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.

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

To Serve and To Protect

Yesterday my friend shared a story from the Washington Post with me. Under the headline “Kentucky Senate votes to criminalize insulting police in way that could cause ‘violent response’“, the digital edition of the newspaper reported on March 12 on a bill which passed the State Senate.

I quote from the article:

The bill, passed two days before the anniversary of the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, would make it a misdemeanor to taunt or challenge an officer with words or gestures “that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person.” Conviction would be punishable by up to 90 days in jail and fines of up to $250.

State Sen. Danny Carroll (R), who sponsored the bill, said it would enable officers to arrest someone inflaming them before the encounter turns violent. The provision is meant to apply to comments that are “obviously designed to elicit a response from the officer — something to push them to making a mistake, pushing them to violence,” he said, although courts would have the final say in interpreting the rule.

“You don’t have a right to accost a police officer,” Carroll said.”


Apart from the mindblowing detail of the bill itself (I looked up the link above), think about it: In Kentucky it will constitute a crime if I use words or gestures towards a police officer which, in the interpretation of this or another officer, could be deemed provocative, to the extent that my words or gesture may lead to a “tendency for a violent response” by that police offficer.

As my friend wrote: “It implies cops have no self-control and are inherently violent. If I was a cop, I would be livid.”

It turns any people-centered policing understanding upside down. Don’t touch that cop. Don’t even look into his or her face. Keep your head down. Keep your hands down. Respond politely with “Yes Sir”. Do what you’re told, it is the law. Anything else may lead to that the copmachine is turning violent. Or that the cop now can arrest you beforehand, in order to avoid becoming violent.

This is escalative “enforcement of the law”-attitude at its worst. It leads to that “enforcement” is nothing else than exerting control. No need for consensus, no need for explanation, no need for communication. Why communicate, why listen, why explain? It is enough to arrest anybody standing in the way of law enforcement officers.

Don’t call this policing, please. You may call it controlling. Policing is based on consent, and applying force is the last resort.

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.

The Pandemic and its Impact on Domestic Abuse and Violence

This -slightly longer- article focuses on gender-related aspects of domestic violence. After some introductory comments, I will present a view on the general scope of an endemic problem. I will also look into the specific context of the role of weapons, especially firearms, in that context, and the significantly higher victimisation of women including through the use of firearms. After that, I will discuss the alarming rise of domestic violence which we observe as a consequence of various measures undertaken to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. I will advocate the protection of the most vulnerable first. In this, I will focus especially on women and children.

As an introduction:

I began this blog entry based on discussions with friends on the consequences of the pandemic for women through heightened levels of aggression, abuse, and violence. So I wanted to write about the impact of the restrictions and lockdowns on domestic abuse and violence experienced by women. Though this still is a major thread in my writing here, after some research and thinking my reflections on the topic of domestic abuse during the pandemic became broader.

Physical and emotional abuse including violence are a disturbing reality in intimate relationships and families. I will reference data published by the NCADV and other information a few paragraphs below, but for starters: Already before the pandemic, in the United States, 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner. At least once in their life, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. And according to statistical data just taken from the United States, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men has been raped during their lifetime. 1 in 10 women suffer from rape within what they would consider their own zone of safety and comfort: Within an intimate relationship. I don’t have to look for other data sources but can state due to heuristical and professional experience that the situation, for example in countries in Europe, will not reflect a significantly less disturbing picture. Exact numbers might vary, but we are not talking about a fringe problem. We are talking about a huge challenge.

However, there is an emerging body of data indicating that phenomena of domestic abuse and violence are on the increase throughout the pandemic. As the pandemic lasts, lockdowns are protracted and are getting more and more rigid throughout this winter. It is all but certain that the problem will continue to grow, perhaps exponentially, the longer and more severe these restrictions are. As the fight against the pandemic is now reaching a full year of implementation, and will continue, there is no reasonable doubt that these developments will have a medium and long term negative impact.

Why should this make all of us concerned? Like every parent I want to see my children experiencing only safe friendships, happy relationships, and I want to see them becoming capable of raising happy children of their own. The thought of witnessing a beloved child being on the receiving or giving end of an abusive relationship is a horror scenario for every loving and caring parent. It is only natural to push this thought aside, hoping that this may be something that my children, our children, won’t have to go through. Parents may engage in wishful thinking, and some denial, hoping that this may not happen to own daughters and sons, but may just be some distant risk, a risk more for other societies, other communities, may be for less privileged people, or just plain and simple for others. The reality is starkly different: Your daughter has a high chance to experience violence in sexual relationships, your son may be significantly at risk becoming a perpetrator, and to a lesser extent, a victim. Both your daughter and your son may experience helplessness and mutual abuse in toxic relationships. Both will experience the stress of raising children, many will experience single-parenting, and they will likely experience the crushing defeat when, despite best intentions, they yell at their own children, or slap them, or worse. It has happened to most of us in various shades of grey, let us be honest. We have been on the receiving side, and we have been on the giving side. And this prediction, based on time-tested statistical data, is one main reason why to focus not only on women, but equally pressing on the suffering of children experiencing violence and abuse in domestic environments, and their social neighborhood: Every statistical data will confirm that those who have been victimised in their childhood are way more likely to repeat this abuse, or to subject themselves to abuse, by way of what psychology calls re-enactment, once they have grown out of age. In addition, their proneness to alcohol, substance, and behavioral abuse leading to addiction is exponentially higher. What we do to our children, our children will carry this into their parenting and into their intimate relationships, and into their coping strategies.

That is why we need to be concerned about the widespread phenomenon of domestic violence and abuse. And that is why it’s increase throughout the pandemic is so much a concern for all of us.

So, on Covid-19: Statistical data and personal experience in a vast network of friends make it clear to me that this already existing problem is amplified by how we try to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus. We need to talk about how to protect the vulnerable, and how to capacitate people so that they are able to withstand the frustration, fear, and anger, instead of leashing out against the vulnerable. Of course, we need a sound combination of prevention together with deterring measures, we need education as much as vigilance in detecting abuse. We need zero-tolerance. But all of that starts with numbers, and with understanding the problem, and then the challenge.

As a consequence, an already serious problem is becoming even more dangerous, and especially so for vulnerable groups including women and children. This matters to all of us, because it can happen to ourselves, and to our loved ones. This is not a scenario one can stay distanced from. Like I, many readers will be able to reference situations within their own social circle where violence happened. We need to find solutions, and we need to collectively engage now. Shaming and fingerpointing is no option, people who we deeply care about may find themselves being victims, or perpetrators, tomorrow.

Some more detail on the general problem of domestic violence and violence in sexual and intimate relationships:

Throughout my international work violence against vulnerable community members and against women and children has been a constant experience I am faced with in literally every heart-numbing aspect. Of course this is especially visible in situations of conflict and war. I have written several times about the fundamental impact of trauma that victims of such horrible violence have to experience.

Letting war and conflict aside for a moment, domestic violence against vulnerable individuals, often women and children, is a tragic daily mass-occurence within all societies. It affects the fabric of families and communities and is often not allowed to be visible, because of taboo, denial, and shame. It is challenging to see in all its aspects for external observers because of this built-in hide-and-deny-mechanism. It requires active communication to see it. International humanitarian workers see it, of course. Social workers see it, directly or indirectly, of course. You have to be “within” to be able to see.

My national policing work before I entered into international work was riddled with experiences of this domestic violence against women and children, and violence against members of the LGBTQ-community. My understanding of the primary reasons for why it can be challenging to detect such abuse roots in this time. It also transcends into my international experiences, because this mechanism of how domestic violence is being kept away from visibility as much as perpetrators and victims can manage (and neighbors looking the other way), it appears to be pretty universal. It is the same in all societies I have been in.

When I talk about violence in domestic contexts, I do not mean physical violence only. As horrible as forms of physical violence are, they are a sub-set. There are forms of emotional abuse and violence which equal the severity of impact and consequences and in some cases create even more pain, suffering, and long-term damage. Victims of violence can also be men, and perpetrators can be women, even children. Statistical data exists aplenty. Here are a few reference points for a more general narrative: A Deutsche Welle article, and one in The Guardian. For an initial mapping of the scope of the problem, I will refer as an example to statistical data published by “The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)“, a U.S. NGO. Some excerpts:

“1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. This includes a range of behaviors (e.g. slapping, shoving, pushing) and in some cases might not be considered “domestic violence.”

1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner.” “1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner. Data is unavailable on male victims.“1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

“The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. … 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon.”

“1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime.”

So, before focusing on aspects of violence during the Covid-19 pandemic, I needed to set the record straight by at least indicating that women and children form a majority of victims, but that violence against men, carried out by their female or male partners, is not the rare expection, but albeit smaller, a considerable case group.

On the role of weapons in cases of domestic violence:

For the United States, NCADV states that “The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. … 19 % of domestic violence involves a weapon.” This points directly towards the area of support by the German Federal Foreign Office assisting other countries in reducing the illicit impact of small arms and light weapons and effectively controlling the legal aspects around them. This support policy of the German government is very broad in its strategic motivations, it includes, for example, reducing stock and illicit possession of leftover weapons from war and conflict, support to harmonization of law, policy, enforcement and criminal justice aspects, curbing the illicit flow and criminal use of weapons by organised crime and terror inside and outside the European Union, and more. However, in this holistic undertaking the German government places strong emphasis on all gender related aspects. Germany has founded the “Gender Equality Network for Small Arms Control GENSAC” as a global initiative. On this website you find the following description: “The Gender Equality Network for Small Arms Control (GENSAC) aims to make Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) control more gender responsive and amplify international, regional, national and local best practices of those who have been doing “arms control behind the curtain”, including representatives from civil society organizations, women’s groups, conflict prevention and development communities.”

Like the scope of the problem of domestic violence and the significant over-representation of women becoming victims is huge, so is the role of firearms and other weapons in it. At the same time, practioners like myself stress that women are under-represented when it comes to policy-making in areas where they are much more affected by a problem than male members of a society. We want this to change, and it includes the dangerous role that weapons play in cases of domestic violence. I invite you to look into the very comprehensive material which has been made available by one main partner of the German government in my current line of work, the “South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC)“. On their very comprehensive website, gender in Security Sector Reform features high, and you will find various publications and research on domestic violence and the over-representation of female society members in the group of victims. The gemstones of gender related analysis which can be acccessed in SEESAC’s publication library are numerous. Scratching the surface, here some select fast facts, this time valid for South-East Europe (SEE):

97.2% of all legally owned firearms in SEE are owned by men. Men committed 98.4% of firearm-related criminal offenses in South-East Europe, 98.5% of all firearm-related incidents and 98% of all firearm- related homicides. Men account for 83.8% of victims of firearm-related homicide compared to 16.2% of women.

Most telling is SEESAC’s Fast Fact – collection on the misuse of firearms in domestic violence in South East Europe: Homicide committed by a family member is the most common form of femicide in SEE. 61% of all killed women were killed by a family member, compared to 12.4% of all killed men. 38.6% of all killed women and 1.2% of all killed men were killed by an intimate partner. 43.5% of all women killed by an intimate partner in SEE were killed with firearms. 68.9% of women killed with firearms were killed in their homes, apartments or yards. 37.4% of reported domestic violence incidents which involved firearms had a lethal outcome.

Interim conclusion: Because of it’s short-, medium, and long-term damaging consequences including for future generations, domestic violence must be considered a zero-tolerance-topic, and the highest investment into how to prevent and to tackle consequences must focus on violence against women and children.

On emerging data related to the Covid-19 pandemic:

November 25, 2020, German news media reported warnings issued by the United Nations and the European Union: Lockdowns in Europe cause a worrying increase of registered cases of domestic violence against women and girls. December 19, 2020, the magazine “The Economist” focused on this increase with the headline “Covid-19 threatens girls’ gigantic global gains“. December 21, 2020, “The Wall Street Journal”, in its article “Covid-19 Is Pushing Women Out of Work. Just Look at Italy.” focused on structural abuse harming gender equality. December 26, 2020, German news media reported about warnings issued by the German victims protection organisation “Der Weisse Ring”, a highly renowned NGO. According to their own data, approximately 10 % more victims of domestic violence called their helpline during the first ten months of 2020. December 28, 2020, German new media reported a warning issued by EUROPOL. According to EUROPOL, cases of sexual abuse of children during the pandemic are strongly on the rise and perpetrators of pedophile behavior do not only increasingly look for child pornography in the Internet, but also attempt to increasingly contact children for purposes of abusing them. And concluding a list of disturbing data reference points, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development OECD, a global organisation, issued a report “Women at the core of the fight against COVID-19 crisis“, starting with the sentence “The COVID-19 pandemic is harming health, social and economic well-being worldwide, with women at the centre.”

Enough references. There is a ton more. However, whenever I make a statement, I try to provide evidence. Evidence still matters, truth still matters. And the truth is: An already existing worrying phenomenon with implications for all of us and for our children is becoming worse, the longer the pandemic lasts. In my prediction, this is not a linear deterioration, but will resemble exponential developments.

If I wanted to come up with a list of comprehensive action points, I think I would fail. And perhaps, nobody would continue reading this already long article.

However, a few points based on what I say at various points in my writing:

  • Domestic violence is a wide-spread phenomenon with very damaging short-, medium, and long-term, including generational, harming consequences.
  • With children being victims through witnessing this violence, or being subjected to it, long-term damage to their entire lifes is likely. For reference, I refer to my blog articles on trauma.
  • Prevention and deterrence has to focus on the most vulnerable groups first, and that includes especially women and children. Every prevented case of violence contributes to less domestic violence in future generations.
  • Women are under-represented when it comes to discussing, and implementing policy that affects, globally, their own well-being, economic, and security interests. This has to change.
  • The more relaxed the weapons policy of a country, the more likely is that women and children disproportionately suffer from severe forms of abuse, and violence, including through homicide and femicide. We have to continue to outlaw “male behavior” that equals masculinity with possessing and displaying weapons. Personally, I do encourage parents to even consider limiting the existence of toy-weapons in their households. Whilst I have professionally operated a large variety of small arms as a police officer, my children have not seen us parents encouraging, or condoning, the use of toy weapons.
  • Counter-measures curbing the spread of infections during the Covid-19 pandemic increase anger, frustration, fear, and aggression. At the same time the opportunities to “vent” these emotions in a healthy way have become unavailable. We have to increase a policy-discussion about this, and we have to do this now, instead of hoping that vaccinations may bring us to the end of the crisis quickly. We are, still, witnessing the darkest chapters of the pandemic, and this is not changing anytime soon enough.

Reassurance or Concern?

This morning I’m waking up in my campervan (the best means of coping with the Covid-19-pandemic in isolation) in a quiet street in Berlin, wrapping my mind around the last things to do before heading back to Serbia by the end of this week. With my first morning coffee I am fueling up on caffeine, reading the news. Again, an article in the New York Times stands out: “Trump’s Call Leaves Allies Fearful for American Democracy”.

The hopefully outgoing incumbent of the Office of The President of The United States is still able to reach new levels of reckless destructive and manipulative action. It should not surprise anyone after four years, but raise the alarm bells on what may still be waiting for us: We should have learned by now that the mindset of this person does simply not know the notion of stopping to escalate until he has won. That is why I say “hopefully outgoing”. I will wait for January 20 events unfolding, and there is no doubt on my mind that notwithstanding whether he leaves the White House voluntarily or not, he will continue to assert he is the rightful President of the United States. We will hear this for the next four years.

The current cycle of news revolves around a long phone call which he had placed to the Secretary of State of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, last Saturday. You can read the full transcript of the leaked content of this call here. On behalf of many articles, I am quoting 5NBCDFW: “President Donald Trump pressured Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state’s presidential election, repeatedly citing disproven claims of fraud and raising the prospect of a “criminal offense” if officials did not change the vote count, according to a recording of the conversation.

The phone call caused national and international uproar, and this is what the New York Times article is about. But between the phone call and this uproar, another thing happened: Ashton Carter, Dick Cheney, William Cohen, Mark Esper, Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel, James Mattis, Leon Panetta, William Perry and Donald Rumsfeld are the 10 living former U.S. secretaries of defense. January 03, 2021, they jointly published an OpEd in the Washington Post. In this OpEd, all ten, including two who have served under Donald Trump, warn: Involving the military in election disputes would cross into dangerous territory.”

Wow.

Have ten distinguished officials, highly decorated Generals, career diplomats and politicians, gone lunatic? Have ten former Secretaries of Defence, responsible for the undoubtedly most powerful military force of this world, both Democrats and Republicans, lost their minds? When I wrote to my former partner the other day that Hell’s Gates are still open, she agreed but said “Don’t become morbid”. Of course I try not to. Have ten highly trained people with access to the most privileged secrets of the Western Hemisphere become morbid and did they collectively loose their marbles? Of course not, this question is purely rhetorical.

Let me quote the man himself, Donald Trump, during an electoral rally yesterday, January 04, in the U.S. State of Georgia. Both he and President-elect Joe Biden had come to Georgia supporting the run-off elections deciding between Democratic and Republican contestants for the U.S. Senate. Trump used his rally appearance mostly for airing his own grievances. And he said: “They’re not going to take this White House. We’re going to fight like hell, I’ll tell you right now.” During the past four years, he always made no secret about what he was about to do.

Whatever happens January 20, I join those who fear the long-term damage that is applied to democratic principles, and the rule of law. 74 million Republican voters are being made to believe that a rightful win was robbed from them. With literally no piece of evidence, and with numerous cases thrown out of courts in the U.S. because of that fundamental lack of evidence, with numerous re-counts and audits, the current President and his supporters still amplify a message that this all is not true, that there allegedly is overwhelming evidence for a massive attack of sinister Democratic forces against the rightful will of the people. 74 million good American minds kept in captivity.

This is where Jean-Marie Guehenno, the President of the International Crisis Group ICG comes in. Guehenno is a distinguished former United Nations Undersecretary of the Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO, now known as Department for Peace Operations DPO). I adore him, and I know his trustworthiness on a deep professional and personal level: He was my highest boss during two tours of duty with the United Nations between 2000 and 2004. He interviewed me for the job as UN Police Commissioner in the UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK. I personally introduced him and his boss, the late former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, into policing developments in the northern parts of Kosovo. And I briefed him about the situation in Kosovo a few days before those terrible days in March 2004. Later, I would see him again in my capacity as an official of the European Union, and I would not forget his legacy when I came back to the U.N. as the UN Police Adviser, between 2013 and 2017.

So, Jean-Marie is one towering giant in the realm of peace&security who I place personal trust into. In the NYT article which I read this morning, Guehenno is quoted with a sentence on his Twitter-account (@JGuehenno) “Should we be reassured on U.S. democracy when 10 former defense secretaries warn against use of the military to dispute election results, or terrified that they believe taking a public stance has become necessary?”

Exactly.

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.

2020 – Closing Thoughts – Looking Ahead

I don’t recall any other year comparable to 2020. If I go back in my memory, at the time of events even years like 1989 appear to have felt less intense with regards to the global revolutionary impact. But that’s just me comparing on a very subjective level. In any case, the changes, the tectonic shifts that we have witnessed in 2020 are beyond anything that we might have imagined. And there is one experience from events such as those unfolding in 1989 which will be true for 2000, too: In many ways I only understood the local, regional, and global consequences of the end of the Cold War only gradually, throughout many subsequent years. Like when I analysed the development of peacekeeping since its beginning in 1946. You can read about it here. When I analysed facts and figures related to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, a new dimension of my understanding of how deeply 1989 had influenced global development opened up. I’m not saying I wasn’t aware of it before. Neither that analysing aspects of peacekeeping completed my understanding of what happened in 1989. It just opened my eyes about the complexity of the impact of that year. Studying it as comprehensive as possible takes a lifetime of historians, sociologists, political analysists, and so on. And on Peacekeeping, 2020 had a huge impact, whilst the entire topic itself literally went on the backburner of public perception. As always, when things get us out of our comfort zone into fear, we tend to neglect, or forget, those who really suffer.

On a similar impact level like 1989, I also do not forget 2001, with its September 11th. The same tectonic shifting is true here.

And it will be true for 2020. Yet, we feel the impact in ways very much different to those events 36 years ago, and may be also compared to 19 years ago, except those who suffered from the terror attack directly in New York City. 2020, the foundations of what we have become used to, they are shattered in their core on a global level. The measures implemented to fight the pandemic, the lockdowns, the social distancing, the constant news about ups and downs in the fight, hope, despair, the experience of depression and helplessness, it creates one huge yarnball of fear in our stomachs all over the world. The dimension of change in private lives, economics, and societies, they are endless. I guess “Home Office” is the topic which comes to most minds in high-tech countries. But that is just for starters.

Of course, the pandemic and its impact does not stand on its own. The crisis of democracy which we see continuing to unfold in menacing ways, it adds to confusion, polarization, and fear. But still, this is just the surface of the entire development. The crisis response that we could witness with all its faults and all its successes cannot be looked at in isolation. The pandemic has an impact on everything else which is ongoing. Which at times gives space to discussions such as: Would we have done the same under different circumstances, when it comes to fighting Covid-19? And this is tricky, because I do not want to contribute to any speculation that the crisis response has been used as a pretext for something that has been motivated differently, perhaps mischieveously. This is a pathway quickly leading into the most horrible type of discourse where people begin to de-legitimize any crisis response and also attempt to minimize the threat that is stemming from this global pandemic. A taxi-driver in Belgrade who brought me to the airport told me: “Covid is a machination of the pharma-industry. It has been created as a myth in order to sell vaccines. Wait for it, in April Covid is gone.” The insanity of this simple circular logic is almost ridiculous, but how do regular people feel when historians, sociologists, politicians, epidemiologists, and all else, struggle with giving an answer on something which is only beginning to be understood, whilst the explosive and utterly pervasive impact of it affects the lives of billions of people in life-threatening ways? How to mentally deal with explaining circumstances when you are loosing your job because an economy is melting down? Add the conspiracy-theorists, the fearmongers, the deniers, the liars, whatever. It just increases the desire of many people to find an explanation and to re-direct their fear.

A surgical analysis of what happened as the crisis unfolded will require years. As history is not an exact science, the conclusions will be expressed in untold and diverse, certainly at times contradicting assessments. We will see heated discussions for decades to come.

But what is it what we can see right now? It is very clear that the Covid pandemic did not happen as an isolated crisis but it did unfold at a time when other tectonic tensions were there, or materializing, at the same time. The development has become so interdependent that effects of various crises had a chaotic and hardly predictable impact on other crises. It is all a huge, a gigantic mess. Which reinforces fear. Nobody understands. The wish to blame someone, or something, it is a consequence of rage and fear towards something invisible. People feeling the pain from depression and helplessnes, they want to “smash”, but what?

Some other crises unfolding before and throughout 2020 that have not gone away, and which require more attention than we may have been able to give to them, are:

The Covid pandemic has not just made global warming going away. It has superseded any discussion about it, and it has helped radical deniers of global warming to get away with chopping off previous achievements on environmental protection.

The crisis of legitimacy of the Western system of peace and security, which is in existence since more than 75 years, it has been building up for quite some time, was becoming scarily visible and menacing from 2016 onwards, and further unfolded during the same time when we were hit by the pandemic. Even more: The requirements necessary fighting a pandemic, and even the assessment of the dangers stemming from Covid-19, that all was taken hostage in ways still numbing my mind. The casualties of instrumentalising a pandemic for political fights, including ripping down institutions, they are real. At the time of this writing the United States is going through an unprecendetend challenge of the electoral system, with protagonists of this attack entirely neglecting the pandemic. I don’t want to speculate about numbers, but saying that many thousands, or tens of thousands of people could have been rescued, it is a given. Who will hold those accountable who have, with a clear and insane mind, done that, whilst they swore an oath to protect their citizens, rather than themselves, their riches, their families, and servile friends?

The global economic competition like between China and the United States, or Europe, was in existence before the pandemic. Economic consequences of the pandemic are affecting individual citizens, households, communities, societies. How do we cooperate in a world with limited resources, in which 2020 witnessed an impact which could be partially mitigated in rich countries, but not at all in poor countries? What does the pandemic mean in terms of fueling selfishness of economy? How did the economies send shockwaves into governing the pandemic, and how did the pandemic influence global competition? What will we see in 2021 and beyond? In essence, all these questions create uncertainty and fear. Which create selfishness.

The migration crisis was there, and has not gone away. Not only because of the global warming, or previoulsy existing instability and war. The shockwaves of the pandemic do add. Attempts to curb illegal migration, efforts to influence migration by means of supporting capacity development and economic and security perspectives for populations in threatened regions or on entire continents, it was there before. But how will this play out as we move on through the pandemic and it’s consequences? Will we continue with helping, or have we become used to locking down things, because we are experiencing this even by ourselves. Will this be used for building visible or invisible walls?

Autocratic governments controlling the population were in existence before and it did not stop because of the Covid pandemic. How will selfishness, fueled by the fearmongers of nationalism and xenophobia, influence policy on jointness, with some nations perhaps continuing to be willing to share, and others not? Will we be able to find strength for an new attempt to act collectively, instead of dividing and putting “My Country First”? Which, by the way, is a perfect example for lying straight into the faces of people, because in reality all these actors mean “Me First”.

I sometimes feel like the pandemic was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Obviously the Covid pandemic created interdependent effects in other major lines of global or regional political and societal development. Tectonic shifts happen only after a long building up of tension between tectonic plates which is mostly not seen and measurable only by using sophisticated technology. But the event triggering the cascade of effects that we feel in a gigantic earthquake, it can be comparatively small. A rupture in a small area can stand on its own when there is no build-up of larger tension. But beware: The tension may be there. In that case, hell is breaking loose once the weakest part of the chain is breaking and the chain reaction of events is unfolding in explosive succession. That is also how I look at the pandemic. It set off something way larger, and perhaps way more catastrophic.

Amongst many effects that came as a consequence of Covid-crisis-management I am also looking at two:

(1) The reoccurrence of borders in the European Union and the erosion of something that could be considered a core achievement inside the European Union, meaning the so-called Schengen Space. Millions of travellers in Europe have witnessed something that was always part of contingency planning in case of crisis management: The temporary re-instating of border control inside the Schengen Area. I believe it was never anticipated to happen on the scale as it did in spring 2020. When finally road travel under severe restrictions was possible again, I traveled devoid highways from South-East-Europe to Germany, with border control and temporary police checkpoints becoming semi-permanent. We all remember the eerily absence of the noise of aircrafts. For people like me, travel is the only way connecting me with my friends and family all over the world. Others felt it during holidays, some behaved, others didn’t. But once we got through the first lockdown and had to handle the first wave of anger about the possibility of new lockdowns springing up again, we also got used to it. So, with this Christmas bringing new lockdown measures, what will be the future of an interconnected world where the border-free Schengen Zone once was a hallmark achievement of the European Union? I am not sure the situation will go back to something called a “status quo ante“, the status like it was before. People who are critical to the vast arranging of border checks are already using an argument that the crisis has been used to erode achievements long held in the EU, and taking rights away, in order to control more. These opinions are inevitable, and may be at this moment is is hard to tell who is right and who is wrong. But it will require a sustained effort of political representatives, civil society, and all of us ourselves, to participate in this discourse. The silence of the lambs always has led to catastrophes, and more recently we saw this in well-established democracies who considered themselves to be the bedrock of the modern Western world.

(2) Connected to it is the velocity with which Covid crisis response mechanisms also severely affected individual rights of freedom of movement or freedom of expression of opinion and freedom to demonstrate. Even more, we are facing a holiday season where States regulate how many people from different households can meet inside their homes. I would, frankly, never had imagined that I am facing a situation where my brothers and I have to think about how to organise Christmas, because if the three of us including a few children and partners meet, we will exceed the permissible number of people gathering in one large house. These restrictions are new and subject to learning and regulation by legislators, but also by the courts. We have seen courts already doing what they have to do: Correcting measures of the executive, where excessive. Because we don’t have blueprints. We make mistakes, having the best intentions, but we make many. So it is a normal procedure that courts will contribute to acceptable application of law. At the same time, law is evolving as well. And like in the first example, the steering democratic discourse will require a sustained effort of political representatives, civil society, and all of us, ourselves. A discourse ensuring that the rule of law prevails.

Taken together, for me the two case-studies are examples for potential regression. Signature achievements being taken away, hopefully only temporarily. But it happens during a time where the Covid-pandemic, as I mapped out, does not stand on its own. It happens during a time of newly incensed nationalism, conservatism, renewed right-wing extremism, fascism on the rise, autocratic attacks on democracy and the rule of law intensifying. It comes at a time of effects that go beyond re-emergence of borders, and infringements on human rights which require rigid scrutiny. Motivations mingle: We see governments (like mine) attempting to act as responsible as possible with temporary restrictions. We see tendencies of xenophobia, attacks on minority rights, erosion of inalienable human and individual rights, and efforts to reverse hard-fought achievements in domains such as the right of women, or the rigths to which the LGBTQ-community is entitled. It is a wild mix of “retro” banding together, and I am certainly not saying they are motivated by the crisis coming with the pandemic, but all these developments fuel each other, and not to the best of humankind.

I can not help but feeling afraid. Whilst I fully appreciate the necessity to infringe on basic rights under extraordinary circumstances of threats, I also fear that we may have opened pandora’s box. The other day I had a coffee with a friend over a long (and socially-distanced) walk in the park. We were reflecting on the fatigue which we all sometimes feel. Like, “What difference do we make with our work and our passion?”. We both agreed that much of this fatigue comes from the depression which holds many people in their grip after now almost one full and grueling year of how individual life has been affected.

I have no other answer than that we need to continue. Human perception is always attracted by everything scary and negative. My experience is that, at the same time, we can also see, and focus on, how the best human attitudes have been shaped: Kindness, respect, nurturing relationships with different means, intensifying communication with loved ones, taking care the best way possible for lonely people. I’m not rambling at the end, I am just arguing that there is a need to focus on positive developments. Not only because it protects our mental health. More importantly because it truly makes a difference without which we would become silent lambs in the face of fear, anger, rage, and fearmongering. These four lead to isolation. There is no need for being isolated, or feeling so. I have had more contacts with friends and loved ones than I ever had before. Much of it, of course, with modern means of communication. But it has, very clearly, grounded me in a circle of people who I support, and who support me.

Merry Christmas!