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.

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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.

The Easiest Way to Solve Global Warming

I recently added fiction to my writing toolset. Today, I am adding sarcasm, and that is the only comment to the below:

“I was informed by the director of NASA that they have found that the moon’s orbit is changing slightly, and so is the Earth’s orbit around the sun. And we know there’s been significant solar flare activity. And so is there anything that the National Forest Service or BLM can do to change the course of the moon’s orbit or the Earth’s orbit around the sun? Obviously, they would have profound effects on our climate.”

Congressman Louie Gohmert (Republican from Texas) in a hearing 09 June 2021 by the United States Congress House Natural Resources Committee, on which he occupies a seat.

https://gizmodo.com/congressman-asks-forest-service-to-change-the-course-of-1847065268

Initiative zur Unterstützung der Aufnahme afghanischer Ortskräfte

Hier ein paar Links, wo dieser Aufruf seit heute (14.05.2021) auch veroeffentlicht ist:

http://nachtwei.de/index.php?module=articles&func=display&aid=1694

https://michaeldaxner.com

https://thruttig.wordpress.com

https://www.spiegel.de/ausland/bundeswehr-abzug-aus-afghanistan-bringt-unsere-afghanischen-helfer-in-sicherheit-a-a8256379-63e7-448a-9ae7-3af08e5f4faf


Abzug der Bundeswehr aus Afghanistan: Afghanische Ortskräfte in Sicherheit bringen!

Der Abzug der deutschen Truppen aus Afghanistan hat begonnen und soll voraussichtlich Anfang Juli 2021 beendet sein. Das Bundesverteidigungsministerium hat erklärt, dass es in der Abzugsphase zu einer größeren Gefährdung der Soldatinnen und Soldaten kommen könne. Medien zitierten unter Berufung auf einen vertraulichen Bericht des Auswärtigen Amtes und des Bundesverteidigungsministeriums, dass die Bundesregierung eine weitere erhebliche Verschlechterung der Sicherheitslage nach dem Abzug erwarte. Während die Truppe unter verstärkten Sicherheitsvorkehrungen längst bei den Vorbereitungen zur Rückkehr ist, wachsen die Befürchtungen der afghanischen Ortskräfte, die oft viele Jahre für die Bundeswehr, die deutsche Polizeiausbildungsmission, die staatlichen Zwecke der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit u.a. tätig waren – als Dolmetscherinnen und Dolmetscher, Wachleute und Hilfskräfte. Sie fürchten um ihre Sicherheit und ihr Leben – wie auch um das ihrer Familienangehörigen.

Wir fordern eine unbürokratische und schnelle Aufnahme der Betroffenen in Deutschland parallel zum Abzug!

Die Taliban haben immer wieder deutlich gemacht, dass sie diese Ortskräfte als Kollaborateure des Westens begreifen, die sie als Unterstützer eines militärischen Besatzungsregimes zur Verantwortung ziehen wollen. Über Anschläge auf und  Morde an Ortskräften wird seit Jahren berichtet, u.a. aus britischen, deutschen und US-amerikanischen Quellen. Letztere berichten von etwa 300 getöteten US-Ortskräften. Viele Ortskräfte haben versucht, sich Bedrohungen durch Umzug in andere Regionen Afghanistans zu entziehen, was aber nur selten eine dauerhafte Lösung und das Ende der Gefährdung ist.

Bundesverteidigungsministerin Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer hat Mitte April von einer tiefen Verpflichtung der Bundesrepublik gesprochen, die afghanischen Ortskräfte jetzt nicht schutzlos zurückzulassen. Zu befürchten ist aber: Genau das geschieht. Wer die effektive Aufnahme wirklich will, der kann in den verbleibenden Wochen nur eine unbürokratische Prozedur für all die Ortskräfte und ihre Angehörigen umsetzen, die für deutsche Stellen gearbeitet haben: Öffentliche Bekanntgabe des Aufnahmeprogramms, Registrierung, Vorbereitung der Ausreise, die möglichst geschehen muss, solange die Bundeswehr noch im Lande ist, ggf. Durchführung von Charterflügen.

Der Verweis auf das bisherige Aufnahmeprogramm für afghanische Ortskräfte mit Abgabe einer individuellen Gefährdungsanzeige bei Vorgesetzten, in der nachgewiesen werden muss, dass für Bedrohungen durch die Taliban die Tätigkeit für deutsche Stellen entscheidend ist, ist angesichts der neuen Sicherheitslage nicht mehr zielführend. Das bisherige Verfahren ist viel zu zeitintensiv, insbesondere seit die Kapazitäten des deutschen Kontingentes im Lande mit dem beginnenden Abzug Woche für Woche schwinden.

Seit 2013 wurden nach Zahlen des Verteidigungsministeriums knapp 800 Ortskräfte(plus Familienangehörige) in Deutschland aufgenommen, fast alle jedoch innerhalb eines kurzen Zeitraums, nachdem das Programm diese Chance eröffnet hatte. Zwischen 2014 und 2021 sind dann gerade einmal 15 zusätzliche Aufnahmen hinzugekommen – trotz einer in diesem Zeitraum immer weiter sich verschlechternden Sicherheitslage.

Zügige Aufnahme statt untauglicher Vorschläge

Das Bundesinnenministerium verweist wenige Wochen vor dem Truppenabzug die Ortskräfte auf das alte Prüfungsverfahren mit seinem bürokratischen Aufwand, was in der Kürze der Zeit nicht praktikabel ist. So steht zu befürchten, dass es kein effektives Aufnahmeprogramm, sondern lediglich ein Pseudo-Prüfungsprogramm geben wird.  Der ehemalige Wehrbeauftragte des Bundestages Reinhold Robbe hat schon vor Jahren den Umgang mit den Ortskräften als „beschämend“ und „unwürdig“ bezeichnet(vgl. bundeswehr-journal v. 17.10.2014). Diese Diagnose gilt bis heute. Wer seinen Dienst als Ortskraft vor mehr als zwei Jahren beendet hat, der soll von der Aufnahme in Deutschland ausgeschlossen bleiben.  Im Ernstfall werden sich die Verfolger bei den Taliban wohl kaum an dieser Frist orientieren. Und noch nicht einmal die zuletzt beschäftigten ca. 500 Ortskräfte, die nicht pro forma bereits wegen dieser Ausschlussregelung aus dem Programm  herausfallen, sollten sich darauf verlassen, dass aus der Ankündigung der Bundesverteidigungsministerin und guter Absicht praktische Hilfe wird.

Ein Büro für afghanische Ortskräfte in Kabul und evtl. an einem anderen Ort, so das BMI, soll eingerichtet werden, wo dann(Wann?) das umständliche Prüfungsverfahren zur Aufnahme stattfinden soll  –  als ob man sich nicht in einem Land befände, in dem längst ein Großteil der Regionen nicht mehr von der Regierung kontrolliert wird, Reisen riskant sind und selbst die deutsche Botschaft nur noch eingeschränkt operieren kann.  Zu befürchten ist, dass ein solches Büro für die Taliban ein vorrangiges Anschlagsziel werden könnte, insbesondere wenn sich die Sicherheitslage weiter verschärft.

Waren die Ortskräfte  in den Jahren 2014/15, als der größte Teil derer nach Deutschland kamen, die eine Aufnahmezusage erhalten hatten, eine Gruppe, die unter den Geflüchteten hierzulande oft übersehen wurden, so haben sich in den Jahren danach Solidaritäts- und Unterstützungsstrukturen herausgebildet, nicht zuletzt auch ein Patenschaftsnetzwerk der Bundeswehr. Denn auch dort vertraten viele die Auffassung, dass denen, die die Einsatzrisiken mit deutschen Soldatinnen und Soldaten geteilt hatten und ohne die insbesondere die Verständigung in Afghanistan kaum möglich gewesen wäre, in bedrängter Situation geholfen werden müsse. Und für deren Integration wollte man sich einsetzen.

Anlässlich der Vorstellung eines Buches der Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung im Dezember 2019, in dem die Rolle der afghanischen Ortskräfte dargestellt und gewürdigt wurde, brachte es einer der Mitautoren des Buches und langjähriger Bundestagsabgeordneter auf den Punkt:“(…)die Schlüsselrolle der afghanischen Ortskräfte: Ohne sie wäre der Einsatz unmöglich und von vorneherein aussichtslos gewesen. Mit ihrem Dienst für deutsche Einsatzkräfte meinten viele, ihrem Land am besten dienen zu können. Sie nahmen dafür hohe Belastungen und Risiken in Kauf. Dafür gebührt ihnen von deutscher Politik und Gesellschaft Aufmerksamkeit, Dank, Anerkennung nicht nur verbal(…) sondern auch praktisch. Wo Ortskräfte von sozialen und existenziellen Einsatzfolgen betroffen sind, an Leib und Leben, oft zusammen mit ihren Familien, da steht die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (…) in einer selbstverständlichen Fürsorgepflicht. Das ist ein Gebot der Verlässlichkeit, der Glaubwürdigkeit und auch der politischen Klugheit.“

Ähnlich sehen es auch US-Militärs:  Ex-US-General David Petraeus hat sich zusammen mit der Nichtregierungsorganisation No One Left Behind  Ende April in einem Brief an US-Außenminister Antony Blinken dafür eingesetzt, alle notwendigen Ressourcen aufzubieten, um die afghanischen Ortskräfte aus Afghanistan herauszuholen, bevor die letzten US-Truppen das Land verlassen.

Zwar haben einige andere Truppenstellerstaaten, die z.T. schon vor langer Zeit aus Afghanistan abgezogen sind, ihre Fürsorgepflicht für die Ortskräfte ebenso verstanden und  einigen „ihrer“ Ortskräfte  Aufnahme gewährt.  Demgegenüber waren andere Staaten zögerlich und stehen nun ebenfalls, wie die Bundesrepublik, vor der Situation, von Absichtserklärungen, die nicht eingelöst wurden, zu wirksamen Verfahren zu kommen. Jetzt, wo der vorzeitige und bedingungslose  Abzug der US-Armee wie des deutschen Kontingentes die Risiken dramatisch erhöht hat, wäre ein anständiges und großzügiges Verhalten der Bundesregierung mehr denn je nötig. Wie sollten sonst diejenigen, die Unterstützer*innen in gefährlicher Situation zurücklassen, künftig erwarten können, als verlässliche Partner in allen Bereichen der internationalen zivilen und militärischen Zusammenarbeit angesehen zu werden?

Angesichts der akuten Bedrohung bisheriger Ortskräfte an Leib und Leben und bezugnehmend auf die Wertegebundenheit deutscher Krisenengagements(s. Leitlinien „Krisen verhindern“ der Bundesregierung 2017) erheben wir eindringlich die folgenden Forderungen:

Zügige und unbürokratische Aufnahme afghanischer Ortskräfte und ihrer Familienangehörigen parallel zum laufenden Abzug des deutschen Kontingentes.

Öffentliche Verbreitung von Informationen über ein zu diesem Zweck vereinfachtes Verfahren für (ehemalige) Ortskräfte in Afghanistan.

Verzicht auf Prüfungsprozeduren, die in der Praxis weitgehend unmöglich oder für die Antragsteller*innen unzumutbar sind.

Verzicht auf Ausschlusskriterien, die der Realität nicht gerecht werden, wie die Beschränkung auf Personen, die in den letzten zwei Jahren als Ortskräfte tätig waren.

Erstunterzeichner:innen Stand: 13. Mai 2021, 18.00 Uhr

  • Pfr. Albrecht Bähr, Sprecher der Geschäftsführung der Arbeitsgemeinschaft Diakonie in Rheinland-Pfalz
  • Prof. Dr. Ingeborg Baldauf, Afghanistan-Forscherin an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • Dr. Hans-Peter Bartels, MdB 1998-2015, Wehrbeauftragter 2015-20
  • bee4change e.V., Hamburg
  • Hannah Birkenkötter, Mitglied des Bundesvorstandes der Deutschen Gesellschaft für die Vereinten Nationen
  • Prof. Dr. Thorsten Bonacker, Zentrum für Konfliktforschung, Philipps-Universität Marburg
  • Eberhard Brecht, MdB und Mitglied des Präsidiums der Deutschen Gesellschaft für die Vereinten Nationen
  • Dr. Doris Buddenberg, Leiterin des UNODC-Büros Afghanistan 2004-06
  • Prof. Dr. Michael Daxner, Berater des afghanischen Hochschulministers 2003-2006, Leiter des Afghanistan-Projekts im SFB 700 FU Berlin bis 2018
  • Hans-Jörg Deleré, Neustadt-Pelzerhaken, DIPL.Bau-Ing. Straßenbau, als Sohn eines deutschen Beraters des afgh. Ministeriums für Öffentl. Arbeiten in Kabul aufgewachsen (1951-57) und 2006-09 im Auftrag der GIZ und des AA in Afghanistan tätig
  • Bernhard Drescher, Oberstleutnant a.D., Bundesvorsitzender Bund Deutscher EinsatzVeteranen e.V.
  • Detlef Dzembritzki, MdB i.R., Vorsitzender der Deutschen Gesellschaft für die Vereinten Nationen
  • Stefan Feller, Senior Adviser Auswärtiges Amt zur Kleinwaffenkontrolle, Leiter Polizeiabteilung im Rat der EU 2008-12, Leitender Polizeiberater des Generalsekretärs der Vereinten Nationen 2013-17
  • Botschafter a.D. Dr. Karl Fischer, Stabschef United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 2001-04
  • Marga Flader, für Afghanistan-Schulen e.V.
  • Freundeskreis Afghanistan e.V., der seit 1982 Selbsthilfeinitiativen im Land fördert
  • Alexander Gunther Friedrich, UN Executive Secretary (rtd)  
  • Thomas Gebauer, Mitglied im Kuratorium der stiftung medico international
  • Rainer L. Glatz, Generalleutnant a.D., Befehlshaber des Einsatzführungskommandos der Bundeswehr 2009-13
  • Kristóf Gosztonyi, Forscher und Berater internat. Organisationen in Afghanistan, z.Zt. Univ. Osnabrück
  • Angelika Graf MdB a.D., Ehrenvorsitzende der SPD-Arbeitsgemeinschaft 60 plus, Vorsitzende des Vereins “Gesicht zeigen – Rosenheimer Bündnis gegen rechts” und Ombudsperson der Hilfsorganisation HELP
  • Antje Grawe, UNAMA 2006, 2008-10 und 2018/19
  • Marcus Grotian, Vorsitzender Patenschaftsnetzwerk Afghanische Ortskräfte
  • Heike Hänsel, MdB und Mitglied des Präsidiums der Deutschen Gesellschaft für die Vereinten Nationen
  • Matthias Heimer, Militärgeneraldekan, Leiter des Evangelischen Kirchenamtes für die Bundeswehr
  • Generalleutnant a.D. Norbert van Heyst, 3. Kommandeur der International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul von 10.02. – 11.08.2003
  • Dr. Haschmat Hossaini, Literatur- und Sprachwissenschaftler (Iranistik), Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. Klaus Hüfner, Präsident a.D., Deutsche UNESCO-Kommission
  • Dr. Margret Johannsen, Senior Research Fellow am Institut für Friedensforschung und Sicherheitspolitik an der Universität Hamburg (IFSH)
  • Jürgen Kanne, 2. Vorsitzender Afghanic e.V.
  • Hans Peter von Kirchbach, General a.D. und ehem. Generalinspekteur der Bundeswehr
  • Dr. Anne Koch, Forschungsgruppe Globale Fragen, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Berlin
  • Susanne Koelbl, Journalistin „Der Spiegel“, Initiatorin des Poetry Project mit afghanischen Flüchtlingen
  • Tom Koenigs, MdB i.R., UN-Sondergesandter für Afghanistan 2006-07
  • Karin Kortmann, Vize-Präsidentin des Zentralkomitees der Deutschen Katholiken (ZDK)
  • Gerald Knaus, Gründungsvorsitzender European Stability Initiative (ESI), Wien/Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. rer.pol. Dr. h. c. theol. Klaus Leisinger
  • Dr. Kerstin Leitner, Beigeordnete Generaldirektorin, WHO, Genf
  • Dr. Thomas Loy, Oriental Institute, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prag
  • Klaus Ludwig, Bundespolizeibeamter a.D., langjährige Erfahrung am Flughafen Ffm; seit 2016 ehrenamtliches Engagement in der Betreuung afgh. Flüchtlinge
  • Eckhard Maurer, Kriminalhauptkommissar i.R., Garbsen, leitete 10 Jahre lang khyberchild e.V. mit Projekten in Afghanistan
  • Bernd Mesovic, Mitarbeiter von PRO ASYL a.D.
  • Kerstin Müller, MdB 1994-2013, Staatsministerin im Auswärtigen Amt 2002-05
  • Botschafter a.D. Bernd Mützelburg, Leiter Abteilung Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik im Bundeskanzleramt 2002-05, Sonderbeauftragter des Auswärtigen Amtes für Afghanistan und Pakistan 2009-10
  • Winfried Nachtwei, MdB 1994-2009
  • Nanette Nadolski, Marketing- und Kommunikationsberaterin u. Afghanistan-Netzwerk bei matteo e.V., Weichs
  • Prof. Dr. Sönke Neitzel, Universität Potsdam
  • Dr. Hannah Neumann, MdEP
  • Prof. Dr. Christine Nölle-Karimi, Wien, Stellvertretende Direktorin, Institut für Iranistik, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften
  • Karin Nordmeyer, Präsidiumsmitglied der Deutschen Gesellschaft für die Vereinten Nationen
  • Dr. med. Thomas Nowotny, Arzt, Stephanskirchen, Initiator http://www.change.org\nodeportation
  • Johannes Pflug, MdB i.R., stellv. Sprecher für Außenpolitik der SPD-Bundestagsfraktion sowie Vorsitzender der SPD Task Force Afghanistan/Pakistan 2009-13
  • Maximilian Pichl, Wissenschaftl. Mitarbeiter am Fachbereich Rechtswissenschaft Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
  • Ruprecht Polenz, MdB 1994-2013, Vors. des Auswärtigen Ausschusses 2005-13
  • Nadia Qani, Inhaberin des kultursensiblen Pflegedienstes in Frankfurt/Main und Autorin
  • General a.D. Egon Ramms, Oberbefehlshaber Allied Joint Force Command der NATO in Brunssum 2007-10
  • Generalleutnant a.D. Friedrich Riechmann, erster Befehlshaber des Einsatzführungskommandos der Bundeswehr 2001-04
  • Reinhold Robbe, MdB 1994-2005, Wehrbeauftragter des Deutschen Bundestages 2005-10
  • Thomas Ruttig, Afghanistan-Analyst, UNSMA/UNAMA 2000-03, Stellv. des EU-Sondergesandten für Afghanistan 2003/04
  • Dr. Lutz Rzehak, Privatdozent, Zentralasien-Seminar der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • Narwan Sayed, Hamburg
  • Klaus-Hermann Scharf, Vorsitzender Fachbereich Zivile Beschäftigte im Bundesvorstand des Deutschen BundeswehrVerbandes
  • Niklas Schenck, Autor und Filmemacher
  • Prof. Dr. Conrad Schetter, Professor für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, Universität Bonn, und Direktor des Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC)
  • General a.D. Wolfgang Schneiderhan, 14. Generalinspekteur der Bundeswehr 2002-09
  • Wolfgang Schomburg, ehemaliger Richter am Bundesgerichtshof und den UN-Tribunalen für das frühere Jugoslawien und Ruanda
  • Georg Schramm, Kabarettist (ZDF-Sendung „Neues aus der Anstalt“)
  • Ulrike Schultz, Journalistin, Mitarbeiterin der Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung Islamabad und Kabul 2001-09
  • Dr. Hans-Ulrich Seidt, Deutscher Botschafter in Afghanistan 2006-08
  • Dr. Anja Seiffert, Bundeswehr-Forscherin, Leiterin für die sozialwissenschaftliche Begleitung des Afghanistaneinsatzes seit 2009
  • Kava Spartak, Berlin
  • Dr. Rainald Steck, Deutscher Botschafter in Afghanistan, 2004-06
  • Andrea Thies, European Police Mission in Afghanistan, 2008-15
  • Uwe Trittmann, Studienleiter Evangelische Akademie Villigst / Berlin (Villigster Afghanistan-Tagung)
  • Verband afghanischer Organisation in Deutschland e.V., Berlin
  • Dr. Kira Vinke, Sprecherin des Beirats Zivile Krisenprävention und Friedensförderung der Bundesregierung
  • Dieter Wehe, Inspekteur der Polizei NRW (2002-15) a.D., Vorsitzender der Bund-Länder Arbeitsgruppe Internationale Polizeimissionen (AG IPM) 2002 -20
  • Thomas Wiegold, Journalist, Berlin
  • Dr. Almut Wieland-Karimi, Leiterin des Landesbüros Afghanistan der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung 2002-05Kathrin Willemsen, Unterstützer:innen-Initiative Oranienburg
  • Ronja von Wurmb-Seibel, Autorin und Filmemacherin
  • Oberstleutnant Andre Wüstner, Bundesvorsitzender des Deutschen BundeswehrVerbandes
  • YAAR e.V., Berlin
  • ZAN e.V., Frankfurt am Main
  • Massieh Zare, Bremen
  • Prof. Dr. Christoph Zöpel, MdB a.D., Staatsminister im Auswärtigen Amt, 1999-2002

Futuretelling

The New York Times editorial board recently wrote about the latest report published by the collective of American intelligence agencies: “Global Trends 2040”. Since a while, such a report is being issued every four years, at the beginning of the term of a new U.S. administration. It aims to assess and to anticipate where the world will be headed over the next two decades. Released April 15, 2021 by the National Intelligence Council, quoting from the OpEd, 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.”

The report can be downloaded here, and it is a very interesting read. As the authors themselves make clear, “scenarios are not intended to be predictions but to widen the aperture as to the possibilities, exploring various combinations of how the structural forces, emerging dynamics, and key uncertainties could play out“. Noone can foretell, at least until now, the future by analysing the key dynamics of the past and the current situation. But even without the five scenarios which the report is drawing up, already the five general themes identified by the report are a valuable narrative and assessment themselves, not least because the report synthesizes intelligence methodology and information with a wide range of global consultations outside the intelligence community, inter alia including societal stakeholders and civil society.

148 pages can not be summarized correctly here. Neither I want to do this. Rather, I would like to create interest in reading it oneself, by reflecting a little bit, including through own thoughts, on the themes of the report.

Five themes are identified: (1) Global Challenges, (2) Fragmentation, (3) Disequilibrium, (4) Contestation, and (5) Adaption.


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.

This assessment resonates a lot with what some, or increasingly many, of us begin to realize: The pandemic was not a temporary event which would cripple us for a few months until summer 2020. It is ongoing, and I belong to those who feel that it will not be gone for a longer period of time, despite all containment efforts, including lockdowns, and vaccinations. Moreover, I feel we might be in a transitory phase where “defiance meets acceptance”, where things have become a norm which we would not have believed to witness a few years ago. Last weekend, I walked over an empty promenade along the shores of the river Rhine. Provisional signs regulated that, between Friday 1 pm and Sunday 7 pm, as well as between 10am and 7pm on public holidays, this strip could only be used wearing a facemask. Boy, those who got self-righteous when seeing people without facemasks, how many of them would have raised their eyebrows when seeing Asian tourists wearing facemasks on airports, just a few years ago?

This example of weird and perhaps over-regulating buerocracy just being used as a picture for my feeling that we transition into a new normal, where the fabric of societies is becoming altered beyond a temporary timeline. The depth of any analysis needs to go deeper, but some of those changes which appear to be there to stay, they become slowly visible.

It is also true that over the past year or so, the pandemic discussion with all its horrific extremes, including through simply denying it, playing it down, glossing it over, inciting polarisation and anger, it all deflected from the big threat underneath: The threat through climate change. Nothing made this less urgent, we just stopped paying attention.

Fragmentation flows from these global challenges almost logically. Whilst each of these challenges is transnational, even global, the report also pays attention to a new “smallness”, as I would coin it. Psychologically even understandable: Overwhelming threats will lead to a reflex raising the shield, or “turtling up”. In my view, such a defensive reflex will also be increasingly accompanied by selfishness. Every self-protection is a selfish but necessary act, simply because it is about protecting myself. However, with many things perceived as being at threat, including medical and economic well-being, this may lead to an unwillingness to share, outside a limited and accepted circle. But we may also see that such a fragmentation, somehow, works, because it may not affect global trade or global communication. The Internet grew during the pandemic, and so did the transportation of goods. There are winners in the economy, Amazon being just one of those, and most visible for us when we pick up our jeans, underwear, or groceries on our own doorsteps.

Disequilibrium is the third theme of the report, flowing again from the previous, fragmentation. It may be less visible for many, especially during selfish times, but it carries enormous destructive potential. The report focusses on its effects in a widening gap between what societies, communities, and individuals expect from governance and services, and what they can deliver. Thus, the report addresses the credibility challenges which became apparent already before the crisis. Legitimacy of democratic governance, and credibility of elected officials in such a system, this is not something new since the beginning of last year. Neither is the profound inability of systems of international order providing peace, security, and other important issues enshrined in the sixteen Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. The pandemic may just have been the rocket fuel which incensed the already existing slow-burning wildfire. Like I said in my previous blog entry: Feels like a perfect storm.

Contestation is the fourth theme. We see it already. Wealthy societies pump their reserves into handling the crisis, and into the race of getting out on the other side in the best position for competing, on economical and power levels. But the report also identifies disruptive potential of contestation inside societies. In my view, these will just increase the intent of societies and states to stay competitive. In this regard then, wealthy societies will stand a much better chance. Poor societies will be left to their own devices of internal contestation. Conflict, violence, exodus, displacement, migration will have an effect on those more developed societies which, given all the above, might even lock themselves down even more. Lockdowns keeping others out. For me an interesting question: How will tourism develop? The more we can pay, the more likely we will spend our holidays in protected resorts? May be in wealthy societies we will see the “One Percenters” enjoy themselves in even more luxurious seclusion, those who always have been local and rural might not feel a difference at all, and the forces tearing things apart will be felt by the many in between?

Adaption being the final theme, I have the most diffiulties to identify with the anticipation, because it is so difficult to see where adaption will lead us to, locally, regionally, and globally. Of course, we will adapt. We already have begun. However:


My blog is about peace, security, trauma, and reconciliation. Somehow, all my entries here revolve around this set of topics. So, whilst I encourage to also read the scenarios in depth which form large parts of the main body of the report, I wanted to offer some thoughts just related to this introductory part of the report itself. Thoughts related to my focus.

The challenges for values, such as human and individual rights, democracy, the rule of law, they have only been growing over the past many years. The Covid-19-pandemic is pouring gasoline on this fire, and some of the developments become more visible for more people. The influencing factors which may lead to even more erosion during a time of new adaption, they are captured well in the five themes raised in the report. Not necessarily expressis verbis, but one can see it. Much will also receive more detail in the main body of the report, but in these introductory sections, these challenges are incorporated in a larger context, but are not made standing out for those who may only read executive summaries.

But taken together, global challenges, fragmentation, disequilibrium and contestation do pose significant risks to how we help an international system in its adaption and, at the same time, transfer as much of these values into it, these values which have meant so much for many of us for many decades. In a competitive world driven by economic and power contest on the one hand and more fragmentation on the other hand, maintaining these values is one of the big challenges. We can only maintain values “at home” if we also contribute to their promotion abroad. With a different phrase, Kemal Atatuerk said the same, or the European Union in their strategy documents from 2003. It stays true, however, and even more so today. Otherwise, gaps will be filled by others, and ultimately the usefulness of these values will also be questioned in any disequilibrium at home. Selfishness will lead to greed if others are more successful, with or without values like the above. Ultimately, forces which contest these values will grow.

So, in preparing for a new world order, it continues to be absolutely vital for us “at home”, wherever that is, and whatever it means, if we continue to share.

That is where we need visionary leaders, willing to take risks by maintaining that we need to share, even if the storm of anger from those who feel disenfranchised blows straight into their faces. We will see much more erosion, we have not reached rock-bottom yet.

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.

Never stop reminding

Every now and then I browse through the folder with draft blog articles. At times, I am just jotting down a link about something that caught my attention when I was reading it. On other occasions, a thought crosses my mind and I am writing it down. And at some point, something materializes from it as a real piece of writing. It is a creative process and the direction into which my writing takes me is not a straigthforward path.


The title of this blog entry came first, and I archived links on stories which did upset me at the time of reading a few weeks ago:

https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/asien/afghanistan-gefaengnisse-folter-101.html: A heartbreaking article published by German news provider “Tagesschau” on torture in Afghan prisons.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-56021205: BBC reporting about the first phone call between U.S. President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping, in which Joe Biden is raising the issue of human rights abuses in China, including the detention of more than a million Uighurs in what China calls “re-education programs”.

There are so many more. Looking into each and every corner of the World, serious concerns can be brought up here in a list of articles which would be long, longer, never ending. Nobody is able to keep track, neither being able to notice them all, nor being able to speak out on them all. But does it mean to give up?

Thoughts about this made me chosing the title “Never stop reminding”, not least because part of the strategy of human rights abusers, of autocrats, dictatorial governments, corporate enterprises confronted with criticism, or any individual accused of abusive behavioir is to sit it out, to wait, to see the story disappear.

Like individual conscience requires to constantly register what is wrong, or right, or justified, the same is true on a societal level. And just leaving it to others, or to media, or watchdogs, it amounts to becoming complicit, first through looking away, then through inaction.


After I wrote the second blog entry on violence against women, “An upsetting update – Violence against Women“, a friend sent me an article from the German newspaper “TAZ”: “Die Feigheit der Maenner” or “The Cowardice of Men”. The OpEd by Waltraud Schwab states that men who are integer and sensible to gender issues, but remain silent, become complicit with perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.

Inaction can take many forms, like, looking away or pretending to not being aware. Inaction of this type can happen whilst the same individual will take a decisive position against sexual violence and abuse in meetings. I have witnessed it often: Managers coming back from meeting their superiors, passing the message about gender equality policy down the chain of command, and then, in the hallways, you will hear them talking under their breath. And others, who notice this schizophrenic attitude, remaining silent. Or, as the TAZ notes: Becoming complicit.


Of course it is not easy to speak up. It may be uncomfortable. It may create alienation. It may lead to being labeled self-righteous, dogmatic, fundamentalist, zealous, or naively idealistic. It is not easy to find the right balance in this. Once an individual is labeled this way, ostracising him or her serves the silent majority, and the perpetrators. But, what is the result of remaining silent? Pretty much the same outcome, in terms of serving those who abuse.

So, as always, it is a matter of balance. Yet, the healthiness of a society can also be measured by whether, and to which extent, this society keeps a living register of things considered to be wrong, unethical, fundamentally harmful for individuals and communities, or outright criminal. Such a living register is comprised of formal elements like public institutions of governance, or institutions which should be constitutionally protected in their independence, such as media, and the set of registers also requires maximum involvement of civil society.

But nothing of that can take away the responsibility of an individual to be actively part of it.


Does it make sense? Or is it just self-righteous rambling? Well, that is very much depending on the attitude with which the above is being judged. And at the end, I rather like to be looked at as rambling than being looked at as someone who contributes to the silence of the lambs.


Therefore, here two more news from today:

https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/eu-sanktionen-117.html: The European Union is imposing sanctions on China because of human rights violations related to the Uighurs.

And a masterpiece of investigative journalism uncovering the hydra of organized crime circumventing sanctions against North Korea, supplying the Dictator’s regime with oil.


Enjoy your Monday! My next article will be more focused again. Except, if it will not: https://zdfheute-stories-scroll.zdf.de/corona_psyche/index.html is a brilliant piece in German, about how the ongoing pandemic-lockdown has neurophysiological impact on the brain, including fatigue, inability to remember, or to focus.

An upsetting update – Violence against Women

Three days ago I published a post “Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture“. In it, I expressed my worries about an ongoing erosion of achievements including in the domain of protecting women, children, or any gender and sexual identification. I did refer to profound calls from the World Health Organisation, and I put male supremacy and misogyny into a larger context in which I also quoted two German publications. Within our current global resurging of nationalist and fascist tendencies I spoke about the connection between “manhood” and nationalist archetypes of “heroism” on the one side and the restoration of a “national gender order” on the other side, meaning men first, women second, and labeling anything else as deviant, weak, or sick.

That was three days ago.

Yesterday, I woke up to BBC News and then, later to news from Balkan Insight on Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the Anti-Violence Treaty, or so-called “Istanbul Convention” of the Council of Europe, to which Turkey had become a signatory ten years ago. BBC published an article “Domestic violence: Turkey pulls out of Istanbul convention“. Turkey pulled out of an international accord designed to protect women, seeking to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence.

It appears the Turkish President gave in to Turkish conservatives arguing that “its principles of gender equality and non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation undermine family values and promote homosexuality.”


There you go. I was as stunned as many in the World. This time, in difference to the “manhood”-aspects of male misogyny in a right-wing-nationalist context, the argument was offered by conservatives in Turkey which clearly also point into the religious/cultural dimension of misogyny and shameful attitude making women second class citizens, at best.

But what completely got under my skin was that a country is withdrawing from a convention protecting women, seeking to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence, with the argument that the spirit of that convention undermines family values and promotes homosexuality.

The argument implies that protecting women against violence goes against family values.

I am speechless.

Others were not. I was at least happy enough to see, when reading Balkan Insight, that protesters took the street in Istanbul. I can only hope they are being joined by many. Of course, with all necessary pandemic-related precautions. But the first demonstration on that matter here in Belgrade, or in Berlin: Count me in.

Like in my previous article, my concern goes beyond the already horrible reality on the plight of women and other vulnerable groups. My concern relates to the erosion of values that I have expressed in many blog articles. It appears to be a process in slow motion, which makes it difficult to see. And after the change towards a new U.S. President just in January this year, people might even believe that we are back on track restoring the old values which we believe in.

Which will remain to be seen. It may be the case for the next two years, or after the next mid-term-elections, for a full four-year-speriod, and I do pray for that the return to a cultivated political discourse promotion values including human rights, democracy, and a rule of law, will last. But nobody can say whether this will be the case, or the reocurrence of the old political culture will just have been an interlude.

I see erosion, and this being an example for erosion in the neighborhood of the European Union. Some people wrote me yesterday and indicated that with this, any discussion about an integration of Turkey into the EU should be closed for the moment. But I would want to make the point that the erosion of values is also happening INSIDE the European Union. Of course, people will look at countries such as Hungary, or Poland.

That is why I do point towards countries within the core of the EU, such as Germany or France. Let us not be hypocritical and let us not fly blind through wishful thinking and denial. The seeds of erosion are everywhere at this moment.

We are not safe from these developments, whereever we live. But whereever we live, we can continue to contribute to a humble display of the values which we believe in. I fear that, as always, antagonisation will just ride us deeper into that mud, will get us closer to a very slippery slope. Once we have reached that, the erosion of things will speed up.

We have it in our own hands, for the sake of our children.

“Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture”

“Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture, causing harm to millions of women and their families, and this has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. But unlike Covid-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, quoted on BBC News, March 09 2021.

Here are the key facts, as issued by the World Health Organisation, to be found on the WHO website:


  • Violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence – is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights.
  • Estimates published by WHO indicate that globally about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (27%) of women aged 15-49 years who have been in a relationship report that they have been subjected to some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.
  • Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and may increase the risk of acquiring HIV in some settings.
  • Violence against women is preventable. The health sector has an important role to play to provide comprehensive health care to women subjected to violence, and as an entry point for referring women to other support services they may need.

Sometimes I am beginning a blog entry with a soft opening. This time I thought the statement should speak for itself, first. I am repeating it: “Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture.” This is a global statement, and it is deeply worrying. If the arrow of time is being added, then the full dimension is disclosed: “Violence against women is, and always was, endemic in every country and culture.”

Of course, there will be those who will say: “But we have made some progress, or may be even significant progress, haven’t we? After all, we are not the same people like, say, in the stone age”, they will say. And I would respond that I am not sure that such an argument is carrying any significant value. I suspect that it will be a tough exercise attempting to qualify, with hard facts, whether there is some sort of lasting cultural improvement. How do you apply measurements to constantly moving targets? Or, may be, we would not find significant improvement at all: May be we don’t use axes and headbangers made from mammoth bones any more, but our means of violence, abuse, and subjugation have become more subtle, but by no means less severe. But I would especially say that any such argument distracts from the worrying fact which is carried in the central sentence of this blog entry, which I repeat for the third time now: “Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture.”

Since a few years I feel there are visible tendencies of male supremacy fighting back against achievements making sure that all gender and gender related identification have equal rights, and chances, and that there shall be no male domination of any form, including, of course, male violence. Sometimes these backlashes were subtle, sometimes hidden under seemingly rational arguments. I remember reading about male resistance against increasing gender balance in ranks and files in Silicon Valley companies, a few years ago. I also saw how the rude and radicalised cultural and political discussions under President Nr 45 in the United States led to bluntly open visibility of male arrogance. I would also say that this male arrogance is a main driver behind cultural supremacy (yes, globally there is not only something like white supremacy), and phenomena like these thrive in times when nationalism and fascism begin to seek opportunities to dominate a political and cultural discourse, again. For me, there are visible connections.

Like with many other topics, development of extreme ends on a scale is depending on what shifts are being registered in the so-called mainstream part of that spectrum: The more mainstream misogyny, the more likely not only structural, but also emotional abuse and physical repression and violence. So the cultural and societal shifts which are nagging and biting and chipping away at achievements that we managed over the past many decades, on values of humanity, human rights, principles such as democracy and the rule of law, these profound shifts in mainstream society, they naturally affect the extremes. There are paths from shameless misogyny towards brutal violence. These are the same paths which lead from systematic replacement of truth with lies to violence.

The German newspaper “Der Tagesspiegel” recently published an opinion piece from Armin Lehmann: “Wie wir heldenhafter werden koennen“. A brilliant piece on right-wing nationalism and re-ocurring fascism in Germany, and the connection between “manlihood” or “manhood” and nationalist archetypes of “heroism” on the one side and the restoration of “natural gender order”, meaning men first, women second, and labeling anything else as deviant, weak, or sick. Did we not think these times were long gone? We are back, full circle. And since political parties such as the German AfD find more and more support, and do actively infiltrate society by hiding those attitudes which still may lead to a powerful outcry, we shall not be surprised about the consequences on the extreme ends of any societal spectrum. But at the extreme ends and in the middle portions, male supremacy is a leading reason for the changes which we experience. Since the referenced article above is in German, here a very profound analysis in English, a long piece from the German magazine Der Spiegel: “The Dark World of Extremist Misogyny”. Introducing into their analysis, the authors state: “Hatred against women is fostered online, but increasingly often, it erupts into real-world violence. The problem extends all the way into German parliament. Some experts describe it as a new form of terrorism.”

And then there is Covid-19. I recently wrote about the context between the pandemic and mounting evidence of violence against vulnerable groups, such as women and children.

So, what can I say? Simply the same as I do since many years: As long as we may have the discussion about gender rights, equality, gender mainstreaming, zero-tolerance against violence, the glass-ceilings preventing women from having the same chances and paychecks as men, it does not mean that we can slow down. Rather, we need to double down. Because, like in the case of other values, currently things are rolling back.

Y.A.C.D. – Yet Another Covid Day

07:04 AM: Getting up, preparing the first coffee, focusing on mindful awareness as my go-to-tool helping my mind from immediately entering the worry cycle.

07:25 AM: My first defeat on the resolve drinking less coffee. Attempting to slow down my eternal morning routine: Sipping coffee, browsing through the daily reprieve of online news.

08:17 AM: Planning my morning, I am thinking of getting myself a haircut today before having a shower. Since 13 months now I am cutting my hair myself.


The above is what I wrote yesterday morning. Then, no more writing happened. We all experience this fatigue. Waking up, I begin my day with a small exercise in mindfulness, focusing on things I am grateful for. I manage to gain some energy for a few hours, get myself into some productivity in my home office, needing a few meditation breaks in order to replenish my motivational energy. At around lunchtime, I feel that the morning has passed way too quick, and following through with my plan to do an exercise ends up as a struggle: Sometimes I succeed getting myself on my bike, sometimes I am just able to make myself going for a walk in the nearby park. When I come back, I feel tired. A nap either allows me to get a little more energy for working away again, way less than I had hoped for. Sometimes I get lost in reading news. Sometimes I get lost in some small IT projects that I like to dabble with. And around 4pm, my mind and body anticipate the upcoming winter darkness, fatigue is joined by exhaustion, melancholy, winter depression. Way too early I loose focus, and the wish to go to bed early, well known by many during the winter period, it becomes stronger. So I engage in communication via Zoom, WhatsApp, or iMessage with loved ones, try to stay away from worrying thoughts, sometimes successfully, more often not. Around 8pm the sadness anomaly disappears and is replaced by normal evening fatigue. Usually I fall asleep soundly, sometimes too late after a Netflix or Youtube binge, and the next day I hit the “Repeat-Button”.


Then there are those events which make me feel helpless and upset. Like, that getting a PCR-test was an exercise in surviving the Balkan version of an administrative nightmare stressing me out. That I did not get the PCR-test back in time (my bad, I banked on faster test results). That I had to reschedule my flight to Berlin by one week, needing a second PCR-test. Each test here is more expensive than the entire flight for myself and my cat! Now I have to pay twice, upon arrival in Berlin I am obliged to self-quarantine, after five days I can shorten the isolation period by half if, guess what, I present another negative PCR-test. Then I will be able to expose myself to the harsh lockdown scenario in Germany. When I plan to travel back here to the Balkans, guess what, I will have to do another PCR-test. Today I am reading on the German discussion how to soften some restrictions, as infection figures and infection deaths continue to decline: Some are discussing that a visit to a hairdresser may require to present a negative PCR-test, no older than 48 hours. Oh man, I will continue to cut my own hair for yet another year. Have I told the story how the administrative systems in some Federal States in Germany allowed sex workers to take up their jobs again during the relief period after the first lockdown in summer 2020? Clients had to sign in upon entering the premises, disinfect their hands dutifully, wear a surgical facemask at all times, and then engage in getting the rest of the body fully touching another persons body as part of the transaction. When I read it, I reckoned that wearing a facemask may even be helpful in setting up some positive emotional tension between the people engaging with each other.

There will be many stories how we handle the crisis that will sound funny and weird long after.

These are personal observations dealing with a helplessness which is hitting everyone, and many people suffer much harder from it than I do. They can’t travel. They can’t get their kids to kita or school. They can’t get household help. They have to work from home, with their kids around, and relationship stress often adds to anxiety. Fear of unemployment or business failure comes on top of it. We all know it: Since one year we pile anger on helplessness and throw copious amounts of fear on top. Silently or loudly we want to rage, or we do. I wrote about domestic violence in another blog entry. And my favorite prayer, the serenity prayer, becomes a staple for those who try to stay sane: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change…

We are called upon exercising extraordinary serenity, to an extent unheard of for many of us. Many of us have no skills for that. Whenever we fail, the result is depression and emotional pain. Since it is lasting so long now, I am sure the depression and pain has already begun to decouple from the triggering events and situations: Depression may become the new normal, staying with us for a long time even after we may have successfully passed through this crisis.

Of special note for me, as a parent in a long-distance family situation: I see my teenage children struggling with deprivation from contacts to their peers when they need this most: At a time when they begin to unfold their wings, when parents can become a nuisance and time with peers provides opportunity to find the own identity, the pandemic deprives teenagers from needs of being in close contact with others. And when I see them having the opportunity to meet, whether in Serbia, in Germany, or in Canada, I see them doing what they need most: Touching and hugging, flirting and kissing, holding hands, sitting on each others laps. If we prevent them from this, long enough, I fear we create significant damage. I’m not saying we should not uphold restrictions making life safe for all of us, as good as we can. I’m not saying I have an alternative solution. I am saying that we are globally locked into a most challenging discourse about what we can do to mitigate the consequences of our preventative actions.

Others have, unfortunately, plenty of wisdom on offer: Those, for example, who engage in conspiracy theories and deny facts, existence of threats, establishing fake narratives of threats including some which I had barely heard of a few years ago, and which now have become mainstream for millions. Such as, that the Democrats in the U.S.A. are cannibals and secret members of networks exploiting children for sexual abuse. Mindblowingly extreme, and just one example for a full set of speculative and maliciously manipulative narratives. Conspiracy theories have been thriving since mankind exists, but the extent to which they have taken roots lately is, in my view, unheard of. Millions and millions of people increasingly believe in a version of how to explain the world that has nothing to do with reality at all. And they all vote.


It is common experience that extreme developments always exist on a soil which is allowing them to grow. And often, the real threat sits with the abnormities and shifts in polarization that characterise the so-called “more normal”, or the less extreme. Or, to put it into the opposite statement: Where there is growing extremism, there also is a growing shift in mainstream opinions, beliefs, and attitudes. The extreme ends of opinions and viewpoints can not exist in isolation, mainstream and extremism are interdependent. The more we are able to maintain an educated and moderate mainstream discourse, and the more we are able to motivate our fellow human beings to participate in it, the less we see extremism, in quantity and quality. And, again, turning the sentence into its opposite: The more we fail in maintaining a culture of a civil discourse, the more we fail to live our human values, and see our public representatives getting away with obvious selfishness, carelessness, and bullying, the more the mainstream system enters into an existential crisis. And it is this disillusion of many, festering under the skin of “normalcy” within the mainstream, which allows extreme views to grow, and which allows extremism and populism. First it happens in the dark, then it steps out into bright visibility. Soon enough, we hear again the perennial question: “How could this happen?”

This becomes especially relevant during the current yearlong and global Covid-pandemic.


I am following this train of thoughts which can give the impression of a personal rambling, simply because I am looking for a writing style which reflects my being personally affected on deepest levels. There is simply no way to have a discourse about what happens to us these days without acknowledging that we are all driven by deep-seated anxiety, fear, the feeling of helplessness, and anger. No discussion on what we are experiencing and what we can do can stay on a truly dispassionate academic level. Those who try will be disconnected.

But what I also believe is that we have to be as precise in this discourse as we can possibly be. I will end this with an example, but before that I want to make one point:

The Covid-19-pandemic is often compared with the last global pandemic of our times, the Spanish Flu. Which happened in the 1920’s. It is safe to say that those times were very different. Unlike then, the Covid-19-pandemic is happening in the age of globalisation. Of course, the Spanish Flu impacted globally. But the means of interconnection and transportation were very different 100 years ago. And so were the means of global policy connection and communication: News and discussions required time for communication and collaboration. Because everything was less connected, collaboration was more local than global. Networks have become instantaneous these days. Global economic systems are interconnected unlike ever before during mankind’s history. News travel in seconds, decisions require to be taken in much shorter periods of time, since they impact on all others in a global context.

So, here is my point:


Mainly, our systems of governance are based on the concept of Nation States. Over time, some supranational systems of governance have emerged and Nation States have delegated various instruments into regional, or in the case of the United Nations, global hands. Yet, Nation States are the powerhouses of policy, delegation of action was arduous, and always precarious when it comes to internal and external security matters. At times, I have witnessed a corporate will to increase the role of supranational organisations, such as the European Union, and at other times, I have seen, like now, a trend back to nationalism.

Yet, no Nation State of today is able to exist without the deep and instantaneous global interdependency that is the result of irreversible globalisation. So, when Covid-19 struck, Nation States had to make most rapid decisions, because their neighbors did. In a race to look left and right, policymakers struggled to come up with responses that made at least some sense within their own jurisdictions, taking into account that nobody can make isolated decisions. We all know about the struggle to base these policy decisions on hard scientific facts.

What I observe is that we had no time for long discussions. We had to do things. So, for example, in Germany, we did things unheard of in the history of post-war Germany: We imposed restrictions on basic human and citizen’s rights to an extent locking down an entire country, in no time at all. We shut down the economy, and we made people stay at home, even limiting, by regulation, whether and how many contacts outside of their respective core family these citizens were allowed to have. We let old people die in hospitals without allowing relatives to visit them. All that not only in Germany, but globally.

However, the justification with which we do this, it requires, at least in States and societies observing a rule of law, that the restrictions are based on lawful decisions. It is my impression that the velocity and the scale on which we had to do this did not allow the instruments of the rule of law to follow at the same speed. So we acknowledged that we may face times when the courts of justice will finally catch up with administrative and legal decisions being made, judging whether these were lawful, or whether laws were compliant with the basic rules of the respective constitution which all of our modern Nation States have.

Nothing of that has been relevant in the perception of the majority of citizens. What we all have seen and perceived was that, with a snap, our freedom was seriously curbed, many would say that their freeedom was taken away. Whether we live in Germany, or anywhere else, we have seen that the same happened, sometimes more, and sometimes less harsh, everywhere. We have seen governments and administrations limiting our freedom within days, only to reopen, and then, when the pandemic hit again, close down again, within days. We all have felt that we are at the mercy of “our politicians”, as the simplified language would go.

A few days ago, I watched a livestream discussion between a representative of the German Ethics Commission and a journalist. The representative of the Ethics Commission explained why they believe we need to continue upholding a lockdown whilst initial decline in new cases can be registered. And twice, the journalist asked: “When will we be given our individual human rights back?” He meant the constitutional and universal human right of liberty and freedom to move. Truly, the journalist asked this question with best intentions.

Yet, the question is fundamentally wrong: Within the German constitutional system, individual human and citizens rights are inalienable, they are explicitly meant to be defense rights against the State. They can not be taken away in their entirety. They can be restricted, as long as their core substance continues to exist, which includes that restrictions are temporary, and that any restriction must be based on a common law that is subject to scrutiny by parliamentarian and judicial mechanisms. Administrative by-laws and normative decisions affecting constitutional rights without authorizing laws are unlawful.

And this is just Germany. Other States have different constitutional setups. But in contemporary understanding of the Western World, all these different setups preserve values which are believed to be universal, such as through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and all these national setups do follow an understanding of a rule of law.

Covid-19, however, requires global preventative countermeasures with serious impact on human rights being implemented irrespective whether the local political system of governance follows democratic values, or is based on, say, the rule of authoritarians, or systems exerting governance without accepting human rights and the rule of law in the same understanding as we believe in. And globally, citizens see that, notwithstanding how their governance is set up, their liberties are massively taken away.

This allows for the impression that we all are subject to decisions by rulers. I’d like to think that in a democratic system those who exercise authority do this because the electorate has delegated the duty of decisionmaking for the common welfare and good to elected representatives. Thus, we need to be precise, because global countermeasures against the Covid-19 pandemic affect the credibility of all systems of governance. We may be in a situation where different systems of governance begin to compete demonstrating that some are more fit to react in crises like these than others. This can add to the credibility crisis of democracy as a system of governance.

Ending on a positive note, with the Biden Administration in the U.S. engaging in cooperative values that had been abandoned for four years, we may have a chance to rebuild strength and credibility in systems of democratic governance based upon human rights and the rule of law. It comes with a huge task: We must be able to continue and become better in explaining why restrictive measures are necessary. We must hold ourselves accountable to a precise discourse, one in which we have zero-tolerance for an erosion of an understanding that all human rights are equal and that there is no individual human right which may be more important than another one. The right to liberty and freedom is equal to any other right, and we must carefully balance any restriction of it.

Social Media Manipulation – An Example

So, here is a little story: STRATCOM is the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence. Recently, they re-ran a test of “the ability of social media companies to identify and remove manipulation”. The result is published, the report can be viewed and downloaded here. It is titled “Social Media Manipulation 2020”.

What did they do, in a nutshell? The researchers used thirty-nine authentic posts on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Tic Toc. As far as I see from related news, for this they cooperated with two U.S. politicians, one a Republican, the other one a Democrat. The German news about it can be found on the German tech-news-site HEISE. Using these thirty-nine posts on social media, STRATCOM bought fake engagement on these posts from three specialised Russian service providers. Providers like these offer manipulated engagement with existing posts, for example. I guess they also offer much more, but this is just an example in which authentic posts of legitimate and appropriate information content were used, since this is NATO. The researchers paid the ridiculously small amount of 300 Euro to these Russian providers.

What did they get in return? 1150 comments, 9690 likes, 323202 views, and 3726 shares! Meaning plain and simple: I can create content on social media, with good, questionable or malicious intentions, and instead of hoping that I will attract many comments, likes, and views on my own, I can buy fake ones. Comments, likes and views increase the “digital weight” of the post. The more of this “digital value”, the more likely other people will look on these pieces of information or disinformation, and the more likely also these posts will be ranked higher by Internet search engines, such as Google. Finally, I can also buy distribution, through shares, of these artificially boosted posts. The more “oomph” I have in getting these informations pieces out into the right target groups, the more I increase chances of further distribution. And I pay very little money for it.

So, let me use a hypothetical example, but one which is commonly being used for manipulation purposes: I create a story with specific target groups in mind. Examples are countless. Like fake news stories which were designed for target groups of color in the U.S. in 2016. They were designed to raise doubt within these groups that a contender, in that case the democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, would be really interested in matters of grave concern for those communities of color. The unauthentic or fake pieces of news were designed to reduce the willingness of people in these target groups to participate in the elections. Many of us, I guess and hope, know about this form of manipulation. It also happened 2020, and it is fair to say that both domestic actors and foreign forces all over the world use this tactic in order to influence the outcome of an electoral process. It happens everywhere, it is commonplace. And it is manipulation at least, and more often violating law in many jurisdictions. But what it chiefly does: It contributes to burning credibility of truth to ashes. It leads to so much confusion about which information I can trust, and which not, that people may give up, or they just decide to only believe what their “friends” say.

By the way, coming to think of it: When sites like FaceBook (I don’t remember who came up with it first) began to abuse the term “friend” for the process of clicking a button asking somebody to “be my friend” and the invited party just accepting this request, I had a revolting feeling in my stomach. It lasts until today and is one of the reasons why I only engage minimally on social media. The notion of reducing the term “friend” to a digital connection with no real deeper meaning feels like the strike of an evil genius to me. It leads to the craving of having as many friends as possible, it is part of the addictive design of social media sites. It hollows out any real understanding of what friendship means. Terms like “friend” and “follower” are almost equal in their meaning. I need these digital friends for status and validation. Having friends has become an online currency. It is like a material possession, not an internal value which gives me the comfort of a deeper emotional, intellectual and spiritual connection to another person in whose well-being I take an interest. It adds to real-world-isolation because it strips the notion of having friends from what the term means in real social life. May be that is for a deeper reflection in another blog article. But ultimately, this manipulation can be used in order to get people into a network of “friends” for purposes of influencing them, depriving them from other sources of information, making them pawns in a game they do not understand, but crave to be part of. Emotions like the wish to belong mix with emotions such as fear, and anger, fake information is being used as a narrative giving them a feeling of meaning.

Back to the STRATCOM report: The first remarkable fact in the results of this research for me was the price for this form of manipulation. 300 Euro is so cheap that this service can be used as a mass tool, whenever this suits own devious interests. 

Secondly, this is a shadowy grey and a criminal market. The methodology can be used by State actors with sophisticated technology and staff at hand. Or money, just hiding traces and buying a service from some groups like the above. Likewise, non-State actors can use it for political purposes, for ideological purposes, for religious purposes, or as a marketing tool. Which is a hint towards how wide the scope of potential manipulation is. The targets are you and I, and we may, very often, not ever know that we were manipulated. So, this is a profound ethical issue with consequences for whether, and how, we want to regulate it, how we want to deal with it.

Thirdly, STRATCOM re-ran the test because they did it before. They did that because the industry promised they would get better at identifying manipulation like this, better at identifying fake, or robot, accounts. Better at curbing influence. The conclusions of the report state that “platforms continue to vary in their ability to counter manipulation of their services”. Read the details, I’m not going to rank services here myself. But there are platforms where manipulation requires a small effort and where costs are one thenth of what is to be invested on other platforms.

Fourthly, the report makes it clear that these actors are not a few, they are an industry. One chapter is titled “The Social Media Manipulation Industry”. With market rules which survived efforts to fight this industry. Quoting the report: “Social media manipulation remains widely available, cheap, and efficient, and continues to be used by antagonists and spoilers seeking to influence elections, polarise public opinion, sidetrack legitimate political discussions, and manipulate commercial interests online.” 

Fifthly, the report states that this industry prospered during 2020. I finish with quoting the three core insights which the researchers came up with:

  1. “The scale of the industry is immense. The infrastructure for developing and maintaining social media manipulation software, generating ficticious accounts, and providing mobile proxies is vast. We have identified hundreds of providers. Several have many employees and generate significant revenues. It is clear that the problem of inauthentic activity is extensive and growing.
  2. During the past year the manipulation industry had become increasingly global and interconnected. A European service provider will likely depend on Russian manipulation software and infrastructure providers who, in turn, will use contractors from Asia for much of the manual labour required. Social media is now a global industry with global implications.
  3. The openness of this industry is striking. Rather than lurking a shadowy underworld, it is an easily accessible marketplace that most web users can reach with little effort through any search engine. In fact, manipulation service providers still advertise openly on major social media platforms and search engines.” 

What do do? Of course, we have a regulation debate. Part of the findings relate to that social media promised earlier to root out this phenomenon, but that they have not become good at it. To me it feels like the contrary, may be because of unwillingness, sloppiness, or the sheer size of the problem. Or any combination of these three. However, regulation always leads to an escalation, or attempts to evade, if the business model generates revenue. Which it clearly does.

My take is to focus on education. I am not a young nerd. I am a nerd in my early sixties. This world rapidly changes, and often I don’t like the course. But disengagement is, I feel, not an option. It is about giving people the knowledge and skills to make their own informed decisions. That is a core principle of open societies based on democratic rules. Truth matters, so we need to know about how truth is demolished in the digital invisible world of the Internet. We need to be able to learn, staying curious about learning, engaging in meaningful discussions, empower people to better identify manipulation when it occurs, giving them the skillset needed for quality decisions for their own lives.

When I talk to my youngest children about how much of their personal information is sucked from their smartphones, iPads, and computers without their knowledge, I am often presented with a sense of “why bother, I don’t feel it, I don’t feel harmed, or hurting”. May be we need to find ways how to reinforce the understanding as to which extent the digital and the real world are interconnected. People seem to discriminate between these two worlds. 

Education is more relevant than regulation. Which motivated me writing this article. Hope you enjoyed reading it.