Three memorable locations (September 2019)

Like many other European baby boomers growing up in the golden years from 1945 to 1975 I was lucky to find that the world was open for exploration as long as I had some funds in my pocket.[1] Even when traveling on a very limited budget in the 1970s I managed to find ways and means to get around, hitching lifts, staying in hostels and with friends, etc. I didn’t take many photographs in those days but I did get to some exotic destinations. In the 1980s Lene and I were keenly mobile, roaming from the Pyrenees to the Himalayas and assorted other locations… Then with our children Kathrine (born in 1987) and Martin (in 1990) we expanded our horizons from bases in Ouagadougou (1996-1997) and Managua (2002-05). The following are reflections on three very different memorable locations where my caravan has been.

First on my list is Country Donegal, out there on the edge of Europe and deep in my sub-consciousness, with nothing but the sea and the sky beyond the beyond, going westwards and towards the New World. At the end of the 1970s I joined several groups of young people from Belfast and Derry staying in County Donegal, when youth and peace organisations were looking for ways to bring people together ”across the sectarian divide.” There was a holiday center near a village called Naran, maintained through voluntary labour by mixed groups of Catholics and Protestants. Traveling to and from the coast was amongst the highlights of my life. The wild green hills and the windy beaches are… magic… what words can I use?

Some of the kids claimed that Derry is the centre of the universe! Country Donegal has infinite qualities. There are few people. Most of the settlements are tiny and the roads are thin winding threads in an enormous patchwork of grassy slopes and rocky coastlines. The wind is always blowing and there are sea birds wailing overhead. Flocks of sheep and herds of cattle huddle behind stonewalls. Pubs are whitewashed cottages, where musicians often appear out of the blue with their fiddles and pipes. The towns and cities of Eire and the Six Counties seem far away and the border seems like a remnant of an idea that has gone out of fashion. I raise my glass to remoteness, the sound of waves and rain, small fishing boats moored in hidden harbours, to the light changing as clouds come and go, to fresh air and freedom of movement.

I drove to County Donegal from Belfast where I lived for a little more than a year. In those days there was a heavily policed border between the North and the Republic. Each little market town or village hosted a police station or an army barracks ringed with high barricades and barbed wire, the main border crossings were strictly controlled with car boot searches and questioning and the roads swarmed with soldiers on patrol setting up roadblocks and waving flashlights. Once I drove on the back roads from County Donegal, crossed the border near Derry and a few hours later was stopped at a checkpoint in downtown Belfast. “What were you doing in the border areas earlier today?” I was asked. The number plate of my vehicle had been photographed and entered into the police database. I was taken aback. Slowly we learned that Northern Ireland in the 1970s was a huge testing ground for the technology of surveillance.[2]

Before moving to Belfast at the end of 1978 I ventured towards the east of the continent a couple of times to learn a little about the iron curtain and the “people’s democracies.” Some stamps in an old passport bear witness to these trips, which included a stay in southern Bohemia and Prague as well as couple of journeys to Berlin. The Cold War was chilling in those days and travel in Czechoslovakia (CSSR) and East Germany (DDR) was a bit complicated, with currency exchange regulations, limited accommodation in mostly state-run hotels and heavily armed, suspicious border guards. There were few tourists and few Czechs or East Germans who spoke English. Schoolchildren learnt Russian in order to strengthen fraternal relations eastwards.[3] Now neither country exists, the stamps are reminders of states that mutated into other imagined communities and then merged into the entity known as the European Union.

The lasting impression etched into my memory files was a panoramic view of the wall winding through the middle of Berlin, the empty heart of the city. I was heading from the East into the West after a night journey from Prague. Walking from the Ostbahnhof, I drank morning coffee on the windswept Alexanderplatz and then took a suburban train stopping at Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse. The passengers entitled to transit descended below ground where papers were checked and stamped before returning to the station above. The train then undertook the one or two kilometre journey across no man’s land, a broad band cut through the city, devoid of buildings, but packed with brightly illuminated barbed wire and anti-tank barriers, trenches, walls and watchtowers. It was obviously high risk attempting to flee across such obstacles: in the 28 years from 1961 to 1989 over 200 escapees were killed.

Later this year Germans will celebrate the fall of the wall in November 1989. Almost 30 years have passed since reunification, but the divisions between East and West still shape political, social and economic agendas in the Federal Republic. The rise of anti-EU, anti-immigrant, proto-fascist movements has culminated in the emergence of the Alternative für Deutschland (AFD) party, which mirrors similar tendencies in many other countries. Looking back on the post-Cold War period, I wonder where we have gone wrong in the efforts to heal divisions and build tolerant, progressive societies… Rising inequality is an obvious cause of unrest. But I hope the extremists can be kept on the margins of German and European policy-making.[4]

Further to the south and east is the Sinai Peninsular in Egypt, another memorable region. I haven’t travelled much in the Arab world, which is a pity. However, in 1981 Lene and I met in Cairo to do the Nile valley shuffle by train and by boat as well as briefly and madly by cycling to the edge of the desert around the Pharaoh’s tombs at the Valley of Kings near Luxor. Then in 2001, a couple of months before some crazed Saudis hijacked aircraft on the east coast of the USA and plunged the world into an endless war of terror, we took our kids for a holiday at the Sharm el Sheikh resort on the Red Sea.

We had a fantastic time in the fierce midsummer heat. There were huge pools at our hotel, but also a shelving beach where we could snorkel and admire tropical fish. Martin was a little too young to learn diving – which he did during a holiday trip to Roatán in Honduras a few years later – but we swam a lot and discovered the sparkling beauty of coral.

During our two-week holiday we joined the throngs on buses for a trip to Mount Sinai and St. Catherine’s Monastery. It is very hot in Sinai during the summer and the sunrise over the mountains is a spectacular sight, so tourists are deposited at around 3 am at the bottom of a track winding upwards, climbing in the coolest hours of the night, towards dawn. At sunrise we were perched on some rocks not far from the summit, imagining Moses looking into the heavens and God’s hand reaching down to give him the commandments.[5]

As the sun rose we descended towards the Monastery. Through a gap in the slopes we could see the solid yellow-brown walls surrounding the chapels, refectories and libraries forming the ancient settlement. Slowly we proceeded down the mountain on a narrow footpath, finally emerging just outside the massive bulk of the building. Inside we were shown around the public spaces including the chapel of the burning bush, a collection of monk’s skulls and bones and some glimpses of the many treasured manuscripts kept in the Monastery.[6]

St. Catherine’s was fortified by the Emperor Justinian in 565 and is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The members of the religious order speak Greek. A peaceful oasis retreat in a wild desert landscape, it is an anomaly in a region torn apart by conflicts.

egypt-st-catherines-panorama-of-monastery

[1] French economists referred to high growth rates during ”les trentes glorieuses” (years) from 1946-75.

[2] Undermining the 1998 (“Good Friday”) peace agreement and threatening to re-establish border controls is probably the most scary and irresponsible outcome of the Brexiteer’s madness and their conquest of the Conservative and Unionist Party in the UK. After centuries of injustice English ruling class arrogance towards Ireland still knows no bounds. But the tables have been turned as the EU member states are backing the Irish government in efforts to prevent the return of a “hard” border across the island.

[3] In 1977 huge red banners hung in the streets of Prague with slogans like ”Se Sovetskym svazem az do vecnosti!” (with the Soviet Union until eternity!) Young Czechoslovaks told me that the students during the Prague spring in 1968 added a few more words: ”a ne o den vice!” (and not a day more!). Then the tanks rolled in, putting an end to reformer’s dreams.

[4] An easy to read introduction to the centuries old divisions of what was once known as the Holy Roman Empire was published a couple of years ago; check out the ”shortest history of Germany” by James Hawes (Old Street Publishing, 2017).

[5] For the full story, see Exodus, chapters 19 and 20 (e.g. in www.Bible.com)

[6] A thorough description of the Monastery is: http://www.sinaimonastery.com/index.php/en/

Advertisements

Unfreedom

During the summer holiday I read a book by Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder entitled “the Road to Unfreedom” (published by Tim Duggan Books in 2018). It is an intriguing if very depressing overview of the ways in which totalitarian political philosophies, failed governance, dreams of past imperial glory, the saturation of the media with lies and the dominance of powerful oligarchies (“crony capitalists”) have affected our societies in the last few years. The focus is on Russian machinations, initially through destabilisation of Ukraine, including annexation of the Crimea and low intensity, unacknowledged military intervention in Donetsk and elsewhere, followed by the dramatic surge of false information through the TV and social media in various European countries, as well as – since Don the Trumpet was bought out by Vlad Bootin and his cronies in 2013 – in the USA.

According to Professor Snyder a quasi-religious belief system emphasising Russian greatness, intense homophobia and imperial ambitions in Asia and Europe – establishing an empire which would stretch “from Lisbon to Vladivostok” – has been combined with highly effective use of the internet to spread distorted lies and inflammatory rumours with the aim of destroying trust in the rule of law and in science as well as in reporting on the truth. Fear and ferocious extermination were the main achievements of Stalinism, with countless millions dead in famines, in the gulag and in wars between the 1930s and the 1950s. The awful thing is that the entrenched occupants of the Kremlin don’t look back in horror at this period, but in admiration!

“The temptation the Russians offered Trump was the Presidency. The temptation Trump offered Republicans was that of a one-party state, government by rigged elections rather than by political competition, a racial oligarchy in which the task of leaders was to bring pain rather than prosperity, to emote for a tribe rather than perform for all. If all the federal government did was maximise inequality and suppress votes, at some point a line would be crossed. Americans, like Russians, would cease to believe in their own elections; then the United States, like the Russian Federation, would be in permanent succession crisis, with no legitimate way to choose leaders. This would be the triumph of Russian foreign policy of the 2010s; the export of Russia’s problems to its chosen adversaries, the normalisation of Russia’s syndromes by way of contagion” (p. 277).

If these scenarios are accurate, then we’re in for a bad time… Thomas Wright, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, has recently argued in The Atlantic magazine, that Trumped up has “defected to the other side” and that if he wins a second term in the 2020 election ”we can expect US withdrawal from NATO and a partnership with Russia to be on the table.”[1] The argument is echoed in ex-German foreign minister and Green Party member Joschka Fisher’s recent observations on ”two systems, one world”, contrasting the success of authoritarian rule in China with the weakness of pro-democracy movements in Russia, Hong Kong and elsewhere.[2] Dark ages, here we come!

[1] See: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/08/trump-defects-autocrats/596518/

[2] See: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/western-democracy-versus-chinese-model-by-joschka-fischer-2019-08

Pictures at exhibitions (August 2019)

During visits to museums and galleries in and around Stockholm in August 2019 we admired lots of fascinating sculptures and photographs. The vast collection of things from all over the planet on display at the Ethnographic Museum was particularly impressive. At Fotografiska we were lucky that our visit coincided with no less than five exhibitions, including a panorama of digitally generated, constantly moving images showing the historical changes in Stockholm’s buildings and landscapes. The following is a small selection of what we saw.

IMG_3745A sculpture in the park at Roddarhuset café in Vaxholm overlooking the archipelago

IMG_3773Some masks and a figure of a ploughman on display at the Ethnographic Museum

IMG_3775Brazilian police photographed confronting indigenous people claiming their land

IMG_3789Long live the motherland, a photo by Chen Man at the restaurant in Fotografiska

IMG_3787French actress and model Laeticia Casta, by Vincent Peters in the series Light Within

IMG_3791Pink in the Arabian desert, by Scarlett Hooft Graafland in the series Vanishing Traces

IMG_3788Bowler hats and candyfloss in the Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia), in the series Vanishing Traces

IMG_3792Plastic waste (toys) floating near Hong Kong, by Mandy Barker in the Sea of Artifacts

Perhaps looking at pictures of people and places has become the best way to travel – in the mind – instead of booking flights or getting behind the wheel. Reading reviews of many popular attractions and interesting sites around the world suggests that they are so congested by mass tourism that they have become un-attractive and often more or less inaccessible unless you’re very keen on queues. But even though plastic waste is destroying life in the oceans and greenhouse gas emissions are steadily pushing the atmosphere towards the hothouse threshold, it is very hard to turn our backs on the tantalising goods and services provided by 21st Century capitalism, as mobile citizens of one of the wealthy regions of our little planet…

Under volcanoes

There’s an active volcano less than 25 kilometres from the house in Santa Domingo on the edge of Managua where we lived for three years (2002-05). It is called Masaya and inside a little national park there are expanses of rocky lava, which can be driven through almost to the crater. It’s possible to walk up to the edge and gaze down into a deep cavern from which a little sulphurous smoke emerges from time to time.

Shortly after we arrived in Managua we discovered that the mayor was concerned about accumulating rubbish. He proposed that the garbage disposal services could dump the city’s waste into the crater as a form of natural incineration. Happily the environmentalists disagreed! It was an uphill struggle to promote “eco-thinking” in Central America.[1]

On vacation in the shadow of Mount Etna on Sicilia, I thought back to our days in Managua, living close to the volcanoes. I also reminisced about our previous trip to Sicily in 1982, shortly before I moved to Denmark. In fact, the momentous decision to seek my fortune in Scandinavia was made during a short stay on one of the volcanic Aeolian Islands off the north coast of Sicily, where Lene and I spent a few days hanging out on beaches admiring the smoky mist of the island called Stromboli – another of Europe’s active volcanoes – in the distance.

Central America is the eastern edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire, an enormous geological formation characterised by instability. From the Andes to the Rockies, across the Aleutian Islands and southwards through Japan and the Philippines to Indonesia, the continental plates scrape against each other, the molten core of the planet bubbles to the surface, lava explodes from the cracks and there are numerous active volcanoes. There are also many earthquakes and sometimes tsunami, such as the devastating wave that destroyed the nuclear power plant at Fukushima Daiichi on Japan’s east coast in 2011.

The east coast of Sicily is dominated by Mount Etna, reaching 3350 metres into the sky. From the windows of the Airbus descending to Catania airport we could observe the cultivated slopes and the barren summit of the mountain. There are some small settlements at around 2500 metres, but throughout recorded history eruptions have led to lava flowing all the way to the Mediterranean, so the locals are very cautious. It is a bit surprising that thousands of people live and work in a series of coastal towns within a stone’s throw (sic) of the volcano.

Similarly, in Central America the volcanoes rise above gardens, forests, fields of pineapples, banana plantations and all manner of settlements: from the urban sprawls of Guatemala City and San Salvador to the historic towns of Leon and Granada, from San José the ugly capital of Costa Rica to Turrialba in the tropical rainforest, there’s a volcano nearby. We admired Mombotombo looming in the distance every morning as we drove the kids to school in Managua. At weekends we enjoyed trips to Las Isletas, rocky islands in the Lago de Nicaragua which are lava deposits blown from an eruption of Mombacho thousands of years ago. During a vacation in Antigua we strolled past colonial houses with their large courtyards under the vast shadow of Fuego (Fire), which regularly erupts pouring ash across the town.

Managua was more or less completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1972. The old city centre was largely abandoned and remains a semi-ghost town of ruins and empty plots, dotted with a few modern buildings that brave or foolish souls have put up in defiance of the seismic risks downtown. We lived far away and rarely ventured into “the zone.”

There was a taste of danger too on our return journey from Sicily in July 2019. When we were picked up for a shuttle service to Catania airport our driver informed us that Mount Etna had been rumbling so severely that air traffic had been disrupted during the morning. Indeed, there were large crowds waiting for a series of delayed departures. Happily it transpired that the quantities of volcanic ash and smoke were limited and after hanging around restlessly we were able to fly northwards some three hours behind schedule.

Beyond the volcanoes are the disruptions of the 21st century. Sicily is on the front line for “irregular migrants” crossing the Mediterranean with dreams of better lives. Similarly, many Central Americans are prepared to take great risks crossing violent Mexico to reach the US border. In both regions, the rich are busy building barriers in attempts to keep the poor away.

Sicily is much poorer than northern Italy and northern Europe. Unemployment rates are high. The Cosa Nostra apparently wields less influence than in the past, though drug trafficking is a serious problem. On a day trip to Catania we walked from the station to the city centre through a semi-wasteland of dilapidated buildings and desperados on street corners. A massive clean up effort is required to improve the urban environment, but people seem to prefer the individual pleasures of private consumption to improved public services.

Emigration has been a constant in the Sicilian world. Millions left in search of “el dorado” in the Americas in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. With roots in rural poverty Don Corleone is portrayed as a typical Sicilian in The Godfather. In the 21st Century lack of employment opportunities and widespread violence have encouraged an exodus from Central America too.

People living under the volcanoes seem to be strong believers in the power of god as well as nature.[2] In both Central America and Sicily the Catholic Church plays an important role. For example the born-again Christian President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega – an ex-revolutionary who has transitioned into a repressive thug – has introduced the world’s strictest anti-abortion legislation.

Widespread religious fervour was also easy to observe around the many churches in the town of Acireale on Sicily where we stayed during our vacation. It seemed as if every time we passed a church there was a wedding or another Catholic ritual underway inside. One evening some priests harangued a crowd gathered on the street outside a church near our hotel, before a spectacular firework show. Explosions in the sky seemed a slightly odd way to celebrate, only a few kilometres from Mount Etna…

IMG_3654A view of Mount Etna, smoking a little

[1] During our three years in Managua I worked on the design of a programme to fund conservation and environmental management in the region: Premaca (Programa de medio ambiente en Centroamérica).

[2] It is worth noting that volcanic eruptions on a large scale have caused periods of global cooling in the past, a “mini-ice age”, etc. The aerosol gasses from eruptions filter solar radiation and reduce surface temperatures. As efforts intensify to mitigate climate change, some geo-engineering freaks suggest controlled release of sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere as a means of reversing global warming… but there are many unknown risks in playing like god with nature.

Words: uplifting or degrading

Oumou-Sangare

During the Copenhagen jazz festival in July we went to see Oumou Sangaré performing with her band at the Concert House. Oumou Sangaré is known as the diva of Malian music. She has a very strong voice and her songs reverberate with thoughts about love and its complications, often sung through dialogue with the other musicians on the stage while waving her arms and gesturing at the audience. It was a spectacular show; the kora player, the guitarist and the two accompanying dancers excelled and the sounds built to dramatic peaks of intensity.

I thought about words while she sang. Her lyrics are in Bambara, a West African language, interspersed with some French exclamations. It is perfectly possible to listen to the music and enjoy the instruments and voices while not understanding a single word.

The world is overflowing with words, in countless languages. Our little house is full of books and there’s always a pile of magazines in the corner. The papers I have drafted and edited over the years from a thesis to various reports and study notes are filed haphazardly. Like millions of people I have become semi-addicted to flows of information on my mobile ’phone.

One of the difficulties I encounter when trying to write is a fear that all the words are useless. Sometimes I’m concerned about overdosing on reading matter. I doubt the purpose of creating more texts although for 40-50 years I’ve been actively contributing to the surfeit. Like many others I am afflicted by a strong urge to capture my thoughts on digital ”paper”…

Perhaps singing is the answer! Our grandchild aged two and a half is an enthusiastic singer; doing his best to reproduce the pronunciation of the words he has learnt at the nursery and from his musical parents. A young child’s discovery of language is a wondrous process, an uplifting dimension of grand parenting!

We went to a concert with Oumou Sangaré around 22 years ago in the Maison du Peuple on the main avenue in Ouagadougou. I remember being blown away by the thunderous drums and soaring voices. We enjoyed many opportunities to hear West African music during our two years living in the city. But often we didn’t understand the words…

Repressive Saudi Arab ideology has permeated West Africa since the 1990s. The words of the holy Quran are used to spread hatred and mistrust around the region. Musical traditions have been attacked as “unclean” and musicians have been stoned and silenced. It is hard to comprehend the mentality of those who rage against the beauty of the kora and drums.

Something scary is happening to language in these dark times. Abuse, lies and distorted trashy stories spout from the twitter accounts of the powerful, debasing the currencies of communication until we are left with… hollow men, dead men, faint echoes of humanity…

The people of Hong Kong and Istanbul show the way

The rise and rise of authoritarians surrounded by mixtures of dirty money and fawning cronies in the media seems to have been a worldwide phenomenon in the last five years. From Brazil to India, from the USA to Russia, recent elections have been won by old men who dream of getting rid of elections altogether, as well as dismantling the checks and balances of the rule of law and democratic processes. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey has been a particularly successful autocrat, rewriting the constitution to centralise power while curtailing parliamentary oversight, as well as appointing members of his family to influential positions (such as Minister of Finance). In addition to the disturbing list of ”what might soon be ex-democracies” is the People’s Republic of China, where the Communist Party (CCP) – firmly in power since 1949 – exerts ever more spectacular efforts to keep the people subservient.

However, there are limits to this madness as large numbers of people in Hong Kong and Istanbul – two global cities – have shown in the last few weeks. Perhaps their protests will mark the beginning of the end for authoritarians delighting in the techniques of political repression. Perhaps not…[1]

Since British colonial rule ended in 1997 Hong Kong (with 7.5 million inhabitants) has been a special administrative region (SAR) of China; not an independent country, but with its own government, a multi-party parliament and a ”chief executive” at the top. But when the latest incumbent Ms. Carrie Lee, bowed to CCP pressure and proposed legislation to allow extradition of suspected criminals to the People’s Republic, the citizens of the ex-colony took to the streets. The upshot of the mass mobilisation was a vicious attack on demonstrators by the police, followed by even larger protests culminating in withdrawal of the legislation. Not surprisingly Hong Kong’s (relatively free) citizens do not wish to run the risk of finding themselves at the mercy of the Chinese legal system, where people’s rights are limited to those allowed by the all-powerful Party. But the struggle isn’t over yet.

Thousands of kilometres to the west, recent local government elections in Turkey provided an opportunity for people to voice their opinions about Erdogan and his AK movement, which have seemed increasingly unassailable. The man himself rose to power in the 1990s as mayor of Istanbul, a city of over 15 million inhabitants. When the opposition CHP narrowly won the election in the city in March, the President did everything he could to undermine the result. In the end he forced the Turkish electoral commission to agree that there would be a re-run. The CHP rallied around their candidate Mr. Ekrem İmamoğlu, mobilising millions of voters in the city. The result was an increased majority for the CHP with 54 per cent of the votes cast, indicating that the days of the AK and Erdogan’s dominance may be numbered. Huge crowds danced and celebrated on the streets of the vast city.

Thus, the people of Hong Kong and Istanbul have shown that authoritarians can be pushed back, using mass mobilisation through both street protests and the ballot box. These impressive displays of non-violent opposition are important steps towards re-asserting the necessity of democratic governance. However, there’s little doubt that the dangerous autocrats in numerous other countries have been observing these confrontations and drawing their own conclusions about how to use repressive instruments and fear in order to remain in power. From Hungary to Thailand, from Nicaragua to Sudan, the struggle against corruption and authoritarianism has a long way to go.

[1] As I completed this little essay, the Observer newspaper published an editorial underlining the same concerns, assessing the disgusting performance of Vlad the Bootin at the recent G20 summit of world leaders. Of the twenty heads of government at the meeting, I guess at least eight could be characterised as full-scale authoritarians, willing to resort to brutality – such as murdering journalists – and condoning violence against opponents. At the same time, several of these so-called leaders are busy tearing up arms agreements so that they can accelerate the over-militarisation of the planet. See: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/30/the-observer-view-on-vladimir-putin-and-defence-of-liberal-values

Fresh perspectives, green midsummer dreams!

IMG_3569

In many ways the world is still turning in the well-worn early 21st Century tracks of ugly short-sightedness and fear of others, exemplified by Trumpet’s obsession with Walls, the Brexiteer’s obsession with Brussels, the Chinese Communist Party’s obsession with anything that resembles dissent and a host of dictators obsessed with terrorising the masses with machine guns. There are trade wars, verbal threats, phoney wars and sabre rattling all over the five continents. The United Nations looks increasingly ineffectual, as does the European Union, the latter despite the enthusiastic turnout and broadly positive outcomes of the Parliamentary elections at the end of May.

In searching for fresh perspectives suddenly the Danish government seems to have something to offer. After almost 20 years of miserably failing to debate almost anything apart from the downsides of immigration, foreigners, Muslims and refugees too close to home, the shift to the centre-left at the elections in early June appears at last to be ushering in renewal in the policy making sphere. Perhaps Danes had simply overdosed on the daily diet of media-driven hatred, thrust down everybody’s throats by a clique of extremists whose dreams of Aryan purity had begun to smell more and more like the smoke that drifted across Poland in the 1940s.

After lengthy negotiations a minority social democratic government is being formed, based on an agreement with two “red-green” parties on the left together with the radical liberals (a centre party) who made considerable gains in the elections. Happily, top items on the agenda for the new government aren’t how to abuse minorities, abandon international commitments and cut public spending on everything, which were the dominant concerns of the strangely unwieldy liberal alliance with the nationalists, in power since 2015. Suddenly the fate of nature and the impact of climate change have become the main priorities; to the extent that the government plans to introduce measures targeting a 70 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Maybe the grass will be greener soon… Underlining the urgency of new policies a massive heat wave has crossed Central and Southern Europe in the midsummer season with temperatures above 45 degrees celsius in France. It surely is time to help the planet cool down!

IMG_3562Demonstration for climate change action now in Copenhagen at the end of May