Wednesday, 23 January 2008

le blog est mort...

we could do a little singalong to the melody of 'le coq est mort' now of course... or we could just meet at the new writing place and leave the singing to the confinement of the shower or to those who know how to sing...
so long!
your nutshell

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Ieselsbrécken, Eddisoen, an ee Stéck vum Gléck.

“How shall I go in peace and without sorrow? Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave this city. Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the night of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and aloneness without regret? Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.
It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands. Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst.
Shall the day of parting be the day of gathering? And shall it be said that my eve was in truth my dawn? And what shall I give unto him who has left his plough in midfurrow, or to him who has stopped the wheel of his winepress? Shall my heart become a tree heavy-laden with fruit that I may gather and give unto them? And shall my desires flow like a fountain that I may fill their cups? Am I a harp that the hand of the mighty may touch me, or a flute that his breath may pass through me? A seeker of silence am I, and what treasure have I found in silences that I may dispense with confidence?”
“You give much and know not that you give at all.”
(K. Gibran)

“Stay or leave
I want you not to go
But you should
It was good
As good goes
Stay or leave
I want you not to go
But you did
Making plans to change the world
While the world is changing us” (DMB)

I am not Almustafa. I don’t have any advice, poetic or pragmatic, to give to those I leave behind. I did not stay 12 years. My absence will be a lot less noticeable. I did, however, learn to love this place. I lost a bit of my heart here. I learnt the purity of its forms by heart. I had to do hard decisions. I still draw the shapes of its inhabitants, the lines on the ground, the crevasses in the buildings. I still carry the wind in my ears, I hear the steps of the horses, and I feel the sun set, and the rain shake the leaves. Four seasons have come and gone, in the middle of the fifth I am going away. I can theoretically envisage it, but do not comprehend it as yet. In the hope not to forget, I take with me a thousand mnemonic devices. Fieldwork as a multitude of moments that I refuse to synthesise and analyse yet. How can a time like this possibly fit into 5 neat chapters? It don’t and it won’t. Happiness, sadness, aches of various kinds, fury, elation, irony, exhaustion, desperation, peace, quietness, euphoria, and others were close friends in this year. Of course, along with the people I met, learnt to respect, to care for, and to love, and whose friendship I will hopefully honour. I am very grateful to them in the first place.
Thanks also to you, dear reader, for having been part of the journey.
This weblog ends here, the (PhD and other) journeys go on. There may be other weblogs in the future. Information forthcoming here...
Happy New Year!
Your seeker of the silences

Being (how is that for a pompous title? ;o))

“Life, and all that lives, is conceived in the mist and not in the crystal. And who knows but a crystal is mist in decay.
Is it not your breath that has erected and hardened the structure of your bones? And is it not a dream which none of you remember having dreamt, that built your city and fashioned all there is in it? Could you but see the tides of that breath you would cease to see all else. And if you could hear the whispering of the dream you would hear no other sound.”

I guess this kind of thinking makes clear the point about the limits of agency, and could make clear how Plato came to think about eternal shadows of being that we can know only through a glass, darkly.

Modernist Rain

Bombs drop, watch them go: a ballet of blossoming fire flower dots
From Xtate with Love?
The scorched earth will stun the terrorists, communists, oppositionals
Of any kind. Call them what your time demands.
The guerrilla fighters cannot be seen from up here
What are these particular ones demanding?
Separation? Rights? End of oppression?
Insert your favourite political project please.
Planes spray defoliant to reveal, displace, disable, cripple
Those civilians below for generations; Agents Oh?
Radiating smiles would be the other irony.
If not this rain, choose the new pollution
Acid carried by the clouds over mountains, state borders and
Across the sea to reach you via airmail.
Your lungs already pussed with other garbage.
Sometimes the rain may be torrential, celebrities are air-lifted out
Presidents descended by helicopters, not staying long enough
To really get an idea of the stench and the rough.
Beam me up pilot! For I need to return to my office
To govern this or another country and my freedom-loving citizenry
More likely I will pay a visit to my oil, gold, freedom machines
That make me so different from my filthy subjects and others not worthy.
Thank God as pecunia non olet forever.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

‘Sie verstehen nichts von Realpolitik, die Armen.’

Allow me to copy-paste the following brilliant Kurt Tucholsky text about power, compromise and leaving ideals behind ‘naturally’ while being heaved up the ladder of privilege, politics and… filth. This was written around 1920, and you need only change a few terms and you get a pretty good contemporary picture. Des weiteren would I like to encourage reading the rest of Tucholsky’s oeuvre, because a lot of it is very funny in a very dark way. Besser driwwer ze laachen wi ze kräischen? Satire darf, wie bekannt, alles. I want to add to this that satire keeps its quality only if people are not disgusted in their country/politics/economics. If, like in Romania, where desperation has crept up on even the last idealist-cum-activist, satire becomes bad. Simultaneously, all news becomes satire, and hope becomes frail. It is not a pretty sight. Merry Christmas, for crying out loud...
I write this in the light of the most recent outrage surrounding the Minister of Transport, Ludovic Orban (PNL), who ran over a teenage girl on the zebra crossing with his large car, who tried to hush the story down with bribe-silence money paid to the family of the girl (3000 euro first instalment). The police omitted from their report that there had been a girl run over. Orban lied in public, to the press, about there having been only one victim, himself, that he had just touched a car that was parked, and who insisted the press should stop the ‘mediatic lynching’. In the emergency call made by a bystanding citizen, police (giving precisions about the location) encumbered the ambulance services by telling the operator that ‘Nothing happened. He only got her on the hood!’ Orban also made, under the influence of alcohol, a threatening phone call to one journalist named Robert Turcescu (who I admire greatly for his analytical clarity, and, his integrity) who had made a few reports on Realitatea TV about the case. The same journalist received a further threat call full of insinuations from someone who identified himself as the ‘godfather’ (nasul) of Orban. Minciuna continua!
This is a country where it is really hard to try to move things, and true political opposition is suffocated right from its conception. It makes me go nuts. I would prefer this environment to be less educational, and with more possibilities for change. As Mircea Badea puts it: ‘Traim in Romania si asta ne ocupa tot timpul’ (we live in Romania and this keeps us occupied all the time).


Na, Verräter eigentlich nicht. Ein Verräter, das ist doch ein Mann, der hingeht und seine Freunde dem Gegner ausliefert, sei es, indem er dort Geheimnisse ausplaudert, Verstecke aufzeigt, Losungsworte preisgibt... und das alles bewußt... nein, Verräter sind diese da nicht. Die Wirkung aber ist so, als seien sie welche, doch sind sie anders, ganz anders.

Da wird man vom Vertrauen der Parteigenossen ausgesandt, mit dem bösen Feind zu unterhandeln, sozusagen die Arbeiter zu vertreten, die ja inzwischen weiterarbeiten müssen. Und die erste Zeit geht das auch ganz gut. Geld... ach, Geld... wenn die Welt so einfach wäre. Geld ist zunächst gar nicht zu holen. Der Arbeiterführer bleibt Arbeiterführer; leicht gemieden von den Arbeitgebern, merkwürdiges Wort, übrigens. Nein, nein, man bleibt ein aufrechter Mann. Aber im Laufe der Jahre, nicht wahr, da sind so die langen Stunden der gemeinschaftlichen Verhandlungen an den langen Tischen: man kennt einander, die Gemeinsamkeit des Klatsches eint, und es wird ja überall so viel geklatscht. Nun, und da stellt sich so eine Art vertraulicher Feindschaft heraus.
Kitt ist eine Sache, die bindet nicht nur; sie hält auch die Steine auseinander. Zehn Jahre Gewerkschaftsführer; zehn Jahre Reichstagsabgeordneter; zehn Jahre Betriebsratsvorsitzender - das wird dann fast ein Beruf. Man bewirkt etwas. Man erreicht dies und jenes. Man bildet sich ein, noch mehr zu verhüten. Und mann kommt mit den Herren Feinden ganz gut aus, und eines Tages sind es eigentlich gar keine Feinde mehr. Nein. Ganz leise geht das, unmerklich. Bis jener Satz fällt, der ganze Reihen voller Arbeiterführer dahingemäht hat, dieser infame, kleine Satz: „Ich wende mich an Sie, lieber Brennecke, weil Sie der einzige sind, mit dem man zusammenarbeiten kann. Wir stehen in verschiedenen Lagern - aber Sie sind und bleiben ein objektiver Mann..." Da steckt die kleine gelbe Blume des Verrats ihr Köpfchen aus dem Gras - hier, an dieser Stelle und in dieser Stunde. Da beginnt es.

Der kleine Finger ist schon drüben; der Rest läßt nicht mehr lange auf sich warten. „Genossen", sagt der Geschmeichelte, „man muß die Lage von zwei Seiten ansehn..." Aber die Genossen verstehen nicht recht und murren: sie sehn die Lage nur von einer Seite an, nämlich von der Hungerseite. Und was alles Geld der Welt nicht bewirkt hätte, das bewirkt jene perfide, kleine Spekulation auf die Eitelkeit des Menschen: er kann doch die vertrauensvollen Erwartungen des Feindes nicht enttäuschen. Wie? Plötzlich hingehn und sagen: Ja, die Kollegen billigen das nicht, Krieg muß zwischen uns sein, Krieg und Kampf der Klassen, weil wir uns ausgebeutet fühlen...? Unmöglich. Man kann das unmöglich sagen. Es ist zu spät.

Und dann geht es ganz schnell bergab. Dann können es Einladungen sein oder Posten, aber sie müssen es nicht sein - die schlimmsten Verräterein auf dieser Welt werden gratis begangen. Dann wird man Oberpräsident, Minister, Vizekönig oder Polizeipräfekt - das geht dann ganz schnell. Und nun ist man auch den grollenden Zurückgebliebenen, die man einmal vertreten hat und nun bloß noch tritt, so entfremdet - sie verstehen nichts von Realpolitik, die Armen. Nun sitzt er oben, gehört beinah ganz zu jenen, und nur dieses kleine Restchen, daß sie ihn eben doch nicht so ganz zu den Ihren zählen wollen, das schmerzt ihn. Aber sonst ist er gesund und munter, danke der Nachfrage.
Und ist höchst erstaunt, wenn man ihn einen Verräter schilt. Verräter? Er hat doch nichts verraten! Nichts - nur sich selbst und eine Klasse, die zähneknirschend dieselben Erfahrungen mit einem neuen beginnt. –

Photo: Melbourne, Australia, January 2006

Saturday, 15 December 2007


Disciplined–Trapped versus Disciplined–Enabled

I also came across the following in reading about corruption, and it really got stuck in my mind, because it rings so true. I read here that it is about disciplinary constraints, thematic hierarchies, and current trends that influence how research is done and what constitutes its object.
‘However much we may prize our intellectual freedom, our professional academic minds are as constrained as the bureaucrat’s.’ (Robertson 2006: 9)
What are the criteria for good research? What do we want to achieve with research? Who does it speak to? How do we break the limits that we work with if we are bound to the medium of writing? And: are we able to untangle ourselves from this very medium while remaining acceptable and intelligible to the mainstream?

Robertson, A.F. (2006) ‘Misunderstanding Corruption’ Anthropology Today 22 (2): 8-11.

Friday, 14 December 2007

(Fara) Spaga

While in Romania corruption may be more visible, I want to stress the point that corruption is not just happening ‘elsewhere’, as have shown big-time recent fraud scandals in Western countries, in both the political and commercial spheres. When I was at a Ministry a few weeks back, I noticed some posters saying something along the lines of information is a right, not a privilege, and that public servants have the obligation to do their job. It is probably not for the first time that campaigns like this are started in the media and government institutions. As AF Robertson (complete source available on request) has recently noted, there is little doubt that the ultimate purpose of ‘anti-corruptionism’ as a global movement is to make the citadels of commerce safer for international capital, rather than to make life fairer for the world’s poor.
I think that the DNA (National Anti-Corruption Agency) is doing a lot of work, and maybe, if you persevere in taking people out of office, you may end up with some person with integrity there. At the top, however, the issue of corruption is deeply entangled with political power struggles. Legislation is permissive and constantly changing, and in front of the law, some animals are definitely more equal than others here. Accusations that will eventually make the corrupt ones go away, or no smoke without a fire? Probably both. I just know this manoeuvring at the top (we are at present without a Minister of Justice again, in Agriculture the Minister got changed 4 times during my fieldwork, see youtube for the famous video from the last Minister’s public bribe reception) from the media, who are clearly swept along with the strong desire to become European, to denounce the stealing politicians, to speak about what happens in this country, and to mark progress towards their own posited ‘Europeanness’. Press information is a good thing, although within the ranks of the press many have enriched themselves through shady businesses (example: Chireac, an editorialist I quoted once mainly for his vileness a few weeks later left the paper because it turns out he had business in his back that no one in the paper presumably had known about…believable?).
One of the problems is the lack of information. People do not know about their rights, and get no information. One the one hand, (political) institutions are not good at sharing information, and making it reach more people. People also just want to get on with their lives and make a living, which is here quite more difficult than in Western Europe – we elect them to govern for us, right? – and have a difficult heritage of ‘the state will take care of it’ of socialist times, and ‘the state doesn’t give a damn’ of postsocialism, so this often gives rise to a ‘bloody politicians, they are thieves, only themselves is who they know’ and ‘what are we to do?’ resignation. Some people would call this ‘lack of civil society’, but I am reticent to put it like that for a number of reasons. There is a definite fracture between the governors and the governed, but in some ways, because of this fracture, corruption persists. Also corruption is not perceived, by your average person, as something very different from stealing, and is usually grouped into this larger category.
Put in the situation of your child/spouse/parent/cousin getting seriously ill, you go to the hospital and you take a bribe for the doctor (if you are unfortunate enough not to have a powerful name or access to private care) if you want him to have a good look. People die because they are not examined, because they did not bribe appropriately, especially if they have the misfortune to get ill on the weekend. Say you are living in a village, and the policeman stops you, you have some money already tucked into your documents that you hand over. You say you want to stay out of trouble, and he might just see that, actually your tyres are crap and there’s something wrong with your lights. He will find something. You want your child to get a job in your own country, you do not want them to leave like all their siblings, so you pay to get him or her into the army, the police, anything where the boss is open to bribing. You do not take the breeching of a property border to court, because you know your opponent is a powerful man, and justice will not be quite as blind as it should be. I am reminded of a friend who gets enraged about how people drive (aggressively, unpredictably – only last weekend 18 people died in traffic accidents, including 2 people from my village, while 46 more got seriously injured), because they get their driving licences without practice (with money), the police is not efficient, the roads are crap, and people are reckless, and, as we drove through this town on the main road, about 20 metres in front of us, a pickup sped out of a side road on the right without caring about priority, and then veered to the left realising they could not stop in this rain, so that we had to manoeuvre around him and it was lucky that no one came from the other side). He started cursing like a pirate, and said then: ‘no wonder people start making the law themselves, and beating people up. Romania is the jungle. You try to conform to the law, and you’re apparently an idiot.’ A similar thing happens to people who have a medium-size company and try to do everything white. They are bound to fail, because they compete with a black system that runs a lot better, because fiscal evasion is easy, and also here bribing is possible, if you run into some trouble.
I am entirely in agreement that while it is easy to love the sinner (in a lot of cases), the game remains condemnable for many reasons.
Corruption reinforces inequalities. ‘They’ build their villas with your money, while you pay double at least.
Corruption does not produce incentives for people to work for a ‘public good’, and does not help to work towards a meritocracy, where the best people are also the most skilled and not just those within networks of nepotism (did you know that the term makes reference to illegitimate sons of popes who were privileged ‘nephews’? aber das nur am Rande). Corruption hinders reform of encumbered bureaucracies, even though it is not the opposite of bureaucracy, as far as I can think today.
One battle does not win the war, but gives a ray of hope: the European Commission has been nagging Romania to get rid of the excessively high matriculation tax that the government introduced at the beginning of 2007 (EU accession, remember), while it had just got rid of the import and internal acquisition taxes. This new tax of course had nothing to do with several people in government being involved in car sale business at the time. Be that as it may, the law violated the acquis communautaire, and if Romania does not change it within two months after having been warned, it will be taken to the European Court of Justice. One citizen from Arad, Ilie Iluna has taken the state to court and won his individual case. The head of the Timisoara finance department is considering to ask for the tax back himself. But now the government has decided to rename the tax (environment), and efforts to contest may be vain. The story goes on!
I know in this post I conceptually mix corruption (the abuse of public office for private gains according to one definition) and differential application of legislation, but I think you cannot, for the Romanian context, consider them separately.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

What about Tolerance? or: All The S**** They Print

I should stop reading the papers. Emotional contents outweigh informational value. I came across an interview with a Romanian band. Let me give you some of the statements these guys make about one piece on their new album called ‘Message for Europe’, and the journalist point out to them that due to their vile attack against gypsies [word used in the text, see also my post on Giovanna Reggiani for more on vocabulary] and gays, a lot of people think that they are racist and homophobic.
My comments to their entire answer are in [square brackets] and I reproduce the entire bit of text, the rhetoric jumps are not my addition:

[?] = I can’t believe they printed this
[sic] = hard to believe hm?
[repetition] = absolute lack of logical reasonableness

”Why are we not allowed to say what we believe? Why do we need to protect the ideas of a minority as much as we do? Why, if you say a thing that annoys you, are you catalogued as racist? We do not have a problem with the colour of their skin. For us, everything is reduced to culture and attitude [culture here in line with the civilisation thinking so widespread in this part of the world I would guess]. Racism is a new thing, invented 50 years ago [sic]. And now those who open their mouths and say something that should not be said are considered right-down racist and xenophobe. It is a global rule [sic] for the moment. Why are we not allowed to say something against gypsies without being labelled racist [repetition]? We refer strictly to what is happening in Europe, where [sic] Romanians are looked upon as gypsies. We don’t like this. Does this transform me into a racist [repetition]? It disturbs me that Romanians who speak three languages receive offers to carry the garbage in Amsterdam [?]. We have entered Europe on our knees and now we need to suck their ****s to be their brothers [?]. So they want to integrate gypsies[?]. We have reached age 30 and we respect ourselves. We are honest [?]. Would I need to get down to their level and live in a tent and go stealing in Europe that I would not be considered racist? I can also put the problem in this way. And I am not ashamed, this is my favourite piece on the album.”
About homosexuals, and believe me, this is a very widespread opinion here, going right across the board:
“I do not want to raise my children among men who kiss in their presence. It is my right to say that…We have a problem with homosexuals who go onto the street and shout out what they do [?]. What they do at home is their business.”
“We are not stupid [I beg to differ obviously]. It is very simple: why do I need to see two transvestites [sic] who ostentatiously kiss on the street? And this really happens. For me, as part of the sexual [-orientation] majority, it is not obligatory to accept this. From my point of view I am under attack. My rights as part of the majority are no longer respected from the moment in which it is imposed upon me to respect the wishes of a sexual [-orientation] or any other minority.”

Maybe I should just ignore stupid opinions of people that show, by every further word they utter, how low their rhetoric, how little their understanding, how common their arguments. But I cannot. They get to me. I think they are indicative of some of the problems here (but not only here, I’d venture to add), including an overemphasis on personal rights, and convenient forgetting of various truths (e.g. since when was racism invented 50 years ago?), the true meaning of tolerance ignored, and essentially, bigotry all the way down. Yes, Romanians have an image problem, but you certainly do not help to improve it. No, you cannot say anything you want just because you want to. Yes, politeness is part of the message. I thought those two last points had been made to all of us by the time we reached age nine…
Yours furiously, rage-shell, and, though fuming, hopefully a moderate voice…


My best friend the hedgehog
Has got a toothache
Two days ago it started with a dull throb
It will pass he said to me
His optimism is most exemplary
Cheek swollen, sleepy from medication
That does not help as much as it should
Walks around and have not known him
As liquid somehow
Apparent dejection through pain induced
Eats very little
Speaks but when he laughs it hurts him
The enamel is not as strong as it should be
Acidity and sweetness in time
It will pass do not worry please
I wish I could do more than feed him
Mandarines and tell stories about
Chickens and having one’s hair