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Hong Kong’s Dehumanitarianism – an urgent appeal for international mediation

9. Dezember 2019 - 22:20

Did you forget somebody’s anniversary this year? Did you forget everybody’s anniversary this year? December 10th is World Human Rights Day, a symbolic commemoration of the day in 1948 when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A humanitarian landmark.

Imagine somemore…

Can you imagine a world where that momentous event had never happened? A dehumanitarian world?
Close your eyes. I want you to imagine a City of violence; a fractured place where the people wage a war against their government. Imagine that you are injured in those protests, in a violent confrontation with law enforcement. You call for an ambulance. But a police car arrives. And you are arrested. Or an ambulance arrives. With police inside instead of ambulance men. And you are arrested.
Imagine a City where you are taken to hospital. Injured. And you are secretly allocated a tracking code, which labels you as an enemy of the state – and which is accessed by the police. They are the ones who patrol the hospital. And who arrest you.

Imagine a City where you need an emergency operation for your injuries, and the police request to enter the operating theatre. You wake up from the emergency surgery. And you are arrested in your recovery bed, perhaps by the very policeman who shot you.

Imagine the City that you return to after leaving the hospital. With the bullet still inside your body. Or not, it doesn’t matter. Because your Hospital Discharge Certificate reads: ‘trauma injury, unspecified cause’. Because the doctors have been warned not to diagnose an injury attributable to the police.

Who is caring for your children?

Imagine that City when you try to take legal action against the policeman who shot you. At recklessly close range. And you are told he cannot be identified. Ever. Because he was excused from wearing his identification number. In fact, none of the police have an identification number. Or a face. They are anonymous on duty, acting with the security of impunity sanctioned by a higher authority.

Imagine your City University. Where the students (your children) are protesting to protect their vision of the future. Their future. Their City. Their identity. And they are wounded. And hurting. And dehumanised. There is nobody to comfort them. Or treat them. This is because all the nurses and doctors who volunteered to care for them have been arrested. They are made to kneel with their wrists bound behind their backs. Arrested, arrayed and humiliated like so many red-crossed terrorists. (See article on Korea’s Tiananmen by Finnish journalist Rauli Virtanen)

Imagine your City Teaching Hospital, where the doctors have sworn an oath of allegiance to the Government. Not to Hippocrates. So nobody trusts the Government Hospital system anymore. And a new underground system of doctors and nurses, and clinics and hospitals has flourished to provide care in safety and security. With your human rights and confidentiality respected.

Open your eyes. Welcome to Hong Kong.

Now imagine what would it take to ‘rehumanise’ this place. Could the government and the people do it amongst themselves? Anymore than the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland could have on their own? (See Global Geneva article on One Man’s War for Dignity, the book on human rights activist Kevin Doyle by Hong Kong-based journalist Mike Chinoy, who also compares the situation to that of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland).

Surely not. A mediator. A good faith actor. Equally acceptable (or unacceptable) to both sides. A conduit through which the delicate shoots of a resolution can be channeled, to take root in the soil of the imagination of the other side. That is what is needed. And urgently so. Is that really so far beyond our collective humanitarianism ?

Darren Mann is a surgeon based in Hong Kong.

See related articles in Global Geneva The right place for the world’s human rights award Defending Human Rights Defenders: The Legacy of Martin Ennals 2020 Martin Ennals Award nominations: Three exceptional women Korea’s ‘Tiananmen’ and world memory   Kurdistan: After such knowledge, what forgiveness?   Book Excerpt: “Are You With Me? Kevin Boyle and the Rise of the Human Rights Movement” by Mike Chinoy One Man’s War for Human Dignity: The Extraordinary Life of Kevin Boyle
Kategorien: Jobs

Switzerland’s Prisoners of War during two world wars and beyond.

9. Dezember 2019 - 16:15

Internment in Switzerland During World War One is my second book relating to Swiss history. My first, Healthy Living in the Alps, was about the search for a cure from TB and the subsequent development of winter sports before 1914. Many histories end at this date while others begin after 1918, leaving a wartime gap.

It was this historical lacuna that aroused my curiosity. During the 1900s increasing visitor numbers led many Swiss hotels to rebuild or extend their facilities, often funded by loans and mortgages. The First World War, however, left hotels devoid of guests and income. Unable to repay their debts they faced ruin. But Swiss negotiations with the warring nations to exchange some of their wounded prisoners of war, insufficiently incapacitated to repatriate, offered the hotels a lifeline. By transferring them from prison camps to Switzerland for internment, the tourism industry lobbied for internees to occupy empty hotels – and at a charge.

Between January 1916 and August 1919, nearly 68,000 wounded or sick officers and men were interned in Switzerland; 37,515 French, 4,326 Belgians, 21,000 Germans and 4,081 British, enlivened otherwise deserted resorts. Germans were interned in German-speaking regions. particularly around Davos. French and Belgians were scattered mainly throughout the francophone areas. When the British soldiers arrived, at the end of May 1916, they were concentrated in areas popular with English speaking tourists before the war, the main centres being Chateau d’Oex and Mürren but with smaller groups in other communities according to employment, education and medical needs.

Swiss citizens and hotel staff welcoming British POWs during World War I in Mürren. An overwhelming welcome by the Swiss

National groupings also comprised troops from the colonies: Canadians, Australians, Africans, South Asians and Arabs. Host communities were selected because of their pre-war economic dependence on tourism, thanks to lobbying by the hotel industry. Hotel bills and medical expenses were reimbursed by the governments of the internees’ homelands.

Wounded soldiers arriving by train in Switzerland were overwhelmed by the welcome of the Swiss who crowded into railway stations to greet them, showering them with flowers, chocolate and cigarettes. What surprises most people is the relative freedom enjoyed by internees. Officers who could afford to do so could rent a chalet or apartment privately and have their families join them.

For poorer soldiers, charitable collections back home paid for mothers, wives or fiancées to visit for a holiday transported on special trains through France and Germany. Visiting fiancées were expected to marry during their stay, so brides carried a wedding dress in their luggage. Many stories of courtship, weddings and new babies appear in the internees’ magazines. One heart-warming story is that of a mother, Mrs Stock, grieving the loss of her son for a year until she received a letter from him in Switzerland. Her local Northamptonshire community raised the funds for her to visit him.  Female visitors added to the income of hotels and other businesses such as cafés and shops.

Sport was vital to internment life, particularly for rehabilitation and relieving boredom. Football was the favourite, with hotel teams in resort leagues. Teams could travel to away matches against other internees or Swiss teams such as Young Boys of Bern and Servette of Geneva. Boxing was popular, too. British internees in Mürren were the first to be assessed using the new tests of the Ski Club GB, instructed by ski-pioneer Arnold Lunn. Cultural activities also figured prominently in the routines of the internees. With donated musical instruments, musicians formed orchestras to entertain their colleagues and local people. As well as music there were theatrical groups whose performances provided outlets for creativity, an antidote to boredom, and a few hours of escapism for audiences.

You can obtain this book by clicking for details here. Medical care, education and rehabilitation: all part of the deal

Many internees had unhealed wounds or needed further treatment. Medical facilities were provided in every internment centre. Hospitals for more serious cases, needing surgery or corrective treatment, were situated in Lucerne, initially shared but later for Germans only, and in Fribourg for the Allies. Work or education was compulsory for non-officers in sufficiently good health. Men worked in agriculture, industry or local businesses. Officers were exempt from work. Training courses allowed those with life-changing injuries and disabilities to learn new trades, such as book-keeping, motor mechanics, driving, carpentry and book-binding. Those academically qualified could study in Swiss universities, something difficult for British internees but eagerly taken up by French and German speakers. 

For the Swiss, internment helped bring together the different language groups in a common cause, building community cohesion and a national identity based on humanitarianism and neutrality. It helped keep the borders open for coal, food and other trade, as well as helping the tourism industry.

During World War Two, 104,000 soldiers from 38 nations were interned across Switzerland, no longer with POW status. There were 30,000 French, 21,000 Italians, 13,000 Polish, 7,000 former POWs after the surrender of Italy, 3,000 Germans and 1,500 German deserters, all providing incomes for empty hotels. From each other nation, there were fewer than 1,000 internees. There were internment centres in 768 Swiss communities. (Basically, ordinary soldiers, such as Polish or Soviet whose governments would not pay, were interned in camps).

In 1941, an agreement was reached for sick POWs imprisoned in Germany to come to Switzerland, assisted by the Red Cross. While soldiers, particularly Allied officers, were expected to respect their hotel internments, many escaped, some of them in coordination with their embassies, but usually on their own and in spring along ‘underground railways’ to Spain or Portugal. Those who were captured were interned in camps, such as Wauwilermoos.

Good care for POWs, but harsh internment for attempted escapees

Some 10,000 tuberculosis sufferers transferred to Leysin sanatoria overlooking Lake Geneva, where 500 internees a week were treated. Americans, whose aircraft had violated Swiss neutrality, were interned in Andermatt. As numbers grew, more US airforce officers were sent to Davos and Wengen. Internees of various nationalities in Arosa worked on infrastructure projects, such as improving footpaths and ski facilities, helping prepare for tourism’s post-war resumption.

At Diablerets, Egolzwil and the notorious Wauwilermoos were punishment camps. (Editorial note: the latter was described in various reports as ‘disgraceful’, ‘harsh’ and ‘unacceptable’.) Like their World War One counterparts, internees played sport, learnt to ski with local instructors, enjoyed musical concerts and formed orchestras. They brought life to the resorts spending their pay in cinemas, cafes and shops. With peace, leave for American soldiers helped kick-start post-war tourism. In St Moritz alone, between 1945 and 1946, 500 to 600 G.I.s arrived every 5 days for 10 days of relaxation.

Despite the shameful conditions in the Wauwilermoos punishment camp, which have poisoned the legacy of World War Two internment, most internees preferred internment in Switzerland to incarceration in an enemy POW camp, an arrangement that proved the salvation of Swiss tourism during both world wars.

Editorial note: One unique legacy of this was the internment of at least 12 Soviet POWs captured by the mujahideen (Afghan ‘holy warriors’ or guerrillas) and negotiated by the ICRC during the 1980s. Technically prisoners of the ICRC, they were held at a mountain villa by Swiss soldiers for two years, or the duration of the war, whichever came first. Some eventually returned to the Soviet Union, while others opted for exile in Canada and other countries.

Dr Susan Barton is a visiting research fellow at De Montfort University in Leicester, United Kingdom.

Internment in Switzerland during the First World War by Susan Barton can be obtained here.

Other related stories and book reviews in Global Geneva Geneva Book Fair: New York – Hemingway’s and Fitzgerald’s Slippery Slope in Switzerland Swiss Journeys: A weekend in the Valais – culture, vineyards and thermal baths Rilke’s Valais: ‘I have this country in the blood’ BOOK REVIEW: The Trade – Inside the Afghan Labyrinth by Jere Van Dyk Remembering Anne Frank – and Buddy Elias, guardian of a teenage legacy Kurdistan: After such knowledge, what forgiveness?   Dinners with Graham Greene Crowdfunding the books you want, and disrupting big business One Man’s War for Human Dignity: The Extraordinary Life of Kevin Boyle
Kategorien: Jobs

Oceanus to Oceans: The Sea Affects All Things

8. Dezember 2019 - 16:34

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness…. When experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

—George Santayana, Introduction and Reason in Common Sense

According to the ancient Greeks, the earth was encompassed by a world ocean that was the source of all water on earth, salt and fresh, and personified by Oceanus. It is an arresting concept, and one that proved far ahead of its time. Even in the classical era, rationalist writers such as Herodotus began rejecting the idea: “I cannot help laughing at the absurdity of all the map-makers—there are plenty of them—who show Ocean running like a river around a perfectly circular earth.”

By late antiquity, in the popular imagination Oceanus was identified with the more distant –  though increasingly accessible – waters of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, an association that endured. In due course, Westerners lent the Titan’s name to the Pacific, Arctic, and Southern Oceans.

The oceans: No longer a two-dimensional concept

Just as the myth of Oceanus has a history, so does the sea itself, although it is only in the past decade or two that people have begun to see it as an historical agent. Before then, the ocean was viewed as an essentially two-dimensional space over which ships carried people for trade or war –  or to explore. Although fish live there, no one had any idea of the extremes of its third dimension until the 19th century.

Thus, in 1864, Henry David Thoreau could cast a superficial gaze across its surface and write, “We do not associate the idea of antiquity with the ocean, nor wonder how it looked a thousand years ago, as we do of the land, for it was equally wild and unfathomable always.” He was hardly alone in his assessment.

But we shouldn’t give our forebears a pass on their Flat Sea Society take on the world. The ocean’s depths were being plumbed by the time Thoreau wrote. The laying of a transatlantic cable in 1858 had given the world some sense of its bottom contours, and its farthest reaches would be identified by the scientists of the Challenger expedition of 1872–76, a British naval enterprise whose discoveries laid the foundations of modern-day oceanography.

More perceptive minds would have noted that the sea was not always equally wild. Augustus had relocated the Roman fleet from Portus Julius to Misenum to protect local oyster beds (See Global Geneva article on oysters by Abigail Carroll), themselves an early example of aquaculture and the domestication of the sea. Overfishing of cod had driven Europeans across the North Atlantic in the 16th century in search of new fisheries, which in turn laid the foundation for the settlement of Atlantic Canada and New England.

Planet Earth with the African and Antarctic continents. (Photo: NASA) Coping with depleted fish stocks

Fishing from dories, a traditional shallow-draft fishing boat, which gave us Winslow Homer’s iconic image of the Grand Banks fisherman, The Fog Warning, began in the 1850s. But this practice emerged because depleted stocks of cod, halibut and other species forced fishermen to enlarge the area over which they fished by setting hooked “longlines” from small boats carried on the deck of their schooners rather than simply dropping lines over the side of the vessel, which was the practice before then.

Likewise, the overhunting of Atlantic whales had long since pushed whalers into the Pacific where, in 1850, a Hawai’ian newspaper published a letter from a “Polar Whale” appealing “to the friends of the whole race of whales. Must we all be murdered,” he pleaded. “Must our race become extinct?” The sea was most certainly not “equally wild and unfathomable always”, and armed with only pre-industrial technologies, humans are the reason why.

Carefully managed fishing may not be enough

More recently, in 1992, the Canadian government closed the Newfoundland cod fishery to let the stocks rebound. They have not. The season for the Portuguese sardine fishery has been shortened to two months in 2019. In May of this year, the government of Bangladesh imposed a 65-day ban on coastal fishing. Every year, nets, trawls, and other fishing gear kill hundreds of thousands of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses), and sea turtles as by-catch….

One can view the oceans historically not just in terms of fisheries. However, these resonate with people immediately because they affect livelihoods, economies, cultural traditions, and eating habits worldwide. Seventeen per cent of the world’s protein derives from fish; in some developing countries, the figure is 70 per cent. Of all the ocean’s industries — and there are many — fisheries have the most immediate impact on people across the board.

They also offer the clearest window into the health of the ocean and, thus, the health of ourselves. Not just your friend or relative or colleague, or a nameless artisanal fisherwoman half a world away, but you. Your life depends on the health of the ocean as we know it, and the ocean as we know it is, in a word, dying.

The causes are many and well-known, including global warming and ice loss, oil and plastic pollution, excess nitrogen from agricultural runoff, untreated sewage, and acoustic pollution from seismic exploration for oil wells and military exercises, among many others.

Regardless of where we live — and about 3 billion of us live within 200 kilometres of a seacoast susceptible to rising sea levels and intensifying storms — our individual and collective behaviours have a direct impact on the ocean environment that makes our lives possible.

A school of Crescent-Tail Bigeye showing their vibrant red coloration within a healthy coral reef Palau, Pacific Ocean. (Photo: Ellenbogen, courtesy Living Oceans Foundation)

We now know those early Greeks were right all along: Oceanus does encircle the earth. We are all denizens of a massive archipelago, and the sea around us affects all things. The means to rescue us from ourselves are available, but to implement them we must acknowledge the ocean’s history, and how we have shaped it.

And having done so, we must break the logjam of outmoded economic concepts, legal frameworks, and learned behaviours behind which the muddy waters of infantile inaction and indifference are rising, threatening to drown us in a deluge of catastrophes. As now practised, for instance, neither unfettered capitalism nor the Westphalian nation-state system of international law  —laudable innovations though they once were — facilitates the sort of massively multiplayer solutions so desperately needed to save the ocean and ourselves. No one should starve to death or drown in service to a  formerly good idea.

To take one example, discussions about territorial claims in the South China Sea revolve around legal arguments about the “free sea” that antedate the Treaty of Westphalia by forty years. Were this not so tragic, it might be quaint. But rival claimants for this bit of ocean are simultaneously engaged in overfishing and, to reinforce their claims, destroying the habitat upon which the fisheries depend. At this rate, the end of the world will come about not from expensive, sophisticated  nuclear weapons but with fishing gear and concrete.

The sea was not “equally wild and unfathomable always”. It has a history. Even dead, it has a future, too. The question is, do you?

Lincoln Paine is the author of five books and more than 100 articles, chapters, reviews, and lectures on maritime history. His books include the award-winning The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World(Knopf, 201, with translations into Chinese, Russian, and Romanian, and others pending), Down East: A Maritime History of Maine(Tilbury House, 2000), and Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia (Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

Five ways for you to make a difference
  1. Eat sustainably harvested seafood.
  2. Grow a natural yard; plant a garden.
  3. Live thoughtfully: Reduce toxic household pollutants. Avoid using plastic. Drive a fuel-efficient car, car pool, or use public transit.
  4. Support marine education in our schools and learn maritime history.
  5. Vote for the environment.

Adapted from David Helvarg & Jim Toomey, 50 Ways to Save the Ocean (Novato, California: New World Library, 2006).

Lincoln Paine is the author of five books and more than 100 articles, chapters, reviews, and lectures on maritime history. His books include the award-winning ‘The Sea and Civilization: A Maritime History of the World’ (Knopf, 2013, with translations into Chinese, Russian, and Romanian, and others pending), ‘Down East: A Maritime History of Maine’ (Tilbury House, 2000), and ‘Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia’ (Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

Leads worth following Related Global Geneva articles Transnational Red Sea project that could help save Earth’s coral reefs Climate Crisis: The Race No One is Winning The Global Reef Expedition: A mission to assess the health of coral reefs around the world Coral Vita: Making reef rescue fun – and a business Switzerland, Afghanistan and the Seas Caribbean Dreams – Economic Nightmares Mangroves: a tool for climate change – and more Letter from Maine’s ‘Oyster Lady’: The comeback of a mollusk healthy for food and the planet Letter from Sicily: The Mediterranean – the World’s most Deadly Anti-Refugee ‘Wall’   Art Contest for Students: The Living Oceans’ 2020 Science Without Borders® Challenge!

Kategorien: Jobs

Cyber Monsters: Time to do something about social media perverting our kids

7. Dezember 2019 - 18:00

What are young people – our new generation of the future – supposed to think when the President of the United States – the supposed “leader of the free world” – lies or fabricates information virtually every day on Twitter, one of the world’s largest social media platforms with over 125 million daily users? For a man who racked up over 13,400 false or misleading claims (almost 22 a day), according to The Washington Post, during his first 1,000 days of office (primarily via Tweets), this may be a virtue. But it is a disgrace for much of the world. It also says very little for Twitter.

The Californian-based company, which is steadily losing users, claims to ban anyone who promotes hatred, racism, and terrorism, which I assume also means gun violence or attacks against freedom of the press. Yet all such themes are well-integrated into Trump’s daily abuse of the truth. So far, Twitter has not removed him from its listings. According to Twitter, “world leaders” are meant to abide by the rules as with anyone else; in reality, however, their Tweets are largely allowed free rein because they supposedly enter into the domain of “newsworthiness.”

Contributing cartoonist Jeff Danziger is a member of Cartooning for Peace, a Global Geneva media partner.

Lies become the new ‘truth’

The end result is that Trump continues to lie, while politicians, despots and other cyber abusers from Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Hungary’s Viktor Orbán are all using the same tactics to misrepresent the truth. The overall message is that if you shamefacedly lie enough, you can get away with it. Lies become the new ‘truth’. (See the Netflix film: “Get me Roger Stone”).

Are social media really improving our lives? Or manipulating them to the benefit of massive cyber companies?

Similarly, Facebook, another cyber platform – but with 1.26 billion users – claims to be doing everything possible to prevent incitement of racism or hatred by engaging thousands of fact-checkers. Yet it continues to allow sponsored political advertising, some of it knowingly based on deception or outright lies. (See TED talk by British investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr on how Facebook undermines democracy).

When British director/comedian Baron Sasha Cohen last month lambasted Facebook during a keynote speech to the Anti-Defamation League, he was right on the mark for characterizing Facebook along with Twitter and Google, as caring more “about boosting their share price than sharing democracy.” He also accused them of practising “ideological imperialism” whereby a few billionaires can determine what information people are allowed to see – and without accountability.

Social media: undermining democracy

While these big tech companies have promoted far more division in the United States than any other propaganda machine ever invented (Goebbels would have been a fan), the promotion of Brexit leading up to the 2016 UK referendum was also heavily infused with disinformation and a blatant manipulating of the facts, including by firms such as Cambridge Analytica.  (See Global Geneva article by William Dowell)

While Cambridge Analytica was finally dismantled as criminal, the dissemination of falsehoods continues. For a country purporting to be a democracy, Britain is allowing such propaganda to persist. (See BBC on social media manipulators) For example, one can only watch with dismay at the way many parliamentary members on both sides of the aisle seem to accept that the referendum on whether to Remain or Leave was legitimate, including the disenfranchising of citizens by denying anyone living overseas more than 15 years the right to vote. Switzerland, which allows every passport holder to cast a ballot no matter where they live, or for how long, earlier this year obliged organizers to re-hold a referendum because it was determined that voters had not been properly informed. (See Global Geneva article by Bruno Hauptmann) The new result proved to be a complete reversal of the initial plebiscite.

Young people: Twitter and Facebook are not on their radar

The good news is that young people, notably Millennials, are ignoring Twitter and Facebook. And even conventional ‘boomer’ users are turning away, or spending less time on their platforms. As a journalist, I use both professionally. However, I only use Twitter to tweet what I consider to be relevant Global Geneva stories. I never actually read or follow Tweets. I haven’t got the time.

And yet, what these cyber giants represent, including control over our lives, is frightening. Perhaps more than any other social media vehicle, Facebook actively promotes social and political division, including hatred, racism and bigotry. I am constantly threatening (myself) to delete my account. I consider it evil.

For the moment, however, I reluctantly remain. I have found it a useful tool to track down friends and colleagues around the world. I also use it for highlighting articles. Yet I suspect that its algorithms only allow a small percentage of my posts to reach my 3,000+ ‘Friends’ – most of whom I do not know personally.

Facebook: encouraging isolated communities – and making a fortune out of it

More specifically, Facebook hones in on the interests and gripes of individuals, whether human rights advocates, right-wing extremists or tropical fish breeders, catering to their profiles and making a hell of a lot of money through targeted advertising. The end result is that both Twitter and Facebook are making fortunes off our backs ranging from advertising and sponsorship to their own selling of data. So why should they kill the cyber goose if they can make billions?

But if young people are not attracted by Twitter or Facebook, where are they getting their information? And why should we be so concerned?

The reality is that they’re obsessed by Instagram and Whatsapp (both owned by Facebook), YouTube (owned by Google), SnapChat and other messaging services. And Google, for high school or university research. Given that Facebook and Google have largely cornered the market on these main providers (except for Snapchat), does it really matter that young people are switching, or ignoring them? Like cigarettes, the brand is irrelevant; all are lethal and all are proving just as detrimental to the well-being of our kids.

Are high school students accessing the credible information they need? (American cartoonist and Global Geneva contributor is a member of Cartooning for Peace, a Global Geneva partner).

Google: Controlling access to information

Take Google with over 2.45 billion monthly active users. Virtually all under 20-year-olds I have questioned in recent months say that they use Google to gather information for high school or college essays. But how many actually go beyond Page One in their searches? Almost none.

When I point out that the first 5-6 items on Page One are sponsored (ie. paid-for placements) they look at me in amazement. Then I ask whether they know how the next 5-6 items have managed to make their way to positions just below, but still on Page One? They have no idea. And yet such placements depend on algorithms or indirect advertising and paid promotion. Many do not necessarily represent the best sources of information.

The same goes for Instagram and YouTube. Several students recently told me that they rely on Instagram for their information. But what sort of information? I ask with persistence.

“I don’t know. Instagram information?” one suggested to me.

Determining what is credible – and what is not

Then come all the videos, postings, articles, links and other information sources promoted en masse via online messaging. Few really know whether what they are reading – or seeing – is credible. But it’s posted by their friends, so it must be okay. Without doubt, many of the videos you can see on YouTube or Vimeo are fine. But what about those which are fabricated and passed off as credible? And which ones are carefully designed to misinform?

Youth Writes: Determining what is credible – and what is not. (Photo: E. Girardet)

As part of Global Geneva’s Youth Writes programme, we are finding that few young people have any idea how real journalism functions. Nor do they grasp that anything read or viewed online, whether as part of a blog, a video posting or a purportedly ‘true’ story, is not necessarily correct. This is where trusted journalism can play a significant role in helping young people better understand what is out there and why they need to be more than vigilant in deciding whether they can believe it or not.

Of course, it’s not easy. Not even for well-informed adults. Young people are coming under incessant pressures from their peers – but also insidiously – commercial marketing to base one’s existence on social media, particularly mobile phones. This is causing major problems.

Smart phones are bad for your health

For one, the constant squinting at small screens is now proving ruinous to young people’s eyesight. Many also complain that obsessive phone use is leading to depression – even suicidal tendencies – with users feeling left out or shunned if they do not respond to constant social messaging.

Last month, a London King’s College report based on 41 studies from Asia, Europe and America noted that nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of over 40,000 smart phone users (17-19 years-old) have developed addictive behaviour by becoming ‘panicky’ or ‘upset’ if denied constant access. The study maintained that such addiction was having serious consequences on the mental health. It was also affecting sleep and school work, including reading and writing abilities.

The 2018 OECD PISA results were disappointing for many countries, including Switzerland. The quality of reading – and writing – is deteriorating. (Photo: OECD)

The latest 2018 OECD PISA (Programme for International Assessment) results, which suggest a serious deterioration in reading skills, note that over 10 million students (one in 10 students in the canvassed OECD region of 79 high and middle income countries) could not command even the most basic reading abilities. Nor could they determine whether a text is fact or opinion. It added that over 95 per cent of students now have access to the Internet spending three hours or more online a day. Switzerland was one of those countries that has shown a striking decline in reading and now stands at 28th.  This only underlines justified concerns with the way social media are increasingly fuelling opinion while undermining factual insight.  

Similarly, in our discussions with high school teachers and college professors, we have discovered increasing concern that more and more high school students are graduating unable to write properly. They are also far less culturally aware; many have a shockingly poor sense of history, geography and the Arts. Teachers believe that the constant use and abuse of mobile phones coupled with questionable social media are a major cause of this dysfunctionality. Parents, too, tell us that they have no idea what to do.

This is reflected in our conversations with representatives from international Chambers of Commerce from Geneva to Bangkok. Many point out that young people seeking to succeed in business would be far better served by cultivating more appropriate and worldly aware cultural backgrounds, particularly if they are planning to operate overseas. As one British corporate CEO recently pointed out to me: “We want people to know what’s going on in the world, including how to deal with counterparts whether in China, Saudi Arabia or New York. I want to see them reading The Economist or the FT, but also the local press. This is important. I want to know that they read books, are ready to learn another language, go to museums, know something about art… Social media messaging does not represent a credible news source.”

Another expressed concern is that much of the information disseminated online is not even retained. Users tend to skim through content rather than actually read. As Pew Foundation and other research sources have shown, people retain information up to 40 per cent more effectively when read on paper in a newspaper or magazine than online. The same goes for writing by hand. That’s how the brain functions. We’re beginning to see a return to note taking with yellow legal pads and sitting down with a book or a magazine. Based on our focus groups, young people are more willing to read articles properly in our print edition than online. Millennials are also ignoring social media advertising – they find it annoying – obliging some cyber companies to start reverting to print platforms, a surprising new trend. Young people are not “rediscovering” print but rather “discovering” it.

So this is where we are today. Clearly, some young people are media savvy. They rely on their teachers, their parents, their friends and respected role models for pointers on where to obtain information. But most do not understand the need for credible ‘sources’. In many ways, we are churning out a new form of illiteracy. And yet, most of us – whether teachers or parents – remain perplexed. How can you counter the cyber gods? Or mobile phones?

The French, of course, have now banned mobile and smart phones from schools. This is probably good, but it’s not going to resolve the problem. Social media are here to stay with all their cyber hazards. Participants at a November, 2019 Cyber Security Conference at the World Economic Forum in Geneva warned that we must now start engaging young people, particularly in schools, by alerting them to the threats of cyber abuse. And how to avert them. This has become a huge social responsibility.

So we need to focus on what matters. Maybe it’s time the United Nations Human Rights Agency (UNHCHR) finally creates a major section dealing with cyber abuse and not be afraid to condemn the Facebooks of this world. We need to make young people more aware of the dangers of cyber subversion and to how function in a more balanced, informed and, above all, critical manner. We need to bring quality journalism into schools in order to demonstrate the importance of properly reported information. But, most important, not to rely on one source, but several – or more.

This means encouraging young people to decide which media they are willing to grant their trust, perhaps selecting three or four options. These could be BBC, Al Jazeera, New York Times, Le Monde, Guardian, The Economist, Daily Mail, Globe and Mail, Tribune de Geneve…That’s up to them. But we need to help them. If we don’t, then we will be condemning entire new generations to literary mediocrity and social ignorance. And it will be our fault.

Edward Girardet, a foreign correspondent and author, is editor of Global Geneva magazine and director of the Youth Writes programme.

If you like what Global Geneva is doing – and wish to support us, particularly our Youth Writes programme – then please contribute. Quality journalism does not happen on its own.

Related articles in Global Geneva

“Mindf*ck”: Adventures with the Cambridge terminator Teach your children well…Democracy today? 2019 Youth Writes Awards – Engaging young writers through quality journalism
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Book Excerpt: “Are You With Me? Kevin Boyle and the Rise of the Human Rights Movement” by Mike Chinoy

6. Dezember 2019 - 19:43

By Mike Chinoy (You can read a Global Geneva book review by Charles Norchi here)

In early June 2001,  the phone rang at Kevin Boyle’s office at the University of Essex, where the  Northern Ireland native and veteran rights activist and lawyer ran the  Centre for Human Rights. It was Mary Robinson, the former Irish President and a long-time friend. Robinson had been asked by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to extend her original four-year tenure as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for another twelve months. Was Boyle willing to accept a one-year position as her chief advisor and speech-writer in Geneva?

In the treacherous political minefield of the UN, Robinson valued Boyle, a friend and colleague for nearly two decades, for his intellect, legal acumen and long track record of defending human rights – his ‘good brain’, as she called it – but also because ‘there is nothing more important than having somebody close to you as a special advisor who also minds your back’. But nothing prepared Boyle for what was to come.

His first day was to be 11 September 2001.

That Tuesday afternoon, Robinson was on a boat off the west coast of Ireland taking a much-needed holiday. In Geneva, just hours into his job, with Robinson temporarily unreachable, it fell to Boyle to begin crafting a human rights response to the  Al Qaeda terrorist attacks that left 3000 people dead in the United States.

A series of intense meetings and discussions followed, as Boyle worked to develop an analysis that would insert a human rights perspective into the impassioned international debate over how to respond. The pressure was extreme. It was, as  Boyle’s wife Joan observed, ‘a baptism by fire’.

Just over a week later, Boyle presented Robinson with a paper called ‘A Human Rights Approach to the September 11 Terrorist Attacks’. Its central argument was that ‘under international criminal law, the … attacks can be characterized as a crime against humanity,’ creating ‘a duty in all states to assist in bringing the culprits to justice.’  But, clearly foreseeing the danger posed to human rights by the possibility of an excessive reaction, it reminded governments that ‘the search for those responsible for the U.S. attacks must be pursued within the law and under the guidance of the international norms of international human rights and humanitarian law’.

Soon after, President George W. Bush addressed an emergency joint session of the US Congress. He used an entirely different formulation. The US was engaged in a ‘war on terror’, he declared, making clear that military action against al-Qaeda and its Taliban backers in Afghanistan was imminent. He made no reference to international law or human rights. 

Robinson and Boyle did not question the legitimacy of attacking al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but both believed Bush’s notion of a ‘war on terror’ was fundamentally flawed. ‘It was a war on an abstraction,’ Robinson said, increasing the possibility of human rights abuses and having the potential to undermine the broad international support the United States enjoyed in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

American officials, however, were sharply critical of  Boyle and Robinson’s position. On many mornings, Boyle’s phone would ring and someone from the US mission to the UN in Geneva would launch into a bitter tirade about Robinson’s public statements.

Meanwhile, with the UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee having mandated that all 191 member states provide reports on their counter-terrorism efforts, Boyle and Robinson grew increasingly concerned that protection of human rights was not being taken seriously. To convince the Committee, Boyle drafted a detailed memo which Robinson sent to the chairman, Britain’s UN ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock. In it, Boyle laid out a series of key legal principles – necessity, proportionality, non-discrimination, and due process – and the international legal framework that underpinned them.

He then posed twenty-one questions which he urged the Committee to consider in assessing the performance of governments. They included whether any new anti-terrorist legislation could be used to curb peaceful activity protected by international human rights laws; what measures were in place to prevent torture and other abuses and ensure that information obtained through mistreatment would not be admitted as evidence; whether counter-terrorism measures could lead to discrimination on the basis of race or religion; and what provisions existed to ensure that claims of asylum were not rejected based on unfounded allegations of terrorist activities.

He also raised a question that would soon become a new point of contention with the US: ‘Do your counter-terrorism measures allow for the trial of civilians on terrorism-related charges by special or military courts?’

Around the same time, President Bush issued an executive order authorizing the creation of military tribunals for the detention and trial of non-American citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism. The order in effect created a parallel structure where the US could detain and try people outside the American criminal justice system. The move set off alarm bells. Boyle drafted a note to Robinson outlining its dangerous provisions: detainees could be held indefinitely; they did not have to be told the reason for their arrest or of the charges against them; they were not guaranteed legal representation or the right of appeal. The executive order, Boyle concluded, posed ‘a direct threat to fundamental rights…[and] will not only occasion lasting damage to the ability of the U.S. to champion human rights and the rule of law around the world, but it will also undermine the human rights standards that underpin the collective efforts currently being deployed by the international community to define and distinguish acts of terrorism from legally permissible conduct.’

Boyle urged Robinson to make a ‘strong appeal’ to Bush to rescind or at least modify the order. But the appeal fell on deaf ears. Hundreds of people were caught up in the new US system, held at secret detention sites in Afghanistan and, starting in January 2002, at the US military base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. In the months that followed, reports emerged of brutality and torture, as well as detained suspected terrorists being sent to other countries with well-established records for torture like Egypt and Morocco.

In February 2002, increasingly concerned not only about the American administration’s behaviour, but by the fact that, in many countries, cracking down on terror was being used as an excuse to erode civil liberties, curb peaceful dissent, and imprison political dissidents, Boyle worked with Robinson to draft a long document for the UN’s Human Rights Commission called Human Rights: A Uniting Framework.

The document reiterated the argument that the 9/11 attacks should be seen as a crime against humanity, but maintained that ‘an effective strategy to counter terror should use human rights as unifying framework’ It called on all states to implement the anti-terror steps spelled out in the Security Council’s resolution 1373 ‘in a manner consistent with human rights’, and concluded by directly challenging the view that some rights might need to be curtailed to combat terrorism. ‘There is wide recognition that ensuring respect for human rights and dignity throughout the world is the best long-term guarantor of security.’ To reinforce the point, Boyle’s list of twenty-one questions was inserted as an annex to the formal text of Robinson’s speech, a clever bureaucratic move that made the checklist an official UN document.

But this simply further angered the Bush administration, and by the spring of 2002, it became clear the US was determined to force her out. Under intense pressure from Washington, Annan agreed not to back her for a full second term. For Boyle, her forced departure was a bitter disappointment

Since that time, as regimes from China to Turkey to Syria, as well as an increasing number of western governments, have used the real or imagined threat from “terrorism” to justify a sweeping range of repressive policies, it has become clear that the concerns Boyle and Robinson articulated immediately after 9/11 were justified. Indeed, the erosion of protections has been so extensive that there have even been  headlines recently about ‘the end of human rights.’ But Boyle saw himself, and the human rights movement, engaged in a never-ending struggle, one that would require frequent adjustments of strategy and tactics without losing sight of the long-term goal. In January 2001, for example, while awaiting a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights on a case concerning NATO’s bombing of the Serbian television headquarters in Belgrade in 1999 which left sixteen civilians dead, Boyle wrote, ‘we see this case as just one modest step on the long road to the rule of international law. Even if we fail, ultimately someone will build on it.’

This kind of clear-eyed, understated, but committed view underpinned Kevin Boyle’s approach to human rights, as did his refusal to lose hope or give up. As Mary Robinson declared in her farewell speech as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 11 September 2002, using words Boyle may well have crafted and certainly agreed with, ‘human rights are not expendable. It is time for those who believe in human rights to keep their nerve’. That was true then, as the world reeled from the fallout of the 9/11 attacks a year earlier. It remains equally true today.

Are you with me? can be pre-ordered through Lilliput Press:

As a foreign correspondent for CNN for 24 years, Mike Chinoy won Emmy, Peabody and Dupont awards for his journalism. While he worked primarily in China and North Korea, he also reported on the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s. It was during this time that he met Kevin Boyle. Chinoy is currently a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the University of Southern California’s US-China Institute and is based in Hong Kong. His books include China Live: People, Power, and Television Revolution (1999), Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis (2008), and The Last POW (2014).

Kategorien: Jobs

One Man’s War for Human Dignity: The Extraordinary Life of Kevin Boyle

6. Dezember 2019 - 15:45

In this beautifully-written and fascinating book, Mike Chinoy has brought to life one of the great pioneering human rights lawyers of our times”

Conor O’Clery, author of ‘The Shoemaker and his Daughter’, former correspondent and news editor for The Irish Times

You can read an advance excerpt from this book on Global Geneva here.

Are You With Me? Kevin Boyle and the Rise of the Human Rights Movement, by Mike Chinoy, chronicles the life of a man who spanned civil rights in Northern Ireland and the human rights movement from the halls of academia to international organizations and tribunals. I knew Boyle through our mutual human rights worlds. And being Dublin-born,  I knew of the nearly daily bombings, shootings and sectarian assassinations so had a special interest in ‘The Troubles’ (to which our thoughts return in these days of looming Brexit) and the ensuing peace process to which Kevin was so committed. The Troubles was the way many described the religious-nationalist conflict that broke out in the late 1960s and more or less came to an end with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Kevin Boyle arguing a Kurdish case at the European Court of Human Rights.

Boyle, a scholar-teacher-advocate-counselor who, like Eleanor Roosevelt, occupied multiple roles in the human rights movement, played a significant role in helping to bring an end to this turmoil which also affected the United Kingdom itself, Ireland, Europe and the United States. Yet he remained an unsung hero, until this book.

Chinoy, who is based in Hong Kong, first met Boyle while a student at Yale. He maintained the contact through his distinguished reporting career. For this book, he mined the James Hardiman Library at the National University of Ireland, Galway and drew upon multiple oral histories and extensive interviews. Deploying the skills of a seasoned reporter, Chinoy delivers the reader to a front row seat of the late 20th Century human rights canvass – the Northern Ireland civil rights movement, advocacy before the European Court of Human Rights, academia, civil society and the flowering human rights movement.

Boyle was at the forefront of it all. From his perch at the Queen’s University Law Faculty in Belfast, he drafted proposals for resolving the Northern Irish conflict. He also shone a light upon the abuses perpetrated by the British army and Northern Ireland police in a landmark case to the European Commission on behalf of seven Northern Irish men who were interned without trial, beaten and tortured. He mobilized international law on behalf of victims of torture, unjust imprisonment, discrimination and defended freedom of expression, belief and association.

Boyle with former Irish president Mary Robinson during her stint as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva (1997-2002).

Boyle also guided Amnesty International’s campaign against apartheid in South Africa, and spearheaded efforts to defend Salman Rushdie as Director of Article 19. Yet he never neglected human rights teaching, because students were the future. So he Directed the University of Essex Human Rights Law Centre and was founding Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland at Galway. When President Mary Robinson became United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, she wisely appointed Boyle her chief legal advisor – so he moved to Geneva.

This human rights law professor, advocate and activist died of lung cancer at age sixty-seven. At the time my University of Maine School of Law colleague Orlando Delogu who taught with Boyle at Galway observed, “He was single minded in his defence of oppressed people. The breadth of his interests was quite amazing, but always behind the scenes, the use of law – never violence.” Boyle helped lay the foundation for expanded human rights protections across the planet and inspired generations of scholars and activists.

How did Chinoy choose the title for this book? Boyle was first a university teacher. While lecturing he would pause and ask his students, “Are you with me?” It was a two-fold question. Did they understand the material? And would they be with him on the front line in the fight for human rights? “Are you with me?”

Are You With Me? will be launched at Essex University on 19 March 2020, with book events to follow in Dublin, Belfast, London, Galway and  Oxford. it can be pre-ordered through Lilliput Press:

As a foreign correspondent for CNN for 24 years, Mike Chinoy won Emmy, Peabody and Dupont awards for his journalism. While he worked primarily in China and North Korea, he also reported on the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s. It was during this time that he met Kevin Boyle. Chinoy is currently a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the University of Southern California’s US-China Institute and is based in Hong Kong. His books include China Live: People, Power, and Television Revolution (1999), Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis (2008), and The Last POW (2014). His work has been widely acclaimed across the globe.

In the 1990s, Boyle brought  – and won – scores of cases before the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of Kurds in south-eastern Turkey who had faced imprisonment, torture, rape, and murder at the hands of the Turkish security forces (link to Jonathon Randal’s piece).

Charles H. Norchi is a contributing editor to Global Geneva and  Benjamin Thompson Professor of Law at the University of Maine School of Law, USA. He has written for Global Geneva about Afghanistan, the Polar regions and international human rights.

Related Global Geneva articles

Kurdistan: After such knowledge, what forgiveness?   2020 Martin Ennals Award nominations: Three exceptional women CIVITAS MAXIMA—A Tiny Swiss Group of Lawyers Takes on War crimes and Crimes Against Humanity PRINCE SADRUDDIN AGA KHAN: Humanitarian & Visionary The ‘chair’ is missing a leg: young people’s call for Rights of Nature The right place for the world’s human rights award Defending Human Rights Defenders: The Legacy of Martin Ennals

Kategorien: Jobs

Swiss Journeys: Neuchâtel – combining nature and culture (Part I)

4. Dezember 2019 - 12:22
The following is Part I of two-article reportage by Italo-Swiss journalist Luisa Ballin on the Canton of Neuchâtel as part of Swiss Journeys, our regular Global Geneva series of discovery. (Also to be published in our Winter 2019/2020 print & e-edition)

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Canton of Neuchâtel had the reputation for speaking the best French. Many foreigners came to learn what was then the language of diplomacy. In the courts of Europe, it was fashionable to hire a Swiss governess or tutor for the education of their children.

For Metin Arditi, a Turkish-Swiss novelist and author of the Dictionary of Love of Switzerland and Dictionary of the French Spirit (Editions Plon Grasset): “The accent is undoubtedly a little raspy, but it is in Neuchâtel that we speak the best French of Switzerland!” And according to Swiss linguist Andres Kristol, it was “from Geneva and Neuchâtel that people spoke the good French of Paris.” This was at a time, he wrote, when it was still ‘la France profonde’ (deep France) steeped in the ‘patois’ (local slang) of parochialism with 90 per cent illiteracy.”

Overlooking the languid banks of the Neuenburgersee, as the German-Swiss call Lake Neuchâtel, at the foot of the Jura mountains bordering three other cantons – Vaud, Fribourg and Bern – the city also seduced another well-known, universal Swiss, notably the author, dramatist and painter, Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Born in the canton of Bern in 1921, he settled here in 1952 until his death in 1990. Renowned for epic dramas such as The Visit (Der Besuch der Alten Dame) and The Physicists (Die Physiker) as well as the novel, The Pledge (Das Versprechen), he lived in the verdant Vallon de l’Ermitage, with stunning views and an impressive library. His home was eventually integrated into a building designed by Ticino architect Mario Botta to become in 2000 the Centre Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel (CDN), a museum dedicated to the most read, translated and performed Swiss author in the world.

“The Centre Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel exhibits his paintings in connection with his literary works, but also offers a space for temporary exhibitions and events,” explains Madeleine Betschart, director of the CDN. The centre is designed to reflect the inexhaustible storytelling capabilities of the life and works of this exceptional creator. Writing in German, Dürrenmatt was also an avid supporter of the local football team, Neuchâtel-Xamax, whose matches he could watch from his window.

The Visit, Dürrenmatt´s 1956 tragic-comedy.

“In contrast to my literary works,” he noted, “my drawings are not part of any form of ancillary creation, but rather represent the battlefields with their lines and colours, where my struggles, my adventures, my experiences and my defeats as a writer occurred.” Not without a sense of humour, this scholarly and spiritual graffiti artist had also transformed his toilette into a joyful and highly suggestive Sistine Chapel.

The Friedrich Dürrenmatt Centre. (Photo: Centre archives) Remembering the Belle Epoque days

Just below the Friedrich Dürrenmatt Centre, you can walk to the Botanical Garden. Part of the the University and City, it beckons to lose yourself in the heart of a relaxing and luxuriant natural retreat. This extraordinary garden boasts more than 4,000 species of plants, some of them exceptionally rare. The garden is also a focal point for exhibitions exploring the link between humanity and environment as well as cultural spectacles, workshops and parties.

You can continue strolling along the lake shore with its constantly changing azure, deep blue or emerald tones. One can also dream of those elegant Belle Epoque times, when people might wish to frequent Le Bain des Dames (Ladies’ Bath), offering a charming place to bask or dine on the terrace, enjoying perhaps a cheese fondue within its walls on a cold winter’s day.

Christine Domon, an erudite city guide, is another German-speaking citizen seduced by the charms of Neuchâtel. She accompanies me through the streets of a city, pointing out its surprises or eccentricities, or revealing its secrets.

We take a welcome break in front of the fountain located near the Passage des Bouchers (Butchers’ Lane), with a bottle of absinthe, a distilled, highly alcoholic elixir once dubbed the ‘Green Fairy’ by those addicted to its intoxicating effects. (See Global Geneva article by Janet Hill).

Originating in the Canton of Neuchâtel during the late 18th century, this anis-flavoured drink with hallucinogenic qualities and links to Bohemian culture, it was eventually banned in 1915. Diluted in water, it quenches one’s thirst; swallowed pure, it could lead to madness. Today, however, the Green Fairy has been rehabilitated. There is even an absinthe-based ice cream ‘parfait’ named after French President François Mitterrand, when he visited Switzerland. It is now served at the best tables.

The City of Neuchâtel, which merged with the neighbouring towns of Peseux, Corcelles-Cormondrèche and Valangin in 2018, now has a population of 44,432. Not only rich in its bourgeois homes and distinguished traditions, it is famous for its wine.

Before leaving Neuchâtel, you should visit the Flacon (and not Parfum) & Molécule, a specialized workshop that creates and sells scents born from the inspiration of masters of high perfumery. Pushing open a door in the Old Town, I entered  the domain of a merchant whose broad selection of fine wines includes a l’Œil-de-Perdrix (Partridge’s Eye), a Neuchâtel rosé, or a sparkling Mauler wine normally reserved for customers who come to taste and buy nectars. Here you can enjoy a musical intermezzo by the owner who improvises at the piano in his unusual shop. The beautiful buildings and places of historic renown encourage architectural enthusiasts to climb up to the Collegiale and Castle to admire the city from above. The most nostalgic will push open the door to the imposing Hotel DuPeuyrou. This bears the name of its creator who liaised with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose first complete edition was published after the writeràs death in Geneva in 1788. This now serves as a restaurant with a terrace and garden.The most curiosity-driven will enjoy a journey on a turn-of-the-century tram, taking a Belle Epoque tour of Neuchâtel. Halting at various historic places you can taste its past as zou journey through this 1,000-year-old city with its opulent and fascinating cultural treasures. You can then stop at the lakeside Hotel Beaulac restaurant or the Brasserie Le Cardinal, with its Art Nouveau decor, for sustenance. A Belle Epoque tram.

Later, perhaps, you can take tea at the Hotel Palafitte, a unique architectural structure built on stilts in 2002 for the Expo02 Swiss National Exhibition.  It features 38 individual pavilions, with a sober and refined decor, 24 of which are built on the lake itself with access via a ‘ladder’. The Palafitte also offers a striking external opening to an area where archaeologists found the remains of the earliest Swiss houses built on pilesI .

Before leaving Neuchâtel, you should visit  the Parfum & Molécule, a specialized workshop that creates and sells scents born from the inspiration of masters of high perfumery. In her luminous den, Emmanuelle Grau Bretin, a young surgeon who converted to becoming an olfactory designer, offers exceptional fragrances based on individual personalities to find the perfume that harmonizes with each skin.

Luisa Ballin is an Italo-Swiss journalist and contributing editor to Global Geneva.

Part II of this Swiss Journey focuses on La Chaux-de-Fonds: a UNESCO-honoured watchmaking metropole. (To be published soon)
Kategorien: Jobs

“Mindf*ck”: Adventures with the Cambridge terminator

2. Dezember 2019 - 19:15

The driving force behind both events, Wylie insists, was a previously little known contractor, Cambridge Analytica, created in 2014. Wylie has direct knowledge of what he is talking about. After finishing his studies at the London School of Economics, he was one of the conceptual architects of the strategy that made Cambridge Analytica into a formidable force.

Wylie, a Canadian, had gone to work for the Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL, not long after finishing his studies at the London School of Economics. The acronym, SCL, stands for Strategic Communication Laboratories, and the small consulting organization advertised itself as one of the first privately owned “psychological warfare” consultancies.

Dealing with political instability and electoral manipulation

The company’s early clients were corporations dealing with political instability in far flung locations of the planet, but it quickly shifted its marketing focus to European ministries of defence, interested in extracting and analysing information from social media that could be used to influence and counteract insurgencies and extremist groups. Recruitment of European candidates by jihadist groups like ISIS would have been a typical target. SCL also offered to influence third world elections in Africa and Central Asia, when it might be to everyone’s advantage to keep a corrupt dictator or potential warlord from seizing power.

With Barack Obama elected to a second term in the United States, SCL managed to catch the attention of Robert Mercer, an extreme rightwing billionaire who had made his fortune first as a computer scientist working at IBM’s research facility and then as co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund invested in advanced technologies.

Hardly a liberal, Mercer was an opponent of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a major pivot point in ending segregation in the United States. Mercer was convinced that government intervention aimed at empowering African-Americans had been a mistake. After Obama’s success, Mercer became the largest single donor to the Republican Party.

Winning elections: a social engineering problem

It was not long before he encountered Steve Bannon, who had taken over Breitbart, an extreme rightwing website, with neo-fascist leanings. Intrigued by the possibilities of SCL, Mercer decided to buy it and to put Bannon in charge.  As Wylie explains in his book, “Mercer looked at winning elections as a social engineering problem.  The way to ‘fix society’ was by creating simulations. If we could quantify society inside a computer, optimize that system and then replicate that system outside the computer, we could remake America in his image.”

Mercer couldn’t use SCL to influence an American election directly, since it was a British company. The solution was to create a new company, Cambridge Analytica, incorporated in Delaware, and then to outsource Cambridge Analytica’s work to SCL.  Mercer put up a mere $15 million for a 90 per cent interest in Cambridge Analytica and placed Bannon in charge.

The beauty in the manoeuver was that since Mercer was simply buying a company, he didn’t have to report the purchase as a campaign contribution; he was already the single biggest contributor to the Republican campaign. He had started by backing Ted Cruz, but shifted his focus to Trump with apparently little difficulty. Since Cambridge Analytica was an American company, the formula enabled SCL to discretely export technology that was technically classified as sensitive military software in Britain.

The new Terminator: Not halting insurgencies, but creating them

Robert Mercer has his own ideas about politics and society.  He has one of the largest private collections of machine guns in America along with the weapon that Arnold Schwarzenegger brandished in his Terminator films.  But once Steve Bannon took over, the political angle was definitely his. Bannon had briefly made a name for himself in Hollywood and had then gone on to run a computer game company in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong experience introduced him to social media networks such as reddit and 4chan, and that connection subsequently led him to realise that the anonymity of the net gives free rein to quite a bit of suppressed anger.

Bannon’s brilliant insight once he had assumed control of Cambridge Analytica, was that its real strength (using SCL’s technology) was not in stopping insurgency, but rather in creating it.  Most elections are zero sum affairs with both sides nearly evenly matched. If you could add just one or two percentage points to your side, you could win.

The trick was to target a particularly vulnerable sector of society that normally would never bother voting and inflame the band of misfits into becoming a new addition to the normal assortment of voters.  According to Wylie, Bannon sensed that modern, semi-educated white American men resented the current social revolution.  Straight white men had never had to modify their speech around women or people of different races in the past because misogyny and casual racism were already normalised behaviour.

In the current social revolution, men felt that they suddenly had to censor themselves or be socially ostracised. Casual flirting in the workplace was out. Racist jokes could threaten your job.  Adjusting to the change required a great deal of energy.  If you could identify the alienated, Bannon reasoned, and feed them a diet of conspiracy theories that fuelled their anger, it might be enough to swing an election.

Steve Bannon, a brilliant, right-wing strategist who sensed that modern, semi-educated white American men resented the current social revolution.(Photo: Wikipedia) The key: Accessing Facebook followed by Google and Amazon

Cambridge Analytica figured that in the U.S. an additional 70,000 strategically-placed votes might carry enough swing states needed to win the electoral college.  SCL, which had gained access to the work of social psychologists at Cambridge University knew the manipulations needed to do just that.

The key was access to Facebook data. In the 1940s, psychologists had developed a test known as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI).  The test consisted of more than 500 seemingly random questions, which were put to people with known psychiatric disorders and then given to apparently normal students.  By co-relating the response patterns, one could presumably spot tendencies to disorders like depression, hypochondria, hysteria, etc.  The enormous quantities of personal information collected online by Facebook, Google and Amazon provided infinitely more information and enough computing power now existed to profile nearly everyone on an individual basis.

The data was provided by a psychologist working at Cambridge, Alexandre Kogan. Using an online game he had set up as part of a research project, Kogan was able to obtain access to several thousand Facebook users.  What no one realised at the time was that Kogan could also gain access to all the friends that each of his users were in touch with.

Cambridge Analytica manipulated social media with strategically chosen ads and fabricated news stories to help bring Donald Trump to power.

Cambridge Analytica quickly expanded its access to individually profile hundreds of millions of potential voters. In a demonstration for Bannon, a name of a potential voter was picked at random in Nebraska. Cambridge Analytica was able to immediately show a picture of the voter, a woman, on the screen and show her latest actions and preferences in real time.  A phone call to the woman confirmed the data that Cambridge Analytica had anonymously collected.

Trump lost the popular vote by three million, but won the electoral college. 

For Cambridge Analytica it was relatively easy to filter out those potential voters most vulnerable to psychological manipulation.  Once they had been identified, local meetings were arranged with maybe twenty or thirty like-minded participants collecting in a local coffee shop. Small clusters were connected to other clusters through local events and they were kept in contact by a constant flood of social media into which flooded strategically chosen ads and fabricated news stories, psychologically engineered to achieve a desired reaction.

The effect spread like a virus. In the US, the well spring of anger generated by the false information was enough to swing critically important states.  Trump lost the popular ballot by three million votes, but he won the electoral college.

During his campaign, Trump had shown an affinity with Vladimir Putin. For their part, the Russians had demonstrated an intense interest in Cambridge Analytica, and they helped the Trump mission by purloining and then leaking stolen Democratic emails via Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

Cambridge Analytica played a key role in deceiving the British public in support of the United Kingdom’s mainly right-wing Brexit campaign. The end result was that numerous voters in the 2016 referendum on whether to leave the European Union or not were poorly informed, a manipulation that continues to mark the current electoral debate. Illegal deception created in support of Brexit

Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had previously worked with pro-Russian clients to influence elections in the Ukraine.  Trump’s preferences were not only for Russians, however; he was also in contact with France’s extreme right National Front and with Britain’s Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit campaign. Mercer had wanted Britain out of the European Union, and Cambridge Analytica played a major role in liberally applying the same tactics to the Brexit campaign.

As for Bannon, his goal appeared to be to free white men from the strictures of modern society, by enabling them to openly express their inner instincts and prejudices in order to become once again a “free thinker.”  Nietzsche had had similar notions which provided an intellectual structure for Hitler’s adventures into fascism. It was not a pretty picture. Once knowledge began to surface revealing what Cambridge Analytica had done, its owners shut it down. The experience and technology it developed, however, remains very much alive.

Once Christopher Wylie realised the direction that Cambridge Analytica was taking, he was horrified at the Frankenstein monster he had helped create.  He resigned after nine months, then agreed to testify in order to alert the US Congress to what he had done.  Social media quickly turned against him, and Wylie discovered just how difficult it is to be anonymous in today’s interconnected world.  His book, nevertheless, makes fascinating reading, if only as a preview of even more sinister things to come.

Foreign correspondent and author William Dowell is Global Geneva’s America’s editor.

See other related articles in Global Geneva

Book publishing confronts the Internet

OPINION – Brexit: A dark threat to peace and security in Europe

Brexit: A cliff hanger axing Britain’s own legs – and without a Swiss option

Britain’s new post-Brexit role in Africa?

Brexit and Trumpean policies: The rising attraction of Europe’s international schools

The Swiss option: Not too late for a credible Brexit poll of the people

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Dinners with Graham Greene

2. Dezember 2019 - 10:08
This is part of Global Geneva’s focus on culture relating to International Geneva themes.

A dinner with Graham Greene in Antibes could start, so to speak, at lunch. As neither of us ever cooked, and there was only a small number of restaurants to be frequented in the Riviera resort, I often found myself lunching at the same restaurant as the writer. Almost invariably he would be reading a fat biography.

“May I sit down or would you prefer to go on reading?” I would ask respectfully.

“I should like to continue reading,” he usually said, “but we could have dinner this evening.”

Years earlier we had reached a modus vivaldi, whoops, vivendi, about our relationship. “We can be friends if you promise me not to take notes on what I say during a meal or afterwards. Then I shall be at ease with you. And no articles about me unless I agree to them.” I willingly accepted these ground rules, and as neither of us had many friends in Antibes, we saw a lot of each other.

The dinner scenario hardly varied. It was always whisky, to start with. Only the brand changed. I’d drive to his city apartment overlooking the Antibes sea front. The streets were full of uncollected trash. “It’s not the Côte d’Azur,” he remarked once, “it’s the côte d’ordure.” It was the only pun I ever heard him make. He disliked puns, especially mine.

“Would you like a whisky?” he always began. “Will Grouse do?” Once he pointed to a bottle of whisky with a Japanese name, Santory, on it. It came with a letter, he explained. “They’re offering me a free life-time supply of their whisky if I will have a character in one of my novels ask for that Japanese brand of scotch. What do you think I should do?”

I suggested mildly that he knew very well what to do. Anyway, I added, you’ve not tasted it yet. It was only several pre-dinner drinks later that the bottle was opened. It tasted pretty authentic to my uneducated palate. I didn’t have the impression that he was overwhelmed. In any case, I was never offered a Japanese whisky again.

It was impossible to go out for dinner without two whiskies neat. Normally we debated where to go for dinner. But one night he said we’d go to a new place. “There’s one problem with it, though,” he admitted. “The chairs are dreadfully uncomfortable. Seventeenth century chairs, I suspect. They were given to the owner by his father-in-law and mother-in-law, so he can’t get rid of them. We shall have to go there with pillows.”

We always walked from Greene’s centrally located flat to any of our half dozen restaurants. I felt a bit silly walking through the city carrying a largish pillow. He didn’t. When we got to his new restaurant, horribile dictu, we found it closed. What to do with the pillows?

“Shouldn’t we take them back to your apartment?” I suggested timidly.

“No,” he said, “we’ll just go across the street to the Venise” (one of his favorite restaurants).

It was summertime and of course there was no cloakroom attendant.

“Bonsoir, Monsieur Greene,” said the owner, pleased to see his most famous customer.

Greene handed him his pillow and I did likewise. The restaurateur looked puzzled but said nothing.

“One of the reasons I like this place,” Greene explained, “is that they don’t object if I choose a pasta as the main course.” He did just that, but compensated with a bottle of wine, which we shared.

We also shared the bill. Early on in the relationship, we took turns paying. But he didn’t like this arrangement because he felt we never remembered whose turn it was. So, it was a Dutch treat.

As we were leaving, the restaurateur handed us the pillows, but could not resist inquiring, “Do you mind if I ask you why you came to my restaurant with pillows?”

Ha ha, I thought, now Graham will have to come up with an innovative explanation.

“We intended to eat in the restaurant across the street,” said Greene bluntly, “but it was closed.”

When we arrived in front of his apartment, Graham always proposed “a drink for the road.” I never declined his invitation. I drove home extremely carefully. Even if I had wanted to make notes about our conversation, even if I had promised never to write about our encounters, I couldn’t have recalled a tenth of what was said and what happened during the long alcoholic evenings.

‘The Quiet American’, one of Graham Greene’s best known novels, was made into a feature film in 2002 directed by Phillip Noyce and starring Michael Caine, Brendan Fraser, and Do Thi Hai Yen.

Greene hated being recognized in a public setting. Every so often as he walked briskly through the streets of Antibes, a stranger would accost him and say, “Aren’t you Graham Greene?”

“I glaze,” he said, “or I reply, ‘you must be thinking of my brother.’ I stay away from television so that people won’t recognize me. I agreed to appear on Budapest TV because I thought that was pretty safe.

“Actually there is another Graham Greene. I mean that’s his name. We’ve never met but some day I’d like to do a story about us. Our paths keep crossing. The other Graham Greene was thrown into jail in Assam and wired the Picture Post to send him a hundred pounds. The magazine contacted me and I offered to go to India and to write about our confrontation, but the plan didn’t work out.”

The writer visibly enjoyed chatting about his namesake. “One day I was in a hotel in Rome and a woman named Veronica called up. ‘We met in Arabia,’ she reminded me. Obviously she knew the other Greene because I had never been in Arabia. I suggested a drink in the bar. I didn’t turn up, though, after a friend I sent ahead to the bar phoned me to say she was awful.

“On another occasion in London I bought a plane ticket to New York. The airline employee said, ‘You’re not staying very long in the States, are you? You’re flying over on September 2 and returning the next day.’ I told her I hadn’t even thought of booking my return flight. Of course, the other G.G. was returning to London on September 3.”

Contrary to what one might expect of an Englishman who had chosen to live in France, Greene much preferred English cooking to French cuisine. “Yes, French gigot [leg of lamb] is good,” he conceded, “but British roast saddle of mutton is better. Our lamb cutlets are superior to the French. English sausages and beer are also much better. I’d choose English apple pie over French tarte aux pommes. And then I am very proud of Welsh rarebit, herring roes on toast and treacle tart.”

Greene also had a weakness for Irish coffee. “I sleep comfortably after drinking one, but one night in a Paris restaurant the proprietor poured out Scotch whisky for want of Irish and the result was deplorable.”

Ever since I wrote ‘A Burnt-Out Case’ in 1959, I’ve thought that each novel was the last I’d be capable of writing. (Graham Greene)

Advancing years didn’t much alter Greene’s fairly rigid work routine. Between breakfast (tea, dry biscuits and marmalade) at 8:30 and lunch at 12:15 he wrote “a minimum of 300 words a morning, if possible 400, six days a week. That’s my quota. I can really write for an hour or an hour and a half at most. I like to stop in the middle of a scene because that makes it easier to start the next day. Writing a novel does not become easier with age and experience. Ever since I wrote A Burnt-Out Case in 1959, I’ve thought that each novel was the last I’d be capable of writing.” One day he complained that he was “down to only 250 words a morning. Deplorable.”

When he wasn’t writing—and he never did afternoons or evenings in Antibes—he was generally reading. Although he claimed to be a slow reader, he said he averaged 13 books a month. He liked Thomas Hardy’s poetry, Browning and Evelyn Waugh. “I can read a Joseph Conrad novel three or four times, but pornography only once and then only in small doses. I find the present permissiveness rather boring. By the way, the French translation of my first published book, The Man Within, was censored by Jacques Maritain on the grounds it was pornographic!”

The Man Within. Graham Greene’s first published novel was censored in its French translation for being “too pornographic.”

That first novel sold 8,000 copies, an impressive number for 1929. “But I wasn’t a commercially successful writer until after the war,” he pointed out. “My first best seller, The Heart of the Matter, was published in 1948. I was in debt to my publishers and wrote book reviews to make ends meet.”

Greene thought so poorly of his second and third novels, which sold, respectively, only 2,000 and 1,200 copies, that he simply suppressed them from the list of his works. They have never been republished. “For a lot of money you could find them in a second-hand book shop. Their titles? Why should I help you?”

Did he think that The Man Within was satisfactory? “No,” he admitted, “but you can’t suppress them all. You have to have a first novel, don’t you? Actually, The Man Within was the third book I had written, but the first two were turned down by publishers. If The Man Within had not been published, I would have stopped writing.”

Greene objected to being called a Roman Catholic writer. “I don’t believe I have ever gone so far as to describe myself as a novelist who writes about Catholic themes. I am a writer who happens to be a Catholic. No one knew I was a Catholic until Brighton Rock and I had been writing then for 10 years.”

Another legend about Graham Greene had him entering and winning all the literary contests of the New Statesman wherein readers were invited to write “in the style of Graham Greene.”

“I’ve entered quite a few competitions of this sort,” he acknowledged, “but I have rarely won. Once I did win a second prize for the first paragraph of a Greene novel, under an assumed name, naturally. I wrote a plot on another slip of paper and Mario Soldati made a film out of it in Venice with Trevor Howard. It was called The Stranger’s Hand and my hand appeared on a gondola.”

Greene strongly disliked just about every film version of his novels or “entertainments,” the exception being The Third Man, which most people didn’t realize he had written. What Greene liked best was “when a director, like Otto Preminger, acquired an option, for example, for A Burnt-Out Case, let it lapse once, re-acquired it, allowed the option to lapse a second time, and then never made the movie.”

‘The Third Man’, directed by Carol Reed from an original script by Graham Greene, was first released in 1949. This film has gone on to become one of the most iconic mystery thrillers ever made. It was re-released in August, 2019, on its 70th anniversary.

Greene admitted that “the money was a temptation, but the cinema versions of my novels always turned out so awful.”

Four or five of Greene’s novels were situated in Latin America and the Caribbean, and he was keenly interested in the region’s politics. The overthrow and murder of Salvador Allende, whom Greene knew and admired, and the persecution of his supporters filled him, as he put it to me, “with grief and horror.”

“If I had to classify myself politically, I suppose I would say I was a humanist and a socialist. Rather like [the ‘Czechoslavak Spring’ leader] Dubcek. I am certainly on the left. The destruction of the courageous Chilean effort to build socialism with a human face leaves one terribly, terribly sad. It was the way I felt when I learned of Che Guevara’s death.”

Greene used to feel that The Power and the Glory, one of his early books, was his best novel. “I no longer think that,” he said. “Now I believe that The Honorary Consul is my best book of fiction.”

But didn’t all creative artists think that their most recent work was their finest, I suggested? Didn’t Charlie Chaplin unhesitatingly describe Limelight, as soon as he had shot it, as the best film he had ever made?

“I have seldom thought that the last thing I did was the best,” he replied. “This time, with The Honorary Consul, I do. It has certainly given me more trouble than previous novels. There were moments when I realized perfectly why Hemingway shot himself one day. I was nearly halfway through it before I was sure I’d finish it. I wrote the novel seven times, eight times in fact, since in addition to the seven typescripts there was the original manuscript. I always write books longhand. My two fingers on the typewriter don’t connect with my brain. My hand on a pen does. A fountain pen, of course. Ballpoint pens are good only for filling in forms on planes.”

Long before publication of the book-that-was-almost-not-written, the Book-of-the-Month Club selected it. It was Greene’s third Book Club choice, after A Burnt-Out Case and Travels with My Aunt. Le Monde, France’s most prestigious newspaper, and a German daily asked Greene for permission to serialize the novel in toto.

“I refused,” said Greene, “because the rhythm of a novel is destroyed by daily excerpts.”

Well, if Greene was not always convinced that his most recent book was his best, was he, like so many artists, bored with the work he had just finished?

“Oh, I’m not bored with it,” he exclaimed unconvincingly, “but with life.”

Restlessly peripatetic, Graham Greene spent the last part of his life near his daughter in Vevey, Switzerland. He died on 3 April 1991 at the age of 86 and is buried in Corseaux cemetery.

Paul Ress, who lives in Switzerland, was persuaded by his friends to gather some of his stories and notorious puns into a short book entitled Shaggy Dog Tales: 58 ½ Years of Reportagepublished by Xlibris at $9.99 for the e-book version, $20.99 as paperback, and $30.99 for the hardback edition. The renowned British biographer Caroline Moorehead, who also worked with Paul, describes his book as a “collection of charming and funny pieces, many about a lost and vanishing world”One bonus in the book, which makes it worth the price for any information officer, is Paul’s thoughts on how to be successful with journalists. His message is very popular with hardened reporters and suspicious correspondents. Typically, for this uncontrollable punster, Paul’s guide is entitled Flackery will get you nowhere.

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2020 Martin Ennals Award nominations: Three exceptional women

1. Dezember 2019 - 12:23
The following is part of Global Geneva’s ongoing commitment to the reporting of ‘international Geneva’ themes, including human rights.

Representing 10 of the world’s leading human rights organizations, notably Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Brot für die Welt and others, the Geneva-based Martin Ennals Foundation every year selects three human rights defenders for its award. For the 2020 prize, which will be presented in February in Geneva, the jury chose three outstanding human rights defenders, all women. Their selection also demonstrates the leading position that female activists are increasingly playing in frontline human rights. (See article by John Horekens on the MEA in Global Geneva)

Huda Al-Sarari, finalist of the 2020 Martin Ennals Award. (Photo: MEA)

While the potential of candidates – and the human rights issues and crises they represent world-wide – is huge, this year’s jury decided to focus on Huda Al-Sarari, who has exposed and challenged the existence of secret prisons and many cases of torture in Yemen; Norma Ledezma who is fighting against femicides (sex-based hate crimes against women) and disappearances in Mexico; and South Africa’s Sizani Ngubane, a key advocate for access for women to both education and land. While only one will be chosen for the 2020 award, all three will be equally acknowledged at the presentation ceremony hosted by the City of Geneva next February.

The purpose of holding the award at this new time of the year is also to coincide with the February-March session of the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council at the Palais des Nations. This is an international gathering that meets three times a year and often favours official delegations rather than individual or grass roots human rights defenders. (See Jon Randal’s revealing article on the Kurds and their ongoing repression by governments such as Turkey). Council members often include governments who are themselves blatant violators, such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. The United States withdrew from the Council in June 2018 for what it claimed to be the ‘dubious’ human rights records of many of its member states as well as its ‘chronic’ bias against Israel. There was no mention of Israel’s abuses against the Palestinians or U.S. President Donald Trump’s own egregious violations against migrants or the children of migrants.

According to Isabel de Sola, Director of the MEA Foundation, this is the first time that three women have been nominated “for their defence of fundamental rights of their communities in sensitive contexts.” The award, which was launched in 1993 in honour of Martin Ennals, former secretary of Amnesty International, was created to honour – and protect – individuals around the world who demonstrate exceptional courage in defending and promoting human rights.

Sizani Ngubane, second finalist for the 2020 Martin Ennals Award. (Photo: MEA) Reflecting greater global impetus for human rights awareness

In Yemen, for example, which has been at war since 2005, Huda Al-Sarari – a lawyer – revealed the existence of several secret detention centres where the worst violations of human rights have been committed: torture, disappearances or even extrajudicial executions. Sizani Ngubane, an ardent South African rights advocate for over 40 years, founded an organisation of more than 50,000 mainly rural women. This seeks to highlight discrimination against women, particularly violence, and highlights the plight of women whose land has been expropriated and who are deprived of access to education and justice.

Norma Ledezma: third finalist for the 2020 Martin Ennals Award (Photo: MEA)

And finally, in Mexico, an equally horrendous situation has emerged with civilians paying the price of ineffective rule of law. This has lead to widespread violence and impunity with women the primary victims. Over 3,500 women are murdered each year as the result of femicide. Norma Ledezma, who is the mother of one of the victims, has put all her energy into supporting families seeking access to justice in the state of Chihuahua.

De Sola noted that the MEA jury choice “reflects the ever-greater global impetus of individuals – whatever their gender – who are committed to respect for human rights and women’s rights in particular.” Jury chairman Hans Thoolen added that while the 2020 finalists work on different continents, “all three have in common their resilience, determination, a tremendous rigour and, finally, the positive and concrete impact of their work.” (See oped article in Global Geneva by Hans Thoolen on why Geneva is the host for the MEA award).

The 2020 Martin Ennals Award’s evening will take place at 1800 hr on 19 February, 2020 in the Plainpalais Salle Communale of Geneva. You can register here for the event.

Journalists and author Edward Girardet is editor of Global Geneva magazine and a member of the Martin Ennals Award board.

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Kategorien: Jobs

Made in U.S.A. — Godard spills the beans on politics and atrocity

30. November 2019 - 15:12

Jean-Luc Godard – 88 on 3 December 2019 – makes probably the most charmless films in the history of cinema. But this statement should be read as a description not a judgment. His films highlight the extent to which other directors rely on charm to make their movies acceptable: the charms of narrative, character, theme, story, spectacle, display, ‘content’, personality, photography, fluidity of editing, voyeurism, spectator distance, personal involvement, ‘realism’ or wilful fantasy. Godard’s stylistic originality – his strategy of disenchantment, demystification, and deconstruction of efforts to disguise the coercive messages of conventional films – frequently hides from critics the extent to which his films are political, not just in their theoretical monologues, but also in their concern with the practical realities and violence of modern politics, particularly torture and assassination (Le Petit Soldat, Les Caribiniers, and Made in U.S.A., i.e. particularly in his least discussed works).

The reason for confusion: Godard’s desire for realism

In Made in U.S.A. (1966), what is striking in retrospect is his fidelity to our knowledge of politics which modern society provides. As a result, in explicating the film, the normally careful critic Richard Roud confesses: “The plot is extremely confusing. […] The reason for this confusion is quite simple: Godard’s desire for realism. Nobody knows to this day who killed Ben Barka and how it was done […] And, Warren Report or not, no one yet knows the full story of the Kennedy assassination [both referred to in the film]. Any film about these events would, according to Godard, be false and dishonest. Just as Les Caribiniers seemed to many stupid and nonsensical, so Made in U.S.A. seems to many confused and absurd. The reasons are similar in both cases. But at least anyone could follow Les Caribiniers, whereas the same is not true of Made in U.S.A.” Roud’s fellow critic and scholar Ian Cameron points out that Godard says he was inspired by Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep, but with a woman wearing the detective’s trenchcoat. No-one, not even its author Raymond Chandler or Hawks himself, has been able to make sense of that plot. At least Godard was trying to reflect political realities. Finally, with much hesitation, Roud thought Made in U.S.A. a failure. Godard himself told the critic Colin MacCabe: “Things were too mixed up. I wanted to say too many things.” It was filmed to help out producer Georges Beauregard when Godard had already been commissioned to make One or Two Things that I know about Her. The most common response seems to have been: “It is his slightest film since Alphaville, perhaps even since Bande à Part. Conversely [a word that seems to turn up very often in articles on Godard], it is also one of the most difficult” (Cameron). “It’s no surprise that the film’s Swedish distributors caught a terrible cold with it, for Made in U.S.A. is the least exportable of Godard’s films”.

Meaningless’ remarks with significance

Its difficulties have been ascribed to his efforts to use anti-narrative techniques and fragmentation of plot at the same time as setting out an exposition of the absurdity of the contemporary world: “In fact, according to traditional views of aesthetics, it is wholly proper to have the form express the content. But this has not been Godard’s way before, and it doesn’t work too well here” (Roud). Cameron, too, recognizes Made in U.S.A. as having a “centre-less structure”. But many of the “meaningless” remarks, Cameron notes, prove to have significance. For example, in a bar Anna Karina notes that “during a war 70+14 make 40” (a reference to three French disasters – the 1870 Franco-Prussian war, the outbreak of the First World War and assassination of the Socialist leader Jean-Jaurès, and the collapse of French defenses at Sedan in 1940.

Jean-Luc Godard: One of Switzerland’s best-known film directors. (Photo: RTS)

For a “slight” film, Made in U.S.A. carries some heavy political baggage: “References to Kennedy, to Ben Barka, to the murder of the mayor of Evian and to the fates of the 17 witnesses to the Kennedy assassination as well as to the fact that Paula [Anna Karina] wanted to write a book on Lee Harvey Oswald, underline the impression that assassination is the international reserve currency of politics. Richard [Paula’s murdered boyfriend] wrote that ‘le fascisme était le dollar de la morale’ [Fascism was the currency of morality]” (Cameron).

Scene from Godard’s 1964 film: Une Femme Mariée

Similarly, “torture is a normal part of the political underworld’s activities. Marie Dufour [one of the briefly seen characters] was tortured with a razor blade. Mme Celine, the charwoman from Une Femme Mariée, turns up walking with a limp. We learn that she has been tortured. [She says:] ‘Toujours le sang, la peur, la politique, l’argent. [Forever blood, fear, politics, money]”. Twice the film insists, via the cover of a paperback book, that the revolutionary left is back to its starting point: “gauche année zéro”, as Cameron also notes. The film ends with an observation that Left and Right are outdated notions. Questions have to be posed in other terms. Cameron also picks up on Godard’s concern with politics as war (“since Le Petit Soldat”), the illusion of war as a game (in Les Caribiniers), war as entertainment (in Pierrot le Fou), and politics as a bad movie. Towards the end of the film, Godard’s commentary asserts: “We were certainly in a film about politics: Walt Disney plus blood”. Writing at the turn of the millennium, Colin MacCabe draws a conclusion that differs from earlier critics: “What the film actually demonstrates is the complete inability of the form to deal with the reality of a politics which eludes the easy solutions of the thriller genre. In some ways, the simple and sombre message of the film is the inability of the left to cope with the development of consumer capitalism”. Godard described his aim around that time as “to show and to show myself showing” (MacCabe). Made in U.S.A. represents the last of his films working within the old narrative structure (many of the characters are named after Godard’s favourite American directors and thriller writers), demonstrating through its manipulation of the plot elements and scenario the disintegration of such strategies in the face of modern politics. In the later 266-min. Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-98), Godard’s technical expertise, an attempt to tell the history of cinema visually, was not just a demonstration of formal mastery: “The failure to prevent or record the [Nazi concentration and extermination] camps is one of the major, if not the major, theme of the Histoire(s)” (MacCabe). The juxtaposition of Elizabeth Taylor’s (supposedly) smiling face with footage of the concentration camps became “the most discussed sequence” from the first part. In fact, she was not smiling and Godard’s commentary points out that George Stevens, director of the film A Place in the Sun from which the Taylor still is taken, made his first film in colour at Auschwitz and Ravensbrück. Godard’s commentary also brings to the forefront the double reality hidden behind these stills: “He analyses the force of Taylor’s smile in terms of Stevens’s desire to celebrate life after this experience of death. On the other hand, this scene fits into the major theme of the histories – that the cinema is guilty for allowing the camps to happen, for not recording history accurately enough either to stop the killing from happening or to understand what happened” (MacCabe).

Anna Karina and László Szabó in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Made in U.S.A.” (Photo: Rialto Pictures)

Accepting that Godard considers Made in U.S.A. less than satisfactory (“It is not very good because there are a lot of extremely confused things in it” – 1980), the explanation for its confusions is instructive. Whereas the film he was making in parallel introduces us to Godard’s favorite device of the unreliable commentator (a voice-over whose statements are not to be taken on trust), Made in U.S.A. represented a fiction he had constructed “purely commercially. What was most interesting was above all the colours: there was a certain amount of research into colours; but that does not make a film” (156). Godard, however, is not the most reliable judge of his films (he later condemned Breathless/A bout du souffle!). In reality, he had adapted (extremely loosely) a book by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake), The Jugger. But the producer had not completely paid for the rights, and never did, since only about a minute of the original was used and the tough hero became Anna Karina. But Godard told the magazine Sight & Sound he was making a film from a Stark thriller, and Westlake sued for copyright infringement. The case took years but the author eventually won. Westlake received U.S. distribution rights (Europe was less protective). No-one in America was interested in showing the film and Westlake thought it was his worst book (though later critics disagreed). The film finally had its U.S. premiere on 1 April 2009, some months after Westlake’s death. See The Westlake Review, which sums it up: “A crazed auteur turned [Westlake’s] story into a weird abstract political diatribe dressed up in noir clothing, that seems to have something to do with the Vietnam War […], and features a drop-dead Danish dame playing the roughest of all rough-hewn American tough guys.   Westlake not only didn’t get paid for this, but he had to drag the producers into court, and then settle for the U.S. rights to a movie he hated, that only diehard Godard buffs would ever pay money to see, and he didn’t see a franc until just before he kicked (if then).” No wonder Godard didn’t want to speak much about it. The 1990s onwards, with the films of Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, Spike Jonze and Paul Thomas Anderson, as well as David Cronenberg’s more adventurous experiments, have put Made in U.S.A. in a less absurd light. The same kind of confusion (of the spectator) in Made in U.S.A. can be found in David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. Given Godard’s experience with the inadequacies of narrative to deal with political horror, one can understand his complaint to New York’s film critics (refusing their award in 1995) that they had failed “to prevent Mr Spielberg from reconstructing Auschwitz” in Schindler’s List (MacCabe). “From very early on,” writes Colin MacCabe, “Godard held that the only way to film the camps would be from the perspective of the home life of one of the guards” (ibid). Through the fractured elliptical style, its black jokes, and acceptance of the social framework in which torture routinely takes place, Made in U.S.A. gives us Godard’s picture of society as viewed by society’s guards. “In one of the most shocking moments of the film, Karina asks the character Donald [Siegal] (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud), ‘If you had to die, would you prefer to know beforehand or would you rather it was sudden?’ ‘I’d rather it was sudden,’ he replies. She shoots him, and all we hear from him as he dies are his cries for his mother” (MacCabe). She also murders the investigator David Goodis (!) to keep him from revealing the truth about an atrocity. In a Montreal seminar on Made in U.S.A., Godard suggests that detective thrillers are so popular because the investigator “corresponds to the notion of liberty which people have (which is not necessarily freedom) – someone who walks around hands in pockets [as Karina does in the film], who does nothing, who is not forced to work at a machine like a factory worker, who does not have any heavy governmental responsibilities or anything like that, who smokes a cigarette, who can go into a pub, who can grab someone by the collar and ask them questions…It must represent the ideal of freedom for the West. Those are the real heroes, the police officers, even if people do not like them” (1980). Made in U.S.A. is full of such characters.

Some authors’ failures are more instructive than others’ successes. Made in U.S.A. bristles with ideas – about the ubiquity of disruptive sounds in everyday life, about the use of colour (and this is an exceptionally beautiful film), the refusal to pretend that the actors are characters from the script, and the frustration of audience expectations of narrative, film scripts or standard realism. The absurd math of politics is laid bare in a bar where a zombielike Marianne Faithful sings her most famous song with no-one taking any notice (‘Tears go by’), and a workman spouts nonsense sentences over his glass of wine.

Peter Hulm is an editor of Global Geneva magazine. Ian Cameron ‘s remarks come from The Films of Jean-Luc Godard (1967).  The Colin MacCabe quotes are from Godard. Images, Sounds, Politics (1980) and Godard. A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy (2003). Richard Roud’s book Godard was published in 1967.

Other cultural articles by Peter Hulm in Global Geneva

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Kategorien: Jobs

Kurdistan: After such knowledge, what forgiveness?  

28. November 2019 - 9:53
The following article by American journalist and author Jonathan Randal is part of Global Geneva’s commitment to highlight and report on “international Geneva” themes ranging from war and refugees to human rights, humanitarian response and environment. It is scheduled to be published as our lead story in the 2019-2020 Winter print and e-edition of Global Geneva. The front cover of the magazine features a photograph by British photojournalist Sir Donald McCullin, who also covered the Kurdish crisis with Randal. Global Geneva is indebted to both Randal and McCullin for their contributions.

As perhaps is fitting in my sunset years, I am updating a book I published in 1997 on the Kurds when virtually no one in the United States had any idea who they were or what role the United States had played – and would play in their lives and theirs in ours.

At the time, I was taken to task for using a quote from a T.S. Eliot poem, After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness? as an overly pretentious literary title. But it accurately reflected – and still reflects – the Kurds’ dilemma. The book chronicled Western, and especially U.S., use and abuse in the 20th century of the Kurds, a mainly mountainous people, whose misfortune it has been to yearn for a country of their own in contiguous territory inside authoritarian and highly centralized Middle Eastern states, principally Iran, Iraq, Syria and especially Turkey. This abuse continues in the 21st century.

Sur la route qui part de Mossoul en direction de l’est. Des hommes, des femmes et des enfants fuient la villes et les combats. Ils traversent le village kurde de Gogjali, situé sur le chemin en direction du camp de déplacés d’Al Khazar.
On the road going east from Mosul. People fleeing the fighting cross through Gogjali, a Kurdish village located on the way to Al Khazer displaced camp. (Photo: ICRC/Qusay Anmar) The Kurds: Miraculously resilient despite recurring defeat and treachery

I say fitting because my involvement with the Kurds began as a reporter’s late career indulgence after decades of covering “little” wars, disturbances, and crises that often came close to setting off World War Three, yet luckily never quite did so. Call my attachment to the Kurds a last fling with adventure as a foreign correspondent and author, which jolted into high gear with the first President George Bush’s war to remove Saddam Hussein’s army from Iraq’s conquest of Kuwait in August, 1990. In any event, my involvement with the Kurds proved long-lasting, more so than with other Third World upheavals I have covered as a reporter over a half century.

I often wonder why I keep risking my neck with the Kurds (and I should make clear, not for them). The best answer I’ve come up with is that the Kurds, whatever their manifold failings, have a healthy sense of humour. They are also miraculously resilient despite a seemingly genetic disposition for recurring defeat and treachery.

But I also owe my life to them. So do the dozen other Western journalists, including Don McCullin whose powerful photographs feature in this piece,  I had brought into Kurdistan at the time. Iraq helicopter gunships oddly tolerated by Washington after Saddam’s surrender and withdrawal from Kuwait in 1991, four months after his invasion, quickly crumbled Kurdish resistance. Hundreds of thousands of refugees clogged the roads heading for safety in the wintery Zagros mountains. In the midst of chaos, Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani personally commandeered pickups, which brought us to a rare unmined path across the Zagros enabling us to walk six hours to safety in Turkey.

Following the Allied victory over Iraq, the Kurdish people of Iraq rose in arms against Saddam Hussein and his troops, suffering a crushing defeat at Kirkuk in March, 19, 1991.
Here, Kurdish rebels gather before making a counter-offensive on Iraqui positions south of Kirkuk, Northern Iraq, March 1991.
2002 ©Don McCULLIN / CONTACT Press Images No guerrilla commander has ever taken the time to save journalists’ skins

Sure, our stories alerted public opinion to the plight of Kurds and eventually forced an initially indifferent U.S. president to send troops to persuade refugees to go home under the protection of the Western air umbrella. Still, never before – or since – in my experience has a rebel leader in such dire circumstances taken the time to save journalists’ skins. And I must confess only the Kurds still treat me as minor royalty during infrequent visits as a reward for sticking with them in very bad times.

So, with Turkey’s recent military incursion (6 October, 2019) into northern Syria in an effort to thwart the Kurdish militias there coupled with Washington’s renewed abandonment, I feel duty-bound to chronicle what I fear is turning out to be a new nadir in their long struggle for nationhood. I should have wished the Kurds a happier fate, and at times I did. But the American imperial recessional from the Middle East now is in full, if disorderly swing as President Trump’s chaotic removal of military support for Syria’s Kurds has demonstrated. That particular unedifying episode should not have come as a surprise for ominous signs were visible to the naked eye for almost a year.

What now will happen to the far more numerous Iraqi Kurds next door? Since 1991 they have sheltered under U.S. military protection which now must be open to question. How would such an eventuality – indeed the nearly 30 years of U.S. presence – be remembered? As yet more American perfidy or as evidence of the Kurds’ inability to take advantage of that protection to establish durable institutions essential to guarantee the independent Kurdistan of their dreams?

I won’t claim that updating my book is uplifting. But also let’s not forget that the Kurds were largely responsible for defeating the rapid Islamic State regimes in Syria, despite being completely different culturally from the people they liberated. So this needs to be remembered. I owe the Kurds at least that.

    *     *     *

This book is being currently updated. Extracts from Jonathan Randal’s book: After such knowledge, what foregiveness – My encounters with Kurdistan – now being updated.

Ever since various Middle Eastern governments have invoked Western notions of the modern centralized nation-state to crush repeated Kurdish revolts, leaguing together when necessary lest the restive Kurdish subjects succeed in organizing themselves across artificial political frontiers. For the Kurds were – and still are – the fourth largest group in the Middle East and, arguably, the prize losers. No one disputes that they are the world’s largest ethnic group without a state of their own. Such has been their various foreign rulers’ abiding fear of them that no reliable census has been conducted in decades…Outside inquiry has been discouraged. (Today, an estimated 30 million Kurds live in the Middle East, including Turkey, with a further seven million elsewhere).

Eternal outsiders, who in this century can only have marvelled at the wasted fortunes that the Arab world lavished on Palestinian nationalism, the Kurds are the Middle East’s essential poor boys. Deprived even of their own oil and kept on short rations in one state, their national dress banned in another, their language in still a third, their most basic human and civil rights denied to differing, but often extreme degrees at various times in various places, the Kurds have resisted assimilation with a constancy confounding their would-be masters. They have survived the first aerial bombing in the Third World, poison gas, the deliberate levelling of their rural society in Iraq, mass destruction of villages and forced deportation to the western cities of Turkey, and the assassination of their leaders in Iran.

The Royal Air Force bombed Iraqi Kurds in January 1919 in what is believed to be the first use of air power to put down revolts, bombing was cheaper than garrisoning troops. Later that year, in Britain’s Third Afghan War, the RAF based in India bombed Afghan cities, forcing the emir, Amanullah Khan, to sue for peace. Winston Churchill, as Colonial Secretary in 1921, formally gave the RAF responsibility for maintaining law and order in the British-mandated parts of the Middle East. Among the officers who served in Iraq was Arthur Harris, known in World War II as ‘Bomber Harris’ for his ruthless championing of saturation bombing of German civilian and military targets.

Kurdish refugees flee from Abril north towards the border. All available transport was commissioned for the exodus. Iraq, March 1991.
1991 ©Don McCULLIN (CONTACT PRESS IMAGES) Kurdistan is blessed – or cursed – by water and oil

Kurds living in Baghdad, Damascus, Istanbul or Tehran keep alive a secret Kurdish garden, nurturing it despite the homogenous erosion of life in these cosmopolitan capitals. A generation ago, a French journalistic colleague of mine was amazed at the determined Kurdishness of a young interpreter he met in wartime Iraqi Kurdistan who had been brought up in Baghdad and spoke little Kurdish. Despite the outward evidence, he insisted he felt Kurd, explaining: “There’s nothing I can do about it.” I myself have marvelled at the bedrock nationalism of young Turkish Kurds who speak, read, and write Turkish effortlessly but are prepared to die for a Kurdistan whose language they barely know. So, too, are Kurds as far away as Australia.

History is said to be written by the victors, and that has meant the Kurds’ enemies. But thanks to their mountains and remoteness from the centres of imperial power in Constantinople and Tehran, Kurds have from time to time enjoyed a sense of freedom which has waxed and waned with the strength of their overloads. Before World War I, with the decline of the Ottoman Empire, where the overwhelming majority of Kurds then lived, notions of modern nationalism awakened both Kurds and Arabs, but the Kurds unquestionable craving for independence from alien rule was never matched by political gifts capable of overcoming the determination to keep them divided.

In the Middle East their travail in this (20th) century alone remains unmatched even in a region given to terror, treachery, and repression on a grand scale. The ‘modernizing’ handiwork that did such harm to the Kurds as often as not was carried out with the tolerant complicity of foreign powers, ranging from their immediate neighbours to Israel, Britain, and the United States. This international meddling has not been gratuitous. Kurdistan is blessed – or, as some Kurds maintain, cursed – the parched Middle East’s major sources of water, and it has abundant oil as well.

The Kurds’ almost unbroken record of revolt and punishment has also been unrivalled over the past century. Alas for the Kurds, so, too, is their lack of organization and effective leadership. In the age of the helicopter and modern counter-insurgency weapons, their favourite adage – “The Kurds have no friends but the mountains” – has lost much if not all of its age-old validity. For even the mountains no longer provide the protection that once earned Kurdistan its reputation as “the land of insolence.”

*     *     *

Sur la route qui part de Mossoul en direction de l’est. Des hommes, des femmes et des enfants fuient la villes et les combats. Ils traversent le village kurde de Gogjali, situé sur le chemin en direction du camp de déplacés d’Al Khazar.
On the road going east from Mosul. People fleeing the fighting cross through Gogjali, a Kurdish village located on the way to Al Khazer displaced camp. (Photo: ICRC archives) Drinking tea – and whisky – with Turkish tribal leaders

Over the years, I’ve walked in and out of Kurdistan’s Zagros Mountains, crossing borders without benefit of visa, passport, or armed guard in countryside so wild that three British journalists were murdered nearby for their money only days before one of my passages. I’ve trudged along highways with exhausted Kurdish refugees reduced to burying their children and grandparents by the roadside for fear of setting off landmines if they ventured further afield to provide a proper sepulcher. I’ve also flown in helicopters through the jagged teeth of the snowcapped 12,000-foot mountains that form the Iraqi-Turkish border, effortlessly surveying some of the late 20th century’s most isolated real estate, discovering high plateaus, valleys of sheer-faced rock, and rushing white water, then following the meandering Tigris River through endless plains to Diyarbakir, the unofficial capital of Turkish Kurdistann. In Iraqi Kurdistan I’ve watched hawks, bustards and eagles ride the thermals high over scrub oak and bald hills and mountains, waiting to zero in on their prey.

For my own good I’ve been forced by friendly Kurds to hire guards when travelling on Iraqi Kurdistan’s main roads – and I do that only during daylight. I’ve coughed dust and baked in 120 degree F (48.8 C) summers, and I’ve frozen alongside Kurds so destitute they were reduced to burning scavenged asphalt for heating only a few miles from some of the world’s richest oil fields. I’ve drunk tea as well as whiskey with Kurdish tribal leaders in Iraq and Iran, listened to Kurdish human rights activists under constant threat of death in Turkey, and talked politics with Kurds of every station elsewhere. In Iraq I’ve run into peasants harvesting thistles with odd implements designed in some dateless antiquity, talked wheat prices with tractor-owning farmers, commiserated with the urban middle class reduced to selling land, jewellery, silver, cars, radios, television sets, doors, beds, windows, homes to stay alive.

Kurdish Uprising, Kurdish rebels during Iraqi tank attack, Kirkuk, Iraq, March 19, 1991

I’ve cried listening to the stories of the wrecks of Kurdish lives, stories even more depressing than the intended lessons imparted by those who cause the endless ruins of thousands of small Kurdish villages, once the very essence of Kurdistan. I’ve been awakened at dawn in a cheap city hotel in Turkish Kurdistan by sustained shooting only a few hundred yards away, then watched Turkish security forces go through neighbourhood after neighbourhood with all the violent efficiency of colonial troops answerable to no one. I’ve trudged through winter snows along smugglers’ mountain paths to listen to the nationalist fervour beneath the relentlessly inculcated, half-baked Marxism of young, jejune Turkish Kurds who would have died by the thousands for an independent Kurdish state. I have also come to understand the more limited goals of autonomy or federalism within existing borders, which Iranian and Iraqi Kurds have accepted after many shattered dreams and much destruction over many decades.

I’ve argued with Kurds in Western hotels, in tents, in rudimentary shelters made of leafy branches, and on long drives in broken-down vehicles. Perhaps because of my age, I personally have never been treated with anything but respect, generosity and friendship, no matter how heated the arguments. I’ve often wondered at a peculiarly Kurdish mixture of forbearance and bloody-mindedness, especially when I recall a scene high up in the mountains during the very heavy snows of 1992.

Two busloads of Kurds coming from opposite directions met on the narrow road cleared by the region’s only snow plow. I was in a Land Rover. Neither bus would give way or back up. There was not enough room for a vehicle to get by. Minutes passed. Suddenly the passengers poured out into the snow and started pummelling one another, remembering, or feigning to remember, ancient slights. The fisticuffs showed no sign of abating and, like all self-respecting Kurds, the men were armed with Kalashnikovs. To control my fears of impending general slaughter, I finally took a shovel out of the car and dug out enough snow alongside the road to allow my vehicle and one bus to pass. I yelled at the Kurds in English that I was in a hurry. They understood not a word.

I doubtless seemed quite mad to them, so much so, indeed, that they stopped abruptly and somewhat sheepishly, it seemed to me, climbed back into their buses. I directed traffic, guiding one bus into the sport I’d cleared while other went on its way.

The incident pleases me because for once a foreigner helped solve – rather than complicate – a Kurdish problem, albeit a minor one. It also illustrates why I suspect a rogue chromosome in Kurdish genetics causes what Indians, with their love for fancy words, would call: “fissiparous tendencies.”

*          *          *

William Eagleton, a former U.S. ambassador and then special advisor to the State Department for Northern Iraq, warned that any period of repression by neighbouring states would only sustain a deep-seated hatred of Kurds and Kurdish nationalism. Eagleton’s importance is because he was an early American to get to know the Kurds and wrote the book on the Mahabad Republic. He also noted that the Kurds fighting with General Barzani during the 1960s in some cases were sustained by “little more than by the old Kurdish tradition of sher chaktira lo bakariya (fighting is better than idleness).”  For their part, the Kurds, perhaps too pessimistically, would take Western abandonment for granted, if not now then down the road.”…Iraq and the Kurds, Eagleton said, represented “the Lebanon of the nineties” with all the weariness that long, violent, and messy conflict in the Levant can elicit…”

American author and journalist Jonathan C. Randal.

Journalist and author Jonathan C. Randal was for many years a foreign correspondent for numerous publications, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. His work as a reporter primarily focused on war zones, including reporting from Vietnam, Eritrea, Iran, Afghanistan, Kurdistan, North Africa and Lebanon. Randal is also the author of four books, including  ‘Osama: The Making of a Terrorist’ and ‘The Tragedy of Lebanon’, all of which variously chronicle his work as a journalist in these areas. His update of ‘After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness’ is expected to come out in 2020.

British war photographer Don McCullin.

Sir Don McCullin is a world-renowned British photojournalist, who has covered conflicts, humanitarian crises and other related themes since 1959. He is particularly known for his exceptional war photography but has also focused on reporting the unemployed, downtrodden and improverished. More recently, he has cover the plight of children. 

Kategorien: Jobs

Korea`s ‘Tiananmen’ and world memory  

26. November 2019 - 10:00
This article forms part of our series on cultural and historical repression around the world, and the challenge it poses to the international community.

“Young people sacrificed themselves for change in society, for democracy, for human rights, for truth and so on. Their energy was the focus, or rather the centre of change. Today’s younger generations are not as interested as they were in the 1980s,” reflects Professor Shin Gyonggu, the volunteer director of the Gwangju International Centre in South Korea, which marked its 20th anniversary in 2019. As he describes it, the centre, part of Unesco´s “Memory of the World” programme, seeks to safeguard humanity against collective amnesia. Gyonggu estimates that about 10-20 per cent of South Korean youth are not aware of the Gwangju uprising.

This historical context is important. The older I get, the more disturbed I am about historical amnesia and the willingness of society to let such memories slip. Such forgetfulness is not happening just in South Korea but also in Europe, Africa and elsewhere. I have to keep reminding my readers that when I started my career as a foreign reporter in 1970s, Western Europe lived under military dictatorships in Portugal, Spain, and Greece, which today are bastions of democracy, but at the cost of much suffering to their citizens of that

Visitors at exhibition at the Gwangju International Centre in memory of the 1980 uprising. (Photo: Rauli Virtanen)

A student rebellion against martial law

South Korea was also a military dictatorship when I first approached Gwangju with world-renowned war photographer Eddie Adams on 25 May 1980, nearly 40 years ago. Adams, who died in 2004, won over 500 awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for his iconic photograph of the execution of a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon.

On 18 May, students from the local Chonnam University led a rebellion against the martial law regime of then strongman Chun Doo-hwan, who had staged an army coup on 12 December 1979, overthrowing the country’s civilian government. A military blockade prevented traffic and communications into and out of Gwangju.

The soldiers holding a roadblock outside the city denied us entry. Adams, who had also covered the Korean War, quietly pulled the commanding officer aside and said: “Listen, I was here during the war when you were a little boy, and I gave you your first chewing gum.” It worked. The soldiers let us pass and we entered the city before the nightly curfew.

By then, scores of people had already been killed by paratroopers. However, the core of students holding the Provincial Hall, the city’s main government building steadfastly refused to surrender. Amid the chaos and din, we could hear loudspeakers appealing for blood donations. By the time night fell, the army loudspeakers were warning the few foreigners in English not to go out into the streets. The soldiers were under orders to shoot.

The next day we visited the sports gymnasium where coffins were displayed. I counted 56. On the top of each coffin lay a photograph of the student or civilian victim inside. Those not yet identified were laid outside a nearby state building where groups of people of 15 were allowed to approach in order to identify the bodies. Students collected money for a mass funeral.

Woman mourning victim of the 1980 ‘riot’ as the government first referred to the protest.  (Photo: Rauli Virtanen)

At around 4 a.m. on Tuesday 27 May, I heard shooting and the sound of helicopters. The final phase of the military operation to crush the revolt had begun. It took roughly two hours for the students in the Provincial Hall to surrender. With the break of dawn, I walked to the square to photograph the military detaining suspects, primarily those who had survived the final battle.

Refreshing one’s memories of Gwangju

I am now back in Gwangju to refresh my memories and to give some of my photographs from 1980 to the International Centre’s archives. During the martial law years, some of the Korean reporters who had taken photographs had hidden them, but dug them out later. It was only in 1988 with the change of government that they dared exhibit their photos.

My principal aim is to find out how the uprising, which had been obfuscated for so long, is being handled in South Korea. The exhibition is impressive, and I am happy to see so many young people visiting it despite the central authority’s continued hesitancy to acknowledge the “We have no clear statistics of the casualties,” explains Gyonggu. “The official statistics claim 186 killed, and those who died during the attack at the Provincial Hall is officially 17. But some military personnel personally told me that of there were nearly 200 dead with around 100 killed on the last day, and not just 17…”

Exhibit at the Gwangju International Centre. (Photo: Rauli Virtanen) Students offered bravery, sacrifices and their stories for people to remember

In China, Tiananmen Square is considered taboo by the Beijing government – a position that it seeks to enforce not just through intimidation or arrests, but also by blanket blocking of the name ’Tiananmen’ or even its date, on the Internet. In 1980 students protested in Tiananmen Square in what Beijing officially refers to as the “June 4th incident”. This, too, resulted in a massacre with troops firing assault rifles and tank rounds at the demonstrators. Several hundred to several thousand people are believed to have been killed, with thousands more wounded. The Beijing government continues to ban all references to it.

The Gwangju uprising, observes Gyonggu, was also taboo under the Seoul military government, though not as much as in China. The Korean students’ bravery and sacrifices, together with stories and images of the events, changed public perceptions, especially among young people. “That is why mass participation [in reform movements] began in 1980,” Gyonggu says.

For the family members of the Gwangju victims, or martyrs as they are referred to, the whole incident acted as a stimulus. “They staged demonstrations everywhere and made a crack in the military rule. Since then, students have demonstrated every May, both here and throughout the nation.”

U.S. State Department dispatch referring to the Gwangju ‘massive insurrection’. (Photo: Rauli Virtanen) Changing attitudes, but not quite…the truth is only allowed to proceed so far

Gyonggu says the military regime initially referred to the Gwangju uprising as a “riot”. It then changed the official label to the Gwangju “incident”. “It was more useful than the word ’riot’,” he says. “Not very positive but more neutral.” The government persisted with this description until 1988, when the National Parliament officially re-named it to “18 May democratization movement”. This is now the official name, but the activists still like to call it the Gwangju uprising.

“The reason why Parliament called it the ‘18 May democratization movement’ is that the revolt was not limited to Gwangju alone, but affected the entire country. Furthermore, South Korean activists did not like referring to it as ‘Gwangju’ because the military government sought to contain it officially as a localized uprising. In reality, it was a democratization movement for the entire nation,” says Gyonggu.

By 1988, attitudes had officially changed, but only to a point. There was a parliamentary hearing that exposed what had happened to the general public for the first time. Yet, as he points out, even then, it was “not the complete truth”. The conservative government was still not willing to go the whole way with the hearing. Twenty years after Gwangju, South Korea – now under a civilian president – decided to hold a truth commission. Yet, once again, military influence prevailed. President Kim Dae-jung, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, proved more interested in promoting national reconciliation than truth finding.

“Today, in 2019, the new government wants to have another truth commission, but the conservative party is refusing to cooperate. But this year [2019], we will have parliamentary elections and the conservatives may agree beforehand, because they know that otherwise they will end up being a minority,” Gyonggu says.

There has also been a lot of fake news relating to Gwangju, such a fabricated stories of 600 North Korean soldiers coming to the city to kill people. Even despite the Center, Gyonggu remains worried about the future. “People are losing interest in the past, in the past movements and uprisings. This is not good, but we have to persevere,” he says.

Rauli Virtanen is an award-winning Finnish freelance journalist, author and documentary film producer. He has covered conflicts since the Vietnam War and has visited 194 countries. He has written for major international media such as The Independent, Svenska Dagbladet and The Baltimore Sun.  






Kategorien: Jobs

Mountain Biking Blasts in the Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc Region

25. November 2019 - 11:45
This outdoors feature is part of Global Geneva’sYouth Writes’ initiative.

I began riding as a kid in the south of England before joining a mountain bike club in my teens. Pretty soon, I was riding and digging local trails in the woods before venturing further afield and into the mountains whenever we went on holiday to Switzerland and the French Alps. This experience was a big motivation for me to look for job in the Lake Geneva region. Obviously, joining CERN for two years was an exceptional privilege, but being able to develop an outdoor mountain lifestyle was just as incredible. The Lake Geneva area is amazing for that; you can get up into the mountains in less than half an hour’s drive.

Of course, the Alps are renowned for mountain biking all over Europe. And anyone in the United Kingdom who is serious about leaping onto your saddle will have heard of places like Morzine (France) or Verbier (Switzerland), both prime mountain biking pilgrimage locations. So I already knew where to go before even moving here. And since living in the Pays de Gex, the French Jura side of Geneva, I have discovered a host of new mountain biking trails both in the Jura as well as across the lake in the Alps. You don’t find such variation so close to a city anywhere.

I generally ride the Alps most weekends from spring to the end of summer, maybe as late as October. And I like changing locations, so I am lucky enough to have visited an incredible number of some of the world’s most beautiful and challenging bike areas. I still manage to find new bike paths and trails; there is so much diversity as well as incredible mountain views. From the Jura Mountains, which are north of Lake Geneva facing the Alps and where you get rugged forest descents, you can enjoy what I reckon must be some of the earth’s most spectacular vistas. Whether in the morning or at sunset, you can gaze out to daunting mountains such as the Mont Blanc, Les Dents du Midi and even, to the east, the Eiger and Mönch.

On the trail… (Photo: Eddie Andrews)

For anyone new to the Lake Geneva area, or even just visiting for a weekend, it’s pretty easy to get hooked up. When I arrived I went straight to the nearest bike shop called Bikes and Buddies ( – the name was obviously a clue in case I might need some riding friends. The place is run by Stéphane, a Frenchman who lived for a number of years in Oxford and speaks perfect English. He knows all the local trails and the people I could hook up to ride with…I quickly met a lot of riders, both expats and locals. And so now, two years later, I am good friends with Stephane and part of a very active and fun mountain biking community. There’s never any problem trying to figure where to go.

From “feel good riding” to “super technical” – something for everyone

Deciding where to go, however, also depends on a lot of things. The weather, for example, or perhaps if you’ve partied too much the night before and wake up with a hangover. So I know places where it’s all “feel good riding” with nicely groomed bike parks and lots of easy flowing tracks. Then, if you’re feeling fit and raving to go, there are the super technical places with steep, rocky trails with lots of jumps and obstacles, such as boulders or trees. These are places where you can find real challenge or go really fast. Sometimes, there are tracks which are really hard so you become obsessive. You go back again and again in order to improve.

What really helps are the races, particularly the enduro races. These are awesome and consist of a series of time downhill tracks over the period of a day. This is a totally different type of riding. You have to be fit and super-focused and generally be prepared to ride as hard and as fast as possible. Even though the enduros are exhausting, you feel really amazing at the end of the day. It’s also an endurance challenge that you can do with one’s  friends. They don’t have to do all the stages, but can pick and choose. Then, at the end of the day, you can eat and drink, and talk, lie and impress about everything that you did. It’s a great way to bond and meet new people.

The Lake Geneva-Mont Blanc region on both sides of the border has incredible views. (Photo: Eddie Andrews)

Mountain biking every weekend can be expensive, but you can do it in a manner that is affordable. You can stay in nice hotels or cheap Alpine hostels. Some people come up with their vans. I’ve slept in cars sometimes. Or you can sleep on someone’s floor or couch. But in the end, I am lucky. I already live very close to the Alps so I can just go out for the day, even if I have to head back by car or train late at night. Before moving to the area, we used to rent a chalet for a few weeks in Morzine. It wasn’t cheap, but compared to the ski season, it’s about half the price.

Even winter biking…

Furthermore, most ‘bike parks’ use ski chairlifts to bring people up to the trail heads in the summer, so this is great fun! And allows you to do far more runs. Downhill bikes are created to go down, not to climb. It’s almost impossible to cycle to the top of a mountain on one. So the lifts are a godsend.

A lot of people, particularly the fanatics, like to continue with their mountain biking in the winter. This year I cycled the Jura at Crozet – a resort overlooking Geneva – using the telecabine, or lift. There wasn’t much snow, so it was almost as if you were riding in the summer. You just had to be careful about sliding in the snow patches.

On the trail. (Photo: Eddie Andrews)

Mountain e-bikes are becoming increasingly popular and in general are far more ‘doable’ for cycling in the snow. There are also a few big downhill enduro races in the Alps which start in the snow. Megavalanche and Mountain of Hell are popular for this. I have ridden in the snow a handful of times; it’s a lot fun but not really my thing. Generally, when the snow is good, I much prefer skiing. So my bike stays in my room, nice and dry. It’s good to change and you use different muscles – and meet different people. Mountain bikers, too, tend to be skiing or snowboarding passionés. I get a buzz going down a hill on just about anything. Sure, I much prefer cycling, but nothing beats skiing in really good snow.

In the end, it’s all about the mountains, particularly the Alps. When you live in this area, you can choose between France and Switzerland, and even Italy (an hour and a half). France has great bike parks, which are open all through the summer. France is also cheaper, particularly for lift passes or lunches. But Switzerland has great riding, too. Verbier, with trails open really late, is amazing. And so is Crans-Montana and La Berra. You can also ride from one country into the other.

Eddie Andrews taking a break. (Photo: Eddie Andrews)

The Jura Mountains, both French and Swiss sides, are different but still amazing. And they are much closer to Geneva. You can do Crozet and Metabief (a bike park) in France, which is part of the French Jura Regional Park, or go a bit further east, and do St Cergue in Switzerland. In some places, you can also do night riding after work.

The telecabines in the Jura are open in the summer on weekends and the trails are awesome. They’re hand-built, fresh and less-groomed, and much more ‘eco’ as they say, than most bike parks in the Alps.

The Alps: Steep and techy – The Jura: more natural and wilder

The big difference with the Alps is that the Jura trails are steep, techy and made by people who love riding in the woods and in nature. Alps riding is more for those who want big ‘steeps’ with huge jumps and corners. It’s also where most of the tourists go. The Jura is more natural and wilder, perhaps even old school, notably for those who love nature and the outdoors and wish to be at the ‘heart’ of riding. The same goes for the Salève at the foot of the Alps on the southern side of Geneva. Here the terrain is more like the Jura. These are ‘unofficial’ biking areas, so you have to know the trails, which are also more difficult to ride.

For those coming to the Lake Geneva and Southern Alps area for the first time, the best thing to do is to join one of the various Facebook biking communities. There are quite a few. But even if you don’t know anyone, you’ll meet people pretty quickly. And everyone has suggestions on where to go and want to do. It’s pretty laidback.

Cows are just as much part of the scenery – and obstacles. (Photo: Eddie Andrews)

My advice to novices who want to try? Just give it a go. But you may have to work up to it. Good bikes are expensive, but quality makes a huge difference. You need to be comfy on two wheels. Go to a bike park such as Les Gets in the summer and simply hire a bike – and protection. The runs are similar to skiing with green, blue, red and black bike pistes. So it makes a nice transition to skiing or snow boarding in the winter. And gets you up in the mountains all year round.

Chateau d’Oex ranks as one of Switzerland’s most stunningly beautiful parts for mountain biking. (Photo: Chateau d’Oex Tourism) Eddie’s choice: Best mountain biking locations near Geneva – all within two hours.
  1. Morzine/Les Gets/Pleney/Morgins/Chatel: These resorts are all part of the Porte Du Soleil. I buy a season pass and go every weekend in the summer; many different tracks, for complete beginners and advanced riders.
  2. Saleve & Crozet: the most local to Geneva for serious mountain biking! Salève: and Crozet:
  3. La Berra: only two trails but among my favorites!
  4. Finale Ligure: The most fun I’ve had on a bike. Great holiday destination, full of companies who take you up the mountain and guide you down!
  5. Verbier: Always challenging. Plus see this piece in our media partner, Le News.
  6. Métabief: Known for its Himalaya and Rocheuse black runs.
  7. Alpe D’Huez: high up and rocky! Known for the Megavalanche
  8. Les Arcs: Great enduro event called Enduro 2. Done in pairs, very fun!
  9. Château d’Oex and Gstaad region: Very good out in nature riding.
  10. Crans-Montana: Fantastic views, lots of sun. And hard riding.,sb-sortedBy-0&ov=mtb

For websites, see: Pinkbike for news as well as buying and selling.

What bikes?

The Swiss consumer mag Bon à Savoir reviewed 10 mountain bikes in 2018. Its conclusion: a number of cheap mountain bikes can be dangerous: the frames of three of them busted during texts! Top rated: Ochsner Sport CHF599 scoring 5.6 out of 6 (LINK, French: paywall)

Bon à Savoir also has a review of electric bikes entitled “good for climbing, dangerous for descent” but it dates back to 2012. Its top choice: Coop’s Basix CHF1290 scored at 4.9: even this rates only 3.0 out of 6 for its fork and it was penalized for its brakes. (LINK, French, paywall)

Eddie Andrews is a 23-year-old engineer currently travelling but normally living in France’s Pays de Gex near Geneva.

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Leaving the Nest for European Millennials: Where to Live and Securing Your Dream Job

Switzerland’s green bike trails: Les Voies Vertes

Weekend Travels : Valley of the Loue

Chamonix: France’s premier – and almost Swiss – mountain capital

Kategorien: Jobs

Jeff Danziger Cartoon

25. November 2019 - 9:24
Now that a 71 per cent turnout in Hong Kong voted massively for democracy, what about the Uyghurs, China’s repressed Muslim minority? 

U.S. cartoonist Jeff Danziger (see his website) is a contributing cartoonist of Global Geneva. He is also a member of our media partner, Cartooning for Peace.

Kategorien: Jobs

Carouge, Geneva’s Greenwich Village

24. November 2019 - 18:34

A bit like a pesky little brother who steals your toys and pulls your hair, Carouge tugs at Geneva’s locks, almost thumbing its nose at the broody burghers who live next door. Independent and proud, Carouge curves around Geneva’s borders, serving up the bohemian cheer that has branded it everything from Geneva’s Greenwich Village to its ‘dolce vita’, or even Little Italy, the Italian Royal City or the Sardinian City.

Often thought to be a Geneva suburb, Carouge is not part of Geneva at all. In fact, it was Sardinian for twice as long as it has been Swiss. Like a gateway to the Mediterranean, it is a mélange of Italian restaurants and crowded bars, spiky hair and leather comfortably interwoven with blue-rinsed grannies sipping afternoon tea.

Simply cross the Arve River, Geneva’s second river feeding in from the Savoy Alps, to feel a burst of Italian sunshine from this three-square kilometre patch of city, whose well-aligned streets and architecture confirm its Sardinian heritage.

Shop in Carouge. (Photo: Leyla Alyanak) You could always blame Napoleon

The final salvo in the Napoleonic Wars is said to have been fired right here, on 28 June 1815 when Austrian troops, entrenched on the posh hills of Champel, took pot-shots at the Sardinian city. During the skirmish, a cannonball went astray, lodging itself in a Carouge façade. Some historians say it may still be there, hidden deep in the walls of a modest building on the rue St Joseph.

After Napoleon’s downfall, ownership of the city oscillated as Europe reshaped itself, ending up under the rule of then-French Geneva. Much to Carouge’s dismay, Geneva soon joined Switzerland and history has it that in protest, the recalcitrant Carougeois, still loyal to the House of Savoy, closed their shutters on the Swiss national holiday.

Carouge’s history predates Napoleon, of course. As early as the 1st century BC, the strategic settlement, located at Geneva’s door, boasted tolls and fortifications. Its fortunes fluctuated and after a dark period during the Middle Ages, Carouge re-emerged in the early 1400s under the protection of the House of Savoy.

The famous Cafe de la Bourse, which is still there today, in 19th century Carouge (Photo: Carouge archives)

The city’s modern roots can be traced to King Victor-Amadeus III of Piedmont-Sardinia, a descendant of the Dukes of Savoy, who sought unsuccessfully to compete with Geneva by establishing a new city at its gates (the Savoys having failed to capture what is today the Old Town of Geneva proper). Then a 17-house hamlet, Carouge grew quickly into a two-market “Royal” city, its tolls abolished to encourage commerce, its architecture a harmonious patchwork of Sardinian and Piedmontese buildings.

In its search for expansion, Carouge threw her gates open. The large Jewish community built a synagogue, and Protestants preached freely in this Catholic city. So close to Geneva, it was inevitable that dissatisfied Calvinists would eventually cross the Arve for some less austere revelry, for which Carouge remains known today.

Fountain in Carouge. (Photo: Leyla Alynaka) Carouge: So near to Geneva, yet so far

The international buzz and mighty business of Geneva next door seem a world away. By day, Carouge’s cafés serve you an espresso, not a skinny latte, and fresh pasta rather than hamburgers – and everywhere, gelato. Carouge reaches its zenith in summer, when flower-filled streets are crowded with rickety tables that overflow with bric-a-brac and grandmother’s antiques, to buy but also for the “plaisir des yeux”.

Carouge is where eclectic meets original, from specialty teas at Betjeman and Barton to Audacieuse, a combination of art gallery and fashion designer. Hand-made jewellery and beads jostle for window space with bookbinders and small publishers, reminding us of a time when global brands did not yet dominate the high street. Eventually, you will be yanked from your reverie by the sharp bell of a tram barrelling towards you in this most mellow of places, the clang of metal on metal dissipating any mistaken illusion that you might have stumbled into a Mediterranean village.

Quiet street in Carouge with tram which can take you straight to Geneva’s main railway station (Cornavin). (Photo: Leyla Alyanak)

This is a town for walking. And not just along its streets and through the Saturday market but into hidden courtyards. Push open a grille or turn a corner and you just might uncover an invisible alley. With a park bench. And flowers.

Carouge becomes livelier as the day passes. Young people invade its vibrant nightlife which in warm weather spills outdoors, perhaps to the distress of sleepy inhabitants who live above the city’s many bars and restaurants.

The best time of day in Carouge may well be the in-between, the heure de l’apéritif. The sun has slipped away, and the fashionistas, still applying their makeup, haven’t made their entrance yet. The sidewalk terraces are crammed with families, amorous couples and pensioners whose walking sticks are parked neatly by the door.

Smiling faces and the clinking of glass are widespread in this tolerant and unexpected oasis.

The bickering siblings have put their differences aside for yet another day and as evening rolls in, the city limits become porous. Carouge goes out to play and Geneva’s students and cocktail crowd descend for a taste of its incorrigible rebelliousness.

Leyla Alyanak is a Contributing Editor of Global Geneva and writes about travel at

Kategorien: Jobs

Angola: Demining key to conservation plans

21. November 2019 - 13:00
This article is part of Global Geneva’s ongoing Focus series on the cultural and environmental impact of war. It is scheduled for publication in our Winter 2019/20 print and e-edition.

There’s a problem with Angola’s hopes of cashing in on its animal biodiversity – or more accurately hundreds of thousands or even millions of problems.  Landmines.  In the Angolan province of Cuando Cubango – which contains the key wildlife habitats of the Mavinga and Luengue Luiana National Parks – there are nearly 250 minefields, sown during 27 years of civil war (1975-2002) following the almost overnight departure of colonial Portugal in the wake of the April, 1974 revolution.  These take human and animal life, block agricultural and conservation projects, and stop the development of a potentially lucrative safari-based tourist industry.

At the same time, there is some hope for the people and wildlife who live in this remote and often ignored region.  On 17 June, 2019, it was announced at a conference at Chatham House in London that a new initiative was being launched between the HALO Trust and the government of Angola, which is investing $60 million to clear landmines  in Cuando Cubango.  The objective is to open up the area for conservation projects and eco-tourism leading to economic recovery.  The launch was supported by the UK’s Prince Harry (who has a major conservation role as President of African Parks and whose mother, Princess Diana, helped bring world-wide attention to the Angolan landmine issue). Also there was Rory Stewart, at the time the UK’s International Development Secretary.

Harry made headlines around the world when he accompanied HALO deminers to areas where Princess Diana had also visited in January 1997. He trod the same paths through active minefields and again drew global attention to the issue.

Prince Harry visit to HALO Angola minefield, Dirico. 27th September 2019 Why so many mines in Angola ?

There has been a long-term international commitment by the United Nations, Red Cross and a myriad of other international organisations and NGOs to help Angolans deal with the problem of landmines laid during the country’s long civil war. Angola has been the focus of much effort to clear mines, which were sown across from north-central Angola around Malanje, into the Central Highlands near the towns of Huambo and Cuito, and across huge swatches of rural Angola, but most of all in the south-east.  I accompanied HALO teams on demining operations around Kuito in June 1995, during a temporary ceasefire, and saw the damage done to people and the economy from decades of fighting. We also witnessed the immense difficulty of clearing mines in and around towns and in thick bush. (See video on landmine clearance)

The 1995 ceasefire did not halt the war, which dragged on until rebel UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in a government offensive in February 2002.  The end of hostilities enabled a stepping-up of demining, but as in most post-conflict regions it was hampered by the remoteness of many of the minefields and a shortage of funds.

UNITA’s Jonas Savimbi who was killed in 2002 bringing an end to civil war in Angola. (Photo: Edward Girardet/Christophe de Ponfilly, CORBIS)

While work has been continuing on involving British demining groups, such as HALO Trust and MAG, as well as teams funded by other donors and organizations, Cuando Cubango and areas near the borders with Namibia and Zambia remain heavily mined.

This impedes the local agricultural economy from recovering. It also poses an extreme hazard to villagers but also to the hopes of enabling wildlife to recover to the large numbers that existed prior to the liberation war (1961-1975) against the Portuguese and the civil conflict that followed. Much of the fighting in the last 20 years took place in Cuando Cubango between the Angolan government forces and their Cubans allies, on one side, and the US-backed UNITA rebel movement and South African Defence Force (SADF) troops from South Africa, on the other.

The biggest tank battle in Africa since El Alamein (in WWII) took place at Cuito Cuanavale, bordering the Mavinga National Park, in 1987-88. The fighting lasted from initial skirmishes in March 1987, through the smashing of the Angolan army by SADF units at the Lomba river in September-October 1987. This was followed by the siege of Angolan forces (reinforced by the Cubans) at Cuito Cuanavale by the South Africans and UNITA from January to the end of March 1988. It all ended in a bloody military stalemate. Soon afterwards, South Africa negotiated to withdraw its troops from Angola and to cede independence to Namibia.

Angola’s wildlife: almost unparalleled in Africa

Angola is not widely known known now for its wildlife.  But before and during centuries of Portuguese rule, vast herds of game (buffalo, antelope, zebras, elephants, lions and black rhino) roamed Cuando Cubango. This is according to Brian Huntley, who served as an ecologist to the Portuguese national parks administration before the end of Portuguese rule. In his book Wildlife at War in Angola, he details the wildlife found in Angola’s national parks, but with special mention of the large populations of elephant and rhino.

The presence of so much wildlife in the south-east meant that it not only had conservation areas but also extensive hunting zones, called coutadas, used by Portuguese soldiers, administrators and visiting safari hunters.  Hunting continued during the liberation war as the south-east escaped relatively unscathed.  But the civil war between the new Angolan government and UNITA saw the decimation of wildlife, particularly in the south.

UNITA rebels killed animals for meat but also took advantage of the rising demand for ivory. They began killing elephants and the South Africans rapidly sealed a deal with UNITA to help finance their military support. The SADF and military intelligence began trafficking ivory (as well as rhino horn) from animals killed, laundering it through legal ivory sales from culls in Kruger National Park.  (Global Geneva editor Edward Girardet who reported from the UNITA side for The Christian Science Monitor during the 1980s recalls eating freshly-killed eland and giraffe while travelling with the guerrillas. He also witnessed significant herds of elephants, which – UNITA claimed – could not be shot because they were “in the parks.” However, he also saw stacks of ivory from elephants supposedly shot “outside”.)

The aftermath of war can linger for years if not decades. Visiting Angola during the ceasefire of 1995. (Photos: Keith Somerville)

The Kumleben Commission, set up by Nelson Mandela’s government after the end of apartheid, produced a report detailing the massive scale of killing of wildlife, but particularly elephants.  One witness, Col. Jan Breytenbach of SADF 32 battalion which fought in Angola, told me in 1990 that perhaps as many as 100,000 elephants had been killed in the UNITA-SADF ivory operation. While funding UNITA, some of the revenues also went into Savimbi’s Swiss bank accounts as well as those of senior SADF officers and military intelligence agents.

Can Angola’s wildlife recover?

Since the end of the war, and until now, there has been little obvious commitment on the part of the oil-rich but corrupt Angolan government to support demining. (Eds: See Keith Somerville’s Oct. 2016 article in Global Geneva on African corruption). Despite the extreme wealth of its leaders, the Luanda administration has barely sought to rehabilitate the local economy or to invest in infrastructure, agricultural development and people’s  welfare. This is partly because development outside the oil and diamond sectors and urban construction have not been priorities. It was also because this area long served as the rebel stronghold. Even if many people who supported UNITA did so often literally at gunpoint, they were nowhere on the government’s list of post-war recovery projects.

As a result, only a few landmines have been cleared. This makes farming, herding livestock or even fetching water in this fertile region difficult, even highly dangerous. Guns remain plentiful as there was no organized disarming at the end of the war.  Those in rural areas in and around the national parks have little option but to hunt for meat, notably buffalo and antelope, using AK-47s as well as snares. This is not poaching through greed but poaching through dire need.

Deminers explode landmine in Huambo, Angola, in 1996. (Photo: UN/John Charles Monua).

Roland Goetz, an experienced game ranger who worked for two years as a technical advisor in the Mavinga and Luengue Luiana National Parks, told me that there are still “many illegal weapons even though the Angolan Government are now doing their best to remove them, but in remote areas (hunting) bushmeat remains an important way of [people] feeding themselves”. He also told me that large numbers of elephant, buffalo and hippo are dying or being maimed by landmines.

In 2005, a campaign was launched to demine the wildlife zones of south-east Angola. This was to encourage the vast elephant populations, seeking safe haven in Botswana from poaching and landmines, to disperse back into Angola.  The Peace Parks Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) supported the efforts but made little headway. For a number of reasons, including the loss of aid pledges as Angolan oil revenues fell in the 2010s sending the Angolan economy into recession, funding for mine clearance dropped from nearly $50m in 2005 to just $3.1 million in 2017. The Cuando Cubango mines stayed in the ground and continued to take their toll of people, elephants and other wildlife.

Elephants recover, then fall back again

A survey by Mike Chase and Curtice Griffin found that between January 2004 and November 2005 elephant numbers in Luengue Luiana National Park had increased from 366 to 1,827. This lent hope that despite the slow speed of demining, wildlife would begin to recover. When the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) was formally established in 2011, it was intended to encourage the creation of migration routes for wildlife (covering Angola, Botswana Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe) and to create a huge transfrontier area along the Kavango and Zambezi rivers.

Southern African elephants could migrate into Angola once the threat of poaching and landmines and proper land corridors are created. (Photo: Michael Lorentz)

But in another survey in 2015 it was found that the number of elephants in the same areas had dropped to 1,437. This was a blow to expectations that Angolan elephant herds would increase through dispersal. Many were supposed to come from Botswana with its huge elephant population  (the whole KAZA region is estimated to have between 202,000-240,000, more than half of which at any time are in northern Botswana) and enable the repopulating of Angola’s prime elephant habitat.

Human activity – poaching, encroachment in to the parks by people seeking food and grazing for their cattle and the landmines  is the explanation offered for this failure with poaching perhaps the worst culprit.  Efforts to stop poaching, however, are significantly impeded by the mines. Game ranger Goetz told me that their presence “makes things much harder, having to stick to less known safe roads. When walking in the bush on patrol, the ever-present danger of being in such an area makes one stress more than in unmined areas”.

Will new funding help improve matters?

Speaking at the June, 2019 Chatham House, Prince Harry stressed the importance of clearing the mines and finding ways to turn previously hazardous areas into habitat for wildlife. This, he hoped, would be a way of bringing economic development and income for the local people, while protecting bio-diversity. At the same conference, Major General James Cowan, the CEO of the HALO Trust, welcomed Angola’s $60m pledge expressing the hope that “our work in the coming years will make local people safe and is the necessary first step to allow Angola to develop the kind of conservation tourism that can protect wildlife while providing sustainable future development.”

HALO, which has been operating for years in war zones such as Afghanistan, has been clearing mines in Angola since 1994 and has destroyed over 98,000 mines and 165,000 other explosive devices, such as unexploded shells, in 860 minefields. But the deminers still have mountains to climb. And with speed. Both Luana and HALO want to complete the mine clearing in Cuando Cubango by 2025.  HALO estimates that it will need to clear 153 minefields inside the Mavinga and Luengue-Luiana National Parks alone. It also suggests that another $60 million will be needed to clear minefields both outside the parks and around the river systems that feed the Okavango. The aim is to completely clear the Okavango watershed.

Prince Harry visit to HALO Angola minefield, Dirico. 27th September 2019

One good sign for wildlife and the prospects for making it into a new source of income is the interest of African Parks (an international NGO that runs 15 national parks in nine countries from Benin to Malawi) in taking over the running of Iona National Park in south-western Angola. This park, which runs along the southern coast of Angola to the Namibian border, would be an important one to start with. It would create a contiguous area with Skeleton Coast National Park in Namibia, home to the famed and recovering population of desert-adapted lions as well as black rhino and elephants able to live in arid areas.  This could emerge as a new transfrontier zone that would encourage migration and expansion of species. Lions from Skeleton Coast have already been tracked moving across the Cunene River into Iona.

African Parks CEO Peter Fearnhead said in September that he had accompanied Prince Harry to southern Angola where they had met Angolan President, João Lourenço, Minister of Tourism Ângela Bragança, and Minister of Environment Paula Coelho. Together they discussed “our proposed management of Iona National Park as well as other possibilities…for the benefit of the people and the country.” The NGO, of which Prince Harry is President – neatly tying together the landmine and conservation issues – has considerable experience working to rehabilitate areas for both wildlife protection and tourism development in former conflict zones, including Chad and Rwanda.

Without any pun intended, the landmine clearance and national park rehabilitation will prove to be elephantine tasks that will take sustained commitment from the Angolan government, not something for which it has been renowned in the past. Critical, too, is the need for new aid offers or funding from international bodies, NGOs and governments.  But the aims – restoring the local economy, protecting the Okavango Delta water system, boosting Angola’s conservation efforts and bio-diversity – are crucial for local Angolan communities, who have had to live with the curse of mines for so long.

Professor Keith Somerville teaches at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent where he is a member of its Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, and is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. He is also the author of Ivory. Power and Poaching in Africa.

 Other related articles in Global Geneva

The Gerald Durrell Legacy: My career and other animals

Who’s behind the ivory trafficking in Africa?

Inger Andersen: “No one can go it alone on sustainable development.”

Can Hunting be a Viable Conservation Tool? Is it Time to Bite not Ban the Bullet?

Lions in Conflict

Militarization of conservation: an army of occupation, not protection 



Kategorien: Jobs

You’re in the army now: an expat recruit’s experience in Switzerland’s militia

20. November 2019 - 13:27
This article is part of Global Geneva’s ‘Youth Writes’ initiative encouraging young people to write, but also better understand the role of quality journalism. The piece is scheduled for publication in our Winter 2019/20 print and e-edition. 

I am dismayed to find myself awake, at around 2 a.m. My eyelashes have frozen shut. It is -14°C. I am lying outside on icy mud, covered in dead, frosty leaves. The commanding officer has tasked our company with a survival bivouac exercise in the forest, despite warnings of ‘Siberian’ weather.

My friend Alexei, a fellow recruit, thinks it funny to wake me up by poking my backside with his rifle. Despite my violent protests, he persists. Mercilessly, he drags me out of my sleeping-bag to start my night shift. My job is to keep the campfire going. I am also supposedly on ‘guard duty’ keeping a lookout for enemies, though what exactly that means in 21st-century Switzerland is uncertain.

The pathetic fire we struggled so hard to light earlier is sputtering, evidently dissatisfied with my offerings of frozen sticks. Frustrated, I swear profusely in recently learned but broken Swiss-German, a dialect which even Germans let alone French or English speakers find hard to understand. And even then, there are many dialects depending on which part of the country you come from. The army, however, is keen that we learn each other’s tongues.

The campfire…(Photo: N. Artamonov) Sleep-deprived, miserable and delirious

I hear Alexei giggle as he tucks into his warm sleeping-bag for an enviable night’s sleep. I am jealous because every minute of sleep counts in the army, and I am severely sleep-deprived. We get less than six hours of sleep, six nights a week, and tonight I barely got two.

I am aching and cold, even after sticking my feet to cook in the fire. Thankfully though, I am not the only one obliged to wake up for duty. At least I get some comfort from seeing another fellow-recruit, Amaran. He is suffering even more than me. He has woken up to find that the empty, plastic packets from yesterday’s minced meat (which looked suspiciously like cat-food) have covered him with their slime, swept up by the wind.

We are so miserable that we have become delirious. We quickly cheer ourselves up by imagining more and more ridiculous scenarios of mutiny against the major. I am chuckling heartily until Amaran turns the conversation to make fun of me reminding me sadistically of a brutal truth. I am on my gap year and should be on a beach in Thailand. Instead, I am here in the Swiss army. I curse him, but he does have a point; Why did I sign up for this nightmare?

Hang on, but why does Switzerland have an army?

Most people know Switzerland for its mountains, luxury watches, chocolate and cheese. Some might even recount that this small, wealthy European country is famous for its neutrality. So most non-Swiss are surprised when I tell them that I served in the Swiss army. They are even more astonished when I tell them that my experience is closer to that of a Hollywood-style bootcamp rather than summer camping in the Alps.

Furthermore, Switzerland’s “Rekrutenschule” or “Ecole de Recrues” in other words, basic training, is replete with tightly choreographed marching, target practice and crawling in mud – not much different from the American or British armies, all the while being constantly yelled at by abusive sergeants. In fact, some 65 per cent of Swiss men still undergo military training, victims of a seemingly antiquated system of conscription most developed countries have long abandoned.

On winter patrol in the Swiss army, which operates as an “armed militia” – not unlike Israel – with a small professional officer corps. Women are not obliged to join, but can. (Photo: N. Artamonov)

Over the past years, various reforms have significantly cut back on Switzerland’s militia-based defence force, which is not unlike the Israeli army. In the 1990s, the army consisted of some 800,000 troops, but this decreased progressively to 400,000 and then 200,000. Today, it stands at barely 140,000 men with less than 10,000 full-time professionals. The age limit for serving was also reduced to 34 with only 260 days of service. The ultimate goal is 100,000.

Furthermore, the duty to serve only affects 40 per cent of the country’s 8.5 million people, those with Swiss nationality. Today, barely one in four young men are selected to do service either as conscripts or volunteers. (Women, who represent less than 1,000, or barely 1 per cent, can volunteer.). Military-age citizens can also opt to do civilian service, which is generally longer, and even includes the possibility of overseas development service.

Switzerland has a unique tradition of ‘armed neutrality’ that can trace its roots to the decisive defeat of Swiss mercenary forces at the Battle of Marignano in 1515. Officially established in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna, Switzerland harbours the oldest policy of military neutrality in the world. Yet this relies on drafting recruits to make up the brunt of its armed forces, which are commanded by a much smaller professional officer core.

Swiss soldiers (R) with French policeman and German soldier along Franco-Swiss border during World War II. Switzerland mobilized 800,000 troops during this war, roughly 20 per cent of the country’s four million people.

Using this hybrid militia-professional system, it is able to, in the event of war, mobilize an impressive proportion of its population. During World War II, it mobilized some 800,000 troops out of a population of four million) – half the size of today – and threatened to mount a stubborn resistance in the heavily fortified Alps. The Swiss hoped that the cost of a protracted guerrilla war and blown-up trade networks would provide enough of a deterrent against a German invasion. Today, the commitment to armed neutrality is still there, though the accompanying heroic narrative lost some credibility amid revelations of extensive financial collaboration with the Nazis.

Pluie ça change…Swiss soldiers in rain in the Rhone Valley near the French border, November, 1944. (Drawing by Herbert Girardet) A truly ‘Swiss’ experience

Another reason for the continued existence of the Swiss army, and one which encouraged me to serve, is its cultural significance to Switzerland. Until 2018, I had lived in Geneva in an expat bubble, attending an international school and socializing mainly in Anglophone circles. The army, I reasoned, would not only transform me into an invincible terminator, but also break the bubble and show me the real Switzerland.

Switzerland is a country divided into four main linguistic groups: German, French, Italian and Romansch, the latter a form of modern-day Latin spoken by a small minority of Swiss as a first or second tongue. In the army, all these young men are finally brought together en masse, and must learn to communicate and cooperate. So there is a strong incentive to help bring the country’s culturally and linguistically-diverse population together.

Nikita’s unit in deployment. Switzerland’s militia army now stands at barely 140,000 troops with less than 10,000 full-time professionals. (Photo: N. Artamonov)

Often, orders are barked out in all three languages, so recruits must quickly adapt to the multilingual environment, regardless of whether or not Swiss-German sounds more like Pingu on steroids than a real language. In today’s world of iPhones and portable bluetooth speakers, it also means being subjected to a medley of French, German and even Italian rap, blasted at maximum volume whenever there is down-time. Not surprisingly, most of the positive language immersion my mother had looked forward to me having in fact produced proficiency mainly in military jargon and profanities.

The ‘stone’ of “Rekrut Stein” for coming out in a ‘totally inadequate” uniform. (Photo: N. Artamonov)

I also learned that any mistake, no matter how trivial, has consequences. In the Swiss army, this applied particularly to things being in order, down to the minutest detail. For instance, one day I left one of my multiple pockets slightly un-zipped. A sergeant, noticing that my uniform was ‘totally inadequate’, decided to teach me a lesson. He handed me an orange-sized stone that I was required to carry at all times in this pocket. From then on, I was to be appropriately called ‘Rekrut Stein’. This burdensome stone lived in my pocket for a full two days until I was told to pass it on to another unfortunate recruit who repeated the same unforgivable offence.

Switzerland is also keen on civic responsibility. Not only does the population vote on almost every important decision through direct democracy, including referendums every three months, but every male citizen is still expected to readily take up arms to defend the homeland. Thus, after finishing military service, soldiers keep their personal military gear at home. My semi-automatic assault-rifle is now proudly exhibited on a shelf in my grandmother’s sitting-room in Geneva. (Editor’s note: Unlike the United States with its lack of effective gun control, there are relatively few ‘incidents’ given Switzerland’s unusual gun culture, both as a hobby and a civic duty, as part of a “well-organized militia”. Switzerland has one of the lowest gun-related homicides in the world, 0.5 out of 100,000. Switzerland also voted in 2019 to respect European Union regulations restricting high capacity magazines).

Switzerland is a melting-pot of different languages, ethnicities and cultures. One in five Swiss hold dual citizenship (almost 50 per cent in Geneva). Many more have immigrant backgrounds, particularly from the Balkans. Swiss of Kosovar background, for example, are widely considered as among the best officers in the Swiss army. In a country that has become so globalized, militarization helps to preserve some of its identity and build an overarching feeling of cohesion and patriotism.

National service: Is it a good idea?

The idea of some kind of national service, even if not as rigid as Switzerland’s version, is quite appealing to many people, especially to those who are too old to actually have to do it.  Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in national service in some European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Nordic countries) with a similar rationale of bringing cohesion to societies with much increased immigration. Some desperation is also detectable – ‘how to induce a sense of civic responsibility in a growingly individualistic bunch of screen-addicted teenagers?’ (as my mother laments). In Switzerland at least, such measures are seen to help, perhaps partly explaining the 2013 referendum vote (over 73 per cent) to keep conscription.

Boredom – and fatigue. (Photo: N. Artamonov)

While some young men do enjoy aspects of military life, many actively seek to avoid it. I did find benefits from the army; the friends made, languages practised, camaraderie through enforced and senseless hardships and, of course, the money earned (we are, after all, in Switzerland). In hindsight, I may also have learnt some valuable life-skills to drop into my CV, such as discipline, organization, sharp-shooting and chemical warfare protection.

But I must also admit that much was a complete waste of time. We spent hours and days relentlessly repeating mindless tasks, such as mounting and then dismounting transmission antennas, or waiting around. The brain-numbing military routine of limited, non-sensical tasks coupled with intense fatigue beats you down. You become an unthinking cog in a machine. In the army, I counted every hour, every day, every week and every month until demobilization. Would I go back? No! Am I glad I did it? Yes. Would I recommend it? Depends on the person. But if you are Swiss, you may not feel you have a choice.

“Rekrut Stein” – Nikita Artamonov

Nikita Artamonov is a second-year student at Durham University in the UK, studying history and Russian. He was 18 when he started basic training, comparatively young compared to most other recruits who were in their early 20s.

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The Capital of Civilization: Brexit, populism and the 150th anniversary of the Siege of Paris

18. November 2019 - 18:40

It may be no surprise if the 150th anniversary of the Prussian army’s descent on Paris with the largest siege force ever assembled draws few headlines. The seeds of woe it planted — a first world war leading inexorably to a second, even in some part the Russian Revolution – have understandably left a deeper impression on the world’s consciousness than their source. Yet The Capital of Civilisation, while a novel, holds to the historical facts of events that are telling enough of themselves to warrant reflection in 2020. Read on:

At sun up on 15 September 1870, the townsfolk of little Neuilly-sur-Marne on the wooded eastern outskirts of Paris awake to a strange sound. An intermittent patter, growing louder into a steady crunch. Those who open their shutters this glorious Indian summer morning spy figures in dark uniform moving cautiously down the cobbled main street, bayonets faintly glinting in the first shafts of sunlight, eyes shifting from side to side beneath spiked helmets. Then comes a larger company in loose formation, more confident and purposeful of step. Behind them rumbles a gun carriage bearing a stubby cannon escorted by a pair of jangling Uhlan cavalrymen.

Early risers run to bolt their doors in shock.

The Marne riverside community is the first of the French capital’s outlying townships to witness the `barbarians’ come marching through. The shock for its inhabitants is in the timing. The invaders are descending upon Paris at ungodly speed. Only yesterday the town elders began leaving to seek shelter within the walls of the capital a few kilometres distant.


In the long summer weeks of 1870 before the Prussian advance guard moves through Neuilly-sur-Marne, France’s proud imperial army is camped on the French border in the east, Emperor Napoleon III mounted on horseback at its head. Imperial France considers herself a military match for any power on earth. The army is raring to drive across the Rhine to humble a bumptious Prussia. `To Berlin!’ rises the roar from Paris cafes. National ganders are up on both sides of the Rhine. The French are fighting to uphold their supremacy on the continent and, they like to believe, to defend European civilisation. The Prussians are fighting for a just God, for long-burning revenge against the monstrous bullying of an earlier Napoleon and, less wittingly in the mind of the Prussian soldiery, to advance an immense project that Otto von Bismarck, their prime minister, has made it his life’s ambition to accomplish.

For the French, things soon go disastrously wrong. After a promising start to hostilities, French arms suddenly collapse. On 2 September 1870 Napoleon’s army is crushed at Sedan on the edge of the Ardennes, its survivors taken prisoner to a man. To crown the humiliation, Napoleon, the nephew of the greatest conqueror since Julius Caesar, is among the captives.

For Paris, all this is unthinkable. Enraged and indignant, Napoleon’s political opponents in Paris dethrone him in his absence and declare France a republic. Now it’s the turn of the Berlin cafes to roar. Nach Paris!

The invasion force that descends on Paris is 400,000-strong when fully assembled, its Prussian core joined for the first time by troops from sovereign south German states – Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Baden, Saxony too. Bismarck has devised this war, set it up, inveigled Napoleon into declaring it. Bismarck’s calculation is that Prussia must defeat France for his grand scheme of unifying all Germany to succeed. Undefeated, France will surely re-exert its old sway over the south Germans, rendering unification unattainable.

Defeating France, however, requires more than crushing Napoleon’s army in the field, it means taking Paris. Taking the City of Light. The greatest city on earth. The capital embellished anew of late by Baron Haussmann, Napoleon III’s prodigious city planner. Paris is France – the heart, brain, pride, culture, centre of all things French. From Henry V of England to the monarchs of Europe who brought down Napoleon Bonaparte, opponents of France have grasped the supreme psychological importance of entering Paris as victors.

This time, Paris is destined to suffer worse than ever it has in the past. Rather than launch a risky direct assault on the walled city, Marshal Helmuth von Moltke, the Prussian army commander, resolves to starve its two-million citizens into capitulating by laying siege. Paris is suddenly cut off from the world, telegraph lines severed, all fresh food supplies halted down to the last carrot. But the people of Paris – its prominent bourgeois ranks, its industrious proletariat, its Red revolutionary contingent galvanised by the emperor’s fall – join in patriotic resistance to fend the invaders off.

The population is convinced that Paris has half a million men at arms for the task, no matter that its cautious military command considers most of them unusable in combat. It is sheer madness, in the view of General Louis Trochu, the military governor, to think of throwing the ragtag National Guard recruits who constitute the bulk of the forces at his disposal – workshop hands, waiters, bakers, grooms, apprentices – into battle against hardened Prussian troops.

To keep spirits high the new republican government announces that the capital has enough food in store to last two months …..

….. Three months into the standoff between Parisians and their besiegers, amid the coldest winter in memory with the mercury plunging at times to minus fifteen centigrade, public transport bumps to a halt as the horses that draw omnibuses and fiacres move from the streets onto the hungering people’s table, along with stray dogs, cats, elephants and all the meaty jungle creatures from the Paris zoo. Attempted military breakouts, culminating in a brave mass sortie across the Marne, have a famished Paris holding its breath as barely trained guardsmen are sent into battle despite General Trochu’s deep misgivings. But against Moltke’s siege lines all French offensives come to nothing, and at heavy cost in lives.

…. Four months into the siege, as sewer rats join the menu, the capital is subjected to day-and-night shelling by giant cannon which Moltke advances from his siege lines, a move to which he finally resorts at Bismarck’s impatient demand.

…. Halfway into a fifth month of siege, Paris sues for an armistice, having braved the bombardment but forced now to accept that resistance cannot go on. The public larder is altogether bare.

By this time Bismarck, desperate to achieve his goal, has decided to pre-empt an armistice and act as though Paris has already surrendered. By this means he is able to declare Germany unified — the German Empire, with King Wilhelm of Prussia its Emperor and he, Bismarck, its Chancellor. To rub salt into French wounds the ceremony is held in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles built to the glory of the Sun King Louis XIV, who took German lands across the Rhine into his realm. First among the tributes of war, the new German Empire annexes France’s prospering eastern provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.

In Paris, emerging in resentful chaos from the siege, elections for a new city government produce a people’s Commune modelled on the one that ruled during the French Revolution of 1789, with Reds in the ascendancy. The new Commune governs the capital in radical reforming style for over two heady months until it is brutally crushed by the superior forces of a national government elected, with Bismarck’s parting encouragement, from across all France.

In this furious civil-war struggle Communards are massacred; upwards of 25,000 Parisians, men and women, are killed or executed by fellow Frenchmen, and some of the finest monuments in the capital of civilisation including the magnificent medieval Hotel de Ville and the Tuileries Palace go up in flames.

The consequences? Victor Hugo, the god of French letters who lives through them, vows that France will never rest until she has had her revenge — and Bismarck himself allows in so many words that the author of Les Misérables will inevitably be proven right. Whence the stirrings of World War One and so of the ensuing World War Two. An admiring Lenin, for his part, avows when imposing Communist rule on Russia to drawing inspiration from the ill-fated Commune, in particular from what it taught him to avoid.

David Lawday, a Londoner, graduate of Oxford, former correspondent of The Economist in Paris, Washington DC and Berlin, is also the author of ‘Napoleon’s Master: A life of Prince Talleyrand’ and of ‘Danton: The Giant of the French Revolution’, both of which are published in English and in French. He lives in Paris. Lawday is currently putting the final touches to his novel on the Siege of Paris.



Editor’s Note: 

The Franco-Prussian war played an important part in affirming Switzerland’s national and cultural identify as a humanitarian state. The French Army of the East, nicknamed the Bourbaki Army after its disgraced general, sought military asylum in Switzerland. Wikipedia reports:

“From 1 to 3 February 1871 87,000 men crossed the Franco-Swiss border at Les Verrières (Neuchatel Jura) and were interned for six weeks.” This was equivalent to 3% of the Swiss population, themselves facing hunger and cold .”The internees were distributed to 190 localities in all cantons except the Ticino, because it was not reasonable to send the internees over the snow-covered Gotthard.”

The civilian population “contributed substantially to the aid and housing of the soldiers. Most of them did not only need medical treatment but also new clothes and shoes. Some hundred of them were too weak to survive the ordeal and were buried on Swiss ground.” A panorama in Lucerne by Edouard Castres (1881), 112m x 10m, depicts the army crossing and commemorates the Swiss humanitarian action.

France eventually paid Switzerland 12.1m francs for its public expenditure. Problems with the mobilization of cantonal troops during the operation led to the centralization of the Swiss army in 1874. The memory of that traumatic time lives on in Swiss culture. In Switzerland today, a sloppy soldier is still said to be a member of the Bourbaki army.

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Citizens and Scientists Battle Invasive Species

18. November 2019 - 17:44

Florida is paying bounty hunters for the third year in a row to capture thousands of Burmese Pythons that have overrun the Everglades, a vast area of subtropical wetlands, lakes and rivers, stretching from the southern tip of Florida to Lake Okeechobee in the heart of the state. So far, more than 2,500 Burmese pythons have been “humanely euthanized”.

This year, over 1,000 enthusiasts applied to search for the secretive serpents. Only 50 got the job. They are helping eradicate the snakes that are set free as unwanted pets, or escapees like those that fled breeding facilities demolished when Category 5 Hurricane Andrew unleashed its might in Miami and its environs in 1992. The hunters’ territory is also growing as the Burmese Python in the U.S. migrates north beyond the Florida border into neighbouring Georgia. The constricting snake originates in the marshes and jungles of Southeast Asia, but has established a strong hold in the Everglades, “a very slow-moving, shallow river”, dominated by sawgrass.

The reptiles sometimes grow up to 23 feet (7 metres) in length and are indiscriminate eaters preying on native species including marsh rabbits, deer, wading birds, opossum, and alligators. In April of this year a 17-foot (nearly 5.2m)-long female python, the largest ever captured at Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades, weighed 140lb (over 63kg) and contained 73 developing eggs.

Scientists placing a detector into a captured python for tracking. (Photo: Mike Gauldin, USGS)

While Florida strives to eliminate Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) such as destructive snakes, fish, insects, and plants, some countries in Asia are breeding Burmese and reticulated pythons in captivity and partnering with IUCN’s Boa and Python Specialist Group (BPSG) to foster cooperation between conservationists, governments and the private sector in the promising future of biotrade.

This article is part of Global Geneva’s regular focus on conservation and the environment, including climate change.

Costs for countering invasive species are skyrocketing

In Florida and elsewhere it is becoming illegal to release INNS into the wild. They are one of the top five threats to the environment costing the U.S. economy at least $120 billion a year according to a 2005 study. Given the sharp increase in invasive species not only in the U.S. but also in all countries, the outlays are skyrocketing. A report just released by the U.K. government states that £1.8 billion is spent ($2.3 billion) annually and much more is “needed to tackle the threat”.

The report emphasizes that “it is hundreds to thousands of times cheaper to prevent invasive species from establishing”, rather than eliminating after they have taken root. The first line of defence against invasion are Biosecurity measures and closing pathways of entry including: horticulture escapes, contaminants of ornamental plants, ballast water and hull fouling, stowaways on planes, in suitcases, trains, or fishing equipment, contaminants of aquaculture animals, and escapes by pets, and from botanic gardens or zoos.

Janett Taylor, garden artisan, who has managed the botanic gardens at the Ormond Memorial Art Museum in Central Florida For 39 years points out Clumping Multiplex Bamboo which grows tightly together in one spot – unlike nearby Invasive Arrow Bamboo that spreads rapidly.(Photo: Dr Elizabeth Kemf)

Invasive plant pathogens can be extremely dangerous. A non-native fungus, now present in all UK counties, has caused severe ash dieback. Caused by a non-native fungus, the disease was first reported in Poland in 1992, and in the UK in 2012 after it was picked up in a nursery in the Netherlands. Dutch elm disease is another example of a pathogen epidemic that has resulted in the loss of billions of elm trees globally.

Janett Taylor, garden artisan, who has managed the botanic gardens for 39 years at the Ormond Memorial Art Museum in central Florida — minutes from where I live adjacent to Tomoka State Park — guided me to what she said was the Garden’s centrepiece, a tall robust Dutch Elm tree. “It’s a non-native species to which ewe have given shelter and it flourishes, despite the dieback of elms elsewhere in the U.S. “Not all non-native species are invasive and not all native species aren’t harmful.”

Ormond Beach’s guide for locals to spot invasive species. Photo: Dr Elizabeth Kemf

She handed me a field guide to native and invasive plant species in the Gardens, which welcomes visitors to “find inspiration in nature” and learn the difference between some Florida native and non-native species. The brochure Plant This, Not That illustrates plants that look alike, but warns visitors against mistaking the golden petals of Wedelia, which can take over landscapes, for Beach Sunflowers. The sunflowers attract butterflies, flowering in Florida’s sandy dunes and gardens “year-round in hot, dry sites”. Volunteers or citizen scientists help Janett orchestrate upkeep of the Gardens every week.

A monk parakeet now found in their hundreds along the Thames River in London. (Photo: EU) Growing global concern to eradicate invasive species

According to the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC): “Alien Invasion is second only to habitat loss as a cause of species endangerment and extinction.” Lead author of the U.K. report, Dr Hanno Seebens, warns that up to 16 per cent of all animal and plant species have the potential to become invasive alien species (IAS).

Europe is clearly concerned as are a growing number of nations. “Spain is literally the paradise for invasive parrot species in Europe,” according to Parrots Daily News. Monk parakeets throng in London along the Thames near Kew Gardens . So do Ring-neck Parrots and Quaker Parrots in Barcelona near the Gaudi Cathedral, and barking deer can be seen outside Henley near London. They might all delight tourists and locals but they are invasives, no matter how benign.

So are the not-so-cute Desert Horned Vipers from Morocco spreading up into Spain, or deadly mosquitoes migrating north into temperate regions carrying illnesses such as dengue and Zika, first detected in Uganda in 1952, and now spreading in South America, or the lethal Asian hornet found everywhere in France. It is believed to have hitchhiked in a pottery shipment from China in 2004, and was discovered in Britain in 2016. Hornets’ nests were weaponized during the Vietnam war and its sting can induce anaphylactic shock.

The highly dangerous Asian Giant Hornet now found increasingly in Western Europe. (Photo: EU)

The hornets claimed the lives of a number of victims in France in 2018, one of the hottest years on record with scorching temperatures in summer and a mild winter. Global Geneva’s Editor, Edward Girardet, spotted one in Cessy, France, in gardens near Geneva this past summer. The carnivorous predators prey on insects including the critically-endangered honeybee in addition to the health threats causing massive declines in honey bee colonies. The falling beekeeping production has wiped out many beekeepers’ income, as well as millions of vital pollinators.

Invasive species take toll of South Africa’s water supply

For centuries, people all over the planet have – with the best intentions or unwittingly or accidentally – introduced thousands of fungi, plant, and animal species into the wild. In the U.S. these include the common tumbleweed (originally from Russia), European starlings, snake-head fish from Africa and Asia and the Sirex woodwasp. Native to Europe, Asia and northern Africa, the Sirex have also spread to South Africa. First detected in 1962, the tree-crunching wasp threatens the country’s 16-billion-rand ($1 billion) forestry industry. In addition, North America’s smallmouth bass has “outcompeted indigenous fish species” in South Africa concludes a 2017 report released by the National Biodiversity Institute. The report holds that invasive species are “responsible for a quarter of the country’s biodiversity losses”.

Invasive plant species suck up South Africa’s water so rapidly that Cape Town, was just 90 days away from turning off the taps last year. The low water-supply was compounded by a three-year drought, which some scientists attribute to climate change. Day Zero – the point at which its municipal water supply would be shut off – was averted by enforcement and compliance of strict water restrictions. “Threatened by one of the worst-ever drought-induced municipal water crises, residents became water-wise,” says the Swiss-based World Economic Forum. “People were instructed to shower for no longer than two minutes. A campaign with the slogan ‘If it’s yellow, let it mellow’ promoted flushing the toilet only when necessary. And the use of recycled water – so-called greywater – was also pushed”. Today, the city’s parched dams are over 80 per cent full.

The South American coypu, originally brought to Europe for fur farms, has gone feral in places such as the Camargue in the South of France, where they undermine river and canal banks. (Photo: IUCN)

However, South Africa is not letting its guard down. The country knows that invasive alien plants (IAPs) threaten water security and intensify the impact of extreme weather events, including severe droughts, floods, and forest fires. It is estimated that invasive plants cover about 10 per cent of the country and the problem is growing. Since its inception in 1995, South Africa’s Working for Water (WfW) programme has cleared more than one million hectares of IAPs. A silver lining is that such clearance is providing jobs and training to around 20,000 people from the most marginalized sectors of society per annum. Of these, 52 per cent are women.

The water hyacinth, originally from South America, is choking South Africa’s dams and waterways. It is rampant throughout Africa, Asia, Oceania and North America, including Lake Okeechobee in central Florida, limiting oxygen and sunlight. Destructive “infestations have impacted fish levels, blocked navigation routes, increased disease and affected access to water by reducing hydropower capacity,” according to the Global Register of Introduced and Invasive Species (GRIIS). The GRIIS database uses a series of country-specific checklists to help governments highlight problem invasive species and offers a basis for countries to prepare their own national strategies to combat invasive species. The good news is that growing numbers of farming communities in Thailand, for instance, are now harvesting water hyacinth not only to keep the canals clear, but to process them into readily-marketed plant fertilizer.

The Latin American hyacinth now blocks lakes, rivers and other water ways in Africa and Asia. Here a Klong, or canal, in Thailand suffocated by the invasive plant. Fortunately, farmers can now harvest the water hyacinth to turn into garden fertilizer. (Photo: Edward Girardet)

This year’s landmark UN global assessment report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), released in May 2019, concludes that invasive species’ numbers have risen by around 70 per cent since 1970. They have contributed to 40 per cent of animal extinctions over the past 400 years and are the biggest threat to biodiversity on islands.

New Zealand’s citizen scientists and volunteers: a model for other countries

New Zealand, whose diverse population is expected to reach 5 million in 2020, is a “world leader” in biosecurity with governments around the globe heaping praise on its Biosecurity Strategy 2025. The small multi-island-nation points out that “Biosecurity 2025 is a partnership between people, organisations, Māori, and central, local and regional government. Its aim is to make our biosecurity system more resilient and future-focused to protect our taonga (treasured things) and New Zealand from pests and diseases”.

Targets include ensuring that:

  • 75 per cent of adult New Zealanders understand what biosecurity means and why it is important
  • 100,000 New Zealanders regularly act to control plant or animal pests in their community (400,000+ people currently are estimated to be part of a community group that manages weeds or pests)
  • 90 per cent of businesses are actively managing pests and disease risk. The initial focus will be on the five international risk pathways: craft, mail, cargo, passengers, and express freight. Later this will be extended to domestic risk pathways, such as coastal shipping and movement of equipment between farms.

By 2025 at least 150,000 people with identified skills can be quickly drawn on to respond to biosecurity outbreaks. Citizens will report sightings or release of invasive species to a hotline or to local agencies. There is no blacklist of what can’t be imported into New Zealand. Rather there is an approved list of what can be in order to protect its environment, flora, fauna, and human health. New Zealand’s goal is to stop pests and diseases at the border, before they invade or infect the country, while getting rid of or managing the impact of those already there. It is a role model for biosecurity, biodiversity and citizen science. The team will soon be five million strong.

Elizabeth Kemf is a journalist, anthropologist, writer, and a member of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and of Tomoka Poets. She currently lives adjacent to the Tomoka State Park and the Tomoka Marsh Aquatic Reserve in Florida after several decades of campaigning with international environmental organizations based in Switzerland.



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