian reception system doesn’t have the capacity to receive all of them. It’s believed that in some cases immigrants aren’t identified, with the officials choosing to turn a blind eye and let them go to other countries. This happens because Italy has a reception system that works poorly.

Which are the immigrants that choose to stay in Sicily and what sort of life awaits them here?
Today Sicily is providing refuge to around 15 000 immigrants, living in many different centres dispersed throughout the island. In general, their lives are characterized by waiting and problems. They have to wait out the long bureaucratic process to apply for a visa or the right to asylum. These people are heaped together in the centres without the opportunities to do anything. Often they receive some teaching of Italian, however from what I know it’s rare that these people have any opportunities to work, since having the residence permit is a requirement to be hired. They are in great need to work to provide for themselves and to send money to their families, but since they aren’t allowed to they have to make do; they can try to get by through illegal means. We know for a fact that in the centre in Mineo close to Catania, there is a system of using the immigrants as workforce for very low wages. In the morning people are being recruited, sometimes by mafia members, who in turn have deals with farmers who want to reduce their costs so they also turn a blind eye and pay the people who work all day very little. This phenomenon is a form of slavery, which exists in all regions of Italy.

Anyone who has ever eaten a vegetable or fruit in Italy has surely eaten something that was produced with slave labour. This is a problem that regards the whole of Italy, and which is related to organized crime.

Is this something that is talked about in the public debate?
Not much. There have been some important journalistic investigations. There is information about this in newspapers, but it’s really not given much attention. And on television, they really don’t talk much about this. And the reason is that Italy and Europe has a need for slave labour. We turn a blind eye and benefit from this system to fill our tables.

What opinions do people in Italy have of immigrants in general?
The consequence of the misinformation spread by the media, especially in the times of economical crisis, is that there is a war between different groups of poor people. Also in Italy we have now started to witness a cavalcade from political parties on the extreme right. What do I mean by calling it a war among the poor? On television, they always show pictures displaying a form of fake emergency. It’s portrayed as an invasion of immigrants, which really isn’t the case. Furthermore, they say that these people are welcomed by the state and given much help and money. In reality it isn’t like this. The Italian reception system entitles each immigrant 30 Euros per day, but this money never reaches the actual person. It’s common that the immigrants don’t get more than 2,50 Euro per day. All the money goes to the businesses and cooperatives that run the Italian reception system. However, people in Italy don’t know about this, so there is a growing sentiment that Italians are competing with the immigrants who arrive at our coasts. The primary reason for this is the influence of the media who manipulates news stories. It’s also the fault of politicians who spread hate and racism, and who use this information to legitimize their own bitterness towards people fleeing to Italy.

Do we see the same situation in Sicily as in Italy overall?
From my point of view, there is a difference on the cultural level. This is because the racist party of Italy, namely the Northern League, was born in Northern regions. So as a cultural phenomenon, racism is stronger in the North. But it’s clear that this sentiment exists throughout the whole country, and with more and more people coming here, people are led to believe that we’re being invaded. People believe that it’s not right to give immigrants a place to stay, when at the same time ten million Italians are living in relative poverty.

Are the Italian regions taking an equal responsibility to deal with the situation?
No, this isn’t the case, because this depends on the number of immigrants that they accept. Sicily is the region that receives the most, around 15 000 last year, while the figures for most regions are much lower. And in the few regions where the Northern League is in power, they are starting to fight against receiving more people.

How is the situation on Lampedusa today?
Right now the centre on Lampedusa is full of immigrants. The centre on Lampedusa was previously in a state of collapse, because it had to receive too many people. This centre assists in the rescuing of people, and it’s a sort of hospital where people can make a stop to rest. Immediately after this stop, they are transferred, because the law says that they have to be within 72 hours. Sometimes the system works exactly like this, but when too many people come at the same time, they have to stay there longer. Even though it’s not a good place for them to be. In any case, the population of the island of Lampedusa is very welcoming. It’s a population that lives by the law of the sea, and they know that people in difficult situations need help. However the people of Lampedusa hate the journalists who write false or mistaken stories, in which they write that migrants have invaded Lampedusa. Firstly, this isn’t true. Secondly, it hurts the tourism of the island. It creates an image to the rest of the world that immigrants have invaded Lampedusa when this is really not the case.

Finally, following the European debate on migration policy, do you see any hope for a solution for these problems?
The hope is my personal, because I’m an optimistic person. Perhaps the historical phenomenon of migration can help Europe make sense of the current situation. What’s the kind of Europe we want?

Do we want a Fortress Europe, which closes its borders, and militarizes, which is what’s happening now, or do we want a Europe for the people, based on rights, which was the original idea of the European Union?

This is a choice that needs to be made, and it’s a really important one. The number seeking shelter here is a number that the EU can absolutely accommodate. What’s needed to do this is just to create a system based on shared burdens, with quotas for each country.

Today, I read in the newspapers that maybe they’re setting up a common European system on quotas. But at the same time the EU is planning to bombard the migrant boats, and to do international police operations in Libya. In reality these are measures that are absolutely the wrong ones, for many motives. Firstly, an international operation without Libyan consent is an act of war. Secondly, the person who drives a boat to Lampedusa, is hardly ever a human trafficker, but instead just a poor person who in exchange for money is assigned to this job. And even in the cases where the smuggler is the real organizer, it doesn’t improve the situation much to arrest him because it doesn’t stop the phenomenon of slavery and exploitation in the home and transit countries. Arresting individual traffickers can never stop the smuggling. It’s only granting people rights that can do this. So there are political possibilities to help the migrants, and to return to a Europe that safeguards the rights of everyone. I hope that this is the path that we’ll choose, instead of the military solution.

Continue reading At the Frontiers of Europe

Interview with Cosmopolitan Associate Professor Eyassu Gayim – “Out of the Ordinary”

Q A Online May 28Q: First of all, I would like to thank you for responding to this interview. Let me start with the course on globalization which you gave us last February. This is an important course since very few students realize the broader implications of the currents of economic globalization or that we live in a globalized world. As I told you earlier, taking that course and interacting with all those interesting students from different parts of the world has been one of the most rewarding experiences. Is this the field of you expertise?

A: You are right: this is an important subject which is not widely known. Your class was indeed dynamic. That kind of atmosphere motivates students and teachers alike. By academic training, I am an international jurist. Most of the courses which I give here, at the University of Gothenburg, deal with human rights. However, I also lecture on globalization, conflict and other topics when the need arises. In fact, before coming to Gothenburg I was mostly giving courses related to conflict.

Q: Where did you lecture before moving to Gothenburg?

A: At the political science department of San Diego State University. I was also lecturing in other places in and around San Diego, e.g., at the University of California in Saint Marcos (UCSM) and the University California in Los Angeles (UCLA).

Q: Was it easy for an African American to relocate from sunny Southern California to Gothenburg which has a long, dark and cold winter? I thought the trend was to migrate the other way around. Personally, I prefer warmer climates!

A: I was already vaccinated for the Nordic winter. Before taking the US citizenship I was already a Swedish citizen, and well accustomed to the weather, culture, language and lifestyle of the East Coast: Stockholm and Uppsala. I have even lived in the Arctic.

Q: Where in the Arctic was that, and what did you do there?

A: That was in Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland. I was working for the University of Lapland in the 1990s. It was an interesting experience to see sunshine day and ‘night’ during the summer and near total darkness during parts of the winter months to say nothing about the freezing temperatures (often around -30 degrees C). All in all I worked in Finland for about a decade, but mostly at the University of Helsinki.

Q: Where did you get your academic credentials from?

A: My Docent titles are from the University of Lapland and the University of Helsinki. I received the degrees of Juris Doctor from Uppsala University (Sweden), Juris Licentiate from the University of Oslo (Norway) and Bachelor of Law from Ethiopia. My Human Rights Diploma is from the Strasbourg Institute of Human Rights (France).

Q: Is Ethiopia your country of origin?

A: Since I was born and raised in Addis Ababa (the capital of Ethiopia), that was how I viewed myself when I was there. However, because my parents settled in Ethiopia from Eritrea, and the two were joined by the United Nations only after I was born, I suppose one can question whether I was Ethiopian at birth, strictly legally speaking. This, in part, explains why those who were born in Eritrea were later expelled from Ethiopia when Eritrea became independent and the two states clashed over a border dispute.

Q: When did you leave Ethiopia and why?

A: That was during the bitter struggle of the Eritrean liberation fronts for independence. At the time, it was unsafe for people with Eritrean background to live in Ethiopia. The more the Eritrean fronts were gaining strength, the more Eritreans inside Ethiopia were persecuted. When most of my Eritrean friends were either killed or imprisoned, I chose to leave. Fifteen years later, Eritrea gained its independence.

Q: Was it easy to do that and start a new life in a different country?

A: Walking from one of the villages in the center of the Eritrean countryside to the Sudanese border was not easy, not so much because it took more than a week, but because there were three highly organized armies confronting each other, often exchanging fire. Fortunately, there was a local guide who knew the safer routes. Again, Eritrea being a war zone where a state of emergency was in place, it was even risky to take the initial flight from Addis Ababa to Asmara (the Eritrean capital), to cross the military check point in Asmara or spend weeks in the Eritrean countryside before the long walk. The challenge of getting used to the Sahara desert climate of the Sudan and its Arabic language and culture was not easy. Having a Christian background is not a merit. Adjusting in Sweden was much easier since religious background did not matter, and it was possible to manage in English, at least until one learns Swedish. But the challenges of getting used to the new language, culture and the long, dark and cold winter remained.

Q: Where is the place you call “home”? USA? Sweden? Finland? Ethiopia? Eritrea? Do you maintain your connection with all of them? Have all this experiences changed you?

A: Since I work and live in Gothenburg, this is my real home and I am Gothenberger. Los Angeles is also my distance home, not because I know that region, but because that is where my family and the closest friends and relatives live. I can return back there without any need to get living or working permit. I even have an American family and our relation goes back to my high school time when I lived with them. I have kept my connection with Helsinki by giving courses every year. That gives me the opportunity of meeting good old friends and strolling around the city as I used to do.

I have not been to Ethiopia or Eritrea for a long time. When I visited Addis Ababa and Asmara last in 1995 the common question which I was getting was “when are you going to end your exile life?’. They have difficulties in imagining how it is possible to lead a normal life outside your traditional home country for decades or to develop cosmopolitan personality without abandoning the original ethnicity. That happens only if one has left the original home as a child or very young. I have not lost my ethnicity, i.e., being Habesha, as the highlanders of Ethiopia and Eritrea are called and now and then use Amharic and Tigrigna (the official languages of both states). To be enriched by several cultures and languages is very much like having several different distinct lives.

Q: Is it easy to develop the kind of academic career you are pursuing in times like these, when globalization is the defining feature of societies?

A: It has become easier than ever before, if one is ready to exploit the available opportunities. EU members have removed the visa requirements and exchange programs are now widespread and firmly rooted. It is even possible to get scholarships or student loans to pursue studies abroad. With easy mobility and academic exposure comes self confidence and career building. I did not plan to be the person I now am. I benefited from the exposures and capitalized on the opportunities that came along. When I was a student in Uppsala, I had to make extra efforts to follow courses at different academic institutions in France, the Netherlands, Norway, Greece, etc. The scholarship which I received in one of these institutions made it easier to get another one elsewhere and so on. When I was working for Finnish universities, I was also spending several months yearly at different American universities to conduct my post-doctoral studies, often without grants. That exposure later helped me to be accepted as a teacher at San Diego State University and that too led to my present position. Needless to say, all this was not a smooth ride.

Q: Are exposures and hard work guarantees for achieving professional success, even when you live outside the country of your origin? What about all the many other obstacles that are encountered on the way?

A: It is impossible to succeed without hard work. Exposure provides the forum for acquiring broader knowledge, and that is necessary for practical experience. Yes, there are people who have satisfied all these and that have not achieved their goals. If the reality surrounding us was that simple or just, half of the professors or CEOs in Sweden would be women. Life is a constant struggle with hurdles all over, whether you live in your own country or abroad. Success comes faster for some, but not for others. I just feel that it pays to work hard, aim higher while lowering expectations, be positive, focused and persevere and wait for the right opportunities to come. If it does not, well life goes on and should be enjoyed. Optimism stimulates higher visions and motivates to go forward. Pessimism is the mother of hopelessness. It ruins the day and destroys self-confidence.

Q: Your background is obviously “out of the ordinary”. Are you aware of this?

A: I have heard it. When I was pursuing my post-doctoral studies in California in the 1990s some of the American professors used to tell me how intrigued they were by my background. That was because they have never met a person of African origin who was working as an associate professor in Finland. The impression which they had about Finland, at the time, was that it was a closed society to foreigners. A few years back one American colleague in San Diego also asked me if I mind being contacted by one of the directors of the American TV talk shows – such as the Oprah Winfrey Show. He was planning to initiate contact after asking my permission. As you probably know, the American TV consumer is fascinated by intriguing personal stories. I doubt mine is that unusual. Of course, it is always possible to find people who would smile or pity me when they hear about the cycle of my long wandering life. I am referring to some of the extremes in the cycle which I told you about: i.e, the assent from a high school student life in the Minnesota to that of a well to do attorney in Ethiopia, before plummeting down to the status of a vulnerable refugee in one of the hottest regions of Africa and to rise up to the senior researcher status (‘legal scientist’) in Arctic city of Finland before being accepted as a faculty member in the second largest university in California (SDSU) and in one of the most pleasant cities to live in the United States. I hesitated to accept your request for this interview at first because I am not sure if this kind of personal exposure helps to build career. This is, in fact, the first time that I have ever given personal interview.

Thanks. Professor Gayim

You are most welcome, Vlad

Text: Vlad Costea

Inga-Britt Ahlenius: an Unabashed Voice in Global Politics

On Thursday the 16th of May, Inga-Britt Ahlenius is coming to the Society of International Affairs and this calls for a quick overview of her life and work. What were the highlights of her career, and what was the specific content of her criticisms of UN’s Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon which have become so famous in the international community?

Born in Karlstad in 1939 and graduated from the Stockholm School of Economics as one of the few female students in her year, Ahlenius embarked upon a career in which she would persistently come to challenge established power structures. In Sweden, as head of the office that audits the activities of the government, she was the catalyst for the process which made her office independent from the government’s authority. Also, in the late 90’s, she was part of the investigating team that exposed fraud and corruption in the European Commission, which ended in the resignation of the entire Santer Commission. After subsequently having served as Auditor General of the UN administration in Kosovo, she took office in 2005 as Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, the third-highest ranking position in the UN.

At the end of her five-year non-renewable term as Under-Secretary-General, Ahlenius wrote an end-of-assignment report which contained a blistering critique on the leadership of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. One of the focal points of her argument relate to Ban’s allegedly weak performance in the area of transparency and accountability. According to Ahlenius, Ban decided to focus on launching investigations into the leaking of internal documents instead of making these documents available to the public as stipulated by the UN Transparency Resolution. She also states that Ban’s failure to enact an Accountability Framework has created a perception in the UN that ”senior staff can act with impunity”.

Another key allegation in the report is that Ban has strived to control the Office for Internal Oversight Services even though it was instituted as an operationally independent entity. Ahlenius utters special frustration over Ban’s refusal to recognize the Office’s authority to appoint its own staff, and his insistence on a bureaucratic selection procedure for applicants. The report states that as a result of this, vacancies for key positions remained unfilled for long periods of time despite the existence of readily available and highly qualified candidates. Ahlenius also addresses Ban’s inaction in carrying out necessary reforms and describes his style as “one of command and control”. She concludes that Ban’s mismanagement has meant the decay of the Secretariat which has trickled down to the organization as a whole: “We seem to be seen less and less as a relevant partner in the resolution of world problems.”

Back in Sweden, Ahlenius has continued the debate on the performance of the Secretary-General in her book Mr Chance, written in cooperation with Swedish journalist Niklas Ekdal. Be sure not to miss the chance to hear Inga-Britt Ahlenius speak first-hand about her experiences at the UN and her visions for the future of the organization! Thursday May 16th, 16:15-18:00 in Malmstensalen, Handelshögskolan.

Inga-Britt

Text: Margit de Boer

Intervju med Michael Alexander, numera vapenvägrare

Michael Alexander ville göra militärtjänst. Trots att han bott i USA hade han alltid känt sig som en israel. Med judisk mor fick han israeliskt medborgarskap, och snart fick han vakta israeliska bosättningar.

Hur kändes det att göra militärtjänst i Israel?
– Att göra den allmänna värnplikten är en del av att vara israel, det är då du ”blir en man”. Men snart började jag fundera, jag passade inte in. Allt jag hade lärt mig om moral förändrades, varför stod jag och vaktade bosättningar? Jag kände mig som Darth Vader från Star Wars med min uniform och mina stora vapen. ”Maybe you can kill a terrorist, but still it will be fire” var den enda mening som gick runt i mitt huvud.

Så vad hände?
– Min mor lärde mig att göra moraliska val. ”Även om alla går åt ett håll, om du tycker att det andra hållet är det rätta – gå dit!”. Så jag gick dit. Jag vägrade att vakta ockuperade territorier och förflyttades, men hamnade efter en tid återigen på ockuperat område. Elva månader om året demonstrerade jag mot bosättningarna. Jag träffade fredsaktivister i Gaza, jag studerade med araber och åt lunch med Arafat. Det fanns folk att prata med på andra sidan också. Som var glada och skakade hand. Och en månad om året vaktade jag bosättningarna…  De sa till mig, ”vi förstår att du inte vill vakta ockuperat område på grund av skuldkänslor, men lämna bara politiken hemma 30 dagar om året”. Det var som att höra ”glöm bara vem du är 30 dagar om året”. Skulle du kunna göra det? Inte jag, istället valde jag att vägra, jag valde att sitta i fängelse.

Vad blir konsekvenserna av att vägra militärtjänst?
– Staten tvingar dig trots att du vill lägga av. De hittar nya uppgifter till dig, något som du ska kunna tro på och sedan med små steg tar de dig närmare till det som de vill ha dig till. De fortsätter att kalla in dig och fråga fast du sagt ifrån. Till och med efter att jag kommit ut från fängelset inkallades jag. Det är fruktansvärt svårt att lämna militären…

”Endast när vi håller ihop kan vi vara säkra” lyder israelisk media och militärens budskap. Det tog Michael 20 år att inse att han inte behöver vara en del av det. Han har ändrat hur han ser på sig själv och ångrar att han inte vägrade militärtjänst tidigare.

– Jag har utnyttjats av staten och önskar att fler personer vägrar försvara ockuperat område.

Text: Lina Alsterlund

Don’t miss the lunch lecture this friday!

Lunch Lecture: Breaking The Silence – Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies From The Occupied Territories

What? Lunch lecture
When? Friday, April 19 12:30-14:00
Where? Hörsal Sappören, Sprängkullsgatan 25

Breaking the Silence, formed in Jerusalem in 2004, is an organization aiming at revealing the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories, with the help of testimonies from soldiers who have served in the Israeli military.

Dana Golan, 29, from Herut, Israel, joined the IDF in 2001. She has served as an officer in the Education Corps, at the Hebron Boarder Police Base, and at the Military Prison in Zrifin, until her release from the army in 2004. Dana served as the Executive Director of Breaking the Silence 2009 – 2013. Dana will tell us about the organization, and the book with the same name which was released in Sweden this year.

Interview with Cecilia Malmström

Cecilia_Malmström_2011When I start off the interview by asking the Swedish commissioner to the EU Cecilia Malmström to describe her work in a few words, she smiles, gives a short laugh, and answers:

– I’m primarily responsible for two questions: Migration and asylum, and crime fighting.

Malmström gave a lecture hosted by the UF on March 4th in front of a big audience. Considering the high interest in her lecture, I ask her why she thinks that the European politics she works with is something that concerns us.

– Just seeing beggars in the street shows us complicated networks of trafficking. That’s an issue that is difficult to solve as a country, since it’s something that goes across the borders.

How does it feel to be responsible for such big issues?

– In a way it’s very grateful to work with, since the countries realize that we need to work together. It easily becomes emotional (like trafficking) and in that way personal. Sometimes you feel helpless when you realize you can´t help everybody, but in general it feels like we are making a difference.

When Cecilia doesn’t want to answer the question about how the job as a commissioner and the responsibility for these issues is changing her as a person, I realize that she is the politician and that I am the reporter from the magazine Utblick. Maybe the silent pause she makes in combination with the expression in her face is more interesting than a simple answer could have been? She certainly looks uncomfortable with the question.

I continue with the more comfortable question about the biggest difficulties in your work:

– The biggest problem is the xenophobia. But it changes over time. Today it’s no longer a taboo in the governments and countries to talk about trafficking. And the countries are more involved now than before. I actually succeeded in making a suggestion into law in 8 months, which is considered fast in the EU!

And what about the future?

– The crime side of our work shows a lot of organized crimes over the borders. So we want the police in different countries to work more together. Today the police in the different countries don’t trust each other.

As for migration, we want an EU where people feel welcome. An open Europe, which is easier to come to.

Cecilia’s secretary picks some candy from her bag. I see how the high heels she is wearing are untied and for a moment she gets comfortable in the seat like I would do in the couch in front of the TV.

Regardless of my opinions about Cecilia or the work that the EU does in general, there was one thing she said repeatedly that really made an impression on me.

– We need to remember that we’re talking about human beings.

Interview by: Lina Alsterlund

Photo Interview with Julio César Soler Baró

For more than half a century, the Caribbean island of Cuba has been run as a socialist republic by the Castro brothers. Julio César Soler Baró, a Cuban in exile, sat down with Utblick to share his thoughts on Cuba`s political future and grant insight into his political activism. Soler Baró is engaged as writer, artist, actor, editor, dishwasher and intellectual. Further, he has earned several degrees at the University of Gothenburg in the fields of social anthropology, religious studies and global studies/African studies. Soler Baró has been living in Sweden for almost 18 years and has not been able to return to Cuba for almost a decade. He calls himself a “rock star” – and hopes to soon be able to return to his home country.


 

Are you a dissident?

Technically, I know what you mean by the term dissident. But in my heart, I feel like what I am doing is just being me. All of this is so natural and a product of my personal evolution. I started paying more attention to Cuban issues, and suddenly things happened. Becoming a dissident is like the break of dawn. Daylight comes and you see that it is light outside. But you do not see when the light comes, you notice it first when it is there. I do not know when exactly, but officially I became a dissident in Sweden. Here, I understood more and more what it is like to live in a democracy and therefore, I became more political, too.

Why did you leave Cuba?

After the revolution, people in Cuba began to understand the situation and left Cuba out of ideological reasons. Nowadays, even more and more people are leaving, mainly because of economical reasons.

When I first had the chance to leave Cuba at the end of the eighties, I said no. My girlfriend at the time and a lot of friends were leaving the country. Despite not knowing if I would ever see them again, I did not want to go. During this time, I still believed that maybe we can do something politically. Later, I decided to leave my country as well. At the time, I was engaged to a Swedish girl and when her visa ended, I followed her to Sweden. Ever since then, I have been here. I left because of love, and because there was no future for me in Cuba anymore. This was almost 18 years ago. The last time I went to Cuba was right before I began with my political activities, about 2005. Since then, I have not been home.

What kind of activism are you involved in?

I have been engaged in everything that I believe is good for the achievement of democracy in Cuba. Currently, I am the president of an organization calledMisceláneas de Cuba (“miscellaneous about Cuba”). This is a platform where everyone can display different projects for the democratization of Cuba through peaceful means. The newspaper Misceláneas de Cuba is one of these projects. The idea with the newspaper is to break the embargo of information that the Castro government has. We support the opposition and Cuban people who want to give information to us abroad. They are our independent correspondents and send us information every day via Internet. In Cuba, we don’t have unsupervised internet. Some embassies let us use their connections. Over here in Sweden, we process this information and put the newspaper together.

In the beginning, it was printed over here and shipped over to Cuba. But now, this is impossible because of confiscation. We have tried it all: through embassies, people and DHL, but we became very popular and it became harder to smuggle the newspaper into the country. Instead, we send it to Cuba via PDF now, and there it is printed in different places and distributed on the streets. This work is very clandestine and undercover; our people have been arrested many times. That makes people afraid to be engaged with us and expose themselves and their families. And of course, we don’t have any money to pay people either. But we want to help other people we believe in. For example, we can send money or supply like computers or we can grant them a spot for their own blog on our website. This is the way we work and we are very tired, all of us.

What are your thoughts on Cuban politics?

I can get very angry when I hear something good about the Cuban government. Sometimes, the people don’t know what really happened in Cuba. People are easily confused when it comes to left and right politics. But when you talk about Human Rights, it is not a question about being politically left or right.

People associate Cuba with socialism against capitalism. To them, capitalism is representative for poverty and human exploitation. People are against these manifestations of capitalism and say: if our government is against capitalism and states like the USA, we support them. And in this thinking, people, opponents and dissidents who are against this government are automatically considered to be for this kind of capitalistic exploitation. This is very black and white, and a big problem.

I cannot dance Salsa and I love rock music. In Cuba, they say: if you like rock music, then you like the English language. Because you like the enemy`s language, you like the enemy as well. And if you like the enemy, you don’t like us or our country. If you are not prepared to die for your country, you don’t like your mother. Due to this equation, I was the black sheep in my family.

With my father being a coronel in Fidel Castro`s army, my family was very engaged in the Cuban revolution. But now, they realize they have been used and lied to by the government. My parents are old now, and I send money to them from capitalistic Sweden. My mother said to me that I am a real revolutionary and that I am brave in opposing the power and living in exile because of it.

What is it like to live in exile?

Being a political activist is very heavy sometimes. There is no glamour in the kind of lifestyle and work I have. It is like this: everyone wants to have a van Gogh in their home, but no one wants to be van Gogh, because it is so difficult. Many people say that what I am doing is very good, and that I have a lot of courage for doing this. Sometimes I think I am crazy for doing this. Why must I be this way? Why do I have this necessity? But then again, I am only being myself.

Right now, I cannot go back to Cuba and see my family. I cannot even talk to them on the phone without being eavesdropped. In Cuba, the only phone company is owned by the government. They can listen anytime they want, especially if you belong to a political organization. This is very difficult because I miss my family a lot. The secret police in Cuba visited my parents` house in Havana this summer. They have been interrogated about me: where I am, what I am doing, about Misceláneas de Cuba, and so on. Sometimes I want to visit my grandma, but I cannot. I cannot talk with my mother on the phone without thinking about what I can say. A few days ago, I called her because I needed to tell her how hard it is to be in exile.

With time, you become more radical in what you do, so it is all worth it in the end. I have become more radical over the years, but I am a difficult person for the opposition, too: Because of my academic background, and because I understand myself as a lone knight. I am not with anyone and not bound to any ideology. For me, something is the right or the wrong thing. If you are doing something that I understand as wrong, I cannot be with you.

What are your future goals?

We don’t want another revolution. We want an Orange Revolution, or something peaceful like the German reunion. I am hopeful that we are going to have a democracy in Cuba. If I cannot achieve that, I am preparing the way for others to do that. I am prepared to die for this cause, one way or the other. When I say I want to die nicely, I mean peacefully: with the feeling of having sincerely done what I wanted to do. We must sit down and talk about our reality and our country, and how to develop it. Which party you vote for is not important for me. My vision about life is that everybody can be themselves, regardless of their political convictions. We must continue do to what we do, inform the people and raise their awareness of what really happened to them, inside and outside of Cuba.

Also, the government has to grant the opposition amnesty and stop depicting them as criminals or mercenaries paid for by, for example, the US. When they accept the oppositions, it means they accept me. My idea is to become professor at the University of Havana. People in Cuba now don’t have access to the information I have here. I want to help my country and coming generations to understand Cuba and to construct a better society. I want to be a rock star and many other things, but also a teacher.

When does it all become too much?

It is too much already. Here at GU, I am working on my thesis, while I am involved in so many other things. There is six hours between Cuba and Sweden. Every night at midnight here in Sweden, it is the end of the Cuban work day and information starts coming in about what happened. I do not get enough sleep and the money I earn is not sufficient, therefore I am also employed as a dishwasher in a restaurant.

What can I do? This is my life. If I could show you the white flag, meaning to give up and stop this, I had already done it. But I don’t know how to show the white flag. This work is not like a jacket that I take off when I get home. If you approach this kind of work like putting on a jacket, you cannot do it.

Text: Lena Kainz
Photos: Paulina Widell

Interview with Ronald Inglehart

Ronald Inglehart, Professor in Political Science at University of Michigan, gave an open lecture on “Evolutionary Modernization and Social Change” at University of Gothenburg in 21st November 2012. In connection, Utblick’s David Westerberg met with him to discuss issues of politics, religion and secularism.

Q: Is religion an independent variable?
Inglehart: Yes. I would say yes because religion has been around for a long time. It has autonomy, it is clearly shaping things, and my cultural analysis indicates that having a Protestant, Catholic, Islamic or likewise heritage is a strong predictor of all kinds of values.

Q: Is it not problematic to identify and analyze religion as independent from politics or economics?
Inglehart: No, I think that we can measure religiosity empirically, first of all by what denomination people belong to, and secondly by how important religion is in their life. That is actually a very powerful predictor of attitudes because you can predict a whole range of other attitudes from those two things, like their stand on abortion, divorce, homosexuality, child upbringing, and so on, so there are all kinds of things linked to religion. When people do not think religion is important it usually predicts the opposite set of things, so the fact that religion is unimportant is itself a powerful predictor.

Q: Do you see any problems with translating the term and concept “religion” to non-English speaking cultures?
Inglehart: I hate to be simplistic, but no. The concept of religion is almost universally recognized.

Q: But surely measuring religion in different cultures must be dependent on what concept one uses and what it means in that context?
Inglehart: It’s not entirely unproblematic, but I would say that this is one of the things that are more or less universal, that religion is almost universally recognized. Even if you don’t like it you know what it is.

Q: During your lecture you referred to Marxism as a ‘belief system’. Do you see any overlapping between religion and political ideologies?
Inglehart: Very much. I think that Marxism was a secular religion, and it went to great lengths to repress religion since it was a competing belief system. As long as people believed in the Russian orthodox faith they weren’t good communists, since they had to believe in the whole worldview of communism which actually, in some ways, was modelled after Christianity, especially the notion of a judgement day, when history will end, the good will triumph and the revolution of proletariat will be the last trumpet blowing, and so on.

Q: What about political ideologies in general?
Inglehart: In extreme forms, it sometimes claims to have absolute truth, which, in my view, is always wrong. In politics absolute truth is usually a balancing act between too much of one thing or too much of the other thing.

Q: To what extent do you view the separation of religion and politics an ideological function of the state?
Inglehart: Traditional religions claimed to have the absolute truth in all spheres, and traditionally the Catholic Church claimed the right to define and legitimate political authority. It became compatible with democracy only when it gave up that claim. I think democracy necessarily does not claim absolute truth. It is, in my view, a very modest claim: whoever wins the election has the right to rule.

Q: How should we understand the concept of “secularism”? Is secularism an ideology?
Inglehart: It can be an ideology. For example, the Soviet version of secularism was an enforced ideology. In the United States the separation of Church and State are pushed to an extreme by some people where it would be wrong or even criminal to mention God or have prayer in schools. That would be a kind of secular ideology in my view. Extreme secularism can be totalitarian; some totalitarian states force secularism on people just like some totalitarian states like Iran force religion on people.

Q: How does democracy as an ethos, whether religious or secular, accord with the political system of the state?
Inglehart: In a very general sense every state depends on some belief system. I think every state, if it persists for any length of time, has a legitimating myth. Any social order requires an underlying belief system. That is, any political order, if it’s going to be stable and persist rather than simply be based on naked force, needs a legitimating myth. A warlord may come around and be able to get things simply by pointing bayonets at you, but any state that persists for a long time has some legitimating myth. By myth I don’t mean that it’s false, but simply that there is a set of beliefs which is supposedly rooted in deep history which indicates that this is the right way to rule, or this is the right way to choose your rulers, whether it is because God gives divine right to Kings or because elections are almost holy. In the United State, and I suppose in Sweden too, children in primary school are brought up with some reverence with democratic institutions, which then helps to support them.

Q: Does the democratic ethos necessarily depend on the state, or the other way around?
Inglehart: Generally democracies have a strong national myth. It can be things like “we are a great democratic country” and being proud of democracy and social institutions; although Swedes are probably proud in a more subtle version than Americans, they nevertheless share this. I think that any society draws on a sense group of group cohesion which may be nationalism or class conflict, or even racism. But to get people to rally behind you, I think you need some kind of unifying story.

Q: Could the political system of the nation-state undermine democracy?
Inglehart: I think the ideal notion of democracy might not require any coercion, but in reality any society requires some measure of coercion. If you have criminals, you have to deal with them.

Q: Do you see any similarities between belief in religion and belief in the nation-state?
Inglehart: Oh yeah, sure, it is certainly similar in some ways, especially in terms of “the righteous in-group” vs. “the unrighteous outsiders.”

Text: David Westerberg

Photo Interview with Georgios Xezonakis

Beautiful island landscapes, the Acropolis, philosophers like Aristotle and Plato – of course, it is Greece that is being referred to. More recently, however, global newspaper pages have been filled with news about a frantic electorate demonstrating outside and decisions being made inside Athen`s parliament building. For almost five years, Greece has been shaken by waves of recession, an impending economic crisis and discussions in the European Union about the country`s precarious future within the euro zone.  

Georgios Xezonakis talked with Utblick about what it feels like to be Greek these days. Currently, he is working as a research fellow at the Department of Political Science and the Quality of Government Institute at Gothenburg University. In 2008, the year the American investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, Georgios earned his Ph.D. from the University of Essex. Back then, virtually no one anticipated the recession that was about to afflict the Greek economy. Now, with the magnitude of the economic crisis becoming apparent, Greece`s future – and Georgios` eventual return home – seem fraught with uncertainty. 

 

Did the economic crisis have anything to do with your decision to leave your home country?

I have been away for almost ten years now. My home is Crete, where I try to go back twice a year to see my family and friends. Once for Christmas, and then also for the summer holidays, which makes sense when you come from a place like Crete. In 2008, when I finished my Ph.D. in the UK, I was thinking about returning home. Back then, nobody in Greece had any idea of what is coming, and neither had I. Also, my family was expecting that I would come back but then again, they were not surprised I didn`t. The issue was that the job opportunities in my work field in the university were not the best back home. It was not great then, and it is impossible now. But I wanted to research more intensively, and abroad I had this opportunity. I will be in Sweden for two more years for sure, and then we will see. Of course, I miss home every day: the people, the weather and the food and my family. But I try to get that whenever I can.

How do people react when you tell them you are from Greece? Any hugs?

The only thing I come across is either a general curiosity of what is going on back home, or sympathy. And empathy, well, I am not sure if people could know what it is like to be Greek right now, really. Then again, it is even difficult for me to be empathetic. I always say that my family and friends are in a difficult situation, but maybe I have no idea how they feel and how stressful this is for them.

 For almost five years now, we have been reading about the economic crisis, the recession, the rising unemployment rate, the lay-offs and wage cuts, the protests, … What does it feel like to be Greek these days?

It is sad. Right now, utmost desperation is part of being Greek. We all thought that Greece had achieved a certain level of development. Looking back at Athens in 2004, the time of the Olympics, I really don’t think you could have found a much better capital anywhere else in terms of a positive feeling about things. Of course, the Greek state has always been a chaotic one. But now, eight years later, people`s feelings have deteriorated to an extreme, together with the state. This has become a situation nobody thought we would ever be in.

I have this philosophy in life that things can always get worse. And things can get worse than they are right now. Athens is pretty much… (can I say fuck in this interview?) … fucked right now. But due to inherent characteristics of how the Greek society is organized, at least in the rural areas outside of Athens, people still seem to manage. There is a high rate of home-ownership, and people help each other: if you are in need, and someone who grows potatoes is around, he is your friend and you will end up with 50 kg potatoes without knowing what to do with them. And of course, families tend to stick together and help each other a lot. It sounds like small things, but it is all part of a culture of solidarity. This is important in Greece, because there is no state to rely on.

 

 Do you feel more Greek or more European?

I guess I feel more Greek, whatever that means. I suppose being European is my rationality, and being Greek is my sentiment.

But there are some things that are frustrating about Greece. We have this small-time mentality that we are something much bigger than we really are, something much bigger than we have ever worked to be. We have this idea that they cannot kick us out of Europe because they are afraid or because we invented Europe, whatever that means. Sometimes I wish we did not have the Parthenon, because then we would not have been able to say: well, at least we built the Parthenon once. Ever since, we have not done much, to be honest. We tend to have this romanticized image of Greece that comes along with the feeling that this should not have happened to us.

And whether we stay in the EU or not… Right now, there is too much uncertainty surrounding the decision of saying; okay, we have to let Greece go. And this kind of situation favors the status quo. Let`s leave things the way they are right now, because you just don’t know what will happen if you do X. Maybe a couple years ago, it would have been a better decision for us to say: ok, we go bankrupt and stay out of the EU. But there are not only economics involved here.

How did Greece get so entangled in this economic mess?

There is a sentiment in Europe that Greeks are responsible for what is happening to them. Yes, the crisis can be attributed to how we operate financially at an international level. But then again, we cannot really compete with others in Europe just because we have the same currency, can we? It makes you think; why didn`t this happen to others?

Of course, you have to face yourself, saying; okay, one of the main reasons for this mess is that we have not tried to reform institutions, and we always used the state as a way to engage in cliental relationships.

But, what I don’t see at all is this idea that Greeks are lazy. For the most part, the situation today is a failure of the state, not of the people.

The philosophy of my parents` generation would be something like: we grow up, get married, have children, and then, whatever we do from now on, is for the children. So they tried to build a house for the next generation, and provide them with education as much as they could, and that`s it. Everything they do is directed towards the children and their future.

Now, my generation is basically annihilated in terms of future prospects. But because of our parents, at least some of us will manage. But I see that if this goes on for too long, or if it gets even worse, my family and a lot of people close to me would have problems dealing with it.

But nobody I know back home actually lost his or her job. Of course, people have to manage with a lot less. When you lose 40% of your income, you feel it, big time. And what has changed also is the feeling of security. There are many people who feel like they will lose their job soon. There is still some sense of optimism, but whenever I go back there, the talk is dominated by what is going on in terms of economic depression.

 

 What do you think when following the news of what is going on back home? What crosses your mind when looking at other countries` coverage of the situation in Greece?

By now, every day I am frustrated when reading news from back home and I go mental. We have identified the problems, but we seem to stray away from the solutions and focus mostly on power-games between different political parties and still old-politics style. There are things in the political system or the public administration that will drive you through the wall sometimes. The political party discourse in Greece or the way tax collection works just makes me go crazy.

When I do go back home to Greece, the first thing people want to know is: what do they say about us abroad? They are a bit self-conscious about it. I just tell them that by now, people are fed up with reading about us.

But what has been really frustrating and disappointing is to see exaggeration in the news that our current economic crisis is all a cultural flaw. It is not, it is an institutional flaw. So I don’t really pay much attention to cynical headlines abroad. Rather, I try to see things from different perspectives.

In Greece, you have to be present to cast your ballot during elections. What would have been your choice in this summer`s parliamentary elections?

It would have been a difficult choice to vote. I would have gone for left or center/left. There need to be new players if we are going to change this whole situation and the state as such. But the system has been very polarized, down to the question of whether you are for what we call the memorandum, this thing with the European Union and the IMF and so on, or against those measures, those cuts. I cannot say that I am in favor of cuts, but I also cannot say that I am against taking measures to reform. So I find myself in this limbo situation, as generally in life.

Although I cannot vote because I am abroad, I still feel empowered. People in academia can write articles to voice their opinions and so on. But still, a state should have managed to organize a way that citizens living abroad can vote.

On the other hand, to be absolutely honest, I also think that even though you should vote where you have a stake in the situation. And my only stake is what my family has at stake, but I don’t really have a personal stake. And that would probably mean that by voting, my decision would affect other people, but it will not affect me, whatever happens.

If you were to meet Antonis Samaras, the Greek prime minister, how would you react?

Well, I would not want to shake him, but I would say that people surrounding him are inefficient and incompetent, and ask if he has any real ambition of changing what is going on.

But then again, if he were to ask me in return, ‘what should I do?’, I would have to think long and hard about it. If anything, I could say: don`t care about political costs, just be bold.

With a crisis, there is always some possibility of change as well. Does Greece have some chance of becoming a phoenix-like state, ascending out of the ashes of recession and reforming its system?

It does not seem so right now. Actually, I am not very hopeful. If you ask people in the QoG institute what it takes for countries to break out of this vicious circle of bad institutions, the answer is that it takes a strong shock. I am not sure yet if we have had that kind of shock. Even in this situation, what I see happening in the political system especially is not very promising. Whatever it is, I don’t think we are there yet. I don’t see the transformation.

And with Greece right now, it is kind of like, ‘well, let`s just sell everything now’. All the state-owned companies, everything in public ownership; let`s sell it, too. I don’t think that’s the solution. Being a big state, in terms of GDP and how much is being spent, has nothing to do with corruption or bad government. If anything, it is positive; the bigger the state, the better.

Besides that, I don’t see anything happening in the public administration right now that would give me confidence. Moreover, education will be worse, and health care will be worse as well. I don’t see any way out of this for a long time.

What needs to happen for you to decide that you will go back?

Well, anyone who is abroad has this idea that someday, I will go back home. I just don’t see how I can go back to Greece, unless I switch professions, which is not something I want to do right now. It is a kind of dead-end situation, but then again, it only seems so.

For me, it does not really feel like a dead-end because it is basically a matter of priorities. Do you want to continue doing what you do in terms of your job, or is it a priority to go back to Greece and deal with what comes with it, having to change jobs and possibly accept financial set-backs?

My priority right now is to do what I am doing, I enjoy working at the university, and I value living in Gothenburg. Here, it is possible to predict your day in some sense, like reliable bus connections to and from work. Things are very well organized in terms of your dealings with the state. I have a good job here, and for now, it is a nice place to be.

 

Text: Lena Kainz

Photo: Jenni S. Lindberg