Sunday News Blues

Here are a few clustered “pieces of news” which I found myself reading about, and following on various other media, throughout the past couple of days:

  • Afghanistan related news continued to show up on my newsfeeds with a somewhat toned down tendency. Whilst still being a main topic, the fierceness and rage of those weeks in August is lessening. We become used to information about women being deprived from education and from participating in forms of public life, we seem to begin to resign into facing a reality where two decades of successful promotion of women’s rights are being wiped out within weeks. We become used to news about journalists being deprived from the freedom to report. We hear from the humanitarian community warning about an imminent desaster, and we learn about a Taleban government comprising our worst previous enemies. Sometimes I feel that government is just sitting it out: “Don’t produce too bad news about violations of human rights, the international media train will move on after a while.”
  • New news capable to create attention by producing feelings of being upset, being angry, they moved on to Mali. Already being a country where military control replaced civilian governance, within a growing set of West African countries moving away from democratic rules of governance, we now see a potential engagement of the Russian “Wagner Group” mercenaries, on request of the Malian ruling military class, and certainly on basis of profound Russian geo-strategic interests, leading to that France, Germany, and others raise questions of conditionality related to the engagement of our own military capacities, within the United Nations peacekeeping Mission MINUSMA, within EU-led military training missions, and through a multilateral set of counterterrorism forces operating in Mali, and the wider region. Feels like another looming implosion.
  • The most recent clash is a different one: France recalling her Ambassadors to the United States and to Australia for “consultations” after being completely kept in the dark on discussions that led to what now is coined AUKUS. A new alliance being formed in secrecy between the U.S., Australia, and the UK, in a global undertaking confronting China in the Indo-Pacific. A multi-billion deal delivering French conventionally-powered submarines to Australia being scrapped with nothing else than shortest notice, in favor of nuclear-powered submarine technology provided by the U.S., assisted by the UK. These news somewhat also feel like the bookends to a discussion in between, a discourse about the future of the North-Atlantic alliance, and the parallel soul-searching of the European Union where we have a place in all this, including through own military capacities and capabilities. A French President and a French Foreign Minister asking as to which extent there is an extension of abandonment which some hoped to be only temporary during the Trump administration, into the Biden administration. Everyone who is reading this will grasp at least a sense of how profound global alliances and interests are changing. In a different piece, for other channels, I reflected on how much this also affects the work of the United Nations, within the field of peace&security, through political and peacekeeping efforts. Just mentioning that, here. And lastly, at least I begin to make an argument about the emergence of the big picture which explains also why the hard decisions on leaving Afghanistan may have been made: It is about re-organizing political and military might along new geo-strategic lines, and not being timid when implementing it.
  • On a sarcastic note, then there also is rapper Nicki Minaj. For many, here is what CBS graced us with: “The White House has offered Nicki Minaj a call with a doctor, according to an official, after she expressed concerns this week about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The rapper tweeted on Monday that she wants to do more research before getting vaccinated and claimed that a friend of her cousin’s had experienced adverse effects from it, which health officials have refuted. “My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen,” Minaj tweetedMonday. “His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied.” Well, sarcasm also reflecing on that this tweet provides a perfect example for how the media frenzy is providing opportunities for something which I am attempting to describe below.

The above almost arbitrary selection of newsbites which caught my attention yesterday and on this sunny and pleasantly chilly autumn morning in Belgrade, it made me thinking. Because, more often than not, my news selection leaves me with frustration, despair, worry. I know very well what these emotions do to me. If being allowed to go on the rampage, they make me restless and I find myself in a spiral of obsessive reading. My days may not be ending on a positive note then. Like in many other areas of my life, it is about emotional moderation, sometimes we call it emotional sobriety. There is a very thin line between compassion and obsession. If I don’t find a way into some form of loving non-attachment, I take everything personal.

I have to pick and choose amongst the thousands of pieces of information offered by my newsreader. The settings of this newsreader only subscribe to channels which I find interesting, acceptable, in line with my cultural and political belief system. So sorry, Fox News, Bild Zeitung, or alikes. Not subscribing. As a consequence, I have to accept a filtered view on the state of affairs because of my own choices. Solid journalism is not free from beliefs. A robotic emotionless and value-neutral set of information items does not exist. With every new reading, I am solidifying the neural pathways forming my own framework of how I see the world outside myself. With every piece of my writing here, I am doing the same.

The engineers and master-minds behind the advertising machinery and the machinery of political manipulation know about this. Walking in their shoes, I reckon they have at least two questions driving them when optimising their strategies:

  • How to keep people in an existing framework, sometimes also referred to as “ecosystem”? Cynical emphasis put on “eco”. I prefer “belief system” as being a bit more precise. If I go one step further, I would even question “belief” and replace it with “emotion”. Whether we talk about a preference to, say right-wing or left-wing political beliefs, or people using Android or iOS, or PCs or Macintoshs, or being a hard-core fan of BMW or Mercedes, it doesn’t matter. Examples are endless. It’s all about emotions, creating emotional attachment, and emotional dependency.
  • How to manage cross-overs, meaning, getting people moving over from one system to another? That, too, is all about emotions.

In a digital realm profoundly based on psychological knowledge how to manipulate, and how to exploit the neuroscience of addiction, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a blessing for those performing Black Magic. As a consequence, I navigate to the best of my education and ability to at least identify some of the manipulation efforts which are ferociously thrown at me every time I enter the Internet. Not only my computer needs a firewall, my brain needs a firewall as well, allowing me to stay clear from malicious forms of manipulation and from fake news. This goes so much deeper than only avoiding spam and malware attacks. “Social engineering” is a term which had been coined by the hacker scene. But AI takes social engineering to a quantum leap, and a new meaning: Very much like the hacker uses some fake personal credibility through phone calls in order to gain entry, social media perverts the personal meaning of “friends”. One click allows me to request somebody to be my “friend”. Nobody does this free from emotions: Whether I ask somebody in person to be my friend, or I push a button, the emotional reaction is very similar, may be except for sociopaths. With that person’s accepting click, we’re done! I have a new friend, and it is creating an emotional reaction again. If, then, a friend tells me a story, I tend to believe, or to support the attitude behind. That’s what friends do, right?

AI aiming at getting me to become a member of a group of friends, or a “follower” of another category of people, called “influencers”, that’s the wizardry of really smart social engineering. By the way, as perverted the digital meaning of “friend” may be, as cynically clear is the meaning of “influencer”. An “influencer” does what the name is suggesting: Influencing. Not “reasoning”, “informing”, or “entertaining”, but “influencing”. Stomach this. I don’t want to be a friend, nor a follower of, say, Nicki Minaj (see above). My son is dreaming of becoming an “influencer”. Because it’s all about status. But then the opposite to “being an influencer” is “being influenced”. There both is a benign meaning given to it by the new generations of smartphone kids, and a very malicious one, covertly applied by those who manipulate for reasons of profit, or ideological, religious, or political agenda. For those less benign, it is about that content only serves one purpose: Generating a click. There is no difference between somebody using that in order to catch followers adoring long and carefully draped blond hair sitting on top of a rosy face, and somebody who does this in order to catch attention to some specific upper torso specifics.

Nicki Minaj’s boobie-trapped testicle-reasoning against Covid-19-vaccines contributes to fueling the mistrust of millions, and of course because it just is a fancy way for Nicki to create attention for her media circus. No accountability, or sense of responsibility, Ms. Minaj, taking into account the Covid-deaths, suffering, and infringements on the rights of vaccinated people? People who can not pay themselves into privileged high-society realms, now including space, since this weekend’s SpaceX Inspiration4 spaceflight of a billionaire with his three friends?

One of the reasons why democratic values are so much challenged these days: Democracy works best when people make educated choices, and when there is at least some pretention of that all of us are equal. At least that was the idea. If we don’t find a way back into this understanding, democracy may be shown the way to the exit door.

My personal choices in this new world include that I stay almost entirely away from social media sites, like Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, Tic Toc. I also am extremely concerned about their impact on emotional health issues of teenagers. Parenting two teenagers who struggle heavily with this, like millions of other teenagers too, I need to put this aside for another blog entry.

Yes, I have a select set of Youtube channels and I actively use Youtube to broaden my views on things I am interested in. Yes, I have a LinkedIn profile which I use only in a very restricted manner. But mainly, my own subjective worldview is based on choices I make when reading news in the Internet, using my Newsreader. I try to avoid the worst honeytraps of manipulation, and to mitigate the remainder through educated choices.

I consider myself being moderately good at this. I am aware of that I am blessed with sound education, a very broad experience, a non-local life-style, and broad cross-cultural and inter-cultural experiences. In this, I belong to a global minority. This summer allowed me, again, to see this. I traveled for many months and I stayed on campsites all over Europe, making many experiences meeting people from all walks of life. Sourcing my information from verified channels makes me part of a minority.

It’s not only about the quality of the news sources. It also is about the depth and the width. In order to understand (or trying to) global events, I need to maintain a global perspective. In order to understand complexity and interdepedency of events, I need to inform myself about a large variety of topics. Otherwise, developments seem local, disconnected, and hard to understand. Many people who I have met don’t do that. They source their information from unverified sources, they show limited interest to what happens outside their neighborhood, they feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of complex bad news. But they all try to make meaning.

No surprise then how seductive the simplifications offered by pied pipers are. Threatening narratives sell on feeding grounds soaked with fear. This I have expressed in various pieces on my blog here, and I feel it is not enough. There is some more, but I struggle with how to describe it in a way that is making sense without becoming too lengthy in this piece.

But I would end with that people in democratic societies vote. We are one week away from German Federal elections. I keep fingers crossed. Until then, I’ll go for a forest walk now enjoying the beautiful Belgrade late summer.

On Weapons, Ammunition and Explosives – An Afghanistan Threat Assessment

20 August 2021, Christoph Heusgen, former permanent representative of Germany to the United Nations, and former longtime foreign and security policy advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, found clear words. In an article on the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations headlined “Germany and Afghanistan: Time to ditch bad governments, not good governance“, he draws a comparison of the engagement in Afghanistan with the situation in Mali, West Africa. He begins with stating “After Afghanistan, countries such as Germany should reconsider their presence in Mali, unless the ruling class commits to good governance and democratic principles.”

In the above article he talks about “good governance”, not only about “democratic principles”. He carefully lists both terms connected with an “and”. They stand separate from each other. And he talks about “the ruling class”. I will come back to “good governance”, conditionality, but also moral responsibilities, towards the end.

At the time of this writing the new Emperor is dressing into governmental clothes: The Taleban are in a process of forming and announcing a new government. When the insurgency had reached Kabul’s outer perimeter, the former Afghan government imploded, literally, after the former President fled the country. In an earlier article on Afghanistan developments I wrote that the difference with this implosion of governance is that we were observing it being on the inside, not on the outside. And in my last piece as of September 02, 2021 I wrote about a country being “armed to the teeth”. This because, amongst many other, the implosion has extraordinary consequences for the amount and type of military and police equipment, weapons, ammunition, and explosives.

Roughly, my questions related to future threats are:

  • Is this gear now subject to new governmental control, and to which extent, and how?
  • What will this gear be used for in Afghanistan by those who claim legitimacy for their governing the country, or just do rule it without any process resembling legitimacy?
  • Will the new Emperor (so to speak) undertake a comprehensive effort to secure large stockpiles of weapons and ammunition before even more will disappear into dubious, criminal, and terrorist channels as for sure is the case already right now? And how will this be done, concretely looking at possible new faultlines of terror and organised crime, by creating new generations of people being subjected to cruelties?
  • Which consequences come from the implosion preceeding the victory? Where are soldiers, police officers, commanding officers of any rank, organisational structures? We hear stories of individuals hiding, of entire units fleeing into neighboring countries together with the equipment they were carrying. We don’t know who will partner up with warlords. We don’t know who will end up on the side of terrorist organisations. And by the way, we do hear about the hostility between IS and the Taleban. We do hear about disappointed Taleban joining the ranks of ISIS-K, who are historically hostile to the Taleban, and who are extremely radical in their religious beliefs. What does this mean for weapons being readily available? Which threats come from extremism and terror in the region, for other parts of the world, including, but not only, Europe?

I am not even pretending this list is complete. Neither I would make a comparison in detail about what happened in other country situations where governance imploded, such as in Libya. Except for the numbers of weapons out of control after Libya’s implosion which were ending up fueling the conflict cycles which haunt us in addition to Libya, thereafter. I talk about Mali and what I witnessed there throughout my travels 2013 and the following years. Today, nine years after the initial crisis in Mail, the fire which we try to extinguish is burning in neighbouring countries, and beyond.

What I say is that we have serious reasons for working on a profound threat assessment. In my conversations, I hear all sorts of opinions. Some would be on the cautious side. Others would say “There won’t be much happening”, or they would say “There is not much that will be a threat for Europe, Afghanistan is too far away”, or, “I am not interested”. The last one being something I heard very often when I listened to people on the streets.

If the catastrophic failure of all collective assessments of intelligence, diplomacy and politics led to the circumstances which we witnessed in July and August, with many voices likening it with an embarrassing “defeat of the West”, what more do we need as a wake-up call that we need to wrap our minds around everything which could be a potential threat for humanity, peace, and security? For the citizens in Afghanistan, in Afghanistan’s neighborhood, in countries closer to the European Union, and the EU itself?

There is no time for complacency any longer.

Just a recap: Until recently, we fought a war against the Taleban, considering them insurgents at least, but we would put them close to terrorism, or we would consider them committing acts of terror. We have, until now, all indications for Taleban forces being responsible for atrocities, for countless crimes against humanity. We have not only withdrawn from a war against the Taleban, with international forces fighting against the Taleban. Rather, the Afghan military and the Afghan Police apparatus has been built, trained, staffed, and equipped. With huge amounts of military and police gear.

This has not been an isolated U.S. endeavor. The U.S. was involved on their own, and being part of NATO. NATO, and NATO member States were in this, together with the United States. The European Union was in it, amongst many other topical areas the EU, and EU Member States, provided large financial contributions to what is known as LOTFA, the Law and Order Trust Fund. Throughout two decades, Afghanistan’s military and policing capacities and capabilities were defined through often mainly international decisions, and when the capacities were stood up, they were dependent on everything, including salaries, equipment, and training. We are talking about an entire Army, and an entire Police setup. From everything I know from public sources, there wasn’t much sustainable development at all if the entire security apparatus depends on salaries being paid through international trust funds, capabilities being generated as donations, with huge dependencies on foreign contractors working on maintenance and supply chains, and constant ongoing training.

Even in a “best case” scenario, I have difficulties imagining anything like a smooth transition of what we call a “chain of command” from one government to the next. It feels almost cynical to name it like that. Rather, I anticipate that sheer power of coercion by the Taleban, may be combined with tribal play which we hardly understand, will compete with resistance, dissolution, and the panic of individuals who fear for their life, and that of their families. There are news about the Taleban not living up to what they publicly claim, that they hunt and execute former police and military officials. What does this mean for weapons control, and for the fate of armed people who are desperate, and need a living at the same time?

Within days in August, the Talban took control. A short while later, the last U.S. airplane being part of the international evacuation and rescue effort, now hailed by the U.S. Secretary of State as the biggest air bridge ever, left Kabul 30 August, 23:59 hours. With that, the U.S. declared the war in Afghanistan being over. Already before, we froze all international aid, by far not only the humanitarian side of it. Who is paying salaries for soldiers and police, right now?

International attention, and attention of the general public, often has a short breath. I can already feel that some may say “Alright, we have lost that war, let us move on.” For twenty years, we were with the Afghan people. Like everyone else in Afghanistan, our military and police colleagues grew friends with us. Fought with us, risked their life for their people, and trusting our promise that we would not leave them alone. Afghan police and military were the ones who took unimaginable casualties (the police even more than the military), and won’t forget the civilian casualties from two decades of war, either. After all, the victims were family, or friends.

Thus, further instability may not only depend on how the Taleban act when delivering on what they claim: That they are different now. It also depends on whether we are able to create new trust amongst those who feel they have lost everything. This means that we can not only think about threats from Afghanistan we may have to contain in the closer and larger neighborhood. We have to seek ways how we can establish a dialogue inside Afghanistan as well. Here, conditionality will be critical.

Apart from any moral assessment of this, which has its legitimacy in its own right: From a pure threat assessment perspective we need to think about a situation where former friends may feel that we have handed them over to former enemies. Where does this lead us to? Our own actions decide about whether this points to future enemies, or scenarios of cooperation. I stop there, the humanist in me wants to, of course, think of even more.

It means that, concretely for the topic at hand – large amounts of weapons, ammunition and explosives – we need to look into long term strategies, waiting for opportunities and avenues allowing the support to containment, control, and demolition inside Afghanistan, and immediate strategies allowing to help in establishing conditions for networks addressing SALW control in Afghanistan’s neighborhood.

Weapons – Ammunition – Explosives – On Afghanistan – Numbers first and what we do not know

In my previous blog article I wrote about the core of my current line of work: Advising the German Federal Foreign Office on aspects of assistance related to systematic control of what is known as Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). The categorization “Small Arms and Light Weapons” can be somewhat misleading, because of the attributes “small” and “light”. Like, light weapons being weapons requiring not more than three people carrying them. We don’t talk about toy weapons. We talk about everything including pistols, rifles, submachine guns, machine guns, and sorts of equipment capable of destroying tanks, or gunning aircrafts down, as long as this stuff can be moved around easily.

We talk about some of the most lethal gear which can be used in asymmetric warfare, organized crime, insurgency, violent extremism, and terrorism. If you want to binge, go to Youtube and look up those gun nerds who run channels where they use this type of weaponry on firing ranges for smashing just about everything, because it creates huge numbers of people watching it. Some of those people don’t only smash things, but also explain the weapons and ammunition in a very detailed, very professional way. Veterans of various wars, having found a retirement business model.

Just to set the record straight about the type of stuff I am looking at in the following paragraphs.


Since every assessment in my line of work starts with a threat assessment, I began to wonder about what we know about the amount of SALW which we can expect to be in Afghanistan after the takeover by the Taleban, and also, where this gear is from. I have no intention to go into a comprehensive research, but I would like to use some publicly available figures as an example, and some simple logical conclusions, in order to at least point into the direction of a staggering dimension of weapons we are talking about.

Let me begin, therefore, with a few things which we know, and a few things which we do not know much about, at least publicly.

We do know that the Taleban themselves have lots of weaponry. Perhaps we do not really know, or only have confidential knowledge about the numbers, and the type of weaponry. For making my argument this is less relevant. We do know that they have enough weapons, ammunition, and explosives which allowed them to fight an entire army and a set of police organisations in a warfare where the Afghan military and police were only able to hold their ground, still loosing control over significant swaths of Afghan territory as long as the international military campaign provided superior capacities and capabilities, meaning for example air support, reconnaissance, drone firepower, specialised ground forces, and a whole international supply chain enabling the Afghan defense against this insurgency. Yet, the Taleban had enough military capability to conduct their insurgency, carrying out horrible atrocities along the way. They had and have an own supply chain, and they had and have an own financial and logistical structure for this supply chain. BBC’s report “Afghanistan: How do the Taliban make money?” gives you a sense.

How many weapons do we talk about which never were under Afghan governmental control and not under control of the Taleban, meaning, weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens, criminals, and terrorists such as ISIS-K? For future analysis, also this question will be relevant. From every experience in other zones of conflict and war it is self-evident that weapons circulate for all kinds of self-defense purposes, criminal purposes, and as instruments of terror. The situation of Afghanistan being a core area of the world’s poppy cultivation, opium production and trade, and heroin production and trade adds. There is simply no way to discard the amount of weapons which never were under any form of organisational control, be it the previous government, or the insurgency. In itself, this amounts to significant amounts of weapons which should be under control, because they are a threat.

How many weapons were left behind by hastily leaving international forces? We simply do not know. We do know that the international military had huge amounts, of course, and hopefully took as much of this gear out as possible. There is, however, indication that not everything was taken out. Here is an example for large weapons stockpiles which were simply burned to the ground, in order to make them unusable: Taleban video footage which was gained by the New York Times, indicating how the CIA burned down own facilities in Kabul before leaving. Those weapons in that video footage seem to be destroyed, however, we also know, at least in relation to some type of military gear, that the advancing Taleban took control of it. There is a lot of coverage about Taleban posing in military gear obtained from former military bases of the international coalition.

How many weapons, how much ammunition, how many explosives were in the possession of the Afghan military and security apparatus before the Taleban took over? Here we may, at least, come up with some figures about what the international community donated to the security apparatus. Whether we do have oversight about the Afghan security forces own procurement processes, I don’t know. I’m a pessimist, I doubt we know much. And the knowledge about what type of gear came from international aid, it may be kept as sensitive information, may be also because of some shame we may feel. But here are two links to professional investigative research on this topic, and here they only serve as examples, proper work requires much more: (1)Staggering costs – staggering numbers”, a Forbes magazine attempt to look into military equipment and weapons left behind in Afghanistan because the equipment was donated to Afghan military and security; (2) “Afghanistan: Black Hawks and Humvees – military kit now with the Taliban”, BBC reporting also attempts to identify how much heavy military equipment now is under Taleban control. For starters, they list 43 MD-530 helicopters, 33 C208/AC208 planes, 33 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, 23 A-29 light attack air planes, 32 MI-17 helicopters, and 3 C-130 Hercules military cargo planes known as useable in-country as of 30 June 2021. They go on with staggering numbers of vehicles, including 3012 Humvees, and 31 Mobile Strike Force Vehicles. They also list at least 3598 M4 carbines. Like everyone else, BBC scrambles all qualified guesswork attempting to estimate how much of this equipment is in country, and unter Taleban control. Taken together, it is really not difficult to assume that the amount of Small Arms and Light Weapons which were part of the internationally donated equipment over twenty years will be in the milions.

These questions and examples are enough to make my point. We are talking about a country armed to the teeth.


Importantly, the next question relates to how much control there is over these weapons, and by whom. This leads to an attempted threat assessment, and I put that out in my next article.

Weapons – Ammunition – Explosives – A way how to assist in controlling them

I began my day by reading a guest essay in the New York Times by Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. In “Afghanistan Was a Wake-Up Call. Europe Needs to Step Up.” the Union’s Foreign Policy Chief dives into security issues on a strategic level. Because, the situation in Afghanistan and its wider context is confronting us with a gargantuan collection of challenges which we only begin to understand. Of course, security implications require the same attention as the humanitarian suffering already does.

I want to focus on one specific aspect: Weapons, ammunition, explosives.

On Afghanistan I will do that in my next article, but before doing that I want to spend a few sentences on how we support a comprehensive initiative in the field of weapons, ammunition, and explosives, in the Western Balkans. We do this since several years together with France, increasingly with the European Union, and many others. Good news stories often go unnoticed when facing the onslaught of catastrophic news. So, before looking at something strongly appearing to be a big mess, here a positive story first.

My current work revolves around advising the German Federal Foreign Office on German assistance to systematic efforts of governments and societies controlling all aspects of what is known as Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), their ammunition, and explosives. It is a very holistic approach, and here is a good entry point on global aspects of SALW.

What does our support mean? Here some examples:

  • It means to help partners in improving meeting international and European standards on how to regulate trade and export according to international treaties;
  • It is about how to ensure safe use, storage, and transport of such items both in the military and the civilian realm;
  • It is about prevention of diversion of legally owned weapons, ammunition and explosives into criminal channels;
  • It is about fighting the use of weapons for criminal purposes, about detecting and deterring organised criminals and terrorists trafficking in weapons or using weapons;
  • It is about prevention of crime, about addressing domestic violence, and violence against women, children, and vulnerable groups;
  • It is about strengthening the role of women in policymaking related to how societies and States want to control all legal aspects on SALW, and to fight all illegal aspects.

That’s already a long list, and more often than not the topic only catches the attention of the general public when there is a horrific terror attack, such as the Paris attacks of 2015. Since two weeks, the situation in Afghanistan is drawing increasingly attention to it.

The key principle is assistance to efforts coming from States and societies themselves. In the case of the Western Balkans it concretely means the joint efforts of six jurisdictions (I will refer to Kosovo with reference to UN Security Council Resolution 1244) Albania, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North-Macedonia and Serbia. With assistance, they have developed a systematic regional roadmap. These jurisdictions have given this roadmap to themselves, their legislators adopted it.

It began as an exercise where the Western Balkans appreciated help, and it developed into an endeavor that now brings partners in the Western Balkans and in the European Union ever closer together. Germany invests a lot of political support, expertise, and a significant financial contribution, into a coordinated support of donors and international implementing organisations who work together under a specific umbrella of coordination. Assistance is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme UNDP, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime UNODC, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation NATO.

In a very comprehensive and coordinated way this goes beyond, but critically includes, the work of law enforcement and criminal justice within the six juridictions of the Western Balkans, and their cooperation with Interpol, Europol, Frontex, and others. Moreover, we now see partners acting in a joint interest, less and less as neighbors, more and more as being part of something joint. If you are interested in details, you will find an entry point into this whole universe of comprehensive assistance here, any quick web research will give you tons of more resources. And watch out for more news. There is a high-level conference coming up early September, taking stock half-way through the intitiative. I will post public statements here in my blog once I am authorised to do that.

The way how this roadmap has been developed by the governments in the Western Balkans themselves, and the way how donors and partners assist them in it, has found international recognition, including inside the European Union itself, and the United Nations. Recently, the UN explicitly praised the Western Balkans roadmap inititiative as a role model that could be adapted to other situations. And Germany already supports the interest which has been raised in the Carribean, or in West Africa. Both regions make good progress in developing their own tailormade approach.

Making it clear from where I look at select aspects of what can be seen as challenges within the Afghanistan context is meant to indicate two experiences which I support:

The relevance of weapons, ammunition and explosives in a global threat environment at times goes underrated, until a catastrophe is hitting the news again. The threat is constant, and in my experience it is growing;

There are successful models on assisting countries in conflict; countries emerging from conflict; countries being confronted with conflict in their immediate neighborhood; and countries that are well advanced on their long path into building lasting peace. We have alternatives to the failed models of the past. Initiatives like the one I have described above are important examples for something that can be used in many other topical and geographical areas.

They are relevant because of the key principles of assistance, partnership, and coherence of support efforts which I have touched upon above.


The End Is Just The Beginning

On this blog entry I have been on and off. Processing so many experiences from this summer, personal, and professional, this piece of writing tries to find common issues in very different fields. Sometimes I am happy with progress expressing what wants to come out, sometimes I feel like wanting to throw it into the bin. When it pops up on my blog, a future version will have made me pushing the “Publish” button. The following is what you then will read. Hope you find it interesting.

Essentially, this is a personal reflection on change. Choosing the title “The End Is Just The Beginning”, I planned to continue writing on Afghanistan and the wider context of implications which I see. I wanted to reflect on my perception that the current development for many people appears to feel like a defeat, and an end. To me, the notion of the “end” just being a “beginning” reflects on the only eternal universal truth: Everything changes.

I arrived back in Belgrade at the same time when a long and hot summer heat wave is ending. The weather is changing. Since a few days the first signs of the fall can be sensed. Temperatures significantly down, the blue sky is often replaced with the darkish grey of rain clouds. The long summer days are now followed by shorter periods of daylight. For a while I will be switching to a more stationary routine in my apartment after three months of being a digital nomad. Well, we will see how long I can keep my itchy feet under an apartment table, mitigating the risk of restlessness and focusing on healthy aspects of constant, but somewhat moderated change.

On a larger scale, what kind of change will happen for me next? During the summer I thought about the many different places scattered around the world which form part of what I would call my “home”. Partly, “home” is about places. More importantly, “home” is about meaningful connection to the people in my life who matter to me, and to whom I matter. Everything, places, situations, relationships, everything changes over time. Like everyone else, I experience times where I embrace change, and times when I dread it, when I cling, when I try to control change. I have found during the pandemic that it is possible to nurture important relationships in my life, though they are long-distance. Using videoconferencing, voicemail, calls, texts I could find a way even deriving comfort from virtual contacts with children, loved ones, friends. But there needs to be physical contact, too. So, “home” is also about deciding where to live close to some of those who matter in my life. At the end of the summer, I could see a path forward, and change is coming up, and is being embraced by me.

Then there is a book on my reading list. Tiziano Terzani’s Book “Das Ende ist mein Anfang”, literally in English “The End Is My Beginning” (German description of the book here; English description of the movie based on it here). The book patiently waits for my being ready to read it. The subtitle reads “A Father, A Son, and the Big Journey of Life”. The son, Folco Terzano, interviews his father Tiziano, who is in his last days. The son and the father talk about the meaning of life, and about the father’s experiences as a widely traveled journalist. The book is not ready for me, yet. It patiently waits, there is no hurry, it will tell me when I am supposed to read it. It touches a nerve:

I had many talks with my father over the past months. I see his existential fear, his suffering from his ego feeling locked down in an ageing and frail body. There is a stubborn denial on his side, rejecting any notion that he might not be able to live without help at some unknown point in the future. There is despair about the meaninglessness of days now and in the future, and a strong attachment to memories of the past. Sometimes, he almost exclusively lives in his memories, when things still did have a future perceived as being meaningful. On other occasions, I saw some clarity about the inevitable deterioration, and some peaceful acceptance. Mostly though, I witnessed a heartbreaking fight against upcoming defeat, and a perceived end.

Being his son, by logic I am younger than my father. I feel healthy, which allows my vain thinking ego to tell me that I am significantly younger. My ego tells me that I can do more of the same. That my future includes further extension of external validation. That my career continues with growth of the same kind that was its hallmark for many decades.

Spending time with my father, I saw what happens when we miss a transition into a different kind of growth. A kind of inner growth that does make use of the vast accrued experience of many decades, and transforms it into learning about how I can be be useful to others. I saw, and I see in my own case, how the ego clings to control, discriminates between “me” and everything “non-me”. The Buddhists talk about the duality coming from this discrimination, Buddhism teaches non-duality. To those of us who do not get enlightened early on, working on giving up the duality view reflected in “us and them” is a lifetime assignment.

Some profound changes in my life are based on developments eight years ago. So I was able to be with my father, and at the same time to reflect on my own experiences with denial, control, and the importance of external validation for my inner own esteem. I feel great compassion for my father. And I know that I have plenty of time for learning to stop worrying about the future, any perceived “endings” and wasting time by regretting the past long gone: I have today, which is endless. It means that I accept change, that I embrace change, that I am happy with change. There have been really painful experiences in my life, including somewhat recently, on what happens when I cling, deny change, deny knowledge about how toxic a situation, a relationship, or an environment, may have become for me. The denial always sits with attempting to find external reasons for the toxidity. The acceptance of change only always came when I focused on my own contribution to the toxic situation, relationship, or environment. And always, this required to experience yet another “hitting rock bottom”.

In our individual lives we run through uncounted iterations of postponing to accept that everything composite has a beginning and an end. Through many decades of our lifetime we manage to postpone thinking about the inevitable, piling up more activities and goals giving meaning to the respective phase of life we are in. As if this could go on in eternity. So, instead of understanding also the final phase of an “individual” life as a means to achieve growth, we close our eyes, pile up more external things day after day, year after year, until we simply can not go on any longer.

Then we feel being defeated.

In the world of recovery from trauma and resulting compulsive-addictive pain-sedation, we call this process “reaching rock bottom”. It is an absolutely inevitable final point when one realizes that one has no control any longer. It is the starting point of change. When we realize that we do not have control, and only then, we are able to acknowledge that our circumstances have become unmanageable. It is the ensuing breakdown which sets the stage for the new beginning. When an individual realizes that the own self sits at the root of all misery, and not external circumstances, that is the point from when on positive change is possible. Never this happens one second before. It is what I experienced eight years ago, and I practice since then. I have seen this fundamental principle everywhere, and I am just realising that it is true for the situation we find ourselves collectively in, in Afghanistan and beyond, too.

Because, in a very similar way, I have perceived the phases of our two decades of intervention in Afghanistan. We had reasons for the beginning. We discovered reasons for why to continue. We came up with new meaning when growth wasn’t working any longer. We realized that it can not continue the same way in all eternity. At some point we did not know how to make further meaning of it, so we somehow soldiered on, without a real vision how to transform things into growth, beyond our international interventions. Means of control, and of denial, worked less and less. We blindsided ourselves in relation to the inevitable, and now we feel defeated. Very much the same way an individual “ego” feels defeated, our corporate consciousness feels the same.

How does it feel for Joe Biden having to make a decision ending a seemingly endless war, and not really having a blueprint that would best mitigate the ensuing paradigm changes? I prefer to say “paradigm change”, rather than talking about chaos, since this wrongly indicates we have no way forward. There is suffering in what was, and there is suffering in what is. Now he and his administration have to face the early, and very harsh, judgements which come in through uncounted articles, OpEds, interviews. All legit. But I sympathise a lot with the U.S. President’s decision to pull-out. Obviously, it is a chaotic, messy, dramatic, heart-breaking pull-out. There is all reason to believe that we could have done better, together. As if there only was this guy, Joe Biden, or as if there was only that messed-up negotation between Nr 45 and the Taleban. No, throughout twenty years we all carry our own share of responsibility adding to the mess, we all do good looking onto our own respective side of the street.

But at the end, I wanted to say what I began with: This needs to be understood containing the piled-up energies which explode into paradigm change. The mistakes we piled up for two decades, they did not allow for any less-explosive unfolding. That is why we need to embrace the change. Simply because it is not an end. It is a chance to do things differently, together, and in humility.

We tend to think in beginnings and endings. We think in activities, and blocks of activities. We categorize. We come up with goals, and we put them on timelines. It is a way to reduce complexity, and we attempt to give meaning to what we do. In doing so, we usually look into the future from a perspective of the past, and when we have reached a goal, it becomes part of the past, we move on, to the next goal. Often, it distracts us from seeing what there is right now, and that there is nothing else than the Now.

Zooming out, so to speak, a larger view reveals the process-nature of everything. Things don’t stop when we have done something, when we have achieved something. Or when we are defeated by something. Everything is part of processes, of constant change. Everything moves. Constantly.

Afghanistan – Rear-Mirror-View or Looking Ahead?

At the time of this writing (August 24, 2021), its been 11 days ago that I published my first thoughts on the catastrophic events unfolding in Afghanistan, and the shockwaves within the International Community beginning to grasp the extent of our collective failure. At that time, the Taleban stood at the gates of Kabul. Two days later, then Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul and his country, reportedly with a lot of money, according to this report, 169 million USD in cash. Following the implosion of the government, Taleban fighters and Taleban political representatives were in Kabul in no time. Afghanistan fell, may be except a little pocket, the Panjshir Valley, which appears to be under Taleban siege for now. No need to recollect the events that followed that implosion and collective failure of the International Community, and the Afghan Government. They will haunt us for years to come. Today, the G7 are convening a virtual meeting, called in by the current G7 chair, the United Kingdom. Much, if not all, will be about pressing the U.S. President into extending the deadline for the presence of U.S. troops at Kabul International Airport. Germany participates in a frantic multinational evacuation mission for own citizens and Afghan individuals being at imminent threat for life and limb. Two days ago, Al Jazeera estimated the total number of evacuated people being roughly 28.000, “tens of thousands more [are] still waiting“.

The breadth of discussions on all channels in relation to what went wrong is overwhelming in the West. The depth of these discussions varies. Like many of my friends, I am glued to these news. I belong to those who do not appreciate too much those discussions and statements that are varying mixtures of a broad bunch of mostly backward looking reflections, struggling to find simple answers, palatable for the digestion by the wider and less informed general public, addressing an intractable complexity which festered into twenty years of incoherence of international efforts. Strategic incoherence, because of political incoherence. There is no way to implement coherence if there is a lack of it at the top. Politicians trying to giving meaning in hindsight, overlooking the rubbles of an endeavor which lost its inner compass for a million of reasons. Of course many of these statements come with the unfailing appreciation for the services and sacrifices of soldiers, and humanitarian workers. Sometimes I notice that the police officers who were in this seem to be mentioned as well. But the rear-mirror-view needs to be put aside. Because of this sheer complexity, finding meaningful answers may need so much time that their use for the immediate and mid-term future is very limited.

I have begun to filter my input by looking for honesty in statements, hoping for more humility, wanting to see more apologies, and less self-reflection on national reasons why we were all in this. Because, we all are in this. For many reasons, I like this interview by my “boss”, the German Minister for Foreign Affairs, because I am desperate for any sense of humility combined with visionary forward-looking statements, messages that give us a sense of hope that we will find a way forward, beyond rescuing as many as we can, shivering in relation to how those feel who will, almost inevitably, be left behind.


I feel sorry and sad beyond words.

I am upset about the humanitarian crisis on an unimaginable scale. I am bitter and horrified about the incoming news on alleged summary executions in places outside Kabul. Today, the top United Nations human rights official says she has received credible reports of serious violations committed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, including summary executions of civilians and restrictions on women and on protests against their rule. The executions appear to also include former government officials and members of police and military.

I began to write this article to get my personal context connecting me to the cause of the Afghan people out of the way. I wanted to explain briefly that I am not just a “concerned citizen”, but that, and how, I have been involved in everything since 2001, since the very beginning. Writing the above, I realised that my reflex simply was to add even more noise to the Rear-Mirror-View. So I’m not doing this.


In my line of actual work I have begun to analyse those implications coming from the catastrophic events which I can see, or anticipate, right now. The discussions which I had about it since a few days, they relate to the consequences of, again, an implosion of security, law and order, an implosion of governance, and all our experiences we have made with how crime, transnational organized crime, violent extremism and international terrorism thrive under conditions like these. We, or I, have seen this so often. At the same time, these discussions made clear that even this segment (crime&security) is only a small element of all possible implications of something which seems to be a catastrophic event, but by no means is a local event. The situation has uncounted interdependencies to other factors in our globalised world which contribute to further instability, and further failure.

That’s why I argue that we need to find vision, energy, compassion, strength, and humility for an urgent brainstorming which would advise us on what we can do, beyond rescue operations, inside Afghanistan, inside the Region, and in all kinds of regional neigborhoods, including Europe, and the European Union.

Fast, please. And together, please. Let us stop talking about “us” and “them”. This is not about the West. This is about us. All of us.

Futuretelling

The New York Times editorial board recently wrote about the latest report published by the collective of American intelligence agencies: “Global Trends 2040”. Since a while, such a report is being issued every four years, at the beginning of the term of a new U.S. administration. It aims to assess and to anticipate where the world will be headed over the next two decades. Released April 15, 2021 by the National Intelligence Council, quoting from the OpEd, the report “finds that the pandemic has proved to be “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II,” with medical, political and security implications that will reverberate for years. That’s not sturm und drang. It’s the prologue to a far darker picture of what lies ahead.”

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

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

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


Global challenges include climate change, disease, financial crises, and technology disruptions. The report states that they are likely to manifest more frequently and intensely in almost every region and country. Their impact on states and societies will create stress, or even catastrophic shock. The report assesses the current pandemic as “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political, and security implications that will ripple for years to come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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.

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!

Die Wahrheit bis zur Unkenntlichkeit verzerrt – Truth Distorted Beyond Recognition – On Gaslighting

Mary Trump, estranged niece of Donald Trump, daugther of Donald Trump’s late older brother Fred Trump jr, published a book this summer. One of these tell-alls, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man”. Mary Trump is a practicing psychologist. In this world where truth is what I tell you, and lies are what the others say, you will probably find references to her credibility widely represented in one side of the media, and scathing attacks on her personal and professional credibility on the other side of the aisle. In a widely published interview she was recently saying that she thinks her uncle genuinely believes he won the election and that he’s the only person she knows ‘who can gaslight himself’. The Internet is chock full with references to her statement, in all languages. So, look it up also for yourself.

One person and his sycophants are gaslighting half of the population of the United States. Why does this matter over here in Europe? Because it has not only a real impact here as well, it is also happening here on its own, and interconnected with what is happening on that other continent. The gaslighting is not limited to an individual victim, not to a community, a society, a political party, a State, or the continent of North America. The systematic imprisonment of individuals into a fake reality which is being established by the gaslighter, it happens all over the world. It has become viral, people being gaslighted who further spread the manipulative messages, mixing with people who may realize what is happening and who hook up to the viral development because it resonates with how they think and feel and how they want to influence things for their own motives. This is not a linear thing which can be traced back to one person, so to speak, at the top. There is no mastermind. There are people who are good at it, and certainly this includes Mary Trump’s uncle. But it happens so widely because there seem to be many conditions being met which allow for the relentless attack on truth and values that we have believed in for decades. Again, Anne Applebaum’s book which I quoted from in a previous entry provides many regional examples, whether from Poland, Hungary, The United Kingdom, or Spain. And my country, Germany, is a breeding space for the same thing as well. Unfortunately, again. History appears to repeat itself.

Gaslighting requires control over the victim and where the victim gets his or her information from. Ideally total control. I will explain in a second, after having said something on the Internet, related to the aspect of “control”: In principle, the Internet knows no geographical border. It has been designed to withstand control. It’s roots are deeply anarchic, allowing for the freedom to exchange anything that can be transmitted through it’s cables and wireless connections. That is why autocratic systems undertake every effort under the sun to control the Internet, including attempting to establish regional versions, or fighting encryption tooth and nail. Whether it is in China, or elsewhere. Shutting down the Internet, in times of a crisis with unrest, it sounds innocent. But it is always a matter of the motive behind: Why does one exert control? Because of a danger for, say individual lifes or the general public? Or because of the danger for an autocrat, his family, and the oligarchy on which’s back he can thrive? Think Belarus, just for example.

Control over what people see, hear, or are meant to believe, you can exert that control by means of physical, or technological deprivation. You do it by making sure that your victim does not communicate with anyone outside the realms of your control: The messaging includes that the other side is your enemy, and you don’t talk to your enemy. One of the oldest tricks under the sleeves of autocrats, dictators, but also terrorists. Gaslighting adds a most perfidious layer: It will lead to that people do not trust other sources of information any longer. They may have a nagging feeling in the back of their minds that something is not adding up. But since they don’t know a way out, they give in. Once you give in, you need to make yourself believing that you are not a victim. So you rationalize why you’re allowing yourself being part of the group you have been coerced into. The “Stockholm Syndrome” is based on the same mechanism.

Like the car dealer has sold the most expensive car to you and you make yourself believe that this was solely a calculation which you came up with yourself, you don’t need to take away access to news channels such as CNN or the NY Times anymore. The victim of gaslighting won’t trust them and won’t use them. Recently, Fox News began to experience this downfall, too.

So, what is “gaslighting”? Gaslighting is an expression being used for a form of psychological abuse and violence. Victims of gaslighting are being purposefully disoriented, manipulated and ripped off their self-confidence. Gaslighting means to gradually take away any ability to trust reality as it is. In individual psychology, gaslighting includes means to deform and eradicate any form of self-esteem of the victim. Here, for once, a German definition of it. The term “gaslighting” gradually appears to become a mainstream expression, including in other languages.

Unfortunately, gaslighting is a common and widely spread form of psychological and emotional abuse. I will use examples for explaining what it means. At the core of why I am writing this blog entry also sits my belief that Mary Trump is wrong by exclusively attributing the ability to gaslight oneself to her uncle. I believe that this is a common phenomenon. In case of need, I make myself believe my own lies, until I have reached the point where I have created a genuine alternate reality, and memory. The current incumbent of the Office of the President of the United States is anything but special in this, except that he may have become really very good at it.

Why is it useful to say that one can become victim of own gaslighting? Like so often, things are not black and white only. Gaslighters are as much perpetrators as they are victims. And the act of gaslighting happens on a scale that can include single-instances, perhaps beginning with negligent, thoughtless, selfish behavior. It can become a self-reinforcing habit, since one has embarked on a path leading to more of the same, and then ultimately to breakdown and severe damage. On its exteme end, gaslighting is pervasive, endemic, and monstrous in acts and damage. Monstrous gaslighters are sociopaths on the extreme side of the spectrum. Their behavior is deeply anti-social, anti-human, and often criminal in nature.

The sibling of gaslighting is denial. Which is, in terms of brain development through hundreds of thousands of years of humankind, a very ancient capability of our brains that allowed for survival. Like, in the stone-age. Denial is a mechanism which shields the brain from overwhelming events and situations posing a threat to physical survival and mental and emotional sanity. It is meant to be a temporary fix. But like many other human capabilities, it requires a balance of threatening events and peaceful times, and when this balance is absent, things get out of control, permanently. Neurophysiologically out of control. Denial alters the way how we perceive, and relate to, reality. And in that, the gaslighter is no better equipped than his or her victim.

The underlying motivation both for denial and gaslighting is fear. Strong fear. More often than not this fear may not even be acknowledged by the gaslighter him- or herself. It is about loosing control. Cold blooded sociopaths can do that without losing the knowledge about that they are creating a fake reality in which they imprison the victim. But most of us are not carrying such extreme sociopathic traits that would allow us to do that.

Like everything else above, sociopathy is a form of human behavior that happens on a scale. There are extreme ends of the scale but to some extent or the other sociopathic traits are common parts of the individual psychology of many people. But even if I say that there are sociopaths who are displaying extreme forms of this disorder, it does not mean that these people do not feel emotions. Severe forms of sociopathic conditions become a disorder entailing to be progressively unable feeling emotions of other people. Note: I say “of”, not “for”. But sociopaths are not machines. Whilst they struggle with understanding and acknowledging emotions of others, they do feel their own emotions. The combination of not feeling what others feel gives space for disproportionate and intensified feelings for oneself, and this is especially true for fear. It is creating extreme forms of selfishness and self-centeredness.

Let me bring the parts of the picture alive with a personal case study. Like I said, the world is not black and white, things can be on the less extreme end, or they can be serious, or, if allowed to, they can develop from less severe to monstrous.

When I was nine years old, I went through a really difficult time at school. It was part of an overall development, I grew up with a raging father using physical punishment as a form of education. Because he had grown up under the same circumstances. Likewise, when he was not able to control his own rage, verbal, emotional and physical violence were something he had no control of. He had experienced the same with his father. As always, it hurt himself when it happened, but the result would not be an apology, but fierce denial. So I grew up with the distorted view that everything which happened to me was my own fault. Since this is not a blog entry for full personal disclosure, I will leave it with that, stressing that I love my father and that I reconciled, many decades later.

However, at the age of nine my difficult times at school fueled my low self-confidence. I had no friends. And getting bad grades wasn’t something that helped me building self-confidence. Rather, it established profound, existential fear. Fear from punishment at home. This fear grew so strong that I would not reveal the bad grade I once got. I simply could not. But the bad grade is in your exam book. And sure enough, the next test would be as bad as the previous one. What to do? Telling? No way. Soldiering on in denial that one day the story would break. But fear grew to panic levels. At one point I found myself physically removing pages from my exam book, just in case my parents would want to see and control it. I went to greatest length in this manipulation, again, with fear in my stomach going through the roof. There were two occasions when I ran away from home. I hated the days, escaped into my bed at night. It was horrible.

Then my teacher lost her patience. She gave me a note to be delivered to my parents, requesting a talk. And she asked me to bring this note back to her, signed by my father or mother. This was the worst development ever, but I was not capable to give up. What did I do? During a long afternoon session, I created a birthday card for my mother. In an insane story I had come up with, this birthday card for some reasons had to include a signature. But where the signature on this card was meant to show up, I cut a hole into that card. Underneath, the note from school. And finally, I used a blank paper as a third level, again with a hole where my mother was supposed to sign the card. I designed it in a way that the decorative elements of the fake birthday card were visible through the cover paper. And I went down to my mother, explaining in full panic mode that I was preparing something as a surprise for which I needed her signature, and that I could not tell her why. My mother was stunned, but she was also seeing me being upset, crying and begging. Whilst she had all reasons to suspect that something was wrong, I made her doubting herself, and trusting me. I gaslighted her. She finally signed.

Well, that signature was so small that my teacher immediately suspected a fake. Subsequently, my cover broke and armageddon came down on me. But why am I exposing myself here? Because this was the first, perhaps mild, form of gaslighting I did. And I never forgot it. I would refer to it for decades to come. But it would not prevent me from doing the same thing again, almost fourty-five years later, when the fear level in relation to my life breaking apart was reaching the same gigantic proportions.

People can grow apart for many reasons, but one chief reason is dishonesty. The bond between a mother and her child may forgive, but marriages and any relationship less likely do so. Dishonesty to oneself and to others is the chief reason for relationships breaking up. I believe the same is true for communities, societies, and States. If there is no honesty in communicating with each other, the catastrophe is inevitable. It may take a long time, but like with me at the age of nine, being a child, this is true because I believe it is a universal truth. And until this catastrophy happens, denial and also gaslighting are common features of an underlying condition of fear. Fear of losing control in a situation which increasingly is slipping out of one’s hands.

In my personal case, this happened roughly fourty-five years after the events of my childhood. I am so NOT proud of it. I’m sparing details, but it had to do with how my marriage had developed into a meaningless hull. Over those many years leading to the final stages, denial led me to believe that the reasons for this deterioration were not sitting with my own behavior. Rather, I victimised myself with an inner narrative with which I made myself believe I was the victim of sad circumstances, and that I deserve some relief. And means of relief, including alcohol, were just sedatives of which I needed more and more. This came with secrecy. I was dishonest to myself and my loved ones. Which wasn’t going unnoticed on the side of my loved ones. In a close relationship it is virtually impossible to entirely hide things, even with the best tricks possible.

But what happens in this case on the side of the partner? He or she will develop a feeling that something is not right. Controlling the other person may not be an option, including because it just doesn’t feel right. So, denial is kicking in on both sides in a relationship. But some things do not add up, and when this happens, gaslighting is coming into play.

I sometimes have the feeling that you want to make me believing that I have wrong perceptions.” Whenever my then wife would say this, after there was enough despair on her side to speak her truth, there was a little corner in myself mumbling that she is right. But overwhelmingly I was making myself and her believing that this wasn’t the case, that I did not establish a fake reality, that it was her who saw things in a distorted way. And again, though I learned a lot about the neurophysiology behind, I am NOT proud of it. I try not to be ashamed either. I just try to be honest, and hold myself accountable, and to do amends.

It was only after we broke up and my ex-wife had gone through enough recovery from her own pain, anger, grief, and also understanding of how the dance of two persons was based on wrong belief systems on both sides that she was able to repeat the above statement towards me with not too much own pain. And it was only because I went through my own recovery with intense work on myself that I was able to see, and to acknowledge, my own behavior. But it took years. When our relationship hit rock-bottom, and I hit rock-bottom, I found myself in so much pain and fear that I literally saw myself repeating my behavior that I had as a nine-year-old: I systematically trained the use of a lie in order to make myself believe the fake reality, so that I could use the narrative without blushing, stuttering, and with a heartbeat beyond 180 bpm.

Because my world broke into pieces, I had the chance to see it. If I would have succceeded in my fear-driven control, I would have progressively believed my own lies. It would have driven my then-wife into insanity. People who discover that they have been subjected to severe forms of gaslighting have a really hard time regaining mental sanity and the ability to trust other people. My ex-wife and I are friends today. Not only parents, good parents, but good friends. It is the gift of my lifetime. On my part, this is the consequence of a rigid decision to always remain honest to myself and others. And after many years of practicing this, my ex-wife saw enough reason to trust me, and to love me for my commitment, to myself, and to the people in my life who I love, and who love me.

Of course, this is only a personal case-study. It is not meant to establish an academic argument on gaslighting. It is meant to underpin why I believe that truth matters. Gaslighting is destroying truth, and the ability to trust. It leads to personal self-destruction, demolition of relationships, even criminal behavior. It leads to incredible suffering and pain. When it happens on a societal scale, it leads to societies running rock-bottom. And yes, like in personal cases, recovery of trust is possible on the level of communities and societies as well. But is doesn’t come as a Christmas present. It requires hard work. Better now than after the breaking-up. Because one way or the other, more often than not breaking up comes with violence. In my personal case, I am so grateful for the peaceful transition into healing and trust, and then love and friendship, through all the endless pain and discomfort. Thus, I believe, we can do it in larger contexts, too.

It requires profound honesty. Zero-tolerance to lies. Avoidance of anger, resentment, and rage. The ability to listen, rather than talking. Humility. Willingness to admit mistakes immediately. And the willingness to forgive. Oneself and others.