- Souvenirs of my Journey
- Je m’appelle Shaïwal
- We are all Brexited
- TRUMP’S AMERICA
- Istanbul After the Attempted Coup
- INCREDIBLE INDIA
- LET´S CHANGE ARGENTINA… YES, WE CAN!
- THE FUTURE (S)HE (and WE) WANT
- Turkey at a crossroads
- Bruxelles, ma belle …
- Cool Britannia
- The Chinese Dream
- Istanbul: city of hüzün
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Category Archives: Blog
WE ARE ALL BREXITED
The Brexit referendum, and its aftermath, has led to blood, sweat and tears; both in (now global) Britain and in the (now isolated) Continent.
Almost one year after, the streets of London remain their usual vibrant and full of life. And yet, something may be starting to change if you know where to look.
Let us have an ironic look into those Brexiteers and Remainers that still share the same country but are not sure where they are heading to.
Old and new generations voted very differently, the former about imagined past glories and the later about their future…Empire versus Erasmus?
Britain is already global, economically but also socially and ethnically…much ado about nothing?
Migrants are there, keep coming and nobody can reverse this trend…whatever UKIP, and now the government, promise.
…and Brick Lane is not about to become an English pub.
Back to the Commonwealth…or keep enjoying wealth in common?
Was Brexit about money?…it seems money is not starting to rain over London or the NHS….False promises?
On the contrary, many City yuppies are starting to learn French…and to ask existential questions: do Brussels, Luxembourg or Paris offer the best tax deals and dating services?
Elections are looming in the horizon, politicians get speedy again…where is UKIP hiding?
Is Brexit going to be part of the electoral horse-trading?
Could a Pro-Remain dark horse suddenly emerge?
People continue to rush…going nowhere or back to the start?
Is Brexit going to be hard or soft? Brutal or caring?
…as in any divorce, children and housing should be handled carefully…
Art. 50 have been triggered…but people only care about other articles
Britain will remain in Europe, Europeans will stay there and the rest of the world will continue to enjoy watching their passionate intercourse…
The only certainty is that young people fear for their future.
The recent US election was an earthquake that totally re-shaped American politics. A billionaire outsider without any government experience has beaten the whole American establishment, not only of both parties but also of the press, academia and business. How was this possible?
How could a man who offended, during the campaign, women, latinos, blacks, muslims and many others win in the end? Political pundits will try to explain this huge surprise for many years to come, but some reasons all well known to us, and also present in Europe.
Firstly, fear. Fear of unchecked globalisation destroying jobs and undermining living standards. Fear of the other, whether he is Chinese, Mexican or Muslim. Fear of the future, of your children living worse than you and even than your parents.
Secondly, hate. Hate of the establishment, the 1%, who has profited while the rest was left behind and ignored. Hate of Wall Street brokers that created the terrible 2008 meltdown and are even richer today. Hate of Washington that let them get away with it unpunished.
Thirdly, decline. The rapidly disappearing American middle class. Stagnant wages for decades pushing people to pile up debt. Former industrial powerhouses that became ghost towns. The end of the American dream of social upward mobility. The end of US world supremacy.
Like in the Brexit vote, the people have said ENOUGH! We no longer trust our self-serving elites. America for the Americans, whatever that means…
This political revolution will change the face of America, make it more inward-looking, more nationalistic, less tolerant with the others, less open and generous.
The rest of world waits in fear, hoping that electoral promises will NOT become US government policy.
And the American people are deeply divided in two camps, the haves and the haves not. The liberal and the “deplorable”. New York and California against the rest. Let us hope things don’t turn up even uglier.
We went to Turkey immediately after the attempted coup of last July. She felt different, eerie, even strange.
Something very serious has happened, people seemed in a state of shock, and yet, the deep trends in society continue to play underneath flags and demonstrations.
Is there a new Turkey where the flag and the mosque now embrace each other?
Or is it the same old Turkey with all her usual contradictions, with her mixture of traditional and modern, East and West, religious and secular, and so on…
Social inequalities, even larger between city and countryside, now exacerbated by three million Syrian refugees many of whom barely survive in the streets.
Sharp generational gaps, where secular Ataturk, western pop and Islamism co-exist and collide.
Huge demonstrations post-coup brought millions of people in the streets for several weeks. They can be seen in different ways.
What were they supporting?
Were they supporting President Erdogan, who undeniably emerges stronger after the events and embarks upon a massive purge of opponents?
Was it a more Islamic society, that finally gives recognition and dignity to more traditional Muslims after decades of imposed secularism and western values since Ataturk?
Or was it simply an explosion of nationalism against growing foreign criticism of the government?
More optimistically, was it just a massive and healthy popular support for democracy?
Maybe they represented the genuine desire of all parents for a better future for their children, peaceful and prosperous, leaving finally behind military interventions and control of the society?
Probably, all of them together, although in different doses for different groups of society.
In any event, and well before the end of judicial investigations, some have already decided who is to blame and they accuse US-based cleric Fetullh Gullen and his Hizmet movement as the villains of this sad story that left so many innocent dead.
There are as usual many alternative complot theories to explain these bizarre events, including even one that blames the government itself for being behind them, as it clearly emerges as the main beneficiary of this failed coup.
Irrespective of this tragedy and its unpredictable aftermath, the good old Turkish struggle between modernity and tradition will continue, and maybe even become starker, in the mosques and in the streets…. life goes on.
This should be a time for reflection and introspection.
What happened is only the last avatar of the never ending struggle between old and new that permeates and divides Turkish society since the founding of the republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk almost one century ago.
We got back to Brussels with many questions.
Wondering if Turkey will look back to her past and towards the East and her Islamic sources.
Or will she continue to look towards a modern Western future?
The answer to that question is very much open. The attempted coup has been a tragic episode in this long saga, with yet unknown consequences for this struggle that shapes Turkish life.
India is a continent pretending to be a country.
With 1.3 billion people, dozens of languages and several thousand castes, many States with population larger than most countries, and the source of major world religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism.
The only place where you could find, recently, a 80% Hindu population whereas the President was a Muslim, the Prime Minister a Sikh and the most important politician an Italian-born Christian.
A real human kaleidoscope where all eras of human history co-exist in the same street. Where traditions belonging to different centuries are enacted every day by the same person.
And yet, the largest word democracy, a world leader in information technology, a nuclear power with growing space capabilities, with thriving business houses and the best engineering colleges in the world.
A land of gross inequalities, many caste-related but also gender-related, with as many poor people as the whole of Africa put together.
One of the largest Muslim populations in the world, around 200 million, and yet with a Hindu nationalistic party in power at present.
Not an easy place to be a woman, especially of the lower castes, as feminicides and rape as still shockingly common.
Children have often to grow quickly, take care of their younger siblings and work to help their families.
A very young population, needing jobs and with growing ambitions, and totally different expectations from their elders.
A land where nature is always present and respected, even amidst the chaos of the capital city.
India is the land of contradictions and of extremes, of beauty and squalor, of richness and misery. But always fascinating.
Nobel laureate Simon Kuznets once said “there are four categories of countries: developed, underdeveloped, Japan (that should be poor but it is rich) and Argentina (that should be rich but it is poor).
Recently The Economist magazine wrote at length on “A century of decline ” and « The Tragedy of Argentina” warning other developing countries about the risks of falling in the same populist trap.
For decades, the Argentine periodic economic crises (including the 2001 almost total implosion and collapse) have puzzled foreign observers and frustrated Argentinians, which simply cannot reconcile the sophistication of its society with the appalling governance that prevents them from ever materializing their (by now much diminished) potential.
It is difficult to find another country that has been so badly governed for a century; and impossible to find another example of a country moving from the richest elite to a mediocre present where almost 30% of its people linger in structural poverty.
There are many internal and external reasons for this decline but, like in Venezuela and other Latin American countries, populism is certainly at the top of the list.
Since Peron was elected as president in 1946, after having initially arrived in government as part of a military coup, power have been divided in Argentina between various versions of Peronists, the Military and the centrist Radical Party.
Of course all share some responsibilities, but it is interesting to note that, over the last 70 years, Peron´s party has been in power most of the time, for 37 years, more than the Military (17 years) and the Radicals (16 years) put together…we let you decide who is mainly to blame.
At a time of change, of elections and the beginning of an era when Argentina will be governed, for the first time in a century, by an engineer and former businessman who is neither from the traditional parties (populist Peronists or ineffective Radicals) nor from the undemocratic elites together with the military, it is an interesting moment to explore the streets of Buenos Aires trying to capture a troubled but dynamic society.
Buenos Aires is loved by visitors for its architecture, creativity, cultural life and very warm people. Many come here just to dance or simply enjoy Tango, a sensual dance that epitomizes “porteños” contradictions, sensual and tragic, machist and poetic…but always irresistible.
Such contradictions can only lead to deep introspection…and to psychoanalysis to flourish to an extent that it even influences the way people think and talk.
A city were rules are openly and happily ignored…
and where national dramas, even war heroes, are quickly forgotten.
While Argentinians enjoy an “asado” made with the best meat in the world.
And yet, and extraordinarily lively and friendly city, with an amazing cultural life, a vibrant nightlife, and a sophisticated society that reflects the melting pot that Argentina was a century ago.
Will these elections signal a turning point? Have Argentinians learned the harsh lessons of their history? Or will they be just another cycle in their never ending downward journey? One can only hope…
Will Argentina look towards the future, finally overcoming her troubled Peronist/anti-Peronist self destructive dichotomy?
Is there light at the end of a long tunnel?
The solution is to embrace real democracy, accept pluralism, discard once and for all populist solutions and economic shortcuts and stop blaming the rest of the world for domestic shortcomings and follies.
After so many decades of “magical realism” in politics and economics the solution will not come from God or miracles, but rather from all Argentinians working together towards recreating a “normal” country. It is possible.
YES, WE CAN!…
NOW LET´S CHANGE!
THE FUTURE (S)HE (and WE) WANT
The whole world seemed to have converged in New York at the end of September 2015, from Pope Francis to Barak Obama, from Xi Jimping of China to Narendra Modi of India. Over 150 world leaders gathered at the United Nations building on 1st Avenue to bless the new Sustainable Development Goals, and agenda to transform the world for the better by 2030. Amid much fanfare and in front of thousands of TV cameras, they delivered speech after lofty speech about the new brave world they have agreed to create.
The objective is simply to make her/his life better in 17 different and very important ways. If these promises are fulfilled, when (s)he is 15 years old, (s)he will live in a totally transformed world. Even partially achieving the following 17 SDGs would change her/his life and the planet (s)he will live in.
Will her life be really transformed, from fear and deprivation to happiness and abundance? It is easy to be skeptical after so many unfulfilled promises over the last seven decades of UN summitry.
However, this was the first time in human history that all the countries in the world thoroughly discussed and happily agreed how they would like their societies, economies and environment to be 15 years ahead. This was no imposition from richer or stronger countries on the poorer or weaker ones, no technocratic blueprint from some UN agency, but rather the result of three years of discussions, involving millions of people, from all walks of life, government, academia and civil society.
Extreme poverty has been reduced sharply over the last 30 years, mostly in Asia, and unbelievable as it may seem, it is possible for the first time in human history to eradicate it within a generation. We have the resources and the technology, we only need the political will and the right policies and governance.
With nobody going to bed hungry or having to face chronic malnutrition. Ensuring food security and avoiding food waste.
Living healthy lives, enjoying health care and healthy environments. Swimming in beaches instead of using them as toilets.
Allowing her to study as her brother, from kindergarten to university, receiving quality education.
Avoiding age old divergences between men and women, in access to education opportunities, jobs equally paid and legal protection.
With access to clean water a right and not a luxury, and proper sanitation available to all.
Using renewable energies instead of burning fossil fuels, providing sustainable energy for consumers and producers.
Providing decent jobs and opportunities for all, making economic growth sustainable and inclusive.
And the necessary public and private infrastructure to promote industrial growth and jobs.
Reducing the currently enormous and growing income and opportunity gaps, that are not only morally unacceptable but also economically detrimental and politically explosive.
Making cities more livable, reversing the mushrooming of slums and providing the hard and soft infrastructure to ensure quality of life.
Producing and consuming respecting planetary boundaries, recycling and avoiding waste towards a circular economy.
Reversing global warning to avoid climate catastrophe before it is too late, limiting temperature rises with its impacts on sea levels, failing crops and catastrophic weather phenomena.
Protecting the ocean and seas from growing pollution, reversing the depletion of marine biodiversity and fisheries resources.
Ensuring our nature is respected and not treated as a garbage dump, reversing deforestation and the destruction of biodiversity.
Reducing and preventing conflict, developing transparent, effective and responsive institutions, providing everyone with access to justice.
Working all together to implement this agenda, internationally and in each country. Public institutions, civil society and private sector collaborating and creating partnership for our interconnected world.
Is the world ready to walk the talk?
Are we willing to march together towards a better future?
We now know what needs to be done, we have all committed to it, now we need to move from plan to implementation…
let’s do it!
Otherwise, S(he), and all of us on the planet, will pay the price
It may well be our last opportunity.
Thanks to GMP and Kaigara
Turkey, and Istanbul in particular, has always been a bridge straddling Europe and Asia, mixing Western modernity and Asian traditions.
At the same time Muslim, the overwhelming majority of the population, and yet intensively secular since Ataturk days.
Aiming to integrate Europe, and yet very much part of the Middle East. This permanent tension has always been there but it is now becoming more acute.
The coming years will be crucial to decide whether the new generations will still live in the same country their grandparents built after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
The streets of Istanbul continue to reflect this enchanting cocktail of tradition and modernity. Amid urban growth and dynamism, the mosque continues to attract the pious.
While modern Istanbul, from Pera and Galata to Nisantasi and Moda, look like any western capital, with globalisation and foreign brands shaping the urban landscape.
Globalised Turks are deeply connected to the world, both physically and mentally.
At the cutting edge of fashion and technology, with hipsters in Galata undistinguishable from the pairs in the Soho.
However, new trends are becoming more visible, as a result of government policies reinforced by internal and external migrations.
Firstly, the growing presence of Islamic religious symbols in the streets since the current administration, a conservative and authoritarian party of Islamic leanings, took power more than a decade ago and started to reverse strictly secular Kemalists principles against such symbols, including in female attire.
Scarves and even burkas have become an ever growing presence.
This is not only linked to conservative Anatolian new migrants but also to a growing number of richer Arabs tourists and businesspeople that find Turkey a convenient playground.
Secondly, growing internal and external migrations.
For decades, traditional Anatolians have occupied the space left by Greeks, Armenians and Jews in cities like Istanbul, bringing more traditional mores to the cosmopolitan city. And supporting the new government Islamic sympathies.
Sometimes these economic migrants are reduced to scavenging and begging in dilapidated neighbourhoods like Tarlabasi, worlds apart from the lights of nearby Istiklal Cadessi.
Moreover, new flows of poorer Arab immigrants, around two million refugees escaping from wars in Syria and Irak, are reshaping the ethnic and social landscape, adding to the Middle Eastern feels in some areas.
Leaving many children lost in the urban jungle, where often they don’t even understand the language and risk exploitation.
Sometimes playing dangerous games, with little prospect to improve their lot in life.
Breeding anger and lack of hope.
These trends, reinforced by the EU reluctance to accept Turkey integration and the new Turkish foreign policy dubbed “new ottomans” by many observers, will determine the future worldview of young Turks.
Would they keep moving East, towards the Middle East and Islamic values?
Would they jump back into European waters?
Or, maybe, they will simply remain stranded, growingly isolated, neither here nor there.
The answer of this question is not only fundamental for Turkey, but will also deeply affect Europe and the rest of the world.
How can the city that has chosen a small boy urinating as its symbol, the Manneken Pis, be the headquarters of the most important world military alliance, NATO? Well, Belgians enjoy these contradictions…
The city of Tintin, world capital of comics…where domestic political discussions between French speaking Walloons and Dutch speaking Flemish clearly belong in that world…in a country that was without a government for 589 days, a world record, but continued functioning and nobody really noticed…
The city of Horta and glorious Art Noveau, but also the city used in architecture books as an example of senseless destruction, the “Bruxelisation” to be avoided by all cities…
Brussels, the capital of Europe…where decisions are taken by the EU that governs the life of 500 million Europeans and influence global affairs…but also the world capital of Comics and Surrealism, where Tintin and Magritte are enacted in daily life.
Brussels happily combines both, it is thus a city of power and comics, that although is often put in the same sentence together with Washington and Beijing, it can never take herself really seriously…
Brussels has always been at the vanguard of economic development, the country where the industrial revolution started in mainland Europe. And yet, Brussels was the city from where its king ruled despotically a territory in central Africa, Congo, a colony several times bigger than the metropolis itself, as his personal state.
It has since continued to be one of the richest European cities that therefore attracts poorer immigrants from all over the world.
Brussels, the extreme north of the Latin world and the extreme south of the Germanic world. The unofficial border between two very different cultures. The traditional place of refuge of French and German exiles, including Karl Marx and Victor Hugo, continues to be a safe haven for people looking for a better life.
It also attracts many thousands eurocrats and other immigrants, where around 40% of its population are foreigners, creating a unique cultural melting pot.
A city of chic old ladies out of an Ostend postcard of a century ago, when it was the favorite beach resort of the European elite… and of dynamic young Europeans striving to move up in life. All of them co-existing accepting their eccentricity.
What makes Brussels unique, and so charming, is to be always exposed to the drama and the fun of life in every corner, helping you to accept apparent contradictions as banal, putting them into perspective, and in the process enjoy life as it is.