It is far from being paradise …

– some thoughts on what is called populist success story.

Yes, it is far from being paradise …

… even if 可欣 wrote the other day

In my impression, Cuba is the place of beautiful scene and people. It’s a good choice … . Although my impression is only come from the movies. But I believe the beautiful sea and sunshine will be very helpful for good mood.

And indeed


…, yes, I enjoyed my stays there. And the small and large things: mainly people, chatting with them about their life – the ordinary and extraordinary. Language …, well a challenge as I do not speak Spanish, they do not speak … – well, they speak Spanish. Trying, Italianising the Spanish, Spanishising the Italian … The small and the large: the view across the ocean, walking along the Malecón, early in the morning, remembering the history of resting the USA – which in one way or another was a bit my personal history, and the monumental waves, sometimes reaching high, pushing the water across the dual-carriage way of the promenade. …

But on the occasion of my visits I did not only enjoy the scenery, the most exciting, vivid culture, the openness of the French ambassador, opening with the artists a mural on the walls of the embassy and … well, I experienced the difficulties, some but by no means all caused by the embargo, saw the poverty but also the pride, the commitment and hope of so many people whom I joined for the celebrations of the first of May – yes, some had not been too excited about getting up at three or four in the morning, and still they turned up, most if them committed.

Not paradise – this was also the topic of the very open, and very … confrontative debates for which I had been invited at the Centro de Investigaciones de Política International, and also the other year at the Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales “Raúl Roa García”

Anyway, there is something we may think about, ca. one week after the elections in one of my ex-home countries which got the criminal B, back onto the main stage, and one day after the elections in Cuba. Admittedly there had been some banal hitches before the elections, not denied by the Cuba’s National Electoral Commission (NEC).

But there is another thing: the elections, the electoral process can well be taken as an anti-populist warrantor. Again, no paradise … but have a look, here in comparison of the system in Cuba and the USA.

The decisive aspect – as the little study states – is that

Cuba has different mechanisms to ensure popular participation both as electors and candidates.

Important is not only the high level of representation in Cuba, and the fact that it is truly a bottom-up process but also that it is very much about a discursive process not parties standing against each other but candidates developing on the local level together with the people their common programme. Well, there may be a bit of Jesuit-Franciscan element: elections understood as part of the camminare insieme, part of the work-walking together. Doesn’t such approach take much of the soil on which populism grows away: the soil of competing for power to govern the people, allowing to establish a solid ground, on which the people stand together?

– In this light many of the evaluations that had been published last week – looking at

Fear, Loathing And Poverty: Italy After The 2018 Elections

or asking the EU

When Will They Ever Learn?

and observing

Italy’s Ides of March

– have highlighted some relevant socio-economic issues, however they failed to acknowledge that democracy is not about serving the people but about the people saying and doing.

See in this context as well earlier, general reflections on populism and as well here.

And here more recent news on Cuba.



Ho Paura


Weird-alternative analysis of the results of the German elections

Yes, it is five minutes before midnight …

… here in Germany had been elections [without me, I temporarily lost voting rights as I lived too long outside of the country – actually I think it is justified]. Anyway ‘I took part’, not least seeing the various posters – it least those by Aldi, highlighting that there is no Aldi-native

Consumo ergo sum – I wrote this slogan many, many years ago –a ctually in the last century. With such posters it reaches a new stage: the political citizen now even closer to the consumer … . Wolfgang Streeck also speaking since some time of the market citizen.

Well, I am admittedly more or less good in losing ground – leaving my thoughts to seemingly abstract levels …, but perhaps it is not so abstract at all: all the independence and populism …, isn’t that very much about this: having lost ground – transparency being closed behind the door, the only ground on which we can stand and move is consuming and individually struggling to survive = to manage life as the space for real living is limited.

There is a paradox I cannot solve for myself – it is in some way linked to the experience I made while being in China: the experience of living there, and also the experience of looking from there back: to Italy, Ireland etc. We struggle for life, to survive and apparently the only way and place of and for living is very much the wee space we have with other individuals. Initially nothing wrong with it, of course: we are individuals and being together with other individuals – camminare insieme, perhaps also in honest disputes with those near to us, is indeed also some kind of satisfaction of the social instincts – or less profane: the social being that is reflected upon by Aristotle and the many who followed him. But coming back to the sentence ‘Initially nothing wrong with it …’ suggests that there may be something wrong with it: isn’t it also potentially the futile ground for small seedbeds of hedonism and communitarian ideologies of seclusion, NIBY-ideas? Isn’t it in this way the ground on which populism finds its roots? If so, it is not so much abbot charismatics leaders but about the search for the private being political and the political being a matter in which every individual needs to have a say. The alienation of Aldi-nativlos, the alienation of a society that offers identity only by consumption shouting for a solution – offered by communitarian self-love and the loving those who are next to you. It is about the age-old recommendation as we know it from Mark, 12:30-31

30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength;’ this is the first commandment.
31 And the second is like, namely this: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Admittedly there may be other interpretations of this, but at least it allows a populist version’: it is only the one who is above you and those who are immediately around you. This is of further relevance, of course, at times where identity-building via consumption faces the limits – increasing inequality and increasing poverty are much more than they seem to be at first glance: it is not ‘only’ about loosing control over life [basic socio-economic security], but even more the loss of control over living beyond the    immediate  neighbours: the [fear of the] loss of social inclusion, social cohesion and social empowerment, the loss of personal (human) security; social recognition; social responsiveness; personal (human) capacity as elaborated in Social Quality Thinking. It is the economy, but on the surface it appears to be the community.

…, and in this weird constellation of competitive, hedonist consumers we loose the control not just over our individual behaviour [well fortunately not everybody turns to Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam and its political-populist variations … though too many do]. But we have these difficulties of ‘emphatically socialising’: call it controlled, rational empathy if something like it can exist. Many [not all for sure] my of the students throughout the years – really young people or youngish as myself – wanted to escape this individualism. And seemingly they could not – that was my impression: they did not want this consumerism, this ‘success’, this ‘ranked education’ – they were modest, curious, open but always faced those walls of our times. One of the walls: not being taken serious, pushed into the world of ranked competition …, and even young lecturers, just having entered that world, still verbally remembering their lovings from ten years or so ago, pushing and pulling those who are young now, into that direction. I tried to get closer to some, tried to organise a jour fixe to get known to each other, went for class trips to other countries, yes admittedly to incite them a bit: YOU HAVE RIGHTS – YOU AS STUDENTS [mind the plural], MAKE THEM KNOWN, CHALLENGE US … very limited success. There are many small and large case-studies to it, I should have written the third volume of my bio … , following up on the Briefe zwischen Welten and the Diary from a Journey into another World

Anyway, there is a wider perspective on it I will later engage with this and you can read it in a bloge-entry under the title

where legal scholars and economist (should) sit at the same table

[Pianificato il: 25 Ott, 2017 @ 17:40] It is about the changes I see – and that brings me closer to my take on the results of the elections but also on the independence question in Catalonia and the like: really looking from outside, though knowing a bit from inside: having been active in political struggles and canvassing in Germany, being member of a party in one of the neighbouring countries [where we have had elections to the senate], also looking back at ‘my Irish years’, but also looking at the time I spent in Australia [there the question of aborigines and PNG played a major role], there is something that goes for me MUCH beyond the current issues: populism, independence, the helplessness of being ‘voll muttiviert’[1] as one of the celebratory banners of the CDU suggests…; the … can one even say dictatorial behaviour of Madrid, the mal-functionings in Catalonia … the aggressiveness and ignorance of Trumpism, shown another time and also shown as part-defeat  … all these are serious issues but when we look at this as an attack against democratic institutions, I am wondering: did they ever really exist? Do we really have anywhere REALLY democratic institutions? The problem I see more and more is: how can we bring together the Rechtstaat, equality and direct peoples’ saying and rule. This trinagle may be a bit of an extension of Rodrik’s ‘inescapable trilemma of the world economy’ …

And it is a triangular tension that we easily put aside, simplifying things, finding answers before we really think about what the questions are.

Yes, a better government for Germany – one that is not a minority government with a highly problematic turnout, independence for Catalonia and others. But how can we guarantee that such democracies – small and large – are respecting the rights of others AND how can we ensure that such democratic entities respect ‘equality within it’s the borders’. Looking at independent and democratic Germany speaks volumes, if not libraries.

– Well, but for me: more philosopher than politician, more economist than lawyer: the crucial questions are the following two: how to overcome inequality on the different levels, i.e. from the local to the global, and how can we guarantee that by tackling the core = production, not the distribution — that the latter does not work had been shown often enough: e.g. by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Pope’s appeals of the camminare insieme. Walking together is fine – if it is on the same layer; if it is about sitting in one and the same boat, the one giving the orders and the others still pulling the oared, there is something wrong.

Well, whatever happens in the near future – in Catalonia, Bavaria, Germany, Europe – I am afraid here remains much to be done to reach at real change.

And this is also something I brought with me from China: name it deep respect for the students and distaste of this system that keeps us in its fetters …; it makes me a bit sad, jaundiced, hurt …. somewhat feeling ashamed and afraid: with so many moves, the tiny moves against accepting these fetters and the fear of just forcing fetters on others, not being able to fully respect and support the students’ modesty, curiosity, openness … All the walls that surround them, while being forced to walk like cattle to the trough of competitive success may be for a tiny number pointers on the way success, for many it may well be the harness of the live that makes real living difficult and for another and increasingly large number it may well be wall they duplicate as wall against a fortress Europe, closure towards Mexico and the like …

Well, much could be added – also about ‘The enjoyable lightness of being’ that we can still find – a phrase linking to the title of a book, a Chinese friend made me aware of: Kundera’s ‘Unbearable Lightness of Being’ – an amazing book we still did not digest. A book that still employs our mind. Actually reading it, and talking about it brought many things back to me: all the stuff that moved me and my generation so many years ago: existentialism, Marxism, communism, anarchism – there was for me much of that ‘in the air’ during the more than two years; and the air here, being back in Europe now, is soaked by it too.


[1]            A pun: merging Mutti Merkel and motivation.

Un manifiesto de 177 economistas pide el voto para Unidos Podemos

Un manifiesto de 177 economistas pide el voto para Unidos Podemos

Académicos como Thomas Piketty o Vicenç Navarro apoyan el texto

[… y también algunas luces más pequeñas ;-)]

Un total de 177 economistas de universidades españolas e internacionales ha suscrito un manifiesto que reclama el fin de las políticas de austeridad en España y en Europa, y pide el voto para la candidatura de Unidos Podemos a las elecciones generales del próximo 26 de junio. El texto —que firman expertos como Thomas Piketty, de la Escuela de Economía de París; Viçenc Navarro, de la Universidad Pompeu Fabra (ambos asesoraron a Podemos con su programa); o Ann Pettifor, asesora del líder laborista Jeremy Corbyn— asegura que el programa de la coalición “servirá para poner punto final a las políticas de austeridad en España y, con ello, servirá también para abrir un nuevo tiempo en Europa”. ….




Of course it would be silly to deny the value of democratic rules and mechanisms as free elections, representation and the like. But looking at countries where all these are in place, one may occasionally ask what all this really means.  A report on the situation in France and its labor reform may make us think a bit more. Quoted from the Telsur-aricle:

The plan, opposed by three in four French people, according to pollsters, has provoked weeks of often violent demonstrations and added strains on police who were already stretched by extra security duties in the wake of last November’s deadly Islamist attacks on France.

Austerity wrecks economy and society

Haircut or “Grexit“? Two weeks before the early elections in Greece where the left coalition Syriza stands to win a majority, the German media are concerned with little else. Axel Troost, the financial policy speaker of the parliamentary group DIE LINKE in the German Bundestag, met with leading Syriza politicians. In this interview, he explains why a debt cut is not the most immediate issue, and how Syriza aims to re-build the mismanaged Greek state. The primary challenge, he says, is an end to the devastating austerity policy.


Interview with Axel Troost, member of the German Parliament ….


German interview text here


An interesting collection on the topic Greece, compiled by Troika Watch, can be found here

Freedom of Opinion

Some facts – from
Alexander Kentikelenis, Marina Karanikolos, Aaron Reeves, Martin McKee, David Stuckler:
Lancet 2014; 383: 748–53
drastic reductions to municipality budgets have led to a scaling back of several activities (eg, mosquito- spraying programmes20), which, in combination with other factors, has allowed the re-emergence of locally transmitted malaria for the first time in 40 years. (748)

Researchers from the Greek National School of Public Health reported a 21% rise in stillbirths between 2008 and 2011, which they attributed to reduced access to prenatal health services for pregnant women. (751)

It is about
Denial …
The cost of adjustment is being borne mainly by ordinary Greek citizens. They are subject to one of the most radical programmes of welfare-state retrenchment in recent times, which in turn affects population health. Yet despite this clear evidence, there has been little agreement about the causal role of austerity. There is a broad consensus that the social sector in Greece was in grave need of reform, with widespread corruption, misuse of patronage, and inefficiencies, and many commentators have noted that the crisis presented an opportunity to introduce long-overdue changes. Greek Government officials, and several sympathetic comm- entators, have argued that the introduction of the wide- ranging changes and deep public-spending cuts have not damaged health59,60 and, indeed, might lead to long-term improvements. Officials have denied that vulnerable groups (eg, homeless or uninsured people) have been denied access to health care, and claim that those who are unable to afford public insurance contributions still receive free care.However, the scientific literature presents a different picture. In view of this detailed body of evidence for the harmful effects of austerity on health, the failure of public recognition of the issue by successive Greek Governments and international agencies is remarkable. Indeed, the predominant response has been denial that any serious difficulties exist, although this response is not unique to Greece; the Spanish Government has been equally reluctant to concede the harm caused by its policies. This dismissal meets the criteria for denialism, which refuses to acknowledge, and indeed attempts to discredit, scientific research. (751)
Further references are omitted and can be found in the original; and it has to be emphasised that similar denialism can be found not only also in Spain but in Italy and …. – and in some way also in the so-called rich countries, thigh the situation is by no means as bad as in Greece.
Frightening as it is, the situation is made much less bearable if we look at the various denunciations and rebukes of Greek claims to return to control of the countries situation and to reject the external control under the heading of Washington consensus and Troika.
It may be somewhat naive that I still expected the German Green Joschka Fischer not to support openly this reactionary policy and to show more responsibility and circumspection when it comes to looking for solutions. But …
He has nothing better to do to suggest an end of the crisis, saying
Die Euro-Krise scheint vorbei zu sein. Zumindest haben sich die Finanzmärkte beruhigt, auch wenn der Wechselkurs gesunken ist und die Wirtschaft in den südlichen Krisenländern der Europäischen Union nach wie vor darniederliegt.
And he speaks of political risks, due to the lack of a sound stability after the crisis and the fact that austerity policies did not end in the promised results:
Aus dem politischen Raum droht daher großes Unheil für das europäische Projekt.
He rightly sees the problems in Italy too, but then dares to state comment on the result of the Greek elections on the 25th of January with the words that there is
… the high risk that the left socialists of the party SYRIZA will be elected.
… mit dem hohen Risiko, dass die Linkssozialisten von der Partei Syriza gewählt werden.
Joschka Fischer: Worauf wartet ihr noch?; 15. Januar 2015, 12:07; Süddeutsche Zeitung
The rest of Fischer’s comments show that he lost his sense for assessing what is important and real (well, perhaps her never had it).

Important is to accept the right of the people to elect THEIR government – there is some “risk of democracy” that the governing forces do to like it

Important is to fundamentally work towards a solution of the crisis, which means to move to an economy that does not need austerity but on the contrary is there to enhance social quality, well-being and welfare for all

Important is to recognise that the solution is not about


real european solutions in the direction of increased economic growth

echter europäischer Lösungen in Richtung auf mehr Wirtschaftswachstum

To be fair, Fischer highlights the serious problem of the emergence of nationalism, the staple food of the extrem right. Going beyond Greece he states


that the resentment of the Italians is increasingly not solely directed against austerity policies, but also against the Euro itself. And if the Italians are captured (by Anti-EU/nationalist sentiments, P.H.) we likely will also face a crisis in France.
der Unmut der Italiener richtet sich zunehmend nicht mehr nur gegen die Austeritätspolitik, sondern auch gegen den Euro als solchen. Und wenn Italien erst einmal erfasst wurde, dann droht eine französische Krise.

As said, democracy is dangerous. But a factor of utmost importance is that there had not been any democracy yet when it comes to the EU and Euro-policies – taking a metaphor: It had been a one-sided European strategy, geared towards the establishment of a fortress of which the walls had been standing firm against those who wanted to enter, but also standing firm against the Landsknecht, sacrificed on the altar of competitiveness. Then, if the colorful uniforms of the European army fall and are burning in the ablaze of the failed strategy of enhancing competitiveness, we should not be surprised by nationalism and fascism.

As we know from Brecht’s “Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui [The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui]”


Der Schoss ist fruchtbar noch,
aus dem das kroch
Although the world stood up and stopped the bastard,
The bitch that bore him is in heat again.
See in this context also (In German only)