“With The Help of Social Media Memories Can Be Erased“ – Considerations on the Relativity of Truth

Preface: I read the interview with Maria Ressa (see below) and began to express my thoughts about social media manipulation during a few days in Bucharest. It turned out not to be an easy-going process, I was struggling with something that I now identify as the question “Can I find an objective truth?” In a way this felt to me like an extension of my thinking which I began with Part 1 – 3 grappling with aspects of “perception”.

The following travel to Toronto, including some severe jetlag, didn’t help me feeling comfortable with the results of my thought processes, so I let the issue lingering in my drafts folder. Now, with some rest and witnessing a beautiful spring morning in Ontario, I’ll try it again.

What is truth?

Maria Ressa has been awarded the Nobel Price for Peace in 2021, together with Dmitry Muratov, for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Her journalist work is including 20 years as a correspondent and investigative reporter. The title of this blog entry includes a quote from her.

12.02.2022, the German online portal of the news broadcast “Tagesthemen” carried an interview with Maria Ressa on occasion of the Philippine Presidential elections. The elections were won by Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos jr., son of the late Dictator Ferdinand Marcos sr., who ruled the country between 1965 and 1986, until he was finally ousted. Together with his family and his cronies, he stands for decades of authoritarian reign, massive corruption, and reckless brutality. The family fled their country with an estimated 10bn USD. A good summary on occasion of the 2022 elections can be found in this BBC piece.

For context: The outgoing President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte leaves a reign of shame for history, too. Most remembered will be the wave of extra-judicial killings with which he allowed the Police to mutate into a murderous gang, killing scores of people, pretending that a strong-armed fight against drug kings would necessitate this and that there would not be a need for due judicial process. I remember U.S. President Nr. 45 speaking admirably of Duterte. Which in itself does not make Duterte a likeable person, Nr 45 also fell in love with North-Korea’s dictator, and, well, his docile relationship with Vladimir Putin will never be forgotten either. Pied pipers.

The core message of Maria Ressa in this German article is that memories of decades of history can be erased, if social media is masterfully used. Not only that memory can be changed, that alternate versions of the same historical events can be created, no, Ressa says that corporate memories can be erased by social media manipulation. Disinformation campaigns on an industrial scale allow that, according to her. The BBC article quoted above would also indicate a manipulation aiming at changing the perception of history by “Bongbong” and associates for at least the last ten years.

Of course, an interview shortened for the digestion of the general public can not provide the same evidence as academic research would do. But for my thoughts it appears to be enough to rely both on the journalistic ethics behind two renowned public broadcasters and on the fact that a credible investigative journalist won the World’s most prestigious award.

The past years have established a large body of evidence that social media is used systematically for manipulation of public opinion on a gargantuan scale. Many will remember the impact of such activities in the run-up of U.S. presidential elections, 2016. The litany of actual examples would be too long to read. December 2020 I wrote about one example, explaining a NATO study on aspects of this topic.

The case of the Philippine Presidential elections is frightening. Bongbong Marcos has won in a landslide election, not by a margin. No need for Bongbong even to prepare for challenging an election as being manipulated, and to contest it. According to Ressa, Bongbong’s victory is based on a manipulation of the electorate on an industrial scale. On lies that create a narrative of Ferdinand Marcos sr. being a hero, the greatest leader of the Philippine Nation ever, and that his son, if he will win the elections, will give the money back to the poor. We will see whether he will do that. My experience would tell me that chances are slim if the whole election is already based on an epic manipulation of historical reality.

The overwhelming victory appears, strictly speaking by counting the votes, sound. Yet, the manipulation sits straight in front of our eyes: Democracy has been defeated with a never-ending stream of content on social media re-branding the image of the Marcos’ family. Phillipinos were told that the dictatorial regime was a golden age, free of crime. Which is pretty much the opposite of what is on historical record.

But, is there something like one common repository of historical records? That’s what I am struggling with here: Is there something like an objective truth?

In an Address to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin on January 27th, 1921 on Geometry and Experience, Albert Einstein elaborates on the relationship between the laws of mathematics and reality: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” (Project Gutenberg eBooks, “Sidelights on Relativity”, EBook #7333).

In the case of historical truths I would transfrom this sentence into “As far as a historical record refers to reality, it is not certain; and as far as such a record is certain, it does not refer to reality.”

This leaves many people very confused. In my belonging to a group of people, I do establish and participate in a historical context about what happened which is based on a common framework through which the members of this group identify. If the framework is very different between two or several different groups of people, their interpretation of what happened in the past can have little or no common grounds. And always when two or several different explanations clash in a discourse, we try to identify an objective yardstick against which we construct our argument why we believe we hold the truth. And we fail on agreeing on the same yardstick, the same objective measuring rod. The results can include so many divergent views, like two different groups entirely disagreeing on whether historical events were constituting a genocide, or not. The result being that the shared reality of such different groups differs in so fundamental ways that coexistence is the best option, always with the threat of violent discourse looming.


There is nothing new in the above. The new aspect, insofar as my writing goes, relates to the claim that systematic social media manipulation can entirely change the public record of history. Again, the past is filled with examples how systematic disinformation campaigns can establish new perceived realities within a group. Being a German national, I like to refer to disinformation campaigns undertaken by the ilk surrounding Hitler. Goebbels for sure is an example of masterful application of deceit and the use of manipulation in order to control the German populace.

But is there something new stemming from the ubiquity of social media of these days? If the general method of manipulation through disinformation is a tool which has been used for millenia in order to control populations for the benefit of a ruling elite, what is the new dimension which comes from social media?

Maria Ressa, in that “Tagesthemen” interview, also refers to the manipulation machine used by Russia in relation to the situation on the Krim, and in the Ukraine: She claims that the first step is about oppression, and the second step is about extinguishing memory. Based upon the experiences she has made in her home country, the Phillipines, she anticipates the same method being utilised in the context of Russias intent to aggressively usurp the Ukraine. She claims that social media have the effect to divide and to radicalise. Thus, she challenges the argument that social media is a tool vital for guaranteeing the freedom of speech. Instead of being used to allow free speech, according to her the algorithms used by Twitter, FaceBook, Tic Toc, and so many more, they make sure that priority will be given to content which is distributed broadly, preferably even virally. Of course, this is the ad-driven business-model behind social media enterprises. According to Ressa, therefore the distribution of facts will always loose against the distribution of lies, hate, and resentment. Drowning the news related to factual reporting, Ressa then states that the result is an entire loss of a shared reality.

The yardstick of a common historical record has unalterably changed, the division has been established, power can be exerted by controlling the perceived reality. Ressa makes the case for a global threat for values including democracy, but she also hints at, perhaps in my view, the biggest threat of our contemporary times: That we will disagree about the climate crisis as a consequence of global warming.

Which is, probably, on top of the list of global challenges which require a joint reality framework holding true for all people and nations on this globe.


As so often, I have no simple answer. Because there simply is no simple answer at all. We tend to simplify, and to go to extremes. Which always amplifies the problem once a complex system is brought out of its previous delicate state of balance, whilst we do not know how to create a new balance, instead of the entire system collapsing.

So, who is right? Maria Ressa with claiming that social media has the potential to destroy realities, and the underlying framework allowing for democracy, or Elon Musk, who has repeatedly tweeted that taking Nr 45 off Twitter has been one of the biggest mistakes, and that this is all about guaranteeing the freedom of speech?

I am still navigating through the depths of this question, and personal consequences. Should I maintain my Twitter account (which is a microscopic grain of sand in the Twitterverse) once Musk owns Twitter? What I know is that I would be extremely careful about listening to a person who happens to be the richest person in the world, who is able to just buy a social media firm in a snap, take it off from the stock market in order to make the changes of his liking, and then to put it back on the stock market. Why should I trust somebody who has one single intention: Using things for a business model based on profitmaking? Why should I believe that a statement about freedom of opinion is unbiased, if the motivation behind is purely enterprise-driven, and the methodology being used is taking every single accountability mechanism offline?

Also not new. But for me, the new thing is that one person has the potential to make a decision that has global implications on a level unheard of in history, whilst any mechanisms of public accountability appear to be on national level, and to some extent on a level of international organisations, but where the credibility of these international organisations is under massive systematic attack.

I will tell you if I stay on Twitter.

Waking Up in a New World?

Some have suggested that we woke up in a new world February 24, 2022, when Russia began its invasion into Ukraine. Not the first time that I heard that, and by far not limited to September 11, 2001.

Some have suggested that we will forever remember where we were when the news about the Russian war machine attacking the Ukraine broke. Not the first time I heard sentences like these either, and beyond September 11, 2001 there are quite a few terrible events which will ever stay connected to memories where I was at that specific moment in time.

Of course, there is symbolism in sentences like these. There are strong emotions connected to them. But did we really wake up in something entirely new, entirely surprising, after Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation oversaw the reckless and brutal invasion of a sovereign State? After yet another rambling speech filled with alleged historical grief, fake justifications, malicious lies, and mind-blowing threats against all those who would stand in his way, including reminding us all of military nuclear capabilities at his command?

Fear, anger, rage and resentment, the feeling of being powerless need to be processed. When such feelings are affecting decision-making, results can be catastrophic. But which frameworks guide us? Science? Religion? Value-based secular concepts including human rights, the rule of law, democratic values? Pragmatism and the power of economics, and capitalism? The pure selfishness of autocracies, xenophobia, chauvinism, fascism? The conflicts surfacing over the past years are happening within a context of chaotic competition and fierce fight between these frameworks, some of which are conceptual, some of which are pure expressions of the wish to rule and to dominate. From that vantage point, the war against the Ukraine has not marked a waking-up in a new world. It is a new element in a line of events which we can see unfolding over the past many years.

In reality, the war in the Ukraine marks another severe attack against existing value systems which we got used to, and often took for granted, since the end of World War II. We seem to live in a cauldron with boiling ingredients. Little we know what will dissolve, and what will emerge, or whether the whole thing explodes.

Today, April 18, some of us celebrate Easter Monday. Others will celebrate Easter a little later. Other’s won’t at all, observing different symbolic events within the systems of belief and faith which they are connected to. I have read articles where authors argued why globalisation is coming to an end, and I have read articles reasoning the opposite. Which common perspective can we give to our children, holding true for all of us, notwithstanding our faith, or being agnostics, notwithstanding our cultural and historical affiliations?

Over the course of the past weeks much happened. The war against the Ukraine turned into a horror story of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and bottomless individual suffering. The world is in shock, witnessing human suffering and atrocities which European soil has not seen in decades.

By the way, Europe hasnt’ seen this, other parts of the world have seen a lot of it. Just saying, with my light-blue United Nations’ beret on.

Newsfeeds are still filled with the pandemic, but since a little while I notice that those plastic shields disappeared from counters in my grocery store, that bus lines carry people increasingly not wearing a mask, subtly making those who still do a minority.

Between February 28 and today, I traveled to Bucharest in Romania from Belgrade in Serbia, flew to Toronto in Canada, returned to Bucharest and Belgrade, traveled to Bavaria in Germany and from there to Sarajewo in Bosnia&Herzegovina. After a few days in Belgrade again, I am now celebrating the spring weather during an extended weekend in my campervan in East Croatia. With the ubiquitous Internet, I can do my work from everywhere. With my bank card I can pay for my groceries anywhere without the need of physical local currency. My digital equipment allows me to be in constant contact with those in my life who I love. A highly sophisticated set of two state-of-the-art batteries allows me to be entirely autonomous, “off-grid”. My solar panels on the roof refill the batteries after a few hours of daylight. Meanwhile, all along this journey, a set of highly calibrated vaccine shots kept Covid-19 at bay, being the result of incredible bio-science. In due course of almost two weeks, daily rapid-tests, offered for free in Bavaria, allowed me to visit my father in the hospital without endangering him, or others. Just an effort of fifteen minutes, a printed result, no significant effort at all. High-tech breathing masks did their magic, too.

Literally every aspect of my life benefits from cutting edge science, including quantum physics driving my batteries, solar panels, computer equipment, smartphones. The practical application of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity allows me to use a global system of satellites and to punch the coordinates of the grocery store in Vukovar, Croatia, into Google Maps and to start my trip from Belgrade without even one single worry. The extent to which this almost incomprehensible science drives literally every aspect of our lifes today, it is mindblowing.

The same science is being used in precision-bombs, missile-defence systems, in conventional and nuclear components of warfare. It is being used within an information warfare for misinformation and spreading lies. In extremis, people who believe the world is flat and populated by a bunch of necrophiles and child molestors keeping us in captivity, people who attack science as a means of subjugation, they use smartphones for spreading this ugly mess.

Natural science like physics, chemistry, mathematics appears to be limited to being a tool being capable to help us in finding answers how we shape the present and the future of our world from an ethical, or moral imperative.

I don’t want to ramble about religion, out of a deep respect in that people believe in their faiths. But if religion is being used for praying for my soldiers, keeping them out of harms way and victorious, if prayers are being used to ask for the enemy being destroyed, isn’t that just an extension of Janis Joplin’s song “Dear God, please buy me a Mercedes Benz”? Crimes against humanity have been/are being committed under the flag of all great and minor religions that ever existed in this world. What does this mean for the billions of human beings who seek moral and ethical guidance in their daily lifes? Religion, claiming to have universal and eternal answers for fundamentals of why we are, and why we are here, is unable to provide those answers, like science is unable to. But religion always was a powerful tool for societal control. Where does this leave me in this cauldron?

When I began writing this blog entry, I was driven by questions which I had after I finished reading the book “Six Impossible Things – The Mystery Of The Quantum World” by John Gribbin (eBook, you can look it up under https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=1521733116 ). Since roughly a hundred years now, we are using highly precise mathematics of quantum physics without which none of the technological or pharmaceutical or other medical achievements would be possible. But the book is one of those which take me on a rollercoaster of entirely incomprehensible phenomena of nature on its smallest scale. John Gribbin attempts to describe the six major attempts to come to terms with why nature is producing these results. But until now, we only know how to calculate the math, but we have no idea why everything is, as it is.

That’s when I began to think about what a book like this one means to somebody who has never had an interest in understanding the quantum and the cosmological scale of the world. I am torturing my fascinated brain with this since I have been a young boy. But, meaning no disrespect, most people I am meeting would simply shut down after attempting to read one page of this book. Yet, they will use smartphones for spreading their beliefs why the world is as it is, including being highly critical to science itself. There are great pieces of Science Fiction attempting to describe this contradiction, most recently I watched examples of this in “The Foundation” series on Apple+.

But ultimately, I am sitting here on an Easter Monday morning, confronted with the eternal question how all this makes sense in a world which, despite of all technological achievements, and despite a track record of 3.500 years of humanity finding peaceful answers to life questions, we still kill each other, rape each other, hate each other, dominate each other, subjugate each other, control each other.

So, this blog piece is ending with an answer solely applicable to me: My own actions and decisions matter, and there is no way how I can think of making my decisions and actions contingent on those of others. The childish blamegame “But the others have begun”, that argument which I used when my parents scolded me for a fight with my brothers, I have seen it to a ridiculous extent including by former U.S. President Nr 45, by autocrats, and other pied pipers.

Think. Act responsible. Feel compassion. Start with yourself.

Happy Easter.

On the rule of law and trusting it in times of misinformation and manipulation spread using social media

I finished my reading of the book “How Civil Wars Start And How To Stop Them”, written by Barbara F. Walter (Crown, 2022, Ebook ISBN 9780593137796). I wrote about it in my article “Anocracies – And Thoughts on International Efforts Related to Conflict Prevention“. There I said that I was impressed with the detailed historical account on the many civil wars, and what political science learned about their predictability. I also said that I will comment less on the second part of the book, where the author is applying those experiences on the current state of affairs in the United States of America. But here is a brief personal impression:

Purely from an emotional perspective, the first part of the book felt gripping, the second part felt like something was missing. Because the first part tells the story of not only why things went haywire, but also how they went haywire. The first part of the book talks about catastrophies that happened. Because the current situation in the U.S. is troubling, and partly deeply concerning, but has NOT led to a worst case scenario (yet?), the book is speculative in this regard, because, simply, it has to.

The author attempts to come up with a future scenario of how a descent into civil war in the U.S. could look like. When I read it, it felt incomplete. It had to. I believe the scenario had to necessarily stay away from including a potential role of individual actors which brought us to the brink of that abyss. Otherwise the book would have become speculative and politically antagonizing. The role of “Number 45” is being described in how the U.S. witnessed it’s downgrading from a starling democracy into the field of anocracies. But the book’s scenario on possible further descent stays away from involving contemporary individual actors. An that is why the scenario feels hypothetical. The absence of this link allows for concluding that we are, perhaps, far away from seeing one of the most stable democracies of the world itching closer to internal chaos. Which we are not, as I believe.

Here are two recent news articles which may make you better understand where my concerns are, still allowing me to stay out of the same trap. Make your own conclusions on whether the future may bring us closer to worst-case, just by reading and thinking about this one, and this one. We are a far cry away from being out of trouble. The mid-term elections in the U.S. are coming up, I feel we are in for a very bumpy 2022. From a European perspective, the current stabilisation of transatlantic jointness is extremely fragile, depending on future development.

At one point I was wondering what would happen if a future presidential candidate would claim his right for using Twitter back. It feels like “You’re damned if he is allowed, and you’re damned if he is not”. The claim of the far-right that it is fighting a corrupt, even pedophile global cabale, including depicting the free press as the enemy of the people, it will see a new and even more intense replication: The next round of racism, xenophobia, white supremacy, male domination, conspiracy theories challenging the efforts to fight the pandemic, and global warming, attempting to establish a narrative fighting Western democracies, it is just coming up. And the use of social media will be pivotal for those who attack, and those who defend.

The jury is out how this unfolds. And then there is the nutshell of Barbara F. Walter’s point how a fragile and unstable further descent into becoming an anocracy can be turned around. Here, the author refers to a piece of work she was commissioned with in 2014, for the World Bank. Like other scholars, the author found three factors standing out by far as being critical for preventing descent into conflict and chaos, including civil war: (1) The Rule of Law; (2) Voice and Accountability; (3) Government effectiveness. So, we will have to think about how we translate these fundamentals into concrete action allowing people all over the world to trust the form of governance which we say is the best of all alternatives we have been able to come up with so far.

So, here we are again. It is why any effort getting us collectively out of the currently very troubled waters must look at the rule of law, which Walter describes as “the equal and impartial application of legal procedure”. I stick to the definition of the rule of law as adopted by the United Nations: “For the United Nations (UN) system, the rule of law is a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness, and procedural and legal transparency.

However, my experience entails that in order to establish any rule of law, there needs to be a large consent of the respective society in how this principle is applied, and this consent must go beyond any larger factionalisation in that society. Any large faction of a society must accept this larger principle, rather than challenging the application of a rule of law as being biased, being imposed on them by other factions. Those who stir conflict for advancing their own objectives, they always will establish a narrative that there is no justice for their constituency. They will portray the rule of law as being a weapon wielded by their enemies against them. What these individuals do is to undermine the trust of their followers in a rule of law applied to their society as a whole. Which points to a second invisible feature of any successful establishing a rule of law: Trust.

It is about trust accepting the specific rule of law, for myself, and others, for the powerful and the less powerful. And it is about trusting that justice will always attempt to prevail, no matter how long it takes. Because very often, it can take a long time. And still, after many years, cases may be unresolved, often are. A society at large must trust the course which justice takes, even if individual members experience pain because their grievances are open and festering wounds for many years, before closure is possible, or sometimes even never.

For me, this challenge can be seen nowhere else with all clarity than in situations where I contributed to the efforts to re-establish a rule of law in a society where it had broken down. May be I will write more about a few of those experiences. Here it would be too long, because I want to finally focus again on the critical role of social media. Here is just one example:

There were two main ethnic factions in Kosovo before and after the violence ending in 1999. Under the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 Kosovo found herself with a majority and a minority faction, no form of own governance at all, and no rule of law beyond what UNSCR 1244 tasked us with. The Old had broken down and had to disengage. The New was not there. It was to be established, and being part of the international community engaging in assisting in finding a new New, I was representing the international interim police.

Whilst, on a technical level of developing policing, and helping a new Kosovo Police to emerge, being more and more successful, we found ourselves in a classical “Catch-22-situation”: All factions involved were blaming us not being able to provide security, and justice. Each side would accuse us to act on the interest of the other side’s agenda. And practically it meant that in case of any evidence of a severe crime which would allow us to make arrests, and prosecute suspects of grievious crime, there would not be a societal consent, or trust beyond factions. At least at the beginning. During those early years, any action by us leading to an arrest would be perceived by one faction as a biased, if not politically motivated, action in favor of the other faction. I have many examples for both factions.

I believe that, over time, some trust could be instilled. Not only that the Kosovan society at large moved forward towards healing from own wounds. Not only that our persistent sticking to a common rule of law for All slowly helped in setting some foundations for trust. Not only that the real success story is the work on the credibility of the Kosovo Police itself, establishing itself as a trusted actor within an emerging rule of law. But any development until today also shows how fragile this trust is. Including in recent times, operational situations can demonstrate how quickly old tensions, mistrust, and biased interpretation of events can break up. But what I want to demonstrate here is exactly that: That any rule of law is critical for peace&security in a society, and that this does go way beyond the technical application of such a principle.

It requires acceptance of that rule of law by a majority of all constituencies in a society, and it requires a sound trust in the equal application and adjucation of that rule of law, beyond personal grievances, and existing factions.

As said earlier (in my first blog article on this book), this holds true both for a society moving towards a rule of law, and it applies to a society where the efforts of trusting a rule of law are heavily undermined by the spreading of misinformation and fake news. Whether the society moves into a positive direction or a negative direction, it is the middle zone between the Old and the New which makes the situation most volatile.

All three factors mentioned by Barbara F. Walter, (1) The Rule of Law; (2) Voice and Accountability; (3) Government effectiveness played into any descent into chaos I have personally witnessed.

In 2022, the means to disrupt by using manipulative voice and amplifying non-accountability are a global challenge: Social media has become a bull-horn for those who know how to exploit fragility, and to further it.

So, how to translate Barbara F. Walter’s message, that civil wars can be avoided, into practice?

By taking responsibility for own action, and making our voices of reason being heard, day by day. Neil Young requested from Spotify to remove his music from the platform because Spotify is hosting “The Joe Rogan Experience”. Neil Young did not want to be on a platform which prominently features a protagonist for this type of spreading misinformation, lies, and manipulation, including wildest conspiracy theories about some mass-hypnosis being used by a global cabale enslaving citizens. Joni Mitchell followed suit, and she is not the only one.

This fight is taking us on a long haul, it is far from being over. Every personal contribution matters.

Anocracies – And Thoughts on International Efforts Related to Conflict Prevention

Anocracy or semi-democracy is, according to Wikipedia, a “form of government that is loosely defined as part democracy and part dictatorship, or as a “regime that mixes democratic with autocratic features.” Another definition classifies anocracy as “a regime that permits some means of participation through opposition group behavior but that has incomplete development of mechanisms to redress grievances.” The term “semi-democratic” is reserved for stable regimes that combine democratic and authoritarian elements. Scholars have also distinguished anocracies from autocracies and democracies in their capability to maintain authority, political dynamics, and policy agendas. Similarly, the regimes have democratic institutions that allow for nominal amounts of competition. Such regimes are particularly susceptible to outbreaks of armed conflict and unexpected or adverse changes in leadership.”


In my blog post “Under The Hood” I wrote that I had pre-ordered “How Civil Wars Start And How To Stop Them”, written by Barbara F. Walter (Crown, 2022, Ebook ISBN 9780593137796). After its publication date it got delivered (in my case as an Apple iBook). I am reading it now, and it is as good as it was assessed in that New York Times book recension. As it was said in that recension, Barbara F. Walter spends much of the first half of the book on a profound history of nearly every civil war haunting mankind in the past many decades before beginning to apply the results of academic research of political scientists on civil wars to the situation of the United States of America.

I am through the first half of the book, and inasmuch as I am now keenly reading her account of the more recent developments in the U.S., I am not intending to write on that subject matter. I have an opinion there, and I share the author’s risk assessment, but this public discourse is already ongoing in the U.S.: Look here and here.

I wanted to reflect on a few general observations that stem from the book’s solid comparative approach of recent situations which led to wide-spread violence, and the solid and vast description of the state of affairs of a number of contemporary nation states. After all, no country is exempted from the danger of plunging into wide-spread violence, just pretending “It can’t happen to us” is nothing less than dangerous denial and wishful thinking of the ostrich burying her head in the sand. In this, Barbara F. Walter’s book establishes itself in the same rational and academic realm as the books “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism” by Anne Applebaum and “Fascism: A Warning” by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.


My line of work has frequently put me into situations where we have wondered how one can measure the risk of a country or constituency descending into violent forms of conflict, including civil war. On several occasions I have been part of the international community’s peacekeeping efforts following the outbreak and the aftermath of civil war. Operationally and strategically I was part of such efforts in Kosovo under the United Nations’ mandate through Security Council Resolution 1244. Strategically I was part of such efforts in situations such as in Sudan, South Sudan, Mali, the Central African Republic, Somalia, and several more.

Then there is peacebuilding: How to make sure that a successful peacekeeping engagement finds its continuation through peacebuilding, and leads to a stable peaceful environment that will not relapse into conflict? That’s one of the elements of my current line of work, or why I was operationally working in Bosnia&Hercegovina, or strategically in headquarters of UN and EU on a large number of similar situations in greater Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the Carribean.

Finally, there is conflict prevention: I often sat in meetings with like-minded peacekeepers and peacebuilders where we dealt with conflict prevention. Meaning to extinguish the fire when it was starting small, or even better: To help keeping things stable long before they reach critical mass of instability, and to find ways helping a country, or a constituency, in efforts to resolve disputes peacefully, and to succeed in that. Here I will not give examples. There were a number of cases in which I participated and where we could help in de-confliction of interests, and peaceful resolving of grievances. Those cases did not lead to bad-news-stories, in the general public they went almost entirely unrecognized, and good-news-stories sometimes can not be told in order to keep the good news continuing.

Those stories also don’t sell. Even in the “normal” world of crime, crime prevention does not attract the same interest by readers as the gruesome murder story does. Prevention is the silent humble sister of the guys and gals in military and police fatigues. Repression, threat, coercion, and the use of force, all too often these stories outrun any peaceful piece of news. This is the achilles-heel of prevention, and exponentially more so since the advent of social-media, whose algorithms prefer stories, fake or true, that create viral attention: Stories that create anger will always knock out the stories of crime that never happened. Even cute-cats-stories outrun every story about a conflict which never happened because we all did the right things.


In all those discussions on how to prevent conflict better, we asked ourselves how to asses and to measure the risk of conflict with hard numbered indicators. I remember reading the book “The Responsibility To Protect” by Gareth Evans. Evans, one of the chief architects of a concept called R2P, which tragically failed, at one point mentions the many efforts of academia to come up with a measurable set of indicators. He stated that for many years there was inconclusive academic research on that. In his book he mentioned that only one hard statistical fact could be boiled down: That conflict is much more likely in a country where there was one -more recently- before.

For years, I accepted that. Barbara F. Walter’s book has profoundly changed this view. May be I did personally not notice, or may be it is more of a late-breaking recognition, but according to Walter political science has made tremendous progress and has developed a sophisticated set of predictors, or risk indicators, based on sound bodies of empirical data in at least three very large and internationally recognized data-sets. In order to keep this a relatively easy read, I won’t go into details. The book is very captivating and it is very comprehensible. I truly enjoy the way how hard science is transformed into popular language by Barbara F. Walter. There is no need to undergo a 101 course in political sciences, so instead of summarizing a detailed book, I recommend reading it yourself.


Walter’s book has drawn my attention to three factors that increase the potential for, and are the reasons for, civil wars. Academic research appears to have managed to put these three factors into a rock-hard framework of statistical measurability: (1) Transitions from one system of governance to another system of governance; (2) Factionalisation in societies; (3) The drastic effects of social media.


(1) Transitions from one system of governance to another system of governance

For me, one important contribution of Barbara F. Walter’s book sits with drawing attention to process, rather than a snapshot of a state of affairs in time. Any form of governance can be categorized, and put on a scale. A true representation of all common criteria for a democracy can put a State into a category of “best in class”. Another State can be a full representation of what we call an autocracy. That State would be on the opposite side of that scale. From the viewpoint of a true defender of democratic values, that would bring this State into the zone of “worst in class”. Of course, “the other side of the aisle” would disagree with that judgement, and there we are in a polarized discussion.

But the true focus of Barbara F. Walter is not on the snapshot where a State finds herself on such a scale. It is about the movement from one end to the other, in both directions, and it is about the speed of that process. A State can find herself on the path towards more autocratic forms of government, or on the path from autocratic governance towards democratic governance. Political science has established evidence for that the “middle zone” between one form of governance and another form of governance is the most dangerous and volatile area, and the faster the transitional process from democracy towards autocracy, or from autocracy to democracy, the more risk for wide-spread violence exists on a statistical level.

And this makes perfect sense. Here is my attempt to visualize it:

It means that the “door swings in both directions”: The risk of violence does not only exist in a situation where a country is slipping towards semi-autocratic or fully-autocratic forms of governance. The same risk exists in a situation where interested parties, supported by the international community for example, engage in promoting and establishing regime change towards democracy. Barbara F. Walter makes it clear that the risk for violence is highest when this process into either direction has placed the constituency in question into the middle zone, when transformational change is most unfinished, with the old being ripped down and the new not yet formed and rooted.

Secondly, science tells us that, again, the risk is quantifiably higher if the process of transformation is either too slow or too fast, for which there can be many reasons. From how I look at things from my own experience, it is scientific evidence for what happens when the international community pushes too fast, is compartmentalised in such efforts, displays not enough comprehensive depth in supporting transformational change, nor patience for a long-term coherent support approach based on vision and strategy. Which I often saw when international mandates and policy discussions were held unter terms such as “democratization”, or “state building”.


(2) Factionalisation in societies

The second aspect in Barbara F. Walter’s book is a comprehensive analysis of previous civil wars and the relation between constituencies moving into the “danger zone” of being an anocracy, and the existence of factions in these societies. Also here, the book is very comprehensive in giving a detailed account for a vast array of previous civil wars. In my reading this book, one aspect stood out: Any change of one system through which a state applies governance to citizens towards another set of governance rules inevitably leads to the demise of old elites and the struggle which is happening when new elites try to form, and old elites fight to participate in societal control, for their benefits. This is the second factor which makes the “danger zone” so volatile, and the book provides detailed analytical results to the question when, how, and why this leads to violence. I want to highlight one sentence:

“Remember, it’s not the desperately poor who start civil wars, but those who once had privilege and feel they are losing status they feel is rightfully theirs”.

Likewise I quote her account on a declassified CIA report from 2012: “Most insurgencies, the report notes, “pass through similar stages of development during their life cycle.” In the pre-insurgency phase, a group begins to identify a set of common grievances and build a collective identity around a gripping narrative—the story or myth that helps them rally supporters and justify their actions. They begin to recruit members, some of whom even travel abroad for training. They begin to stockpile arms and supplies.

I note that it is the last sentence which connects my current line of work with the larger picture.

Then Barbara F. Walter goes on to analyze the role of social media in contemporary conflicts:


(3) The drastic effects of social media

Social media acts like the proverbial gasoline poured on a fire. By now, many of us have begun to appreciate this very dark side of a technology which also has contributed so much to bringing us close together in a global world. The author’s account on how social media has been, and continues to be, systematically exploited by those who seek control, including by inciting violence, is nothing short of scathing criticism. Again, the book is unbiased by taking a very comprehensive view on situations of recent violence, and contemporary situations in countries all around the globe, within something which appears to be a rising global pattern of instability, emerging and brooding conflict. She refers to solid data that would allow to conclude that there is a clear connection between the exponential rise of volatile situations and war on one hand, and the the abuse of social media for that purpose on the other hand. It is here where the role of social media and its systematic and professional exploitation by reckless individuals and groups is pervasive. Whereas encouraging factionalism on religious, ethnic, racial, or any grounds has been the key defining modus operandi of individuals manipulating populations into fear and hate of the other, and the acceptance that “Dear Leader” may be the lesser evil, contemporary situations are characterised by a systematic manipulation of many, through some, using social media. The book demonstrates this in Myanmar, in countries in Europe including Eastern and Central Europe, and elsewhere, before even beginning to analyse what happened in the U.S. in recent years.

Our societies struggle with the question of how to apply accountability and regulative frameworks to this new phenomenon. Because, new it is: The effects of how social media can be used for manipulation, inciting hatred, and fueling violence, they may be just ten years old. But they are extremely transformative. And again, we see different approaches in relation to how to control social media in China or Russia, say compared to how open societies handle this challenge. But what we also see: Aspiring autocrats virtuously use social media to gain control. After that, these individuals will undertake everything to control the instrument they have used.

Because, they know better than anyone else how it can be used to their advantage, and against them.


This got long again. I leave it without conclusions, simply because there are so many. This is true for a paradigm change on how we consider engaging in conflict prevention in a world filled with old instruments of international order which require overhaul, or may be outdated if we don’t succeed in transforming them into effective tools. This is also true for how we accept our being affected by what we call “social media”. Personally, I feel this question may belong to the most important ones in our lifetime, in all aspects of our lives.

Under The Hood

Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.
DESMOND TUTU

This entire blog is about peace and security, trauma and reconciliation. It is my chosen overarching theme since I began writing.

Ultimately, in order to sustain lasting peace and security in a society, the society needs to be at peace with itself. The impact of traumatic situations and the societal ability to heal these, through reconciliation, is directly affecting the cohesion which is also often referred to as a “social contract”. The less cohesion in a society, the more likely the foundations of that agreement erode.

I pre-ordered “How Civil Wars Start And How To Stop Them”, written by Barbara F. Walter (Crown, 2022, Ebook ISBN 9780593137796). I read an article in the New York Times discussing this book and was immediately drawn to it. Of course, much attention is given to such topics because January 06, 2022 we also looked back on what happened one year earlier: The attacks on the U.S. Capitol by violent crowds, incited by an angry former U.S. President ready to rip everything into pieces and to burn the house to ashes when facing his power coming to an end.

I am specifically interested in understanding the author’s methodological approach. To quote from the New York Times article: “As a political scientist who has spent her career studying conflicts in other countries, she approaches her work methodically, patiently gathering her evidence before laying out her case. She spends the first half of the book explaining how civil wars have started in a number of places around the world, including the former Yugoslavia, the Philippines and Iraq.

So I began this blog entry by looking at my four terms “Peace, Security, Trauma, Reconciliation” with a focus on the January 06, 2021 Capitol riots:

There was no peaceful event, there was no security, there is massive traumatisation of an entire society, and there are huge challenges when it comes to reconciliation. The fabric of the U.S. society is critically wounded. Many, including the current President of the United States, have made that clear on occasion of the commemoration events. Others have blamed them for saying that, accusing them of dividing the very society they have undermined themselves. No matter on which side of the aisle one is, the fact of deep divisions in the society of the U.S. can not be disputed by anyone, because they all participate in it, blaming the respective other side.


Currently in every open society the fabric of consent appears to be at threat. We experience attacks from the outside and from the inside, and we have a large-scale public discourse about that. Attacks and covert efforts in a cyber-information-warfare do point back to actors from inside authoritarian systems, but not only: They include actors from within open societies, in an effort to overturn the systems of governance as they have been set up on grounds of the respective societal contract, enshrined in the relevant basic laws of these societies, their constitutional law. There is a blurry spider web of people and interest groups out there, networking on a global scale, who seem to diligently work on that.


We see societies with authoritarian leadership, heavily applying coercion, and whereever deemed useful, heavy violence against own constituencies. Whichever legitimacy, or sheer power, sits behind coercion into cohesion in those societies, the number of current examples of authoritarian regimes quelling opposition and unrest is considerable. Instability, public unrest, violent coercion of populations by a ruling structure, whether Central Asia, Africa, the Near, the Middle, and the Far East, the Americas, there are many examples.


We see societies with illiberate structures of governance that appear to be stable, sorts of. Big ones, and smaller ones.

We do speculate about the stability of the bigger ones, we suspect, or bluntly see them being in a game of stabilising themselves by dominating spheres of influence, and coercion, whilst at the same time being engaged in efforts destabilising opponents on the side of what we call open societies, including the so-called “West”.

We see smaller societies on their path to illiberate control that position themselves by jockeying for alliances, keeping options open, attempting to take advantage of being friendly to the one or the other, being ambigous.


That is how I came to suspect that the common denominator for all, on a global level, is about societal cohesion. On this level of analysis it is not about attacks of authoritarianism against democracy. It appears to be that notwithstanding the form of governance in many societies, we all struggle with societal cohesion. We all have the same problem, we only differ in how we deal with it.


With that in mind, I revisited my blog entry “Futuretelling” from April 2021. There I had written about the latest report published by the collective of American intelligence agencies: “Global Trends 2040”. The report “finds that the pandemic has proved to be “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II,” with medical, political and security implications that will reverberate for years. That’s not sturm und drang. It’s the prologue to a far darker picture of what lies ahead.”

Five themes are identified in that assessment: (1) Global Challenges, (2) Fragmentation, (3) Disequilibrium, (4) Contestation, and (5) Adaption. I won’t repeat how I summarized the report in my previous artcle, but I do quote the following: Global challenges include climate change, disease, financial crises, and technology disruptions. The report states that they are likely to manifest more frequently and intensely in almost every region and country. Their impact on states and societies will create stress, or even catastrophic shock. The report assesses the current pandemic as “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political, and security implications that will ripple for years to come.“


That’s huge, and overwhelming. So, what can each and everyone do, in our circles of life?

I am coming back to the basic motivation which I had when I began writing this article. Because it has not been reflected in any of the above, but I believe it is the essence of any individual contribution to finding new ways into cohesion. Lasting cohesion requires some form of consent. Which can only be achieved by talking to each other, and not at all by talking about each other. Talking about each other contributes to dissent. Often we see the dissent manifesting within a public discourse, and all our new contemporary mechanisms of discourse, especially social media, are designed to reinforce messages which achieve large public attention. Those messages are fueled by rage and anger. It is how these systems are set up.

They also function by establishing closed networks. Friends, followers, open or closed chat groups. The opposite to talk with each other is possible there. Stalking, mobbing, bullying, that all adds. Because any dissenting voice within such groups will be yelled at. Can even happen to Ted Cruz, by Tucker Carlson, recently. You stray off the party line, you will be punished.

We can not talk about divisiveness in divisive terms if we genuinely want to address it. Those who do, they purposefully do that in order to solidify it, rather than reverting back to consent. They want to impose a new consent, by manipulation and force.

In everyday life, this is difficult. Like all of us, I have concrete examples: I do not know anti-vaxxers in my circle of friends. Because I have begun to separate myself from any of those. Neither they want me to be part of their circle of friends. And once one enters into those social media groups where attitude to an issue is the polarizing theme, a subtle brainwashing is going on. If I stay, I have to have the same beliefs. They reinforce, and they isolate from any dialogue with others. Over time, own positions and beliefs will radicalize the longer one stays in these groups and circles. As if we would not know how this works. Have we forgotten about how sects do this, how people have difficulties getting out of the prison of Scientology, how difficult it is to de-radicalize people who have been caught in the web of ISIS? There is little difference in the psychology behind all this.

This, again, is happening “under the hood”, and that’s why I have chosen this title. We see the open manifestations of societal dissent. It is hard to quantify and qualify to which extent the invisible divisive lines have already permeated societies. It is fair to suspect these lines of division run much deeper than we see, or acknowledge.

So, I will be interested to see what Barbara F. Walter has to say on that. Because over the last two decades I have been living in societies which at some point broke into open conflict. Or I have been dealing with working for peace in countries which all of a sudden, and often to the surprise of the international community, experienced relapse into conflict and war.

This time, I get a sense it is increasingly about all of us, not about a country far away from us.

How can we identify the threat-level? But notwithstanding that, I firmly believe that nurturing the ability of individuals to listen to others with a dissenting opinion, in an effort to understand the other, rather than subjugating the other under the own doctrine, will be key.

That’s why this will be a momentous task for generations to come.

On Responsibilities of German Public Servants and on Covid-19 – An Open Letter to Hans-Georg Maaßen

Sehr geehrter Herr Hans-Georg Maaßen,

Die digitale Ausgabe der “Tagesschau” berichtet heute, am 03.01.2022 (Link hier) zu dem Umstand, dass Sie auf der sozialen Mediaplattform GETTR ein Video mit der Bildunterschrift “Bewegender Appell von Prof. Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi zur dringenden Notwendigkeit eines Covid-Impfverbots” geteilt haben. Die “Tagesschau” ist fuer ihre faktenbasierte und neutrale Berichterstattung so anerkannt, dass ich auf weitere Verifizierungen dieses Berichtes hier verzichten darf.

Das Video, das Sie demzufolge weiterverbreitet haben, wurde urspruenglich am 22. Dezember 2021 von dem emeritierten Mikrobiologie-Professor Bhakdi auf der Plattform “Rumble” veröffentlicht. Der oben erwaehnte Bericht der Tagesschau leitet in eine detaillierte Schilderung und Bewertung dieses Videos wie folgt ein: “Es traegt den Titel “Der Beweis ist da: Impfung zerstört Immunsystem”. Bhakdi beginnt seine Ausführungen in dem Video mit dem Appell, sich nicht mehr über Details zu streiten, vielmehr lägen die Fakten auf dem Tisch. Alle genbasierten Impfstoffe, gemeint sind mRNA-Vakzine, verursachten das gleiche Ergebnis, so Bhakdi. Das Immunsystem des Körpers werde zerstört. Basis für diese Behauptung sollen Proben aus 15 Obduktionen sein, die der Pathologe Arne Burkhardt untersucht habe.

Professor Bhakdi erklaert in diesem Video: “Sie töten unsere Kinder” […] “Ich halte das nicht aus”, fährt er fort – und kündigt an, “aus diesem verdammten Land” flüchten zu wollen, damit nicht auf “unseren” vierjährigen Sohn “geschossen” werde.”

Der faktenbasierten Berichterstattung der “Tagesschau” ist hoch anzurechnen, dass sie die zugrundeliegenden unbelegten Behauptungen und die vollstaendige Unserioesitaet der angeblichen Beweise, dass m-RNA Impfungen das menschliche Immunsystem zerstoeren, ausfuehrlich in diesem Bericht widerlegt.

Gleichfalls erlaeutert der Bericht, dass sich der fuer den pensionierten Pathologen Arne Burkhardt zustaendige Fachverband, die Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Pathologie bereits vorher von Erklaerungen von Herrn Burkhardt distanziert hat, ebenso wie auch die Universitaet Mainz bezogen auf Herrn Bhakdi. Schlussendlich moechte ich hier erwaehnen, dass die Bildungsministerin Schleswig-Holsteins, Karin Prien, die zugleich Mitglied im Bundesvorstand der Christlich Demokratischen Union CDU ist, sich als Folge dieser Ereignisse fuer den Ausschluss von Ihnen, sehr geehrter Herr Maaßen, aus der Partei CDU ausspricht.


Sehr geehrter Herr Maaßen, nicht jeder kennt Sie, und mein Blog, auf dem ich meist in Englisch schreibe, wird weltweit gelesen. Daher darf ich hier kurz erklaeren, dass Sie in der Zeit von August 2012 bis November 2018 das Bundesamt fuer Verfassungsschutz geleitet haben. Sowohl waehrend Ihrer Amtsausuebung als auch in Ihrem spaeteren politischen Leben sind Ihnen eine Reihe hoch kontroverser Aeusserungen und Stellungnahmen zuzurechnen. Sie werden in Ihrer politischen Orientierung dem sehr rechten Fluegel der CDU zugerechnet. Sie scheinen erhebliche Sympathien in politischen Zirkeln zu geniessen, die rechts vom rechten Fluegel der CDU stehen. Die Verfassungskonformitaet mancher dieser Gruppierungen scheint ebenso erhebliche Fragen aufzuwerfen wie deren Naehe zu Verschwoerungstheoretikern und Covid-Realitaetsverweigerern.

Uns verbindet daher beinahe garnichts, allerdings eins: Wir beide sind Beamte. Sie sind politischer Beamter (im Ruhestand), ich bin Berufsbeamter (im Ruhestand). Vor Ihrer Zeit als politischer Beamter waren Sie im Uebrigen auch Berufsbeamter, einschliesslich in herausragenden Funktionen des Bundesinnenministeriums. Fuer mich gelten die in der Verfassung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland verankerten “hergebrachten Grundsaetze des Berufsbeamtentums”. Sie beinhalten die Pflicht zum inner- und ausserdienstlichen Wohlverhalten, im ausserdienstlichen Bereich gilt dies fuer mich auch im Ruhestand. Fuer mich gilt die Pflicht zur politischen Neutralitaet, fuer Sie als politischer Beamter vielleicht weniger. Aber eine generelle Wohlverhaltenspflicht kann sicherlich sowohl fuer Berufsbeamtinnen und -beamte wie auch fuer politische Beamtinnen und Beamte abgeleitet werden. Diensteide muessen ja auch von beiden Gruppen geleistet werden.


Zu dieser Wohlverhaltenspflicht gehoert ohne Frage, von der vorsaetzlichen oder grob fahrlaessigen Verbreitung evidenter Falschinformationen abzusehen, die zu schweren Fehlentscheidungen anderer Mitbuergerinnen und Mitbuerger mit fatalen Konsequenzen fuehren koennen. Je prominenter das -ehemals-bekleidete Amt und die damit gegebene “Prominenz” bzw. Gelegenheit zur oeffentlichen Einflussnahme auf Meinungsbildung, umso mehr ist Ihnen als Amtstraeger in herausragendendsten Funktionen diese Verpflichtung zuzumuten, und umso schwerwiegender der Vorwurf, wenn Sie es nicht tun.

Mit Ihrem Verhalten tragen Sie zu erheblichen Zweifeln und Aengsten in der Bevoelkerung bei. Sie schueren ohne jegliche Tatsachengrundlage Aengste, die zum Widerstand gegen Covid-19-Impfungen fuehren. Das ist verantwortungslos und sicher ein Grund fuer die Forderung von Ministerin Prien, obwohl auch aus ihrer Perspektive nicht allein wegen dieser Ereignisse, sondern eher ein Ausdruck der Haltung “Das Mass ist voll”.

Mein Argument kommt allerdings auf die von mir aufgefuehrte offenkundige Verletzung der Wohlverhaltenspflicht zurueck: Sie schueren Aengste, die sehr konkret zu Impfverweigerungen fuehren. Die Zahlen und Fakten sprechen fuer sich: (a) Die mittlerweile milliardenfach durchgefuehrten Impfungen sind sicher; (b) Impfungen reduzieren signifikant das Risiko, an Covid-19 zu erkranken und auch die Wahrscheinlichkeit der Transmission; (c) Impfungen reduzieren in erheblicher Weise das Risiko, Opfer einer schweren Erkrankung zu werden. Ersparen Sie mir, diesen offenen Brief mit endlosen Fussnoten zum Nachweis meiner Darstellung zu verlaengern. Vorsaetzlich falsche Aussagen wie die von Ihnen verbreiteten Behauptungen von Professor Bhakdi tragen also sehr konkret zu Krankheit, schwerem Leid und Tod anderer Menschen bei.

Daran moechte ich Sie hier erinnern.

Ich schliesse mit der Bemerkung, dass sich gerade in den letzten Tagen in meinem persoenlichen und beruflichen Umfeld erneut tragische Todesfaelle ereignet haben. In Anbetracht dessen, dass trotz intensivster Hygiene- und Schutzmassnahmen nun auch meine Familie in Kanada von Covid-Erkrankungen heimgesucht wird, kann ich nur dem Umstand danken, dass Alle vollstaendig durchgeimpft sind. Ich hoffe, dass Erkrankungen mild ablaufen.


Sehr geehrter Herr Maaßen, meine eigene Verpflichtung zum Wohlverhalten legt mir auf, diese oeffentliche Aussage zu Ihrem Verhalten in angemessener Form darzulegen. Ich denke aber, es ist mir auch zugestanden, Ihr Verhalten als unerhoert, inakzeptabel und in schaerfster Form verurteilungswuerdig zu qualifizieren.

Stefan Feller, Leitender Polizei/Kriminaldirektor a.D.

A different approach to upsetting news – Take away their demolition power – The glass is half full, not half empty

This morning, a German news story popped up. The report informs about the plans of Hungary‘s right-wing political party „Fidesz“ to institutionalize further discrimination against members of the LGBTQI-community. Prime Minister Victor Orban of Hungary, a Member State of the European Union, has tabled a law prohibiting educational programs, and any program advertising topics related to people and communities identifying anything other than heterosexual. Homophobia enshrined into law, if successful. Chances are, it may be.

According to the „Tagesschau“-report behind the link https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/europa/ungarn-fidesz-homosexualitaet-101.html, educational programs at school that inform and sensibilisize for the rights and needs of minority groups identifying other than heterosexual shall be prohibited. Behind the acronym LGBTQI stand all who identify as lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, queer, and intersexual. One of my beloved children would, as a consequence, be ostracized if being educated in Hungary. I dare say I am proud of the exceptionally human educational system of the country where they are being educated. They grow up in a country where they are encouraged to freely identify as whoever they feel they are.

Not in Hungary, or elsewhere where xenophobia and chauvinism continue to take alarming roots, in the middle of the European Union. Let me be clear: We have this everywhere, including in Germany. But a draft law planning to prohibit books, films, and other „content“, aiming at children and juveniles with the intent to prohibit depicting any form of sexuality deviating from heterosexuality, that is entirely another level of erosion of values based on democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human and individual values. I hope that there will be a strong reaction from Brussels. But the mere fact that such an attempt is made is deeply alarming.

As often, this report falls into the category of news which deeply upset me, make me sad, angry, resentful. There are many bits and pieces of such news in my draft folder. They relate to what happens with Muslim minorities in Myanmar, ethnic and religious minority groups in China, including reports about Chinese authorities forcefully subjecting members of that minority group to training Artificial Intelligence software to identify emotions on their faces, with even Microsoft ringing the alarm bells of Orwell‘s „1984“ taken to the the power of 2. My draft folder includes reports about widespread sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and rape, on a broad basis, perpetrators being Afghan Police commanders, victims being female Afghan police officers.

I could go on and on. Of course, the world is chock full with news like these. And these stories need to be told, as this is one vital precondition to act. „AAA“ stands for Awareness, Acceptance, and Action. All three terms are equally relevant.

But from personal experience I know what these stories do: Some people get numb. Some people get cynical. Some people get into a constant spiral of being upset. On the other side of the aisle, these stories positively feed the xenophobia and hate and intolerance of those who have already been caught in the webs of those pied pipers who appear to be a staple of contemporary times.

I name them pied pipers. They thrive off antagonisation. Many of them for ideological reasons. Some of them, including Nr 45 in the U.S., taking this method to the ultimate extreme: They don‘t care about content at all, they only care for the principle of always raising the stakes of antagonisation. This I will try to analyse in a future blog entry, because this method is both simple and complex, and there are people around who have copied this from Nr. 45. Mechanically it is simple: Just respond to anything with radical antagonisation. Psychologically, it is complex: Systematic gaslighting is including that one gaslights oneself. I have written about it here.

But what to do when everything is aimed at making you angry, because this in itself is the aim of the exercise? Does it mean one either becomes a „useful idiot“, as Lenin put it, by angrily responding (and thus doing exactly what the other side intended), or shutting up and thus becoming a member of the group of „silent lambs“? Does it lead to ever more resignation and the feeling of helplessness, harboring deep-seated resentment?

I believe there could be another path: Every story told about the cold heartless business of eroding hard-fought-for values should be accompanied by a story of hope, a profoundly positive story.

So I try this here.

—————————————————————————————-

Two days ago, I came back to Serbia after a stay in Germany and another stay in Bosnia & Herzegovina. I was timing my arrival, because my second Covid-19-vaccination was due this weekend.

Here is my story about how I got vaccinated in Serbia:

As a consequence of policy decisions, Serbia had secured considerable amounts of vaccines early on, whether Sinopharm, Sputnik, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, whatever. In difference to neighboring States in the region, and also in difference to, for example Germany, they had a large supply early on. Serbia‘s fast vaccination campaign got noticed internationally.

At the same time when own citizens began to receive their first shots (and not after), the Serbian government started to provide vaccines to the international diplomatic community in Serbia, but they wouldn’t stop there: A week or so after they had opened the possibility to get vaccinated to diplomatic missions, my landlord called me and said she had just watched the announcement on TV that the government was offering vaccines to anyone, including foreigners, as long as one had a foreign ID card and a Serbian phone number.

Mid March, on a Saturday morning, I traveled to the largest vaccination site on the Belgrade Fair compound. I approached a security guard, politely asking whether the information that I could get a shot as a foreigner with no residence in Serbia, would be correct. The guard went in, and came out a minute later with a young staffer, who introduced himself as „Ivan“. In the most friendly manner I have come across, Ivan took me through all registration, helped me arrive at the cubicle with a sign „AstraZeneca“ on it, and fifteen minutes after arriving at the fair I got my first vaccine shot. Ivan accompanied me to the rest area, we had a blast of small talk, and brought me back to the exit of the fair. We parted not without having exchanged contact details before. Since then, Ivan and I exchanged a few mails and planned on having a coffee at the latest when my second shot would be due, after 12 weeks.

Of course, this extraordinary experience made me so grateful. And this gratitude for a most personal experience of kindness also remained throughout the following weeks, when Serbia got credited for this unbuerocratic handling, when many people from neighboring countries of the Western Balkans, and even „vaccine tourists“ form EU countries, arrived at the Belgrade Fair. The public discussion included comments that this also could be seen as a smart public relations move by the Government. All reasonable, but the personal kindness was not an exception and went way beyond what could be named „professional courtesy“, and I heard of it many times.

Now, 11 weeks later I was in Sarajevo, preparing to come back to Belgrade, anticipating an eMail notifying me about my second appointment. With precision, I got this mail, and a text message on my phone. But before that, I received a mail from Ivan.

Ivan had noted the second vaccination date. He offered to help me again. Which I found more than kind, it was „super considerate“. So, two days ago, I met Ivan again. At the Belgrade Fair. And like the first time, I was met with most friendly staff all over the vaccination site, taking me through the second round of vaccination. After which, Ivan and I had planned to have a coffee.

On the way to the coffee place, Ivan greeted a friend, Marco. Friendly and outgoing like Ivan, I got into a conversation with Marco. This led to literally two hours of intense and wonderful time over several coffees, with both Ivan and Marco. Because, as it turned out, Marco had a story to tell which I also wanted to hear in its entirety.

Both Ivan and Marco are youth workers, engaged in supporting meaningful activities for young people. Ivan in Belgrade, Marco as part of a regional non-governmental organization operating in all six jurisdictions of the Western Balkans. As an NGO, I learned, they had gotten international recognition for their work on helping young people all over the Western Balkans, including in reconciling with the divisions which form part of the legacy of conflict and war.

I need to keep it short here, because this blog entry is already one of the longer ones. The work of this NGO will be subject to future blog entries anyway, as soon as I have learned more. But I already know that young people here are fighters for the future of the values that we sometimes feel others are eroding. The point which I want to make here: By chance, and simply because I was curious and open-minded, I learned about what young people here in this region of the world do in order to overcome pre-occupations, divisive nationalist language, and hate. They promote tolerance. They operate truly regional, stay out of politics, and emphasize their pride of being truly multi-ethnic.

They are the present, and the future here, so their stories need to be told. These others, including some pied pipers, those who try to control the news cycle, they may be part of the past, and not knowing it, yet. Telling positive stories, sometimes small, sometimes large, always wonderful, that may help.

Ivan, Marco, and I, we plan a dinner next week. I am going to ask them what they do in terms of LGBTQI rights, and their promotion. I am sure we are going to have another blast of a good conversation.

Which helps me a lot when I see bad news, next time.

Manipulation feeding off from emotional pain – A perfect storm

I am waking up after a sufficiently long sleep. I had felt exhaustion yesterday evening and fell asleep early. Keeping my eyes closed, and ignoring my cat making it clear he wants me to get up, to feed him, and to let him out of the campervan for his morning patrol, I am focusing for a few minutes on dreaming up positive pictures of this new day.

I am getting up, making my first coffee, feeding my cat, and not the other way round. Looking at the blue sky presiding over a cold April morning, I am not seeing the beauty of the lake, but struggle with what is going on in my head. I try to turn around the worry and the burden which is created by thinking about very simple things I have to do. Very simple things have become stressful when thinking about that I have to do them. I always knew this feeling, but it has become a prevalent stressor one year into the pandemic. Which gets me into the past, mourning everything my head is telling me that I have lost it. Worrying about the upcoming little things in my future again, I am loosing, once more, my ability to enjoy the present. Enjoying solitude, or suffering from loneliness? I have the choice, and more often than not, I fail to manage moving on a more enjoyable path for the day. Or I manage at the beginning, and fail all of a sudden throughout the day due to a small event, or just when daylight is waning.

I am attempting to disrupt my morning routine, which usually includes reading global news first. I have learned that reading these, mostly bad, news first thing over a coffee just fuels my being upset, being worried, feeling helpless and angry.

Instead, I am focusing on a voicemail which I received from a friend. My friend apologises for not having reacted earlier on previous mails from me. She explains the crippling inertia and depression which she is running through in this pandemic situation. I know her from before. She used to be so vibrant. Everything she describes about her struggle for today and the next days, I can perfectly relate to. I experience the same.

I could go on with stories of so many of my friends and family struggling with the same experience. With the ordeal of my ex-wife who single-parents our children 6.500 km from me, in a country equally affected by never-ending shutdowns, almost erratic closing of schools, and strict lockdown rules. I could describe in detail our worries about the depressive effects which the lockdown has on our teenage children, and our worrying about it, and how we wonderfully cooperate in coping with it. I could write about my single-parenting friend with three young children here in Berlin. I guess I would just describe individual stories which we all experience in countless variations right now.

We feel trapped, we feel helpless. We feel angry, and we suffer from our energy being sucked out of our lifes. We feel despair, because everything feels like a burden, simple tasks become more and more difficult. We daydream, we need rest after some work way earlier than we used to. A mental task, some office work, the need for a break comes after an hour, or sometimes after a few minutes. My friend in Berlin got help from a wonderful friend for a few days, taking care of her children. The time she had on her own, it felt like heaven. When the kids came back, the positive energy of this break lasted a few hours, only. Do people without small children really appreciate the effects of a protracted absence of Kitas, kindergardens, and schools being open?

I am attempting to describe the effects of depression, however, there are way more qualified writers than I am. But what I see is both an endemic increase of depression and, at the same time, a drastic increase of numbers of people who do not even realise that what they suffer from is a sustained series of depression attacks. This collective increase is a consequence of the protracted measures which we have imposed on ourselves in order to stay healthy and safe during a pandemic hitting us on an unprecendented scale.

But here is what I know about depression: At its core, it is a deep-seated and profound form of emotional pain. I also know that, like other unpleasant emotions, this pain easily separates itself from the triggering events and develops a life of its own, if experienced for too long. The trigger may vanish at some point, but the negative emotion stays. This is how anxieties develop, or phobias. Enough triggering events, and they are meant to stay even after the situation has long disappeared. It is the same with depression attacks. Because the point I want to make in this blog is a very different one, I stay away from explaining the neurophysiological reasons for this.

So, firstly, I state that increasing numbers of people in our societies are currently suffering from lasting emotional pain. Which creates a strong longing to make it disappear. May be through painkillers of various types, including meds, including drugs, including alcohol. But whether we sedate, or not, the pain stays, and it is a very deep pain. What happens if I have a headache and it doesn’t vanish after taking Ibuprofene? I feel helpless, I feel angry, I may double down on the painkiller, but I also try to understand why I have this pain. If the Doctor can not explain the pain, and make it go away, I may begin to distrust the Doctor.


We are facing anger, helplessness, feelings of being trapped, profound absence of a past which appears to be gone, on a societal scale. There is no discussion these days which I have which will not focus on Covid, or at least at some point invariably touch the issue. More often than not, this leads to an angry ramble.

We feel trapped because we are. Not only the unending cold weather is keeping us in our houses. We are strongly advised to stay in. We are advised to do home office. We face the protracted shutdown of any place where we used to mingle, whether the coffee shop, whether the shopping mall, whether any recreational place. We are living in areas where we face curfews, or we are being prevented from going to places just for touristic or any other recreational reasons. When I compare Berlin with Belgrade, just as an example, life is very different in Berlin. Much more shut down, like in other places in Europe. And yet, even in more permissive places, we all feel the effects of being prevented from engaging in what our brains need: Human contact, not over Zoom, but real contact.

We all know this, I am just stating it here to make my argument. We all feel that we began fighting this pandemic by hoping, and being told, that this will be over soon. But until now, it never was getting anywhere close to being over. I remember times last November when we faced yet another lockdown, hoping to re-open in January. And we did not, or only temporarily and in a very limited manner, re-open. We face a seemingless never-ending oscillation between hope and despair.

I suspect this is an issue seriously re-wiring our brains, to an extent unknown to many of us. Like, will I ever feel comfortable again when people come close to me in a crowded situation, whether on the bus, or in a crowded pedestrians zone? I crave proximity, and I fear it at the same time. I fear being surrounded by an invisible enemy. Again, I am making this argument for a purpose, not digging into the emerging scientific findings about how it affects us in all our societies. I have, for example, written on the impact of the pandemic and how we handle it, on domestic violence and on violence against women. What I want to express here is that fear, and anger, and helplessness, and the wish to make this going away, they have taken a deep root.

So, if there is an invisible enemy which I can not fight, I will feel threatened by anything happening close to me, getting me out of my comfort zone. My neighbor can make me angry, a tourist can, a foreigner can. Here is a strong vector fueling nationalism, through the fear created by anything alien to me.


At the same time, in our attempts to find a way through this, I feel from my conversations with a great many friends that we are establishing a narrative which justifies our own subtle non-compliance. Like many, I feel the temptation to not comply, in the security of my own private space. Where, as I said, the protracted cold weather plays a role because we are forced to stay in our houses. Where we all try to find ways to balance physical health with mental health. Mental health requires contact to other human beings. As we begin to rationalize this, I suspect that we may begin to move away from super-spreader-events to a mass of hidden mini-spreader-events.

My friend in the U.S. said, a few months ago, that in a situation where there is a choice only to either prioritize physical health or mental health, this friend will choose mental health, simply for survival purposes, thus meaning meeting people. We all want that. The conundrum sits with that it is not only about our own mental health, but about the physical health of other people, at the same time. If I prioritize my own health, I have to mitigate the many connections to vulnerable people which connect the people who I meet, with others. Mini-spreader-events carry the same viral potential, therefore, as super-spreader-events do, but they stay invisible. We have no guidance on how to mitigate, nor tool to assist, we are sitting with our own devices having to navigate through this huge responsibility. We are being told not to meet with more than a limited number of people in the “safety” of our homes, but how do we do this? The number of friends of mine who recently mention that they are going on a date, or, let me suspect, several dates, who knows the numbers? What about the absolute necessity of teenagers to hug each other?


So far, my argument expresses my suspicion that, the longer the fight against the pandemic lasts, the more we are being driven into “underground defiance”. If that is true, then the virus is being spread despite all public containment attempts. In a totalitarian regime, this may lead to even intruding into private space for controlling compliance. In democratic societies, it may simply lead to that all measures remain ineffective.

Here, the vaccination dilemma comes into play: The longer the vaccination campaign is being slowed down by insufficient supplies, resistance, doubts, administrative problems, and else, the longer the virus will thrive and prosper, unseen, at a too large scale. And the longer this happens, the more likely new mutations, and our inability to catch up with updated vaccines. We seem to be at a critical juncture of a whack-a-mole game, where we may get exhausted at an unknown point in the future.

If then, like today, some countries appear to be more successful with vaccination campaigns than others, and if, like we can see, these countries begin to release restrictions, the emotional impact on those who still live under lockdowns, will add exponentially to anger and helplessness. They will feel greed, and the wish to keep things for themselves, too. Another vector leading into nationalism.


Finally, in order to present my argument, a last story, from yesterday:

Another friend consulted me, by attaching a video to his mail. A video spreading through social media, one of uncounted similar types floating around. A well-dressed very attractive female presenter, propped up against a professional studio background, exhaling all visible criteria aiming at making her appearance credible and professional, spread a gargantuan conspiracy theory. That the virus does not exist. That the vaccines are evil. That all this is proven. That it is all about a global cabale of people subjugating their populations. The usual allegations, in this case against Bill Gates, were part of the blend.

The professionalism made me sick and angry. Because the flawless design of this presentation requires a deeper intellectual effort in order to pierce through the fog of manipulative rhethoric. Which is something which many people will not invest into. It took me two efforts in order to find a way demonstrating to my friend why these are incredibly well-crafted lies.

My friend almost apologised, because I had begun to ramble myself. He explained that this video was sent to his aunt who is hospitalised. He told me that in his circle of friends he hears entirely confusing advice about vaccinations, including hearing from a medical doctor in his circle that one should avoid the vaccination at all costs. He just told me another story about how deeply confused all of us are. In asking me he was trying to find guidance within a field which left him scared.

So it depends on who is giving you advise in such a situation. And I believe that more often than not the advise being given is half-baked, or uninformed, or even coming from people with a desire to manipulate.

This morning, I read a German news article about the German intelligence organisations watching extreme right-wing political movements and also noting new forms of extremism coming up. New forms of extremism connected to protests against Corona-measures. The key sentence in this news piece: The intent of some in this movement, and in right-wing political parties, to sow doubt in the confidence into the free democratic order which forms the value-base of our constitution.

That is my argument: That the helplessness, anger, fear, and facing the protracted, seemingly never-ending, nature of the crisis, is being used for increasing the base of those who just doubt the value-base which we have nurtured for more than seventy years. Automatically, by increasing the base of people willing to listen to the pied piper (Der Rattenfaenger von Hameln, for my German friends), one increases the number of people willing to vote for the pied piper.

For me, this sounds like a perfect storm.