Defending the Norwegian System

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Hi everyone,

for a while Norway shocked the world by the state of its prison. To many of us Norwegian prisons look like a really comfortable spot for weekend outings where even people charged with murder get to handle knives and are jolly with the rest of the inmates (yes, the inmates seemed equally jolly, at least on camera).

Maybe it is some kind of innate human jealousy that we have had trouble understanding such system. The last place we want to send our criminals to is a place resembling a luxurious spa resort, right ?

On the other hand, the system seems to be working. There are fewer criminals returning to prison than in most countries. We should probably look at the context before we make our judgment. We could say that Norway with GDP per capita around 100’000 USD is a pretty rich country. We could also say that it is in quite a remote part of Europe and scarcely populated considering there are 5 million people spread at the rate of 14 people per square kilometre. It is probably safe to assume that if you have a small and super rich society you would expect low crime rates. Due to its location, the Norwegian society has been pretty homogenous too. The number of immigrants has risen considerably only in the past few years.

So is the efficiency of Norwegian prison system owed to the specific environment of the country and inapplicable elsewhere ? In the way it is set up now I believe it to be true. If you take it as it is and import it to places like the US it would be an unmitigated disaster, because other Western societies, US in particular, has much greater problems with racism and social inequality that surely has an effect on crime rates. I believe, however, there is a lesson to be learnt from Norway.

Contrary to many action movies, violence, terror and fear breed many more villains than Bruce Willis-type heroes. Instances like the Stanford prison experiment and the subsequent research of Dr. Zimbardo into human behaviour points to the idea that if terror and fear brings out the worst in people, why should we expect it to deliver good results when used as means of correction ?

Michael

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North Korea – The Fault in Perception

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Hi everyone,

in the light of the recent North Korean congress, I think there is one thing worth pointing out. The media coverage of the congress and more specifically the expulsion of a BBC crew from the country.

Undeniably, North Korea has a PR problem, but if we tie this recent expulsion together with the numerous arrests of foreign citizens, Americans in particular, I dare to say that we see an equally large fault in West’s assumptions about the DPRK.

In our Euro-American cultures and traditions the freedom of speech is valued as an undeniable right of all people. A right that should be universal. Unfortunately, just like the value of human life itself, it is not seen so in other cultures and traditions. Our right to enforce these values ends at our borders, but we often have a hard time to accept that. If North Koreans come to our countries we must insist they play by our rules and if we come to their country we must play by theirs, no matter how despicable we think their rules are. Western media, like the BBC crew, and some of the visitors transgress these boundaries and I am afraid to say that they do so unknowingly most of the time. If one breaks the rules to exert influence and make things better it is one thing (still debatable if it is the right thing to do), but doing so out of sheer ignorance makes it much much worse.

In North Korea one’s life has no value, freedom of speech does not exist and every right we think is universal is rejected there. If you travel to North Korea you get a strict set of rules on how to behave, what to do and what to say and there is nothing that protects you if you break them. If you then think about how alien world that is, compared to ours the absolute stupidity of Otto Warmbier (American student arrested for trying to steal a propaganda banner who was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in jail) and the BBC crew is immeasurable.

Now back to the previous argument that speaking out could have an impact on the locals and thus contribute to the change. Whatever idealist idea that might be, the world of North Korea is not the same as the old Soviet space. If you travel to North Korea, literally no one you meet is there on their own will. You cannot meet anyone that wasn’t handpicked by the regime and thus all of them are highly resistant to any influence. The scale of it is hard to comprehend, but in truth entering North Korea equals entering an elaborate theatre where you are the only audience. Interestingly, if you look to the bottom left corner of the photo above you will see lonely figures standing behind and in front of the press crews. These soldiers are not there for your safety or safety of North Korean people, but to make sure you are sealed off from the actual world and you never get a glimpse of it. During your visit there will always be several around you even if you cannot see them. Also do not be mistaken, there are many who speak English and they do listen closely at all times. So when you see videos of tourists visiting a musical show in Pyongyang please keep in mind that not only the people on the stage, but also everyone in the audience is there, putting on a show, just for the sake of those visitors.

To sum up, the West needs to finally understand that what worked on Soviet Union and its satellite countries will not work on North Korea. The only effect medias investigative questions will have will be putting your guides and people they talk to in terrible danger and doing things like hiding Bibles or stealing banners is sheer stupidity. Unlike Las Vegas, nothing you do in DPRK remains secret, so let’s not be stupid.

Michael

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Let’s Embrace The Gridlock

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Hi everyone,

in recent years popularity of personalities like Donald Trump, Senator Sanders or Rodrigo Duterte in Philippines has been sharply rising. These people seem to have caught on the wave of discontent and are riding it towards radical changes. The one thing that all populist leaders have in common, never mind the political orientation, is the claim that there is something horribly wrong with the system and it needs to be changed. This trend is, however, present not only among populists, but also among young politicians as well.

I dare to claim just the opposite. I believe that the fundamental problem does not lie within the democratic processes as they are today, but within our conception of what these processes are and should be. Citizens of all countries are upset when their legislative body i.e. congress or parliament is in gridlock and important laws and reforms are hard to pass. That seems intuitive and naturally so many are calling for a change. I am risking sounding crazy here, but I say let’s embrace the gridlock.

The concept of democracy first emerged in Ancient Greece and it was slightly different than what it is today. At that time it roughly meant all the male citizens of a city getting together, discussing and passing decisions directly. Funnily enough, some of the Greek philosophers hated the idea, since they didn’t consider general population smart and educated enough. Even then it was difficult to make decisions when people with different opinions clashed. The democracy as we know it today is based on representation. People that you elect are meant to represent your opinions and pass regulations that are in your interest. What naturally happens is when the society is greatly divided, the representation will be divided too and that’s when gridlock comes to play. The problem of gridlock is then rooted in the society and voters themselves, not in some kind of faulty system. I would go even further and say that gridlock is actually a sign that the system is working as it should.

Now, how do we solve the problem ? How do we embrace the gridlock as a natural thing and actually get things done ?

There are two solutions. One is represented by people like Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte who claim the only remedy is to make radical changes to the system. Surely it sounds very appealing, but let me draw an analogy here between these populists and another well-known populist. Adolf Hitler. Germany in the 30s was very poor and its republic struggled with many issues. Adolf Hitler claimed the system was dysfunctional and the first thing he did when in power was changing it. The rest is history. This was just one of many examples. When a politician embarks on the quest of changing the system in order to make it smoother, faster and more efficient what it really means is creating a dictatorship. Dictatorships are generally very efficient. The problems is that dictatorships rarely have goals benefiting the people. I think that the world of 2016 should finally learn from all the instances of this happening in history.

The second possible solution is emergence of a uniting strong leader that is capable of compromise. Such leader can make the system work even in greatly polarised society and pass laws that we need without radical changes. It will not be smooth sailing. When things are too easy it means there is something wrong with our democracy. The possibility of all of human kind being on the same page is probably just as high as the possibility of falling in love with your mother-in-law.

Let’s embrace the gridlock and find new generations of great leaders instead of great dictators. Leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, JFK, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela or Angela Merkel. These leaders were and are powerful within the democratic process and sometimes were forced out by the very system they strived to create or tweak and that is the way it should be. Our democracy is only as strong as our own ability to compromise. Let’s not consider gridlock as a fault and weakness, but as a sign that it is time to find common ground instead of making wild claims and radical changes.

Michael

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The Turkey is not tasty anymore

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Hi everyone,

Turkey has been making headlines recently and we might want to look at what Turkey means for Europe. For many years Turkey seemed interested in closer contact with Europe. It was an associate member to European Economic Community already in 1963 and made an official bid for joining in 1987. Ever since the 50s it has been a member of multiple European organisations and councils and the final negotiations about ascension to the EU have started in 2005. Today, in 2016, Turkey is still not a member of the EU.

From Turkey’s point of view this certainly doesn’t look fair. It looks like Europe has been snubbing it all along and only dangling the carrot if front of its eyes whenever it was profitable. We must realise that joining the EU is a big deal and every aspiring country must make significant changes to its institutions, economy and sometimes even the political system. It must as well agree to hand over part of its sovereignty to Brussels.

Despite all that Turkey seemed willing until recent years. I think that change in opinion coincides with the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has been a mayor of Istanbul in the 90s and then rose up to governmental positions and now is serving as president. Although few outside Turkey agree with his politics, his approach to the EU is reflecting the historical EU-Turkey relationship. Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk re-oriented towards the West and did its best, but Europe has always turned it down. Then Erdogan’s Turkey realised that Europe will probably never accept it into the union and so it started focusing on itself again.

There are many reasons for Europe to be ware of Turkey. Accepting Turkey would mean having common borders with Syria, Iraq, Iran and being geopolitically much more attached to Russian interests around the Black Sea. As we know, those are Europe’s favourite dinner party guests. Turkey would become the most populous region of Europe with overwhelming number of young people. That in itself is not a bad thing, but Turkey’s wealth is unevenly divided and it would essentially mean millions of people flushing Europe’s already fragile job markets. In population, culture, religion and political system Turkey is fundamentally different from Europe and it is simply too big to absorb. Accepting Europe would mean accepting a radical change in Europe’s value system. It is a change that will eventually happen anyway, given Europe’s natality rates and immigration, but at much slower pace.

The recent migration crisis is just what Turkey needed. Given the proficiency in haggling Turkey is going to squeeze out of Europe as much as it can. The debate on whether to accept Turkey into the union or not is now purely European debate. Newly refreshed national Turkey doesn’t care anymore and will only do what it deems good for itself. The ship has sailed for Europe and the times we could dictate the terms are gone. The Turkey will be served cold from now on.

Michael

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