ONWARD, CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS!

crusaders
JOIN THE PLASTIC CRUSADE!

 

The new Hungarian law criminalizing aid to undocumented migrants, and more such niceties, did not provoke the reactions one might have hoped from more enlightened Europeans. Other EU members who have decided on backward courses- Poland the even more retrograde leader of the pack- are applauding loudly. My Polish doorman in Manhattan once told me his best Polish joke. Why was it so easy for the Nazis to invade Poland? Answer: They marched in backwards and said that they were leaving. 

The Central-European neo-fascists are now talking about forming a grand political party to bring Europe back to its Christian roots. Onward, Christian soldiers! Follow the white horse and the crusader standard of Mr Viktor Orban, the Hungarian PM! While we’re at it, shall we reconquer Jerusalem and invite the Inquisition back in? It’s only a few easy laws away.

Does all of this this amaze me? Not really. I have always thought that the eastward expansion of the EU after the fall of European communism was hasty- and quite naïve.

I was truly shocked only once, when a fellow EU diplomat from the Czech Republic complained about the number of immigrants in Brussels. ‘But you’ve worked in New York’, I reminded her. ‘That’s not the same. I’m a woman from Central Europe and we don’t have that kind of society’.

That kind of  society was just not ready for a fluid world with mixing identities. But here’s the catch. Now that they have pocketed our tax money- ours meaning the older EU states, of which I am a proud citizen- to come to prosperity, they gladly spit us in the face. A majority of their citizens reveal themselves as political adolescents, and not just the poorly educated, as I found out. Former prisoners of communism, they are now mentally even more constrained, clinging to the illusion of national purity and fully homogeneous societies. Except on faraway islands in the middle of the Pacific, such a thing has never existed.

Maybe we should move a few Central-European countries there, and hide a tribe of neo- cannibals for the new christian zealots to discover and to convert. I see endless possibilities.

Till we can carry those out- and let’s not wait too long- Budapest is advertising itself as a nice tourist destination these days: so colorful, welcoming and hospitable! So much history! Such scenic bridges and castles! – and they come cheap for Hollywood productions, too.

What does my conscience dictate me? Stay away and don’t let them make another penny on me? Yes, that’s the gut-reaction. Worse: I want to recuperate the share of my tax money that was invested anywhere between Warsaw and Budapest. Milder- maybe better, as the former ambassador- no, go there and talk to people, and find out why they believe the nonsense they’re voting for? Or discover that there is true opposition from intelligent people who see through the little Hitler and Mussolini wannabe’s of our generation?

Sanctions won’t help, if they were even possible. Unanimity in the European Council gives every bad government a veto. The simple truth is that Europe, as an enlightened club of democracies, was never meant to end up with these situations. The British at least had the guts to leave, even if their fingers get caught in the slamming door. No such clarity in the East with its plastic toy crusaders.

MIGRANTS, SHAME AND HARSH TRUTHS

 

aquarius-MinistereodeDefensa-flickr

Hungary’s elected fascist government just took further steps to criminalize aid to migrants. In the United States, Mr Trump’s policy to separate thousands of migrant children from their parents at the southern border is criticized by his own party, and even by his wife, not the most vocal of recent First Ladies. No doubt there is opposition in Hungary, too- but clearly not enough to avoid collective shame.

The only good consequence of the various crises, including Italy’s newfound official xenophobia and migrant policies threatening the fragile German coalition, is that it puts the problem even more squarely on the political agenda for the EU- and not with long deadlines, but having to deliver some kind of progress and a sustainable policy within weeks.

Like any half-decent citizen of Europe and the world, I am giving this much thought.

The Aquarius and the other vessels carrying hundreds of migrants, refused entry by Italy and Malta, last weekend finally docked in Valencia, Spain. I did have a moment of pride for my adopted country for showing the humanity that others sorely lacked.

The new Italian right wing government obviously could not fail to use the situation for an easy score with its constituencies: that was a guaranteed penalty shot. It’s cheap and predictable, apart from being inhumane, and should be denounced as such. But the Italian people put that crew in charge, like Hungarians did in Budapest, and some of their concerns regarding the migrants are legitimate. The burden sharing in the European Union is seriously flawed, true. But the sad irony is that these disequilibria are by and large the result of the kind of xenophobia that Italy has now joined.

Even more unfortunately, there are other harsh truths to be told about the shameful migratory situation in the Mediterranean. I’ll begin with the harshest: bleeding-heart sentimental solidarity is not a solution. Spontaneous solidarity is noble, but it can be fickle and easily slides back into missionary commiserationwhich is nothing but a more subtle form of racism, seeing Africans as victims only- not as human beings responsible for their own fate, for their own choices and, frequently enough, their own wars.

Such feelings have ruled so-called development cooperation in Africa for decades, since the wave of independence took over the continent in the 1960s. The staggering numbers of migrants now seeking refuge in Europe testify to the bankruptcy of the approach that sank zillions of dollars in the continent, but mostly benefited socially callous elites and created no jobs and no perspectives for the majority.

I speak from long experience when I venture to say that for much of the last half century, most of our ‘development cooperation’ has done much more harm than good- creating dependencies and undermining self-respect.

The next harsh truth is that the present confusion between economic migrants and bona fide refugees is more and more untenable. Bad to horrible violence prevails in Syria, Yemen, Somalia. Those countries produce refugees, no doubt. There are a few intermediate situations more difficult to judge- the Central African Republic, Burundi, parts of the Congo.

Libya is bad, but serves mostly for transit- in the horrible conditions that we know. Still- Europe has a debt of honor towards Libya and Libyans, due to the tenebrous intrigues of a handful of (now mostly disgraced) EU politicians that brought down Khadafi, and sent the country from bad to much worse.

But as far as I’m concerned, no person from Senegal, Eritrea, Nigeria or even the Sudan should automatically qualify for refugee status, and in many cases not at all.

This is where compassion-based solidarity clashes most with rational thinking. Europe needs immigration in the long run, given the aging of its own population; but allowing for an unchecked influx of unskilled labor, and often subject to racism at that, is just closing an eye to new forms of slavery at home, such as prevails in the vast, plastic horticulture hothouses around Almería in my home region of Andalucía. Been there, seen it.

Refugees and migrants entering the European Union should stand a fair chance of integration, education and dignified employment. As it is, the first generation is often condemned to a marginal existence: legal limbo, housing ran by shark-like profiteers, dependency on handouts either from a state already buckling under social security expenses, or from a church; some dealing, some street vending. Much hanging around on street corners, sleeping in parks- regretting the move? A few are honest enough to admit it, most will not- such is the pride of every immigrant, and the cost or the debt incurred with human traffickers. One may hope that the babies brought over or even born on the migrant ships will reach a better life, twenty years from now. But in the meantime, Africa is bled once more of tens of thousands of active women and men, who should make a difference in their own countries instead of lingering in the margins in the EU.

Few if any African states are democracies as we see it. There may be repression and intolerance: ethnic, religious, gender-based. But every woman and every man running away instead of fighting for change at home, strengthens the hand of a dictator or a corrupt and shortsighted ruler.

These are difficult thoughts to consider, but we must think them.

Europe should long have developed a truly equal economic partnership with Africa: they are so complimentary! Instead of which, we have acted for another fifty years like the missionaries of colonial times, and China has taken root, with the most unsentimental of approaches, and without the post-colonial hangups we still carry.

Whatever the European summit will decide, already now the migrant-and-refugee politics of today recall situations of the 1930’s and the 1940s. It’s not just the new fascism that’s on the rise, also its wider consequences. But just solidarity from the heart and the gut will not work against it, however noble those feelings are. There is need for a rational approach, based on an intelligent understanding of long-term interests of all sides- including the countries of origin.

These reflections do not take away from a shame the entire EU is sharing, Germany and Spain so far excepted. It’s striking that of the sixty-plus million of migrants of all categories worldwide, most of the burden of the real refugees- the ones on the run from war and ethnic hatred- is carried by countries that are themselves much poorer than the EU and the US: Turkey, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Jordan, Uganda…

To go back to Budapest, the city advertising itself so well as a lively and colorful tourist destination: in darker times, under Soviet domination and invasion, many Hungarians were welcomed as refugees in Western Europe and elsewhere. It’s always easier to forget than to remember.

Let the ships dock, reach out with a helping hand- but also think about all that remains unsaid behind the well-meant images, and where the souls saved from angry seas and callous politicians will go next.

 

 

 

THE AQUARIUS MIGRANTS: SOLIDARITY FROM THE HEART- AND HARSH TRUTHS. — THE DIPLOMATIC LOUNGE

The Aquarius and the other vessels carrying hundreds of migrants, refused entry by Italy and Malta, over the weekend finally docked in Valencia, Spain. I did have a moment of pride for my adopted country for showing the humanity that others sorely lacked. The new Italian right wing government obviously could not fail to use […]

via THE AQUARIUS MIGRANTS: SOLIDARITY FROM THE HEART- AND HARSH TRUTHS. — THE DIPLOMATIC LOUNGE

THE AQUARIUS MIGRANTS: SOLIDARITY FROM THE HEART- AND HARSH TRUTHS.

aquarius-MinistereodeDefensa-flickr

The Aquarius and the other vessels carrying hundreds of migrants, refused entry by Italy and Malta, over the weekend finally docked in Valencia, Spain. I did have a moment of pride for my adopted country for showing the humanity that others sorely lacked.

The new Italian right wing government obviously could not fail to use the situation for an easy score with its constituencies: that was a guaranteed penalty shot. It’s cheap and predictable, apart from being inhumane, and should be denounced as such. But the Italian people put that crew in charge, and some of their concerns regarding the migrants are legitimate. The burden sharing in the European Union is seriously flawed, true. But the sad irony is that these disequilibria are by and large the result of the kind of xenophobia Italy has now joined.

Even more unfortunately, there are other harsh truths to be told about the shameful migratory situation in the Mediterranean. I’ll begin with the harshest: bleeding-heart sentimental solidarity is not a solution. Spontaneous solidarity is noble, but it can be fickle and easily slides back into missionary commiserationwhich is nothing but a more subtle form of racism, seeing Africans as victims only- not as human beings responsible for their own fate, for their own choices and, frequently enough, their own wars.

Such feelings have ruled so-called development cooperation in Africa for decades, since the wave of independence took over the continent in the 1960s. The staggering numbers of migrants now seeking refuge in Europe testify to the bankruptcy of the approach that sank zillions of dollars in the continent, but mostly benefited socially callous elites and created no jobs and no perspectives for the majority.

I speak from long experience when I venture to say that for much of the last half century, most of our ‘development cooperation’ has done much more harm than good- creating dependencies and undermining self-respect.

The next harsh truth is that the present confusion between economic migrants and bona fide refugees is more and more untenable. Bad to horrible violence prevails in Syria, Yemen, Somalia. Those countries produce refugees, no doubt. There are a few intermediate situations more difficult to judge- the Central African Republic, Burundi, parts of the Congo.

Libya is bad, but serves mostly for transit- in the horrible conditions that we know. Still- Europe has a debt of honor towards Libya and Libyans, due to the tenebrous intrigues of a handful of (now mostly disgraced) EU politicians that brought down Khadafi, and sent the country from bad to much worse.

But as far as I’m concerned, no person from Senegal, Eritrea, Nigeria or even the Sudan should automatically qualify for refugee status, and in many cases not at all.

This is where compassion-based solidarity clashes most with rational thinking. Europe needs immigration in the long run, given the aging of its own population; but allowing for an unchecked influx of unskilled labor, and often subject to racism at that, is just closing an eye to new forms of slavery at home, such as prevails in the vast, plastic horticulture hothouses around Almería in my home region of Andalucía. Been there, seen it.

Refugees and migrants entering the European Union should stand a fair chance of integration, education and dignified employment. As it is, the first generation is often condemned to a marginal existence: legal limbo, housing ran by shark-like profiteers, dependency on handouts either from a state already buckling under social security expenses, or from a church; some dealing, some street vending. Much hanging around on street corners, sleeping in parks- regretting the move? A few are honest enough to admit it, most will not- such is the pride of every immigrant. One may hope that the babies brought over or even born on the migrant ships will reach a better life, twenty years from now. But in the meantime, Africa is bled once more of tens of thousands of active women and men, who should make a difference in their own countries instead of lingering in the margins in the EU.

Few if any African states are democracies as we see it. There may be repression and intolerance: ethnic, religious, gender-based. But every woman and every man running away instead of fighting for change at home, strengthens the hand of a dictator or a corrupt and shortsighted ruler.

These are difficult thoughts to consider, but we must think them.

Europe should long have developed a truly equal economic partnership with Africa: they are so complimentary! Instead of which, we have acted for another fifty years like the missionaries of colonial times, and China has taken root, with the most unsentimental of approaches, and without the post-colonial hangups we still carry.

Let the ships dock, reach out with a helping hand- but also think about all that remains unsaid behind the well-meant images, and where the souls saved from angry seas and callous politicians will go next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LORRAINE GORDON: EVER AT THE VANGUARD

lorraine

Lorraine Gordon, longtime proprietor of the iconic Village Vanguard jazz club in downtown Manhattan, passed away at age 95 last Saturday, June 9.

She richly deserves to be honored here in the Diplomatic Lounge. Like many liberal New Yorkers with prominent credentials in the arts and entertainment world, she was also at the vanguard of normal relations between the United States and Cuba.

We hosted her in Havana in the late 1990’s, where she was visiting long before the diplomatic reconciliation in late 2014.

Music had always been a good vehicle for people-to-people diplomacy between the two countries. Before the Cuban Revolution in 1959, there was a constant back-and-forth of great jazz musicians between New York and Havana. Latin jazz was the result- a genre Lorraine adored, especially when played by the great Chucho Valdès.

The musical links between the two cities were never completely severed, even though prominent Cuban performers went into exile and, unavoidably, a dose of sometimes mean and painful politics crept into the sounds and the rhythms. Yet, even in the 1970s, occasional jam sessions could overcome such hurdles to bring both sides together playing memorable improvisations in Havana.

In Miami for long years a kind of cultural apartheid reigned, with exiled Cuban musicians keeping their colleagues from the island at bay- and so, estranged from their roots, missing out on many vital musical developments. But New York never practiced such separations, and the Vanguard was one of the temples of musical reconciliation.

This quietly expanded as of the 1990s, around the time when we met Lorraine in Havana- till the yearly Havana Jazz Festival routinely saw bicoastal performances. Music was then, as so often, ahead of politics.

Still even then, Lorraine could be irritated no end when erratic US visa policies prohibited Chucho to travel to New York, and she had to cancel a concert long programmed at the Vanguard. Twice this happened with a fully sold out house, and she had to reimburse all the reservations, which she obviously hated. When then finally Chucho made it to the Vanguard, Henry Kissinger wanted to attend but, Lorraine said dryly, I kicked him out- as she saw him as the establishment that had caused her so much trouble.

When in New York, we had great times at the Vanguard, where Lorraine would still keep watch over the entrance and would decide with undisputed authority who was allowed to go down the long stairs to her club. When not working, she entertained us with her dry wit and stories of the jazz greats of early years. So Thelonious Monk’s very first concert at the Vanguard, which almost turned to a disaster when he greeted the audience with the words Good evening, Human Beings- maybe implying that he himself, like his even more eccentric contemporary Sun Ra, was from another planet than common mortals.

She was her own person and was afraid of no one. In Havana she wisely stayed out of politics, but hinted that she would like to meet with Fidel ‘to teach him a thing or two’ as a human being. I would have loved to see those two meet: both fearless, she the quintessential tough New Yorker, he the man who knew it all.

She told us that she herself only listened to the purest of pure jazz. When during her visit in Havana we played a CD of renowned sax player Bruce Lundvall- incidentally at that time also the head of the fame Blue Note jazz record label- she got upset, asked what the hell this was, an upon being shown the CD case threw it away in disgust- although Lundvall was a good friend of hers… She was never one for compromises.

Once when we were sitting at her table in the club, I remember that she got irritated with my keeping rhythm with the music tapping the glass of my drink with a finger. She slapped me on the hand. She might have been our guest in a white palace in Miramar, Havana- but here she ruled.

Lorraine’s jazz credentials spanned the stages of her private life. Her first husband, Alfred Lion, was one of the founders of the Blue Note label. It was her second husband, Max Gordon, who founded the Vanguard in the 1930s. She took over the management as his widow as of 1989.

Her involvement in people-to-people diplomacy with Cuba was not a coincidence. She had been a political activist, including opposing the Vietnam War, as of the 1960s.

Lorraine had a long and well lived life. We must celebrate her, not mourn her. What we’ll miss more and more is her kind of tough, unsentimental but profoundly human Newyorkers, in this age of senseless glitter and of gutter politics.

 

 

 

THE TALENTED MR KIM

Talented indeed!

Kim-Jong-Un
WINNER OF HE FIRST ROUND, WITHOUT ANY DOUBT

It may not be all that difficult to outsmart Mr Trump at a negotiating table, but the former little Rocket Man succeeded probably beyond his own expectations.

I don’t know anything more about North Korea than the next person, one reason being that the country’s diplomats I occasionally came across, were not able/ not allowed/ not programmed to communicate.

Enormous difference with, say Iran- a country with many sophisticated and communicative representatives abroad, with whom I have had pleasant and professional disagreements and moments of personal harmony alike.

Not to be entirely negative about Mr Trump: he was quite candid after the summit, even with a rare flash of self-deprecating humor. But you see, that’s part of the problem: if you start out with behavior and norms at the gutter level, many people get ready to congratulate you for one moment of showing yourself as a quasi-normal human being. And so we become all at risk slowly to absorb a new normalcy.

The shameful silence of Republicans in Congress about most of Mr Trump’s antics is maybe not just what it appears to be: embarrassing subservience in fear of losing one’s job and the perks. Maybe it’s just the symptom of collectively accepting this new normalcy.

Trust Mr Trump to make sure that the limits of crass behavior are constantly pushed further backward. So his G7 performance.

His principal economic minion Mr Larry Kudlow suffered a heart attack just after consigning Canada’s Prime Minister Mr Justin Trudeau to a special place in hell, for responding to Mr Trumps absurdities in kind, albeit in a much more civilized way.

A little foretaste of Karma, Mr Kudlow- with thanks to the gods.  Please recover speedily, so you can amuse us with more such historic pronouncements.

Both Mr Trump and economic geniuses like Mr Kudlow might reflect on the true reasons for the US’s indeed enormous trade deficits. Maybe you should have better quality stuff to sell to the world. China indeed practices large scale dumping- but other cases are different. It’s not the Germans’ or the Japanese fault that they produce excellent cars, nor is anyone foreign leader to blame for the fact that rust-belt factories in the US, short of workers including because of large-scale opioid and other drug addiction, can’t compete with imported steel or aluminum.

When the EU is retaliating with tariffs, the poor US export performance indeed stands out. Europe will tax… US Bourbon and jeans. Good items, and I’m grateful to America for them. But maybe falling a little short to keep the attention of the world?

But seriously- the tentative North Korea- US communiqué makes the Iran Nuclear Deal, torn to shreds by Mr Trump, look exactly like what it was/is: a masterpiece of real-world diplomacy, balancing mistrust and shared interests. Mr Trump is of course consistent in only one thing: his inconsistency.

In the larger picture of world history, with Mr Trump the US has, alas, entered the equivalent of the later emperors of Rome, with their pathetic mix of hubris, glittery bad taste, sociopathic behavior- and ultimate irrelevancy, except for the damage they did to the empire.

One last thing bothers me still: Mr Trump licking Mr Kim’s shoes, but continuing to kick a mean boot into the sides of Cuba. Just another inconsistency?

If I were a Cuban in bad faith, I would conclude that the island, in 1962, should have stuck to its nuclear blackmail. It didn’t pay off with a Kennedy in the White House. But it did for the talented Mr Kim facing Mr Trump. Different times indeed.

SUICIDE IS NOT PAINLESS

Anthony Bourdain’s suicide shocked me too. Emotion apart, it also made me realize how much we come to see TV personalities as family members. This even more true in my household, I guess, because television is often the only link with a chosen culture made one’s own.  In spite of the luxuries of diplomatic life, there is also that element of the emigrant experience.

bourdain
WHY, BRO?

I’m not a foodie at all. In fact, the part of Anthony’s travels that interested me least was the food. Food is essentially fuel to me- in truth, although I love to provoke my surroundings by stressing it. And next to Tony’s occasional exultation about great vintages, I don’t drink wine: I dislike profoundly what it does to me, making me drowsy and drunk in an unpleasant way. Forty years on the road hasn’t made me adventurous about food either: I prefer to play it safe. Thus I both admired, and cringed at, Bourdain’s passion for disgusting delicacies.

What appealed to me was his gift to grasp the essence of places and people with a disarming directness and immediacy. When it came to places, and often their politics, Bourdain never avoided painful truths to catch what the Romans called the genius loci- the spirit of the place. I realize of course that food- or rather, booze- was the best intermediary to get at that.

The sad deed occurred in Alsace. Is that relevant? Over the years I’ve had some professional dealings in Strassbourg, second home of the European Parliament and seat of the Human-Rights-defending Council of Europe. Although Franco-German friendship is the backbone of the European Union, Alsace where both cultures meet always felt like a rather depressing place to me, with lots of very bad history and lingering reciprocal distrust- but certainly not sad enough to drive one to suicide.

We’ll suppose that it was a bona fide self-kill, not an autoerotic experiment gone wrong- pardon me for bringing this up, but the god of travel knows what a lonely hotel room in the wrong place can lead to.

Was it an impulse of the moment- a sudden deep flash of despair? A broken heart?- at age 61 maybe worse than for an adolescent. Or the result of a much longer process, having kept up a cheerful façade over an abyss, and suddenly cracking under the weight of it?

But suicide is also an ultimate act of selfishness, certainly if one leaves behind partners and children, whose lives you may permanently affect. Shouldn’t that stop one at the last moment? To step over this is a grave trespass. I don’t adhere to the christian doctrine that suicide is sin per se- I’m more an admirer of the Stoics in that respect. But that’s under extreme circumstances to save one’s honor- and, pardon me again for calling a spade a spade, Tony Bourdain was not a warrior driven to extremes but rather a very spoiled cat by any people’s standards- and certainly he had seen enough misery in the world to be conscious of that.

Plus- when a professional person commits this act, he or she also brings down other professionals, a crew and support staff suddenly out of work. Such a suicide also comes with a domino- effect on other people than family and kids.

Sour philosophers may add their predictable footnote about the vanities of success and the emptiness of materialistic life. Maybe. But I saw Tony very much as a real soul, a brother in trying to understand our complicated planet. Whatever his reasons, in the end I must respect them. The real world is a bit emptier today.