Finally

My boss is very clear. There is no diplomatic coating if Heiko Maas, the German Foreign Minister, is calling out Donald Trump’s urging his supporters to vote twice as disturbing and unscrupulous behavior. Which it is.

I am glad we speak the truth, we do it with diplomatic language whereever we can, do not play into the antagonization game whereever possible, use moderate language instead of yelling, call on upholding human values including decency and truthfulness. I am also glad to see that we can be clear, crystal clear, saying “enough is enough”. Which it is.

https://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/heiko-maas-wirft-donald-trump-ruchlosigkeit-im-wahlkampf-vor-a-b110069c-8888-4118-bb1c-f39cee51c59a

Or, for my English speaking friends:

https://www.newsweek.com/germanys-foreign-minister-calls-trump-urging-supporters-vote-twice-disturbing-unscrupulous-1529939

Never ever the Doomsday Clock was closer to twelve. Do not underestimate His Neediness and his minions.

Peace, democracy, safety and security, human rights, humanity, none of these come for free.

We have a responsibility to hold to the power of love that we know to be true, and to not allow the world around us to deaden that in ourselves. LUCAS JOHNSON

The summer of 2020

I will remember the summer of 2020 as that summer when COVID-19 wiped out large swaths of my plans to travel. I had planned to deepen friendships and was looking forward to my connection to family and loved ones. All live in different parts of this world. I imagined that I would regularly meet professional interlocutors by traveling all over the Western Balkans, I would travel to see friends, and I would contribute to nurturing the buds of a new relationship. I would form new memories, making it easier to live with the memories of those summers in the U.S. which I, until today, miss with excruciating pain. July 4th was a tough day for me.

So far, nothing like that has happened. Shortly after I arrived in my new center of working and living, Covid-19 struck. For a few weeks I had enjoyed meetings with new and old colleagues. Within a day or so in March, I saw them only in their home offices, on Zoom, and that is lasting until today. I found myself in an increasingly intense lockdown, organizing work from my own home office, structuring the day keeping me sane, in ways allowing me to get the basics done, including shopping, before the curfew hit, getting work done, staying in connection with friends and family, and not overdosing on Netflix during the evenings. A seemingly never ending string of weekend-long curfews culminated around christian and orthodox Easter, locking me into the routine of my apartment for days without end.

Everything happened on Zoom, WhatsApp, Signal, FaceTime, Skype, and using a myriad of other communication tools. There was a phase of enthusiasm at the beginning, both on the work side and the private side of things new forms of communication offered more intense opportunities to connect. But that began to wear out after a few weeks. People started to crave personal contacts. Everybody struggled with the fear of an economic downturn affecting the financial foundations of their lifes. I found myself increasingly dealing with mood swings, and planning when to travel to Germany was a nightmare of calculating when there would be the ideal slot, being able to travel, to self-quarantine on arrival, doing the things I needed to do in Germany, and traveling back to Belgrade hopefully with the least complications possible. My mind went into such a frantic mode that I began to be affected by not being able to decide, constantly worrying.

So, when the counter-measures to the pandemic which shut down the entire continent of Europe yielded success, the feeling of relief was incredible. I felt it personally, I was able to travel to a remote campsite in Croatia for two consecutive weekends, enjoying peace in nature on my own. Yet, my children in Toronto lived through extraordinary restrictions, and they do so until now. In Europe, temporary border control measures were lifted in the European Union, and here in the Western Balkans, people put their hope on being able to travel for holidays, and to travel into the EU by getting their regular visa again. I was hoping to travel to Bucharest in Romania, and until today this has not materialized. Like my children in Toronto, I saw my friend in Bucharest last time January this year. And once I travel to Germany again, with plans to see my father, I will have to be extremely vigilant taking his fragility at old age into account. His health is deteriorating.

Whilst hope kept me in limbo, I saw the figures of new infections rising again. We experience a second wave here in South-East Europe, almost everywhere registered new infections rise to the level where they were in spring. I worry again about when to travel for the summer time, which I plan to spend in Germany, and in Canada. Traveling just to neighboring Romania remains a distant dream. I have days where I feel overwhelmed by frustration, and only connection to my friends helps me accepting this new reality that is there to stay.

This is the regional picture, here in parts of Europe. Already this picture is overwhelmingly complex. In the United States the situation is much different, the pandemic is in full swing, currently out of control, and in the stranglehold of a cultural war. And though I believe that I pay attention to news on a global level, I see that my focus is on the developments in the so-called West. I see things being equally out of control in countries in Central and South America, and in Asia. In Africa, too: South Africa’s figures are going through the roof, whilst there are so many underdeveloped countries which I traveled and love where I doubt even the capacity to register new cases is there.

But the overhelming news I consume relate to Europe, and North America. Including obsessive paying attention to how one of the oldest democracies of this world is under attack from the inside, fighting for its life. It is mindblowing that even the person who is a main driver of this attack would agree with my statement. Because he says too that this attack is happening, but he, the attacker, brazenly blames the other side for everything. Madness. History is repeating itself, and with the legacy of what happened to my country ninety years ago, and with twenty years of personal experience with worst-case-scenarios all over the world, I have to be careful in not allowing my emotions taking over and coming up with Doomsday phantasies.

The anxieties and fear which I have described using my own personal example, they hold true for everyone on a global level. My example is the example of one within billions. The fear, the anxiety, the attempt to find entry points into understanding what is going on, the helplessness and the wish to control things, the anger and despair, the resentment, these are global commonalities. It creates a highly combustible mix, as we have seen on occasions of global movements against racism and police abuse of power. 

I also see that I am part of a privileged group of people who are educated, sticking to the guns of science and truth, and who have developed strong tools for not allowing irrational fear taking over. I am privileged through my global and longstanding experiences, and the knowledge how to carefully assess, and to contribute to complex situations. Many people do not enjoy these privileges, but they share the same fears, the same anger, the same resentment, and they crave to control the situation by being able to give meaning to what is happening.

This summer is presenting challenges for my fighting hard to separate my personal disappointments, fears and pain from my assessments on larger issues, like the pandemic, like global anxiety, or economic depression, like the global rise of authoritarians. Emotions can amplify each other: When pain, fear of the unknown, and the feeling of having no control hit, the result is more fear, and helplessness. The result is more anger and more anger fuels more resentment. Like everyone else, I want to make this unpleasant feeling go away.

When it comes to how emotions drive people, I use my personal example by saying that this is a summer when I found it increasingly challenging to turn anger into compassion. My personal experience helps me to understand how other fellow human beings struggle the same way during this summer: How hard it is to stay away from the ever more tempting wish to simplify things, to find explanations allowing for shifting the blame to others. How much the constant battle rhythm of indoctrination through lies, conspiracy theories, and manipulation establishes a fog meant to control people, by keeping them angry, and controlling the direction of their anger, and how to discharge it against an enemy being created by those who manipulate.

When someone defies the explosion of new cases in the U.S., rallying people for extremely divisive speech, some believe this is one of the last acts in this disgusting performance. But make no mistake, what is happening is cold-blooded calculation: It is about using the pent-up anger, locking people into a narrative that they are warriors for a higher cause, using the psychological effects of the Stockholm Syndrome in combination with the kick coming from openly defying social distancing and wearing masks, indulging into national pride and a false sense of freedom. National pride is being manipulated into nationalism, fascism is established by blaming the others for left-wing fascism. It is the oldest trick in history: Do something openly and claim that it is the other side doing it. Keep people in your walled garden (which is a mental prison) and shut down all channels of alternative explanations of the reality for them. One of the most cruel things, aside of open racism is the weaponization of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are those who let down their guards by believing this will be over soon. History shows the power of victimization, combined with a relentless narrative based on lies and manipulation. Even in a best-case-scenario this won’t be over for a decade to come.

In this war, real people are dying already. And from all predictive modeling and experience with what happens when social distancing is abolished, there will be thousands more. Having contracted the Covid-19-virus, they will deny themselves the acknowledgement that they got it because the pied piper called on them.

I will remember the summer of 2020 as that summer when I, a pacifist and idealist hoping for change to the better, for the first time ever in my long life accepted that resisting the global nomenclatura of greed and unbounded selfishness may require to accept that standing up for this fight includes being prepared for that the nomenclatura fights back and that retreat is not an option, at great personal cost. And that we may have to accept tears and sorrow.

 

 

On Truth – To My Youngest Children

Lila and Oscar, you went through your graduation ceremony after Class 6. Congratulations!

Dressed in your red school tees you sat in Toronto in front of a computer screen. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic everything including this celebration has to be online at schools in Canada. We are so sorry that you could not enjoy seeing your friends in person. Some may accompany you on your new paths, others will go to different schools. New paths will open up for you. Parents always get emotional when these milestones happen, for you the impact may have felt differently. But this, by no means, has been an insignificant event. I hope you will keep that memory, though for sure it will be buried under many more memories to come.

Mom held up the iPhone with a FaceTime connection to me. That way I could take part from Belgrade in Serbia, on another continent. And I heard your Principal talking about values, speaking out against racism, and more. It made me so happy. I know, daily life at school sucks more often than not, teachers also are humans and some may have double standards, as is also true for your peers. But the speech was wonderful, and it reflected a deep commitment which I always felt when I had the opportunity to come with you to your school. Nothing is perfect. It is about best sincere intentions and progress, not about perfection.

Because of COVID-19, I have not been able to see you since January and I don’t know yet when I will be able to travel again. The summer holidays for you in Germany fell apart, we may have to write off the plane tickets. Whether Canada will be on the list of third States which will be considered for travel being allowed into the European Union, we don’t know that yet. It is still too risky, your visit to Germany will be for next year.

I also do not know yet from when on I can travel to Toronto without having to quarantine myself from you for two weeks in the basement. If that would happen, how painful will it be reducing the distance from 6500 kilometers to a few meters if I can’t hug you and you have to put the food on my doorstep? How long will be the joint time then before traveling back? It is never enough time, but how much time will it be? And you know what? It will be okay, either way, in the basement, or not.

Arriving back in Europe, will I have to go into quarantine then, again? Mom and I are beginning to wrap our minds around it. And we see no other way than facing the truth, which is that this is not going to go away anytime soon. The truth is that our world has changed in ways we would have never ever imagined just half a year ago. When we accept the reality though, things get back into a healthy proportion. So we see, over time, that we can adapt. We have come such a long way, it brought us closer together in some ways and in other ways, we feel the pain. But we always feel love thriving between us. The way how we deal with it, it will give you the skills and tools to deal with everything.

I am making our personal story a story on my blog because it is an example for the extraordinary times we live in. I have friends in countries of the EU which I still can not visit because I live partially in Serbia. I have friends in the United States who I won’t be able to visit, the pandemic is pretty much out of control in the U.S., so no chance for seeing any of my friends, and not those who have come closest to my heart.

I am living in Berlin, Germany, and Belgrade, Serbia. Early June, restrictions were lifted here because of the thoughtful handling of the pandemic. For the last two weekends, I left Serbia twice, enjoying solitary time in nature in East Croatia. I sent you pictures from that great nature reserve, Kovacki Rit. Since a few days we have an increase in numbers of new infection cases in countries of the region. Wednesday night I learned that the Croatian government re-imposed two weeks of quarantine for people entering Croatia from Serbia, except passers-through. So, no weekend travel outside Serbia, again. Will there be new curfews? No idea, the stories about new cases keep coming. For sure, all hopes for travel are off the table again, who knows how long.

Of course, the sun is shining at Belgrade’s Waterfront, too. Here is my double espresso:

2C650D3E-D011-44B6-BAE9-ACB68AF30465

More often than not, I have too many espressos, and then I feel especially sad about not being able to see you when the evening arrives. And like you, I miss human contacts. Videochats can only do so much. But people need people. So even the bright smile of the waiters and waitresses at CoffeeDream where I have my morning espressos, it is a blessing to my soul.

I am someone who travels permanently. It’s part of my job. And because I always lived where I worked, family, loved ones and friends are spread all over the globe. I do remember the times, up until 20 years ago, where most of my travel was only in Germany, except for holidays, once a year. Friends were mostly local friends. Seeing family was about taking a ride for a few hours. Using a plane was the exception, and exciting. You, my children, you were born into a world where the iphone was already changing everything. And your first travel happened when we moved from Brussels to Germany, for a few weeks. Then we took you on the plane to Sarajevo, you were a bit older than six months then. Visiting Nana and Granddad in Canada, or Grandma and Granddad in Germany, you were on international flights from your earliest years on.

From my childhood I remember times when we had neither a landline phone, nor a TV at home. For my parents, even visiting family 25 km away was a day travel when I was a little boy! When my parents and us three kids sat squeezed in a little VW beetle, riding 450 km to Switzerland for holidays, that was huge!

Aside of all changes which came with the Internet, and then with smartphones, since twenty years I often sit on a flight every week. It is safe to say that you will travel a lot during your lives. That is where the pandemic hits. We see how much we have become global, we see what it means when we are forced back into a situation of the past. Because progress is always forwardlooking and never backwards, we have got to find out how we move on in this new reality. Dreaming of old times doesn’t help you, the young generations.

Since January I only travel by car. But I’m still writing my blog on my phone. Well, let’s knock on wood that we won’t have the digital equivalent of COVID-19… Mom and I lived in countries where we often would only have electrical power two hours per day. But the entire and months-long shutdown of air travel and, at the same time, no FaceTime or WhatsApp and Zoom, that would be hard. COVID-19 showed that catastrophes can happen and can affect the entire world. Don’t take the Internet for granted. We live in very fragile and unstable times.

Whilst global travel has become the norm, there are still many people, whether in countries like Germany or the U.S., or Canada, who only travel beyond borders on occasion of holidays. Their life is local, and often rural. Like if you’re living in remote towns in the U.S., and you saw the TV news of COVID-19 ravaging the big cities on the East Coast and, now again, the West Coast, and the South. In that small town, you wouldn’t know much about COVID-19 from personal experience. May be a neighbor got sick. But that a megacity like New York fell silent and that it took only ten minutes by car from Brooklyn to Manhattan on deserted streets, that would not shape the reality in that small rural town. People would, though, hear other people including in highest offices belittling the pandemic and the impact, which would fit into your daily experience of what is happening around you: You don’t see it, so it can not be there…

But the economic standstill, that you would feel in your financial bone marrow. So, if you hear that COVID-19 is just like the flu, but the economy is imploding, whom do you blame? That’s right, you blame the others. Politicians and government officials continue to belittle the challenge, and to lie about it. The toll is real, the deaths are real. Not only high-risk groups are affected, now the impact is hitting young people, like you. 

Life is very different in Berlin or Toronto too, compared to small towns in Germany or Canada. But the world in a small town in the U.S. includes a daily reprieve of propaganda lies and radical polarizing news from people in highest offices. That is very different from, let’s say, Germany or Canada.

I’m not singling out America, there are many countries where the truth is systematically buried for selfish reasons of people, politicians, public servants. Selfish reasons in order to stay in power. There are lots of countries where the free press doesn’t exist or has a very hard time. Like here: News in Serbia are mostly under government control, for example. 

It hurts to see this erosion of norms and values in a country which prides itself to be the “Leader of the West”. True and stable democracies cultivate and respect the freedom of press. Autocrats, despots, dictators, of which many, if not all, are narcissistic sociopaths, they go for control and for sidelining or abolishing what they name the “fake press”.

The truth is the adversary of all people who want to control. If you control, you need to bend the truth, at least. Often you are the first victim of this, yourself. And often you won’t notice.

Sociopaths do know that. Control, manipulation, lies, that’s their nature and they do fundamentally lack a moral compass allowing for empathy. These people perfectly know that they lie, and they couldn’t care less. They need to control the pawns, the sheep. But in the case of Covid-19, these lies cause deaths.

Consent is the opposite of control. If you want to achieve consent, rather than controlling and imposing your will, truth is an absolute fundamental. I know the reality is a bit more complicated. Yet, consent is the only means which we have to mitigate the threat of this pandemic. Like, consenting that we, as a family, need to stay mindful of the risks seeing each other in person. Like, consenting that friends can only see each other with strict mitigation measures. People gathering for parties or other events without being mindful of the virus, they act irresponsible towards their friends. People who belittle others for wearing masks and who call upon you to not to take the virus serious, they are of a devious and mean mindset. They endanger you. 

And there are those who perfectly know that some people, including Presidents, lie. That group may include politicians, but there are also ordinary people who know that “their” politicians lie. Why do they accept that? Well, the reasons are complicated, and there are many reasons. But at the heart of putting lies out there, or accepting lies, there is one chief motive: Selfishness. 

In a democratic society, elected officials do not only speak on behalf of the people who have given them their vote. They take an oath speaking on behalf of All. That means that they have to stick to speaking the truth as a principle which is absolutely fundamental for representing all members of a democracy. By which I mean: If your elected official lies on a systematic level, she or he does not represent you any more. Resignation and silence are not an option. Because that is what these people want. They yell and lie as long as they can, in order to silence you.

They make truth meaningless because they accept and participate in shamelessly eroding any truth to ground zero because they want to control, they put themselves first, leaving crumbs at best for others.

And that, my loved ones, includes that they want to control you. They want to leave you with one of two options: Take it, be part of it, or suck it up, and take a ticket. If you choose the third option, meaning to speak your truth and to do it in large numbers on the streets, your streets, these people show their real faces: They threaten you with sheer power, and they label you radical, radical left, antifa, terrorist, or just the enemy of the people.

What is the advise that I have for you? You know my story, there is no secret and no surprise in what I say. It’s pretty simple, and radical: Do not accept, in any part of your lives, anything else than truth. You know that I learned this lesson in some of the hardest ways imaginable for myself, and others. And because of this I have made it a principle to not even accept a “white lie”, not for myself, and not for others.

It is this principle only that you should accept in all small and big affairs: If somebody lies, walk away. Do not allow anyone to control you. It is your world and these are your lives. And don’t try to control, either. Control hurts others, and yourselves.

That is why I was so proud hearing your school giving you the same message on occasion of your graduation ceremony.

Walking away from people who shamelessly lie doesn’t relieve you from your responsibilities as a member of a democratic society. Speaking your truth can be expressed by many means, and demonstrations are an important part of it. Mom and I encourage you to use your voices for telling what you want, and what you do not want. Our times are times of a crisis of legitimacy of democracy, and those who act as our representatives, speaking on our behalf. Hold them accountable, by all means. 

Otherwise we all wake up in a world with much less freedom, peace, and security. A world with much less dignity, and no human rights at all.

I can’t wait seeing you again.

Love, Dad

 

 

On Defunding the Police – Entry Point

Not everything that can be faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed that is not faced.

JAMES BALDWIN

 

This will only be the first blog entry on this topic. I will go into the substance of how I look at this discussion in following articles. This one is intended to make clear how I look at the entire discussion, as a concerned individual and retired police officer, and a former United Nations Police Adviser. Thus, expect that my statements in subsequent articles will be as rational as I can be, and I reserve the emotional part motivating me for contributing to this discussion to this entry article. So, keep looking for follow-on to this writing, it will come soon. Expect the juice being inside a rational, but passionate debate contribution. I always try to stay away from partisan positions, except when it comes to underpinning values.

On values, I am very clearly partisan: I am United Nations hard-core, including all values on humanity represented by the UN, and developed within the UN-system. Which, by way of reminder, is the community of 193 Member States of the United Nations. We are the UN, as long as we contribute to the spirit of the UN, rather than disengaging from the UN. Like in the narrow context which will follow, engagement requires willingness to listen, rather than to yell. Any discussion which is lead in the spirit of finding consent requires to accept that it is legitimate for others to differ.

A friend of mine (who happens to be a journalist) suggested that I engage in the current discussion on policing and reforming the Police. He reminded me that, in 2014, I participated in a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration when I was living in New York (working as the UN Police Adviser). The picture is from December 13, 2014:

25B8A860-8474-470B-BE49-C1FE4896F235

August 9, 2014, Michael Brown had been shot dead by a Police officer, in Ferguson. Earlier, July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died after being put into a chokehold by a Police officer, in New York City. I am singling out two out of many events that led to renewed calls for reforming policing in the United States. Both in the U.S. and internationally, brutal instances of police abuse of power, including most serious crimes, sparked outrage leading to large and peaceful demonstrations. The “Black Lives Matter” movement stems from there. As a human being, and at that time being a temporary resident in the United States, I joined my fellow American friends in their peaceful call for addressing systemic racism reflected in the Criminal Justice system, and through abuse of power through individual police officers.

Already at that time the reform discussion on policing had much deeper roots, and there is a direct line connecting the history and those days of 2014 with what happens today, 2020. However, today the outrage is amplified, and there are signs that the calls for reforming policing, and the Police, are, finally being heard. Good.

Yes, peaceful demonstrations are proving that they are one of the most essential means and an inalienable right for citizens to participate in a democratic discourse about issues that matter.  And the subject matter of discussion is genuinely international: A friend of mine reported about participating in a demonstration in Berlin last weekend, with estimated 15.000 participants. It is one of many current events in Europe and elsewhere. Societies including my own German society have undertaken to conduct a self-critical discourse on the question as to which extent policing over here may also be unduly influenced by racial bias. Good.

Would all of that have happened without large-scale demonstrations? In my view, absolutely not. That is, by the way, why those who do resist these reforms, individually and institutionally, fear the demonstrations and thus attempt to label them with anything that would allow for discrediting intent of the demonstrations, manipulation of the course of the demonstrations and how they unfold, and the malicious labeling of individuals taking part in such demonstrations. These attempts are being conducted through manipulation, establishing and spreading unverified claims, false facts and lies, and using and spreading conspiracy-mongering strategies.

Most respected former U.S. public servants, including retired military officials are voicing their deepest concern about those who have adopted well-honed strategies practiced by systems and autocrats all over the World which have been criticised for exactly doing this by the very same United States of America. Good, because I hope the light can shine again, soon, and credible.

It looks like the peaceful demonstrations are here to stay. Good. Double down.

The range of topics in that discussion leading to these demonstrations is highly complex and beset with an enormous amount of emotions. It is about racial bias. It is about white supremacy. It is about countless cases of individual suffering and fear. It is about wrongful convictions, and a system of biased mass-incarceration, especially targeting communities of color. It is about the question how policing should be carried out, and how to hold police officers and other public officials accountable for their actions, including criminal actions. And much much more.

Within the current context of the United States, the contemporary development also can only be understood if put into the context of a society that is literally devouring itself, unraveled by a political partisan war ripping the fabric of consent into pieces about what is identifying and unifying all Americans, and what is so-called “un-American behavior”. It may well be that both sides blame the other for being un-American. The World is in disbelief. The ripples of instability stemming from this development have long arrived at the shores of Europe, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. They bounce back from there, hitting the United States’s shores on the Atlantic and Pacific sides. Will that all calm down and settle into a new order, and will this be done with, or without violence?

Certainly, COVID-19 may have been a spark that set many things on fire. Fire? Not good in light of Global Warming. Oh yes, Global Warming is a fact. So, please, let us settle for consentual discussions allowing the young generations of this World to define our and their present, and their future.

These discussions need to be narrowed down. Topics have to be identified which can be taken forward, notwithstanding the complexity of the development as a whole. And in my view, it is extremely critical to take emotions out of these discussions, and to avoid antagonisation as much as possible. At the end of the day, a society needs to find an own consentual way forward in which positions converge into acceptable compromises. For, otherwise, there is no societal peace. And we do know that, without peace, there is no security. With no security, there is more heat. We can’t blame others for our own disengagement. But we always have the choice to engage. That’s why I am quoting James Baldwin.

This includes reforming policing, and the Police. After having settled on what policing is, the question how to implement it, follows second. Third then, one needs to consider how to fund what we want, and to re-allocate funding to where it is needed, and to stop funding of issues which run counter the implementation of what a society wants. So, in this third step, it is about de-funding, being part of a funding, and a reallocation-of-funding debate.

I should be clear: There is no way to establish a society with no self-policing of the rules that this society has given itself.

The violent death of George Floyd is a crime, one police officer is charged for second-degree murder and manslaughter. Three police officers are charged with aiding and abetting murder. George Floyd was subjected to police action after he was alleged to have used a counterfeit 20 USD bill for buying cigarettes. The police action ended in eight minutes and fourty-five seconds of suffering inflicted by some of the most cruel behavior I have seen in a while. And believe me, I have seen a lot.

It started with a counterfeit 20 USD bill. Why was Eric Garner being put into a chokehold, again? Proportionality of enforcement will be a point I will touch upon, later.

But I will say here that the reform discussion is triggered not by these few cases only, but because of the allegation that such behavior is systemic. That, also, makes it understandable why some try to argue that these actions are single cases. Which is not true. Truth matters, so look it up yourselves.

Another point in this first writing, attempting to look at the scope:

200415-michigan-protest-video-tease__415481.focal-760x428This picture was taken April 15, 2020, at Michigan Capitol

Of course I am respecting that the United States hang on to the Second Amendment. I have a personal opinion (horror and disbelief that people protest against the COVID-19 lockdown whilst carrying weapons of war), and I can also assure you that in Germany such an event would have led to as many SWAT-units as are available coming down on what would be considered a violation of strict weapons laws. But, of course, this is legal in America, thus the protest can be considered a peaceful protest.

The question I want to ask: Do you see one Afro-American person in that picture? Take a second and imagine all the individuals being black. And then, honestly, answer the question whether the indifferent action of the Police on occasion of that event would have been the same. Honestly, please!

Chances are the reaction would have been very different. That’s what I was saying in my post “Statement in Solidarity“: “Representative policing aims to ensure that the human rights of all people, without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, are protected, promoted and respected and that police personnel sufficiently reflect the community they serve.” At this moment, an overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens believes that this is not the case. Instead, we are facing a cultural form of racism, different in argument from previous forms of biological racism, but on grounds of the same attitude and thinking of white supremacy.

Statement in Solidarity

Floyd

With the “Report of the Secretary General on United Nations policing” to the United Nations Security Council as of 10 November 2016 (S2016/952), the United Nations adopted, for the first time ever, a common understanding of the function of policing, and how it must be carried out by police and law enforcement officials. This understanding can be found in https://police.un.org/en/policy-united-nations-police-peacekeeping-operations-and-special-political-missions-2014, Sections 14 to 19.

Policing refers to a function of governance responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of crime; protection of persons and property; and the maintenance of public order and safety. Police and law enforcement officials have the obligation to respect and protect human rights, including the right to life, liberty and security of the person, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirmed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other relevant instruments.

Pursuant to the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, police and other law enforcement officials are required, at all times, to fulfil the duty imposed upon them by law, by serving the community and by protecting all persons against illegal acts consistent with the high degree of responsibility required by their profession.

For the United Nations, the function of domestic policing must be entrusted to civil servants who are members of police or other law enforcement agencies of a national, regional or local government, within a legal framework that is based on the rule of law.

In accordance with United Nations standards, every police or other law enforcement agency should be representative of and responsive and accountable to the community it serves.

Representative policing aims to ensure that the human rights of all people, without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, are protected, promoted and respected and that police personnel sufficiently reflect the community they serve. Fair and non-discriminatory recruitment and retention policies are expected to encourage, among other goals, an adequate participation of women and minority groups.

Responsive policing ensures that police respond to existing and emerging public needs and expectations, especially in preventing and detecting crime and maintaining public order and safety. Policing objectives are informed by the public safety concerns of the communities they serve and are attained lawfully, efficiently and effectively and in accordance with international norms and standards in crime prevention, criminal justice and human rights law.

Accountable policing means that police are accountable to the law, as are all individuals and institutions in States; that police are answerable to the public through the democratic and political institutions of the state, as well as through civilian democratic oversight bodies and mechanisms to improve community-police relations; that police are accountable for the way they use the resources allocated to them and that effective mechanisms are established for accountability over police conduct, including any allegations or established human rights violations committed by the police.

For the United Nations, the rule of law refers to 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, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of 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.

 

As one of the chief architects of this United Nations policy, I stand in solidarity with the countless citizens, in the United States of America and all over the World, who exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully. I join them in expressing utter outrage in the face of widespread racism, white supremacy, and a systemic and horrifying abuse of power including most serious and heinous crimes by police officials against communities and individuals of color, and minorities.

I call on my fellow police colleagues to stand in humility and in support of the communities they serve, to walk with them, and to protect them. The streets belong to citizens peacefully exercising their rights and enjoying their freedom. They are neither a battle-ground to be dominated, nor a place for curfews preventing peaceful citizens to exercise their most basic human and citizen’s rights, including the freedom of opinion and speech. Curfews can only be possible under most serious and temporary circumstances.

No public official shall use his or her power for violently pushing peaceful citizens aside.

I call on my fellow police leaders to exercise a strict no-tolerance-policy towards acts of violence and the systemic disrespect of police officials towards the communities they are obliged to serve. No zero-tolerance-policy against violence and criminal conduct is legitimate in a democratic society if those who are mandated to serve and to protect peaceful citizens show no respect to the law, to the values underpinning the laws, and to fellow citizens, themselves.

I commend those police officers who apologize to victims of police violence and abuse of power, but I also say: You must work long and hard to earn back the respect of those citizens who have lost faith in you. You are meant to protect, rather than to be an instrument of “law & order”.

My heart goes with all victims of police abuse of power and horrible crimes including murder, conducted by individual police officers, supported by a cruel and self-serving, selfish and dividing attitude by those who believe they can exercise unrestrained power, rather than fulfilling an obligation to serve all citizens who have democratically elected them.

I am saddened, ashamed, and deeply sorry. I hope we can all breathe together.

 

Stefan Feller, Former United Nations Police Adviser and Director of the Police Division (2013 – 2017).

Berlin and Belgrade, June 06, 2020

Obituary – James Le Mesurier – † 11. November 2019

Einsame Nacht

Die ihr meine Brüder seid,
Arme Menschen nah und ferne,
Die ihr im Bezirk der Sterne
Tröstung träumet eurem Leid,
Die ihr wortelos gefaltet
In die blass gestirnte Nacht
Schmale Dulderhände haltet,
Die ihr leidet, die ihr wacht,
Arme, irrende Gemeinde,
Schiffer ohne Stern und Glück –
Fremde, dennoch mir Vereinte,
Gebt mir meinen Gruss zurück.

Hermann Hesse, 1902

I have looked up quite a few translations of this poem into English. I have found none which would carry the same powerful emotional language this poem possesses in its native version. It is one of my timeless favorites since more than 45 years. Its subtle meaning makes me deciding to use it for this obituary.

Last year saw the untimely death of James Le Mesurier. November 11, he was found dead on a street in Istanbul. A link in German language: https://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/james-le-mesurier-fragen-und-antworten-zum-tod-des-weisshelme-gruenders-a-1296105.html. A link in English language: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/13/james-le-mesurier-obituary.

Like many, including closest friends of mine, I was devastated learning about his death. I met James during my time as the Police Commissioner of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, in 2002.

I worked closely with him. We shared a strong desire to contribute to ending the conflict there, working against the cycle of violence which still was a part of the reality back then, and for years ahead.

Beyond work, I got to know James as a compassionate human being, a humble person, never  making himself important, always being part of a team. I lost contact to him after I left Kosovo, in 2004.

Around 2013, James co-founded the White Helmets, together with AKUT, a Turkish disaster relief organisation. Today, there may be around 3000 White Helmets. Please watch the trailer of the award winning 2017 Netflix documentary about them: White Helmets. If you are interested in the full movie, head over to Netflix. But even if you just watch the trailer, it will already give you a sense of the incredible humanitarian work in which James engaged. I am working in the German Foreign Office. I am proud to say that my government is supporting the work of the White Helmets by political and financial means, and that we were shocked and saddened by his untimely death.

Much speculation sat around the circumstances of his passing away. I won’t engage in this. What I do note, however, is that James and his colleagues were subject to harassment and hate, because of their humanitarian engagement. When coming across evidence of chemical warfare against civilians, this evidence and video documentation was used in an investigation conducted by the United Nations. Governments in Damascus and Moscow subsequently launched a propaganda campaign including allegations that the video documentation was faked, and that the organisation would have ties to terrorist groups. According to Der Spiegel (see link above), the Syrian president threatened the White Helmets with comparing their fate with that of every terrorist: Either they lay down their weapons, or they will be liquidated. Which weapons was he talking about? Shovels, being used to rescue victims from the rubble, in the name of humanity? Bare hands?

James must be remembered as one example of how a person decides to stand up for values, and then taking action. Discrediting adversaries is one thing. Refusing accountability for attacks against the own population (link is an example of a UN investigative report following an attack with chemical weapons in Syria) and threatening those who help survivors to rescue other survivors belongs to the darkest chapters of inhumanity.

I miss James dearly.

2020

The link to this article, an opinion piece written by Madeleine Albright, has been sitting in my draft folder for this blog since April 2018. I am using it now, twenty months later. It has lost nothing of it’s relevance. The stakkato of hate, bigotry, white supremacy, disregard for the rule of law, bullying and forceful coercion, and shameless lies being thrown at 68 million followers on Twitter, and the rest of the World, has reached unimaginable levels.

Given the fatigue of many who have not found any other answer to what we are experiencing since 2017 (and before) than to say “What can we do?“, or “I am sick and tired of this, I do not want to hear from it any more!“, it has become ever more important to stay the course of standing up for truth and justice, humility, humanity, and caring for other beings.

One of the reasons why I was not writing on this opinion piece was that I felt that I ought to be careful with voicing a political opinion. Being a public servant in my home country, Germany, comes with obligations. Serving as an official grants me the protection against being fired for any other reason than severe misconduct, and it obliges me to conduct myself becoming in all my affairs. So, at that time, I decided not to write about the current incumbent of the office of the President of the United States.

Another reason was that my partner at that time, a well educated and liberal U.S. citizen, had told me that she did not want to even read about this person anymore, nor wasting her time discussing what was unfolding. This unsettled me. Because I felt that she wasn’t alone with this attitude, that many have given up raising their voice. I felt strongly that this is wrong, because it just leaves more space for those who vomit messages of hate and division. Yet, I accepted it.

I was living in the United States at that time. In August 2018, I returned to Germany, where I have been living since. And I am spending the last day of the year 2019 outside Berlin, escaping the fireworks and the noisy drunkenness, enjoying my RV, as they say in English, my little apartment on four wheels.

I am trying to make sense of all this development that I have been witnessing, and I have no formula explaining all this. It is way too complex for one convincing simple explanation. Because, of course, this is not about the U.S., or Germany, for that matter. Or Hungary. Or Italy. Or so many other places where nationalism is on the rise, and fascism is thriving ever so openly and without neither shame nor tolerance. There is absolutely no clear cut answer, it will take legions of historians decades from now to reduce the complexity of our current situation in hindsight and to come up with some big patterns about what happened, and why. If we survive until then.

Yet, it appears to me that exactly this overwhelming complexity, combined with instilling fear, is being used by the Great Simplifiers and Manipulators of this World to come up with easy and highly emotionalised messages of division, xenophobia, and rage.

It also is not about one of the most predictable persons I have ever witnessed. Nothing in the character of Donald Trump can surprise if one combines basic knowledge about narcissism, sociopathy in its most extreme form, and the fundamental personal insecurity which is so visible in what he says, how he says it, how his body language is telling the story he wants to hide. There is no reasoning, nor compromise. There is only rage and escalation. There are no friends, but only pawns, useful idiots, people in position of power to get along with, and foes. There is no point where this person will say: “I give in.” A person with this severe mental disorder is literally not capable to compromise. Rather than giving up, such a person will attempt to destroy everything. Such a person is unable to relate to other beings. That person’s only way of interaction is manipulation and coercion. I am feeling sorry for such people.

But what scares me is the silence of the lambs, combined with the willingness of many who claim to be part of the bedrock of democracy to subject themselves to the most severe form of self-mutilation: The removal of the spine. Shared principles stand in the way of selfishness, and this it seems: The unleashing of pure selfishness.

So, what do I have to say at the end of 2019? What can be said when many, if not all beacons of what we came to believe being the great achievements post World War II seem to fall apart, seem to be torn down, ripped into pieces? What can be the guiding principles which will allow us to navigate through the next decade, with 2019 filled to the brim with the ringing of alarm bells about a planet being on fire, and humankind seeming to be willing to accept inhumanity, and ever more so-called leaders unwilling to share this world amongst all, and displaying unwillingness to act responsible towards future generations?

I gave this answer to a group of students at a German university, a few weeks ago: If we do not know much about how the world is looking like tomorrow, and if we wonder about what is important, and what is less important, if we wonder about how we should engage, we must think deeply about the most fundamental values which we would like to preserve for the sake of our children, in any unknown scenario. And then, we must act according to these values. We do not need to be sages, university professors, people in powerful positions. We can carry out any function, take any role. We just have to live according to the principles we have wrestled from deep thinking. Just apply one basic rule: Do think for togetherness.

My eleven year old daughter wrote a letter to the King of Saudi Arabia. I am not posting it here. Just saying: She made me incredibly proud. In simple words, she made her values clear. And she turned them into action.

May 2020 be a year where we find ourselves discussing values, peacefully, and with willingness and ability to listen to the other, with love and compassion and the desire to understand the other being. And may we be guided by what we learn. Together.

Happy New Year.