Thursday, July 28, 2005

ECOSY, the French "non", and different opinions

One of the major discussions within ECOSY right now has to do with the way forward for Europe after the French "non" and the Dutch "nee". Our French comrades here were on the no-side, and during one meeting I got bored and translated one of the best columns of 2005 into English. You can read it below, enjoy!

Toasting with coke? Open letter to a French gourmand

I can understand
that the Le Pen-supporter is voting against the EU-constitution because of his or her dislike of the Turk, the fear of the Arab, or the vision of a France where you do not have to pay attention to the ideas of 1789. That is rational.

I can also understand all Trotskyites, Maoists and other –ites and –ists who did realize that their international utopia only could become reality in a national protectorate. A continental democracy will be too heavy to alter upside down.

I can understand how the people who love sovereignty think. They do not want Slavs, Scandinavians or other strange peoples to co-write the laws of France. When they are voting no, they are acting according to their self-interest.

I can comprehend that French manual workers fear the Polish plumber, who seduces their women while they are at work, and steal their jobs while they are at home. (Yes, he is offering his services to a lower price. But only initially. Believe me, I know him). This is justified self-defense, even if it does not go together that well with the empty rhetoric about solidarity.

I can also comprehend the Frenchmen who believe that Europe’s only chance to achieve a higher level of civilization is by following the French example in detail. The proposal for a new EU-constitution was not, and it has been proved, totally French. It was a compromise and therefore these Frenchmen believe that it must be thrown away.

I have more problems understanding the French who want to bully the USA and therefore voted against a constitution that would gather Europe around a common foreign-, security and tax policy. That is not strictly Cartesian.

I have some problems with the Frenchmen who dislike market liberalism, but who is voting against a new order that would start bridling that very same market liberalism. To me that seems somewhat confused.

But for me it is totally impossible to comprehend those Frenchmen who see a historic achievement in more supranational powers, who regard the European parliament as a first step towards a European democracy, who like the social chapters and who does not dislike Muslims, nor fear the Polish plumber, but still votes no since the proposal is not far-reaching enough.

To me it looks like a group of friends having dinner together, who sends back the bottle of wine because the cork has a little of a bad smell. Sure, in politics you do that with proposals every day. “This is not good enough, get back to me with something better.” But this proposal – and excuse me for breaking these news to you – was not about a French street regulation. It was a historic compromise, worked out in sweat by governments and politicians in 25 countries. The process took four years to complete, and it will not start all over again.

Was there no one around to tell the gourmands that the very bottle they sent back was the last one? Now new grapes will have to grow in the sun, be harvested, made into wine, mature in barrels. In five years time at the very earliest, and maybe never, will you have the opportunity to drink something that tasteful again. Until then we will have to do with Coca-Cola. À la santé…

Original text written by Maciej Zaremba, freely translated into English by Eric Sundström [and yes, I checked with Maciej before I translated and published the column, and he said a-ok!]

Soares, political legend

So, it was a little bit emotional to listen to Mario Soares, he is really one of the true legends of the post-war social democratic movement in Europe. He is truly one in the gang with Olof Palme, Bruno Kreisky, Francois Mitterrand, Willy Brandt and the others. Our new SSF-president, Magdalena Streijffert, got the chance to ask him a question. She asked about Europe’s way forward after the non and nee in France and the Netherlands but his reply was only about Olof Palme. They went on a trip to Tanzania together sometime in the seventies, Palme apparently never stopped talking about the terrible apartheid regime in South Africa and they became friends for life. Now Soares is running to become president of Portugal again (see entry below) and I asked a Portuguese comrade if his age (born in 1924) was controversial. The reply I got is that the only thing that could be controversial would be if the party did not support his candidature. Anyway, the political power in Portugal lies mainly in the parliamentary system and the socialist PM José Socrates and most naturally a Fred Perry progressive blogger is hoping for a socialist victory in January. (Needless to say, Soares is the one to the right in the picture, and the guy to the left is my friend Giacomo Filibeck, president of ECOSY).

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Mario Soares is coming to town!

So, the ECOSY-camp was a little disorganized when I came but things are improving by the hour. The weather is really strange (sun, rain, sun...) but I don't mind since a political legend is about to come here: Mario Soares. Mr. Soares was one of the founding fathers of the Partido Socialista in Portugal back in 1973 and he has been both Prime Minister and President of Portugal. Now he is 81 years old and he is the Socialist candidate to become President of Portugal yet again (elections in January 2005). He will speak to all the young social democrats here pretty soon and if this wirless connection I have found stays intact I will publish some thoughts later.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

If it is not fun, it is not ECOSY...

Soon it is time to get on the road again, the ECOSY (Young European Socialists) summer camp in Portugal starts on Tuesday. As a social democrat and thus federalist I like these events a lot. Over and over again I realize that I have more in common with my ECOSY-friends than I have with people from the Swedish Tory-party that I meet in political panels and debates across Sweden. Needless to say we have quite a lot to discuss this time: terrorism, what is our agenda after NON/NEE, how can the center-left bounce back and win more elections!? I will be a speaker on two panels, one is about globalization and higher education and the other deals with campaigning and how elections can be won. I don't know how much I will be able to blog from there but I will for sure summarize the mood, visions and ideas that I encounter during my week in Portugal.

Claes on radio talking about Iraq

My friend Claes, who also went on the trip to Iraq, was recently interviewed by Swedish radio. You can hear his thoughtful remarks about our experiences here (click on "Från Boden till Irak").

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Jag anklagar batongliberalismen!

Har precis varit med i SVT:s morgonprogram och "diskuterat" terrorlagar med Jan Björklund (fp). Tyvärr var upplägget lite rörigt men jag försökte ge min bild av läget, också baserat på upplevelserna i Irak: Att Storbritannien ser över sina terrorlagar är helt naturligt, men det är inte det viktigaste av det som bör göras. Och när lagar ses över och skärps bör det ske lugnt och sansat, steg för steg och inte som i USA (där Patriot Act i vissa avseenden gick för långt, i synnerhet vad gäller Section 215).

Det som förvånar mig var att Jan Björklund även denna gång gick upp i falsett och gjorde partipolitik av en situation som borde diskuteras i samförstånd. Om svensk trupp skulle gripa Osama Bin Laden idag skulle Sverige stå helt handfallet inför en terroristattack, menade Björklund. Och det är regeringens fel. Halt och helt om, major Björklund:

1. Den svenska regeringen jobbar naturligtvis med dessa frågor, men den gör inte så mycket partipolitik av det. Läs mer om senaste toppmötet mellan EU:s justitieminstrar här.
2. Om Sverige skulle angripas av terrorister, hemska tanke, är vi då bättre förberedda bara för att vi i hast har genomfört en massa lagar som förbjuder svenskar att resa till indoktrinerande skolor i Pakistan?
3. När blev bombmattans chefsideolog Per Ahlmark rättesnöret i Bengt Westerbergs gamla folkparti? Varför granskar ingen denna populistiska bombliberalism närmare? De som vill kan läsa en essä som jag har skrivit, "Jag anklagar liberalismen", här.

När jag gick ur studio var jag förbannad över att jag inte angrepp Björklunds populism hårdare. I efterhand är jag stolt över att ha försökt föra ett nyanserat samtal om en av vår tids viktigaste frågor. Jag undrar hur Björklund kände sig när han slog batongen i handflatan på vägen tillbaka till semestern.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Back in Stockholm, safe and inspired

Since quite a few people have been following the trip to Iraq through this blog: The four of us who were due to be home in Sweden today all made it without any problems (Emma, Claes, Rezan and Eric). I am now in my flat in Stockholm and cannot wait to have a shower and wash up some clothes. And: Thanks mum for filling up the fridge for me, you are the best!

I will write some more articles about this trip and as usual I will present them/link to them from this blog. Off to the shower...

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Thanks Fyda, and now the project is all planned!

Yesterday I had one of the best meals of my life. My friend Fyda from KSF in Sweden (read more about our trip on their web page as well) invited us to his family's house. As you can see we got one of those fantastic meals I had only seen on TV before. Fyda is the one grabbing some food on the picture. We spoke to his wonderful mum for a while and Fyda helped us translating, she has never lived in Sweden like a few others of Fyda's family. I asked her about what she thought of the freedom that the Kurds in this part of Iraq now enjoys She used to be a guerilla soldier herself, and when Fyda's oldest sister was only six months old she was sent to jail. She smiled and said that she always dreamt about living with her family in a house, and now she was doing exactly that. Her joy filled the entire room which was packed with our group and Fyda's family. And her food and hospitality was incredable.

Earlier during the day we had a last meeting with the Kurdish student group we are going to work with here Our ambitions are now outlined as follows: We will apply for funds from the Olof Palme Center; the project's name is Baba Gurgur; our main ambition is to start a Youth Center in the city of Kirkuk (students there have little to do after school/university and the need for computers, football clubs, a meeting room for study courses, etc etc is huge). In Sweden S-studenter and KSF will be the organizers (the new board of S-studenter just have to give their approval first, and also the student clubs in Stockholm). Our partner in Kirkuk will be KSF:s sister-organization there (they are the largest student organization in northern Iraq). We will visit each other a few times every year and we will prepare workshops and seminars about democracy and gender equality for the Kurdish students in Iraq. The idea is that they then will spread this knowledge in their organization in Iraq with the Youth Center as a base. I really think this can be an excellent project and I dream that I one day will be standing outside the Youth Center, seeing Kurdish students mix and discuss with other students from the region. If this ever happens, I will silently think that Olof Palme was right when he said that "Politics is nothing but will".

Now we are about to do some shopping so I have to run, don't know when I will be able to blog again since we will start heading home tomorrow. But a summary and some more pictures will show up sooner or later.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Thanks for all positive feedback!

I have heard from quite a few persons that many people follow this blog right now to get information about what Emma, Claes and I are up to here in Kurdistan. I also understand that my English speaking friends visit the blog to check that everything is ok with me here, which reaffirms that starting blogging in English was the right thing to do. However, in August I will start a political blog in Swedish at AiP:s website but I will keep this blog in order to continue to write about politics, music and football in English. However, you are all welcome to leave comments on this blog in Swedish or English, even if I also read, and try to find the time to, reply to all the e-mails I get about this trip. Stay tuned!

Everyday observations in Iraq

Back in the business center, listening to Dave Matthews Band live at Luther College. Thought it is about time to share some everyday observations from Iraq:
1. Sweden, and Swedish Social Democracy, is present as always. Except for Volvos, Ericsson cell phones, loads of Swedish Kurds visiting the region for the summer etc we have also visited Olof Palme's Park. I also heard that a school is called the Anna Lindh school. It was quite late and dark when we visited the park so Claes' picture did not come out as perfect as we have been used to but still: You can see the sign in the park above with the famous quote "Alla folks frihet, hela varldens fred". In Swedish. We were all very touched, of course.
2. Speaking about parks, there are parks everywhere and the people here love their BBQ:s. You always see big families together until late in the evening and I can only say that we should do that more back home.
3. Kids stay out VERY late, all you mums and dads who read this blog. Basically they are out playing until their folks are heading home, and I guess there is not a market for baby sitting here. Instead the kids hang out with their parents and family all night, seems pretty natural to me.
4. The students we meet unfortunately/still speak very little English, although there are exceptions to the rule. Our Kurdish friends who now live in Sweden are great at translating but I have not used sign language this much since... I was playing charades with Jim's and Jean's extended family during Thanksgiving in Cleveland, Ohio in 2001?! It works pretty ok for practical stuff, but since I want to discuss politics and globalization with everyone I meet it is somewhat frustrating, but understandable.
5. There is no McDonald's yet, but a poor but fun copy called MaDonal. They use an indentical logo (the golden arches, Ronald, etc) and they will soon be seen in court, I guess.
6. Pedestrian crossings and traffic lights have yet to find their way down here, traffic is crazy but still everything works in some interesting way. Investments in infrastructure can be seen everywhere though.
7. I have never seen this many flags in a country. Ever. The amount of Kurdish flags you see during a walk downtown beats (or at least equals) New York or Washington DC after 911 back in 2001. The Kurdish flag is red, white and green with a sun in the middle and tell me if you want me to bring a pin back home. They are sold pretty much everywhere.
8. The food is very good, I have eaten a lot of nan bread, chicken and meat kebab. They always give you way too much and we normally manage to finish half of the food we are served. For lunch you often get a tomato soup which reminds me that I should eat soup more often. Tuborg is actually one of the beers you see most frequently, together with Carlsberg and Heineken. During meetings you are always served a soda (with drinking straws, why don't we use that anymore, it is fun!) and later during the meeting tea with loads of sugar.
9. Kurdish people are really really nice, warm and open. Our hosts always hang out with us all the time, they buy us water, we try to pay, they get really angry, and if you sneak away to buy something they want to pay for it anyway. We get invited to weddings, lunches and dinners all the time. Today we will have lunch with my friend Fyda's family, and they bought a sheep that they will cook for us.
10. Last thing, and as Emma pointed out for me. We are used to Western style toilets but here the simple hole in the ground is still standard. That's ok, you get used to it. But there is no toilet paper, instead a hose or a carafe with water can be found. But how do you manage without getting wet when you put your pants on? The whole Middle East is coping, so there must be something we don't get...

Conclusion: With people this great it is impossible not having a good time and I really hope that we will manage to start a project here in the near future (possibly a Youth Center in Kirkuk focusing on democracy and gender equality) . In that way we will be able to give something back to the wonderful people we have met here.

Blogging about Libertas

Fellow blogger and friend Jonas Morian has recently written about our trip to Iraq on his blog, but also about Social Democratic Student's journal Libertas. Jonas is of course totally right when he says that it would be very sad if SSU:s journal Tvardrag ceased to exist, but also that Libertas is an excellent political magazine. Libertas' editor Torbjörn Hållö has made an impressive job with the recent issues. You can read my text that Jonas mentions here (in Swedish). You can also read more about Libertas here.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Pictures added (see also old entries below)

Here is a picture from our trip to the Kurdish part of Iraq. Except for the guy in the tie you can see Emma (president of our student club at Sodertorns hogskola, Sapere Aude) and Claes (from Laboremus in Uppsala). It is roughly 45 degrees and the tank was very hot. You get used to the heat rather quickly and the evenings are pretty nice. But when the AC breaks down in the middle of the night you long for cool summer nights in Stockholm...

När Robben Island bleknar i jämförelse

Min första tanke är att det här är faktiskt värre än Robben Island. Jag går i trånga, mörka, slitna korridorer i Amna Sureke, också ökänt som den ”röda byggnaden”. Under Saddam Husseins terrorstyre var Amna Sureke säkerhetspolisens fruktade högkvarter och det var även centralen för isolering och tortyr i staden Sleymani i den kurdiska delen av Irak. 1991, efter det första Gulfkriget, belägrades den röda byggnaden av kurdisk milis och en uppretad befolkning. De flesta fångarna befriades, hemska förhållanden och tortyrmetoder avslöjades. Idag är byggnaden ett museum.

Precis som på Robben Island, fängelset där Sydafrikas frihetskämpar fängslades av apartheidregimen, är det olika kvarvarande tecken på mänskligt liv som berör mest. Att gå rakt in i en tortyrcell med en stomme i taket för upphängning av människor får magen att vända sig i avsky, i synnerhet när en människofigur i gips med kopplade elkablar visar hur det hela gick till. Men det som berör allra mest är en kalender inritad i väggen i en cell, en fågel målad av ett barn i interneringscellen för familjer. Många spår av det vanliga livet i fängelset försvann i en brand under den folkliga belägringen 1991, men de kvarvarande bevisen på mänsklig aktivitet under de mest vidriga förhållanden är omöjliga att värja sig ifrån.

I den 45 gradiga värmen blandas kalla ilningar längs ryggraden med de oundvikliga svettdropparna. Tankarna vandrar, hur var det dagliga livet här? Hur står människan ut? Vilka krafter gör att människor kan behandla varandra så intill förtvivlan illa? Jag kommer att tänka på Joseph Conrads bok ”Mörkrets hjärta” och hans beskrivningar av människans ondska. Guiden visar mikrofoner vid cellerna som installerades för att kontrollera att vakterna inte mjuknade i behandlingen av fångarna.

Liksom i Sydafrika är det den generellt positiva utvecklingen som får hjärnan på fötter igen. Tillsammans med mina medresenärer från S-studenter och Kurdistans Studentförbund i Sverige får jag träffa Omer Fatah, premiärminister i regionen. Han berättar stolt om den vibrerande ekonomiska aktiviteten och förklarar att han vill att det ska bli som i Sverige, att det till slut ska finnas skolor, sjukhus och simhallar i alla delar av landet. Omer Fatah gillar att simma och berättar om besök i Rinkeby och Hudiksvall.

När vi lämnar Omer Fatahs svala kontor småpratar jag med Bahroz, född i Kurdistan, gerillasoldat redan vid 13 års ålder, såväl tillfångatagen som skadad flera gånger, nu student i Örebro. Jag frågar om det inte var det här han kämpade för, att få dricka te och småprata med en demokratiskt vald premiärminister i en del av Kurdistan. Hans leende, brett och stolt, bekräftar att människans godhet till slut besegrar apartheidsystem, Baathpartier och och det mörker som Mr. Kurtz symboliserar i Conrads bok.

Another day mixing bad memories and hope

Morning in the business center, listening to songs that Butros Butros normally plays (right now "Marry me" by the Drive By Truckers, a song that my friend Jeff sang at his own rehearsal dinner the day before his wedding in Virginia two weeks ago). Having an iPod really improves your life, shouldn't the state hand them out for free?! That would cure quite a few depressions.

Yesterday was yet another interesting day here in Kurdistan/Northern Iraq. We started the day with a visit to Amna Sureke, the infamous "Red building"/Security Head quarters that was also used as a prison/torture center during Saddam's dictatorship. It was stormed by the people of Suleymani in 1991 after the first Gulf war and today the building is a museum. I was personally very touched by the visit, I am sure Emma and Claes felt the same and for our Kurdish friends it was even more emotional. To walk right into rooms were people have been treated in the most inhuman way really makes you think about the nature of human kind. I am writing a column about the visit and I will publish it here (in Swedish) as soon as I get some spare time again.

We also got the fantastic opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister of this region, Mr. Omer Fatah. For 45 minutes we sat talking with him in his office and I will write a longer piece about that discussion as well. The most interesting part of our discussion was about the city of Kirkuk and his view regarding a Turkish membership of the EU. Mr. Omer Fatah said that he favors Turkey joining the EU since it would improve the lives for the Kurdish people in that country. Between the lines I think this means that the dream of a Kurdish state including parts of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran will stay a dream for at least quite a while. The near goal must instead be that all Kurds should enjoy democracy and human rights in the state where they live. Seems like a natural starting point to me.

Today we will meet with Kurdish students again. We will have some kind of debate panel and also discuss the projects we are trying to start here. We will also give interviews to TV and newspapers. I guess I will be sitting in a very hot room soon having to explain why Sweden did not support getting rid of Saddam Hussein... That is a question I get from the media and students quite often.

Practical question of the day: After empirical research during a hot wedding in Virginia and some really hot days here I have come to the following conclusion. If you are supposed to dress in a formal way (tie and shirt and stuff), always use an under-shirt. It is not that much hotter and it keeps your shirt dry. That can not be said about the under-shirt, but that's the trick y'know. OK, off to face another hot and interesting day here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

One million thoughts and things to do

I got up a little earlier today in order to be able to sit in the computer lab, listen to my iPod and try to summarize some thoughts (right now I am listening to Patty Griffin). My fellow travellers from S-studenter, Emma and Claes, are having breakfast and they are thus engaged in the everyday game: what the heck can I eat in order to keep my stomach out of trouble. So, here are some thoughts so far:
1. The world often turns out to be a small place. Yesterday we visited the university here and I ran into a student from my old home in the US: Johns Hopkins University. He is doing his BA up in Baltimore and is translating Kurdish poems into English during the summer. In the library I found a book in Swedish by a fellow (I think) named Stig Blomskog. I showed the book to Emma, thinking it was funny we found a book by a Swedish bloke. She bursted out in laughter: Stig is one of her professors and the one she wrote her thesis for a BA in Economics for! For dinner we went to Revan and in the restrooms a young guy held up the door for me. Without thinking I said "thanks" in Swedish, the guy did not what to say for a second and then replied "varsagod" ("you are welcome") in Swedish. He was here to see his family of course, and it seems quite a few Swedish of Kurdish origin are. Tonight we might be going to yet another wedding involving Kurds who have been living in Sweden. Always fun, but very hot.
2. This is an amazing trip and the political guy in me cannot help popping up all the time. There is so much politics to discuss, so many projects to improve life here that I would like to start. Many things are improving rapidly and you can feel when you are walking on the streets of Suleymani that this is place where people are proud. Proud to be Kurdish, proud about the economic development, proud to show how their every day life is improving almost by the hour. There are many many problems still, though. Small example: The library at the university was not computerized (the old card system was still used, pretty much as I remember it from my childhood library in Kallhall). The books were few and old. Here is one thing S-studenter and KSF could work with in a very concrete way.
3. The Kurdish question will be important during the years to come. First, there is a lot of Kurds in the world (some 40 million). Second, the water basins of the Middle East are partly to be found in areas where Kurdish people live. Third, the freedom the Kurds in nothern Iraq now enjoy is inspiring Kurdish people everywhere. The goal of the Kurdish people here is an Iraqi democratic federation where the Kurdish part also will include the city of Kirkuk. When I ask about the long-term dreams, the polite answer is most often that the Kurdish people in Turkey, Syria and Iran also should have their democratic and human rights respected, as well as their desire for self-governence. It is difficult to disagree with that, but the interesting part is most naturally what the demands will be once that is reality. So far, my impression is that the political leaders I have met here are very committed to the rule of law, democracy and a step by step, peaceful development of Iraq but also in the region. Most naturally, it must be the aim of the center-left in Europe to promote and strengthen the democratic forces we now can see are developing in the Kurdish parts of Iraq. Hopefully, the ambition of S-studenter and KSF to start a project here that will focus on democracy, gender equality and higher education can be one small but important part of such a scenario.

And now a big jump from politics to practicalities: once you are used to western style toilets, it is difficult to adjust to something else... I was afraid it would be too hot here and that I would have huge problems with adjusting to the food but so far everything has been rather smooth. For a while it was not that smooth but Pepto-Bismol (for American readers of this blog) and Imodium (for Swedish readers) did the trick... So, got to run to some more meetings again. Also check out this page for information about the trip!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Kurdish wedding and universities

Yesterday night was fantastic: First a Kurdish wedding and then hanging out downtown Sulaimany next to what we can call a river walk. On our way back we went by the Olof Palme Park, that had a sign in Swedish next to it with the famous quote "Alla folks frihet, hela varldens fred" (All peoples' freedom, the whole world's peace). It was a perfect ending to a day that started with a visit at the terrible crime scences of Halabja (see entry below in Swedish). However, there is one evident paradox here: All Kurds I have met think that the US was totally right to invade Iraq and remove Saddam. But still I would have wanted to give the UN more time in order to try all possible UN-ways before an invasion, even though we are all extremly happy that Saddam is gone. So, Bush was not right, but nor are the extreme left-wingers, nationalists and other that never accept interventions to prevent crimes against humanity. That is maybe the fate of a progressive social democrat, to try to find ways in between. Anyway, got to go now, off to see some student groups and some people at a university. Will try to write more soon!

Monday, July 11, 2005

1988 fogades ett nytt namn till raden

I det berömda jultalet om bombningarna av Hanoi julen 1972 underströk Olof Palme att mänsklighetens illdåd ofta förknippas med olika namn. Våren 1988 fogades ett nytt till raden: Halabja i den kurdiska delen av Irak. Nu står jag vid minneskyrkogården i närheten av Halabja Memorial Center och pratar med Nariman Ali Mohamad. Det är stekhett, dammigt men Narimans historia gör att jag till och med glömmer att flytta mig ett par sköna decimetrar in i skuggan, där Nariman rutinerat har placerat sig.

– Jag var nio år gammal när Saddams arméer anföll oss kurder i Halabja med gas. Jag var hemma med min familj när vi kände en doft av äpplen och vitlök. Vi tittade ut på gården och såg att våra djur betedde sig konstigt. Vi sprang till ett skyddsrum och därför klarade jag mig, berättar Nariman sakligt. Men med vad jag uppfattar som ett litet darr på rösten tillägger han: Två av mina bröder hann aldrig dit.

Gasattacken döda sammanlagt drygt 5000 kurder och var den brutalaste delen av ett större anfall som den irakiska armén genomförde. De totala kurdiska dödstalen översteg 180,000. I det lilla centrets mitt finns ett runt minnesmärke med en kurdisk flagga som hänger upp mot taket. Tidigare har vi tänt ljus längs det cirkulära minnesmärket vars sockel har sexton utskjutande fötter. Det mäter tre meter i diameter och avståndet upp till taket från sockeln är 1,988 meter. Tillsammans bildar dessa mått och siffror datumet för attacken: 16/3 1988. Längs centrets väggar finns foton på människor som vrider sig i plågor, är förbrända, saknar ögon.

Efter tre år i ett läger i Iran återvände Nariman till Iran. Livet idag har återgått till det normala, gifterna försvinner långsamt men i Halabja finns ännu många spår av attacken. Skyltar med namn på center för handikappade är vanliga, på gatan ser jag en utvecklingsstörd pojke i tioårsåldern hanka sig fram med vad som troligen är hans mamma. För några veckor sedan avled en kvinna i sviterna av cancersjukdom orsakade av gasanfallet för 17 år sedan.

I gästboken skriver jag om Olof Palmes tal och den svenska socialdemokratins kamp för alla människors lika värde. Men i en hälsning till de kurdiska studenter som är med på resan i Irak känns det självfallet att även betona framtiden. Nu är vi här från det Socialdemokratiska studentförbundet, tillsammans med Kurdistans studentförbund i Sverige. Vi träffar lokala kurdiska studentgrupper och målet är att bygga ett ungdomscenter i Kirkuk samt att förbättra den högre utbildningen i den kurdiska delen av Irak. Kanske kan våra ansträngningar, anspråkslöst och i det lilla, leda till att bygga vidare på Olof Palmes och Anna Lindhs arbete för fred, demokrati och frihet. Det är i alla fall känslan vi tillsammans har när vi står vid massgravarna i en av illdådens städer.

Exciting times in Iraq

After a fantastic and thrilling journey from Stockholm via Istanbul to the Eastern parts of Turkey and then across the border into Iraq I am now in Suleymani. Right now we are about to go to Halabja, the scence of Saddam Hussein's terrible killings in 1988, but I am already working on articles both in Swedish and English and I hope to be able to update again soon. But everything is fine here, people are very friendly and I will hopefully tell you more soon!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Sad last day in Almedalen, and now Iraq...

The last day in Almedalen was of course totally overshadowed by the terrible terrorist attack in London so I won't go in to party politics today. For me it brought back a lot of memories of 911 since I was in Washington DC that day. Naturally, it is always easier to relate to places you visit on a regular basis and have a lot of friends. However, we must not forget the bigger picture and as we stand up to defend our free and open society, we must also work harder to bridge the inequalities in the world. Soon I will fly to Turkey and later I will visit Iraq in order to start a project there. The aim is to improve the higher educational system and work with student organizations (Kurdish but also others) around subjects such as democracy and gender equality. Hopefully I will be able to blog from there but otherwise articles and observations will be linked to and presented with this blog as a base. And I promise you mum and all other friends: we will be careful, of course. But to intensify the work for democracy and human rights is as needed right now as ever before.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Painting Almedalen red!

I thought that Ulvskog's speech in Almedalen yesterday was good, and so thought fellow blogger Jonas Morian. Read my column about the speech here ("Almedalen ska vara just rött").

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Debates: Fredrik and Ardalan were the best!

At 11:30 every day there is a debate just outside Wisby Hotell. Today Sven-Otto Littorin (Tories) and Anders Karlsson (soc dem) talked about… (yawn) I guess the two political alternatives we have in the election 2006. The debate made me somewhat worried. Sven-Otto mostly tried to hold Anders Karlsson responsible for everything that is not working in Sweden (notably the ”high” unemployment). Anders replied that things were not too good when the right-wing alliance was in power in 1991-1994. That was a long time ago Anders, but luckily he moved on and talked at least a little about a progressive growth agenda (mostly underlining the importance of education, life long learning and research and development).
As I said, the debate made me worried. Sven-Otto had nothing interesting to say and could not explain how lower replacement levels in the social security system could create more jobs, something that the acknowledged economist Assar Lindbeck questioned in the news yesterday. But the social democrats must move on and really present a detailed, progressive and radical agenda that will stimulate growth and create more jobs. Hopefully Marita Ulvskog will come with some hints tonight.
To cure this depression I went to the seminar about the future of the UN and the panel with all the leaders of the political youth organizations (except the Greens, who did not show up). Some introductory remarks where made by Maud Olofsson, leader of the formerly Farmers’, now Centrist, party. During the week of politics in 2003 she said that Hitler did “a lot of stupid stuff”, something I have written about here earlier. Now she spoke about the UN and it was the first time I heard her speak about international stuff. I was not too impressed since she basically read out quite a few nice things about the UN in general. She did mention that we have a huge problem when the UN is blocked or too weak during an on-going genocide, which was good. But would I like to, or can I even imagine, Maud Olofsson as Sweden’s Foreign Minister next to Annan, Blair or Solana? No.
After that a quite fun debate started. The new leader of the Christian Youth (Ella something) wanted a strong UN to promote women’s rights, funny as I thought that she came right out of the anti-abortion movement. She did stand up for foreign aid though. The two best debaters were, as usual, Fredrik Malm (Liberal youth) and Ardalan (Social Democratic Youth). They both took strong positions and combined it with a lot of personal examples. I don’t always agree with Fredrik but he says what he thinks: The UN had a lot of relevance during the Cold war but now it is wasting money and is incapable of delivering its overriding goal (peace, that is, stupid). He also quoted a bumper sticker from Tel Aviv: “UN: Unwanted Nobodies”. I don’t agree but I like strong positions.
Ardalan stood up for the UN, mentioned Nobel Prize winner Hjalmar Branting and used his experience from Iran to come to the following conclusion: If you grew up during the Iran-Iraqi war you never got to like Saddam, but to bomb without a UN-mandate or a VERY strong case (on-going genocide) can never be right. He also mentioned what I wrote about earlier, that Reinfeldt would like to count peacekeeping military operations as foreign aid. Are you reading my blog again, Ardalan?
Anyway, after following the debate for one hour I concluded that Fredrik and Ardalan seem to know a lot more about foreign policy than Maud Olofsson, and they both spoke with more passion than Maud. And by the way, why was Maud invited to the seminar?

Final note: Cannot think about foreign policy and/or Almedalen without missing Anna Lindh. Very very much.

Look who is talking!

Yesterday as I was walking down to listen to Reinfeldt's speech a lot of young social democrats had big posters with funny images illustrating the conservative party's policies (you can see some in DN today, but only in the paper version). I overheard the former leader of the Swedish Tories, Ulf Adelsohn, complaining about the posters saying that young social democrats only are campaigning against things. Ha! During Ulf Adelsohns time as party leader the Conservatives never won an election and it was during his time that the Tories had an intense hate-campaign against Olof Palme. I remember seeing TV-pictures of one major Conservative event, I think at the stadium Johanneshov, where a life-size doll of Olof Palme where thrown around in the audience until it found its way onto the stage where Adelsohn smiled and greeted everything. Personally I remember Adelsohn being against Palme, but I cannot remember what he was for. Lower taxes, probably.
Two major points: 1. Dirty campaigning/anti-Olof Palme campaigns were very bad during Adelsohn's time, and there is an important difference between a party and a youth section. 2. The Conservative youth section is currently running a lot of negative campaigns on their website, two against the SAP and one against SSU, for example. Check it out here Adelsohn! And if you want to hear a positive political message, come back to Almedalen today when red social democrats will be around everywhere with happy leaflets as Marita Ulvskog will deliver her speech.

Bono and Brown or Bush and Beinfeldt?

OK, maybe I should try to make a lot of critical points but honestly I thought that the press conference and economic seminar with Gordon Brown yesterday was great. Sure, the agenda was not surprising (how to handle globalization from a center-left perspective and, of course, Africa). But the day ended in such a great contrast: the leader of the Swedish conservatives (Fredrik Reinfeldt) said during the "After speech" that peace-keeping operations should be counted as foreign aid. To mix these two things, the first often ending up being military operations in places like the Balkans, Liberia and Afghanistan, is an idea that Reinfeldt now shares with George W. Bush.
When pressed on the issue, Reinfeldt continued to say that to strive for a certain fixed goal when it comes to foreign aid should not be that important... (The way in which he wants to slash Swedish foreign aid would mean that Sweden would not reach the "1 percent to foreign aid goal"). So the choice is clear. Either we stick to Brown (who praised that Sweden will reach the 1 percent goal next year) and Bono (who already gave our minister Carin Jämtin a 0,7 percent t-shirt). Or you can jump in the other B-boat with Bush, Bolton, Barosso, Berlusconi, Buttiglione and Beinfeldt. My choice is, as you also can read here, very clear. And please tell the rest of the world that Reinfeldt is letting Africa down on this issue!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

From a hot DC to a warm Gotland

So, the week of politics in Gotland is as crazy as always. Yesterday (Monday) was the Green party's day and I was positively surprised by Maria Wetterstrand's speech. I wrote a small piece about it that you can read here, the basic argument being that it is great that they seem to have dropped their crazy demand that Sweden should leave the EU.

I was also in a fun and heated debate with the CEO:s of Timbro (right-wing think tank) and Skattebetalarnas förening (organization working for lowering every tax you can think of). The topic was what the world will look like in 2020 and as y'all know who has been following this blog I built my argument on stuff I have read by persons like Mark Leonard, The Policy Network, and most naturally basic progressive Swedish and British social democratic ideas. I had a lot of fun and I used the following picture to make my argument: Outside the house of where Gordon Brown was born, a statue of Adam Smith can be found. The policy debate the coming 15 years will be fought between those who think that Adam Smith's invisible hand is enough, and us who think that we need a lot of those socialist values that could be found in Brown's house as well.

I am convinced that we have the better arguments, but to be really sure I have to run to the press conference with Gordon Brown here in Gotland that starts in 15 minutes. However, I am pretty sure I will continue to prefer my "B"-guys (Brown and Blair) compared to all the other "B"-politicians we have to deal with nowadays (Bush, Berlusconi, Buttiglione, Barosso and our Swedish Beinfeldt)...

Friday, July 01, 2005

Southern wedding and then Gotland

In a few minutes I will be on my way to Virginia where one of my best friends, Jeff, is getting married. Jeff will play with his band tonight at the rehearsal dinner, check their website out here. Then I will go directly (only chaning planes at Arlanda) to Gotland where I will be in a debate on Monday evening about what the world will like in 2020. Read more about the debate here. I hope to be able to blog quite a lot from Gotland so stay tuned.