Saturday, December 21, 2019

"How to Lose a Country, in 7 Steps -- A Conversation with Ece Temelkuran"

I am one of the early birds… Ece Temelkuran told me, “I saw democracy collapse in Turkey and tried to warn the United States, European Countries and Britain about this.  

I’ve been telling people that what you think is normal, or a passing phase, is part of a bigger phenomenon that affects us all.  Somehow though, European democracies feel they’re exceptional – and too mature to be affected by neofascist currents.”

Ece has seen this all before.  In her incredible 2019 book How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship, she notes, “We have learned over time that coups in Turkey end the same way regardless of who initiated them. 
It’s like the rueful quote from the former England footballer turned TV pundit Gary Lineker, that football is a simple game played for 120 minutes, and at the end the Germans win on penalties. In Turkey, coups are played out over forty-eight-hour curfews, and the leftists are locked up at the end. Then afterwards, of course, another generation of progressives is rooted out, leaving the country’s soul even more barren than it was before.”
Ece Temelkuran is an award-winning Turkish novelist and political commentator, whose journalism has appeared in the Guardian, New York Times, New Statesman, Frankfurter Allgemeine and Der Spiegel. She has been twice recognised as Turkey’s most-read political columnist, and twice rated as one of the ten most influential people in social media (with three million twitter followers). In this exclusive interview, we discuss the dangers of populism, authoritarianism and fascism, and why we need to act now.
Q: What are populism and nationalism?
[Ece Temelkuran]:  Today, there is less time to understand the differences between nationalism, populism and authoritarianism.  In Britain, democracy is literally crumbling at the hands of a strange guy with funny hair!  People simply aren’t recognising the dangers that lay ahead, so there’s not enough time to get into definitions
One truth is that you cannot really know what populism is until you experience it.  Populism is the act of politicising and mobilising ignorance to the point of political and moral insanity.  Nationalism as we know, comes from the phenomena of nation-states – and it’s quite ironic therefore that we are now talking more and more about the failure of nation states and the failure of supranational and international institutions as well… and meanwhile neo-nationalism is on the rise." "
Read more from source here.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

"Generation Precarious" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

[Photo: Oriol Duran]

I saw the best minds of my generation being dog-walkers or asking ’Would you like fries with that?’”

This may well be the sentiment of plenty of young people under the age of 30 across the developed world. 
Certainly, I include Catalonia, and especially those who camped across Barcelona’s main street of Gran Via and into the public square in front of the University of Barcelona.
Yes, they had other issues too that are important to them: the jailing of independence movement leaders, police brutality against protesters, increasing legal restrictions on free expression, but one of their other three stated aims was “a dignified future.”
It’s worth considering what this means. I see no reason why we should simply ignore the different groups who made up the “encampment”. 
When I visited the area in early November I saw groups of surprisingly youthful-looking kids being politically active. Some were in their mid-teens but were confident and obviously happy to be there. One young woman I spoke to had a makeshift stall that was all about a red plastic rubbish bin and her own writing I read was a vague and confusing attempt at satire. Another group were encouraging tweets as a method of expression where you could win a prize.
It’s difficult to argue though, with much of what the main section of the Gran Via campers have said. 
Calling themselves the ‘October 14 Generation’, their manifesto states, “We are a generation without a future. The generation of precariousness. The one that does not have access to housing, the one that is the victim of a system that threatens the very existence of our planet. We are a generation that has been robbed of the most basic social and labour rights.”
To me, that is all clear and true. Only someone living with their eyes closed could dispute it and in fact the far right continue to dishonestly and selectively use these young people’s sense of frustration and alienation for their own political benefit all across Europe.
Of course, it’s easy to write off the street-campers as just some university student vandals and fire-starters who are abusing the privileges that they’ve been given. 
Sadly, even a great writer and thinker such as Antonio Muñoz Molina (considered to be progressive) did this in a recent article for El Pais newspaper. His comments seem to have at least partly come from jealousy when comparing his own strict upbringing compared to “the academic authorities’ paternal and maternal indulgence” over these students’ postponed exams.
To make a comparison, I originally come from a part of the planet (Australia) where the level of political interest in most of the population, but especially the young, could best be described as minimal. In fact, apathy rules. 
I’m filled with optimism (rare for me) when I see young people taking a strong interest in anything outside their own narrow lives, even if I don’t happen to agree in all cases with everything they are on about. If any protester anywhere uses violence against people or private property then I naturally condemn it.
History has taught us that for protest to gain enough popular support to cause meaningful, long-term, lasting change it has to be non-violent. If that means camping out in a public square and main street, then that is a far more humanitarian option than us attacking each other with sticks. It might even help to foster a future that is less unstable.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, December 2019.]

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Meet the Authors -- Sitges, Sunday 8 Dec.

I will be just one of the local authors doing an event tomorrow (Sunday) in the coastal town of Sitges at SUNBOW Art Lounge, Carrer de Sant Pau, 34, starting at 7.30PM. 

*Come & spend a relaxed evening with the local authors of Sitges & surroundings

*Hear them showcase their books, inspire you with their stories & entertain you as you enjoy a drink or tapas

* Ask those burning questions, chat & purchase books for yourself or as gifts

* Have your books signed by the authors