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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

UNESCO

Club 44

Grand Hôtel Les Endroits 

TPR – L’Heure Bleue

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

La Maison Blanche : www.maisonblanche.ch

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

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 utopia3.ch and fifdh.org 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: www.global-geneva.com

Related articles in Global Geneva

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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.

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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.

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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?


BR:
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?


BR:
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)


BR:
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.


BR:
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?


BR:
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.


BR:
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.


BR:
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)


BR:
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

Coronavirus Stories: Letter from London. On the NHS Frontline with COVID fatigue

12. Mai 2020 - 12:39

Nurses clowning around during a much-needed break. (Photo: Ana Waddington)

Working in healthcare is never easy; but working through the Covid-19 pandemic takes all the usual stresses, strains and anxieties and amplifies them by a factor of ten.

This article is part of Global Geneva’s regular coverage of personal stories about the coronavirus crisis. A reminder: we make our content free worldwide in the public interest. If you like what we do, please support us.

The mood in my Accident & Emergency (A&E) department at an east London hospital is highly emotional. Apart from the heavy case load, we are also affected by the uncertainty of COVID-19. This includes having to defer those personal plans and hopes that can help to keep you going in the ever-strained atmosphere of a hospital emergency department.

Recently, a nurse I’d never met before broke down in our changing room because she had had to cancel a much-needed holiday break. “I really needed this holiday”, she said. “I’ve been saving up for a whole year”. Our most-used methods of coping have been stripped from us and we’re having to find different ways to manage.

The fear of spreading the virus to others is particularly acute for healthcare workers. A friend texted me to say that she’s terrified that she could cause the death of family members. She’s constantly disinfecting surfaces and cleaning. And she’s not the only one. I’m not looking forward to the next water bill, given the amount of time I spend washing my clothes and showering. As medical staff we feel that we should be constantly working, permanently manning the barricades. A colleague told me she feels “helpless” on her days off: she wants to go back to the hospital to help out.

Living in a different time zone

Much has been written about night shift anxiety; the sense of isolation and disconnect from wider society that comes with working nights. In the current emergency, these feelings are more acute, and they are not limited to night work. Healthcare workers are living different lives to most people.

It is like being in a different time zone or being a ghost in the normal world we inhabited until just recently. The world has turned into a Rorschach test and we’re seeing and experiencing things differently to everybody else. Nevertheless, the generosity of others is extremely precious in these times – the public demonstrations of support, such as the nightly applause and pot-banging in London, often move me to tears.

We know that, as healthcare professionals, we’ll have to make difficult decisions that we haven’t had to make before. We have to break terrible news to a patient without any of their family being present or make agonising calls on access to ventilators. As a result, we run the risk of ‘moral injury’ – the psychological damage from being forced to violate one’s moral values.

Giving a hug of comfort is no longer an option National Health Service (NHS) nurses at their hospital in the United Kingdom. (Photo: Ana Waddington)

The decisions are similar to those faced by soldiers or aid workers in war zones. There are likely to be cases of post-traumatic stress when this is all over. Recently, faced with a Covid-19 patient scared of dying, I could only smile behind my facemask and offer a gloved hand to calm her down: giving her a hug was not an option.

What can we do to keep ourselves functioning and healthy in these trying times? Many of the normal tricks used to confront the usual anxieties associated with healthcare work can’t be applied to Covid-related anxiety. A clinical psychologist I know says that teaching your mind not to become preoccupied with “wandering” thoughts is important.

“You’re doing enough. You are enough”

She recommends making a concerted effort not to focus on the negatives, absences and perceived service failings; not to let your mind drift to the things you aren’t doing, the social bonds you aren’t able to maintain, the news and information you aren’t keeping up with. Instead, try to focus on what you are doing, which is, as she and many others insist, amazing. She has a simple message: “You are doing enough. You are enough.”

At work, finding new methods of coping has become key. Ensuring we take time to ask each other if we are okay is crucial. With expressions obscured by masks, it’s become a vital new healthcare skill to be able to tell what emotions people are going through solely by looking at their eyes. Checking up on each other has become really important, and I’m particularly enjoying the new ways of being affectionate at work – elbow tap here, toe tap there.

With the help of friends and colleagues, I’ve added a few other techniques to the toolkit I’m using to help deal with Covid-19 anxiety.

Firstly, I’ve bought an alarm clock so that when I go to sleep, I can leave my phone in a different room. That way I’m more disconnected from the world when I’m resting, and less tempted to catch up on things if I wake up in the middle of the night. And when I do get up, I don’t open my eyes to a bombardment of push-up notifications, emails and frenzied messages.

Secondly, I make sure I do some form of exercise once a day – even if this means following a pre-recorded boxing class via a choppy video stream.

And finally, I make sure to properly relax during my time off by pencilling in some time for just sprawling on the sofa and watching rubbish TV. Just make sure that the new series doesn’t have a pandemic-related sub-plot before you get stuck into it.

This article (see link) was originally published on the ‘Don’t forget the bubbles’ Paediatric Medical Educational platform. 

Ana Waddington is a senior nurse in A&E at a major trauma hospital in London. Born in Chile to an English father and Spanish mother, she has lived in other countries notably Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Morocco and the UK.  After taking a history degree at SOAS, she worked in the charity sector and then trained as a nurse. She volunteers with NGO’s supporting refugees and has set up an organisation – Youthstance – to help young people affected by serious youth violence in London. Ana also writes for ‘Don’t Forget the Bubbles’, a paediatric medical education platform. 

Other related stories in Global Geneva Coronavirus Stories: Lessons from the roller coaster life of an Italian ICU nurse Pangolins and pandemics: digging for the roots of COVID-19 COVID-19 and climate change: the planet’s twin crises Coronavirus Stories: My Verbier Covid-19 Experience Coronavirus Stories: When uncomfortable becomes comfortable Coronavirus: Community participation and credible information: the core of any serious response COVID-19: Is the Swiss government engaged in false news and not doing its job? Impact investing and SDGs in the COVID-19 era: maths matters more than opinion
Kategorien: Jobs

Cinematic Street Photography: The definitive guide

10. Mai 2020 - 11:59
What is cinematic street photography?

Cinematic Street Photography is a street shot that looks like a frame from a movie. It’s a combination of letterbox crop, mood, aesthetic, colors and more that make the shot appear like a movie still.

The Inspired Eye is a media partner of Global Geneva. This is part of our Focus coverage of photographers and film-makers and their projects. A reminder: we make our content free worldwide in the public interest. If you like what we do, please support us. Your backing is crucial.

Unlike classical street photography that is shot in Black and white with large areas in focus (large depth of field), cinematic street photography is shot in color and also makes heavier use of shallow depth of field, meaning lots of blurry backgrounds (Bokeh)

Close up portrait of a woman, Korea (Photo: Olivier Duong) Why do cinematic street photography?

There’s a few good reasons to do cinematic street photography:

  • It is different than classical street photography, so if you shoot the classical style, this will allow you to expand your creativity and shoot in another way.
  • It is fun. Well, street photography IS fun by default, but nothing beats like feeling like a movie director walking down the streets. Plus, playing around the colors in post processing is really entertaining.
  • People “Get” it. Street photography is a bit hard to appreciate when it comes to the population at large. But cinematic street photography? People “Get” it right away. So don’t be surprised if your cinematic images get more traction than your regular street photography.
Busy street in Japan (Photo: Olivier Duong) How do I start cinematic street photography?

Unlike regular street photography that you can do with any camera, the cinematic style is a bit more involved. Not only in terms of processing, but also gear. It requires high end gear to achieve the movie look. But even if you don’t have access to high end cameras and lenses, you can still fake the look with software. So, here are the requirements:

  • Large sensor camera (4/3 sensor minimum)
  • Fast zoom lens or medium to short telephoto lens (2.8 minimum)
  • Lightroom (Or similar software)
  • Photoshop (Or similar software)

You will need to edit the images to look cinematic after shooting them,there is no way around that, that is why Lightroom or other image editing software is a must.
Why do you need photoshop? Because Lightroom doesn’t really support the layers feature needed to add the letterbox around the frame.

Cinematic portrait (Photo: Olivier Duong)

If your camera has good ISO you can mix in night street photography for extra moody shot.

Getting the cinematic street photography look

Like I said above, the process to making cinematic street photography is a bit more involved. Here’s the overview:

  • Shoot cinematic subject
  • With classical cinematic composition
  • Edit your colors
  • Crop and add letterbox

So, now that you’ve got your gear and you know what’s involved, it’s time to head for the streets. 

Find a cinematic subject

Some subjects just scream “cinema” more than others. So go and look for those subjects that you think will translate the best as a cinematic subject based on movies you’ve seen.

Then shoot the subject in a cinematic fashion

How many movies have you seen? Recall some of the greatest shots you’ve seen on screen and get inspired by the composition you’ve seen. You’ve probably seen a photo of someone in a subway like the image below in Japan:

Moody train (Photo: Olivier Duong)

Part of what makes a shot look like a movie still is the composition, so get inspired by the movies you’ve seen and translate that composition to your shots. Pay extra attention to the light, movie directors have light technicians behind them but you don’t!

What settings?

It depends on the shot you have, but remember that movies use a lot of blurring of the background so your aperture will have to be as high as it can from 1.8 to 2.8. Don’t be afraid to go telephoto,it really adds to the effect. Make sure you shoot RAW so that you have maximum capabilities to stretch the image in Lightroom.


Once you have your shots, and you look at the back of your camera, you will be disappointed for sure. Why? Because the images look so bland, normal and un-movie like! That’s normal because images don’t look movie-like just like that. They need to be worked on and processed.

Businessmen walking down the street, Japan (Photo: Olivier Duong) Processing your images

Once you have your shots, it’s time for the fun to begin. When you look at movies they actually never look like real life. They have been processed to look a certain way.

  • Fire up Lightroom and play around with the colors. You will want to focus on the clarity, contrast, saturation, toning and curves panel. These are mostly where the magic happen, especially with the last two.
Adjust your colors to taste in the curves panel
  • Crop your photo in a letterbox size
  • Once you are done, export your photo.Then fire up Photoshop (There are ways to do this online for free) and make a blank file with a black background.
  • Place your letterbox image inside and that’s it, you have the complete look.
  • When playing around with the colors you will probably find some looks that you would like to use again and again. That’s when you use presets where you can save that look for another time.
  • There is cool Flickr group to put your images in
before and after processing your photographs Cinematic street photography: Conclusion

There you have it. The keys to making street photography look like movie stills is both in camera (cinematic subject & composition) and in Post processing (especially with the curves panel).

This article originally appeared here: Cinematic street photography

Olivier Duong is a French-Haitian-Vietnamese street photographer, graphic designer and author. He is the co-creator of Inspired Eye, a website about street photography that publishes a street photography magazine. IE’s mission is to make better images trough the eye, heart and mind.

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Kategorien: Jobs

Covid-19 : Comment protéger les migrants et requérants d’asile ?

9. Mai 2020 - 7:09

Le 31 mars, 2020, le Secrétaire général de l’ONU Antonio Guterres lançait un rapport sur l’impact socioéconomique du Covid-19, notant que « le monde fait face à une épreuve sans précédent ». Avec les sociétés en plein bouleversement et les économies en chute libre, le plus haut responsable onusien l’affirme : Le moment de vérité est arrivé. « Nous devons réagir de manière décisive, innovante et ensemble afin d’endiguer la propagation du virus et répondre à la dévastation socioéconomique qu’il provoque dans toutes les régions ». 

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

Dans une déclaration conjointe, le Haut-Commissariat aux droits de l’homme (HCDH), le Haut-Commissariat pour les réfugiés (HCR), l’Organisation internationale pour les migrations (OIM) et l’Organisation mondiale de la Santé (OMS) ont appelé les gouvernements de tous les pays à assurer un accès équitable aux services de santé pour les réfugiés, les migrants et les personnes apatrides, ajoutant que ces derniers doivent être intégrés aux plans nationaux de réponse au Covid-19, en ce qui concerne la prévention, le traitement et le dépistage. Les migrants et les réfugiés étant disproportionnellement vulnérables à l’exclusion, à la stigmatisation et à la discrimination, notamment lorsqu’ils sont sans papiers. La protection des droits et de la santé de toutes les personnes sera essentielle pour aider à contrôler la propagation du virus.

Faisant écho à l’appel des organisations onusiennes, le débat en ligne organisé par le Club suisse de la presse le 29 avril a souligné l’urgence d’assurer la protection de migrants et réfugiés sur le plan sanitaire et de garantir que leurs droits essentiels soient respectés.

Gillian Triggs, Haut-Commissaire adjointe du Haut-Commissariat des Nations Unies pour les Réfugiés (HCR) en charge de la protection internationale et ancienne présidente de la commission des droits de l’Homme australienne, a évoqué le 70ème anniversaire de la Convention sur les réfugiés qui stipule le droit d’accès pour demander l’asile et celui de ne pas être forcé de retourner dans des lieux dangereux. Il y a deux ans, la communauté internationale avait en outre décidé de partager les risques et le fardeau inhérent à l’arrivée de réfugiés et requérants d’asile aux portes de l’Europe. « C’est dans cet environnement légal qu’a lieu la crise due au coronavirus, qui, si elle est sanitaire, est aussi une crise socio-économique pour la protection des personnes les plus vulnérables et qui les discrimine ».

Abordant la situation dans des points chauds, elle a notamment cité la région du Sahel. « L’urgence du Covid-19 s’ajoute à des situations d’urgence constantes dans les pays de l’Afrique subsaharienne dues aux changements climatiques, aux conflits, à la pauvreté et à des systèmes de santé fragilisés. La situation des Rohingyas du Myanmar qui cherchent protection nous préoccupe également. Sans oublier la Grèce et ses centres de réception surchargés dans les îles. Et finalement l’Amérique centrale et la Colombie, où quelques cinq millions de personnes ayant fui le Venezuela cherchent une protection ».

La Grèce en point de mire

Gianluca Rocco, le chef de mission en Grèce de l’Organisation mondiale pour les migrations (OIM), a estimé que la situation a un peu changé par rapport à ce qu’elle était il y a quelques mois, au moment de la crise entre l’Union européenne (UE) et la Turquie, lorsqu’un grand nombre de personnes tentaient d’entrer dans l’espace de l’UE. « Il y a eu une forte réaction de la Grèce pour tenter de fermer ses frontières et nous faisons face maintenant à la pandémie du Covid-19. La combinaison de ces deux facteurs a limité le nombre des arrivants en Grèce. En avril, nous n’avons pratiquement pas eu d’arrivées en provenance de Turquie ».

Le représentant de l’OIM a précisé que depuis le début de l’année, 7’000 personnes sont entrées en Grèce. « Avant, nous avions environ 2000 arrivants par mois. Nous comptons 40’000 personnes sur les îles grecques installées dans des camps prévus pour 10’000 personnes. Nous n’avons pas de cas de Covid-19 parmi la population réfugiée dans les îles. Nous avons commencé à sortir les personnes les plus vulnérables des camps pour les placer temporairement dans des logements ».

La situation est un peu différente dans le reste de la Grèce, où les migrants sont logés dans des appartements et 6’000 migrants sont temporairement hébergés dans des hôtels et dans des camps. « Dans un des hôtels nous avons détecté, il y a dix jours, 150 cas de Covid-19 et dans deux de ces camps, nous avons détectés environ 200 personnes positives asymptomatiques au Covid-19 qui ne nécessitaient pas de soutien médical. L’OIM travaille en étroite collaboration avec le gouvernement grec », a déclaré Gianluca Rocco.

« Avec ou sans coronavirus, la situation des migrants en Méditerranée centrale est horrible »

Caroline Abu Sa’Da, directrice de SOS Méditerranée Suisse, une organisation non gouvernementale créée en 2015 pour porter assistance aux réfugiés tentant de rejoindre des terres d’asile européennes par la mer au péril de leur vie, met en exergue la difficulté d’avoir des statistiques précises. « A Marseille, depuis quelques semaines, deux bateaux humanitaires ont pris des personnes à bord. Elles ont été ensuite débarquées pour la quarantaine, mais il n’y a de facilités ni pour porter secours en mer Méditerranée ni pour témoigner de ce qui s’y passe. Nous savons que la situation en Libye n’est pas meilleure. Le conflit continue. Des cas de Covid-19 ont été constatés et la situation sanitaire était très précaire avant le début de la pandémie ».

Le beau temps favorise les départs mais il n’y a pas de conditions d’accès pour recevoir celles et ceux qui partent, explique Caroline Abu Sa’Da. « Nous n’avons pas de chiffres précis concernant les départs. Beaucoup de gens sont portés disparus. C’est probablement le pire scénario que nous pouvions imaginer dans cette zone. Des témoignages affirment que de nombreuses personnes se trouvaient dans les camps de détention en Libye et qu’elles y sont toujours. Comme l’a dit M. Rocco, le problème n’est pas le Covid-19, mais ce sont les conditions dans les camps de détention, car les deux mètres de distance requis pour tenter de freiner la pandémie du Covid-19 ne sont de toute façon pas respectés. Dans les camps de détention en Libye, les conditions sont horribles. La torture et les mauvais traitements continuent. Avec ou sans le Covid-19, les gens sont piégés dans les camps de détention où ils devraient avoir accès à des soins ».

Gillian Triggs ajoute que les chiffres dont le HCR dispose par rapport aux personnes qui tentent d’arriver de Libye sont en augmentation. « Les passeurs trouvent maintenant des voies d’arrivée à travers les îles Canaries. Nous voudrions avoir une réponse cohérente et une approche commune de la part des pays de l’Union européenne concernant le débarquement des personnes dans des ports sûrs ».

Etienne Piguet, professeur à L’université de Neuchâtel, spécialiste des politiques d’asile suisse et européenne, vice-président de la Commission fédérale des migrations à Berne, a mentionné l’arrivée récente de mineurs non accompagnés dans les îles grecques et l’admission de quelques-uns de ces jeunes en Suisse. « Si le chiffre n’est pas très élevé, il montre que lorsque l’on se met d’accord, il est possible de sauver des gens. Mais le Covid-19 n’a pas changé le paradigme. La pandémie a exacerbé des situations qui étaient déjà là. La tendance est à la fermeture, à l’égoïsme des groupes nationalistes et à la possibilité pour des groupes populistes d’instrumentaliser la question des migrations pour leurs objectifs politiques et argumenter qu’une fermeture stricte des frontières est nécessaire ».

La crise du Covid-19 reflète la difficulté des pays de l’Union européenne à s’accorder sur une responsabilité partagée concernant l’accueil des personnes en quête de protection. Gillian Triggs mentionne « le cauchemar » que serait une explosion de cas de Covid-19 parmi les requérants d’asile dans les camps où la situation est épouvantable. « Le HCR met en place des plans pour venir en aide aux personnes contaminées, en prévoyant des hôpitaux avec la distanciation nécessaire ».

La représentante du HCR cite l’Afrique où les cas de contamination et de morts du Covid-19 sont relativement bas. « Le continent africain a l’expérience de l’épidémie d’Ebola. Nous pouvons apprendre de leur expérience. Mais il ne faut pas oublier que la distance de deux mètres et le lavage des mains sont difficiles dans des camps surchargés. L’une des priorités des 400 bureaux du HCR sur le terrain est de distribuer, à travers les communautés et les ONG, du savon, du matériel hygiénique et de l’eau, et rendre les personnes attentives à l’importance des mesures à prendre ».

Photo: UNHCR L’indécision politique de l’Union européenne

La question des camps bondés sur les îles grecques est politique et elle illustre l’incapacité des pays de l’UE à faire front commun concernant les mesures à prendre non seulement sur les îles grecques mais plus généralement aux frontières de l’Europe pour l’accueil des migrants. « La Grèce a mis en œuvre un plan dans les camps concernant le Covid-19 qui est assez bon », estime Gianluca Rocco. Le représentant de l’OIM ne passe pas sous silence la difficulté, dans les camps, de convaincre certaines communautés de se faire tester. « Dans les communautés africaines, certains ne comprennent pas l’importance de tester les gens, car ces personnes n’ont pas l’impression d’être malades. Elles sont sceptiques et ne veulent pas aller en quarantaine. La question est : doit-on faire intervenir la police pour garder les gens en quarantaine ou doit-on mieux expliquer les risques et prouver que la quarantaine est une mesure efficace pour eux et pour ceux qui vivent avec eux ».

Qu’en est-il de la maltraitance dans les camps ? « Ce que je peux témoigner c’est que dans les 32 camps en Grèce, les gens ne sont ni maltraités, ni isolés », affirme Gianluca Rocco. « Ils sont relativement libres de se mouvoir, du moins à l’intérieur des camps. Nous devons au contraire leur demander de restreindre leurs mouvements et de limiter les contacts avec les autres groupes ».

La honte de l’Europe, livre de Jean Ziegler, pour une « insurrection des consciences »

Le sociologue suisse Jean Ziegler, membre du comité consultatif du Conseil de droits de l’Homme de l’ONU, utilise un langage moins aseptisé que celui de la diplomatie et des organisations internationales pour décrire la situation des camps de requérants d’asile et autres migrants, notamment sur l’île grecque de Lesbos où il a effectué un voyage d’étude en mai 2019. Dans son livre Lesbos, la honte de l’Europe (paru au Seuil en janvier 2020), le sociologue et ancien membre du Parlement suisse témoigne des « conditions sanitaires et nutritionnelles effroyables » dans lesquelles sont parqués hommes, femmes, enfants et vieillards qui ont fui les guerres ou les violences en Syrie, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran et Libye notamment.

Dans son dernier ouvrage, Jean Ziegler ne témoigne pas seulement des conditions de survie des requérants d’asile et autres migrants. Son constat est plus profond. Il rappelle par exemple le contexte dans lequel se trouvait la Grèce, étranglée par les créanciers internationaux face à sa dette économique colossale, lorsqu’elle a dû faire face à l’afflux des migrants. Il mentionne aussi l’importance de la force de frappe des lobbyistes de l’armement, très efficaces à Bruxelles. Puisque, selon les prévisions de l’Union Européennes, les postes de ses instances liées aux migrants et à la sécurité des frontières de l’Europe verront leurs budgets augmenter considérablement. Sans oublier que « la « sécurisation des frontières » assure aux marchands d’armes des profits faramineux, aux frais du contribuable européen, écrit Jean Ziegler.

Si les mots ont encore un poids, son livre est un coup de massue. La description des conditions de vie des requérants d’asile et des migrants dans les camps officiels ou « non officiels » est effarante : terreur, angoisse, tragédies, maladies, traumatismes psychologiques, manque d’eau, pénurie de nourriture ou aliments avariés, absence de toilettes, de douches, de médicaments et de médecins, crèches et écoles inexistantes, harcèlement et parfois viols subis par de nombreuses femmes et des mineurs au plus profond de la nuit. Désespoir de nombreux enfants « qui s’automutilent ou tentent de se suicider ». Après avoir fui leurs pays ravagés par les conflits, les bombardements, la misère ou subi tortures, privations et humiliations dans les geôles ou les camps en Libye notamment, avant de subir le calvaire imposé par des passeurs sans scrupules qui les ont dépouillés de leurs dernières ressources pour la traversée en mer dans des embarcations de fortune, les requérants d’asile et autres survivants déchantent vite après leur arrivée tumultueuse dans les îles grecques ou italiennes ou, plus tragique encore, en Bosnie-Herzégovine, Etat meurtri par la guerre dans les années 90 et où les conditions de survie des nouveaux arrivants sont effroyables.

Injuste, voire sévère Jean Ziegler face à l’impuissance de l’ONU et de ses entités qui œuvrent sur les terrains de souffrance ou envers une Union européenne tétanisée par la montée en puissance des partis ou dirigeants xénophobes, nationalistes ou racistes dans nombre de pays qui la composent ? Pourfendeur d’une certaine hypocrisie assurément. Le membre éminent et turbulent du comité consultatif du Conseil des droits de l’Homme, ne manque toutefois pas de souligner le travail des fonctionnaires et travailleurs internationaux qui œuvrent sur le terrain. Ainsi que les efforts des ONG et de la société civile en général qui démontrent une belle solidarité envers les migrants. Et, pour la pratiquer depuis des années, Jean Ziegler sait que l’Organisation des Nations Unies est corsetée par le bon vouloir politique de ses Etats membres quant au paiement de leurs cotisations qui permettent la mise en œuvre des programmes d’aide aux personnes les plus vulnérables.

Si Jean Ziegler fustige notamment les Européens, c’est pour leur rappeler que l’Europe et les autres pays occidentaux avaient clamé : « Plus jamais ça », après les horreurs de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale. « L’Union européenne est une construction démocratique. Or, il n’y a pas d’impuissance de principe à la démocratie. Nous, citoyennes et citoyens, détenons le pouvoir de la honte. C’est à nous de renverser les rapports de force. Nous devons mobiliser l’opinion publique, organiser notre combat. Déclarer la guerre à la stratégie de la terreur qui détruit les bases morales de l’Europe. Nous, peuples d’Europe, devons imposer la cessation immédiate des versements européens aux Etats anti-réfugiés. Partout sur le continent, nous devons obtenir le strict respect du droit universel de l’homme à l’asile », conclut-il.

Trois liens pour en savoir plus
  1. Club suisse de la presse : https://pressclub.ch/covid-19-comment-proteger-les-refugies-ultra-vulnerables/

2. Jean Ziegler, émission Géopolitis (RTS et TV5Monde):

3. Caroline Abu Sa’Da, invitée de La Matinale (RTS)

Related articles in Global Geneva Letter from Sicily: The Mediterranean – the World’s most Deadly Anti-Refugee ‘Wall’   International Geneva: Not just a hub but a global reality Impact investing and SDGs in the COVID-19 era: maths matters more than opinion The Sergio Vieira de Mello Academic Consortium: Good practice for refugee integration Coronavirus: Community participation and credible information: the core of any serious response COVID-19: The need for global solidarity and cooperation Peace building in the time of Coronavirus Kurdistan: After such knowledge, what forgiveness?   Letter from Cox’s Bazar: Burma’s Rohingya – A people in need of citizenship, not sympathy The U.N.’s Michael Møller: Placing International Geneva on the global frontline
Kategorien: Jobs

Impact investing and SDGs in the COVID-19 era: maths matters more than opinion

6. Mai 2020 - 3:00

It has become a hoary cliché in many U.N. halls that the Chinese characters for crisis include both disaster and opportunity. Our interpretation of the Chinese may be due to wishful thinking and grossly inaccurate. But the international community’s response to COVID-19 needs to show it is ready to embrace both possible senses.

The reality with COVID-19 is that, even prior to the pandemic, the SDGs were already $3 trillion short per annum. These are UNCTAD’s figures and are up from $2.5 trillion, with some SDGs such as water and sanitation in retreat. What this means is that we are nowhere near – and probably never were – completing our targets by 2030. To get an idea of how far we are falling behind, we should understand that the World Trade Organization estimates total international trade at $26 trillion before the pandemic, rendering the SDG gap before COVID-19 at a crippling 11 per cent.

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With the likely collapse of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), whereby funds from one country are invested in another, the SDGs will probably fall short by $4 trillion a year. If we ever believed that the $350 billion pledged by the United Nations and various development finance institutions (DFIs) (including the World Bank and large foundations’ donations as ‘strategic’ subsidies) were going to even begin to fill the multi-trillion dollar SDG gap, then we are seriously deluded. It assumes no one is paid from these subsidies and none of the bread and butter business is done and that the whole $350bn is then leveraged at ten times. It is thus a mathematical fact, and not opinion, that we will fail with the current strategy. 

Accessible water supplies are vital for refugees, such as these Burmese Rohingya in Bangladesh. But access to clean water and sanitation as guaranteed by SDG 6 should be available to all, no matter where. But will the world be even close to this goal by 2030? (Photo: UNICEF) Crisis = Disaster: The shortfall in financing the SDGs and beyond

Why? Even assuming that the SDG gap has been correctly calculated, such a conjecture was always highly questionable. It is comprised by a range of figures with a fudge on various related issues in the hundreds of billions of dollars. These include climate accounting, the anti-microbial resistance threat, resource utilization, unfunded structural pension and health liabilities in the G20 countries, not to mention ‘black swan’ events (unpredicted disruptions as rare as black swans) such as COVID-19. 

With COVID-19, many hearken to the possibilities of a mindset ‘shift’ once we are back up and running. It is not just the utopians who see this, but the cynics, too. Both agree that western balance sheets will at best go back to 2008 levels. In terms of debt-to-GDP, we’re talking of 10 per cent or more, plus unemployment at 15 per cent coupled with the strong possibility of populist-enforced cuts in foreign aid.

Nor do interest rates, which are at pre-crash 200-year lows, offer much hope for inciting greater firepower in monetary policy.

There are other concerns, such as structural weakness and populist responses. Italy had to battle with the European Union for facemasks, and Fitch recently downgraded Italy to one notch above ‘junk’ status due to the coronavirus impact. France adopted a policy of requisitioning masks, including the reported seizure of four million Swedish ones also intended for Italy and Spain. For its part, Germany banned their export.

For those in finance, it is no surprise that investors are reluctant to stand up in this environment.  How can we expect this to work with an impact investment ecosystem focused on the developing world faced by the probable decline of government subsidies? The financial meltdown (currently deemed to be worse than in 1987 or indeed, as some say, 1933) will also very likely reduce traditional foundation funding. 

In the developing world, any impact investment strategy based on venture capital and private equity approaches is bound to be killed off when COVID-19 hits with full force in Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. It will kill off most investment opportunities and overwhelm social infrastructure if responses are akin to what we have seen in the West.  At best, we can expect distortions to the health system as recently demonstrated by Ebola. Not only are certain lockdown figures dubious, but it will prove even harder to fathom the consequences on vast swathes of the shadow and informal economies

People in a market area set up in front of badly damaged buildings following the January 2010 earthquake in downtown Port-au-Prince. Some 300,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, making 1.6 million people homeless. This was followed by cholera and Hurricane Matthew causing even more death and destructiion. (Photo: UNICEF) The United Nations’ “Plan”

Given that tiny Haiti has sought $9 billion (much of whose pledged funding has yet to arrive), coupled with the scope of the pandemic, the first question must be: is this a sufficient response? Government development banks are promising a few billion dollars to mirror support to the developing world promised by western economies. Yet, there is a danger that as with Haiti and Ebola, much proposed backing will end up as too little, too late. Much will be unaccountable, or worse, lost to corruption and poor distribution at both ends.

OCHA, the main humanitarian coordinating agency of the UN, has the mandate for co-ordinating the response to disasters yet the COVID plan was put together by the Inter Agency Standing Committee. There is no budget for OCHA , leaving suspicions that the response will be siloed. For those with experience inside such agencies, the replication and redundancy of effort across fiefdoms makes the plot of Game of Thrones look like a friendly exercise in collective action.  

Disinfecting for COVID-19. (Photo: UN) Transparency far more effective than castigation

This is perhaps the only point whereby President Trump’s WHO chastisement can claim a glimmer of merit. By losing a significant lifeline, the Geneva-based health agency may actually have to find a long-lost “RESET” button. Most of us, however, believe more in the power of multilateral dialogue and action than the ‘benefits’ of institutional castigation or blame-shifting. It doesn’t help that those same agencies recently suffered major funding problems, resulting in lifts and fountains being turned off at the UN Geneva HQ.

Transparent dialogue regarding funding allocations serves the world best. This is being done to an extent, but history shows that these organizations do not always welcome unfettered openness. Where in all this kerfuffle is the strategic framing that is supposed to create cost efficiency? Or the tax and governance approaches designed to avoid large-scale silo replication? Where are the resilience structures and planning for data integrity and the accountable delivery of funds, the feedback loops from the community themselves and data frames that are competitive and comparative? And yet, the need for such precautions should surely have been clear from earlier disasters.  

The good news is that there is at the moment a small but important group of individuals and institutions in Geneva attempting to align incentives and strategies, even creating the specifics of termsheets for ‘response’ facilities, to be used as catalyst for Swiss DFIs.  There has also been news of a seminal articulation of the necessary alignment between those in the formidable microfinance community here in Geneva, which has been heartening.  These are honourable attempts to shatter the status quo, though it is a bit like trying to break a glass ceiling with a chopstick from the perspective of the whole global ‘systems challenge’.

For impact investors – especially those who work directly in countries where they seek to make a difference, insurance and financial tools for resiliency should be built into the frame (though recent World Bank actions with Pandemic Bonds in this regard give little comfort) to protect against new crises, including possible second or even third waves of COVID. We must leverage existing solutions as opposed to continually rebuilding projects in small-scale silos where expensive overheads become embarrassing.  Resilient planning tools and solutions are critical.  As is guaranteeing alignment of the $9 trillion in local capital markets to meet social purposes and development.  Equally important, we have to collectively create a governance framework that – instead of cannibalizing funding of existing health infrastructures – create re-usable architecture.

Failure to mitigate global warming in the earth’s polar regions, such as here in Greenland, will affect the entire planet causing ocean surges, the disappearance of islands, and the flooding of major cities ranging from Bangkok to New York. (Photo: Greenland Tourism) Lessons from the recent past

The blunt reality is that the historical track record of responses to major health crises has not been good. Ebola in West Africa, for example was characterized by delays that initially cost millions, but soon morphed into billions. Funds simply disappeared, 35 per cent in Sierra Leone alone. In Haiti, there was the usual siloed response. The follow-on cholera, which infected half a million and killed 8000, was in turn, denied, covered up and then – when exposed – resulted in key players declaring ‘sovereign immunity’.

This same scenario risks being played out once more. Yet this time, the consequences could prove massive. COVID-19 is spreading in a U.S. election year with a populist President seeking a scapegoat.  This, along with several scandals, is having profound implications for the political and moral legitimacy of the multilateral institutions, of which international Geneva is not only an integral member but a leader. Let us not forget why the Geneva-based League of Nations also failed.

One only need explore some of the highly critical responses by a normally sympathetic western press (See where did the Haiti earthquake money go? and aid agencies fail with cholera). Or reports that the 170 cases of paedophilia in UN Peacekeeping were ignored along with the apparent firing of whistle-blowers in multiple UN agencies. This is not to speak of  various profoundly unpleasant regimes chairing the UN’s Gender or Human Rights Councils in Geneva.  The problem is compounded by organizational responses to crisis that place further layers of audit onto an overworked bureaucracy already constrained by politics  and outmoded employment practises. It doesn’t take much to imagine what the likes of Fox News could say.

If lessons from the last four years show how easily the Paris Accord on climate mitigation can be ditched, environmental rules shattered, and basic legislation protecting responsible and sustainable stewardship of land removed, it is evident that we need a complete re-design of the current development paradigm. We need to stop pretending.

What currently exists is the exact opposite of what one is taught at business school. We’re dealing with an outdated sector marked by high marginal cost coupled with low marginal revenue with very few annuity models that are scalable.  All of this has been essentially financed in silos by a non-profit foundation sector built on the logic of a model that dates back to the start of the last century, created notably by the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations but in a model with their balance sheets unaligned to social purpose.  Donor governments are also caught up in a never-ending paradigm that simply has not got the capital to solve the real issues at hand.

Crisis = Opportunity

COVID-19 has made crystal clear in a matter of three weeks what all those years of long arguments have failed to achieve: the high costs of inaction on social issues in the mainstream economy. Ironically, this has a new silver lining: the pandemic has clarified the importance of the delta (the rate) of improvement.  People want to know where something is working, and how fast. We can now see where change is happening and to whose benefit. It also poses a global question: what kind of normal will we return to?

As the Chair of the International Accounting Standards Board recently noted, the current approach “will not prioritize planet over profit.” What is important for both sides of the for-profit and not-for-profit divide is not what people are saying – but what they already doing to be socially impactful. What are we paying for?  And what is the incremental impact of each government or corporate dollar to each SDG? In other words, we need a metrics process whereby everyone is seriously involved and stakeholder actions are competitive, comparative and predictive.

At the UN level, there is a COVID plan with $2.1 billion committed by five major agencies until December 2020. This is designed to deliver essential testing equipment and medical supplies to treat people; install hand washing stations in camps and settlements; launch public information campaigns; and establish airbridges and hubs to move humanitarian workers and support to where they are needed most.

If not, we will continue to witness a decline in both the effective statistics measuring the SDGs as well as the effectiveness of programmes designed to serve them, with an expansion of the funding gap. The danger is that by 2030 the international community will have spent $6 trillion with little to show, particularly to teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s generation.

The Greta generation (Swedish activist Greta Thunberg – second from left – and other children) have the right to worried about the international community’s inaction regarding climate change. It is their future which is at stake. (Photo: UN)

If there is a compelling case to do exactly what the UN Secretary General has called for, it is the urgent need to price the externalities, that is the benefits (positive externalities) and costs (negative externalities) to third parties (often to society as a whole) from an economic activity by those who undertake it. Social interventions have to be stacked up against an objective, transparent global calculation of the problem’s scope (and cost).

The good news is that these externalities have been priced by a range of stakeholders. The World Bank, WHO and UNICEF have estimated that in water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), negative externalities are valued at half a trillion dollars annually.  Accenture noted $1 of education investment in India leads to a future economic value of $52. Stop TB calculated that $1 spent creates $45 of economic benefits. These are the kinds of input and outcome ratios we are talking about.

The dynamic data practices of Google, Facebook and Amazon are already part of our daily lives. The same data models need to be applied to development and SDGs, gathering enough information in real time to increase management effectiveness and at all levels so as to be predictive of their impact.  In their absence, we have the status quo:  we all do our work in thousands of concurrent bilateral siloes thinking that the transaction costs we are incurring in the process are acceptable. They are not.

Once you determine a future cash flow (in this case the economic value of the social intervention), the new model we need, with programme-related investment (PRI) from foundations stimulating broader collaboration and partnership, operates like any other investment model. The basic legal architecture for this was created and approved by the US Congress in 1969, defining how to integrate subsidies into a for-profit framework.  From the metrics point of view, this is not difficult. It is basically the same model that drives most aspects of our lives outside the development world. This is what the rest of the economy has already done. It is time to apply it to development.

The international community needs to move beyond talking and ineffective action if the SDGs are to meet their 2030 goals. (PhotoL UN)

This is where both international Geneva and Switzerland can come into their own. They need to start asking how they can build and benefit from such a framework in their development work. We have a unique opportunity today, and reflecting the work of 22 cross sectoral organisations, several of us wrote about this in a paper Billions to Trillions two years ago to create a better-designed systemic approach. The answer lies in competitive collaboration within win-win structures, not siloed solutions which cannibalize each other in the face of a declining funding base.    

As we sit in the cafes in the Old City or the Palais des Nations in Geneva, we should be talking about building bridges between the UN and the investment community. We should also be talking about the metric, legal, networks, fiduciary, tax and financial framing necessary to connect such innovation to capital that sits in this country’s well-entrenched silos – and can serve as a global hub. 

International Switzerland needs to move beyond well-meaning talk. But for this to happen, we need to be clear as to what deters commercial and financial players from engaging. Quite simply, most development projects are less than $100m. If you want large scale capital and solutions, then commitments have to be above this. As it stands, mathematically we cannot succeed in funding the actions that will ultimately justify the international institutions in Geneva based on status quo:  dribs and drabs of small projects and programmes supporting entrepreneurship here and there without tying it all together and thinking “full scale”.

With the founding of the Red Cross in 1863 and the League of Nations in 1920 – both the result of massive blood-spilling on the battlefields of Europe – Geneva became the key to the world’s multilateral bridge. Will we now have the courage and the imagination to move ahead? The alternative is already proving disastrous.

Arthur Wood is a former investment banker specializing in product development and change management who joined Ashoka in the US as a Leadership Group Member and is credited with the creation of the Social Impact Bond and the first blended-value model. His current focus, involving 22 organizations in metrics, legal, finance and systems thinking, is how to integrate existing and newly built processes to propel collaboration and scale in development to deliver the SDGs and to provide the plumbing to supply social organizations with access to  large-scale capital, a concept called Blue Equity.

Both the editors and Arthur Wood would like to provide specific thanks to members of the International Geneva community for their intellectual input into this article and to the global players the Geneva brand can help convene in turning a crisis into a systemic opportunity. In Geneva, Audrey Selian of Rianta Capital and the Artha network and Gib Bulloch, a Global Geneva contributor and formerly of Accenture Development Partners ; in London Fredrik Galtung of Truefootprint and Michael Green of Social Progress Imperative and in Norway Alf Martin Johansen of Induct Software

Related articles in Global Geneva COVID-19 and climate change: the planet’s twin crises The U.N.’s Michael Møller: Placing International Geneva on the global frontline Peace building in the time of Coronavirus A new journalism platform: Are we missing the point of International Geneva? International Geneva: Not just a hub but a global reality Letter from Cox’s Bazar: Burma’s Rohingya – A people in need of citizenship, not sympathy Project 1800: Saving the SDGs – and the world The United Nations should be supporting – not blocking – independent journalism. Climate Crisis: The Race No One is Winning Multilateralism under Siege: Would the World Be Better without the UN? Pangolins and pandemics: digging for the roots of COVID-19 Crowdfunding the books you want, and disrupting big business
Kategorien: Jobs

COVID-19 and climate change: the planet’s twin crises

1. Mai 2020 - 11:08

Across the globe, humanity is now confronting twin planetary crises: COVID-19 and climate change. The first was sudden – but not unexpected; the second has been in the making for generations. As a two-front war, they are both scientific realities and threaten human existence. Together, they require global response. No country can deal with these two crises on its own.

This is part of Global Geneva’s regular coverage of international Geneva themes with an emphasis on science, diplomacy and law. A reminder: we make our content free worldwide. If you like what we do, please support us.

There is nothing new about pandemics or, in many cases, epidemics. (See William Dowell’s article on the possible origin of COVID-19) They have occurred many times in the past ranging from the Plague of Athens in 430 BC, which killed an estimated 100,000 people, and the Black Death in the 14th century which travelled from Asia to wipe out close to half the population in Eurasia and North Africa, or the ‘Spanish Flu’ which erupted toward the end of World War I causing up to 500 million people to be infected in Europe, Asia and North America. The Spanish Flu caused, overall, at least 50 million deaths, including a disastrous second wave of infections. But all this is little consolation today to the millions suffering the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19.

Illustration from Liber chronicarum, 1. CCLXIII; Skeletons rising from the dead for the dance of death. (Photo: Anton Koberger, 1493/Public domain) What do pandemics and climate change have in common?

Climate, on the other hand, has changed significantly in recent decades. Though it has impacted ecosystems and civilization throughout history, over the past 50 years we have been experiencing a dramatic human-induced acceleration of global warming and other climatic impacts on our lives and planet.

While many may not think climate change and disease are similar or even associated, both can evolve rapidly. Fast changes in climate, operating over one to five-year periods and referred to as “abrupt climate change”, have taken their toll on previously flourishing civilizations. The abrupt onset of drought, for example, contributed to the collapse of the Mesopotamian Empire (modern day Syria and Iraq) 4200 years ago. And in the 800s AD, it resulted in the demise of the Mayan Empire in Mesoamerica.

Recent warming of the Arctic is the first abrupt climate change event of the modern era. It has already had severe consequences for people and ecosystems across the polar regions. It has also altered the thermal balance from the North Pole to mid-latitudes triggering changes in atmospheric circulation that are manifested as the intensification of droughts, floods and storms impacting much of the Northern Hemisphere.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 7-8 million people die prematurely every year as a consequence of poor air quality. Pollutants such as lead, cadmium and small particulates (PM2.5), are all directly associated with greenhouse gas emissions. They degrade human and ecosystem health making us more susceptible to pandemics, such as COVID-19, because poor air quality, which increasingly affects megacities from Delhi to Beijing, leads to rising respiratory and cardiac distress as well as cancer.

Climate change is also affecting vector-borne diseases, which are on the rise. Accounting for more than 17 per cent of all infectious illnesses, these are caused by parasites, bacteria or viruses and include Lyme, Triple E, Malaria and Dengue Fever. In addition, heat, drought, storms and general climate instability lead to more acute stress and displace communities further weakening humans and ecosystems.

WHO has concluded that changes in climate are likely to lengthen the transmission seasons of such diseases. Climate changes can also alter their geographic range. For example, rising temperatures can lengthen seasons and expand the range of disease-carrying insects, such as malarial mosquitoes moving from Kenya’s lowlands to the higher altitude parts of the Rift Valley, or the spread of Zika-carrying mosquitoes in the United States.

Deforestation, ocean warming and acidification also lead to ecosystem redistribution, species extinction, and food insecurity. (See article by Karin Wenger on the sinking of Bangkok and other megacities) With the planet increasingly out of balance, even more people are left in poor health and more susceptible to disease. Climate change not only intensifies the damage caused by COVID-19, but lessens the likelihood of understanding where, when and why such a disease will start in the future.

On February 28, NASA reported on how decreases in industrial, transportation, and business activity since the coronavirus outbreak had reduced levels of atmospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China. But researchers note that a measurable change in one pollutant does not necessarily mean air quality is suddenly healthy across the country. (Photo: Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) on ESA’s Sentinel-5 satellite. Josh Stevens / NASA Earth Observatory How does the COVID-19 crisis impact climate change, both now and the future?

As we have already witnessed over the past several months, the global response to COVID-19 has led to significant reductions in transportation and industry. This has been yielding decreased emissions of greenhouse gases. The Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air reports a 25 per cent reduction in Chinese emissions during February 2020. This is equivalent to more than half of Great Britain’s annual emissions. For its part, the European Space Agency has reported notable reductions in nitrogen oxide over Italy, while International Space Station astronauts noticed the same over China. (See article by Tira Shubart in Global Geneva)

Clearly more reductions will emerge due to the current planetary slowdown and, in many cases, nearly complete shutdown. The short-term effects are a reminder of our ability not only to decrease emissions on a sustained basis, but to serve as a reminder that we as humans can do with less. The question remains, however, as to whether society in a post-coronavirus period will be prepared to embrace such changes. (See Global Geneva article on the race that no one is winning)

Greenhouse gases have a residence time in the atmosphere of many decades, even centuries. But the toxic metals and particulates that accompany greenhouse gas emissions can only persist over several days. We have learned that lesson in several ways.

Ice cores, for example, capture greenhouse gases as well as dissolved and particulate chemistry. These provide perspective that reveals the difference between our pre-industrial atmosphere and our modern unparalleled – in Earth history – air quality. They also reveal the success of clean air legislation. In the US, the shutdown of aircraft and the slowdown in transportation during 911 provided yet another air quality reminder.

The Special Broadcasting Service Hindu News reports that levels of particulates in the atmosphere have reduced enough that people can now view the Himalayas from as much as 200km distant, as they could decades ago. There is a good chance that from your own home you can observe the COVID-19 impact on air quality by looking outside and seeing crisper scenery and more stars at night. Improved air quality makes us healthier and reduces health care costs.

Frontline health workers responding to the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City. (Photo: UN) COVID-19 and climate change: The imperative of global mobilization

How can an alternative future be achieved? The obvious answer is through science. But how can science be supported and facilitated and its fruits delivered on a global scale?

The twin problems of COVID-19 and climate change require global collaboration and diplomacy amongst countries, international organizations, research institutions, scientists and policy professionals. We can look to international law such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and institutions such as the G-20, various United Nations agencies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank, all of which have deployed climate change projects and are very much on the COVID-19 front.

On 2 April 2020 the UN General Assembly adopted the resolution “Global solidarity to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)”. This underscored “the central role of the United Nations system in catalyzing and coordinating the global response to control and contain the spread of COVID-19.” It also acknowledges the crucial role of the World Health Organization and called for “intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat the pandemic, including by exchanging information, scientific knowledge and best practices”.

A world knowledge and action hub. The Lake Geneva region serves as the European headquarters for the United Nations, including more than a score UN agencies, funds and programmes, but also hundreds of NGOs, foundations and corporate organizations. (Photo: UN)

The Geneva-based WHO is where the world community formulates and implements measures necessary to address health emergencies by crucially managing a global regime to control the spread of disease. This includes the World Health Assembly, which adopted International Health Regulations (IHR) in 2005 to provide a broad and collaborative response to the spread of disease regardless of borders. It is also designed to “avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade”.

The regulations are not limited to specific diseases, but apply to ever-changing public health risks. They also provide a legal basis for health documents for international travel, transport and sanitary protections for airports, ports, and ground crossings. The regulations were adopted by 196 countries including the United States. Yet, astonishingly, the White House has indicated an intent to withdraw WHO funding – in the midst of a pandemic and at a time when global collaboration is vital for finding a vaccine and for sharing response experiences.

Treatments and diagnostics developed to combat COVID-19 must be available to all people. Furthermore, patents, market regulations and drug pricing must not limit access to critical medicines. This should be an immediate priority of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), another Geneva-based institution, which promotes balanced and effective IP for all.

Maximization of distribution and access is critical. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has concluded that addressing the current pandemic and protecting humanity against future global threats requires “sound management of hazardous medical and chemical waste; strong and global stewardship of nature and biodiversity; and a clear commitment to ‘building back better’, creating green jobs and facilitating the transition to carbon neutral economies.

The World Meteorological Organization in Geneva warns that the pandemic may make it even more difficult to tackle weather, climater and water-related hazards. (Photo: WMO)

For its part, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), also in Geneva, noted that while COVID-19 may result in a temporary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, it should not serve as a substitute for sustained climate action. Instead, it warns, the pandemic may make it even more difficult to tackle weather, climate and water-related hazards which are becoming more acute. WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas noted that while the pandemic has caused a severe international health and economic crisis, the current “failure to tackle climate change may threaten human well-being, ecosystems and economies for centuries”. For this reason, the immediate pandemic must be faced simultaneously with climate change.

The World Bank Group, established by the post-World War II Bretton Woods agreement for the reconstruction of Europe and retooled for global development, has been at the forefront of the climate change fight. In March this year, it initiated a COVID-19 Fast Track facility that quickly disbursed $1.9 billion to 25 of the world’s most vulnerable countries. The organization is now working to redeploy resources through restructuring and contingent financing. In the coming months, the Bank is expected to deploy an estimated $160 billion to help protect the poor and vulnerable, but also bolster businesses and economic recovery.

International organizations and treaties are largely designed to address distinct problems: health, the environment, development, human rights, trade, migration and so on. Since the pandemic, however, they have been working with less siloed approaches which will ideally prove to be a mode of operation in the future. Mobilizing transborder resources, experts and information, they are seeking to ensure the availability of medical equipment and supplies. Equally critical, they have the means to deploy science against the twin threats. But these institutions must be supported by governments long before such crises emerge.

As a result of COVID-19 and climate change, several hundred million people around the world risk facing severe famine. (Photo: WFP) Science for policy, policy for science

The world’s poorest are also the most vulnerable. In 2015 the UN General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. These represent 17 objectives to improve human life and the planet with a target date of 2030. Goal 3 is Health and Well-Being. Goal 13 is Climate Action. Will COVID-19 derail each? On Earth Day 22 April, 2020, WMO’s Taalas insisted: “We need to show the same determination and unity against climate change as against COVID-19.”

In recent years, leading figures in countries ranging from the United States to Brazil have found it expedient to retreat from objective scientific facts. The good news is that as a consequence of the current pandemic this brief yet hazardous anti-science moment may be over. Citizens worldwide are now accepting that scientific facts must be the basis of decision-making for law and policy. This is the only way to prevail. On 14 April 2020 UN Secretary General António Guterres established the United Nations Communications Response Initiative to flood the Internet with facts and science in an effort to counter “the growing scourge of misinformation”. We must first trust in science, he added, because now is the “time for science and solidarity”.

Paul Andrew Mayewski is an internationally acclaimed glaciologist, climate scientist, explorer and leader of more than sixty expeditions to remote areas for which he has won numerous awards including the Medal for Excellence in Antarctic Research and the Lowell Thomas Medal of the Explorers Club. He is Distinguished Professor and Director of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine.  

Charles H. Norchi is the Benjamin Thompson Professor of Law in the University of Maine School of Law and a Global Geneva Contributing Editor.  He recently served as Fulbright Arctic scholar in Iceland, is a Fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Fellow of the Explorers Club for which he has led multiple flag expeditions.

 The authors are co-Presidents of the Arctic Futures Institute, USA.

Related articles in Global Geneva POLAR FOCUS – Earth’s sentinels for our climate future are essential. Climate Crisis: The Race No One is Winning Harnessing the power of on-the-spot media to achieve change Pangolins and pandemics: digging for the roots of COVID-19 Bangkok is Sinking, but so are other Southeast Asian megacities… How Alpine Resorts are Coping with Climate Change Peace building in the time of Coronavirus A chance for high school students worldwide to get published Young people are given the opportunity to write about their views on global issues, including the SDGs, and the future of their world.

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Chronic diseases are the real pandemic: join the healthy food movement

1. Mai 2020 - 7:20
Agent Provocateur is the oped section of Global Geneva. We welcome well-written and informed articles that are not self-promotional. A reminder: we make our content free worldwide in the public interest. If you like what we do, please support us.

This is how the clergyman Thomas Malthus saw our inevitable future in the 18th century when population expands beyond the capacity of the planet to sustain it: “Epidemics, pestilence and plague advance in terrific array, with famine following, to complete the great work of extermination.”

Thanks to technology and medicine, the global population has grown far beyond what Malthus would have ever thought possible (7.8 billion today) and there is enough food to keep everyone alive, even though there is much waste and it is still poorly distributed.

But around the time of the last financial crisis in 2008, the prices of food staples like wheat, corn, and rice shot up so high that nearly 500 million people on earth were pushed into poverty and malnutrition.

Somehow, Malthus’s pessimistic vision lives on, and keeps resurfacing. How can we finally prove him wrong?

The risk of worldwide famine as a result of COVID-19, particularly amongst vulnerable populations in the developing world, is now almost a certainty. (Photo: WFP) Moving beyond the pandemic: the risk of famine

In a world now destabilized by pandemic, the WHO and some other organizations now warn that another 150-200 million poor people risk imminent famine. And what about over 2 billion people on our planet who now suffer from obesity, and the many more who now suffer chronic diseases due to poor diets?

We urgently need to make changes in our food and agricultural systems, I argue, in order to avoid catastrophe.

We have been consuming ever more scarce resources as the world population increases. Our societal model is extractive and not regenerative, competitive and not cooperative. So we continue to deplete the earth’s riches, exacerbating the disharmony with nature.

Take the case of nitrogen and carbon, both vital elements for plant growth and nutrition. Through unsustainable and extractive agricultural practices, we continue to remove them from the soil and push them into the atmosphere. Industrial agriculture generates excessive emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane that are pollutants and greenhouse gases.

Un-natural industrialized diets increasingly pose a health hazard and can encourage chronic diseases. Chronic diseases: a need to move away from ‘industrialized diets’

Monocultures are now also the norm in agriculture, driven by monopolistic companies (major chemical and fertilizer producers) that have a lock on seed patents and push the intensive use of chemical fertilizers and toxic crop protection.

As a result, particularly since industrialization, we as a population have also weakened our own health and immunity by adopting unnatural “industrialized” diets.  Lifestyle issues like lack of movement as well as stress/negativity are also to blame. And so, we have become more vulnerable to a wide range of health threats, including viruses.

The figures paint a very clear picture; over half of global mortality is now the result of chronic diseases and this number continues to grow steadily across almost all regions on our planet. In the US, the birthplace of fast and industrialized food, the rate is much greater: one out of seven deaths are due to chronic conditions, with cardiovascular disease in the lead, killing nearly 650,000 people each year. Statistically, chronic disease is by far the greater pandemic!

The global sugar and high fructose corn syrup industries pump out over a USD 100 billion worth of toxic sweeteners every year. This is a leading cause of the booming rates in diabetes. These sweeteners are toxic for the human body at current rates of consumption.

Who had heard of endocrine disorders 20 or 30 years ago? Many of the major health conditions we struggle with today hardly existed 50 years ago. Today, nearly 70 per cent of the healthcare budget in the US is spent on treating chronic diseases. Care for chronic illness costs an average of USD 5,300 per person per year in the US, more than annual salaries in many poorer countries.

Healthy agriculture offers one of the best solutions

Yet it’s clear what foods we need to avoid or consume in moderation. Thanks to digitalization and interconnectivity, we have immediate access to unbiased health experts who are not influenced by the Big Food lobbies. If there is still any doubt, we can scan products on the shelves with any number of phone apps and avoid excess sugar, salt and hazardous chemicals.

At the same time, agriculture offers one of the best solutions to the global environmental and health challenge. Plants themselves, particularly “pulse crops” (beans, lentils, chickpeas) that are rich in proteins, are not only a healthy alternative to traditional meat, but they fix nitrogen and other elements needed for their growth in the soil. Such crops actually have the capacity to reverse the current disequilibrium in carbon and heal the planet.

Growing healthy food is in and of itself “regenerative”. It involves enriching soils, through use of cover crops and other methods, fixing carbon from the atmosphere and other essential nutrients, and avoiding toxins. It also fosters essential biodiversity, unlike industrialized monocrops. Nutritious food produced by regenerative farming is healthy and can boost compromised immune systems, allowing people to avoid taking drugs to treat chronic conditions.

Stop buying industrial white flour and over-sweetened/over-salty processed foods, or groceries with excess plastic packaging. Initially, this junk will sit on the shelves, but then producers and retailers will get the message.

Consumer behaviour is the most important economic signal to drive the shift. Soft-drink companies and fast-food groups need to change their recipes and BIG GULPS should come with health warnings. Send producers a clear message by not consuming this junk!

We will thus empower growers by consuming raw or minimally processed food and paying for good health, rather than encouraging unhealthy and over-processed food production that is destroying our health, immunity and the environment.

Coast Sullenger is Head of Thematic Investments at Landolt et Cie, the second oldest bank in French-speaking Switzerland, and the Principal of GAIA Family Office that is his private office. He was previously a portfolio manager for Lombard Odier private bank, based in Geneva.

Sullenger will be moderating a “plant-based meat” webinar, to be held by Landolt & Cie on 6 May 2020 (11am to noon) with Jens Tuider, the chief of staff of ProVeg International, a leading thought leader on sustainable food, as his special guest. You are welcome to join them to explore the issues further. His 52-minute documentary made after the 2008 crisis, Last Supper for Malthus, is available on vimeo at https://vimeo.com/359750818. Related articles in Global Geneva Pangolins and pandemics: digging for the roots of COVID-19 Coronavirus: Community participation and credible information: the core of any serious response Global Geneva launches 2nd edition of (2020) Youth Writes Awards for high schools worldwide Making food systems work through 4SD Letter from Maine’s ‘Oyster Lady’: The comeback of a mollusk healthy for food and the planet Bangkok is Sinking, but so are other Southeast Asian megacities… The Global Reef Expedition: A mission to assess the health of coral reefs around the world Letter from Florida: Development versus environment
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Moving together: jazz from a funky Swiss philosopher

29. April 2020 - 10:11
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Philosophers’ ideas for music are rarely fun. Among the Swiss, Friedrich Nietzsche’s music is nobody’s idea of a good time. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s compositions hardly rate the effort to preserve them (though one did provide the signature tune for French-Swiss television for a time).

Nik Bärtsch’s music, by contrast, definitely swings. But in spite of its funky drive that compares with Miles Davis’s inimitable electric period, this jazz is also thoughtful. It offers a meditation on what music can do as well as a dialogue with its listeners. Bärtsch, 48, who studied philosophy, linguistics and musicology at the University of Zurich after graduating from music school, has enticingly described his group’s music as like exploring a city and “a kind of acoustical coral reef”.

Like light in water

“Like light in water, sounds and resonances appear in the air,” he writes in the notes to one of his CDs. “Strange creatures seem to swim by our ears. Where are we when we hear music?”

Completely unpretentious in person, Bärtsch, with his shaved head, goatee beard and baggy Buddhist-monk pants, might look like a man with a message. In practice, Ronin, his musical group, seems to take as much from its audience as it gives.

Bärtsch recalls that at one of Ronin’s first concerts, in an underground club, a dog began to howl just before a climactic moment. Instead of being thrown off-beat, the band “was unleashed and played its way into a trance.” More important, “the audience relaxed and became more attentive. The energy level in the room rocketed.”

He adds: “Neighbourhood dogs don’t attend our concerts much anymore.” But for Ronin, “our audiences have a similar effect on the band as a producer [does] in a recording studio.”

Ronin. Family affair

When I joined them in Exil on 10 September 2010, Bärtsch’s uncle and the father of drummer Kaspar Rast were in the audience, and the session had a family feel. It was as if the four musicians set out to entertain each other in their home living room. Judging from the grins on their faces when they swung through some particularly intricate pieces, they succeeded.

The core of the Ronin and Mobile groups is Bärtsch — on keyboards and sometimes plucking the piano strings — and Rast, a near-genius who’s up there with John Hiseman and Elvin Jones as a dancing-style drummer. Sha is the sputtering wind specialist on the formidably difficult bass clarinet, with Thomy Jordi on electric bass.

What makes Rast so amazing is his discretion. He meets every beat but he never overwhelms the other members of the group. So you may miss the complexities of his playing unless you listen closely to the drums — a good reason for buying Ronin’s CDs.

SwissView and after

Bärtsch and Rast have been friends for 40 years. I first came across their music as the accompaniment to a television filler series featuring Switzerland seen from a helicopter. It became one of Swiss TV’s most successful programmes (SwissView), [available online and as DVDs](http://www.swissview.com). Be sure to pick the blu-ray versions. The series producer paid special tribute to Bärtsch and his dreamy mood music as contributing to the series’ success.

There were echoes of Bärtsch’s SwissView score at the Exil session. As were Morton Feldman’s meditative soundscapes, Dave Brubeck’s driving rhythms, the Modern Jazz Quartet’s more adventurous pieces (Midsömmer, for example), even Steve Reich’s pulsing works.

To me this is a sign of Ronin’s maturity rather than a failure of imagination. Earlier recordings scrupulously avoided sounding like anyone else, creating spare tonal environments that had a Japanese resonance (Ronin means a samurai without a master).

Fusion without failings

Today they are more laid back. They are willing to let in any kind of music without worrying about its integrity. Any sound, you feel, could fit. Of course that’s not true, but it is very relaxing as well as exciting to hear music that way (the Sonny Rollins approach to jazz).

Listeners who need to position Ronin’s music could call it fusion, but that label covers a multitude of sins that Bärtsch does not commit. Each piece is entitled Module x (a number). The music does sound as if he has thought hard about what should logically follow the other sessions. But it doesn’t make tunes easy to identify or keep the titles in your mind. Generously he offers an 18-minute video of his latest products as well as two other atmospheric pieces on his website [http://www.nikbaertsch.com]. You can also find his agenda there.

For 4 May and 11 May Montags sessions are promised online (nos. 805-806!).

“A piece of music can be entered, inhabited like a room,” Bärtsch explains. “It moves forward and transforms through obsessive circular movements, superimposition of different meters and micro-interplay. The listeners attention is directed toward minimal variations and phrasing. The band becomes an integral organism – like an animal, a habitat, an urban space. One must think with ears and hands.”

He adds: “Normally, we work in three distinct formations. The group MOBILE plays purely acoustic music, performed in rituals of up to 36 hours, including light- and room design. The Zen-funk quartet RONIN, by contrast, is more flexible and plays the compositions more freely. As a solo performer I perform my compositions on prepared piano with percussion.”

Bärtsch and a business partner opened Exil in 2009 and became an artistic co-director of Zurich’s Apples and Olives festival. After the previous years intense touring and recording activities, he eased off to spend time with his family, run the club and work on the festival, as well as teaching. In 2014 he resurrected Mobile and in 2017 reconvened Ronin after a six-year gap. In May 2018 he released his latest CD of a studio session entitled Awase, which in martial arts means “moving together” (LINK).         

There’s a marvellous 2008 interview with Bärtsch by Stuart Nicholson from the U.K.’s Observer, unfortunately no longer available online, where the composer cites James Brown, The Meters and Prince among his influences.

Global Geneva co-editor Peter Hulm 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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The Sergio Vieira de Mello Academic Consortium: Good practice for refugee integration

29. April 2020 - 6:00
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The auditorium was full in that sunny morning. A young Syrian asylum seeker had mixed feelings. When her name was called, she promptly stood up and stepped onto the stage to receive her certificate of the Portuguese language. She could not believe what she had achieved. With the document ceremoniously handed to her by a Brazilian student, who was also her language teacher, the refugee walked back to her chair and cried with joy.

The scene took place at the Federal University of ABC, one of 22 Brazilian universities now affiliated with the Sergio Vieira de Mello Academic Consortium which seeks to support both refugees and migrants to learn Portuguese but also integrate more effectively into Brazilian society through academic support and dialogue. The UN High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) created the Sergio Vieira de Mello Academic Chair in the end of 2003 in memory of Sergio following his tragic death.

Sergio Vieira de Mello (L) with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, 2003. (Photo: UN) Sergio Vieira de Mello: Establishing his legacy in Brazil

As a Brazilian diplomat born in Rio de Janeiro, Sergio devoted almost his entire life to refugees as a UN official. During Secretary General Kofi Annan`s mandate (1997-2007), he played particularly innovative roles in a period of major global upheavals and UN reforms. Following the NATO-led invasion of Kosovo in the summer of 1999, he was in Pristina within days to set up the new UN Transitional Administration. Two months later, he was sent to East Timor as the UN’s Transitional Administrator, or Viceroy as some described him, helping to lead the former Portuguese colony to independence from Indonesian rule. In 2002, Kofi Annan appointed de Mello the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva but was then sent to Baghdad in May, 2003, as the Secretary General’s Special Representative in Iraq.

A brilliant UN diplomat, Sergio liked to describe himself as an “idealistic pragmatic”. He also sought to ensure that the UN operated as independently as possible, regardless of outside pressures, in order to fulfill its mandate. This was clearly made evident in the two documentaries exploring his life, notably En route to Baghdad (2006) and Sergio (2009) as well as the 2020 Netflix biographical drama, Sergio.

Prior to de Mello’s death, US diplomat Paul Bremer, the new head of the US-led Iraq Coalition Authority (a multi-national force only supported by half a dozen countries, including the UK, but not France nor Germany) sought to persuade de Mello to have the UN operate according to Washington’s wishes. Sergio, however, pushed back insisting that the UN had to maintain neutrality and be perceived as such by the Iraqis.

The shattered United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, August, 2003. (Photo: UN)

Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed shortly afterwards in the Baghdad bombing on 19 August, 2003, so one can only assume that he would have done everything possible to ensure that the UN be perceived as neutral and operating in the interests of the Iraqi people. Responsibility for the Canal Hotel bombing was claimed by Jordanian Jihadist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who also maintained that de Mello had been targeted for his responsibility of removing East Timor from Muslim-dominated Indonesia.

A growth in universities willing to embrace broader refugee integration policies

Since the creation of the Vieira de Mello Chair, the number of participating Brazilian universities has steadily increased as the experiences accumulated have become more diverse and committed to a broad refugee integration policy. The initiative emerged from the first national seminar of the Chair in 2010 organized by Brazil`s UNHCR office. This brought together different universities and encouraged the sharing of lessons learned. From then onwards, the national seminar became an annual event and eventually lead to the creation of a Consortium of Brazilian universities.

The original idea of the Chair was to teach refugee law, free-of-charge. But this spontaneously expanded as more universities became involved. They all began to offer other activities to refugees, also without charge. These included access to college courses; facilitation to recognize diplomas; specially-designed Portuguese language courses; health services at select university hospitals, plus law school legal clinics. Undergraduate students played a key role in supporting the refugees.

The Sergio Vieira de Mello Academic Chair is now becoming a powerful instrument for promoting solidarity with refugees. In particular, the internationalization of higher education is leading to a significant strengthening of the universities` own refugee mission. One important dimension is the contribution of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to the academic environment. Their presence, knowledge, visions and realities as well as their courage and passion represent a rich and powerful asset.

As presented at the December 2019 Global Refugee Forum, such good practice is moving beyond Brazil’s borders. The Consortium is emerging as a promising resource for the Global Academic Interdisciplinary Network (G.A.I.N.), a new initiative sponsored by the UNHCR. This is highlighting the enormous potential of universities worldwide to contribute to the various academic dimensions related to refugee policy and law. But it is also turning the dreams of many thousands of forced migrants and asylum seekers into a reality by empowering at the tertiary educational level.

Gilberto M. A. Rodrigues was a senior visiting researcher (Capes-Print Fellowship) at the GCR/University of Duisburg-Essen, In Germany (2019-2020). He is Professor of International Relations at the Federal University of ABC, in Brazil. Rodrigues presented the Sergio Vieira de Mello Academic Consortium in the Global Refugee Forum, Geneva, 2019. E-mail: gilberto.rodrigues@ufabc.edu.br

The biofilm ‘Sergio’, which was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020, is now available on Netflix. The film lends a relatively positive if not romantic sense of who Sergio Vieira de Mello was but certainly does not do him justice, particularly for those who knew him well. Yet for those viewers who are not fully aware of what the United Nations does, or tries to do, this is a cinematic primer well worth watching. (The Editors)

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Kategorien: Jobs

Running an English bookstore in the time of the pandemic

28. April 2020 - 3:00

Dedicated to books. Matthew Wake with Clare O’Dea, author of The Naked Irish. (Photo: Books, Books, Books)

This is part of our ongoing series on books and the publishing industry as well as YouthWrites, our initiative to encourage young people across the planet to improve their writing skills, better understand the role of quality journalism and to read more. A reminder: we make our content free worldwide. If you like what we do, please support us.

A pandemic swept through my bookshop ten years ago. It started quite innocuously when a woman who ran a book club and often stopped by to chat books said to me: “My husband bought me an e-reader for my birthday – but don’t worry, I’ll still buy books here.” I had always enjoyed our conversations and, like a lot of regulars in my shop, our relationship had started to inhabit the space between customers and friends. 

This was the last conversation we had and over the course of countless similar conversations I learnt that the sentence actually meant, “This is the last time you’ll ever see me.”

Losing 95 per cent of my business in a year focused my thoughts, as did hosting a book club in my shop where all the members bought their books elsewhere. I realized that while everyone agrees that a bookshop is essential to the literary community, very few people are prepared to shop in one when buying books online appears cheaper and more convenient.

Realizing that following my dream of selling fiction to bibliophiles would lead to bankruptcy, I more or less left that market, started selling to schools, libraries and universities. I began to treat the bookshop more as a book-lined office. Then ten years later the coronavirus struck.

The second shock

I was working with my colleague Rachel when the news was announced that shops had to shut that day. We rushed out to buy stamps, envelopes and packing tape and contacted our teachers to inform them that we would send books to whichever student needed them. (See article on working with high school students to encourage writing – and reading, plus a chance to get published)

Then we contacted all the people whose books reservations were sitting on our shelves and told them the same thing. It was a frantic afternoon as we raced the countdown clock, making the best decisions we could with the scarcest of information and trying not to panic. When six o’clock struck, we looked at each other. We felt enormously emotional because we love selling books and neither of us knew when things might return to normal or even what ‘normal’ might look like.

As expected, a lot of schools cancelled their orders, along with a couple of book fairs we were relying on. We started boxing books we could send back and I tried to balance the bills we had to pay versus the ones we could delay.

Delivering books by bike in Lausanne. (Photo: Books, Books, Books) Falling in love with their local bookshops

What I hadn’t expected was that, seemingly overnight, people fell in love with their local bookshop again. Customers who ordered infrequently began sending us their wish lists. Enquiries landed in my inbox from new customers and I’ve heard from some of the people who stopped using the bookshop all those years ago. I’ve been picking up their orders as well as the threads of those conversations we’d left hanging for the better part of a decade.

I have tried to explain this phenomena of shopping locally to myself. The closest I can get is by comparing it to applauding health workers every evening. Over the past weeks this ritual has morphed into a moment when we reconnect to our communities and reassure ourselves that we are not alone. In counting our blessings we also remember the things that are valuable to us and which, amongst the pressures of our normal lives, we struggle to find the time for. Local bookshops, with their limited opening times, eccentric owners and fiddly ordering systems seem to be one of them – and it’s something I am deeply grateful for.

I hope this will continue. But I do not underestimate the power of modern life to overcome our better natures. We have come to expect to receive instantly the things we want and the biggest businesses are designed to facilitate that wish. Not being available to work 24/7 became an aberration, as anyone who has answered a work email on a Sunday afternoon will agree. If a customer sends me a message on Good Friday evening, in my mind at least, I still have less than 12 hours to answer it.

On demand instant printing: not our solution

A few years ago something called the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) was launched which promised to level the playing field for independent booksellers. The EBM is able to print and bind a book in the time it takes to make a cup of coffee and, with access to millions of titles, it means that we could hold a virtual stock almost as large as an online retailers.

I investigated this idea, and ultimately decided not to pursue it. At around USD 100,000, the cost was prohibitively high, and the database contains only books which are out of copyright. As none of the Big Five publishers are willing to allow bookshops to print their front-list titles, the majority of EBMs are located in libraries and university book stores. People use them to print academic papers and other hard-to-find titles. They appear in independent bookshops too, where they are often used by self-published authors. However, most of the machines are located in North America. In France they are situated in printing schools, and the two machines in the Netherlands are in American bookshops. 

We will hold as much stock, virtually or otherwise, as the giants. We will never be cheaper than the giants because Rachel and I take home the same modest wage. The bookshop also pay taxes in the country it operates in. I also believe very strongly in treating people with the same respect I would like to be treated with. I don’t aspire to the kind of success that comes with paying minimum wage to workers I can dispense with when they are no longer useful to me. This is not the society I want my children to grow up in.

Matthew Wake at the bookshop. (Photo: Books, Books, Books) Books to read in isolation: a chance to rediscover literature

I’m not hopelessly naive. The book industry as a whole is in crisis. Two of our major suppliers have closed their doors permanently in the last couple of years because of rising costs and weakening demand. I suspect that this summer’s publishing calendar has been ripped up. The largest wholesalers in Europe have been forced to close temporarily during the crisis as they cannot offer safe working conditions to their warehouse employees. I would hate to be an author whose book was due for publication right now. Actually, I’d hate to depend on writing full time for a living as the major publishing houses only have slots for new authors providing guaranteed bestsellers.

Having said that, I am encouraged by the lists of “books to read in self-isolation” which have proliferated on social media. They tend to feature up-beat non-fiction titles which aim to either explain the world to us in a new way or help us find calm in the midst of chaos. One of the delights of reading is that a single book can change the course of our lives. Even a single line has the power to enlighten us.

Many of the lists I’ve seen feature worthy titles, yet might be somewhat discouraging to someone getting back into spending time with a book. After all, books are no longer the dominant cultural force. Streaming services, social media and gaming apps are. Reading requires deep concentration, a skill which we seem to lose the longer we stay online (and I am as guilty as anyone).

Whenever I fall out of the habit of reading, I pick it up again by choosing an easy book I know I’ll love before tackling harder titles which demand more from me. I would advise anyone eyeing these lists to do the same as a way to avoid getting halfway through a book, only to put it down again because the our phone is singing its siren song and its impossible to ignore.

Despite the spike in demand my bookshop has experienced, we’re still going to be at least CHF/USD 20,000 down when we reopen again. And I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. I have friends in the restaurant, retail and brewing business – English-speaking entrepreneurs who set up their own businesses in Switzerland as I did – who are facing losses many times greater than mine. It will take them a year or two to rebuild, even with the help of the Swiss government loans and on the assumption that things return to normal during the summer.

Maybe this enforced break we will help us discover that a slower pace of life suits us better, that we’ll value our communities more, use our cars less, find other ways of doing things. No one knows what will happen. The only prediction I’ll make is that Rachel and I will still be here selling books and talking fiction. It’s what we love to do. We’re looking forward to it. We’re booksellers. 

Matthew Wake owns Books Books Books, the English Bookshop in Lausanne. He runs the Swiss Creative Writing Prize for high school students in the Swiss public education system. 

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Kategorien: Jobs

My Coronavirus Story: Lessons from the roller coaster life of an Italian ICU nurse

26. April 2020 - 9:14
This article is part of Global Geneva’s regular coverage of personal stories about the coronavirus crisis. A reminder: we make our content free worldwide. If you like what we do, please support us.

Tears do not roll easily from the eyes of veteran journalists who have covered death and destruction in many parts of the world. I have reported war and catastrophe in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East, and I was always dry-eyed at press conferences.

But I could not stifle the tears during a virtual press conference with Floriana Pino, a frontline Italian Intensive Care Unit nurse. Her wrenching experiences have many lessons for Americans, Europeans or anyone anywhere on the planet confronting COVID-19. She was explaining how she and her colleagues have toiled trying to save lives in the tumultuous past weeks during the crisis of the devious and novel coronavirus. (See William Dowell article on the suspected origins of the pandemic)

During the week, the 30-year-old who is already a true veteran of the war against the pandemic, spoke after a night shift. She addressed journalists from the Geneva UN correspondents’ association called ACANU, along with others from her profession. They spoke about the nursing profession and health workers in Italy and throughout the world. What they said indicated that many societies and governments have been riding roughshod over health and care workers for far too long. (See Andy Cohen article on Switzerland’s questionable pandemic policies)

“Our lives are like a continuous roller coaster right now because some days we have fear; we feel fatigued; we feel anger,” Pinto recounted. “My hospital is one that has COVID and non-COVID wards to give care to everybody, infected people and non-infected people. And we had to go to the front-line, at the end of February,” she said from Milan.

ICU patients per nurse more than doubled

“I’m in the ICU and usually each nurse cares for two patients. When the emergency started, we had to rapidly get organized and had to enlarge our ICU with more beds — on two floors, having 40 beds, and with each nursing now caring for five patients,” said Pinto. “So, now you can understand how much the situation changed. Nurses are crucial in this emergency now,” said Pinto.

Italian Intensive Care Unit nurse Floriana Pinto speaking during a video conference from Milan. (Photo: Peter Kenny)

Pinto works in a major hospital in the northern city of Milan. Until earlier this month, Italy ranked as the worst hit country by the silent and increasingly lethal pandemic when the United States unenviably usurped that place on 12 April, 2020. In the same video press conference, Walter de Caro, president of the Italian Nurses Association, rattled off some alarming statistics.

In Italy, he declared, 15,000 health workers had tested positive to COVID-19 along with more than 7,000 nurses. To date, the disease has killed 26 nurses and 94 doctors, many likely to have infected on the first day of the outbreak in country areas due to a lack of personal protective equipment, or PPE. “More than 4,000 people are in intensive care. This is a real collapse for our health system in the north of Italy,” he said. This was echoed by World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Tedros who recently stressed the United Nations’ concern for the large number of infections reported amongst health workers in many parts of the world.

When I was recovering from a cancer operation in Switzerland five years ago and getting chemotherapy, key ingredients that pulled me through it all was the compassion and support of the health workers at Geneva University’s Hospital, especially the nurses who seemed to run the show. But cancer is not an infectious disease and the health workers offering tender care were in their regular uniforms. They did not have to clad up masked in space suits and keep a distance.

Health care still under construction. Reminding passersby of the need for more effective health-for-all policies. (Photo: Peter Kenny)

Communicating with COVID-19 patients

“We try to do our best to find other ways to communicate with the COVID patients. We can’t talk; we can’t smile with the masks; so we find ways…(we) have learned to smile and talk with our eyes,” Pinto said with a glint in her eyes. It was hard not to be emotional as I sat in my isolated solitude, Zoomed into the current way of doing journalism. She poignantly related how Italian nurses have stretched their limits and she spoke about crying on hearing of the recovery of a patient. “Two days ago, I and a colleague of mine were having a shower after the shift, as we have to have a shower after the shift every day before leaving the hospital,” Pinto recounted. “And she said to me, ‘Today, we finally managed to awake the patient and then he talked with his wife with a tablet in a video call.”

“I started to cry, the first time I cried in a month, but I was happy. It was one of the best moments of my life. The second was after my niece was born. So, telling you this story, I want to say that nurses are like this. Nurses are in essence, lots of things, technical things, organizing things, but also relations.” With all these competencies, she added, we are “a group who are fighting against this virus.”

Pinto then shifts to the topic of the press conference: Nurses fighting COVID-19, State of the World’s Nurses Report, challenges and difficulties. “If we manage to have better working conditions and if the institution suddenly starts to recognize our profession, this would be the best one ever,” she points out.

The role of nurses is finally being recognized.

Howard Catton, CEO of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), which represents some 130 national associations with over 20 million nurses, stressed the importance of the experience they are gaining from the frontline. “It’s given us a very good overview of what some of the key public health messages and responses need to be,” he said. Noting that 2020 is the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, he said that it was not what the sort of focus they had envisaged. Yet the COVID-19 outbreak has proven to be the most powerful demonstration as to why nurses are needed. “This is an international and global crisis,” he said. “We need cooperation across borders to get much-needed supplies to healthcare workers, to share best practice, and to ensure manufacturers step up.”

However, Catton continued: “It will be the greatest tragedy if we do not learn the lessons from this pandemic. We need to see hard actions around investment, support, and strengthening of health systems and the health workforce.” Politicians, he added, need to express themselves in the same courageous manner as those nurses currently fighting COVID-19. They need to “say ‘yes’ to implementing all these recommendations.”

Fighting for PPE and staffing

Taking Italy as an example, it is quite obvious that one of the reasons why it recently suffered the COVID-19 case and death-rate in the world was because it lacked of key resources. These included sufficient quantities of trained workers and personal protective equipment to combat the disease. “We have to fight for proper PPE, for proper staffing,” said Pinto who also noted that Italian nurses are amongst the lowest paid in Europe.

Walter de Caro further argued that the real problem lies within the community where doctors and nurses have had insufficient protection. “It’s is a tragedy for our country. Until now, we have been a donor of nurses.” Five thousand Italian nurses, for example, are working in the UK, while Italy itself has a shortage of 50,000. As a result, Italy has been obliged to seek nurses from other countries such as Albania, China, Cuba and elsehwere in Europe.

The nursing profession is severely short-staffed – and poorly paid – in many countries. Advocates hope that the current crisis will prompt more support and investment in public health. A view of the entrance to the Trauma Center at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens during the COVID-19 outbreak in New York on April 3, 2020. (Photo: UN/Evan Schneider).

Interestingly, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson credited his country’s National Health System staff earlier this month for saving his life and described them as heroes. “I can’t thank them enough,” the British leader said after being released from the ICU at St Thomas’ Hospital in London after its doctors and nurses had taken care of him following his admission with COVID-19. “I want to pay my own thanks to the utterly brilliant doctors, leaders in their fields …. who took some crucial decisions a few days ago which I will be grateful for the rest of my life.” And yet, 18 years earlier on 17 April, 2002, he had severely criticized the financially-strapped National Health Service (NHS) for “failing” and castigated it as a state-run institution for driving people people to “use private medicine in despair.”

Perhaps the most poignant reminder as to the importance of frontline aid personnel came from Pinto herself. “We have always been here caring for people because it is our profession,” she said. “We are doing this now as the best we can. People call us heroes, But, despite our continuous struggle, we were not recognized.” She added that nurses do not want to be called heroes; they want to be considered professionals and respected as such. “In this way, we can maybe get a real health care system with every professional having respect for the other,” she said.

According to the ICN says, data from 191 countries reveals that there are 19.3 million professional nurses out of a total nursing workforce of 27.9 million. It also notes that their distribution around the globe is not uniform; there are lower nurse-to-population ratios in middle and low-income countries.

The ICN further maintains that 36 million nurses will be required by 2030, but that this target will only be reached if there is an eight per cent increase each year in the total number of nursing graduates. Without this significant rise, there will be a shortage of 4.6 million nurses, primarily in the African, South-East Asian and Eastern Mediterranean regions. In the United States, on the other hand, there are an estimated 3.1 million nurses; but according to the US Bureau of Labor statistics, registered nurseforce will need to increase bu 203,700 a year by 2026 in order to fill newly created positions and to replace retiring nurses.

South African journalist Peter Kenny covers UN, WTO and international issues from Geneva.

A version of this article first appeared in Medium on 16 April 2020.

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Post-pandemic: welcome to the multi-speed world of regional disparities

26. April 2020 - 4:42

The coronavirus swept across the world from Asia to Europe to the US along the same supply chains that deliver our electronics and clothing. But even as it serves as a reminder that we live in an interconnected world, it does not signify that we are all going to be in the same boat moving forward. On the contrary, the multi-speed global economy will continue to diverge as North America, Europe, and Asia focus more on regional self-sufficiency than far-flung global supply chains. 

The optics around coordinating a global economic recovery bear some resemblance to 2008, with central banks pumping trillions of dollars into the financial system, fiscal deficits widening, and other emergency measures that spared the world from a sustained global depression. Looking more closely, however, we can see clearly that American, European, Chinese, Japanese, and other stimulus packages are not crafted to support a revival of global demand. They are are clearly targeting domestic demand. Furthermore, both the US and Japan have strongly signaled greater funding to nearshore manufacturing–especially by pulling corporate investment out of China. 

Regionalism was already overtaking globalism before COVID-19

It is important to note that these trends were underway before the pandemic. Owing to the US-China trade war, by 2019 America’s trade with each Canada and Mexico had risen to above US$300 billion per year, while US-China trade had fallen to $270 billion. Meanwhile, China’s trade with its Southeast Asian neighbors in ASEAN had nipped $300 billion, showing how Asia continues to integrate, both to exploit its own complementaries but also to offset the effects of US-China decoupling.

For its part, Europe had also announced in 2019 an EU-wide strategic industries initiative to support more national champions in clean-tech and other industrial areas to stave off competition from China. Regionalism was clearly overtaking globalism before the pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of our long-distance interdependence. 

What are the likely scenarios for the key world economic centers looking one or two years ahead?

Despite the US stock market’s remarkably quick rebound, we should of course be wary of the proverbial dead cat bouncing and giving investors illusory hope of recovery. Numerous factors militate against the sanguine view of a simple U or V shaped recession. Once revolving credit lines are tapped out, numerous large firms will collapse or be consolidated. Industries from commercial real estate to aviation will suffer enormous write-downs – on office buildings and shopping malls, airlines and airports. Furthermore, domestic unemployment is reaching Depression-era levels, and the current relief packages don’t yet amount to the stimulus that many Western publics may need for years to come. Precautionary savings and muted consumption will govern household spending decisions, and business investment will sag. A long-drawn-out W shape is therefore the most likely economic scenario for the years ahead.

Major European employers and governments may collapse…

Europe’s collective stimulus measures amount to roughly the same as that of the US Federal Reserve, but spiralling government and corporate debt is an ever greater concern in the Eurozone. While European social policy keeps households afloat far better than America’s meagre welfare, America’s single market is far more efficient than the eurozone, where leaders won’t agree to a sufficiently large mutualized debt scheme in the form of pan-European “corona-bonds”. ECB president Christine Lagarde made clear that the purpose of the European Central Bank “is not to reduce bond spreads”. Southern Europe is once again on its own, and as large employers (and the states or provinces that depend on their tax revenue) collapse, governments may fall.

Asia has led global growth in recent years and will continue to do so once the pandemic subsides. Even as China experienced its first quarterly economic contraction in more than four decades, its annual growth is expected to remain in positive territory. For Southeast Asia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia will take a hit this year, but Vietnam and the Philippines continue to attract investors pulling manufacturing out of China.

…but Asia can expect to sustain itself

Importantly, Asian countries agreed to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) last year, paving the way for greater fluidity of goods, services, and the movement of people in the years ahead. Fundamentally, with a ten times greater population than either Europe or America, Asia’s advantage lies in burgeoning urbanization, a large youth demographic, and rising consumption. Asians don’t need to export to the world to sustain growth nearly as much as they need to simply continue bringing down internal barriers and connecting their bottom billion to infrastructure and markets. 

As the pandemic fog lifts, tentative steps towards reviving business travel and tourism will also likely play out along regional lines. At the moment, the US-Canada border is closed, the Schengen agreement suspended, and Chinese travellers staying within their country rather than fanning out as the world has become accustomed to. Even with airline fares at rock bottom, it is still unclear who will be allowed to travel where until we have immunity certifications and clarity about how long people may need to self-isolate once they reach their destination. With digital connectivity and tele-commuting becoming the new norm, firms will save costs by cutting back on travel anyway. 

Global connectivity accelerated the spread of the virus, but science diplomacy and video-conferencing apps also enabled global business continuity. We should continue to invest in global connectivity, even if major economies only use it sparingly. 

Parag Khanna is a leading global strategy advisor, world traveler, and best-selling author. He is Founder & Managing Partner of FutureMap, a data and scenario based strategic advisory firm. Parag’s newest book is The Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict & Culture in the 21st Century (2019).

Parag Khanna

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Kategorien: Jobs

From trafficking in endangered species to a worldwide pandemic, the roots of COVID-19

22. April 2020 - 10:32

Wet market with wildlife products in China. (Photo: William Dowell)

While reporting in Southeast Asia during the 1990s, I used to stop at a place we called the ‘Endangered Species Restaurant.” It was on the road from the Thai border back to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. The corpse of a monkey was crucified to a wooden frame that leaned against the wall. The monkey, along with various body parts of other unidentified animals, made up the luncheon menu. 

Later, while reporting in the Congo, I observed the natives along the Congo River eating live caterpillars, doused with what looked like red pepper, the local equivalent of popcorn.  Unusual animals weren’t the only target in a Third World environment hungry for protein.  My wife’s father had worked as a bush doctor in the Congo during the 1950’s. One of his tasks was to inspect meat in the local market with a sharp eye for anything that looked vaguely human.  The global palate is clearly a lot more complicated than the bland fast food fare you find at a McDonalds or Burger King.  

Villager in the Congo region preparing crocodile meat. (Photo: William Dowell)

The Chinese, like many cultures, have a reputation for being ready to experiment with their food sources and their local markets can include wild animals, just as African populations eat “bush meat”. The COVID-19 pandemic may provide a new incentive for many people, including Chinese, to consider more carefully where the food on their plate actually comes from.

Wildlife markets may prove responsible…

While scientists are still working to identify the cause of the outbreak, major attention has focused on the pangolin, a scaly anteater, highly sought after in parts of Asia for its delicate culinary qualities as well as for its scales that are valued by Chinese traditional medicine, and which is sold in “wet” markets near Wuhan.  Traces of viruses that match COVID-19 have also shown up in snakes, that were sold as food in the market, as well as in bats. Bats are known to serve as a reservoir for coronaviruses. Over time they have built an immunity and can carry the virus without being harmed by it. The pangolin may have served as an intermediate amplifier. Its reduced immunity allowed the virus to expand in it until an unsuspecting consumer at it.  There have also been suggestions that the virus might have escaped after an accident in one of Wuhan’s two biological research laboratories in Wuhan. Both handle dangerous viruses similar to COVID-19. US intelligence experts have tended to downplay that as unlikely given the presence of the virus in animals that were being sold for food. The consensus favours the pangolin as the vector, and it very likely emerged from a “wet” market in Wuhan, China.

So-called ‘bush meat’ is regularly sold in African markets and is already regarded as a source of Ebola and other viruses. (Photo: William Dowell)

The consumption of wildlife, of course, is nothing unusual in certain parts of the world, whether iguanas (often referred to as ‘spring chicken’) in the Caribbean, song birds in Italy, or bear and deer meat in the United States. In Africa, particularly in central and western parts of the continent such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Mali, so-called ‘bush meat’ – an extremely valued source of protein for poor people – is regularly sold in markets or along roads. This consists of wild animals, usually cooked, dried or smoked (the best way for preserving the meat) ranging from cane rat and fruit bats to monkeys, snakes, duikers and turtles. According to conservation groups, even chimpanzees and gorrillas are killed for ‘bush meat’.

These markets traditionally sell both domestic and wild animals that are alive, destined to be slaughtered on the spot and then cooked and eaten. Especially in China, freshness is highly valued when it comes to food. Snakes, another delicacy sold in the market, were also an early suspect. Like the pangolin, the snakes appeared to have traces of viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19. On the basis of previous coronavirus epidemics, bats are a further suspect as the original source but do not feature as an edible item on the stalls though they could pass the virus to other animals kept in such close quarters.

…but the Chinese are failing to take proper action

China initially tried to shut down its wet markets shortly after the coronavirus outbreak hit Wuhan, but then gradually relented. The markets, which resemble the livestock sections of farmer’s markets in western countries, are too pervasive and are the main source of food for too many people to close them down completely. This is despite calls by anti-wildlife trafficking groups, such as the World Conservation Society in New York, for the permanent closure of all wildlife markets given the threat of passing on viral diseases like SARS-CoV-2.

The real problem, of course, is the unsanitary conditions that exist in many of these poorly controlled wet markets. The animals are kept in cages, often stacked one on top of the other. Captive animals are frequently splattered with urine and faeces from the cages above them, and all the slaughtering at one place can often occur in the same place. The danger of contamination with an unexpected virus increases substantially when wildlife is crowded next to domestic animals.

The pangolin holds a special place on the endangered species list. Estimates suggest that pangolins account for up to 20 per cent of the illegal trade in threatened species. During the 1990s you could buy pangolin meat for around $7 a pound. The price today is easily $300. Specialists note that young Chinese do not eat wildlife as much as their parents these days. But for some in China’s fast-growing middle class, with money to burn, serving a pangolin for dinner is a powerful status symbol, proof that one has arrived.

The pangolin is found in parts of Africa, Indian subcontinent and southeast Asia, including China. (Photo: World Wildlife Fund)

China has repeatedly banned the sale of pangolins, along with other endangered species, but outlawing the animal has only increased its market value. TRAFFIC, a network monitoring the global trade in wildlife, reported that despite repeatedly outlawing its sale, some 90,000 pangolins were smuggled illegally into China between 2007 and 2016. And mainland China is not the only destination for the illegal trade. 

In January 2019, according to the New York Times, a shipment of nine tonnes of pangolin scales, taken from roughly 14,000 animals, was seized in Hong Kong. That was followed a month later with the confiscation of some 33 tonnes of pangolin meat in Malaysia and then, two months later, 14 tonnes in Singapore. China’s trade in wildlife products coupled with COVID-19 also has other forms of global impact.

COVID-19: Only the latest disaster in the way we treat nature

Everyone was in on the game. No one thought it would trigger a worldwide pandemic that would cost trillions of dollars and possibly alter the global economy.

The pandemic, which began in Wuhan, is just the latest indication of a catastrophic reaction to human encroachment on nature and, more specifically, increasingly stressed endangered species. There have been repeated warnings that disruption of the world’s natural habitat threatens what could amount to a sixth extinction. The wanton destruction is not without consequences. Estimates are that up to 70 per cent of the new diseases appearing on the planet are zoonotic; in other words, carried by animals.

The destruction of an estimated 20 million hectares of forest every year is a likely source of even further catastrophe. (Photo: Courtesy Rain Forest Trust, Kostadin Luchansky).

While the impact of COVID-19 has proven catastrophic, scientists warn that as many as 1.7 million viruses may as yet be unrecorded. Widespread destruction of rainforests and woodlands, the unprecedented expansion of global tourism and increased crowding in cities have naturally exposed more people to new viruses and exotic diseases than at any previous time in history.

Inexpensive worldwide air transport makes it possible for a virus to travel to almost any location on the planet in a few hours. Pollution, climate change, an uncontrolled population explosion over the last century and the loss of natural habitat are all combining to place an unendurable stress on the planet’s ecosystem.

How can something so small disrupt our lives?

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates how a submicroscopic particle that is not even really alive (they need a living organism to replicate) can totally disrupt the planet.  A retrovirus is literally nothing more than a strand of RNA (ribonucleic acid) accompanied by a few proteins and wrapped in a protective coating. Simple soapy water disrupts the coating, rendering the virus ineffective. That is why frequent hand washing is so important in the pandemic.

Under an electron microscope, the proteins are seen as the little knobs that stick out from the body of the virus. In a number of ways, a retrovirus is like a few bits of computer programming. It can’t reproduce itself. Instead, it penetrates the nucleus of a cell.  An enzyme, known as a reverse transcriptase, converts the RNA strand to DNA, which then hijacks the cell getting it to reproduce the virus along with the altered cell.  

At first, the COVID-19 virus, more formally known as SARS-CoV-2, was dismissed as little more than a bad case of the flu. It is now emerging as a great deal more than that.

Worldwide, the virus has killed more than 170,000 people and infected more than 2.4 million. While many do survive, scientists are learning that the damage that covid-19 does to the human body is far more terrifying than originally realized.  The patients who succumb to the virus experience a lack of oxygen which eventually allows a liquid buildup in their lungs that literally drowns them.

The COVID-19 virus. It can’t reproduce itself, but penetrates the nucleus of a cell.(Thailand Medical News)

The only medical solution at that stage is to artificially put the patient into a coma and then plant a tube in the trachea and have a respirator take over the patient’s breathing. Nearly half the patients never wake up again. 

The virus enters the human body through the lungs, but it then immediately bonds with an enzyme known as an angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which exists on the surface of the lungs and on other organs, as well. Once that is accomplished, the virus can easily enter the blood stream and pass to other organs in the body including the liver.  That explains why different symptoms as well as damage to the heart, kidneys and bowels have been reported along with problems with inflammation throughout the body.   

Despite incompetent political leaders, pandemics are actually well-understood

Just as the virus hijacks living cells, this depends for its effectiveness as an engine of destruction on the vulnerabilities and habits of people who have become the major agents of contagion. Coronavid-19 is extremely dangerous precisely because the main actor responsible for spreading the contamination now is an ordinary human being. Getting people to realize that is not an easy proposition.  When the president of the United States faces a situation in which more than 40,000 Americans have died and he still refuses to wear a protective mask in public, despite the advice from some of his country’s medical experts, you might think that something is terribly wrong with the people we depend on to lead us .

The fact is that pandemics are very well understood. They follow predictable patterns that are relatively easy to model.  The first real breakthrough occurred in 1927, when two British scientists, A. G. McKendrick and W.O. Kermack, published a paper entitled A Mathematical Contribution to the Theory of Epidemics. Their most important insight was that the end of an epidemic has nothing to do with how many people have died, or how many people are still susceptible to be infected. The only thing that counts is the number of susceptible individuals who come in contact with each person who is infected with the virus. 

The critical formula that determines this is usually referred to as “R0” – pronounced “R-naught”, the contagion coefficient .  “R” represents the reproductive capacity of the virus. The “0” or “naught” represents the number of people likely to come into contact with someone carrying the virus.  If you can reduce that number to one or less, you are home free.  If not, a slightly larger number than one will dramatically increase the rate at which the epidemic spreads.

Expanded testing for COVID-19 is a crucial part of the battle against the virus. (Photo: UN) Testing is the key

Without a vaccine, which could take a year to develop, the best way to reduce the contagion coefficient to less than one is to identify everyone carrying the virus and to isolate them before they can infect anyone else. The only way to do that is to institute widespread testing so that you have an accurate picture of exactly who is carrying the virus. (See Andy Cohen’s article on Switzerland’s failure to implement a proper testing strategy)

All this may sound impossible, but it is not. It is how Singapore, Korea and Hong Kong were able to rapidly put a halt to the outbreak of SARS.  Although it is difficult to believe right now, the pandemic will eventually end. When it does, it would be a mistake to think that the problem is over. The rampant natural destruction, which made the outbreak possible, will continue unless serious attention is paid to re-establishing a sustainable environmental equilibrium.

When a virus encounters a susceptible host with little or no immunity, it expands out of control. There is literally nothing that can stop it until it so overwhelms everything around it that there is no place left to go, nothing left to infect. The only option left for the virus is to implode, killing its host and itself along with it. There is a current theory that that pattern is not limited only to viruses. 

The human population, which now includes nearly 8 billion people, has also been expanding at a rate that also seems out of control, even though the rate of increase has slowed somewhat in the last few years. As far as nature goes, there is literally nothing standing in our way except the limited resources of the planet. (See Tira Shubart’s article on how the recently returned astronauts in the International Space Station viewed the impact of COVID-19 from outer space)

Astronauts from the International Space Station who recently returned to earth in mid-April 2020 said that even from outer space they could witness a far cleaner environment inadvertently brought about by the spread of coronavirus resulting in the closure of polluting factories and a staggering drop in road transport meaning massively reduced C02 emissions. (Photo: NASA)

If we continue to destroy the world’s natural habitat and drive the rest of nature towards extinction, humankind may reach the point at which existence is no longer sustainable. We will undoubtedly get through this pandemic. What we should be concerned with is the next cataclysm which might take place if we don’t re-establish a sustainable balance between ourselves and the environment on which we depend.

William Dowell is the Americas editor of Global Geneva. As a foreign correspondent he has reported widely across the globe for news organizations such as TIME, ABC News and NBC. Dowell is also co-author with Winter Nie of the book “In the Shadow of the Dragon: The Global Expansion of Chinese Companies –and How It Will Change Business Forever“. Dowell is also a a co-editor of The Eseential Field Guide to Afghanistan.

Related articles in Global Geneva Covid-19: Is the Swiss government engaged in false news and not doing its job? Pandemic: A Planetary Wake-up Call Space lessons for Covid-19 isolation – and more IRAN-USA: The Sound and the Fury – An outrage too far? Parag Khanna’s Latest Book: The Future is Asian AGORA Rising: International Switzerland’s innovative approach to real time cancer research The Mort Report: A crime against humanity
Kategorien: Jobs

Rural Rock: Queen, Oasis and the Ridge Farm Story

21. April 2020 - 10:25

When some 30 police officers raided both Ridge Farm, one of England’s earliest rural rock recording studios, and the nearby Plough Pub, at 6.00 am in spring, 1982, they were hoping to bust what they thought was an international drug ring. The police had been doing clandestine surveillance of both establishments located just outside the small West Sussex village of Rusper. For days, too, undercover drug squad officers drank at the pub to observe its comings and goings.

But all they could find were traces of marijuana in an ashtray of the pub’s private quarters. At the farm some two kilometers away, they only secured small amounts of hash. Their meagre haul was not exactly what the police had expected, particularly given that certain well-heeled residents in this affluent part of England’s Stockbroker Belt with its gardened manors, manicured cottages and horse stables considered Ridge Farm to be a rock ‘n roll “den of iniquity’. After all, what else would these long-haired rock musicians from leading bands such as Queen, Bad Company, Roxy Music and Black Sabbath be doing in the depths of rural Albion?

The Plough was particularly well-known. Most evenings it would attract crowds with the knowledge that pop stars regularly turned up from Ridge Farm to drink, relax and show off. Ozzy Ozbourne, who was then with his newly-formed band Blizaard of Oz, was renowned for his heavy drinking, but also for his magnanimousness by standing drinks for anyone who happened to be there. “He was very popular and liked to stick his whole face into a glass of beer. People found that very funny, but not too happy when he pissed outside. A very nice guy though,” recalls Billy Andrews, who, together with his brother Frank, had set up Ridge Farm as a creative retreat for rock groups.

Freddie Mercury with a cuppa at Ridge Farm. (Photo: Ridge Farm archive)

The local Establishment was never too keen

“There was a real atmosphere of freedom and happiness,” notes Frank, who, with his shoulder-length length grey hair, looks as if he has just been transported into the present as an older version of a late 1960s younger self. “Sure, there were drugs, but it was all pretty low-key, or it was all behind the scenes even if some really wild things did go on.“ For the two brothers, it was clear that some of the local ‘pommy’ Establishment didn’t like what was happening and probably reported them to the police. Fortunately, at the time of the raid there was no band at Ridge Farm and is probably why the police did not find anything egregious.

Billy, however, who is now 65 and the more effusive of the two brothers, was fined 40 pounds for the remains of a joint in the pub, which was run by his mother. Disappointed, the police blocked the renewal of The Plough’s alcohol license, a decidedly underhand move which eventually forced the family to sell the establishment. “This was a pity because the pub had just won the Egon Ronay Cheese Pub of the Year Award for the whole of England,” explains Frank wistfully. At the time, the Egon Ronay Food Guide, which is now run by the Royal Automobile Society, was widely renowned for its good taste and responsible for significantly raising the quality of British restaurant food from a broadly mediocre base.

As for Ridge Farm, the police charged their father, John Andrews, the Cambridge-educated Chief Engineer of the National Coal Board, with being the mastermind behind the supposed drug ring. It took several years for the father to clear his name. Nevertheless, the tension created led to the departure in 1983 of Billy, leaving Frank to continue developing Ridge Farm into one of Britain’s most important countryside production and recording locations for leading bands, including Oasis, Roxy Music, Pearl Jam, Bad Company, OMD and Wet Wet Wet.

Roxy Music disc plaque at Ridge Farm. (Photo: Edward Girardet)

This continued until the early 2000s. But by then, the record business had changed. Major companies preferred that their protégés use their own establishments in London or Los Angeles rather than disappear into the rural outback. Furthermore, given Ridge Farm’s success, other entrepreneurs had set up their own recording studios. The last musician to record at Ridge was Joe Jackson, a British performer and songwriter, in 2002.

The old Granary, now a guest house, at Ridge Farm. (Photo: Edward Girardet)

Secluded and rustic: a most unlikely rock centre

Located in a quiet, out-of-the-way rural setting with 16th century converted farm buildings, swimming pool, tennis court and sprawling woodland garden, basically, the romantic English country idyll, Ridge Farm now operates as a much sought-after location for weddings, birthdays, business meetings and other events. Its corridors are lined with best-selling disc awards for the Ridge Farm bands and other memorabilia, such as the same croquet set that Queen used. Or the kitchen where the staff catered meals for the bands; some of them sometimes cooked for themselves or at least made tea. More recently, the Farm has attracted nostalgia aficionados, particularly from China and Japan, wishing to see where Freddy Mercury played tennis or the Gallagher brothers of Oasis sat around producing – and arguing.

“It was a fantastice time…” Billy (L) and Frank (R) Andrews at Ridge Farm. (Photo: Edward Girardet)

“The idea of setting up a studio at the farm was obvious,” recalls Frank Andrews as we drink tea and eat baked potato in what used to be Ridge Farm’s main studio building. His brother Billy and two collaborators – both veteran music technicians who have been working on and off at Ridge Farm for decades – are chatting with us. “All these bands needed an out-of-the-way place to rehearse and to record…to get away from all the London distractions,” he adds.

The first band to come in 1975 – Ridge Farm’s launch year – was Back Street Crawler, an English-American rock band founded by former Free musician, Paul Kossoff. As Frank explains, they turned up with Ronnie Laine’s mobile recording unit. Laine, who died in 1997 of multiple sclerosis, was best known as a musician, producer and songwriter as well as a founding member of the British rock group The Small Faces – and later Faces. “It all took off right after that. The bands started coming.”

Despite their earlier dispute, Frank and Billy now regularly see each other. As we talk, both are eager to share their reminiscences of the studio’s heyday since the mid-1970s until well into the 90s. For three of their five kids, now in their twenties and also listening in the kitchen, this was the first time that they have heard some of these stories. “Of course, it was all very basic in the beginning…just a place to rehearse,” continues Frank, eyes sparkling at past memories.

(Left to Right) Roger Taylor, Brian May, Freddie Mercury and John Deacon of Queen at Ridge Farm with Andrews
family dog. (Photo: Queen Productions Ltd)

Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody and the Ridge Farm piano

Frank’s main job was lighting technician for Queen, Rolling Stones, ABBA and other groups during their concert tours across the UK and Europe. “I would often be away for months on end,” he recalls. “It was a fantastic time…And there are lot of stories I’m not going to tell you,” he adds with an enigmatic smile. When Queen told him that they were looking for a place to get away, he suggested Ridge Farm.

Queen turned up for six weeks in 1975. At the time, the band was still relatively unknown, but in the process of exploding onto the scene. They were working on “Night at the Opera”, their fourth album. Frank had yet to install the studio’s state-of-the-art recording facilities, so the four band members only used the farm to write and compose their songs. They later travelled to Rockfield in Wales to record. The 2018 movie Bohemian Rhapsody, which profiles Freddy Mercury’s life, depicts Ridge Farm but another location was used for the filming.

Nostalgia tourists from China, Japan and other Asian countries have been visiting to see where Queen produced or Oasis played and had arguments. A Korean-language edition. (Ridge Farm archive)

During their stay, the band lived in the main building with its irregular wooden staircases, uneven floors and secluded bedrooms, each one completely different. “There was very much a family atmosphere. It was all very informal with flared trousers, or in the case of Freddie, very short shorts and black-painted fingernails,” recalls Frank. “They played snooker and  tennis – Freddie was really good at tennis. Or they went for swims in the indoor pool. They also loved our dog and were constantly playing with it.” Evenings they would all drive to the pub to chat and relax. “Some of the pommy clientele probably hid their daughters when the lads came in with their long hair and jeans,” adds Billy with a grin.

Freddie Mercury (L) playing snooker with Brian May. (Photo: Ridge Farm Archive)

Both brothers agree that Freddie was extremely quiet and shy, and very polite. For a musician later renowned for his ostentatious behaviour and for being gay, or at least bi-sexual, and who died of AIDS, Mercury also turned up with his girlfriend Mary. “Really not quite what you would expect, but clearly a very complex fellow,” he adds. Smiling, Billy nods in agreement. “Queen were exceptional.

“Yeah, but Queen were very serious. Very professional. They worked hard,” interjects Frank. He points to the room next door, which still serves as a studio by one of the Andrews’ children. It is crammed with equipment, boxes and other items. Frank gestures to the piano. “I like to imagine that Freddie composed ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on it,” he muses. “In actual fact, he didn’t like our piano and had his own brought in, you know, the famous white one. But as far as we’re concerned, our piano was the inspirational one.”

Freddie Mercury and Brian May of Queen at Ridge Farm with Andrews family dog. (Ridge Farm archive)

Establishing one of the UK’s leading musical retreats

As wild as many of these bands were, Frank understood the need to get away in order to rehearse and work on their songs. On return from one of these tours, he found that his parents had moved and no longer wished to live at the farm. So together with Billy, they proceeded to transform one of the old buildings into a studio. Several years later, once the Ridge Farm began to prove successful, Frank arranged to buy the farm off his parents.

From then onwards, Frank and Bill began to develop Ridge Farm into a musical retreat. This was before the two feuded. “A bit too much drinking and too many drugs,” admits Billy with a laugh. “I was a bit all over the place. There were also a lot of roadies around.”

Rehearsing at the Ridge Farm Studio. (Photo: Ridge Farm archive)

Consisting of several typical post-medieval main buildings and barns partially constructed from old ship lumber and lying relatively secluded, Ridge Farm proved ideal. Not only did it offer both space and seclusion, but it was also not far from London. Barely one hour’s drive and 30 minutes from Gatwick Airport. While the two brothers together with several other tour technicians created a studio, it was initially only for rehearsing, not recording. The bands had to bring their own mobile sound equipment. It was only much later that Frank set about building a state-of-the-art recording facility, the Ridge Farm Studio.

At the time, the idea of producing a rock album in the countryside was completely unique. The managers liked the concept because their bands could focus on getting the job done. “It was really a great location, a bit of traditional England and a complete contrast to their rock ‘n roll lives,” explains Frank, who continued touring with bands for another five years before focusing completely on the studio operation. “There was a lot of drinking and drugs. A lot of white powder with some of the bands getting pretty ripped. I would have died had I continued.”

During the 25 years that Ridge Farm functioned as one of England’s leading music retreats, numerous renowned musicians and bands passed through, some to work, others simply to party or to jam. “It was fantastic to think that we jammed with people like Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, or Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull,” says Billy, who plays the piano.

Pearl Jam. (Photo: Edward Girardet)

“The bands could work however and whenever they liked,” Frank continues. “Sometimes you would turn up first thing in the morning and some of the band members would just be going to bed. Or, you’d have to go and wake them to drag them out of bed.” At the same time, he adds, “a lot of them were exceptionally serious musicians. They worked very intensely to create some incredibly epic, legendary music.”

Oasis, the highly influential English band from Manchester known for its feuding, drugs and bad behavior came to Ridge Farm in 1996 in a bid to find some peace and quiet in order to complete their third album, ‘Be Here Now.’ “They were also very serious about their music, but constantly bickering. There was a lot of shouting and swearing,” says Frank, with Billy nodding.

Mentioning band after band, or individual musicians whom they revered, the two of them recall the great or memorable moments of Ridge Farm of which there are clearly many. One of the most notable being the time when Sharon Aaron, Ozzy Osbourne’s then girlfriend and later wife, tossed his Rolex into the garden pond during one of their many arguments. “We had to come in with a metal detector. We looked really hard, but we never found it,” Frank says before pausing. “It could still be there.”

Entrance gate to Ridge Farm today. Little has changed….(Photo: Edward Girardet)

Edward Girardet, a foreign correspondent and author, is editor of Global Geneva magazine based in Geneva and Bangkok.

Useful Links

Montreux-Riviera, Switzerland. https://www.montreuxriviera.com/en/P976/freddie-mercury-statue

Ridge Farm, West Sussex, UK. https://www.ridgefarm.com/

Duck House, Montreux, Switzerland. https://www.montreuxriviera.com/en/P32803/duck-house-freddie-mercury-vacation-home

Freddie Celebration Days, Montreux, Switzerland. https://www.montreuxriviera.com/en/P33447/freddie-celebration-days

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