Friday, September 24, 2010

I have migrated to my new blog

Henry Wathen

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Vi går på gatan
Du från ett håll och jag från ett annat
Jag bestämmer en kurs för att inte kollidera
Jag tittar upp i ditt ansikte
bara av ren nyfikenhet
lite förläget
Möts våra ögon någon sekund
snabbt ner
tillbaka till marken
Och så går vi förbi varandra var och en till sitt

Saturday, August 08, 2009

On the ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm, it struck me that;

Are the stars God's tears?
One for each woman whose husbond loves the bottle more than he loves her
One for each man who loves the bottle more than he loves his wife
One for each woman who longs for a shot of heroine more than she longs for her child
One for each child who sees his father beat his mother
One for each regret, one for each sorrow
Look up - there are many of them
One for all of us

Saturday, July 25, 2009

You were right and I was wrong

In a donkeyish manner (with all respect for that species), I once argued with M that El Niňo was a storm in the Pacific a year or so ago. I should have given credit to his knowledge in the realm of natural science. I should have listened to him when he tried to explain that El Niňo was the phenomenon behind that particular storm and a fundamental facet of earth’s global precipitation pattern and atmospheric oscillation. The fishermen of South America’s Pacific coast coined the term when now and then around Christmas they would get large quantities of tropical fish in their net. It is an anomalous warming of surface water, change of predominant wind direction, linked to changes in pressure at sea level (the Southern Oscillation). It became the talk of all when meteorologists reported the links between El Niňo and weather anomalies on other places of the globe. These links are known as teleconnections, a coin termed by the Swedish meteorologist Anders Ångström. Contemporary researchers assert that global warming intensifies the El Niňo events, hence generating more weather anomalies – and extreme weather – elsewhere. Just note the headlines of droughts, floods and storms. “Earth is angry” M said.
Bulgakov and astrology

Russia is a dream and fate is in the stars. Bulgakov brought the devil to Moscow in Master and Margarita, and a thread throughout his novels is just that destiny is in the stars. The devil in disguise as the mystery man Woland announces to the poor Soviet writer Berlioz that he will be beheaded because; “Mercury in the second house, moon passed… accident…” The episode is Russian literary history; Annushka spills sunflower oil over a tram crossing. Berlioz slips, falls and is beheaded by the wheel of the tram. The determinism is coined by Woland’s phrase “Annushka has already bought the sunflower oil”.

In Bulgakov’s other classic, the White Guard, a winter battle between white and red forces in the Ukraine is accompanied by the pulsating radiance of Mars, whom we know from Roman mythology as the god of war.
Russia I love you, eventhough you can be so cruel

We saw the soldiers chanting a patriotic one-liner at the change of crew at a North-Chechen check point in the movie "Blokpost". “Where there are Russians – that is Russia.” I saw the hesitant faces of young men singing along, with poorly concealed doubt to the cause they fought for. You had tears in your eyes. What did you see? – I would give a million dollars for your thoughts that moment.

Green hills, snowcapped mountains on the horizon, but nobody there to eat the mulberries.

A swallow’s flight away under grapevines covered with light blue pesticide Kostya lights up a Prima cigarette with the nostalgic and nationalistic but ad-free paper Zaftra (tomorrow) in front of him. “You know the world is run by jews…” he says. The United States runs the world and sionists run the US, he continues, only interrupted by a cough.

It is Saturday so we drink “Baltika” beer and take turns in the wood stove sauna down at the dike below the corn, the potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, apples, raspberries and much more. I really enjoy the country life. Not quiet though; dogs bark, roosters call, cats fight and children play. The old sovkhoz village now lives off men working for the energy sector in Siberia. They manage quite well. The less fortunate spend their time in the relaxed state of home-made vodka. That they can afford.

Kostya explains that in the old days everybody had jobs, lived well, there was virtually no crime and all was fine. “But you lived under a dictatorship” I replied. “Well what do we have now? Bandit capitalism, people are dying because they cannot afford their medicine. I tell you it is genocide.” Then we return to the speal about the American-sionist conspiracy which brought down the Soviet Union.

When he merits Stalin his statesmanship I of course comment the twenty million dead we know about. “When you chop wood you get some splinters” he answers.

Tollik comes by for his usual Saturday visit. He tells me he saw a documentary recently about the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia 1968. He had seen it with his own eyes back then as a Red Army tank crewman. The film’s critical and questioning approach had affected him. “It made me sick”, he said. To myself I thought it adds to the credit of Russian society that such a documentary was aired and people were coming to terms with the past.
Alla bara luras
De enda som inte luras är de lurade

Friday, July 24, 2009

Strings of beads bind people together
When cut off beautiful pearls fall into the abyss
An argument
Shakes the pretty little beads who should one day become part of the network by throwing out
A string of beads
And hope it catches on
To their love
Evil is the being
Equipped with scissors
Ready to cut the strings between others
Both lies and truths may shake the beads or even cut the thread
Honored is the builder, the lover
Who asks for nothing in return
But only reinforces other strings of beads
The only string of beads which lasts forever
Is the string of all strings

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Borders - a Classic Source of Conflict

Serbia’s Prime Minister Kostunica recently declared that "Preserving Kosovo and (Bosnia's autonomous) Serb Republic is now the primary goal of our state and national policy…." That statement was not well received in the West, and it shouldn’t be.

Similarly, on a recent visit to Turkey, I heard the official statement that the primary objective of Turkey’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Iraq is to maintain Iraq’s territorial integrity. Here, in my opinion, the Turks are diverging from their founding father’s principle: “Peace at home, peace abroad”. The chief objective of foreign policy should be just that: peace. And the purpose of borders should be to provide the best and most expedient way of organising populations so as to preserve peace and guarantee prosperity. To the extent that a nation or a movement has an agenda for a certain demarcation based on other considerations , it is a threat to peace.

Last year, I confronted a secular democrat from Iraq (living under constant threat in Baghdad) with the hypothetical choice of continued civil war or a peaceful but divided Iraq. While stressing his strong will to preserve the current borders of the country where he grew up, he admitted that peace was more important.

On the one hand, politically recognised borders should be in line with reality on the ground; on the other, the international community should not reward military aggression. Yet it is hard not to; usually those invited to peace talks will be the faction leaders with the most military muscle. Furthermore, deals are often struck far above the heads of constituents. Referendums that give constituents a voice would seem to be the civilised way of resolving territorial disputes, but there may be controversy on who gets to vote. The dispute over Western Sahara, where there are settlers from Morocco, is one example of that problem; another is Abkhazia, but for the opposite reason – the province had an ethnic Georgian majority before the war.

On the Kosovo question, the pride and principles of the two sides collide. Endless wrangling has postponed resolution of the issue for years. Most recently it has become an element in multitopical deliberations between the US and Russia, together with missile defence, nuclear weapons and the treaty on conventional forces in Europe. Unfortunately, there appears to be no consensus at present. The scenarios we face are status quo and continued postponement, or division of the world’s nations into two camps -- those who recognise an independent Kosovo and those who don’t. The positions of Russia and the US are clear; relations within the EU are more complex. Europe would be greatly embarrassed if its diversity of views erupted into a rift, as on the US invasion of Iraq. But the Union survived that crisis. Those with far more to lose are the populations of Kosovo, Northern Iraq, Puntland, Somaliland, Northern Cyprus, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transdniestria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Western Sahara and the Palestinian Territories, all of whom face an uncertain status and in many cases isolation.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

From overmonitored rusty Kalashnikovs to stale cocktail receptions at the embassy - Joint training is the answer

This is the unedited version of an article soon to be published in "New Routes"

Visiting the weapons collection sites in the disarmament campaign in Macedonia four years ago as a monitor for the EU, I recall hearing the officials manning the collection points informing us that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe had been there just a while ago. Coordination was at times non-existent between our organisations and information was not shared from our side because of distrust of certain member states of the OSCE. Yet I also remember on later occasions how our EU monitors seamlessly reinforced the election observation mission of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. We reported everything observed up their chain of command just as the seconded ODIHR observers, or should I say most of them – because we all know that it happens that seconded personnel still primarily focus on reporting to their national authorities, weakening the concept of secondments to international organisations and their credibility.

Conflict stricken societies are characterised by a myriad of external as well as internal actors with various agendas, pulling in different directions as they may have conflicting aspirations of what the end state should be. The interlocking layers of the diplomatic, political, economic and societal networks constitute a complex web of interrelationships, dependencies, allegiances and conflict. Global competition between super powers may be an influence just as the personal relation between Ambassador X and Deputy Head of Mission Y or the fact that Police Commissioner Z simply is not comfortable with going to cocktail parties and exchanging niceties.

Moreover, cooperation may be difficult even among actors from the same country but representing different outfits under separate ministries. The set backs in Operation Iraqi Freedom have pin-pointed frictions in the great US war machinery incorporating the Pentagon, Langley and Department of State. The smaller UK structures have successfully integrated ministries and military in what is called a comprehensive or whole of government approach. Integration of military and civilian government assets have been tried with various succes in the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan. There are political forces striving for integrating military and civilian components under unified command and the temptation to use military resources for humanitarian tasks is not new. However, the professional humanitarian aid workers are sceptical to the military taking over their domain. Not for being afraid of losing their turf, but stating that humanitarian assistance is not an easy task without pitfalls. A well meaning effort may actually cause damage in the long run. The salty humanitarians who often reach the conflict zone long before any international military force speak of their “humanitarian space” – they mean let us do our job, so you can do yours. This opinion sometimes conflicting with the will to integrate actors in peace support under unified command.

Regardless of where one stands on the question of integrating efforts or preserving integrity of specific actors everyone agrees that awareness and understanding of the other actors in the field radically increases efficiency. Hence, joint training platforms such as the Viking exercises and courses with mixed-multifunctional groups of participants are instrumental in enhancing the capabilities of tomorrows peacemakers. Peace building will probably always be complex and messy, but one misunderstanding more during training is hopefully one less out on the mission. Joint training builds multidisciplinary networks overarching organisational and departmental limitations. Bonds and even friendships are forged, promoting smooth cooperation and interfunctional understanding.