Egypt – the sudden democracy

2011-03-04 Friday
A cartoonist, Johan Jarnestad, hit the nail on the head in yesterdays Dagens Nyheter. Two people with cocktail glasses on the table are talking. The one to the other:

- Damn strange this thing with Egypt. In just about a week it first became a dictatorship and then a democracy.

The fact that Egypt was one of the harshest dictatorships in the world was formerly touched upon very lightly by politicians and media here. The same was the case for a large number of other repressive states all over the world. All critical emotions was saved for China, Cuba, North Korea, Belarus, Iran and to some extent Russia, who all of them were condemned in innumerable op-eds and political speeches.

These condemnations have been built solely on the lack of democracy and the disrespect for human rights in those countries. If we apply the most elementary logic to the contradictions embraced by these decent and revered persons, it’s impossible to find even a trace of coherence. It cannot possibly be about an honest interest in democracy or human rights. What is it then?

By being so blatantly hypocritical politicians and media have themselves opened the door for embarrassing speculations. The most obvious one is that dictators who look after our interests are good ones, irrespective of the brutality they exert, whilst for instance those who use state power to uphold egalitarian principles or provide education and health care for all are among the bad ones. Is this a coincidence? Good question!

Google citation index

2011-03-03 Thursday
Surfing aimlessly on the net I happened to stumble over Google Ngram Viewer, a remarkable tool from an impressive company. Google has scanned 5.2 million books in six languages, or 20 percent of all book ever published. An outstanding performance (in accordance with the thesis that the most superb things come from USA, together with some other things…)

After doing this Hercules job Google offers the gigantic database for everyone to use. I sat fascinated for a long while studying all kinds of worlds and expressions. As an example I copied this diagram, showing three names mentioned here earlier, and the frequency of their appearance in international literature (Swedish is not among the six languages, of course). It was to my satisfaction that Palme 25 years after his death still is mentioned more often than our previous foreign minister.

Chomsky – and Palme

2011-03-02 Wednesday
Speaking of Palme, in 2004 Noam Chomsky, a well known professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, held the Olof Palme Memorial Lecture at The University of Oxford in England. He there spoke on Doctrines and Visions: Who is to Run the World and How? Chomsky is arguably one of the most brilliant minds in the world. Palme shared some of his virtues, but was of course handcuffed by the demands that practical politics posed upon him. Both intelligent men and both on the left side in their views on society. A coincidence?

Wouldn’t think so. The common denominator is the moral universality, which says that a person should submit to the same standards that he applies to others, or more stringent ones if he is serious. Every normal, logically thinking human being has to adhere to this principle of moral universality, there is no alternative. From there on is no other way than to work for an egalitarian world, seeking peace and solidarity, since that is what we normally expect from others. In such a world there is no place for revenge. (If I hit someone because he previously had hit me, I just demonstrate that I thought it wrong of him to hit me in the first place, and if it is wrong to hit someone then etc….)

Noam Chomsky is Americas gift to the world. For me he confirms the experience that USA spans the best and the worst of everything. For one Chomsky and a few of his kind there are regrettably an endless number of right wing lunatics. (This is of course a value judgment which is on me, totally.)

Mourning Palme

2011-03-01 Tuesday
This is the day 25 years ago when most Swedes got the terrible news about the murdering of Olof Palme. Lots of people gathered at the corner where Palme died, placing a rose or just standing there silent and mourning. Many where crying openly. One interviewed woman sobbed with tears running: “but the struggle for peace must go on.”

This is not what happened. Sweden eventually drifted towards the mainstream and lined up with the now neoliberal majority of capitalist states. The poor and starving masses of the world became a non-issue. State terrorism and support of dictators obedient to western powers was looked upon as a necessity, at most a bit unpleasant but not much more. Make money, not love, was the slogan for this new era. Palme soon seemed completely forgotten.

Olof Palme was killed, like Martin Luther King. Both men had a vision of a better world, and both made great contributions in that direction. In the short run it seems like they lost their cases, but in the longer perspective applied by wiser humans they both will be named among the winners. Pessimism is for the short-sighted and optimism for those who will outlive them.

Yesterday a flag guard was posted around Olof Palme’s grave in central Stockholm, and many people put down new flowers. This has been a heavy winter in Sweden, but the spring is around the corner and sooner or later the sun will shine again and give us a warm and nice summer.

25 years without Olof Palme

2011-02-28 Monday
This very day, 25 years ago, prime minister Olof Palme was shot dead in a street in the central parts of Stockholm. The time was 11.21 pm CET. In some of the brain-dead right-wing circles, as for instance among some of the inbred nobilities left over from an ancient and bloody period of this country’s history, champagne bottles were opened. Happy cheering was also later reported to have taken place in some police quarters.

As the brain-dead celebrated, the normal Swedes were chocked by the murder. Never have so many people in this country cried at the same time as on that following day. A mountain of flowers was built up on the side-walk where Palme died. Suddenly immense love and admiration for Palme was expressed by the ordinary Swede. This probably came as a surprise for many, especially in the bourgeoisie.

In his life-time Olof Palme was a controversial figure who often took a strong stand for people in need. Among many other things he engaged Sweden in support for the freedom fighters in South Africa, at a time when USA and others backed the apartheid regime and viewed Nelson Mandela’s ANC as a notorious terrorist organization.

Palme’s early and outspoken criticism of the Vietnam war made him unique among high-level politicians. His engagement for the poor was consistent and rewarded him with seemingly more admiration in the developing world than in his home country. A number of streets and places are named after him in cities around the globe.

The right-wing celebrations of his death was just the natural end-point of their hate towards Palme. Together with the neo-Nazis they had excelled in smear, defamation and lies for centuries, and some of it had probably affected the lumpenproletariat, but also parts of the middle class. What the normal, working Swede thought of Palme was hidden in obscurity. On the day of the murder the true feelings came forward: It was love. Palme’s fight for the poor ones among human beings and his struggle for peace was at the heart of the Swedish mind.

Who did the shooting? Probably an intelligent psychopath and drug-abuser with a violent and criminal background, now dead. His name was Christer Pettersson, and he was identified by Olof Palme’s wife, who had seen him at a meters distance. The police succeeded in screwing up the identification procedure, so that evidence was cancelled by the court. Pettersson was also seen by others near the crime scene before the shooting.

One of many circumstantial evidences was Pettersson’s connection with a Swedish unabomber imprisoned for blowing up a prosecutors home and for two other bombs, killing two persons. This man was a notorious hater of government and Palme, and had in a testament sworn to carry out a bloody revenge on the society for his time in jail. He suffered from cancer but had tied acquaintance with Pettersson in prison before he died. Pettersson was convicted in the first instance, but acquitted in the final one, on grounds of insufficient evidence. The police investigation still goes on.

Words hit back on foreign minister

2011-02-26 Saturday
Our friend, the foreign minister Carl Bildt, seems to have worn out some of his Teflon coating. He is now, surprisingly, under attack for some sloppy formulations about the situation in Libya, thus reported to have said that the question which side to support is irrelevant and that the important thing is to maintain stability in the country.

One piquant aspect of Bildt’s slipping tongue is that his political rival and a former prime minister Goran Persson (Social Democrat) once made a similar mistake on an official visit to China. He there said that stability was important for China’s economic development. This was interpreted (but of course not meant) as a support for the dictatorship. Back home Persson was flooded by attacks about his blunder for weeks, with Carl Bildt among those whipping up severe condemnations.

“Hut gar hem” is a Swedish expression that I can’t find a precise translation for, but it roughly means that in the end you have to pay for the same things you once made others pay for. However, if this affair will leave any scratch marks on the steel nerd remains to be seen.

Sweden playing with Assange’s life

2011-02-25 Friday
A court in Britain has now decided that Julian Assange shall be handed over to Swedish authorities to be faced with accusations regarding sexual offences. The judgment is appealed by Assange’s legal assistants.

Here in Sweden there is still no discussion on what will happen once he is here. If the United States, with it’s special court prepared for Assange, puts pressure on the Swedish government to deliver him, it’s certainly a delicate question whether Sweden can resist. To claim that USA isn’t a law society is unthinkable. To refuse because the risk of a death penalty would be embarrassing. For Carl Bildt personally to come into conflict with his friends over there is hard to believe.

With all these uncertainties, and possibly the life or freedom of an international celebrity at stake, the silence in the media here is a mystery. Even more so when one considers that freedom of expression is a core question in the whole affair. For journalists here that fact normally inspires the highest degree of protection to the endangered individual. Dagens Nyheter, for instance, have for years been intensely campaigning for Dawit Isaak, a journalist and Swedish citizen of Eritrean origin, now suffering in an Eritrean jail on dubious accusations.

No such support for Assange is in sight in mainstream media. On the contrary occasional articles appear where his character is put in question on the sexual issue. As a Swede one can’t avoid asking: what are we about to do? Don’t we mean anything with our celebratory speeches about human rights and fundamental freedoms? Albeit USA consider him a spy or something, that’s understandable. But a moral obligation for non-allied countries is exactly that of offering shelter for people accused of political crimes by other governments.

Bad Food

2011-02-22 Tuesday
Instead of skiing and blogging I’ve spent the last days in bed, food poisoned. A had a bad wiener schnitzel at a cheep road eatery and paid for that twice. But anyhow it gave me today’s topic.

Food poisoning is a much more common decease than would be necessary, regarding that the reason too often is inadequate knowledge. In this otherwise well regulated society it’s much too easy for anyone to start a business serving food without adequate knowledge of food hygiene. In that respect the private kitchen is of course an even higher risk factor.

As a consequence, about 1,8 million individuals in Sweden suffer from food poisoning every year, with a seriousness that keeps them in bed for at least a day. That means one out of five Swedes, each year. This sickness is painful, costly and (in theory) quit unnecessary. Occasionally a few people even die. Still there is no much fuss about the issue.

I believe people in general doesn’t regard this as a big problem. On the other hand there is intense debate over other food issues with much less impact than food poisoning, for instance pesticides, food additives, GMO and other man-made phenomena which poses a negligible risk in comparison.

This consequent inconsequence in our everyday thinking is a human attribute over which there is no point to brood, if you don’t want to shorten your own life from despair.

The Steel Nerd

2011-02-18 Friday
Our foreign minister Carl Bildt is an ambitious man who started his political career as a teenager (much like Bill Clinton). Back then he was a lonely conservative wolf fighting the hordes of radical youths in the 1960s. The prospects in those days for a conservative to ever become a member of the government in Sweden were infinitesimal. But Carl was a man of extraordinary self confidence and iron will, and one day some 20 years later he became Prime minister.

In his party he then had a young man called Fredrik Reinfeldt, whom he found a little too outspoken on the wrong issues, and whom he subsequently blocked from a career in the party for a while. Today Fredrik is prime minister – and Carl’s boss. That’s life!

Our man, Carl Bildt, is a typical Teflon politician who seldom gets tainted whatever happens. Journalists seem to avoid scrutinizing or pursuing him as if he was a bit sacred, much in the same way as they once respectfully treated his former father-in-law Gosta Bohman when he was finance minister.

During a period as businessman, before reentering the government, Carl was for instance a member of the board of Lundin Oil. This company was involved in oil affairs in Sudan and was allegedly cooperating with military forces accused with murdering local civilians who interfered with the company’s activities.

A CV like that would have been deadly poisonous for any other politician in Sweden, but not so for our Carl, characteristically christened “the steel nerd” by a clever female columnist years ago. Media made some vague efforts to create a scandal but nothing happened and they soon ran out of gas.

Today Bildt has to answer for the governments passivity in the case of the Egyptian uproars, and why Sweden have indirectly supported Mubarak by quietly accepting the active, military support given his regime by USA. By responding that the opposition party, the Social democrats, was a members of the same Socialist International as Mubarak’s party the discussion ended.

More chapters of The Bildt Saga are for sure expected, some of which will probably suite this webpage.

Undercover foreign policy

2011-02-17 Thursday
Julian Assange has now got another reason to fear extradition to Sweden. The other day Dagens Nyheter revealed some new secrets from the Wikileaks files. It turns out that there exists a semi-secret high-level group called e-PINE, which spells out Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe. (The foreign Department’s press secretary says he didn’t know about it.)

This e-PINE group is manned by high-level officials from the Nordic and Baltic countries, plus for some interesting reason the United States, who has been represented by the Assistant Secretary of State, Daniel Fried. What the secret documents reveal is that the real purpose of this group is to build a shield against Russia. So one topic of discussion is how to strengthen the Russian border states, for instance how to facilitate for Ukraine and Georgia to become NATO members.

One of the more delicate parts of the revelation is that the group has discussed how to drive a wedge between President Medvedev and prime minister Putin of Russia, with the aim to strengthen Medvedev and weaken Putin. As it contradicts Sweden’s official foreign policy to interfere with other nations internal affairs, this has become an embarrassment to prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and foreign minister Carl Bildt. Since the former probably doesn’t forget things very easily, and the latter has a slight touch of megalomania, Assange’s hopes in this country have dropped another level.

Still there is no debate about the fear of Assange being extradited from Sweden to USA, should he be forced to come here. If the United States will demand Sweden to extradite him there are definitely formal problems for Sweden to deny it.

Strange how we find freedom of expression such a wonderful thing in Egypt and such a disaster when it really is used here in a substantial way.