Utblick #2: Whither Europe?

The second issue of Utblick is here!

Europe is once again heading for the voting booths. With the rise of nationalist, populist and right-wing extremist parties across the union, this election is of critical importance. It is not only about which parties will win but also the type of values that the voters would like to promote at the European level. It is about the future of Europe, the type of cooperation it would like to pursue in the upcoming years, and the policies it would implement. It is an election between the right and the left ideologies.

The European Parliament Elections raise concerns in every aspect of life in Europe. How will the election impact feminist movements? What is the role of religion in the European elections and how do parties mobilize anti-Islamic rhetoric to attract voters? How can the youth in Europe be mobilized to participate in the election and increase turnout? These are some of the key questions which will be discussed by various articles in this issue.

Other articles look at the role of democracy in the European Union and how a higher turnout can increase the legitimacy of this polity. You will also read about how Swedish parties in the European parliament position themselves in relation to climate change, migration, and how they envision the future of Europe. The issue further covers articles on how recent events, such as Brexit and the rise of right wing parties, would impact the upcoming European parliament elections and shape the future of the union.

Categorization of political parties at the European level remains a mystery to a majority of voters in the upcoming election. This issue thus contains an article which looks at the different groupings within the European parliament and how different national parties ally with others at the regional level to maximize their interests and promote their political agenda, at home and in Europe.

Despite the continuous concerns, critical debates and the blurred future of Europe, a majority of the articles emphasizes a valuable point: to vote!

Since participation in the election is a key pillar of democracy, we hope that this issue will serve as an encouragement to take more youth to the voting booths and engage them.

The editors,

Nazifa Alizada and Egil Sturk 

Historical heroes and the contagiousness of courage – a lecture with Brian Palmer

Brian Palmer next to a picture of Rachel Corrie, an American human rights activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer when she tried to prevent the demolishment of a house in Palestine, 2003. Photo: Margit de Boer
Brian Palmer next to a picture of Rachel Corrie, an American human rights activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer when she tried to prevent the demolishment of a house in Palestine, 2003.
Photo: Margit de Boer

Brian Palmer, social anthropologist and scholar of religion at Uppsala University, guested the Gothenburg Science Festival this May. He recently published a book together with Ola Larsmo called 101 Historiska Hjältar (101 Historical Heroes) where he describes the actions and fates of 101 persons who dared to defy the established order and risk their lives to save others. During his lecture Palmer tells the intriguing stories of some of his personal heroes and what triggered their altruistic deed.

Palmer takes us back to München, 1942. Siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl are enjoying the delights of student life, going to concerts with friends and discussing everything from art and literature to philosophy and politics. In the midst of it all, word reaches them of mass killings of Jews and Soviets which stirs the group of friends to found the White Rose resistance movement. The White Rose then made several anti-war leaflets but were caught by a guard while distributing leaflets in the university of München. Sophie and Hans were tried and executed only four days after the event.

Another haunting story Palmer shares is that of Witold Pilecki, a Polish man who deliberately had himself incarcerated in Auschwitz so that he could help the prisoners and inform the outside world about the true situation inside concentration camps. Pilecki survived Auschwitz and remained active in the Polish opposition movement after the war, actively resisting the puppet regime which the Soviet Union had installed in Poland. In 1948 he was arrested by the regime and executed.

A more contemporary heroine mentioned by Palmer is Amy Goodman, an American investigative reporter whose work including in the East Timor conflict has earned her numerous awards. And then there is Malala, a Pakistani girl who at the age of 11 started to speak out against the Taliban and became a vivid advocate for human rights. In 2009 on a school bus, Malala was sought out by a gunman and shot in the head. She was in critical condition for some time but survived and continues her activism today. She has been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the National Youth Peace Prize.

Palmer’s way of lecturing reveals his own deep reverence for the people he describes and his enthusiasm easily rubs off on the audience. It makes me think about some of my own heroes, like Irena Sendler, a contemporary and compatriot of Witold Pilecki. Sendler was a social worker who rescued about 400 Jewish babies and children from the Warsaw Ghetto and created false documents for Jewish families. In 1943, Irena was arrested by the Gestapo, tortured and sentenced to death. On the way to her execution, members of the Polish underground bribed German guards and managed to free Irena. She survived the war and eventually lived to be 98.

My thoughts also wander to the many artists and writers who refused to be silenced during times of dictatorships. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for example was a Soviet dissident who in his work critiqued the regime and described living circumstances in Gulags, where he himself spent eight years imprisoned. He wrote uninterruptedly in prison, in camps and during internal exile, and hid the material at friends’ homes. One can only imagine how much courage and deliberation it must have taken to carry on writing under such circumstances. In 1974 the KGB arrested Solzhenitsyn and deported him from the Soviet Union after which he spent almost 20 years in exile in Germany and the US.

I also think about the thousands more or less anonymous heroes that have played a part in some way or another. In my own family there is my great uncle Ingvar Håkansson, a Swedish sailor who with danger to his own life and despite Sweden’s neutrality in WWII went to England to join the war effort. Since he was not a British citizen he was initially denied enlistment in the air force but he succeeded after persistent applications. He died 23 years of age in a flying bomb attack over the North Sea after he had intercepted several bombs that were headed for the British mainland.

Now how is it possible that a person decides to risk their life for others?  According to Palmer, heroic actions can be ascribed to all kinds of people, from the most extrovert to the shy, but he also suggests certain commonalities. For example, he found that most “heroes” have strong personal or religious convictions and a strong belief in the effectiveness of their actions. As children, they seem to have been exposed to people from different cultures and they were not strictly disciplined but rather left free in their upbringing. Palmer also states that courage can be just as contagious as fear, in the sense that we can get tremendous inspiration from the actions of others.

It is probably safe to say that Palmer’s lecture left no one in the audience untouched and inescapably evoked the question “would I have done the same thing?”. The topic being as relevant as it is today, with extreme forces on the rise in many countries and human rights being violated everyday, it is important not to forget the actions of those who had the courage to make a difference. In this sense the lecture definitely goes far beyond just a good story.

Text & Photo: Margit de Boer

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

The One State Solution

What is often perceived as being the optimal solution to the situation in Palestine, the ‘goal of the peace-process’ that many observers tend to stick to, is what has been dubbed the ‘two-state solution’. It states the case for the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state on the West bank and in Gaza, and for Israel to acknowledge Palestine as a sovereign state and withdraw to the borders of 1967. The ideal-case scenario according to this view would be for the two areas to co-exist independently without the residents in either state having to cross the borders of the opposing state in order to reach another part of their own territory. This would include a ‘corridor’ between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The reasoning behind this view of the problem is grounded in the idea of the nation-state, where every population ought to have their own territory where no outsiders intervene in their internal affairs. Just draw the line, pass the law, and the two separate states shall relate to each other through bilateral agreements.

A quick look at Palestine reveals how unimaginative this solution is in regard to how intertwined the two populations are and how different the terms of living are: Palestinians live in Israel, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis live on occupied Palestinian land. A separate Palestinian state, divided in between Gaza and the West Bank, would not be able to solve the problem of the Palestinian diaspora: Palestinians within Israel that do not want to move into a Palestinian state outside of Israel would still be under severe burdens of inequality and discrimination, with or without a ‘state of their own’.

As such, the creation of a state would serve as a legitimation of the Palestinian struggle on the international scene, but not much more than that, since a long-term solution requires mobility for both sides to trade and invest on either side of the fence; something that inevitably requires for Israelis and Palestinians to get along.

Striving for two separate states, closed off from one another simply runs the risk of obscuring that goal. Instead, what is needed is the strengthening of Palestinian civil-society as well as of the increasingly important secular tendencies in Israel. The long-term solution has to be one secular, individual state with a population consisting of both minorities, with constitutional rights based on their human values rather than their ethnic or religious identities. However far away that utopia may be, the efforts have to be directed toward those institutions that serve the purpose of equality on the individual level. Not the other way around.

Text: Josef Svantesson

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.

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

Lecture: ”How and why do the Israelis vote the way they do?”

IMG_9748Tuesday 26th of febuary Isabell Schierenbeck, researcher and lecturer at the Shool of Global Studies at the University of Gothenburg came to Sprängkullsgatan 25 to give a lecture on how and why Israelis vote the way they do, with the Arabic spring in mind.

I was there, in Israel when the Arabic spring began. I was watching the fireworks over the western wall that told me Hosni Mubarak had resigned. Isabells theme was perfect for someone interested in how Israel works, like myself and a lot of others attending the lecture last Tuesday night.

To make us understand how and why the Israelis vote the way they do Isabell starts off by telling us about the different cleavages within the Israeli society and politics. Jews vs Palestinians (Arabs), Mizrachim vs Ashkenazim, religious vs secular and left vs right wing. Most often we only get the picture of the cleavages of religious and secular groups, but as Isabell shows us during the lecture there are many other groups to keep in mind while observing Israeli politics.

Since there are many cleavages, and therefore a lot of big issues in Israel, a party only needs 2 % of the votes to gain seats in Knesset, the Israeli parliament. This leads to a high interest for politics in Israel.

The state of Israel is only 64 years old, and yet it has already had 32 governments, despite the mandate length of four years. The reason why? Coalition governments that do not work.

In the election that took place the 22nd of January this year 34 different parties were competing for parliament and 12 parties (with all cleavages mentioned above represented) gained representation in Knesset to form a government. Isabell explains how the different parties are reasoning while making coalitions and according to her it is usual that parties with completely different opinions cooperate.

Interesting about the election this year is the influence of the Arabic spring on the political issues. ”They are scared” Isabell says, proving it by showing the two big issues that dominated the election 2013. ”They don’t know who their neighbours are or who they will be”, she says.

The first issue is about the drafting of ultra-ortodoxs. Today the ultra-ortodoxs do not have to do military service, but a growing fear in the country makes the question about pushing them in to the army an important one. The other issue is about the social econimic situation, after the ”Israeli spring” in Tel Aviv that Isabell.

One thing Isabell notes, analyzing the influences the Arabic spring have had on the politics of Israel, is that the peace process for the first time was not on the agenda (except for the party Hatnuah that wants a peace process).

With the Arabic spring, a coalition government, focus on security instead of a peace process, what to expect? How stable will the Israeli politics be? Isabell thinks that there will not be any major changes, despite regional uncertainty. But she is curious about how many seats the different coalitions will get. She means that we can see a process of neo-liberalism loosing ground, and even though the peace process was not a big issue during the elections, she sees certain possibilities for progress.

While Isabell is giving her lecture, it becomes clear that Hatnuah (the party that propagates a peace process) have joined the government. As one of the first parties to do so, she thinks that they have got a good deal. This, in addition to Obama’s re-election, enhance the possibility for renewed peace negotiations, according to Isabell.

Thanks to Isabell’s lecture, we in the audience know more about the complexities in Israeli politics, and time will tell what the outcome will be.

Text & Photo: Lina Alsterlund

Föreläsning: ”Om utvecklingen i Bhutan”

Onsdagskvällen den 30 januari besöktes Hörsal Sappören och Utrikespolitiska föreningen av Alf Persson från Svensk-bhutanesiska föreningen, vars föreläsning handlade om Bhutan och detta historiskt sett otillgängliga kungarikes väg in i det globala samhället.

Alf har haft flera förtroendeuppdrag för biståndsprojekt förlagda i Bhutan, och har bland annat arbetat med korruptionsbekämpning och digitalisering av officiella handlingar.

Bhutans historia är fascinerande: dess långa isolering från materiella influenser utifrån har garanterat en flera hundra år lång tradition av självbestämmande, och dess strategiska läge till trots – inklämt mellan kinesiska Tibet och Indien – har landet aldrig koloniserats.

Dock har landet på senare tid tvingats ta utrikespolitisk ställning när det kommer till de båda stormakternas intressen i landet. Sedan Kinesisk-indiska kriget 1962 har Bhutan tillåtit sin södra granne att etablera sig militärt i landet, sagt upp alla diplomatiska förbindelser med Kina, samt på senare tid ingått avtal om produktion av vattenkraft ur Bhutans många smältvattenforsar vid foten av Himalaya.

För globaliseringen sätter sina spår även vid sin periferi. Alf berättar om Bhutans exportunderskott och trögstartade företag, men även etablerandet av konstitutionell demokrati och en växande turistnäring. Bhutan kontrollerar denna näring rigoröst, och det är ingen hemlighet att turister förväntas vara av en viss kaliber – undertecknad befann sig för drygt ett år sedan strax nordöst om bhutanesiska gränsen, men tvingades vända söderut när han inte hade råd att spendera de 250 dollar om dagen som krävs för att få äntra landet.

Enligt Alf är den bhutanesiska regeringen högst kompetent, och han har stora förhoppningar om Bhutans framtid. På en av frågorna som ställdes under den efterföljande frågestunden konstaterade han: ”Bhutan är fortfarande ett u-land; det finns gott om fattigdom, men det finns ingen misär”.

Text och foto: Josef Svantesson
josef.svantesson [at] utblick.org

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