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13. Juli 2020 - 10:44

In January 1947, Daniel Dennett seemed to have it made. Dennett, who had taught at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon, during the early 1930s, was cultural attaché at the US Legation in Beirut. Dennett’s wife had just given birth to Charlotte, a beautiful baby girl. Dennett’s son, Daniel III, was five years old and thriving along with his sister Cynthia, who was eight, in the relaxed atmosphere of a city that still qualified as the exotic Paris of the Middle East. 

Like almost everything else in the Middle East, nothing was what it seemed. Six weeks later, Dennett was dead, killed, along with five other Americans, when an Ethiopian airliner crashed into a mountainside. 

Charlotte, who was only six weeks old, would never meet her father. Shortly after the crash, her mother took her children back to the United States. Charlotte grew up as a typical American teenager in Massachusetts. Then, when she was 16, her mother suddenly felt an urge to return to Beirut. The American teenager finished high school in the city that had captivated her parents’ imagination.

For Charlotte, it was a life-changing experience. She went back to the United States to attend college at Wheaton in Norton, MA, then returned to Beirut to begin working as a reporter on the Beirut Star, one of the Middle East’s leading English-language newspapers. Then, in 1975, she found herself trapped in a firefight, when a bus filled with Palestinians was caught between opposing factions in an early skirmish in Beirut’s fratricidal civil war. Shaken, she returned to the United States. 

A trunk in the attic: Private and letters revealing her father as an American spy

It was at a family dinner that her brother, discussing developments in Beirut, casually mentioned that a trunk in the attic held the private correspondence and papers of the father that she had never known. The papers, revealing Daniel Dennett’s true identity as an American spy, launched Charlotte onto an 18-year crusade to discover the true circumstances surrounding the crash that killed her father. What she learned is retold in The Crash of Flight 3804. The book is the result of a relentless and seemingly endless campaign to force the CIA to release classified information detailing America’s early intelligence forays into the Middle East.

Far from being only a mild-mannered cultural attaché, Daniel Dennett was one of the chief figures running an intelligence network that extended throughout the Middle East. Dennett, in fact, explored new territory at a critical turning point that would shape the region for decades to come. Dennett’s code name was “Carat.” With the outbreak of the war in Europe, Dennett returned to the US, completed his PhD at Harvard in 1939, and began teaching at Clark University. Clark turned out to be a recruiting ground for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), Colonel “Wild Bill” Donovan’s precursor to the CIA. Recruited into intelligence operations, Dennett, who spoke fluent German, was sent to Beirut, ostensibly to clean up the remaining Nazi intelligence operatives. 

Oil: The new game in town

When Dennett reached Beirut in the spring of 1943, he found that most Nazis had already slipped away. There was a new game in town: oil. Winston Churchill had been Lord of the Admiralty at the start of his career, when Britain’s warships switched from burning coal to oil. The nation had enormous reserves of coal, but no petroleum. Britain’s empire relied on the Royal Navy, and the Navy depended on oil, something that became obvious during World War II. 

William J. Donovan briefing soldiers during World War II. Photo credit: CIA

The OSS, which had been dedicated to fighting the Nazis, was disbanded at the end of the war. Dennett was assigned to work for the Central Intelligence Group, which replaced it and would soon be reconstituted as the CIA. Through a connection to an Irish woman, Isabelle Dunne — who had fallen in love with an Arab prince, converted to Islam, and joined a harem after changing her name to Fatima — Daniel Dennett had been able to integrate himself into the upper reaches of the Middle East’s elite. 

The key geopolitical question was now over who would control the future of the Middle East’s oil. That led to an intimate alliance between US intelligence and America’s powerful oil companies. Not surprisingly, Dennett’s immediate boss in the Central Intelligence Group, Turner McBaine, eventually emerged as general counsel for SOCAL, the Standard Oil Company of California.

For Charlotte Dennett, the connection between oil and intelligence had a special resonance.  After returning to the US, she had met Gerard Colby, a young freelance writer in New York, who had just published Du Pont: Behind the Nylon Curtain, a book on the DuPont dynasty. The couple married and headed off to South America, where they worked on a follow-up book, Thy Will Be Done, dealing with the intersection of endangered Amazon native tribes, evangelical missionaries, and the oil business. Research for that book prompted Charlotte to dig more deeply into her father’s role in Beirut.

For Daniel Dennnett, the burning question had been the route for Tapline, a pipeline that would eventually transport oil from Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean, and ultimately to Europe and the US. Construction on Tapline had started in 1947. It would eventually be completed in 1950. 

The Tapline Alliance: WWII cooperation replaced by individual interests for controlling Arab oil

The route promised a financial windfall as well as a heightened risk to the countries that it crossed. The most practical location for a final shipping terminal appeared to be the port city of Haifa, which was still in British-controlled Palestine. The problem was that the Arabs, in particular the Saudis, would never agree to have their oil pass through territory that had a large Jewish population. An alternative might be to create a terminal in Syria or Lebanon. Allied support to the Arab governments that would be permitted to exert custodianship over the pipeline suddenly took on a heightened importance.

Daniel Dennett soon discovered that the alliances that had defeated Hitler were becoming less reliable as competition increased for Tapline’s right-of-way. Both the French and the British were anxious to reassert the colonial claims they had imposed on Arab territory after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. The British, in particular, were adept at asserting “soft power.” Suddenly British professors were volunteering to teach at the American University in Beirut and at a college in Aleppo. At stake was a campaign to win the hearts and minds of the generation being trained to assert future political power in the region. The British were not the only players. The Russians, who had installed satellite governments in the eastern half of Europe immediately after the war, were also trying to secure Arab support for a Communist future. 

Dennett had become increasingly aware that the game was being played for high stakes. On his last trip to Washington, he expressed doubt about whether he would come out of the situation alive. 

His final flight on a C47 transport plane from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to Asmara in Eritrea and then on to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia was not as ordinary as it seemed. The British had done their best to exclude American airlines from flying over East African airspace. To get around the British, the UShad provided military air transport. The American interest extended far beyond transportation. Flying over vast stretches of territory proved to be one of the cheapest and most effective ways to perform initial surveys for oil. The region’s major oil deposits were in Ethiopia’s southeastern Ogaden region, still controlled by a British military mission. Sinclair Oil, an American company, later declared that aerial photos taken during overflights had been crucial to its explorations.

Dennett was not the only American of interest on the plane. Donald Sullivan, the US oil attaché for the Middle East, was one of the five Americans killed, and an even more valuable potential target may have been John Creech, the Central Intelligence Group’s expert on clandestine communications. Creech had been traveling throughout the Middle East, installing top secret communications gear in the different American legations. 

Charlotte Dennett’s efforts to discover the cause of her father’s death led to a years-long struggle to pry out details from the US government using the Freedom of Information Act. Her campaign led to a book, and ultimately to the CIA’s recognition that her father had indeed been a “forgotten first star.” Both Daniel Dennett and the communications expert, John Creech, are now represented by stars on the Agency’s wall of fallen heroes. 

Charlotte Dennett’s book, from Chelsea Green Publishing, draws on a wealth of research. Her father clearly saw the struggle over Middle East oil as a new chapter in the “Great Game,” the political and diplomatic chess match in which Britain kept the Russians and other European countries from encroaching on its colonial empire. In one such move, the British had installed a puppet ruler as Shah of Iran in 1925, but managed to overthrow him in 1941 when it appeared he might grant Hitler access to Iran’s oil. One of Iran’s subsequent leaders, democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, threatened to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. The British argued that Iranian oil could not be allowed to fall in the hands of the Soviet Union, so they sought CIA help to overthrow Mossadegh in 1953. His installed replacement, the son of the deposed Shah, was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who ruled until being overthrown himself in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. 

The exact cause of the 1947 plane crash that killed Daniel Dennett was never conclusively determined. 

Veteran foreign correspondent and author William Dowell is Global Geneva’s Americas editor based in Philadelphia. He wrote this article for Who.What.Why., a U.S.-based news organization that embodies a form of groundbreaking investigative journalism (referred to by its editors as forensice journalism) that is rigorous, relentless, and scientific. As part of its global approach, Global Geneva is seeking to broaden its collaboration with other like-minded news organizations with a focus on serious and trusted journalism.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Central Intelligence Agency / Flickr.

The Crash of Flight 3804: A Lost Spy, A Daughter’s Quest, and the Deadly Politics of the Great Game for Oil (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2020) Also published by Chelsea Green. Killing the Cranes: A Reporter’s Journey through three decades of war in Afghanistan. By Edward Girardet, editor of Global Geneva Online and Global Insights Magazine Related articles in Global Geneva Pandemics, climate change and UN reform BOOK REVIEW: The Trade – Inside the Afghan Labyrinth by Jere Van Dyk Afghanistan’s Unwinnable War. A journalist’s reflection on 40 years of conflict. Abdul Haq: the Afghan commander who could have led to peace LETTER FROM AMERICA: Welcome to the New World of Information Warfare Jeff Danziger – A cartoonist on the political frontline Militarization of conservation: an army of occupation, not protection 
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HELVETICA: Swiss Style and 60 years of type war

26. Juni 2020 - 11:52

“The Swiss were good,” admits the authoritative design magazine Print. What it meant was the post-1945 artistic movement from Switzerland launched as Die Neue Graphik and later dubbed Swiss Style.

Swiss Style’s principles of simplicity, readability and rationality dominated late 20th-century graphics. You can see them at work everywhere on the web. For example, see the Print website:

Today the innovative approach to graphics, rejecting ornamentation and embracing photography, is known as International Typographic Style or Swiss Style. This year sees the 60th anniversary of its most famous, ubiquitous and influential product: the typeface Helvetica.

The principles seem all about plain-faced elegance. But professor Steven Heller, winner of the 2011 Smithsonian National Design Award, writes in the Print article: “It took me decades to come to a full appreciation of Swiss ingenuity.” You can find the influence of early 20th-century Bauhaus and de Stijl in the lack of extraneous embellishment in Die Neue Graphik (the ph rather than f in Graphik gives away its Swiss rather than German origins).

The original Swiss stylists: Ernest Keller, Josef Müller-Brockmann and Armin Hofmann Swiss Style: what it means

But what makes Swiss Style so distinctive is not so much its marvellous sans-serif typefaces (almost a religious requirement) as the rectilinear grid system it introduced for layouts and (what still has to be adopted across the web) asymmetrical design.

A Swiss Style poster

The three elements together — superbly drawn sans-serif typefaces, rectilinear grids to hold pages in balance, and asymmetry — made the Swiss Style instantly recognizable despite its surface simplicity.

The young Swiss who changed French magazines… The Swiss of Paris: Peter Knapp, Jean Widmer, Adrian Frutiger

A young Swiss, Peter Knapp (born on 5 June 1931), transformed French magazine style in the 1960s with his 14-strong team of designers for Elle, including the photographer David Hamilton (LINK). In his history of Graphic Design, Richard Hollis says “Swiss designers like Knapp had received a disciplined training and were used to technical standards unknown in France.” The son of a baker in the canton of Zurich, Knapp moved to Paris after secondary school in Switzerland, signed up at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and worked for the artistic director of the Galéries Lafayette. In 1960 he moved to New York and made the acquaintance of the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Barnett Newman, who encouraged his painting. He returned to Paris in 1974. Knapp became famous as a Pirelli calendar designer and photographer for the couturiers Emanuel Ungaro and André Courrèges. He later worked on the design of Fortune, Stern, The Sunday Times and Vogue. With Dancing in the Streets, La Cité de La Mode et du Design in Paris commemorated his 1960-1970 work through an exhibition in 2018 (LINK).

…and the Swiss who changed French road signs

Knapp’s successor at Galeries Lafayette in 1959 was also Swiss, Jean Widmer, born on 31 March 1929 in Frauenfeld. Widmer studied with Knapp and Adrian Frutiger in Zurich, then moved to Paris to continue his studies at the Beaux-Arts. Widmer later became the art editor of Jardin des Modes, where he employed Terence Donovan and Helmut Newton, giving a start to beginners like Topor, and designed the 1974 logo for the Centre Pompidou.

Pompidou Centre logo by Jean Widmer

You’ve probably seen his other work most often on French road signs with text and icons designed to be read at speed.

In 1969 Widmer was the first designer to develop a corporate identity system for a French cultural institution, developing the graphic communication of the CCI—Centre de Création Industrielle (Center of Industrial Creation). The website hypocritedesign writes: “It was during this period that Widmer developed his own original graphic language, based on synthesis, rigorous geometry, and schematic typography that to this day represents the first and one of the few examples of Modern graphic design in France” (LINK).

 Le Cercle d’amis Jean Widmer at Fribourg University offers a CHF5,000 Jean Widmer award for an article in the social sciences, published by a young researcher, that makes a significant contribution to the study of communication and the public sphere (LINK).

Jean Widmer poster The Swiss of Paris 3: Adrian Frutiger

Adrian Frutiger (1928-2015), born in Unterseen (Bern), the son of a weaver, worked mainly in Paris but left his complete work to the Zurich Museum für Gestaltung/Museum for Design, and lived mainly in Bremgarten (Bern), where he died.

Starting out as a compositor to an Interlaken printer at 16, he studied later in Zurich, concentrating on calligraphy. He was hired by a Paris foundry, largely on the quality of his wood-engraved illustrations to his final Zurich University of the Arts (Kunstgewerbeschule) project. He designed several typefaces, including the elegant Méridien, similar to our serif headline type. Working mainly in Paris, he returned to Switzerland later in life. In an interview, Frutiger apparently described himself as a Calviinist.

Part of his work is available to view online (LINK). The museum, which has a total 350,000 posters, staged an exhibition in 2016 entitled “Les Suisses de Paris” including Frutiger’s creations (LINK). Using legibility research as a guide, Frutiger designed the signage for Charles de Gaulle airport and a variation, Frutiger, described by designers as “the best general typeface ever” features on Swiss road signs and Dutch railway stations.

The father of Swiss design

Where did all this come from? Most histories credit Ernst Keller as the father of Swiss design (LINK). Born in Aarau in 1891, he worked in Leipzig until 1914 and joined the Zurich Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Art) in 1918. He died in Zurich in 1968.

Ernst Keller poster for the Red Cross

 A history of graphic design in advertising says of Keller: “He taught that design should be adapted to the content and began experimenting with grid systems which are an integral part of the idealized design style that is popular today.” Another notes: “His teaching activity starting in 1918 can be defined as one of the first systematic training programmes for graphic design in the world.” The main study of his work and influence, published in November 2017 as No Style, says the diversity of his pupils “is an impressive documentation of the openness, sustainability and rejection of dogma evident in Ernst Keller’s teaching” (LINK).

Zurich and Basel

The Swiss Style became particularly associated with Josef Müller-Brockmann at the Zurich School, who presented the core of Keller’s ideas in a book on grid systems, and Armin Hofmann at the Basel School of Design.

Hofmann, born on 29 June 1920, taught in Philadelphia and Yale in the 1950s. Armin was also a sculptor and stage designer. He founded the Basel school in 1947 and his principles are still taught there, reports Callie Budrick in a Print article on the Swiss Style.  The Zurich Museum of Design has a small selection of his work on show until 5 July 2020 to mark his 100th birthday (LINK).

The Museum notes: “In 1965 he wrote the Graphic Design Manual, which is regarded as a fundamental work in the field of modern graphic design and art.”

Armin Hofmann poster for Giselle Enter Neue Grafik

In 1958 Müller-Brockmann helped launch a trilingual magazine entitled Neue Grafik (with an f). The second issue introduced Adrian Frutiger’s Univers typeface, designed especially for film-setting of type. Its 18 issues are available together for €250 (LINK).

Callie Budrick writes that Univers was “one of the first typefaces that formed a font family, allowing documents to use one typeface (instead of several) in various sizes and weights”.

Wikipedia records: “Central to the journal was the conception of the designer as an individual endowed with a great deal of social responsibility. With the authority to effectively communicate ideas, the founders held, came responsibility to uphold values and justice. The journal was also known for advocating the use of photography as a central element in graphic design” (LINK).

Typically for Switzerland, the innovation did not go down well with the establishment. One historian observes: “The publication was decried by a number of critics, particularly in Zurich, who characterized the International Typographic Style as rigid and cold.”

Apart from Univers, Frutiger also produced Avenir and many other typefaces. As a schoolboy he had invented his own stylized handwriting in opposition to the formal cursive handwriting required in Swiss schools (LINK).

Some Frutiger typefaces The Helvetica Swiss: Eduard Hoffmann, and Max Miedinger, plus Christian Schwartz And then came Helvetica!

Helvetica, “probably the most successful typeface in all of history”, was designed by former salesman Max Miedinger and a double-ff Hoffmann, Eduard, President of the Haas typefoundry (LINK). The font was first known as Neue Haas-Grotesk after the type foundry that commissioned it, with a nod to Akzidenz-Grotesk, the inspiration for all these modern sans-serif types.


“The two men didn’t always agree,” reports Indra Kupferschmid, a typographer and professor at Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar, after exploring the history. “Many details were discussed over weeks and modifications would continue until late autumn.”

You can read its history and examine original drafts from 1957 at fontbureau (LINK).

Hoffmann renamed the typeface to the more commercially appealing Helvetica in 1960, rejecting a suggestion of Helvetia, when Linotype introduced a version for large print runs. Helvetica is still the typeface used on U.S. tax forms.

Helvetica logos

But many of its characteristics needed tweaking to be used by other typesetting machines (hence its multiple variations). Though it was one of the first typefaces to be adapted for digital typesetting, “unfortunately, many of the design limitations from analog systems were carried over to the digital realm,” fontbureau records. “For example, the version of Helvetica that comes with every Macintosh computer today, digitized in the early days of PostScript, still retains the coarse 18-unit width system from the phototype era. Many of its curves lack finesse and its oblique was created by automatically slanting the roman.” (Most other systems use 54 units for widths).

Over the years Helvetica became a “hodgepodge of fonts”, Kupferschmid observes in her history (LINK). Finally, in 2004, 27-year-old U.S. type designer Christian Schwartz was commissioned to design a new version. Completing what he described as a restoration in 2010, Schwartz carefully redrew the typeface to match Miedinger’s original forms. He offered different designs for headlines and text, with variants for some of the headline characters, and case-sensitive numerals and punctuation. Numerals and related symbols all align properly when set in columns.

When he saw the proofs, Eduard Hoffmann’s son Alfred commented “Almost better than the original,” reports Kupferschmid, who adds: “I agree.”

Alfred Hoffmann reviews specimens of the Neue Haas-Grotesk in Basel, September 2011 Zurich vs Basel

Competing Swiss Style sans-serifs

In typography, after the launch of Helvetica, the scene became a battle between Basel (Univers) and Zurich (Neue Haas-Grotesk).



Outsider Max Bill, anti-Swiss Wolfgang Weingart, post-Swiss Herman Zapf

One of the pioneers stands outside this group. Max Bill (1908-1994), born in Winterthur, is best known these days for his architecture and industrial design.

His Ulmer Hocker (Ulm Stool:) is designed to serve as needed as a shelf element, a speaker’s desk, a tablet or a side table. But he was another supporter of the Swiss Style, having studied with  Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee at the Bauhaus (LINK). His school in Ulm included courses on semiotics, the study of signs and symbols. He is often considered “the most decisive influence on Swiss graphic design”, writes Callie Budrick.

It was to Bill that the most famous anti-Swiss-Style designer referred when rejecting such sobriety.

The anti-Swiss designer

Wolfgang Weingart (born in 1941 near the Swiss border in Germany), “the most influential younger Swiss designer abroad” according to Hollis, was a teacher at the Basel school. Weingart embraced “spontaneity and deliberate carelessness”, in the words of the American graphics association AIGA (LINK). He defended his approach in one design with this statement: “I think that the relatively high stimulus of such a text is adequate compensation for the low readability”. He received an AIGA award in 2013.


fabrica treviso: “spontaneity and deliberate carelessness”

Swiss Style still rules in many design landscapes. Perhaps it’s not surprising that a standard work on grids these days is published by the British-Swiss company Rotovision: André Jute’s Grids: the structure of graphic design (1996).

But don’t forget Zapf

Lest this seem like a threnody to Swiss design to the exclusion of all else, let me put in a word for the German typographer Herman Zapf (1918-2015), Frutiger’s only real competitor in the field (LINK).

Zapf restricted himself to designing typefaces, rather than promoting a theory of design. But his prolific creations have more variety than any of the Swiss Style stars.

Zapf Dingbats, created in 1977, is only the oddest of his creations. In 1994, music magazine editor David Carson printed an interview with the singer Bryan Ferry entirely in the symbols-only font. The writer said he did it because the interview was “incredibly boring” and decided to use Zapf Dingbats in the hope of making the article interesting again (LINK).


A Zapf fonts sample

Optima, inspired by Roman lettering after Zapf visited Florence in 1959, though dubbed Pessima by dismissive rival designers at the time, has proved one of the most durable fonts since its introduction in 1958 (LINK). It is used for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.

Zapf Chancery, a calligraphic style, has found many uses for jobbing printers who produce greeting cards, invitations and similar materials.

Palatino, released in 1949, has proved even more useful to designers desperate to avoid conventional serif faces. It was designed to read clearly on poor-quality paper (LINK).

Dachau, ill-health, protests

Born in Nuremberg, Zapf was sent to Dachau concentration camp for a short time after being involved with trade unions, and could not obtain a student’s place in a technical institute under the Nazi regime. He tried to get an apprenticeship as a lithographer but was asked political questions at each interview and rejected, though he was often complimented on his work. In the end he got a job as a retoucher. Often in ill-health, he became a type designer in 1947. His later work is less in favour among designers, but see the variety of his fonts.

Zapf resigned from the International Typographic Association in 1993 in protest at unauthorized copying of fonts by its members (particularly Monotype which was protected by U.S. rules). Microsoft distributed Monotype’s Palatino clone known as Book Antiqua. Since 2000 Microsoft has distributed Linotype’s version of Zapf’s original design, but Book Antiqua is still
available in Microsoft Office.

Zapf’s students created the Lucida type family designed to appear balanced on computer screens as well as in print. His research into computerized typsetting helped Adobe in its layout software InDesign. His other research is incorporated into OpenType technologies (LINK).

Before moving to Switzerland, Peter Hulm worked on newspapers
that won awards for design and reporting in the U.K. He has himself designed
information materials from flyers to books and videos for international
organizations throughout his career.

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The Shame of John Calvin: Will “Black Lives Matter” force Switzerland to finally acknowledge its own history of human rights abusers?

24. Juni 2020 - 6:07

Last October, I was asked by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) to join their panel at the Geneva Press Club (Club Suisse de la Presse/CSP) for a discussion entitled: “Freedom of Expression Under Attack.”  The main speaker was a Chinese political cartoonist known as Badiucao.  At the event, a trailer for a documentary on the cartoonist was shown, as well as a clip from my new documentary, Beijing Spring (See clip).  Both films focused on the struggle for freedom of speech and the press in China.

I walked down the hallway of the Press Cclub, taking in the ambience, admiring the photos on the walls of various writers.  Until I came to the print of Jean Calvin, the 16th century French theologian who imposed his own hardline and intolerant religious doctrines during the Protestant Reformation on Geneva, England, the Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe. Calvin’s striking portrait shows him in a scholarly pose, with a sizable tome in his hands.  A myriad of books covers the shelves and tables of his study.  I wondered, how can it be that the CSP — a supposed bastion of press freedom — glorify and pay homage to one of history’s great oppressors of the written word?  And with such a propagandistic image? 

Agent Provocateur is Global Geneva’s oped column. It is part of our regular coverage of international Geneva themes and as a means of stimulating open debate. A reminder: we make our content free worldwide in the public interest. If you like what we do, please support us. As we hope you will understand, editorially-independent reporting requires funding in order to operate.

Calvin:x Switzerland’s Mao

I mentioned my concern to people at the social gathering before the event.  I only got blank looks.  No one seemed to know the history of Calvin’s censorship apparatus.  Or, if they did, they didn’t appear to care.  Calvin has become an icon so ingrained into the subconsciousness of Geneva, that his exalted status is neither understood nor questioned.  It’s a bit like Mao’s cult status in China. 

When it was my turn to answer a question on freedom of expression, I said Switzerland, like China, also had an authoritarian past that it is still reckoning with.  On the invitation to the event was written: “Authoritarian regimes rely on a range of censorship tools to target dissent and maintain stability. They employ a range of tactics, both direct and indirect, to limit free expression. What is the cost to public discourse when these voices are silenced? What is the human cost?”

Calvin not only employed an arsenal of tactics to forbid freedom of the press; he went even further.  He was responsible for the burning alive of authors and using their books to fuel the flames. He even made the daily lives of ordinary citizens miserable by threatening to punish music, dancing, the arts and free-spirited public tavern life.

One of several pedagogic cartoons about John Calvin from the Musée Protestant in France with no mention of his abuses and intolerance. (Cartoon:

German journalists, filmmakers and NGO’s would raise hell if they saw a picture of Joseph Goebbels hanging on the wall of the Berlin Press Club.  In China, one expects to see Mao portraits everywhere for propaganda reasons.  But this is Switzerland, the land of the United Nations and human rights.  How can the press club display — without criticism or context — the image of one of Europe’s first authoritarian leaders who only allowed books to be published if he agreed with  their content. Should the city honour someone who engineered the murder of authors, the burning of books, and the suppression of the arts?

My thoughts were lost on deaf ears.  The participants were willing to talk about the fact that Badiucao couldn’t publish his cartoons in China — a horrible injustice for which he had to assume a pseudonym), yet they were reluctant to discuss the historical amnesia afflicting their own country.  If a nation, like an individual, cannot confront its own past, it’s certainly not capable of helping to change another. I doubt I’ll be invited back for a second showing at the Press Club, but if I am, I’m going to hang a portrait of Mao next to Calvin.

Honouring a murderous authoritarian who burned or banned books

As Calvin’s presence in the CSP suggests, the Swiss, like the Chinese, are afflicted with a kind of dictator deification syndrome.  Many Swiss monuments honour the man, even a street (Rue Jean-Calvin), a restaurant (Chez Calvin) and a secondary school (College Calvin) — the school named after him as recently as 1969, the year of Woodstock.  While most of the western world was fighting against social injustice that year, Geneva was busy glorifying a murderous authoritarian.

A few months after the Press Club event, I found myself heading to the Clinique La Colline for physiotherapy for a broken bone. I parked my car on a small, nearby street by the bus stop.  Set back in a thicket of weeds below a tree was a large headstone with a plaque.I found it a very odd placement; out of the way and on the last remaining sliver of land in an industrial area of Champel.  Curious, I walked up to read the text:

“Respectful and grateful sons of Calvin, our great reformer, but condemning the error of his century and firmly subscribing to the liberty of conscience according to the authentic principles of the Reformation and the Gospel, have erected this expiatory monument 27 of October, 1903.”

How absurd, I thought, to find in a weedy no-man’s land a memorial from his die-hard followers proclaiming Calvin a misunderstood victim of his times.  (Calvin is believed to be buried in Geneva’s Cemetery of the Kings, where Jorge Luis Borges, Sergio de Mello and other renowned figures lie — See Peter Hulm article)

Michel Servet: burned for daring to disagree

I continued down the steps and up the Avenue de Beau-Sejour toward the clinic.  Not far from the stone, facing the street, I came across a bronze sculpture set back, almost behind a tree, with weeds growing around it.  It was a casting of an emaciated, anguished man wearing torn rags over a withered and skeletal body—almost like a character in Dante’s Inferno.  At its base only the man’s name: Michel Servet.

I froze in my tracks.  Servet, originally Miguel Serveto from Aragon and also known in English as Michael Servetus (LINK), was precisely the author who had been burned alive that I had alluded to at the Press Club – the prisoner of conscience whom Calvin had torched together with his books.  Over the years, I had learned of Servet’s heroic tragedy through various writers, including Stefan Zweig, Balzac and Voltaire.  Servet’s crime was that he disagreed with Calvin’s opinion on the trinity and infant baptism and dared to say so.    

Michel Servet , a Spanish doctor, was imprisoned for his critical writings and held in abject conditions before being burned to death at the instigation of John Calvin. Sébastien Castellion (1515-1563), an apostle of tolerance and freedom of thought from the Savoy, castigated both Calvin and the Genevans for their killing of heretics, notably Servet. “To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine,” he wrote. “It is to kill a man….One does not prove one’s faith by burning a man, but burning what one stands for.” (Photo: Andy Cohen)

“The arrest of Servetus in Geneva, where he did neither publish nor dogmatize, hence he was not subject to its laws, has to be considered as a barbaric act and an insult to the Right of Nations,” wrote Voltaire in an open letter.

“Historically speaking, Servetus died so that freedom of conscience could become a civil right in modern society,” writes the U.S. scholar Marian Hillar in her book, Michael Servetus: Intellectual Giant, Humanist, and Martyr.  Adding insult to injury is this ridiculous plaque that tries to mitigate the blame due Calvin for his brutal crime.  As a final irony, Calvin was a notorious coward who cringed at the sight of blood and never attended the beheadings or burnings he orchestrated.

Geneva: the need to review history

The state of Geneva, following in Calvin’s censorship-prone footsteps, refused to allow the sculpture of Servet to be shown until recently.   The 100-year struggle to erect this statue shows just how controversial the issue of Calvin’s murderous deed still is in modern day Geneva.  A pro-Servet group commissioned the statue from a local sculptor in 1903 that would take four years to complete. 

Meanwhile, a pro-Calvin group, in an underhanded manner, quickly erected the stone with the expiatory plaque in 1903, hoping to pre-empt the need for a sculpture.  When the statue of the suffering Servet was finally completed in 1907, the pro-Calvin group officially opposed its public display, claiming that they had already erected a monument to Servet.  The city council agreed. It rejected the statue on the grounds that a monument to Servet — i.e., the plaque — indeed already existed. 

Censored by the Swiss, the statue was then presented to the city of Annemasse, just across the border in France. There the Servet sculpture was treated with the honour it deserved,  prominently placed in front of the Annemasse city hall.

However, during World War II, the Servet statue was considered a threat to Nazism because it honoured freedom of conscience.  As a result, the collaborationist Vichy Government ordered it torn down and melted.  Unfortunately, this was just one of many instances in which the Swiss and Nazi visions were aligned.  On one side of the border, the Swiss prohibited erection of Servet’s statue; on the other side, the Nazis and their French cohorts ripped it down; both united in their assault on freedom of expression.

Human rights abuser John Calvin (second from left) is honoured at the Reformation Wall at the base of the Old City of Geneva and opposite the University of Geneva which he founded in 1559. Should this be the legacy of International Geneva, world capital of human rights but also “the City of Calvin”? (Photo: Wikipedia)

Symbols of an ignored past

Finally, in 2011, Geneva was persuaded to erect a cast of the very statue its city council had rejected a century earlier.  It was to be placed in the same out-of-the-way location, beside the headstone monument.  Guess who didn’t show up to the ceremony?  Representatives from the church of John Calvin.  The Tribune de Geneve even commented on the conspicuous absence of officials from the Protestant Church of Geneva at the Servet dedication.  Steadfast in their unwillingness to admit to the human casualties caused by Calvin’s intolerant nature, they chose to boycott the ceremony of a statue erected to one of his victims in the middle of nowhere.

The trials and tribulations of Servet’s bronze casting has become a fitting metaphor for his life’s struggles and for civil rights.  The incident also illustrates how the Swiss deal with their nation’s past: by hiding it, such as its refoulement of Jewish and political refugees during World War II. Or its treatment of the Jenisch minority, a group not unlike the Roma (or gypsies) and Travellers.

Servet was one of the greatest freedom fighters of the Middle Ages. And he suffered one of its worst injustices imaginable.  Yet he is relegated to an inglorious, weedy nook on the outskirts of town, tucked away in a bend in the road next to a mechanic’s shop surrounded by industrial buildings and hospitals.  To anyone walking up the street that has very sparse pedestrian traffic, Servet is entirely hidden from view until you are standing right in front of the statue.

Meanwhile, the person responsible for Servet’s killing stands glorified in the centre of town. Together with other leaders of the Reformation, such as John Knox and Oliver Cromwell, Calvin is honoured with a statue as part of Reformation Wall, which was inaugurated in 1909 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his birth and the 350th anniversary of the University of Geneva which Calvin founded. Beside his statue is inscribed the motto of the Reformation: Post tenebras lux – after darkness, light

A street, restaurant and high school in Geneva are all named in honour of John Calvin. (Photo: Andy Cohen)

Perhaps it would be more accurate to write: after darkness, more darkness.  For it was in a dark dungeon cell beside the St. Pierre Cathedral of Reformation, where Servet was imprisoned in inhumane conditions, suffering in filth and squalor, his health deteriorating until he was burned at the stake with his books as part of the pyre (it is believed Calvin himself wanted Servet executed but argued for a beheading instead of burning to show his “humanity”).

“I beg you,” wrote Servet in 1553, “shorten please these deliberations.  It is clear that Calvin for his pleasure wishes to make me rot in this prison.  The lice eat me alive.  My clothes are torn and I have nothing for a change, nor shirt, only a worn-out vest.” Even in memory Servet is banished beyond the walls of Geneva, relegated to the dark shadows of history.  

Black Lives Matter should concern Switzerland

A few weeks after my discovery of the Servet bronze, the Black Lives Matter movement arrived in Switzerland, sparking protest marches.  Taking its cue from international activists who have toppled, beheaded and dumped into harbours various monuments to slavery and colonialism that have stood in various cities for centuries, Swiss demonstrators are now demanding a reckoning with their own past: They are calling for the removal of monuments to slavery and of those who violated civil liberties.  On this past Juneteenth (the U.S. holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved), the European Parliament voted to back a resolution recognizing slavery as a “crime against humanity”.

Over the last two decades, historians have exposed the role the Swiss played in the slave trade during the 18th and 19th centuries.  “Economically and intellectually, Switzerland participated in the colonial enterprise,” Anne Lavanchy, associate professor at the Geneva School of Social Work told Le Temps. as did the coastal, colonial countries of Western Europe.  However, unlike those other countries, and like the many unsavoury facts of its past — hidden to preserve the myth of neutrality — Swiss involvement in slave trade has still not entered the history lessons at primary and secondary school level. 

And yet, Neuchatel boasts a statue, honouring one of the biggest Swiss financiers of slavery: David de Pury.  It stands in the middle of the Place Pury.  Another monument to slavery stands in the centre of Zurich at the Bahnhofplatz: a statue of the banker Alfred Escher.  Escher founded the bank SKA (today’s Credit Suisse) and owned coffee plantations in Cuba profiting from the whipped backs of his slave laborers. 

Place Pury in the early 20th century in Neuchâtel honouring one of the biggest Swiss financiers of slavery: David de Pury. Over twenty Swisss companies reportedly sponsored 100 slave expeditions enabling Switzerland, its banks, businesses and ruling families to profit from the trade. (Photo:

What is the future of Swiss Monuments?

Though the Swiss have a history of toppling public statuary — during the Reformation, the sculptures of Saint Pierre Cathedral were ripped from their pedestals and destroyed — the fate of these monuments will most likely be decided, not by the mob, but in the arena of public opinion and referendum.  Perhaps 500 years of looking at the empty plinths and niches of lost cultural artifacts will incline Switzerland to check its desire for destruction and opt for preservation, relocation and re-evaluation, which would help teach future generations about their history. 

As the country debates what to do with its pro-slavery statues, the discussion should be broadened to include other monuments to perpetrators of crimes against humanity and violators of civil rights, particularly those to Calvin. Germany’s Nazi and Communist statues are already in museums.  If Eastern Europe can remove statues of Lenin, surely Western Europe can remove those of Calvin and place them in the more appropriate setting of the International Museum of the Reformation. 

Condoning Calvin’s crimes as an “error of his century” is as absurd as claiming slave owners were acting in accordance with the “error” of their times for keeping slaves, or Nazis for murdering Jews and other minorities.  In other countries, the Black Lives Matter movement would never tolerate such deflection language. Neither should the Swiss. 

Such approaches distort history, belittle the victims’ suffering and shifts blame and responsibility from the perpetrators’ inner evil natures to some nondescript outside forces beyond their control.  Instead, monuments should be erected in honour of those who did not succumb to but rather confronted the common “error” of their time.  Those like Servet, who had the courage to stand up to oppressive rulers, who put humanity above dogma and profits.  They were the real heroes of their times; not the abusers, such as Calvin and slave owners.

Clearly, removing statues will not erase history.    But at the very least, the Servet statue, with its stone and plaque, should be moved to the city center to stand near Calvin.  This would offer a more balanced monumentalizing of the past. It would also educate people on the recent history of Swiss censorship enabling a truthful re-evaluation of that history.

If the U.S. can confront its slavery and racist past by removing monuments — including those to its presidents — that glorify this crime against humanity, if Eastern Europe can unmount sculptures to leaders of its communist past, surely the democratic Federation of Switzerland, the home to the United Nations, can confront its slaving and authoritarian history and reform its monuments.  It’s high time for Switzerland to reckon with the crimes of its past and stop hiding behind its neutral curtain. 

ANDY COHEN is an American documentary film-maker, journalist and author based in Geneva. His documentary (Ximei, 2019) investigated China’s ‘poisoned’ blood scandal infecting more than 300,000 victims with HIV/AIDS – and then the Beijing government’s efforts to do everything possible to cover up the scandal. For more information, please go to LINK:  Andy also participated in Global Geneva’s first ‘Youth Writes’ (Young Journalists and Writers Initiative) workshop in Versoix, Switzerland, in March 2019, helping high school students better understand the role of documentary film reporting. To contact Andy Cohen at AC Films, please go to his website.

Andy Cohen

For reasons of transparency, please note that Global Geneva editor Edward Girardet is on the Boards of both the Club Suisse de la Presse (Swiss Press Club) and the Martin Ennals Awards Foundation for honouring human rights defenders based in Geneva, Switzerland. Girardet admits that – as with many others – he was not aware of Calvin’s murderous past and only learned of this with Andy Cohen’s article.

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Rachel et les siens : le roman de Metin Arditi qui relate la Palestine arabe et juive

23. Juni 2020 - 5:45

Metin Arditi est l’un des écrivains francophones les plus lus. Parmi la douzaine de romans qu’il a signés figurent également Victoria-Hall, La Fille des Louganis, Le Turquetto (Prix Jean Giono 2011), Prince d’orchestre, La Confrérie des moines volants, Juliette dans son bain, L’Enfant qui mesurait le monde (Prix Méditerranée 2017) et Carnaval noir.

Edition Française. Global Geneva is including French-language articles on ‘international Geneva’ themes as part of its worldwide outreach to Francophone audiences. A reminder: our content is available free worldwide in the public interest. If you like what we do, please support us.

Sur la terrasse de sa demeure, bercé par le chant des oiseaux sous le soleil qui pointe entre deux nuages, le conteur nous emmène sur les traces de Rachel, une enfant qui aimait raconter des histoires. Devenue dramaturge, elle est acclamée sur les grandes scènes du monde. Avec ses parents, des Juifs de Palestine, Rachel habite Jaffa au début du XX e siècle. Ils partagent leur maison avec les Khalifa, des Arabes chrétiens. Les deux familles n’en font qu’une. Jusqu’à ce que l’Histoire s’en mêle.

Avec comme point de départ Jaffa en Palestine, à l’époque de l’Empire ottoman, la plume de Metin Arditi nous fait voyager d’Istanbul à Genève, en passant par Tel-Aviv et Paris, narrant les destins croisés de Rachel, Mounir, Karl, Elias, Ida, Rebecca et les autres.

Amour. Gloire. Non-dits. Secrets de famille. Guerres. Deuils. Exils. Rachel et les siens,roman audacieux et courageux, nait d’un tourbillon de la vie époustouflant…
merci de mettre le guillemet » non pas tous seul à la ligne, mais à la fin de la phrase:Ce livre a commencé à prendre forme il y a une dizaine d’années », explique Metin Arditi.

Livre difficile à rédiger. Car Metin Arditi est notamment actif au Proche-Orient, tant en Palestine qu’en Israël. « Pour nombre de personnes, certains problèmes qui sont loin de leurs intérêts directs restent des abstractions. Et une abstraction peut s’avérer terrible, parce qu’elle ne s’incarne pas. Si elle n’est que chiffres et théorie, elle est la porte ouverte au négationnisme. Alors que dans la réalité, il y a de l’humanité, de la douleur », affirme l’écrivain, qui cite une maxime de Jacqueline de Romilly : « L’épopée racontait : la tragédie montra ».

Et pour Metin Arditi « il n’y a pas d’épopée sans tragédie. Cela amène à des réflexions de type historique. Mais je suis romancier. Le personnage de Rachel, femme puissante, y compris physiquement, porte des histoires et des douleurs ».

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Flaubert aurait affirmé : « Madame Bovary c’est moi ». Metin Arditi dirait-il : Rachel c’est un peu moi ? « Rachel, Mounir, Ida, volente o nolente, nous sommes un peu dans chacun de nos personnages », répond le romancier. « L’écriture, non pas la littérature de clichés mais le vrai roman, nait à 90% du subconscient. Et si les idées ne viennent pas du rationnel, il faut bien qu’elles viennent de quelque part. Nul ne peut contrôler son subconscient ».

Rachel et sa sœur adoptive Ida, deux personnages forts, sont le miroir l’une de l’autre, complices, et pas que, de Mounir, frère de lait de Rachel, l’homme incontournable du trio romanesque de ce roman épatant, au souffle puissant d’un désir d’Orient. Et qui dit Orient, pense conflit israélo-palestinien. Sans oublier celles et ceux qui, en Occident, avaient dû fuir pogroms et autres persécutions.

« Ce livre n’est pas un manifeste »

Qui est Rachel, la femme aux mots forts ? Qui plairont à certains et en irriteront d’autres. « Rachel est sincère. Juive et Palestinienne, tiraillée, prise en étau, elle dit des choses qui méritent d’être dites », déclare Metin Arditi.

Les phrases de Rachel sont percutantes. Metin Arditi ne botte pas en touche. « Je fais dire à Rachel des choses fortes à propos d’Israël. Elle dit aussi des choses très positives sur la construction de ce pays, pourquoi et comment il a été construit. Les gens qui sont arrivés en Palestine, d’Europe ou de Turquie, étaient traités pire que du bétail là où ils vivaient auparavant. Ils ont fait des miracles. ».

Rachel et les autres est un roman à rebondissements, l’épopée d’une héroïne qui a aussi une part d’ombre, moins élogieuse. Froideur d’une mère qui vénère sa première enfant morte avec son père dans un attentat, mais nie toute tendresse à sa deuxième fille. Jusqu’au jour où… Sans dévoiler la trame du livre ni en déflorer la fin, un instantané sur une pièce de théâtre de Rachel, jouée sur une scène à Tel-Aviv, résume le dialogue entre Madame Zeïna et Monsieur Mordechaï. Chacun dit à l’autre tout ce qu’il pense. Avec lucidité et sans concession.

Elle : La réalité, c’est que nous sommes chacun à la recherche d’une dignité…Les insultes que vous avez subies sont plus anciennes que celles dont vous nous gratifiez, voilà tout.  Mais enfin, vous en êtes toujours là…

Lui : Deux peuples d’humiliés… Ce n’est pas très gai !

Ce livre laisse-t-il une place à l’espoir ? « Je ne fais pas de thèse. Ce roman n’est pas un manifeste. Un ami, grand écrivain, Juif, comme moi, qui est, comme on dit, « de droite » concernant Israël et la Palestine, m’a écrit, après avoir lu ce livre : « Tu as ébranlé mes convictions ». J’aurais pu écrire dix livres d’histoire ou de sciences politiques, je ne serais pas arrivé à cela ».

Le romancier Metin Arditi et l’écrivain Elias Sanbar, Ambassadeur de Palestine à l’UNESCO
(Courtoisie de Metin Arditi). « Peu de gens ont marqué ma vie autant qu’Elias Sanbar »

Metin Arditi l’affirme : « J’ai écrit un roman. Il est centré sur la vie de quelques personnages et c’est à travers ce prisme qu’il faut aborder le problème de la Palestine ». Si Rachel et les siens fait la part belle à l’imagination, deux composantes de la vie de Metin Arditi expliquent la profondeur de son propos : le fait qu’il soit né en Turquie et son amitié avec l’écrivain Elias Sanbar, auteur du roman Le bien des absents et Ambassadeur de Palestine à l’UNESCO.

Les rencontres les plus belles sont parfois le fruit du hasard. L’amitié entre Metin Arditi et Elias Sanbar l’atteste. « En 2008, Patrick Aebischer m’a demandé de créer et de présider le Conseil culturel de l’Ecole polytechnique de Lausanne – EPFL, où Metin Arditi a étudié le génie atomique, ndlr –. J’ai fait appel à un certain nombre de personnes et j’ai demandé à Françoise Nyssen, mon éditrice chez Actes Sud –  ancienne ministre de la Culture dans le gouvernement d’Edouard Philippe, ndlr – de me suggérer une personne représentant la Méditerranée orientale ».

Françoise Nyssen conseille à Metin Arditi de rencontrer Elias Sanbar. « Elias ? Il va me dévorer en cinq minutes ! lui ai-je répondu. C’est un Palestinien engagé ! Vous allez vous trouver, a-t-elle ajouté. J’ai écrit à Elias pour lui demander s’il serait d’accord de participer à ce Conseil. Il m’a répondu qu’il le ferait avec grand plaisir ».

Elias Sanbar et Metin Arditi se rencontrent alors à Paris, au bar du Ritz. « Lorsque j’ai vu le regard d’Elias, avant même qu’il ne prenne place à ma table, j’ai eu la conviction intime que cet homme serait mon ami. Nous avons passé une soirée délicieuse à parler de la cuisine orientale et des réfugiés. Il m’a dit qu’il y avait une liste d’attente de mille personnes dans un camp de Ramallah, désireuses d’apprendre la musique. C’est ainsi que j’ai commencé à aider les jeunes qui voulaient s’initier à la musique en Palestine et en Israël. Elias et moi nous sommes revus à Lausanne à une réunion du Conseil culturel.

Quelques jours après, la guerre de Gaza de 2008-2009 a éclaté. Le lundi 20 janvier, j’avais une réunion du bureau de l’Orchestre de la Suisse romande (OSR) que je présidais. Une collègue membre du bureau, l’avocate Sylvie Buhagiar, avait vu un débat sur ARTE avec Elias Sanbar. « Vous deux, dans une vie antérieure, avez dû être des frères », m’a-t-elle glissé. Cela m’a touché. Je suis rentré à la maison et j’ai envoyé un courriel à Elias en lui disant qu’il fallait qu’il assume sa nouvelle famille, puisqu’on m’avait dit que dans une vie antérieure nous deux avions dû être des frères. Le même jour, Elias m’a répondu : « Cher Metin, pourquoi antérieure ? Je t’embrasse ». Il faut peu de mots pour dire des choses importantes ».

Metin Arditi partage une réflexion personnelle. « Peu de gens ont marqué ma vie autant qu’Elias Sanbar».Fort de cette amitié, l’auteur et mélomane suisse a créé la Fondation Les instruments de la Paix, qu’il copréside avec Elias Sanbar. Les deux écrivains et frères d’âme œuvrent de concert pour favoriser l’éducation musicale des jeunes en Palestine et en Israël, tant des jeunes défavorisés que des jeunes représentant un potentiel de développement artistique.

Quelle a été la réaction d’Elias Sanbar en lisant Rachel et les siens ? « Il m’a téléphoné pour me dire qu’il était bouleversé », répond Metin Arditi d’une voix émue.

Rachel et les siens sera dans les librairies des pays de la Francophonie le 26 août 2020. Les nombreux lecteurs et lectrices de Metin Arditi sont impatients de le lire. Ils y découvriront aussi Gershom, le fils de Rebecca et d’Elias « qui portera en lui tous nos sangs, qui rassemblera en lui toutes nos racines », comme l’a écrit Rachel à Ida.

Rachel et les siens, roman de Metin Arditi – Grasset, juin 2020.

A lire également Metin Arditi : l’écrivain amoureux de la Suisse et de l’Esprit français

Luisa Ballin est une journaliste Italo-suisse qui collabore régulièrement avec le magazine Global Geneva. 

Italo-Swiss journalist Luisa Ballin is a contributing editor of Global Geneva magazine.

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(Extended deadline: 30 September, 2020) – Global Geneva launches 2nd edition Youth Writes Awards for high schools worldwide

18. Juni 2020 - 17:25

“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.” Robert Louis Stevenson

Updated 18 June, 2020: Following the success of Global Geneva’s first 2019 Youth Writes Awards and the high quality of entries, we have launched our 2020 second edition. This time, however, given the strong interest expressed by mainly international schools in locations ranging from Frankfurt to Bangkok, but also schools in Africa, we have decided to open the awards to high school students worldwide. The purpose of this contest is to ‘read’ the voices of young people about how they perceive their world today. (Also see: A chance for young people to get published)

Our 2020 Youth Writes Awards initiative is made possible with an initial grant by the Jan Michalski Foundation, which fosters authors, literature and the arts at its stylistically-modern writers’ centre at the foot of the Jura Mountains overlooking Lake Geneva.

However, we hope that other foundations and donors will contribute so that we can involve as many schools as possible, particularly given that our main aim is to help young people gain a better understanding of the 2030 SDGs, but also to reflect on them through their writing. Depending on additional support, we wish to include the sponsored complimentary distribution of high quality print copies of Global Geneva magazine to all interested schools, wherever they are. In 2019, we undertook a target distribution of 4,000 copies of the magazine to schools and youth events in Switzerland, including the edition with the published entries of the three winning 2019 laureates. For more information on how to support us, please contact:

Open to high school students worldwide

Any student (14-19 years old) may enter, but we urge that you first discuss with your teachers on what – and how to enter. We do not mind if writers recieve help or are part of a school project (every good writer needs to be edited). But we want the final product to reflect the original work of the author.

All articles or stories (1000 words maximum) can be fact or fiction, and in any person. They can also be written like a magazine article or a fiction story. That’s up to you. All pieces, however, must focus on an international Geneva theme or any of the UN’s SDGs. So entries can deal with topics such as refugees, conservation, climate change, food security, oceans, pollution, human rights, migration, war, racism, world trade, cyber abuse, corruption, the destruction of cultural heritage…

Deadline extended to 30 September 2020.

Some excellent entries have been coming in but at the request of various teachers, parents and students, we have been asked to extend the deadline because of Covid. It is now 30 September 2020. All entries will be judged and commented on by a team of professional editors and writers across the globe. We will be seeking good writing, observation, and unusual approaches, including first person experiences. We wish to encourage good writing as a critical form of self-expression, particularly in a digital age where the art of quality reading and writing are often ignored.

The best writing will be published by Global Geneva magazine both in print/e-edition as well as online. Depending on the overall quality of entries, we are considering the publication of a Youth Writes Special print/e-edition in late 2020.

2020 Youth Writes Awards: Travel Grants

The winning Youth Writes awards consist of three travel grants:

1. 1200 CHF/USD; 2. 750 CHF/USD and 3. 500 CHF/USD

“A word after a word after a word is power.” Margaret Atwood

How to apply:
  1. Send your entries marked in the subject line as: Youth Writes 2020 Awards or YW2020, with the Title of your piece. Please send to:
  2. All entries must be in English and no longer than 1,000 words. They must be sent by email and as a WORD document.
  3. Please provide us with your full name, age, email, name and address of high school, and, if possible, a scanned photo ID.
  4. In your message, please let us know briefly (no more than 150 words) why you decided to enter your story. Is there a story behind the story?
You can see the 2019 winning laureates here.

1st Prize:

2nd Prize:

3rd Prize:

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‘People, planet, profit can be the new norm, with a COVID-19 sense of urgency’

17. Juni 2020 - 5:35

What is there good to say about the COVID-19 crisis? Dimitri de Vreeze, co-CEO of DSM, a big Dutch company producing health, nutrition products and materials, has one positive message for the planet from the devastation caused to economies and health systems: the sense of urgency much of the world brought to the problems.

“I have seen things happening that I thought would be impossible in such a short time: cooperation, collaboration, humankind reaching out to each other. But also making innovation work in two weeks which you would normally have planned for two years,” he declared in a webinar on 10 June.

Faryda Lindeman, Senior Responsible Investment Specialist at NN Investment Partners, a Netherlands-based asset manager, noted too:

“More sustainable companies were actually resilient and were not so badly affected by the crisis as other industries. Sectors like software providers and communication services did extremely well. And also companies active in medical equipment and nutrition. The past few weeks have provided proof of sustainable funds performing well, both in an upward as well as a downward market.”

But that wasn’t why they came together in the webinar organized by the ClimateAction coalition of business, governments and public bodies. They sat down in their separate online spaces to discuss how COVID-19 might change sustainable financing.

Ms Lindeman said the crisis highlighted even more that investment specialists need to question companies about social issues such as health and welfare treatment of their employees, or whether companies are focusing too much on creating shareholder value over what has become known as stakeholder value (including both the the community and staff).

So investment managers, in the period of shareholder meetings during the COVID crisis, have been asking firms whether their remuneration packages are justified, and whether a company should be declaring a dividend if it is receiving government subsidies.

“We have voted down several compensation and dividend proposals,” she reported.

The lesson she took from the experience was not just that investors’ perspectives have shifted to social questions but also “how we use our right as an active owner” of company shares.

“People, planet, profit is the new norm,” said Dimitri de Vreeze.

Transport took a big hit when the lockdowns started, but post-COVID “it could very well be that there will be a higher request for smaller cars and electrical vehicles. We are preparing for that transition going forward,” he said.

DSM and its people around the world also took early steps to manage the COVID crisis.

“We have a large business is in China. Eleven per cent of DSM’s sales is to China,” he observes. “We have more than 5000 employees in China. They already were alerted in January.” The Chinese management proposed temperature checks for workers on coming into the factory, making mouth masks mandatory, and establishing separate entrance and exits, as well as instituting down time between shifts.

“That was in January. Could you imagine?” he said. “My first reaction was: isn’t that a bit overdone. But we followed the local experience and the local advice.”

“When COVID came into Europe we immediately applied all the learnings from China.”

COVID-19 also instituted “very intense cooperation between governments and the private sector,” de Vreeze observed. Such close partnerships “should be there to stay” post-COVID, he argued. “The problems are too complex to be solved by governments alone or private companies alone. We need to work together.”

But they both reported that because of the crisis, some governments and some companies are “pedalling back” on their environmental commitments.

“We should not allow that,” said de Vreeze. “The need to have a healthy sustainable planet, that isn’t something we can put on hold for 24 months.”

“DSM is calling to our joint companies to confirm that we stick to our net zero emission commitment by 2050. We stick to our science-based targets. Post-COVID that is even more important for us than pre-COVID.”

Steve Lippman, ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) Engagement Director for Microsoft, reported that his company announced a major environmental initiative in April though it was debated whether this was appropriate during the crisis: an AI for Earth programme to help researchers understand better how to sustainably protect ecosystems around the world.

In fact, “we got a really great reception and we are glad we did that.”

Microsoft has been carbon neutral since 2012, he reported. It also announced an initiative in January to go carbon negative by 2030 and “to eliminate all our historical emissions from electricity use dating back to when Microsoft was first founded in 1975 and to do that by 2050,” he added.

Answering a question, he said the offsetting would be through increased energy efficiency, renewable energy, high-quality offsets, and even nature-based solutions such as afforestation projects.

But greenification, such as moving to electrical vehicles from fossil fuels, will be a challenge, warned de Vreeze, because some electrical vehicle parts are difficult to recycle. Reducing our planetary footprint will require considerable innovation, he said.

Nevertheless, “we have moved 9000 of our employees in lockdown in Europe from office work to work-at-home via the [Microsoft] Teams setup,” he pointed out. “We could only do that because we were […] early adopters [in] going digital.”

DSM had found that in the crisis, because people were eating more at home, they switched from fish and beef to poultry because that took less time. “If you have to prepare it yourself, you take the shortcut,” he observed. Luckily, DSM is strong in the poultry business.

People also became concerned about increasing their protection from viruses. “If you take vitamin C and vitamin D, you do improve on immunity.”

Both these experiences have messages for the future. “We feel that post-COVID-19, this higher awareness [among consumers] is there to stay.”

De Vreeze made a strong call for “BuildBackBetter” efforts. Stimulus measures aimed at re-opening and re-starting the economy offer great potential to catalyse and accelerate the needed transitions (e.g., in energy, the circular economy, and sustainable farming), he points out.

Links The webinar: How is COVID-19 refocusing sustainable finance? (LINK) Related articles in Global Geneva Zooming in on the circular economy Pandemics, climate change and UN reform Impact investing and SDGs in the COVID-19 era: maths matters more than opinion Project 1800: Saving the SDGs – and the world AGORA Rising: International Switzerland’s innovative approach to real time cancer research Trade for Aid But Get Paid Trade for Aid But Get Paid A new journalism platform: Are we missing the point of International Geneva? The U.N.’s Michael Møller: Placing International Geneva on the global frontline International Geneva: Already a leader in the next Industrial Revolution
Kategorien: Jobs

Law and Disorder in the U.S.: Time for a rethink

17. Juni 2020 - 5:10

After hundreds of incidents in which African Americans were killed by police, mostly over trivial infractions, or shot by overzealous neighbors, it should be obvious to just about everyone that something is fundamentally wrong in America.

Ironically, America’s efforts to set the parameters for law enforcement began with the best intentions. The framers of the US Constitution, recognizing the abuses of power that were commonplace during the colonial era, made an exceptional effort to safeguard individual liberties, based on the principle, enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights.” 

Unfortunately, in the beginning it was less than clear who should be included in that sweeping statement. The drafters might more accurately have declared that all white European males were considered equal, while African slaves were only three-fifths the value of a human being and Native Americans did not count at all.  

Who do we really consider to be American?

Today the lingering aftermath of the toxic effects of slavery constantly remind us of that original sin. The struggle to define what it means to be an American took shape a long time ago, but the difficulties facing America today touch on many of the same issues. The proverbial elephant in the room is this basic question: Who do we really consider to be American?  

It would be convenient to conclude that the evil slavery created came to an end with Emancipation. Of course, it did not. The injustices committed under slavery continue to plague all of us today. Having lost the Civil War, the South decided to win the peace that followed.

Despite the noise created by right-wing extremists, many of today’s Americans share an ethnic blend that reflects the entire planet. Until all citizens — regardless of race, color, or ethnic origin — are recognized as fully American, and endowed with equal respect and equal rights, we will not be able to resolve much of anything.

In the past, we struggled to paper over the differences and see ourselves as one country and one people. Donald Trump effectively reversed that process, hoping to gain political advantage by exacerbating bigotry and extremism and preying on the frustrations of that segment of the population which has suffered economic and other indignities over the last decades of rapid change. In the process, Trump awakened a panoply of demons lingering beneath the surface of the American psyche.

An apparent mishmash of federal police at the Lincoln Memorial during protests in Washington, DC, on June 2, 2020. Photo credit: Brett Davis / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) America’s slave past: whose responsibility?

Of course, the problem existed before Trump. He simply picked at the wound until it became impossible to ignore. The difficulties in defining law and order originally stemmed from unreasonable fear, much as they do today. If you look back at the year 1800, America’s population stood at roughly five million people. Of that number, nearly 900,000 were slaves. These were, for the most part, unsuspecting African tribesmen who had been kidnapped, often by neighboring tribes, sold into bondage, transported in chains to a continent they knew nothing about, and then were forced to work under inhumanly brutal conditions until they died. All of that simply in the name of a commercial enterprise.   

There is no particular profit in blaming white Americans today for what happened more than 160 years ago. Like Trump’s, most of their families were probably not even in America when slavery reigned. But the Biblical prophecy that the sins of the fathers will be visited on the sons to the third and fourth generation is, in this case, a simple statement of fact.

It would be convenient to conclude that the evil slavery created came to an end with Emancipation. Of course, it did not. The injustices committed under slavery continue to plague all of us today. Having lost the Civil War, the South decided to win the peace that followed. In place of traditional law enforcement, which was often seen as an extension of domination by the North, the South turned to vigilantism, hence the KKK. Lynching became the preferred method of forcing newly freed African Americans to stay in their place. The result was another century of lawlessness directed toward anyone whose skin appeared less than white. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL, testifies to more than 4,000 lynchings — mostly in the South but some as far north as New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. That brand of murder by popular white consent continued into the 1950s.

The ultimate challenge to law and order stemming from slavery, however, was the US Constitution’s Second Amendment. James Madison added the amendment to the Bill of Rights because he knew that for the Constitution to be voted into law, it needed to be accepted by at least nine of the original 13 states. Virginia, which had the largest population, was the last holdout. Knowing that the northern states adamantly opposed slavery, Virginia was terrified that if it no longer had access to weapons, its population might be massacred by escaped slaves. The amendment, which states that “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” was the ultimate concession that Virginia demanded in order to accept the US Constitution. 

Of nearly 18,000 individual law enforcement agencies and departments that handle police duties in America today, only 65 are federal agencies.

When a conservative majority on the Supreme Court overturned long-standing precedent by declaring it an individual right, the amendment succeeded in endowing the US with more guns per capita than practically any other place on the planet. The effect on law enforcement has been catastrophic. The Economist recently reported that between the years 2000 and 2014, some 2,445 police were shot and killed in the US. In England, where most police don’t carry weapons, a total of 25 police officers were killed during the same period.

Local police departments tend to reflect the politicians – not the people – they serve

It is easy to be misled today by the fact that the largest police departments in major cities — notably New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles — have grown into effective institutions that for the most part really do strive to guarantee public safety. The problem is that most are local. Of nearly 18,000 individual law enforcement agencies and departments that handle police duties in America today, only 65 are federal agencies. For the most part, standards are set individually by mayors or county sheriffs. If the person calling the shots is someone like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who served six terms as the elected sheriff of Maricopa County, just outside Phoenix, AZ, and was pardoned by Donald Trump despite being convicted of openly showing contempt for a court order, the law can move in unexpected directions. If a cop stops you, you don’t really know what to expect. If you are a person of color, the odds are increased that the encounter will move in a bad direction.

Local police departments may reflect the public they serve, but they are more likely to respond to the local politicians who have direct control over their operations. Right-wing extremist conservatives have increasingly pushed the emphasis toward militarization. Lately, the Pentagon has shown unexpected generosity in dumping surplus equipment on police departments. These gifts range from armored personnel carriers and assault rifles to rocket launchers. Most of it is designed for fighting a war against a foreign enemy, not the public that the police are supposed to serve. The trend toward protective armor, helmets, gas masks, and assorted riot gear tends to even further isolate police officers from the people whose safety they are supposed to ensure. The inevitable effect is to reorient police officers from an emphasis on protecting the public to one that is more geared toward repression.

President Donald J. Trump walks from the White House on June 1, 2020, to St. John’s Episcopal Church after having police personnel forcibly clear demonstrators in nearby Lafayette Square. Photo credit: The White House / Flickr

The ultimate example is the recent White House fiasco in which Trump’s controversial attorney general, William Barr, ordered phalanxes of police, dressed like Imperial Stormtroopers from a Star Wars movie, to use concussion grenades, tear gas, pepper spray, and smoke bombs to chase a relatively peaceful demonstration from Lafayette Square in front of the White House so that the president could stage a photo op. Just to complete the picture, military Black Hawk helicopters buzzed above the square in a scene that recalled Apocalypse Now.

No one denies that law enforcement can be a dangerous occupation. When dangerous criminals turn homicidal, you need an armed force to stop them. But for the most part, those situations are extremely rare. In fact, most of the violence that the public experiences is on television. The fear generated may be genuine, but often it is exaggerated, and that can be dangerous.  

It doesn’t have to be this way. The foundations of much of today’s modern policing were established by Britain’s Sir Robert Peel, who was appointed home secretary in 1822 and subsequently created London’s Metropolitan Police. Continental Europeans had traditionally used the police as a paramilitary force, an extension of absolute government power. In France, for instance, the Gendarmerie is controlled by the Ministry of Defense. 

Peel adopted a radically different approach. Facing public opposition to yet another paramilitary force, Peel decided to create a police organization that was as unmilitary as possible. He put London’s police into blue uniforms to distinguish them from the British army’s traditional red coats. Each officer was identifiable to the public by a specific number and warrant. The main weapon Peel allowed British police to carry was a whistle, and they wore a helmet that looked like an extended, hardened version of the British bowler hat. Peel’s evolving model for the police was soon adopted by Boston in 1838, New York in 1844, and Philadelphia in 1854. The most important aspect of Peel’s approach, however, was to emphasize deterring crime rather than measuring success by the number of criminals arrested.

Peel’s strategy also emphasized having a large number of officers on the street in order to establish personal relationships with local neighborhoods. His constables, who came to be known familiarly as London “Bobbies,” were intimately familiar with the neighborhoods they patrolled. 

Explosive population growth and arguments over budgets eventually led to police riding in squad cars rather than walking a beat. Reducing personal contact made the police more reactive, but the general idea of strengthening relations between the police and the neighborhoods they serve proved highly effective. A noteworthy example is Camden, NJ, which in 2012 had the fifth-highest murder rate in the US. The city eventually fired all 175 officers in its police department. It then created a department of public safety serving the county where Camden is located and hired most of its former officers back. Then the force was expanded to 400 officers and the emphasis was placed on training, developing community relations, and mastering techniques for de-escalation. The murder rate dropped to less than a third of what it had been.

A number of other police departments in the US recognize the need for a new approach. One thing holding back police reform in the US is the lack of a set of universal standards that apply across the entire nation. 

The solution to the current situation is not necessarily to defund police departments, but rather to decide budgets and priorities more intelligently, so that the police can focus on public safety instead of being expected to handle a broad range of social problems that they are really not equipped to deal with. It makes much more sense to assign school disciplinary issues, housing the homeless, and responding to problems resulting from the mentally disabled to trained social workers. In most of these cases the disruption can be dealt with more effectively if there is no immediate threat of violence or prison. Once priorities are corrected, it becomes possible to reorient the bad police departments and make them better. Georgetown law professor Rosa Brooks, who joined the Washington Metropolitan Police Reserve Corps in order to have a better understanding of what policing is about, suggests that a good place to start is with the police academies, which often seem more interested in training cadets for paramilitary service than helping the public. 

Case in point: All 57 members of the Buffalo Police Department Emergency Response Team resigned from their unit in solidarity with two fellow officers who were indicted for pushing a 75-year-old protester and callously walking on, leaving their seriously injured victim bleeding on the pavement. Police Chief David Roddy of Chattanooga, TN, may have said it best when, after watching the video of George Floyd’s murder, he told his men, “If you have a badge and you don’t have an issue with this … turn it in.” Roddy, at least, is on the right track.  

Veteran foreign correspondent and author William Dowell is Global Geneva’s Americas editor based in Philadelphia. He first wrote this article for Who.What.Why., a U.S.-based news organization that embodies a form of groundbreaking investigative journalism (referred to by its editors as forensice journalism) that is rigorous, relentless, and scientific. This is a first collaboration with Global Geneva.  

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: William Barr caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), police (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), water cannon (Vivian Evans / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), gear (Tony Webster / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Blackhawks (US Army / Wikimedia), splat (OpenClipart-Vectors / Pixabay), smoke grenades (US Marines), flash-bang grenade (DoD / Wikimedia), and Lincoln Memorial (Tim Krepp / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).

Related articles in Global Geneva Reporting the news: the first Youth Writes information & young leadership webinar IRAN-USA: The Sound and the Fury – An outrage too far? “Mindf*ck”: Adventures with the Cambridge terminator Erasing history: ISIS, Balkans, US Civil War statues, and Saddam Hussein. LETTER FROM AMERICA: Welcome to the New World of Information Warfare The Mort Report: A crime against humanity High Noon: Hilde Outdraws Marshal On Zapata, Bogey and Circling Vultures

Kategorien: Jobs

Zooming in on the circular economy

5. Juni 2020 - 11:06

First, the circular economy is not just about recycling. Lynda Mansson, Director General of the Mava Foundation (created by Swiss environmentalist and ornithologist Luc Hoffmann), made this clear in her opening address broadcast via Zoom as a major supporter of Switzerland’s Circular Economy Incubator. “We go way beyond recycling,” she emphasized. “For example, rethinking the design of products, so that all the components can be disaggregated and reused in some way.”

And in its broader aims, the Circular Economy movement can take on climate change, resource dependency and even encouragement for local employment. In short, it pushes for “a much more rational use of resources, which of course reduces the pressure on biodiversity and nature in general” (always one of Luc Hoffmann’s concerns).

Seeking a centre for innovation with convening power

But why the emphasis on Switzerland? Ten years ago, after working in other parts of Europe, Africa and China, when the foundation looked at this country, “we felt the circular economy was not yet on the agenda in Switzerland” (See LINK). This brought the foundation to ImpactHub Switzerland, co-organizer of the Incubator programme, “as a centre for innovation with convening power”.

“We wanted a partner that was young and dynamic and reaching out to people who were not perhaps within our normal network,” she added. “The Incubator is really important to bring to the fore that you can run a business that is circular and can thrive. We need ideas that can be scaled, much greater engagement than we have seen before.”

But Switzerland still has a way to go before it has the regulatory framework in place to enable a Circular Economy, as one of the prizewinners told viewers. “We need great examples to show how it can be done…combining heads in the clouds with feet on the ground,” said Lynda Mansson.

The Circular Economy Demo Day presenters

How far the message has gone remains in doubt. Two weeks after the 18 May show, the YouTube video still had only 200 viewers. The Programme selected 27 start-up projects from 100 applicants and then gave them each three months’ training in various parts of Switzerland with peer-to-peer learning and support from business experts.

500 startups in two years

For the major prizewinners in the four sections of the Circular Economy Transition marathon there was CHF2,500 (shared by two in one section) while the runner ups received a three-month membership of ImpactHub Switzerland, enabling them to share working spaces and facilities around the country as well as access to the experience-sharing network.

José Filipe Silva, National Coordinator of the National Circular Economy Incubator, remarks: “Since we launched the Circular Economy Transition two years ago we have had the opportunity to collaborate with more than 500 startups and players of the Swiss entrepreneurial system. That gives us a lot of hope about what the future will look like. Entrepreneurs definitely play a key role in shifting Switzerland towards a circular economy.

“But they will not make it working in silos, of course. We believe that now, as we are reshaping a post-COVID-19 economy, it is the right moment to collaborate even more in order to improve our regulatory policies and invest in business models that will make our economy thrive while having a positive impact for the people and the planet.”


The winners for food and farming services were Lyfa (Basel) and Hopvrac (Neuchâtel), sharing the prize, with WePot of Prilly runner up. Exnaton from north-eastern Switzerland, with its first customer since February (Walenstadt Electricity) won the smart cities and industry award, with I.C.E. Materials in French-speaking Switzerland as runner-up. I.D. Watch in the Jura won the consumer goods award for producing timepieces using 98 per cent recycled steel, while a clothing exchange in Berne was runnerup. In the closing sharing and platform section CINE.EQUIPMENT in Zurich took the prize for its movie equipment rental project, while RemotelyGreen, responsible for part of the pitching broadcast, was voted runner-up.

The first online pitchers were for food and farming services. And as with most of the other teams, they were highly-educated specialists, though often in other fields than their projects. Lyfa’s online grocery concept, for instance, was started by two young men with a master’s in engineering. RemotelyGreen’s team includes physicists from CERN projects (the Geneva-based particle physics lab).

Networking key?

What was also striking was that many projects were extremely local, relying on individual commitment to the effort. They have a good chance of making it in their regional markets but don’t need to grow nationally in order to succeed, no matter how much they could benefit from networking. Perhaps other entrepreneurs will borrow their ideas and create the networks that can bring the benefits of scale.

The prizewinners list

Here’s what the prizewinners had to say at the Virtual Demo Day (in a mixture of English, French and German):

Food and farming services Lyfa: (LINK) YouTube pitch at 44min

Basel-based Lyfa’s unique selling proposition is as a “online store and delivery service for packaging-free groceries” delivered by bicycle and using fresh, local products.

It opened in March 2020 and has secured 50 orders a month without marketing.  “Over 65 per cent of our current orders coming in are from repeat customers,” reported co-founder Michael May.

Starting with one supplier, Lyfa now has eight with over 240 products. The order size has grown from CHF50 to over CHF80. They cover fruit and vegetables, eggs and dairy products, dry food, plus hygiene and cosmetic products. “If we can hit 300 orders a month we already have the volume needed to make an operational profit,” says Michael.

But that’s not its circular-economy selling point. Lyfa (whose name recalls the Swiss-German word for delivery) pitches itself as “an online grocery store with exclusively reusable packaging or no packaging at all”. The packaging is returned when your next order is delivered – “the way milk was delivered in the past” – and given back to suppliers to clean and reuse.

Why should consumers bother? Currently shopping can be inconvenient, time-consuming and shops can be in inaccessible places, Lyfa argues. Consumers “want to make a change but they also want something that will easily fit into their lifestyle.  We are going to make it easy to shop waste free,” argues Michael.

Competition is building up. Packaging-free stores have grown from four in 2015 to 20 in 2019. At the same time. Online grocery sales in Switzerland are growing by 13 per cent a year.

With outside financing, Lyfa’s aim is to reach 1,000 orders a month over the next 18 months and is considering expansion to other main cities while continuing an academic partnership with the University of Applied Sciences in Basel. It also has “a strong advisory team” through the Circular Economy initiative.

HopVrac: (LINK) YouTube pitch at 1:00:18

Hopvrac in Neuchâtel applies a different approach to online grocery orders: customers pick up their orders at local merchants, at the HopVrac centre or even partner workplaces. The two women founders are also going a different route for funding: crowdfunding at wemakit (LINK). As of 30 May they were 90 per cent funded with CHF22K from over 200 backers pledged in 12 days. They go into full operation in autumn 2020 but have already found 50 suppliers.

Their business aims to provide and wash the containers for orders and give customers a discount on the next purchase.  HopVrac estimates that with the average basket containing CHF50 of goods – fresh food such as eggs and fruit as well as dry products – it can charge a 30 per cent gross margin and count on two orders from each person every month, with 70 per cent return customers (as with Lyfa).

HopVrac’s founders made a point of showing their gratitude to the CE Incubator for its help: “Thanks for the last couple of months. It has enabled us to grow a lot faster. We really appreciate that.” Expansion plans include bringing La Chaux-de-Fonds into the net, and in the third year spreading across French-speaking Switzerland, as well as exploring the market in the Ticino.

WePot: (LINK) YouTube pitch at 55min

Olla is an unglazed, porous clay pot with a short wide neck and wide belly used for centuries to cook stews and soups, store water or dry foods – or, in this project as traditionally, to keep plants watered when buried in the ground. WePot is trying to commercialize their production, using the La Cordée workshop for the mentally handicapped at Prilly near Lausanne, and producing pots in various sizes, including one designed for indoor use (CHF25).

You plant the ceramic pots in the root zones of plants and pour water into the exposed necks of the pitcher. The water seeps naturally into the soil, providing a continuous supply of water to the plant, which fixes its roots around the pot.

Their major appeal: the slow-release system saves 50-70 per cent of the water used to keep plants healthy because very little is lost to evaporation on the soil surface. WePot says you may need to water your plants only once a week instead of each day. WePot is currently looking for partners to become sales points for its products.

Smart cities and industries Exnaton: (LINK) YouTube pitch at 1hr 50min

“We help providers turn energy into new revenue streams,” says Exnaton. And these days that can be anyone. With its digital apps, using “smart-meter technology”, Exnaton “enables consumers to buy green energy from their neighbours’ solar panels,” explains CEO Liliane Ableitner, who has a Ph D. in information management.

As a result of Exnaton’s pilot project, part of the founders’ research work at the ETH Zurich and University of St Gallen, Swiss legislators moved to liberalize their energy market (dominated by multi-national investors) and permitting local energy markets. “The energy sector is late to the digital revolution,” observes Liliane.

Other tech startups have launched competitive products but “we are the domain experts in Switzerland,” Liliane points out. It developed its “smart-meter” system in under a year and has been operating it for 12 months.

A World Economic Forum article by a German informatics professor suggested: “As energy production is decentralized and blockchain-enabled [i.e. secure and specific] decentralized electricity markets are developed, smarter meters will be essential. Just as consumers have become ‘media creators’ in the smartphone era, they will become ‘smart market prosumers’ in the future, using blockchain trading platforms.”

Its website reports: “”We built the software of Switzerland’s first local energy market and tested it in a pilot project. In January 2019, 37 households from Walenstadt (Switzerland) joined our local energy community. PV [photovoltaic]-owners sold their locally produced electricity to their neighbours in Walenstadt. A web application offered in-depth insights into their personal electricity data. The user response was overwhelming.”

The experiment drew international media attention media attention. A startup monitoring site noted that while the households were able to use their local solar supplies for a third of their needs, and the software proved very reliable, the hardware regularly failed and the hardware consumed four per cent of the energy (LINK : German only).

Exnaton’s revenue-earning model is to charge a recurring revenue fee per connected household. Today, with a CHF100K public grant for development and another CHF2OK grant for mentoring, Exnaton’s recently signed a partnership agreement with a hardware provider for devices and is seeking CHF1m in a seed round of funding. Its goal is to secure three more customers over the next 18 months. Meanwhile, its official address is still the ETH Entrepreneur Club in Zurich.

ICE Materials: (LINK: more informative link at LinkedIn) YouTube pitch at 1hr 40min

Runner-up in the smart cities and industries section, this Swiss startup from a pharmaceutical engineer aims to offer a composite substitute for concrete in buildings. ICE (Innovative Circular Engineering), based in Montreux, says it can design aircraft, motor and sailing equipment but particularly buildings using material “with a unique combination of physical structure” guaranteed to divide your energy bill by four, be five times more insulating than concrete, seven times more resistant (perfect for a 10-storey building), 8 times lighter than wood – and 170x lighter than concrete.

At the same time, inventor Yves Morin notes that LafargeHolcim’s CEO has said: “We need to find alternative solutions to concrete by 2025.” Yves estimates that using his prefabricated material, you can build a 200m2 house in two weeks instead of 9 months. He traces the material back to his work on a medical ingredient that proved too viscous to use but became a natural glue and led him to this breakthrough composite material.

He plans to register eight patents for his system this year and start producing houses from the beginning of next year. He foresees three ways to earn revenue: through products (walls, insulation, floors and ceilings), services and digital products using artificial intelligence. ICE Materials, with a team of five and partners including Lausanne’s EPFL (Federal Institute of Technology), is looking for CHF million to go forward.

Consumer goods ID Watch: (LINK) YouTube pitch at 3hr00min

Based in the Swiss Jura, ID Watch collects Swiss watch and medical waste and takes it to a local steelworks in the Savoie region of France to produce steel bars that are made 98 per cent of recycled materials, which are then certified before they are used to make watches.Even the watch straps are recycled: “vegan leather” derived from grape waste, or using Bananatex – a Zurich-based Swiss initiative using the waste from banana trees, Merino wool and other biodegradable materials.

ID Watch also offers customers a “circular service” – three digital circular coins that entitle you to a future discount of 50 per cent on repair and replacements (of the watchface or bevel). The startup plans to launch a limited first collection for the end of 2020, selling at around CHF1K, half the retail price. Its Kickstarter objective is to produce a minimum of 300 watches, with the maximum set at 1500.

The seven co-founders of Teil TEIL: (LINK) YouTube pitch at 2hr30

This “open source clothing store” in the Swiss capital Berne offers customers the chance to swap three clothing pieces from partnered Swiss fashion labels per month for CHF29.90 (the marketing device of knocking a couple of cents off any rounded figure is alive and well in Switzerland, it seems). It was runner-up in its section. The store launched by seven young men and women opened in May and already has 70 customers.Teil in German means both piece and share.

Sharing and platform solutions CINE.EQUIPMENT: (LINK in German only) YouTube pitch at 4hr15min

As of now this movie-equipment sharing project is just based in Berne. But co-founder Fabian Steiner estimates 10K film-makers in Switzerland don’t have the equipment they need at a reasonable price, or are ready to rent material out to colleagues.

The site already has 100 film-makers offering their equipment for rent. The site includes information on Swiss federal funds for independents, a guide to insurance for equipment, as well as an offer of daily insurance, and help with price calculations for filming.  The equipment for rent includes studios at various prices from CHF800 a day. “It enables you to work with a small budget,” Fabian points out. But its other attractions are that it ensures secure payments and offers checks on users.

RemotelyGreen: (LINK) YouTube pitch at 3hr52min

“Online events are 2-5 times faster and 10x cheaper to organize and attend,” RemotelyGreen points out. “More importantly from our point of view, they produce 96% less CO2,” underlines CEO Ben Krikler, a PhD a particle physicist with a team of four others, including other CERN associated scientists.

But, he admits, Internet sessions have a major drawback. RemotelyGreen’s survey of some 300 people found that the biggest downside is the limited inperson interaction. One conference organizer said: “80 per cent of the reason my clients join my events is to meet other people.”

RemotelyGreen is trying to change that step by step, starting with the inspiration of the coffee break but “make them even better than in person”, says Ben. The project offers to bring 2-4 people together remotely, either by matching people randomly or on the basis of their requests, “exactly like bumping into someone in the coffee queue”, observes Ben. It also suggests talking points to make the connections more meaningful. And from conference participants can even find people who will challenge your ideas.

“Imagine a conference with a thousand people. The chances are tiny that you would meet the people you most need to. With our system we make this much more likely.” Pre-COVID 19 the videoconferencing market worth was $3bn in 2018 was estimated to grow by 9.8 per cent a year until 2026.  “In the last two months it has totally exploded,” Ben reported.

In contrast to its competitors, in addition to video calls (as with Zoom or vFairs), RG will offer participant-created rooms and random networking (like Asirmeet), but also adds guided networking and an open-core software model to its services. RemotelyGreen has already organized 10 events, internally and externally, including a networking event for a high-level panel of the United Nations “who have asked us to support further events”, Ben said.

Its planned revenue streams include platform subscriptions, pay-per-events, consultancy for events and research grants.  RemotelyGreen notes that it has close contacts in the academic and civil societies – “relatively untapped sectors”. Since participants at events could become event organizers, this can create a “viral loop”, Ben observes. Investment needs include cash to increase its development capabilities and help in “locking in several key opportunities”.

Its slogan for the future: “where remote collaboration is the obvious choice”.

Explore the circular economy concept
  • World Economic Forum (Accenture Strategy): How can businesses accelerate the transition to a circular economy? (LINK)
  • Here’s how businesses can make the circular economy a reality (LINK)
  • PACE (Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy): Active projects are already underway in China, Africa, ASEAN, Latin America and Europe. (LINK)

This report was compiled by Global Geneva co-editor Peter Hulm. During the COVID-19 crisis he has been holed up in Erschmatt, a mountain village overlooking the Rhone Valley in Switzerland’s Canton of Valais. He spends much of his time reading, writing, editing, listening to music and walking the dogs.

Kategorien: Jobs

Michael Merne Photo Essay: Genevans keep one step ahead of COVID-19

4. Juni 2020 - 7:49

All photographs copyright Michael Merne.

You look at the photographs in today’s electronic and print media and you’re forced to say: “That’s how it is.” But with all the uncertainty and fear that it engenders, you so desperately want to see it come to an end in order to say: “That’s how it was.” That’s what I am trying to do with these photographs.

This is part of an ongoing series highlighting the work of photographers and film-makers across the planet. A reminder: we make our content free worldwide in the public interest. If you like what we do, please support us. As we hope you will understand, editorially-independent reporting requires funding in order to operate.

Mostly, I do fine art street photography. And as I walked the streets of Geneva, my adopted city, there was no doubt in my mind what I needed to do. I needed to witness and record for ever what I saw. I found the city and its people in a very strange mood. My first thoughts were that it had become a wounded city. It brought sadness to my heart and the rainy days only accentuated my feelings. The beautiful hotels closed; the restaurants with chairs stacked on tables; the art galleries in darkness; and hardly a welcoming door open.

And then there the people…I switched my camera to black and white. This allowed me to capture the soul of the those I encountered. I could see that the people were strained and worried. And yet, they kept going with their resilience and always with a glimmer of hope. They were kind and dignified when I asked if I could take their photograph. Sharing the moment of a photograph helped to fortify my reserves of hope. And, yes, a beautiful day will come and we will say: “That’s how it was!”

Michael Merne is an Irish photographer based in Geneva, Switzerland, and published by major magazines such as ‘Black & White America’, ‘GEO’, ‘COLOR Magazine (America)’, and ‘HORSLIGNE’. He first arrived here in 1993 after working with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in Brussels, whose headquarters are in Geneva. He seeks to use his photography, mainly black and white, as a means of capturing the beauty and depth of people and entities. For him, B&W is the “perfect vehicle of expression.”

Michael Merne has been exhibited at numerous fine art exhibitions in the Lake Geneva region. UBS Nyon hosted his most recent exhibition “Instants Précieux” in January, 2020 He was a 2011 nominee of ‘Still Life’ Geneva and Architecture and Sport, Bilbao 2013 in the prestigious Black & White Spider Awards.

For more information, you go to Michael Merne’s website: or contact him directly:

Michael Merne: Self-portrait

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Is the lack of inflight social distancing on SWISS airlines a risk?

3. Juni 2020 - 16:56

Over two days last week, Thailand reported a score of new coronavirus cases. All were Thai nationals returning by air from the Middle East. Otherwise, there have been almost no new community or ‘inside country’ cases since mid-May. Thai Airways (as with a growing number of other airlines) requires a “fit-to-fly” medical certificate for all passengers; it also obliges passengers to wear face masks throughout the entire flight. Such precautions are more likely to inspire confidence given that masks can reduce transmission by as much as 50 per cent. As a further protection, everyone is screened on arrival in Thailand with foreigners still required to undergo two weeks of quarantine.

For the Thai government, such measures will be maintained until 30 June, 2020, when they will be reviewed. Thailand, which reacted swiftly to the outbreak by imposing extremely strict precautions despite its reliance on tourism for up to 20 per cent of its revenue, remains one of the world’s coronavirus success stories.  For a country of nearly 70 million people, it has had just under 3,100 reported cases and fewer than 60 deaths. According to one Thai official, “we are fully aware that despite all our hygiene precautions, passengers still risk infection during flights. That is why they are tested on arrival.”

Thailand’s air travel precautions, but also the experiences with infectious diseases of other Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Taiwan, would be well heeded by European and other western countries – and their airlines. The pandemic is far from over. As health specialists are repeatedly pointing out, now is not the time to relax measures designed to protect lives, particularly with regard to air travel. Yet neither Switzerland nor SWISS, which in earlier days as Swissair ranked as one of the world’s best airlines, appear to be applying the safeguards that have kept Thailand out of serious trouble.

International flights are on the rise – and so are the risks

One of the problems is that Switzerland, which has had one of the highest infection and death rates per capita in the world, is perceived by some as easing up on its lockdown far too quickly. While the country is testing far more than before, it is still not tracking COVID-19. This is of particular concern at a time when no one fully understands the true nature of this virus. South Korea recently eased up on its constraints but within days had to order the re-closing of 500 schools as well as museums, theatres, parks and art galleries because of renewed outbreaks.

With the opening up of European borders, travel analysts expect a significant increase in the number of passengers and air services. Most airlines, ranging from Qatar and EasyJet to SWISS, Virgin Atlantic and Turkish, have suffered severely from the shutdowns and are keen to relaunch as quickly – and as fully – as possible. Some airlines are not expected to survive. Hence, as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) makes clear, the primary concern of most airlines is their financial bottom line. On 3 June 2020, SWISS announced a first quarter operating loss of 84.1 million CHF because of the coronavirus’s impact on the airline industry.

Some airlines are making pointed efforts to implement health precautions that will reassure travellers, such as making the wearing of masks mandatory or by ensuring that middle seats remain empty to reduce the risk of contagion. Such measures are not necessarily embraced by SWISS, whose online publicity promotes assurances that “we care about your health.”

When asked why it is not applying such precautions, the SWISS PR department simply repeated what its Chief Operating Officer Thomas Frick had already maintained early last month. The airline is no longer upholding the former rule of keeping every second seat vacant as “sufficient protection is afforded by mouth-nose face coverings,” it said.

This runs counter to World Health Organization norms which pointedly recommend that an “inter-personal distance of 1.5 to 2 m” should always be maintained to minimize the risk of contagion through droplets, usually disseminated from the nose and mouth. WHO, which can only make recommendations, expects to be issuing further guidance in the coming weeks. “This is to support a gradual return to normal operations of passenger travel in a coordinated manner that provides appropriate protection when physical distancing is not feasible,” said WHO’s Stephanie Brickman.

Despite stressing the importance of facemasks, SWISS only recommends their use. In contrast, Finnair, Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier and a host of other airlines require that all passengers and crew wear masks throughout their flights. (More recently, some airlines have instructed their on-board staff not to enforce the mask rule, primarily to avoid inflight confrontations with recalitrant passengers).

The norm for the future, or as long as there is a risk. Temperature gauging and other forms of testing are crucial for checking new arrivals at airports. (Photo UNCTAD) SWISS Airlines: Contradictions with social distancing

SWISS’s justification is that the likelihood of infection remains low. According to Frick, “there are no known cases of infection on board SWISS flights since the outbreak of the pandemic.” He added that all aircraft are equipped with high-performance air filters to guarantee air quality of the same standard as in an operating theatre and ensure vertical air circulation instead diffusion in the cabin.”

Switzerland’s current air travel protection concept, which includes hand sanitizer dispensers, frequent cleaning of surfaces, sterilized luggage carts, and Plexiglas panels in departure areas, has been jointly compiled by its airports and partners such as SWISS, Edelweiss Air, Swissport and airport police. While physical distancing is imposed at check-in and boarding, SWISS is not practising it during actual flights, particularly long-haul which can last 10-12 hours, even longer.

As health specialists point out, compared to open check-in counters at airports, inflight journeys represent enclosed spaces with increased density over far longer periods and thus pose a greater risk. Some airlines, such as Delta and JetBlue in the United States, have been keeping the middle seats empty as a form of social distancing. This can help to avoid contamination given that few passengers will be able to avoid direct contact with their seat neighbours if there is no space between them. Yet such magnanimity may have more to do with the fact that many airlines are still only operating with partial capacity and thus can afford to leave middle seats open.

As some analysts point out, the refusal by SWISS and other airlines to leave middle seats empty or to require the wearing of masks appears to have more to do with the need to ensure commercial viability than anything else. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), for example, maintains that the only option is to fill all seats, or to raise ticket prices in order to make flights commercially viable. For this reason, most airlines are dead against enforced social distancing.

SWISS insists that improved hygiene, including air circulation, minimizes the risk of contamination at close quarters. The airline also stresses that it is fully in line with both government and airport requirements. According to SWISS operators, its protection norms remain sufficient and are intended to ensure safe air travel with more than 350 flights from Zurich and Geneva to 70 European destinations as well as New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Mauritius and Cancun.

SWISS also still does not require a clean bill of health no older than 72 hours as is being increasingly demanded by other airlines. Emirates, for example, is even screening passengers for COVID-19 (the Dubai to Tunis route) with a rapid blood test, which takes as little as 10 minutes. Nevertheless, the efficiency of such rapid testing remains dubious and may serve more as a gimmick than anything else.

Airports and airlines waiting for the industry to take off again…(Photo: Bangkok Airport Online) A matter of space – and commercial viablity

The argument used by SWISS regarding seats is basically the same as IATA, which represents the interests of 260 airlines or 83 per cent of global traffic, but not necessarily those of passengers. In early May, 2020, IATA maintained that the risk of catching COVID-19 on a plane was “low” and hence there is no need to keep the middle seat empty once the industry takes off again. (SWISS halted its open middle seat policy soon after this statement was made). IATA made no mention of the fact that plane travel initially helped spread the virus and is why flights were cancelled in the first place.

Such assertions are questioned by health specialists. For one, they say, unless masks are mandatory, there will always be a risk of infection. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that one can now assume it is safe to fly without social distancing. Keeping the middle seats open is crucial. “Passengers will remove their masks to drink or eat and this immediately poses a risk, particularly if you are sitting within six inches of someone else’s face,” said one American doctor.

IATA, which is based at Geneva airport, supports – but cannot oblige – the wearing of masks by both passengers and crew. It also encourages proposed temporary measures, such as temperature screening. According to health specialists, however, temperature gauging can only serve as an indicator. It does not necessarily determine whether anyone is infected or asymptomatic and therefore capable of passing on the virus.

As medical sources point out, IATA’s evidence for not keeping the middle seats empty is based on interviews with 18 major airlines, almost all of which reported no passenger-to-passenger infections in January and February of this year. This claim has yet to be independently verified as no airline has undertaken any form of tracking. “There is no way of really knowing whether anyone was infected or not. People got off the planes and went elsewhere…they didn’t report back,” admitted one SWISS representative in Geneva. Such assumptions were also drawn from the very early onset of coronavirus when very few people were at risk. This could change radically as air travel numbers rise.

Others agree that while the overall risk probably remains low – it depends from where they are flying – infections can still occur. “Compared to more cramped and less ventilated settings like subways and buses, the risks of getting sick on an airplane are lower overall — though you still face risk from whatever infections the people in your row may be carrying,” noted Rachel Vreeman, director of the Arnhold Institute for Global Health at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine. Furthermore, she added, the longer one remains contained in an enclosed space, the less safe one can become.

The world is only just coming to grips with COVID-19. Critical, too, is to pay attention to what happened during previous contagions, such as SARS during the early 2000s. In December, 2003, The New England Journal of Medicine reported that “after one flight carrying a symptomatic person and 119 other persons, laboratory-confirmed SARS developed in 16 persons.” The Journal’s conclusion was that transmission of SARS (which is also a coronavirus, but with certain differences with COVID-19) “may occur on an aircraft when infected persons fly during the symptomatic phase of illness.” Its recommendation was that “measures to reduce the risk of transmission are warranted.”

The impact of pandemics and climate change may drastically change the way people will travel. Mass tourism could dwindle, but the survival of Africa’s nature conservancies will depend on what sort of travel emerges – and whether revenues can be channelled to where they are needed most. (Photo: Kenya Tourism) The world has changed: flying as before is no longer possible

As some analysts note, there will have to be a complete re-thinking of the way air travel (and tourism) is conceived. The days of cheap flights are numbered, if not over. (SWISS and others are still plugging ‘cheap’ flights on their websites in a bid to fill planes). Ultimately, however, as one industry representative put it, airlines will have to start charging more “planetarily realistic prices”. Some expect ticket prices to surge by 30, 50 or even 100 per cent. This is not just because of pandemics but also climate change.

Even if a vaccination for COVID-19 is found soon, notes Dr. David Nabarro, a special advisor to WHO’s coronavirus task force, the risk of reoccurring endemics and pandemics is part of the new reality. Society must “learn to live” with the virus, he recently told BBC’s Hardtalk.  

Some governments, but also cities, are already pushing for change from air, sea and car transport to rail, bicycle, foot and other forms of travel both for health and environmental reasons. Given the explosion of Zoom, Skype and other forms of internet communication, people and organizations have realised that there is less or no need to travel for business. Privately, too, one can expect a rise in local or regional holiday travel rather than overseas. Already Swiss and European tourism operators are pushing for more family-oriented “stay at home to visit” initiatives with the message: there is no need to fly to have a holiday.

Much of this will be bad news for the airlines, but also for countries such as Thailand, Seychelles and the Bahamas which have traditionally relied on mass tourism. They will need to re-direct toward more exclusive and specialised activities. Kenya, for example, has warned that with fewer tourists, its national parks and conservation initiatives could collapse. (As of 3 June, SWISS is still not flying to Africa).

According to one Bangkok-based doctor, people are wary about risking the health of their families on commercial flights. They are completely re-assessing their lifestyles, meaning less international travel, or other flight options. “I know of one family with means that now plans to only fly on private planes,” the medic said. International entities, both companies and organizations such as the United Nations, will probably cut back heavily on their overseas travel for conferences or business meetings. Only essential travel could well become the norm.

Furthermore, an enormous amount of research remains to determine how the new coronavirus behaves in different environments. Hence claims that flying is without risk or very low remains unfounded. “There are still a lot of things we don’t know,” University of Washington microbiologist John Scott Meschke recently told The Wall Street Journal.

The reality is that no one has any valid idea. So not applying proper measures, including social distancing, means that passengers still risk contamination. This is causing concern among families seeking to return to Europe from Southeast Asia. They are nervous about being obliged to sit in full rows. While most passengers from countries such as Thailand are not likely to be infected given already strict country precautions in place, travelling the other way represents a different kettle of fish.

Edward Girardet is editor of Global Geneva and a foreign correspondent normally based in Geneva and Bangkok. This article was reported out of Southeast Asia and Switzerland.

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Kategorien: Jobs

Paul Ress: A word master is gone

2. Juni 2020 - 16:46

Many PR bureaucrats in the United Nations and even NGOs could not understand why or how Paul was so phenomenally successful as an information officer. All they knew was that he seemed uncontrollable. So they tried to stop him. And often failed, because he usually had the backing of their bosses. It made him a lot of enemies over the years. But that didn’t bother him. In fact, he often seemed to relish it, as anyone who heard his stories of their unbelievable incompetence was vividly and hilariously aware.

Why he achieved so much, so regularly, was easy to explain. He saw his job as providing information, not propaganda. And information that would tempt a working journalist to write about his organization.

At the same time, as a former TIME magazine correspondent, based in the south of France for almost 30 years, he realized that good reporters don’t need you to write their story for them. But they do like an entertaining read.

More than just a good read: Paul Ress’ amusing memoir of reporting experiences. A top notch communicator – and notorious punster

So his press releases were sprinkled with puns, surprising anecdotes, clever quotes – and often, the organization’s director (his boss) would not appear in the story until page 2. As a result, among serious journalists he rated almost unanimously as top notch as well as a notorious punster.

Paul’s puns live Cane Disabled Mr Foliage Karim Aga Khan and the Matterhorn A PhD from Princeton won’t help you open a Yale lock Some of Paul’s witticisms and puns…some incredibly annoying (which is what he liked)

Those who jump off a bridge in Paris are in Seine…

A man’s home is his castle, in a manor of speaking.

Dijon vu – the same mustard as before.

Practice safe eating – always use condiments.

Shotgun wedding – A case of wife or death.

A man needs a mistress just to break the monogamy.

A hangover is the wrath of grapes.

Dancing cheek-to-cheek is really a form of floor play.

Paul Ress: I never saw him drunk so I guess the truth is that quality is the best quantity.

When Paul came to pass on his tips and reminiscences in a chapter of his memoirs (Shaggy Dog Tales), he entitled it – of course – Flackery Will Get You Nowhere. It’s what he believed. Once your audience starts dropping your press releases into the wastepaper basket unread, you’ve lost the battle for their attention.

How he managed to score so highly in the competitive field of United Nations promotional literature was that he worked hard to find out what reporters wanted to know and then delivered it to them. Not for him the practice of writing a press release and then distributing it to all and sundry. He would visit his network of interested journalists and encourage them to ask questions. He estimated at one time that his carefully managed press list for stories had some 800 journalists, and he knew well at least 400 of them.

He was also careful to follow up afterwards and find out whether you published the story or why not.

For busy journalists this was sometimes a bother. The sight of Paul with a press release in his hand meant you had to look at it and deal with it immediately. Or risk someone elsewhere beating you to it, and that could mean the New York Times or International Herald Tribune. Which was likely to bring a news editor down on your neck for failing to file a ‘matcher’.

An example for UN chiefs and press attachés

But once he recognized you as part of the ‘real news’ fraternity/sorority, you were guaranteed a flow of stories you wanted to write, and if you left journalism, he would talk you up in his organization to get you freelance writing or editing jobs – as he did for so many, including myself. In my case, he even found me my wife.

“The majority of UN officials and press attachés, with whom I have worked in half a dozen UN agencies and organizations on every continent, believe in speaking frankly to journalists,” he said, and he praised the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Dr. Mostafa K. Tolba, the architect of the innovative ozone layer convention, for correcting without anger Paul’s press release that contained several factual errors. “You journalists often make mistakes,” Tolba said. “We scientists are supposed to catch them.” The former Egyptian Minister also made no objection to appearing well down in a story on the Mediterranean. “You’re a journalist. I’m a micro-biologist,” Tolba told Paul on their first meeting. “You do it your way.”

And more….

Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

Condoms should be used on every conceivable occasion

Reading while sunbathing makes you well red.

When two egotists meet, it’s an I for an I.

A bicycle can’t stand on its own because it is two tired.

Time flies like an arrow.  Fruit flies like a banana.

In democracy, your vote counts. In feudalism, your count votes.

She was engaged to a boyfriend with a wooden leg but broke it off.

A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.

If you don’t pay your exorcist, You get repossessed

One reason Paul preferred Geneva to France in later years was that he could take his dog Sophie to the cinema with him.

The historian Steven Englund, a former colleague, said of Paul: “What makes a good newspaperman? Very simple: it requires clear prose, felicitous metaphors (but not too damned many), complete integrity, and a passionate commitment to the truth. Just that. No wonder there are so few good ones.”

“Paul Ress is a good newspaperman,” he wrote when Paul published Shaggy Dog Tales in 2006. “He was a reporter for half a dozen publications in Paris and on the Riviera for almost 30 years, half of those for TIME Magazine. I met him in 1971 when I was a PhD student and a fledgling journalist. He taught me a lot about honest, readable journalism. He was a stickler for precise English, although he suffered, or made his friends suffer, from an addiction to punning. Indeed, if Paul does anything better than reporting, it is friendship.”

Paul with his beloved shaggies…English bearded collies. How to mix quality journalism with official public outreach

Even in his late 70s Paul showed his continued brilliance at giving the press what they want. I was hired by a U.N. organization (no names here to spare the officials’ blushes) to put together informational news articles for a big bash in Brussels. Paul immediately latched onto one of those backgrounders: in a poor North African country a British-born woman engineer and entrepreneur, with a loan from France, was trying to promote a business supplying camels’ milk and cheese for people in the industrial nations who were lactose intolerant.

The trouble was the European Union only had regulations covering dairy products and these were designed to prevent problems with cow’s milk. So Tiviski, her brand, was blocked from its most likely market.

Now that was a story: drama, tension, conflict and hope. Too bad if the EU came out of the story looking rather stupid. He had cultivated (though that’s the wrong term, since Paul never buttered up journalists to promote a story) a reporter on the International Herald-Tribune. Come the opening day of the conference, the camel’s milk story was on the Herald-Tribune front page.

In the international bureaucracy world that gave it overwhelming importance. Virtually every professional from Geneva to Brussels would be reading that article at the start of their day.

But the big boss wasn’t pleased. He thought it was going to get him into trouble with the conference organizers. He gave instructions that Paul was not to talk to any more journalists at this economics talk fest, where reporters were running around in their scores looking for something unusual to write about.

With trepidation the boss reported going into the conference hall, expecting a dressing down for stealing the thunder of the organizers. Instead, he was met by a top official who said: “How did you do it? We’ve been trying to get into the Herald-Tribune for years! Anywhere in the paper.”

By the end of the day, the boss was organizing press conferences and interviews for anyone who wanted. My favourite headline, one that would appeal to Paul, came later: “When the EU got cheesy about camels” on the all-Africa web site.

The Netherlands opened up its first camel dairy farm in 2006.  Try googling EU camel’s milk to see all those offers among the 3.7 million responses. It took the EU Commission till 2010 to start screening milk and send out an EU panel to the United Arab Emirates, but it declined to give import permits before 2013 citing concerns about disease and EU import controls. The UAE has two “Camelicious” farms. In 2013 German and Moroccan entrepreneurs announced plans to export Vitamol milk to the EU that year. Today you can even buy camel’s milk at Asda. And Tiviski is served in Glasgow at the Willow Tea Rooms.

The original camel’s milk story: Tiviski, Mauritania: Creating a Niche in Camel Milk and Cheese And even more…

With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.

The man who fell into an upholstery machine is fully recovered.

You feel stuck with your debt if you can’t budge it.

Local Area Network in Australia – the LAN down under.

Every calendar’s days are numbered.

A lot of money is tainted – Taint yours and taint mine.

A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat.

He had a photographic memory that was never developed.

A midget fortune-teller who escapes from prison is a small medium at large.

Once you’ve seen one shopping centre, you’ve seen a mall.

Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis..

Santa’s helpers are subordinate clauses.

Acupuncture is a jab well done.

Other tributes

Elaine Fletcher. Paul Ress – Longtime Geneva and UN journalist dies at age 98. HeidiNews (LINK)

Ress family obituary. New York Times. (LINK)

Global Geneva co-editor Peter Hulm, a close friend of Paul Ress, has worked as a journalist and media specialist for many years in Switzerland. He is currently holed up in Erschmatt, a mountain village overlooking the Rhone Valley in Switzerland’s Canton of Valais. He spends much of his time reading, writing, editing, listening to music and walking the dogs.

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Kategorien: Jobs

Dinners with Graham Greene

31. Mai 2020 - 11:08
UPDATED 31 May, 2020. 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. (See book chapter on Graham Greene in Switzerland in Call Me Edward publication)

Paul Ress, who based himself in Switzerland in later years, 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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The Continuing Battle for Okinawa

29. Mai 2020 - 13:31

Once resistance to the invading U.S. forces had completely collapsed by the end of June, 1945, Okinawa became America’s most important troop staging area with air bases and naval anchorage for the planned final onslaught against Japan. As American scholar and activist Joseph Essertier reminds us, Okinawa then served as a launching pad for US military operations, but this time during the Korean and Vietnam wars. And today it continues to act as a principal base for American security in the Pacific region, primarily against North Korea and China.

The U.S. government has admitted to holding nuclear weapons in Okinawa, which are regularly deployed as part of ‘war games’ against perceived threats. It also maintains other lethal substances on the ground, such as Agent Orange, mustard gas, phosgene, sarin and napalm. As trade and pandemic tensions between Washington and Beijing deteriorate with both sides reverting to increasingly bellicose language, Okinawa can expect to revert to an even more active military role.

Battle of Okinawa, April-June, 1945. The island remained a crucial strategic military operations base for the United States after World War II (Photo: US, primarily during the Korean and Vietnam wars, but also today as part of American regional security.This role is now being contested by environmentalists but also the local Okinawan population. Naval Archives)

But the islands’ environment (Okinawa Prefecture consists of a single large island with three smaller island groups) faces more than theoretical destruction. Over the past 70 years, many lived as essentially an occupation under “trusteeship rule” and resented by a significant portion of the local population, this “keystone of the Pacific”, as proclaimed on U.S. military license plates, has seen its land and waters poisoned by substances designed to kill people. Roughly half of the 50,000 US troops based in Japan are stationed in Okinawa. Planned protests to mark this year’s 48th anniversary of the island’s reversion (apart from huge chunks which remain part of American base facilities) to Japan from U.S. control on 15 May, 1972, were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Coral reefs the world over are under threat from climate change and pollution. Japan’s first Hope Spot seeks to protect rare coral reefs and dugong habitants. (Photo: Toshio TAKAHASHI) This article is part of Global Geneva’s ongoing commitment to highlight “international Geneva” themes and the SDGs as a public service for interested audiences, including young people, worldwide. A reminder: if you like what we do, please donate. As we know you can appreciate, good journalism needs your support.

Essertier has pointed out that Okinawa’s natural environment is so rich in biodiversity that scientists have recently given recognition to coastal waters of Henoko-Ōura on the main island’s eastern side as Japan’s first Hope Spot, i.e., a place that should be designated a nature preserve.

American oceanographer Sylvia Earle, founder of the Mission Blue Alliance which is a member of the Swiss-based RAMSAR Network, has stressed: “This unique coral hot-spot powers a little-known but richly diverse marine ecosystem which holds more than 5,000 species in its waters including 262 known to be endangered.”

A hazardous pollution that threatens the island: toxic firefighting foam

In mid-April 2020, however, an incident involving the massive discharge of toxic firefighting foam highlighted the dangers still present, not just from chemicals but from official procrastination.

The accident was caused when mountains of suds from a fire suppression system in an aircraft hangar of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma flowed into a local river on 10 April. The foam contains perfluoro octane sulfonic acid, or PFOS, and perfluoro octanoic acid, or PFOA. Huge clumps of foam reaching more than 30 metres high were seen floating on the river and settling into surrounding residential neighbourhoods.

This was not the first PFOS/PFOA toxic release in Okinawa. The incident has also greatly inflamed local frustrations with the Japanese central government and the U.S. military.

The chemicals are known to contribute to testicular, liver, breast, and kidney cancers, as well as a host of childhood diseases and abnormalities in a developing fetus. Their manufacture and importation have been prohibited in Japan since 2010, yet Okinawa’s drinking water continues to contain high levels of these substances.

Both the Okinawa Times and the Military Times reported that 143,830 litres of the foam spilled outside the base precincts from a total estimated 227,100 litres released from a hangar. The Japanese mainland Asahi Shimbun newspaper, however, maintained that only 14.4 litres had escaped, completely contradicting the locally observed scale of the release.

Dugong, which inhabit the coastal areas around Okinawa, are also in need of protection. (Photo: IUCN) A first step toward more open transparency, but little else

More than a week (18 April) after the spillage, the U.S. military command allowed Japanese officials onto the base to investigate. This was the first access granted since a 2015 environmental supplementary agreement to the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. The 2015 agreement says the Japanese government or local municipalities “may request” permission from the U.S. side to conduct surveys.

Nevertheless, neither the Okinawa Prefecture (Japan is administratively divided into 43 Prefectures, or states) nor the Ginowan municipal governments were contacted to join the investigation. When asked why the Okinawan officials were not present, Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono replied, according to the Asahi Shimbun, that this was a mistake by the Japanese national government. An Okinawan Prefectural official was finally allowed into Futenma on 21 April. From the Okinawan point of view, the reason behind this alleged oversight was that both the U.S. military and Japanese authorities want to avoid revealing a complete picture of the designs of the hangars’ suppression systems.

Polluting foam from the Okinawa spillage. “Forever chemicals” with deadly toxicity

In the case of an aircraft fire, five cubic metres of deadly foam can typically cover a plane in two minutes. The foam, which contains what are known as “forever chemicals,” can easily snuff out a petroleum-based fire. But they also possess high toxicity which can severely contaminate groundwater, surface water, and sewer systems when rinsed out of the hangar.

A video of a suppression system at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, in Knoxville, Tennessee shows exactly what can take place. Groundwater at the base 20m below the ground was found to contain 7,355 ppt of 6 types of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), far surpassing Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. Surface water on base contained 828 ppt of PFOS and PFOA. This carcinogenic foam was allowed to enter both the storm drain and sanitary sewer systems.

Similar levels of carcinogens have been found in Okinawa. It is as if the U.S. military continually flushes gigantic toilet bowls of poison from its bases into the waterways of Tennessee, Okinawa, and hundreds of other locations worldwide. And despite legal restrictions, it seems unlikely that such pollution will be curbed.

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act will continue to allow the release of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF), a highly efficient type of fire suppressant agent, for the purpose of emergency responses and testing of equipment or training personnel “if complete containment, capture, and proper disposal mechanisms are in place to ensure no AFFF is released into the environment”.

This was certainly not the case in Okinawa with overhead suppression systems still enabling the dumping of 227,000 litres of foam in a matter of minutes.

Safe replacements available

While Tomohiro Yara, a representative of the National Diet from Okinawa, has argued that “the US government should take full responsibility for cleaning up soil and water at any military base abroad,” the Japanese central government has failed to challenge military use of the deadly foams.

This despite the fact that suitable replacements are readily available and are being used worldwide. The U.S. Department of Defense, however, claims the fluorine-free foams currently on the market are not suitable alternatives to the carcinogenic foams used in practice drills and emergencies.

Yet the International Civil Aviation Organization has approved several fluorine-free foams (known as F3). These claim to match the performance of the AFFFs deployed by the U.S. military. F3 foams are widely used at major airports across the globe, including major international hubs such as Dubai, Dortmund, Stuttgart, London Heathrow, Manchester, Copenhagen, Cologne, Auckland…

So it is puzzling why the military – and the Japanese government – will not embrace the measures needed to ensure that both the local population and the island’s environment are prevented from exposure to such toxicity when equally effective – and safer – options are readily available.

Pat Elder is an investigative reporter with Civilian Exposure, a U.S. organization from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, that tracks military contamination at Thanks to Joseph Essertier for his edits and commentary.

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La Chaux-de-Fonds, Métropole horlogère et ville de culture

28. Mai 2020 - 12:39

Le visiteur prend le train ou la route de la Vue des Alpes pour arriver à La Chaux-de-Fonds. La Métropole horlogère, sise à 1’000 mètres d’altitude, a célébré, en juin 2019 avec sa voisine Le Locle, dix ans de leur inscription au patrimoine mondial de l’humanité de l’UNESCO, distinguées pour l’admirable richesse de leur urbanisme façonné au XIX e siècle grâce à l’essor de l’horlogerie.

Edition Française. Global Geneva is including French-language articles on ‘international Geneva’ themes as part of its worldwide outreach to Francophone audiences. A reminder: our content is available free worldwide. If you like what we do, please support us.

Cette région ouvrière a souvent été marquée par les crises économiques. La Chaux-de-Fonds a compté jusqu’à 43’000 habitants dans les années 1960. Si elle perd chaque année nombre de ses résidents – ils sont environ 38’000 actuellement – elle n’en reste pas moins un berceau culturel remarquable voulu par des mécènes fortunés décidés à favoriser des lieux de création et de rencontre, comme le théâtre « à l’italienne » érigé en 1837 et rénové en 2003 rebaptisé L’Heure Bleue, classé monument historique. La salle de musique à l’acoustique exceptionnelle n’est pas en reste, puisque des musiciens mondialement connus, comme le violoniste français Renaud Capuçon, viennent régulièrement y donner des concerts et y enregistrer leurs disques.

Au cours de son histoire, la progressiste Métropole horlogère était également appréciée des révolutionnaires et notamment de Lénine qui y donna une conférence le 18 mars 1917 au Cercle ouvrier, pour commémorer le début de la Commune de Paris, avant de quitter la Suisse pour la Russie le 9 avril 1917, au départ de Zurich. Autre révolutionnaire russe à avoir pris la parole à La Chaux-de-Fonds, le philosophe Michel Bakounine y fit, en février 1869, un exposé sur l’anarchisme. Une plaque commémorative a été apposée au bâtiment de la rue Daniel-Jeanrichard 3, l’alors Café de la Poste qui abrita, au XIXe siècle, le siège de l’Association internationale des Travailleurs.

Horloge italienne (Photo: Musée international de l’horlogerie-MIH) Des trésors de l’Art nouveau

L’harmonie de la Chaux-de-Fonds ne se voit pas de prime abord, elle se découvre avec patience, comme les trésors de l’Art Nouveau qui embellissent les cages d’escaliers de nombreux immeubles ou en pénétrant dans des appartements que le propriétaire ou le locataire ouvrira pour permettre au visiteur d’admirer une salle de bain richement décorée, des boiseries et ferronneries ou des vitraux colorés finement ciselés.

Nombre d’habitations avaient été conçues à l’époque avec un sens pratique et esthétique pour faciliter notamment le travail à domicile des ouvriers, artisans et horlogers pendant les longs mois d’hiver enneigé où les températures pouvaient atteindre des records de froid. Les petits ateliers voisinant avec les belles demeures des industriels et les usines souvent familiales ont de tous temps témoigné du savoir-faire des habitants des Montagnes neuchâteloises reconvertis en maîtres horlogers, qui ont porté et continuent de porter haut une tradition horlogère réputée dans le monde entier pour sa précision.

Autre lieu superbement décoré que l’on ne s’attend pas à trouver, le crématoire de la ville. Mis en service en 1909, son ornementation dans l’esprit Art Nouveau est due en grande partie au peintre et sculpteur Charles L’Eplattenier.

Outre les festivités autour de l’inscription au patrimoine de l’UNESCO une autre commémoration a également été célébré en 2019 à La Chaux-de-Fonds : le 75e anniversaire du célèbre Club 44, lieu incontournable de la vie intellectuelle de la ville la plus haute d’Europe, témoin de son âge d’or, et qui, grâce au mécénat horloger – m’expliquait celle qui était alors sa déléguée culturelle Marie-Thérèse Bonadonna – a accueilli des centaines de personnalités suisses et internationales, parmi lesquelles le philosophe Jean-Paul Sartre, l’ancien président français François Mitterrand, l’écrivain voyageur Nicolas Bouvier, le physicien canadien Hubert Reeves, le cinéaste François Truffaut, l’exploratrice et photographe Ella Maillart, l’économiste Jacques Attali, l’architecte Mario Botta et le sociologue Jean Ziegler.

Deux musées à ne pas manquer

Deux musées sont à ne pas manquer à La Chaux-de-Fonds. Le Musée des beaux-arts illustre la place importante de l’Art nouveau dans la Métropole horlogère. Outre ses collections permanentes et ses expositions temporaires, un espace réunit des objets et documents de quatre collections et de propriétaires différents dans une vision artistique, historique, industrielle et pédagogique. Architecture, peinture, sculpture, arts appliqués, industrie, vie sociale et enseignement évoquent des domaines et des noms de la période du Style sapin et de l’Art nouveau dans les Montagnes neuchâteloises et plus particulièrement à La Chaux-de-Fonds, membre du Réseau européen Art Nouveau Network et du Bureau de la Route européenne du modernisme.

Le cœur de La Chaux-de-Fonds bat à l’avenue Léopold Robert, du nom de ce peintre romantique né en 1794, célébré par les écrivains, dont l’œuvre reconnue par la critique et recherchée par les collectionneurs de toute l’Europe du vivant de l’artiste était tombée dans l’oubli après son suicide à Venise en 1835. Redécouverte au XX e siècle par les historiens d’art, elle intéresse aujourd’hui par sa thématique romantique des brigands et des belles italiennes en costumes, à laquelle le peintre doit sa célébrité. Ses tableaux figurent en bonne place au Musée des beaux-arts de sa ville natale.

Quant au Musée international de l’horlogerie (MIH), il témoigne parfaitement de la relation entre l’Homme et le Temps. En 1865, après la création de l’Ecole d’horlogerie de La Chaux-de-Fonds, les professeurs avaient aussi pour mission de constituer une collection dans un but didactique. La richesse des pièces collectées conduisit alors un petit groupe de passionnés, sous l’impulsion de Maurice Picard industriel horloger israélite d’origine française, à proposer l’ouverture d’un musée rétrospectif d’horlogerie, peut-on lire sur le site du MIH.

Force constante (Photo: Musée international de l’horlogerie – MIH)

Les visiteurs ont tout loisir d’admirer des pièces exceptionnelles : une montre à double boîtier signée John Arnold à Londres fabriquée vers 1768 pour le Roi Georges III, le grand chronomètre de marine de Ferdinand Berthoud datant de 1774, des pendules, horloges, montres anciennes, chronomètres, montres-bracelet, pièces peintes et instruments non mécaniques. Fondé en 1902, le Musée d’horlogerie sis dans une salle des locaux mêmes de l’Ecole d’horlogerie, sera rebaptisé, en 1968, Musée international de l’Horlogerie (MIH). En 1974, un bâtiment à l’architecture d’avant-garde, en partie souterraine, deviendra l’écrin de la collection unique au monde du MIH.

Avant de visiter les œuvres de Le Corbusier, l’architecte le plus innovant du XXe siècle, Wolfgang Carrier, ingénieur venu d’Allemagne reconverti en guide, me fait bénéficier de ses vastes connaissances lors d’un déjeuner àL’Union, restaurant proposant des plats traditionnels, très fréquenté à midi et avant les représentations des événements à l’affiche du théâtre attenant.

Je dîne ensuite et passe la nuit au Grand Hôtel Les Endroits, lieu de détente, de relaxation et de dégustation haut de gamme, grâce à son restaurant gastronomique, ses chambres confortables avec vue sur une nature invitant aux randonnées et son complexe SPA, fitness, salle de repos et bassin intérieur. Les marcheurs entreprendront des excursions dans la nature environnante en été et, en hiver, les amateurs de neige pourront skier ou s’adonner au snow-board, y compris la nuit, grâce au téléski et piste illuminés du Chapeau-Râblé tout proche.

En quittant La Chaux-de-Fonds, une halte à l’Ancien Manège prouve que la Métropole horlogère mérite une visite. Construit en 1857 pour accueillir des chevaux, l’Ancien Manège avait été converti en 1868 en maison d’habitation avec des travaux témoignant d’une vision cohérente et d’un urbanisme novateur avec un certain panache à l’époque. Finement décoré, doté d’un escalier central et de galeries donnant sur les appartements et des caves, ainsi que d’une verrière et une magnifique cour intérieure accueillant marché de Noël et autres événements, l’Ancien Manège héberge également le bar-restaurant Mö. En 2016, le Club 44 avait dédié une conférence à la réfection de l’Ancien Manège en un espace inspiré du Phalanstère de Charles Fourier destiné aux familles ouvrières et, plus largement, au contexte social de La Chaux-de-Fonds à la fin du XIX e siècle marqué par l’influence des utopies d’alors.

Luisa Ballin est une journaliste Italo-suisse qui collabore régulièrement avec le magazine Global Geneva. 

Italo-Swiss journalist Luisa Ballin is a contributing editor of Global Geneva magazine.

Ce reportage a été effectué avec le soutien de Tourisme Neuchâtelois.

Liens à consulter

Tourisme neuchâtelois


Club 44

Grand Hôtel Les Endroits 

TPR – L’Heure Bleue

Programme de la Société de musique La Chaux-de-Fonds

La Maison Blanche :

Visite de la Villa Turque à La Chaux-de-Fonds : M. Marc-Olivier Sottas (EBEL) :

Les éclats de Cendrars, documentaire de son petit-fils Thomas Gilou – Bibliothèque de La Chaux-de-Fonds 

Musées Chaux-de-Fonds

Musées Chaux-de-Fonds (Histoires 1)

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Utopia3 podcasts from the world’s human rights capital

28. Mai 2020 - 10:50

Launched in Geneva at the end of May, 2020, utopia3’s first season of eight podcasts has already been made available with three of them on the web. These include comic book author Joe Sacco as its first guest (in English) followed by activist Perla Joe Maalouli on the Lebanese revolution (in English) and the future of humanitarian action (in French) with Yves Daccord, former director of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The interviews are moderated by historian Davide Rodogno and journalist David Brun-Lambert.

This article is part of Global Geneva’s ongoing commitment to highlight “international Geneva” activities as a public service for interested audiences, including young people, worldwide. A reminder: if you like what we do, please donate. As we know you can appreciate, good journalism needs your support.

Given that the FIFDH was unable to physically hold its annual festival in Geneva this year because of the coronavirus – but hosted a number of viral sessions – this collaboration with utopia3 seeks to further expand the international online presence of human rights concerns by making broader use of those who are involved. Future episodes can expect to interview dedicated figures such as activists, film-makers, researchers, writers, journalists and artists. According to Rodogno, ““In a world that is going through major climatic, economic and health upheavals, new utopias are breaking through.”.

The utopia3 podcasts are available from Thursday, May 28th, 2020 onwards the websites of and as well as on the main podcast platforms. Related articles in Global Geneva Defending Human Rights Defenders: The Legacy of Martin Ennals The right place for the world’s human rights award Book Excerpt: “Are You With Me? Kevin Boyle and the Rise of the Human Rights Movement” by Mike Chinoy Kurdistan: After such knowledge, what forgiveness?   Hong Kong’s Dehumanitarianism – an urgent appeal for international mediation CIVITAS MAXIMA—A Tiny Swiss Group of Lawyers Takes on War crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Humanitarianism under threat: How to keep your humanitarian principles when all around are losing theirs The United Nations should be supporting – not blocking – independent journalism. Keeping it Family : How Africa’s Corrupt Leaders Stay in Power Bosnia-Herzegovina: Revisiting life after genocide. The Yazidis : Life after Genocide L’ONU peut-elle faire plus pour identifier les commanditaires du meurtre de Jamal Khashoggi?
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Reporting the news: the first Youth Writes information & young leadership webinar

26. Mai 2020 - 10:47

Welcome to this first in our series of information webcasts and video specials focusing on quality journalism, compelling writing, photojournalism, videography, cartooning, leadership and other communications skills, including how to counter cyber abuse in social media. While aimed primarily at young people, our initiative should prove of interest to all ages, and no matter where in the world.

We are making this free in the public interest, but hope that parents and sponsors will contribute (please specify Youth Writes webinars). You can view this first webinar here or download here. Articles referred to in the webinar include William Dowell’s recent piece on pandemics and Karin Wenger’s on how Bangkok and other megacities in southeast Asia are sinking. Jérôme Le Carrou of Nexstep was also present toward the end of the discussion. (Youth Writes is supported by the Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing & Literature in Switzerland)

Together with Nexstep and other partners, including top foreign correspondents and writers, film-makers, cartoonists and media specialists, Youth Writes plans to expand these online ventures – once COVID-19 permits – into regular physical (but also webcast) workshops, youth conferences and weekend writing camps, whether in Europe, Asia, Africa or elsewhere. These will focus on trusted journalism, improved communications skills and other forms of credible information outreach.

High school students across the globe can already take part in our Youth Writes Awards Challenge (see article and awards link for more information) for the best of fact or fiction writing (1000 words maximum) on any international Geneva theme, or one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The top three will receive travel grants worth 1200, 750 & 500 CHF/USD as well as the chance to get published. This is an opportunity that no one should miss!

We will also help young people find professional internships or volunteerships, something that Nexstep is already doing, particularly in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, China and other parts of Asia. (See article).

Our overall objective is to provide young people with the communications skills they need, regardless whether they become entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, lawyers, civil servants, doctors, journalists, teachers…Everyone needs to know how to write well and how to put across their ideas…

For more information, please go to:

Related articles in Global Geneva

Pandemics, climate change and UN reform Pangolins and pandemics: digging for the roots of COVID-19 Bangkok is Sinking, but so are other Southeast Asian megacities… COVID-19 and climate change: the planet’s twin crises 2019 Youth Writes Awards – Engaging young writers through quality journalism Running an English bookstore in the time of the pandemic Youth Writes – Young Journalists & Writers Programme Awards September, 2019 The United Nations should be supporting – not blocking – independent journalism. Cyber Monsters: Time to do something about social media perverting our kids You’re in the army now: an expat recruit’s experience in Switzerland’s militia The Price of Purity by Maxine Rechter. 2019 Youth Writes First Prize Laureate Kyanite by Mohamed Diagne. 2019 Youth Writes Second Prize Laureate Capital by Nicholas Machen. 2019 Youth Writes Third Prize Laureate Helping young people to trust journalism – and counter fake news
Kategorien: Jobs

On Young Dogs and Old Tricks

21. Mai 2020 - 9:45

TUCSON, Arizona — I used to say the only difference between 23 and dead is all in the mind. Now, a lot closer to the latter than the former, not so much. But today age looms large in an America facing its most crucial elections ever.

The following column by contributing editor, journalist and author Mort Rosenblum is from his regular comment The MortReport. If you like his writing, you can support it here.

A recent Atlantic headline asked, “Why Do Such Elderly People Run America?” Good question. Lots of young people with fresh ideas and new skills see their options in November — two men, 150 years old between them — as total wastes of space.

But the writer, 38, lost me fast. He called Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders “three candidates divided by ideology but united in dotage.” Dotage? Webster defines that as “senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.” Fuck off, punk.

Ageism is a small-bore bias. Mostly, it reflects callow, shallow thinkers who generalize in data-clump shortcuts like their computers (which, BTW, their elders invented). Some people are couchbound rutabagas by 50; others remain brilliant into their 90s.

For the CEO of an imperiled “free world,” being old has value, even if he, or she, says “malarkey” for “bullshit.” Founding Fathers fixed the minimum age for president at 35 back when male life expectancy was near 38. They wanted the oldest bulls in the herd. 

Confronting the present means understanding the past

A long life reveals over time how confronting the present requires an understanding of the past. Diplomacy demands an acquired feel for reading faces and anticipating how action might trigger reaction. Situations vary; human nature remains constant.

Age isn’t Trump’s problem. He has been a self-obsessed lying cheat since childhood. Biden may not fire up audiences that expect entertaining bombast, but he excels at what matters now: calmly finding common ground at home and abroad. 

At 73, Trump dismisses his 77-year-old rival as “Sleepy Joe,” too addled to speak without gaffes. I can’t wait for pointed debate questions on climate and foreign policy. Perhaps Trump will take up Biden’s challenge to a pushup contest.  

Every president needs two crucial qualities: an ability to inspire the nation and a firm grip on real-world realities.

JFK swept into office at 43 with that brief, stirring Inaugural speech. “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” But he bumbled into war that devastated Vietnam, then Cambodia, rejecting Charles de Gaulle’s warnings about what France had learned to its grief. 

Obama, at 47, aced inspiration. He steered George W. Bush’s trashed economy into a boom for which Trump claims credit. He was a leader on climate change and the deal to lower the heat in Iran. But Syrians ignored his line in the sand, Saudis pounded Yemen and Afghans kept on killing each other.

A need for restoring democracy in America

America now needs a seasoned statesman to not only restore decency at home but also steer it off the rocks abroad. Trump thwarts cooperation to contain a pandemic that is reshaping life on Earth. As he turns the United States inward, China threatens to set a frightening new global standard for human values, freedoms and political philosophy.

My own septuagenarian view is suspect. Consider instead wisdom that has held up for 2,000 years, Plutarch’s essay titled, “Should an Old Man Engage in Politics?” A short summary: Of course, he should. Why burn down a living library?

Books about piloting a ship don’t produce captains, he wrote, “unless those captains have often stood upon the stern to observe the struggles against wave and wind and stormy night.” Leaders don’t need physical strength; that is only necessary for the officers and troops at their command.

He added: “To take on menial and common work after practicing politics is like stripping away the dress of a free…woman, replacing it with an apron, and then forcing her to work in a tavern.” We need fresh young comers like Alexandria Octavio-Cortez for the future. Should she go back to mixing drinks in a Bronx bar when she gets old?

Judgment, frankness and wisdom develop slowly over time, Plutarch concluded, “so it makes no sense…that they no longer be of service.” 

For some, history begins when they decide to take notice. A student once told me the Vietnam War didn’t matter; it was over before he was born. Alexander the Great was a bit before my time, I replied, but I knew he conquered much of the known world before he was old enough to buy cigarettes today in Arizona.

A free press is the first item of the Bill of Rights

Alexander learned in war what Machiavelli wrote about political science 1,500 years later. Authoritarians gain power by playing dirty and keep it by making good on their threats, cowing their own people and their adversaries into submission.

America made itself great with a reverse tack, based on human nature’s better angels.  Leaders should be respected, if not loved, more than feared. Three branches would check and balance one another. The first item of the Bill of Rights enshrined a free press.

During the Reagan ‘80s, conservatives began to entrench oligarchy. They pushed public schools to discourage critical thinking and social sciences, creating a workaday class that enabled an elite to get increasingly rich. Bread and circuses worked for the Romans.

In 2016, with the internet and Fox News, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. But the unhinged narcissist who Republicans expected to manipulate has let a plague run amok, killing more than 100,000 and plunging America into depression. His cultists and hangers-on, unfazed, blame China, Obama and yet another Democratic hoax.

Incumbent president Donald Trump is currently seeking to undermine the right to vote by mail, particularly at a time when health precautions in the era of coronavirus strongly recommend not to congregate in public places. Young people hold the future

Young people must endure whatever comes next. At the rate we’re going, scientists say, by 2070 much of our planet will be too hot and dry to support humans. Marine life is dying fast. Meantime, we face worsening plagues and endemic global conflict. 

And yet those from 18 to 24 are the least likely to vote. Many dismiss Biden as a doddering old man, and they squander a ballot on a third-party candidate.

Last time, 12 percent of Bernie diehards voted for Trump, an outsider who would “drain the swamp.” He brought in nastier alligators, along with water moccasins and leeches. Hillary Clinton won by three million ballots, but the Electoral College outcome turned on three states decided by fewer voters than can fill a decent-sized stadium.

Democrats can tax the über-rich and adopt health care if they win the White House and Congress. They can bring the federal deficit and the national debt back down from the stratosphere. But November is now or never.

Even if Trump squeaks by on a technicality decided in the packed Supreme Court, the oligarchy will entrench itself. Wilderness and national splendor will be lost forever at a galloping pace. Scientists expect polluted air and water, over time, to kill far more Americans than pandemics.

Biden, in my own opinion, can restore sanity at home and respect abroad. A quick-study vice president with a solid worldview can then take over in 2024 to rally a different kind of Congress toward serious reform. 

This is hardly Dancing With the Stars. It is not about single issues, emotional appeal or decisions made in an earlier time. The stakes are our very survival.

The Atlantic piece began with that Super Tuesday incident Biden detractors cite to show he is too old. In his victory speech, he “mistook his wife for his sister.” No, he didn’t. The women had switched places behind him. He was momentarily surprised when he turned to introduce them.

It ends, as it should, with climate change, saying America needs “ideas and input from the generation…most affected by it.” Of course. But altering the global ecosystem, like containing pandemics, is far beyond any one nation’s possibilities.

Fresh young leaders must reverse climatic chaos. But first, an American president already trusted across the world can unite large nations that pollute and small ones that suffer from it. His age is irrelevant.

Global Geneva contributing editor Mort Rosenblum is a renowned American journalist, editor and author currently based in France and Tuscon, Arizona. He has travelled and reported the world more years than he can remember. You can read his regular column, The MortReport.

Related articles in Global Geneva The Mort Report: A crime against humanity The Mort Report: Extra! French Poodle Bites Puffed-Up Yank in the Ass Swiss banks & money-laundering in the shadows of Latin American democracy FROM THE EDITOR: Real democracy doesn’t come on a platter. Nor does credible information. The United Nations should be supporting – not blocking – independent journalism. Keeping it Family : How Africa’s Corrupt Leaders Stay in Power YOUTH JOURNALISM IN SCHOOLS: Helping young people create – and understand credible information War and humanitarian reporting: Donors and aid agencies need a radical rethink Chappatte and the stifling of graphic satire On Zapata, Bogey and Circling Vultures Mayors, Napoleons and Corruption: A very French curse.
Kategorien: Jobs

Genève, une ville de roman et une patrie pour la famille de l’écrivain Joël Dicker

19. Mai 2020 - 10:59

Parc Bertrand, quartier des banques, hôtel des Bergues et autres sites emblématiques font de la ville du bout du lac Léman et de la station de Verbier dans les Alpes suisses les lieux où Joël Dicker situe une intrigue au thème haletant, menée tambour battant. La placide Helvétie devient ainsi le terrain feutré et miné où jeux de pouvoir, amour, gloire et trahisons emmèneront les lecteurs et lectrices jusqu’au dénouement inattendu. « Oui, Genève est une ville de roman. Toutes les villes peuvent être des villes de roman à condition d’en faire un personnage à part entière », répond Joël Dicker, dans un entretien téléphonique avec Global Geneva, confinement dû au coronavirus oblige.

Edition Française. Global Geneva is including French-language articles on ‘international Geneva’ themes as part of its worldwide outreach to Francophone audiences. A reminder: our content is available free worldwide. If you like what we do, please support us.

« Je suis né à Genève. J’habite à Genève et cela fait longtemps que je souhaitais non pas raconter la Genève de ma réalité mais une Genève de roman, telle que j’avais envie de l’imaginer par rapport aux besoins du récit. On peut s’y reconnaître ou pas. À titre d’exemple, le quartier des banques où se passe une partie de L’Énigme de la chambre 622 n’est plus ce qu’il était. Il reste quelques banques privées, mais des instituts bancaires ont quitté ce quartier historique pour installer leurs bureaux dans des bâtiments plus grands de la banlieue genevoise. J’avais envie d’ancrer la banque de mon récit dans l’esprit de Genève de cette époque-là ».

Le récit. Inattendu. Qui nous guide de Genève à Verbier. Un amour intermittent éloigne l’Écrivain de sa séduisante voisine partie sans mot dire. Pour tenter d’oublier le désir de l’absente, l’Écrivain prend la route pour des vacances à la montagne qui n’en seront pas. Des années auparavant, une nuit de décembre, un meurtre avait été commis dans la chambre 622 du Palace de Verbier. L’investigation de la police n’avait pas abouti. L’Écrivain, poussé par une femme audacieuse prénommée comme l’héroïne du roman Autant en emporte le vent, mènera l’enquête, malgré lui et avec elle, des années plus tard.

Avec un sens du rythme et du suspense, Joël Dicker sait habilement brouiller les pistes et capter l’attention. Ses romans, traduits en anglais et dans nombre d’autres langues, se vendent à des millions d’exemplaires : Les Derniers jours de nos pères, La Vérité sur l’Affaire Harry Quebert – qui a obtenu en 2012 le Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie française, le Prix Goncourt des Lycéens et a fait l’objet d’une série télévisée réalisée par Jean-Jacques Annaud, avec Patrick Dempsey en vedette -, sans oublier Le Livre des Baltimore et La Disparition de Stéphanie Mailer. Les lectrices et lecteurs de l’auteur suisse à succès attendent avec une ardente patience la sortie, retardée pour cause de confinement, de L’Énigme de la chambre 622, qui est disponible en Suisse aujourd’hui et en France le 27 mai.

Hommage à son éditeur Bernard de Fallois

Les mystères de la création littéraire sont impénétrables. Comment nait un livre ? Joël Dicker déclare écrire sans plan. « Cela commence par l’envie de raconter une histoire et peu à peu le récit se dessine. Le point de départ de L’Énigme de la chambre 622 était mon souhait de partager avec les lecteurs le lien profond que j’avais avec mon éditeur Bernard de Fallois, décédé en janvier 2018. Et puis il y avait moi, Joël, l’Écrivain. Je me suis dit que l’histoire devait se passer à Genève. Il était temps que je parle de cette ville internationale ».

Rarement, un écrivain aura fait de son éditeur un personnage de roman aussi présent. Joël Dicker, né en 1985, croise la route de Bernard de Fallois, né en 1926, un jour à Paris. Cette rencontre sera déterminante pour la carrière fulgurante du jeune auteur. « Bernard de Fallois m’a appris à travailler dur, à me remettre en question. Il m’a encouragé dans la réflexion, dans la curiosité. Si je devais retenir une leçon de cet homme exceptionnel c’est son ouverture d’esprit. Lorsque vous le rencontriez, il vous posait beaucoup de questions. Il était intéressé par ce que vous faisiez. C’était un homme curieux de tout, extraordinaire dans son ouverture. C’est ce que je garde de notre lien ».

Une identité aux multiples facettes

Le parcours de Joël Dicker est aussi passionnant que ses romans.  À l’âge de dix ans, il fonde La Gazette des animaux, une revue sur la nature qu’il dirigera pendant sept ans. Il recevra le Prix Cunéo pour la protection de la nature et sera désigné plus jeune rédacteur en chef de Suisse par la Tribune de Genève. Il suit son cursus scolaire dans la Cité de Calvin puis, après un passage à Paris pour suivre le Cours Florent pendant un an, il fera son droit à l’Université de Genève. Et sera attaché parlementaire au Parlement suisse avant de faire de sa passion pour la littérature une profession à plein temps.

Fils d’une libraire et d’un professeur de français, arrière-petit-fils de l’homme politique Jacques Dicker, Joël Dicker dit volontiers que Genève a donné une patrie à ses ancêtres. « Les membres de ma famille sont arrivés en Suisse en 1942, ayant d’abord fui la Russie au moment de la Révolution de 1917. Après avoir traversé l’Europe jusqu’en France, puis ayant fui la France pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, ils se sont installés en Suisse. Plusieurs générations de ma famille sont nées à Genève. Situer L’Énigme de la chambre 622 à Genève était une manière de rendre hommage à la Suisse qui a accueilli ma famille ».

Hommage. Gratitude. Devoir de mémoire. Souvenirs. « Du côté de mon père et du côté de ma mère, mes ancêtres sont originaires de Russie. Mon arrière-grand-père paternel était un révolutionnaire qui avait fui le tsar et, un peu après, la famille de ma mère, composée d’aristocrates, fuyait la Révolution de 1917 », explique l’auteur.

Dans L’Énigme de la Chambre 622, une autre enseigne genevoise retient l’attention : l’épicerie fine et petit restaurant cosy Saveurs d’Italie, l’antre où Joël Dicker a coutume de se rendre. Aurait-il également des origines italiennes ? « Le père de ma mère est né en Russie. Il a traversé l’Europe et la France pour arriver en Suisse. La mère de ma mère est née à Trieste et a fui l’Italie dans les années 40 pour venir vivre en Suisse », précise l’écrivain francophone le plus lu en France en 2018, selon le classement annuel établi par L’Express et RTL.

Peut-on dès lors parler d’une triple appartenance russo-italo-suisse ? « Je dirais que je suis Suisse parce que c’est ma nationalité et j’ai aussi des racines venues d’ailleurs. L’identité étant une construction de soi avec différents éléments, les origines et les racines familiales sont des parties importantes de mon identité multiple », affirme le romancier.

Les livres de Joël Dicker narrent des énigmes et enquêtes policières, sauf la nouvelle Le Tigre et son excellent premier roman Les Derniers jours de nos pères – paru aux éditions de Fallois et L’Âge d’Homme, lauréat du Prix des écrivains genevois en 2010 – qui relate l’histoire méconnue d’une branche des services secrets voulue par Winston Churchill, la Special Operation Executive (SOE), chargée de mener des actions de sabotage et de renseignement à l’intérieur des lignes ennemies, dont les membres étaient issus des populations locales pour être insoupçonnables.

Vu l’originalité du propos et la profondeur dont il a fait preuve dans son premier ouvrage publié, Joël Dicker est-il tenté d’écrire un nouveau roman basé sur des faits historiques? «C’est difficile de faire des promesses ! Cela dépend des circonstances du moment. J’ai beaucoup aimé écrire Les Derniers jours de nos pères. Mais rédiger un roman historique n’est pas simple. Il m’a fallu être précis sur ce qui s’est passé dans les années 40 car il me tenait à cœur que tout soit juste. Puis, j’ai eu envie d’écrire des romans plus libres, sans la contrainte de l’Histoire », répond-il.

Joël Dicker
La force de l’écriture

Les Derniers jours de nos pères a ancré son jeune auteur dans la transmission, grâce à un talent de romancier multifacettes. Son écriture cinématographique et son don pour les péripéties à rebondissement captivent. Après La Vérité sur l’Affaire Harry Quebert, dont l’épisode 1 est rediffusé ce soir à 20h55 sur RTS1, qui a hissé Joël Dicker au rang d’écrivain de best-sellers, ses autres romans seront-ils également portés à écran ?

« L’aventure de la série tirée de La Vérité sur l’Affaire Harry Quebert m’a fait plaisir. Mais je ne suis pas amateur de tout le procédé entourant la possibilité d’une série télévisée ou d’un film. Les négociations et les contraintes autour du tournage d’une série ou d’un film, le fait que cela ait lieu ou pas n’est pas un exercice que j’adore. Je trouve que la littérature est plus forte. Avec quelques mots, vous imaginez une atmosphère, tout existe. Dans un film, vous devez installer les décors, faire tomber la pluie, tout créer. Si on me propose des projets qui valent la peine de surmonter toutes ces difficultés, alors oui. Car, pour moi, il faut qu’il y ait de la passion et du plaisir et pas seulement un budget ou parce que c’est prestigieux », estime le romancier.

Avec ses trois livres précédents, Joël Dicker avait pris le large virtuel outre-Atlantique : une station balnéaire des Hamptons dans l’Etat de New York pour La Disparition de Stéphanie Mailer, le New Hampshire pour La Vérité sur l’Affaire Harry Quebert et le New Jersey pour Le Livre des Baltimore. Trois succès pour cet ancrage livresque sur la Côte-Est des Etats-Unis que l’auteur suisse connait bien pour y avoir passé des vacances chez une partie de sa famille, ce qui lui a facilité une distance voulue.

L’atout de Joël Dicker est d’intéresser plusieurs générations de lecteurs et lectrices à ses ouvrages. Accepterait-il, s’il y est invité, d’offrir une masterclass à des collégiens ou à des étudiants pour leur donner envie de lire, d’écrire et de devenir romancier ? « Oui. Parler aux gens en général et aux jeunes en particulier, leur transmettre ma passion pour la littérature, monde fascinant qui n’a rien à envier à celui des séries télévisées qui marchent bien, est important pour moi. J’apprécie les rencontres avec les lecteurs et lectrices. Je suis très déçu que cela ne puisse pas se faire pour le moment à cause du coronavirus », regrette-t-il.

Genève figurera-t-elle à nouveau dans un prochain roman de Joël Dicker ? « J’espère pouvoir continuer de raconter Genève. Mais comme je ne travaille pas sur plan, cela dépend de l’envie du moment. Ça commence… J’y viens, même si je ne sais pas encore ce qu’il y aura dans mon prochain livre ».

L’Énigme de la Chambre 622 se déroule également à Verbier. Est-ce parce qu’elle était la station d’hiver préférée de son éditeur Bernard de Fallois ? « Oui, absolument ! Bernard m’a toujours parlé de Verbier. Il y allait souvent, notamment pour rendre visite à Georges Simenon. Il m’avait dit que nous irions un jour ensemble à Verbier. Malheureusement nous n’avons jamais pu mener ce projet à bien.  Ce livre est une façon d’y aller avec lui ».

Joël et la chocolaterie

Outre la littérature, Joël Dicker aime également le chocolat. « J’ai repris, avec un ami, la chocolaterie du Rhône, une des plus anciennes si ce n’est la plus ancienne chocolaterie de Genève puisqu’elle date de 1875. C’était pour nous deux l’endroit où nous allions boire un chocolat chaud avec nos grands-parents. Cette chocolaterie connaissait des difficultés et cela nous a ému. Nous nous sommes dit qu’en ces temps où les centres se dépeuplent, à l’heure des achats en ligne et au moment où de nombreux magasins fermaient, nous pouvions reprendre cette chocolaterie pour ne pas la laisser partir à l’abandon ».

Y emmènera-t-il son fils, âgé d’un an, lorsque celui-ci sera plus grand ?  « Bien sûr ! », répond l’auteur Des Derniers jours de nos pères. Et en tant que père, que souhaiterait Joël Dicker transmettre à son fils ? « Les valeurs d’une société où nous puissions tous vivre dans le respect de chacun, car ce qui manque aujourd’hui c’est vivre et laisser vivre. Je suis inquiet de voir que, dans le monde où nous vivons, certaines personnes ont des difficultés à accepter l’autre comme il est. Le respect de l’autre et les changements climatiques sont les défis à relever pour faire que ce monde soit un peu meilleur ».

Joël Dicker est discret quant au prénom que lui et son épouse ont donné à leur enfant.  « Je préfère être pour lui simplement un papa et je fais une séparation assez stricte pour le laisser en dehors de tout cela », dit-il.

Le prénom. Celui que Joël Dicker donne au banquier de son dernier livre interpelle. « Le prénom d’un personnage de roman est une décision importante, réfléchie. Cela va un peu à rebours du prénom que l’on choisit pour un enfant. Avant la naissance d’un enfant, on lui choisit un prénom. Dans un roman, je fais l’inverse. J’écris le personnage et lorsque son identité est mieux définie, je lui donne un prénom qui me semble lui correspondre. Les prénoms de mes personnages sont souvent particuliers. Ils marquent une identité singulière. S’ils interpellent, mon but est presque réussi car cela crée un lien entre le personnage et le lecteur », conclut Joël Dicker.

L’Énigme de la Chambre 622, de Joël Dicker – Editions de Fallois / Paris. Parution en Suisse aujourd’hui et en France le 27 mai.

Luisa Ballin est une journaliste Italo-suisse qui collabore régulièrement avec le magazine Global Geneva. 

Italo-Swiss journalist Luisa Ballin is a contributing editor of Global Geneva magazine.

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Kategorien: Jobs

Pandemics, climate change and UN reform

19. Mai 2020 - 7:16
The following article is based on reporting, including background interviews with UN officials and diplomats, out of Geneva, New York and other locations.

These past few months of COVID-19 have proven both brutal and sobering. But the lessons are clear. The threat of a global pandemic has been with us for at least a decade, and yet we failed to respond. As scientist-explorer Paul Mayewski and international lawyer Charles Norchi point out in their lead article, we are facing twin crises, COVID-19 and climate change. Even with the petering out of this deadly virus, or the discovery of an effective vaccine, our survival now depends on a complete overhaul of our social and economic policies. We owe this to the younger generations, who must now assume the responsibility for dealing with – and hopefully fixing – the failed and often selfish approaches that many of the rich and powerful have imposed on our planet.

This is part of Global Geneva’s regular coverage of international Geneva themes. A reminder: we make our content free worldwide in the public interest. If you like what we do, please support us. As we hope you will understand, editorially-independent reporting requires funding in order to operate.

Not only has the Age of Pandemics just begun, but global warming and other corrosive climatic factors are rapidly leading us to the brink. We may be able to turn things around, but only just. Much will depend on what we do over the next 10 to 15 years. Beyond that, it may be too late. As Swiss journalist Karin Wenger notes in her piece on the sinking of Bangkok and other megacities in southeast Asia, huge portions of these urban conglomerations with tens of millions of people can expect to be under water by 2050.   

What lessons from coronavirus?

The tragedy behind the coronavirus is that most countries – and some key institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta – dropped the ball. Italy and then Spain found themselves completely on their own, while the European Union failed to respond. (See our Coronavirus Stories both in this edition and online) Rather than support each other in their battle against a common enemy, almost every member state was more concerned for itself. The EU eventually caught up, but had initially failed to define its purpose through decisive action, inspired leadership and global collaboration.

As COVID-19 has demonstrated, self-centred, single-minded populism doesn’t help. The most staggering lack of leadership, of course, lies with those in charge of China, the United States, Britain and Brazil. The Communist Party of China (CPP), which has been busy interning over a million Muslims in concentration camps and cracking down on dissent in Hong Kong, sought to stifle the truth behind the Wuhan virus. Only when it was too late to prevent contamination beyond its borders did it finally act by informing the international community that, whoops…

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson also acted too late – and with ignorance. He embraced an unproven ‘herd immunity’ approach that lead his nation to a disastrous explosion of cases and deaths. The fact that Johnson found himself infected by the coronavirus sobered him up like a contrite schoolboy. Not only was he obliged to recognize the importance of a dedicated National Health Service (an institution he had previously scathingly criticized) with its heroic mix of British and foreign (yes, foreign) doctors and nurses on the frontline, but also that no government has the right to simply write off its more vulnerable citizens. As soon emerged, the coronavirus was infecting – and killing – victims from all age groups, including children. Furthermore, Johnson’s argument of national greatness outside the EU suddenly sounded incredibly out of touch.

Negating science in favour of politics

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro is another one of those politicians who has preferred to negate science at the cost of his own people, including the indigenous tribes of the Amazon who risk decimation by the spread of this virus from the outside. At this time of writing, Brazil had officially suffered over a quarter of a million infections with some 16,000 dead making it the fourth worst situation in the world after the US, UK and Russia. And yet, Bolsonaro has remained in denial maintaining that COVID-19 is little different from the ordinary flu and that social distancing and other precautions are not required.

Well in the forefront with his lack of responsibility and compassion lies U.S. President Donald Trump, another science denier who indulges in dangerous quackery. His abuse of the free press and the American Constitution coupled with his inability to lead – or to support a less egotistical and more global approach for dealing with COVID-19 – has arguably contributed to the death of nearly 100,000 human beings in the United States. Furthermore, as some economists are predicting, his ignorance may already have forfeited the role of the United States as a world power of example.

There is a reason why The Lancet, one the world’s leading medical journals, condemned Trump for chipping away at the CDC’s capacity to combat infectious diseases. This included the withdrawal of the CDC’s collaborative research team from China in the summer of 2019 leaving a highly dangerous intelligence vacuum. The Lancet further notes that the White House has subverted the Atlanta-based institution even more over the past months, including its proposed virus guidelines. “These actions have undermined the CDC’s leadership and its work during the COVID-19 pandemic,” declared the 16 May 2020 editorial. It also criticized Trump for withholding funding from WHO before finally proposing that Americans vote for a new president “who will understand that public health should not be guided by partisan politics.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), holds a virtual briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic in Geneva. (Photo: UN) Time to end political manipulation of WHO – and the UN

In times like this, there has to be responsible, global leadership. One vehicle for this should be the United Nations, including WHO. There is much to criticise within the UN, but much of this is due to the manner with which this successor to the League of Nations was set up after World War II. It can only be as good as the member states allow. Sadly, far too many governments see the UN as their playing field for political manipulation rather than serving in the public interest. Banal as it may seem, it’s time to give the UN back to the people it claims to represent, not the regimes that seek to run it.

The reality is that WHO still stands out as the only international organization capable of coordinating proper global responses to health emergencies. It has proven this with the eradication of smallpox in 1980 or its progress in countering malaria. The same goes for other parts of the UN. Even if not always successful, it plays a critical role for dealing with issues such as climate change, wars and humanitarian crises such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Sudan, Haiti…As is often maintained, if the UN did not exist, we’d have to reinvent it. (See Tom Weiss article on multilateralism and the UN)

Some of the recent criticism of WHO regarding its fumbling of the Wuhan virus may prove fully justified once an independent and fully transparent outside investigation, including journalists from The Lancet and other informed press, has been undertaken. This is vital if such an inquiry is to credibly serve in the public interest. As stressed by the EU, Australia and others, this needs to happen now.

Critical, too, is that such an investigation examine CCP efforts at political bullying resulting in a cowing of WHO, such as the alleged sidelining of Taiwan’s requests for information about the virus at the end of December 2019 or the refusal of a senior WHO official to respond to a reporter’s question about the island state. But it must also explore the failed roles of governments, including the United States. While the Trump administration has made WHO’s supposed connivance with China a key issue, it has done exactly the same by seeking to politically ostracize it by withholding funds.

UN General Assembly in New York. This is the institution that can vote in much-needed change, but will probably still seek to retain their political rather than people’s interests. (Photo: UN) The UN should be “for the people, and by the people”

In 2006, Global Geneva editor Edward Girardet was asked by Jens Stoltenberg, head of NATO but then Prime Minister of Norway, to take part as outside writer in a “high level” UN reform process. There have been many UN reform initiatives, yet probably one of the biggest drawbacks was that they always tend to be government or UN “blue ribbon” rather than including civil society. And this despite Stoltenberg’s assertion at the time that the proposed reform, which was passed by the General Assembly in autumn 2006, should lead to a UN “for the people, and by the people”.

A number of positive proposals did emerge from the 2006 process co-chaired by Norway, Pakistan and Mozambique. These included the “One UN” approach designed to make all UN agencies fall in line with each other in order to avoid costly and often pointless replication of projects and budgets. Much has been since achieved, but jealousies and turf wars still abound. And there remains a lot of wastage. (See article by Arthur Wood on the widening financial gap in funding for the Sustainable Development Goals)

One of the most important suggestions, however, was that all UN appointments should be non-political and based instead on a more corporate approach of meritocracy. In other words, find the best person possible for the job regardless of political affiliation or national quotas. After all, those working for the UN should no longer be in hock with their governments. Their commitment should be to the common good of the planet and its inhabitants.

Yet within days, it was back to business as usual with the pragmatic concept of meritocracy tossed back into the drawer. Governments continued to lobby – if not threaten – to have their own choices placed in positions of influence. And it did not matter whether they were competent or not. The Chinese, Japanese, Danes, Germans, Swedes, French, Canadians, Koreans, Saudis… (the list goes on, but usually the ones with money and influence) all push for their candidates in senior positions. Typically, the heads of UNICEF and the World Food Programme are regarded as American positions; while OCHA belongs to the British and the head of the UN office in Geneva is a Soviet (now Russian). China, too, holds a number of key director roles – all of them CCP members.

Chengdu, China (Feb.2020): Wearing masks against COVID-19, people line up for temperature checks before entering Chunxi Road, the downtown mall area in Chengdu, China. (Photo: Complimentary Gettyimages) Everyone knows what’s going on, but the UN is too afraid to counter

Officially, the UN has refused comment on such practices. However, a number of senior UN officials have privately acknowledged that governments – often without subtlety – position their choices wherever they can in order to further their influence within the UN system. Without embracing the Trumpean agenda, one senior UN official in New York noted that China is doing “everything possible” to impose its views on the WHO and UN. “Everyone knows that this is going on, and yet the UN is too afraid to counter such pressure,” the official said.

Sometimes, such political choices are excellent; yet often they are little more than ‘fillers’ or part of administrative ‘dumping’ with ineffective appointees who do not really understand the job. Or they lack vision and simply use their new positions to enhance their own careers with blatant disregard of what is best for the UN. One UN chief misused travel funds in a bid to promote himself as a presidential candidate in his home country.

As one senior UN official in Geneva put it: “You cannot believe the mediocrity that the member states often promote in order to get their own man – or woman – into an influential slot. It’s disgraceful and does nothing good for the UN.” Another UN manager noted: “It’s time to focus on real professionals…if not, the UN will simply dissolve into mediocrity.” The real tragedy is that many job applications draw excellent potential candidates with proven track records both from within and outside the UN. And yet, non-transparent and donor-dominated interview boards will not accept them because of political preferences.

Africa can expect to suffer massively from Covid-19 in the months ahead, but also from the growing and longer-term impact of climate change. (Photo: ICRC)

This is part of the criticism levelled against Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, WHO’s current head and the face of COVID-19 worldwide. One of several shortlisted candidates, which included the UK’s David Nabarro who is now WHO’s special envoy for the pandemic, Tedros was appointed in May, 2017. As pointed out by some, including sources within WHO, this was largely the result of backroom politicking, including by the Addis Abeba-based African Union. The Chinese, who have invested massively in Africa (and Ethiopia), also lobbied strongly for Tedros. So he owes major political payback. Shortly after assuming office, for example, Tedros named former Zimbawean dictator Robert Mugabe – another Chinese favourite – as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador. Tedros was quickly forced to withdraw the corrupt ex-politician following protests by much of the western world.

So in the Age of Pandemics, why not push for less politicization and genuine effectiveness within the UN in the interests of “the people” rather than regimes? At the 73rd annual World Health Assembly (held virtually in Geneva 18-19 May, 2022), Taiwan, which has one of the planet’s best records for dealing with COVID-19, was not allowed to attend, primarily because of extreme pressure by Beijing and its increasingly criticized “One China” policy.

According to the rules, Tedros could have included Taiwan citing public interest. And not just because it has a population of over 23 million (somewhat less than Australia) with crucial lessons to share with the rest of the world. It will indeed be ironic if Trump’s grandstanding removes some of the UN’s weakest leaders while his America First approach opens the way for more idealistic nations to install a different, visionary, practical and inspirational kind of UN governance.

This piece was editorially compiled out of Geneva, New York and other locations.

Related articles in Global Geneva

COVID-19 and climate change: the planet’s twin crises Space lessons for Covid-19 isolation – and more Global Geneva launches 2nd edition of (2020) Youth Writes Awards for high schools worldwide Coronavirus Stories: Letter from London. On the NHS Frontline with COVID fatigue Botswana’s rhino poaching crisis: COVID-19 increases the pressure The United Nations should be supporting – not blocking – independent journalism. Multilateralism under Siege: Would the World Be Better without the UN? Polar Focus: The impact of climate change on the world’s Polar regions can no longer be ignored. How Alpine Resorts are Coping with Climate Change
Kategorien: Jobs

Not at your home: The Artistic World of Betsabeé Romero in Mexico

18. Mai 2020 - 5:09

Betsabeé Romero is now listening to the suddenly silent streets of Mexico City, North America’s largest city. From her little street house in the Villa de Cortés district, the artist is on the lookout for the sadness that invades the world faster than the disease. The absence of funerals, the hidden violence against the women and children in her country, and of course, her own personal fight fight for female artists. 

The following column is contributed by Jean-Christian Agid and is part of his regular ‘Not At Your Home’ cultural blog on his 37 Street media site. A reminder: we make our content free worldwide in the public interest. If you like what we do, then please contribute to our journalism.

Confined, she writes, draws, and reads, mostly philosophy, at the moment. She is thinking about art installations to illustrate the staggered mourning that many people will experience. Incidentally, she has been invited to create and speak on this topic at the Frieze in London this Fall, as well as in Sydney and Rome.

With Betsabeé Romero – Hasta el último aliento – Bellas Artes, Mexico City 2017 Jean-Christian Agid (J-CA): What does Mexico City look like?

Betsabée Romero (BR): Like a city that has never been able to stay in total confinement. Traffic has been cut in half, total silence during the night, unfortunately always interrupted by ambulance sirens. The ability to confine oneself to at home has been a luxury that only a part of the population can afford

We are listening to the birds; they are singing everywhere. Spring has burst forth with its jacarandas and bougainvillea, more colorful than ever. There are also those who walk door to door selling tamales, cookies, gas, water, fruit, flowers, each with their own sound signal, an urban symphony of street vendors who wake us up to life every morning to remind us that we are still in Mexico City.

J-CA: I miss this Mexico, at your home Betsabeé Romero, but without me, for too long a time already. If I were in your city, before coming for dinner, I would wander around the somewhat art deco district of La Condesa. I would stop at the counter of Elena Reygadas’ Lardo for some fried avocado fritters and lemon salsa, zucchini flowers filled with cheese, maybe black rice with a bit of squid and spicy ginger. For dessert, I would let them make one of those fragile red fruit mille-feuilles in front of me, with cardamom ice cream on the side and of course one or two glasses of Casa Dragones to go with it. I would then walk down Veracruz Avenue to the entrance of Parque España. There, I would once again admire this red-ocher vintage car parked around the corner of the Hotel Condesa df, a white lightning bolt on both sides of the chassis, and forever motionless, its driver in laminated metal, blue suit and white gloves, ready to leave. Betsabeé Romero during Miami Art Basel Week 2018 (Photo: JC Agid) One of your sculptures

The car is for people, an object of extreme consumption, the extension of the body in movement. Here, it is brought back to its toy state, but on a human scale. The interior is made of sheet metal, as are the seats and the driver. There’s a big key on the outside of the car. If you turn it around, everything lights up: the headlights, the vehicle cabin and the music too, a song by Agustín Lara, Veracruz, that this immense 20th century composer had written when La Condesa became a very modern district of Mexico City.

J-CA: The automobile is at the core of your artistic creation. Last year, at the invitation of Art Paris, you installed a Jaguar car carried by bicycles in front of the Grand Palais. Your work on mobility and tires, some of which have been visible for several months on New York Avenue in Washington DC are now leaving brake marks behind. It must be an eerie feeling in Mexico City, a city that usually experiences endless traffic jams.

BR: The very meaning of the vehicle has always worried me and seeing them without movement fascinates me. More than 500,000 cars are parked indefinitely in Mexico in front of houses and buildings. Their owners don’t want to get rid of them.

Not to mention the immobility of cars stuck in traffic. When you don’t move, you’re thinking, you’re with yourself, you’re going through a crisis of thought. All these daily journeys in large cities, all this time spent in a car in slow motion, often stopped, time wasted, between home and work, between work and where we go afterwards, are all moments of intimacy and introspection for drivers and passengers. 

J-CA:Your artistic work confronts the world of consumption, a world that is evaporating. What does the crisis we are going through evoke in you?

This world revolving around consumption has reached an incredible frontier. Health, instead of being a human right, has become part of this world. It has become a luxury for people who have enough money to pay insurers and go to hospitals, for a world of pharmaceutical laboratories that sell drugs as if they were commodities, with the reinforcement of advertising to convince us. Healthcare is part of this irrational world. Even though we knew this pandemic was coming, the system was not preparing for this crisis.

J-CA: Did we remain blind to the threat?

And to nature’s signals. The H1N1 flu, which passed through Mexico, marks the beginning of the current situation. We knew that the next war would be a fight against a global health or a digital virus.

J-CA: Is it the very idea of the individual, of his ability to decide for himself in a democratic space, that is being challenged by this fight against Covid19?

De-Confined | Illustration by Marion Naufal (c) |You were born with the silver moon (by Agustín Lara)

A French philosopher, André Comte-Sponville, wrote that people should be given the right to die as they wish. Totally isolating the elderly is worse. Physical health is becoming the most important human being value. But that is not true either, physical health is not what is keeping us alive. We are not just a machine with a functioning heart. If health becomes an excuse to monitor us “inside” as well as “outside,” we could be entering a new form of obscurantism. 

J-CA: In Mexico City, as almost everywhere else in the world, the Covid pandemic19 has monopolized all eyes and efforts, first and foremost in hospital services. You too were hospitalized during this containment, but not because of the coronavirus.

BR: I had confined myself in the middle of the countryside, far from the city. One Sunday morning, a few hours after a lively sports and dance session with my mother, sister, daughter and niece, I felt a big pain in my stomach. I consulted a doctor over the phone. The diagnosis was muscular, and he prescribed me anti-inflammatory drugs. When I woke up the next day, the pain was frightening. I called a friend this time, a gastroenterologist. He ordered me to rush to a hospital reserved for non-Covid19 care. When I arrived, everything was already prepared: the auscultation, the operating theater, a room too. I had a major attack of appendicitis and narrowly avoided peritonitis.

If health becomes an excuse to monitor us “inside” as well as “outside,” we could be entering a new form of obscurantism. 

J-CA: I wonder how many people have become ill or did not get proper treatment in the last few weeks. What will we find out when the wave of containment recedes? What happened to the sick, the depressions, the sadness? The media almost gives us the impression that the world next door is holding its breath, suspended.

BR: We die today without being able to say goodbye. We arrive at the hospital in a serious state, we can no longer see anyone, we die, there is no mourning. It’s all over now. Even science fiction films and novels never imagined the suspension of funeral services. We didn’t prepare to live without saying goodbye, without closing the circle. We are not even allowed to see the body of the deceased.

Canto al Agua – Zocalo Día de Muertos Exhibition – 2016 (Photo: Betsabeé Romero)

Once dead, here, the body is cremated. What’s happening right now will leave a lasting wound on Mexican society. 

J-CA: You express yourself by writing poems, painting, creating sculptures, extraordinary installations in the cities and the countryside. How are you going to integrate this period in your art?

BR: It is important to work on artistic projects to accompany the collective mourning that will remain in our society for a long time. This experience, I hope, will bring us closer together. I have even already proposed a great tribute to the doctors and nurses who died because of Covid19. They are like soldiers in combat during a war. In Mexico, they suffered a lot. 

The conquistadors did not need military force to defeat the natives. Diseases took care of it and killed 90 per cent of the population.

J-CA: Mexicans have a different relationship with death and the funeral rite than we know in the Western world. You celebrate the deceased and experience a festive intimacy with mourning.

BR: It is a private relationship that can be collective. It is important to know that we are accompanied, that we all live through the same predicament. 

“Por Ellas Une Vela, Una Flor y Un Pan” – Casa Azul (Photo: Betsabeé Romero) The famous Día de Muertos.

It is because of situations similar to this pandemic that funeral celebrations have become very important in our culture. At the beginning of the 16th century, the Spaniards brought along with them syphilis, measles, smallpox and the plague. The conquistadors did not need military force to defeat the natives. Diseases took care of it and killed 90 per cent of the population. The Indians fell like insects. The Catholic Church, established along with the Spanish conquest, had to do something to help the survivors overcome their pain, a deep and infinite pain. It needed to embrace the Indian rituals, this celebration of the dead that transcended the centuries.

The Mexican tradition is much more cathartic in this respect than that of the Catholic religion.

J-CA: The Spaniards therefore did not want to break with the pre-Colombian cultural rites and, among other things, this multi-day’s celebration and offerings to the dead?

BR: The Spaniards had to tolerate the Aztec heritage: the family gatherings to revive those they loved; sharing their favorite meals and drinks; and making offerings to them on an altar. The church had nothing better to offer to help the Indians transcend their sadness, a sadness that prevented them from working. The Mexican tradition is much more cathartic in this respect than that of the Catholic religion.

J-CA: This tradition has grown even more at the beginning of the 20th century in a country that was, in fact, largely dominated by Catholicism. And this, thanks to an artist.

BR: The Mexican revolution in 1910 killed two million people in one decade, more than 10 per cent of the total population. It was at that time that Jose Guadalupe Posada, an engraver, created the Calavera Catrina and thus revived the iconography of the pre-Hispanic period. 

J-CA: The Catrina—a skeleton of a woman dressed in a French hat—symbolizes the Mexican indigenous population aspiration to adopt the Spanish and European bourgeoisie.

BR: The Catrina became the modern figure of the Days of the Dead and helped renew Aztec traditions.

We honor the life of the missing person, not its death. It is a very active, generous celebration.

“Por Ellas Une Vela, Una Flor y Un Pan” – Casa Azul (Photo: Betsabeé Romero) J-CA: This tradition has become even more important since the annual re-enactment of days of the dead in the historic district of Mexico City—a James Bond Movie and a cartoon, Coco, featured these celebrations. Last year, parties multiplied even in New York City and competed with Halloween. In 2016, for the first Diá de los Muertos on Zocalo Square, you were invited to create a giant installation of 113 altars, based on a rendering of small flat-bottomed boats, the trajineras.

BR: These celebrations are particularly important, whenever there are too many deaths in a world that should be rational and safe. After a deadly earthquake, an ongoing war between drug traffickers, a series of inexplicable deaths, mostly that of migrants or feminicides.

J-CA: The Mexican writer Octavio Paz wrote, ‘A civilization that denies death ends denying life’. Have we reached a point of denial that we are living beings and therefore mortal?

BR: Día de Muertos is playful. It is a tradition that offers those who want to participate a way to remember the people we have loved by remembering the dishes we have shared together, the books we read, the music we played or listened to, anything that made that person alive. We honor the life of the missing person, not its death. It is a very active, generous celebration. My grandmother used to make mole, cut paper flowers, and while she was cooking, she would tell us about our dead grandfather, even the way he danced. My installations are contemporary interpretations of these rites. I involve the spectators in this creation. It helps. That was the concept of my work in the Zocalo Square in 2016.

Patio at the house of Betsabeé Romero (Photo: JC Agid) J-CA: You created a similar installation in Frida Kahlo’s beautiful Blue House, Casa Azul, last October.

BR: This work was done in a museum, not in a public place or a park where everyone can make an offering. The museum context therefore restricted the artistic process, but this creation in the house of an icon of feminism was necessary and symbolic. The increase in femicides in Mexico over the last four years is tragic.

J-CA: According to the American think tank, Center for Strategic & International Studies, the increase is 145 per cent. Mexico comes second after Brazil for the number of women murdered because of their gender: 809 murders between January and October 2019!

BR: This is terrible. I thought Frida Kahlo’s house was a perfect place to pay tribute to all those women who died from the inconceivable violence of a man.

J-CA: These feminicides took place at a time when we could move freely. That is no longer the case today…

BR: The danger is extreme. Femicides during the pandemic are very high. Institutions helping women at risk seeking refuge for themselves and their children are receiving an increasing number of calls. Women are trying to escape from their homes and survive an abusive husband. 

It is inadmissible that this violence against women is not officially recognized.

J-CA: Almost 1000 femicides and infanticides since the beginning of the year according to several non-for-profit organizations, 163 femicides since the confinement started according to Marea Verde. Crimes go unpunished in 90 per cent of cases.

BR: These are men who are completely sick. Fragile beings are a material against which they can actuate all the violence contained within them. It is women and children who receive the blows.

J-CA: A violence, moreover, that is not recognized by the Mexican President, who admits the existence of machismo, but insists on the idea of a “family brotherhood” specific to your country, the ideal bulwark against violence.

BR: It is inadmissible that this violence against women is not officially recognized. These crimes, this suffering, are on the increase throughout the world during this period of isolation. How can the Mexican government deny that? We’re talking about a 30 per cent increase of violence against women. I have just signed a petition so that the urgency of this reality is recognized as lethal as the pandemic itself. More services should be put in place to protect women at risk today.

“Por Ellas Une Vela, Una Flor y Un Pan” Casa Azul (Photo: Betsabeé Romero) J-CA: You work in a very male-dominated sector. Your second installation in Frida Kahlo’s house evoked the success of Frida as a “painter” rather than as a “celebrity” in a Paris she did not like very much.

It is a little-known episode in Mexico. The public recognition of the artist Frida Kahlo and of her artwork is the result of a trip to France. It was not her husband, the painter Diego Rivera, who gave her this fame. Frida was of course all over the news because of her life, her suffering, her exotic beauty, but not because of her work. She travelled to Paris for the first and last time in January 1939, just before the Second World War. An exhibition was to be organized there by André Breton, but when Frida arrives, the surrealist movement is in full decadence and divided on the position to take on Trotsky, then exiled in Mexico. The exhibition was cancelled. Frida’s paintings, stuck at customs, were also slow to arrive. It is at this time that artists, among them Marcel Duchamp and his companion Mary Reynolds, fly to Frida’s rescue. It is art that saves her. It is art that finally allows her to exhibit her works.

J-CA: And to obtain, alone, the long-awaited recognition for her work?

Other Mexican artists are included in this exhibition, and among them Diego Rivera and Alvarez Bravo. But Frida is the one who receives public acclaim and praise from the great artists of the time, including Picasso and Dora Maar. Kandinsky, Miró, Yves Tanguy, Duchamp of course, Breton and his wife Jacqueline Lamba all attend on the day of the opening. Above all, the French government decides then to buy one of her works, a self-portrait—Le Cadre—for the Louvre collection, a first for a Latin American painter.

J-CA: It was not, however, Frida Kahlo’s first major exhibition.

She had just had a successful exhibition in New York at Julian Levy’s gallery. She sold paintings there but without being celebrated, as in Paris, by important personalities such as Picasso.

J-CA: In New York, she made a first forename for herself; in Paris, a last name?

BR: This trip made her appear as an artist in her own right. She travelled alone. When she returns to Mexico City, the first thing Diego, very angrily, asks for is a divorce.

Art has to be tasty.

J-CA: You live in a small house, also a mirror of your art, your own mini Casa Azul!

BR: My house sits right next to my studio. I found it by chance while going every day to my studio and visiting my parents. It was a house that had been abandoned for over 15 years. I was married at that time. We thought that we could reinvent this place.

Dinner at Betsabeé Romero (Photo: JC Agid) J-CA: It looks like an artistic installation, a particular universe, mixing a traditional Mexican design and your contemporary vision of lights and objects.

BR: In the chaos of Mexico City, a city you know well, the home is an essential refuge. It is very important to be able to isolate yourself in big cities. So, I needed an interior patio, to let daylight in, to shelter plants. With an architect friend of mine, we opened windows and invented this little courtyard. We added a small outdoor dining room, to confine ourselves there, within the city.

J-CA: I like this outer space in your home, its big round table. It is in this open room that you invite your guests to gather around a glass of mezcal or tequila, a few olives, waiting to be seated to eat. In the main dining room—and in the adjacent two lounges—we are also in the middle surrounded by your art. But your habitat is not a museum, rather a living installation.

When you are an artist, you have to test your works to see if they can accompany people. The way to do that is to live with them. That takes time. 

J-CA: And then there is the kitchen, which is busy, multicolored, with multiple flavors. A friend recently reminded me that Jackson Pollock had been a fine cook, he also expressed himself by inventing dishes. In your house too, Betsabeé, a meal is a feast. You are an outstanding cook. Kitchen at Betsabeé Romero (Photo: JC Agid)

It is all about cooking. Art is also about cooking. You have ideas, you have to simmer them, for a long time, patiently, add spices, bring out the hidden senses. Art has to be tasty.

J-CA: I can’t wait to come back to this house, to sit at your table. Perhaps one of your guests will sing Agustín Lara’s Veracruz, and then we will all be so happy to see each other again. In the meantime, here is your favorite version, performed by Toña La Negra. As the lyrics say: You were born—Betsabeé—with the silver moon
You were born with the soul of a pirate
You were born rumbero and jarocho
A troubadour, really

Jean-Christian Agid is a former French journalist and foreign correspondent. He is founder of 37EASTPR, a media and business development agency based in New York with clients in France, Mexico, and the United States. He is also a trustee on the Advisory Board of the American Friends of the Paris Opera.

Jean-Christian Agid
Kategorien: Jobs