THE WORLD SHOULD BE FOREVER GRATEFUL TO SHIREEN ABU AQLEH

May 29, 2022 – 7:32 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

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Zionism has been an effective bludgeon to silence dissent, debate, or even reasoned discussion. Rest in peace Shireen Abu Aqleh. By Kenn Orphan.

I will be honest about something. Since the cold-blooded execution of Palestinian, veteran journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh [on May 11, 2022] by an Israeli sniper I have felt rather nonplussed. A rarity for me. But it does happen.

It happens when I feel overwhelmed with joy. It happens when I feel like I am overcome with despair. And when that despair is mixed with rage, I sometimes feel like I can’t even breath.

The shock and anger over the killing of Shireen, a beloved reporter for Al Jazeera whose face was well known throughout Palestine and the Middle East, would be almost overshadowed by the horrendous actions of the Israeli police at her funeral procession in occupied East Jerusalem. [Shireen, 51, had worked as a reporter for Al Jazeera for 25 years.]

Descending on the mourners and Shireen’s coffin like attack dogs, Israeli police clubbed unarmed Palestinians in a scene reminiscent of apartheid South Africa. White police frequently targeted the funerals of murdered activists and independent journalists who reported on the brutality of the apartheid regime. It is worth reminding that Israel has recently been designated an apartheid state by the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

Israel quickly defended its actions stating that “stones were being thrown at police”. Not one major media outlet thought to ask them why the Israeli police were at her funeral in the first place. Perhaps it is because if they did, it would reveal the nature of the arrangement of power. This was occupied East Jerusalem. The same state responsible for Shireen’s death was now disgracing her funeral.

It is worth reminding that Israel has recently been designated an apartheid state by the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

As is par for the course in commenting on anything related to the defense of Palestinian human rights, when one does it they can expect an avalanche of hate mail and vile accusations of antisemitism. And it should be said that Jews who stand in solidarity with their Palestinian sisters and brothers are not spared this treatment either. On the contrary, they are often the first to be smeared or silenced.

Antisemitism is a vile social hatred and is responsible for the untold suffering of millions of people over the course of centuries. It should always be condemned whenever it surfaces. But the accusation has also been used as a suffocating blanket against any person who dares defend Palestinian human rights or criticizes Israel or the political ideology of Zionism. It has been an effective bludgeon to silence dissent, debate, or even reasoned discussion.

But times have changed, and the old methods are wearing thin. Perhaps it is thanks to social media. Perhaps it is due to decades of Israeli occupation, or a powerful military that carpet bombs entire neighbourhood blocks or evicts families and villages as bulldozers demolish their homes.

Perhaps it is due to scores of discriminatory laws against Palestinian citizens of Israel, or the fact that Palestinians in the occupied territories or in Gaza have absolutely no real agency over their lives, or the hundreds of thousands of illegal settlers in the occupied West Bank, many of them violent, moving into Palestinian homes.

Perhaps it is due to the complicity of powerful state actors like the US, EU, UK and Canada who obfuscate and run interference for every single questionable or criminal act committed by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) while chiding the Palestinians for nearly every action they take, including nonviolent movements like Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) called for by Palestinian civil society.

It is doubtful that Shireen Abu Aqleh will get any justice for her murder. Israel still has too much political and economic power, as well as the backing and funding of the most powerful empire on earth, to ever really answer for it. But with each injustice its veneer of being a democracy becomes worn and ludicrous.

Perhaps it is a new generation of young people, many of them Jews outside of Israel, for whom universal human rights are not merely a campaign slogan and for whom the threats, smears and lies no longer work.

Whatever combination of the change in international public opinion, it is doubtful that Shireen will get any justice for her murder. Israel still has too much political and economic power, as well as the backing and funding of the most powerful empire on earth, to ever really answer for it. But with each injustice its veneer of being a democracy becomes worn and ludicrous.

Like the oppressive, hyper-capitalist, theocratic Emirates and Saudi Arabia which have warmed to it in recent years thanks to the political chicanery of US president Trump, Israel can no longer count itself as a democracy without people questioning the validity of such a claim or thinking critically about what they have witnessed with their own eyes.

Like the beating and hosing down of Black civil rights workers in the Jim Crow South or the brutal massacres of Black and Brown people in apartheid South Africa, these visual testimonies and crime scenes cannot be unseen. No spin team, no matter how moneyed or well oiled, can undo it.

Like all states with brutal or abysmal human rights records, the taint remains until something substantial is done to address the wound. But for that to occur, it would have to reconcile with who it is. And nation states never do this on their own.

Till her dying breath, Shireen lived up to something she said in an interview with her employer Al Jazeera a few years ago: “I chose journalism to be close to the people. It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I was able to bring their voice to the world.” And for that, the world should be forever grateful.

Note: Kenn Orphan is an artist, sociologist, radical nature lover and weary, but committed activist. He can be reached at kennorphan.com.

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SOME THOUGHTS ON THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE CONFLICT IN WEEK NUMBER TWELVE

May 25, 2022 – 6:18 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

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The ’splendid little war’ may well bring about an economic crisis that nobody wants. By Ron Jacobs.

I expect the war will go on for awhile until the generals and politicians get tired of it. An international antiwar movement with significant numbers could hasten that moment. One doesn’t not demand peace because there’s a war on. The movement against the Vietnam war was organized and expanded while the war escalated, not before or afterwards. Indeed, that’s why one demands peace.

Since the example of the USSR arming Vietnam is being used as a reason to support arming Kyiv by some on the left who support NATO arms shipments, I think it is useful to turn that comparison upside down, as it were.

This argument understands that Ukraine’s history is much longer than South Vietnam’s was and that it does meet criterion for a nation (we’ll leave my distaste for nationalism out of the conversation). However, it rejects this element of the left’s argument that the war is a Ukrainian anti-colonial struggle.

I would argue that modern Ukraine’s situation is closer to that of what Washington-named South Vietnam than Vietnam in general. That country was nominally independent, but fiercely determined to stay in the sphere dominated by Washington. In fact, its very life depended on Washington’s largess.

Modern Ukraine has a different genesis, having been established in the wake of the disintegration of the USSR. Since then, its government has switched back and forth between favoring the Russian economic sphere and that of the US-dominated west.

Since the US-assisted overthrow of the elected government in 2014, the government in Kyiv has given itself to the latter. It is firmly in Washington’s grip, even making its desire to be part of NATO an article in its most recent constitution. Of course, this came with a price.

While it seems unlikely that Zelenskyy and his government knew that the price would include the destruction of many of its cities and the deaths of thousands of Ukrainians, there were certainly those Ukrainians who understood this possibility.

Anyhow, back to that comparison with South Vietnam. Like South Vietnam, Ukraine is dependent on the continued support from the US and its allies/clients. It depends on them for arms, logistical support, food, and goodwill, to name just a few things.

While Kyiv certainly has a considerably more legitimate claim to actually being its own nation than southern Vietnam, the truth is that if Washington/NATO ended its support for the Ukraine government and military, its defense would crumble fairly quickly, much like the Saigon military did in 1975. This in itself is reason aplenty to demand a ceasefire and negotiations. Escalating conflicts kill a lot more people than those that aren’t allowed to escalate.

Most readers understand that there are men and women in the Pentagon, the RAND corporation and other think tanks in the pay of the US war machine who are weighing the probabilities in this conflict and how much the US should invest in it.

If Washington/NATO ended its support for the Ukraine government and military, its defense would crumble fairly quickly, much like the Saigon military did in 1975. This in itself is reason aplenty to demand a ceasefire and negotiations. Escalating conflicts kill a lot more people than those that aren’t allowed to escalate.

At the same time, if the same hubris exists in those environments that existed in them in the decades after World War two, we are all in for a long and ugly war; a war which could become more dangerous than any conflict since Vietnam, when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger seriously considered using nuclear weapons. They say the thing that stopped them was the international antiwar movement.

In other words, that movement was a player in the conflict. Unfortunately, it cost millions of lives before the war ended. However, many more might have been lost if the international peace movement had not existed at the level it did. This example is why a new international peace movement must be built. Lives are at stake.

Upon further debate, some leftists supporting Ukraine argue that while they have no issue with NATO arming Ukraine’s military, they do oppose a no-fly zone or the use of NATO combat troops. The problem with this approach is that pretending that one can proscribe NATO’s involvement is naive at best. I find it difficult to believe that these politically sophisticated folks cannot see that giving an inch to NATO means giving it a mile.

As anyone who studies US military involvement overseas knows, Washington is ready with multiple contingency plans based on their perception of the situation on the ground and their objective in any particular conflict. All of those contingencies are based on Washington getting its way, either in the short term or in the long term.

If this position limiting US/NATO involvement is an attempt to salve the consciences of those liberals and leftists holding it, that makes sense in its own way. Indeed, it is reminiscent of those in the 1990-1991 movement against the US war on Iraq who supported sanctions while opposing military action. Those sanctions went on to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, a half million of them children. Personally, I find accepting the limitations as set by the US war machine to be a fool’s errand.

A simple and direct call for ceasefire and negotiations is a good place to begin building a movement against this conflict. The hope would be that the negotiations proceeded something along these lines. After the ceasefire is established, a primary goal of the negotiators would be to facilitate a Russian withdrawal to where their troops were before the invasion and a halt to arms shipments to the Ukrainian forces.

The next steps would include devising a solution for disputed regions in Ukraine and a security arrangement for Kyiv that excludes NATO and Russia from any direct role. The ultimate goals would be the dissolution of NATO and the closure of foreign military bases in Europe.

I began my opposition to the US war in Vietnam by joining those who called for negotiations and a US withdrawal. How that withdrawal was to occur was not within my power to decide. Eventually, once it became clear that Washington had no intention of withdrawing, I joined those who wanted an NLF victory. The template for Vietnam is not transferable to today’s Ukraine, as far as I’m concerned.

It’s exaggerating facts to pretend that the small numbers of progressive Ukrainians fighting Russians will be respected any more than the left partisans were in Italy, France and Greece were after World War Two. If they are truly anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, however, one wonders why their battle is not also with the crony capitalist government in Kyiv.

Those in Europe, the US and elsewhere who are on the left and are rejecting calls for ceasefire and negotiations outright are accepting the terms of those who prefer war - Russia and Washington and Kyiv. Building a movement demanding a ceasefire and negotiations adds a dimension to the conflict that can potentially end it sooner and in a more just manner. Certainly less deadly.

The one certainty in this conflict is that Moscow miscalculated Washington’s power of persuasion. Virtually every European government has lined up behind the US war machine and joined the economic attack on the Russian economy.

Refusing to join that call removes the power of people around the world, who are already feeling the negative effects of this war. Making any ceasefire conditional, as Zelenskyy wants to do, is a non-starter. Most recently, he stated that in order for any talks to begin, Russia must leave all of Ukraine, including the disputed regions. In other words, he doesn’t want talks.

There are those in certain segments of the left who support Zelenskyy’s demand. Many of these folks also supported the jihadist and other groupings fighting the Syrian government since 2011. These same elements consider this war a war of national liberation and insist that Ukraine’s borders are not mutable.

Besides flying in the face of history - where national borders change all the time - this argument contradicts these people’s defense of the partitioning of Syria. If Ukraine’s borders are not mutable, why would Syria’s be? Conversely, if Syria’s borders are changeable, then why not Ukraine’s?

The one certainty in this conflict is that Moscow miscalculated Washington’s power of persuasion. Virtually every European government has lined up behind the US war machine and joined the economic attack on the Russian economy. More dangerously, most of them are also sending weapons to Kyiv.

While there’s money to be made in the latter action, the economic sanctions and embargo against Russia will end up hitting the average working person in the wallet. Like always, it will hit some more than others.

One assumes most of those in the upper economic strata will end up profiting. The economic fallout from the conflict may be the nexus with which a movement to end the war could coalesce. Unless, of course, governments start sending their troops into the conflict - in the air and/or on the ground.

NATO, which was never truly the peacemaking endeavor it claimed to be in so much of its literature, first took off its velvet gloves in 1999 when its forces (mostly US, of course) bombed Serbia and Kosovo in the Yugoslavian civil war. This was after a few years of infiltrating European governments that had once been part of the Warsaw Pact with the USSR. The closer NATO got to Russia’s western border, the more nervous Moscow became.

In response, Washington/NATO pushed further east, provoking crises in the form of Washington-supported and sponsored “color revolutions” and enlisting the IMF and other financial institutions in schemes designed to incorporate those countries economies into the economic sphere dominated by Washington and Wall Street. This process served at least two purposes: the aforementioned economic expansion and the resurgence of NATO, an alliance whose raison d’etre was being challenged from the left and the right.

I wrote a piece in 2015 titled “Creating a Crisis - It’s NATO’s Way” where I wrote, “Talk about a contrived crisis. NATO, in its ongoing struggle to create enemies and thereby provide itself with a reason to exist, is now calling Russia its greatest threat.” (February 13, 2015)

Seven years later, that struggle to create enemies has reached fruition and there is a war in Europe. Now, even Finland wants to join NATO, as if joining an alliance that binds one’s military to defend other more war-inclined nations is a guarantee for peace.

At a recent news conference, Jen Stoltenberg, the current Secretary General of NATO, could barely contain himself when he was quoted saying, “Ukraine can win this war.” He went further, saying the potential expansion of the Western military alliance would provide Europe with greater security (New York Times, May 15, 2022), when in actuality it is Washington that will reap greater security and not countries bordering Russia. Indeed, most of the benefits from any expansion–from increased arms profits to more US military funding–will go to Washington’s military-industrial economy.

While Washington may think it has the power it had immediately after World War Two and can force its will on the world, that assumption is founded only in its arrogance, not in the reality of the situation. This makes an always uncertain situation a dangerous one. Every weapons shipment to Ukraine and every rejection of a ceasefire only exacerbates that danger.

Note: Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem. He lives in Vermont. Email him here. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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SATYAJIT, RITWIK AND THE RENEGADE ‘FATHER’ FIGURE

May 22, 2022 – 6:42 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

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In a brief critique, Silhouette editor Amitava Nag looks at how Satyajit Ray [1921-1992] and Ritwik Ghatak [1925-1976] with their different socio-psychological conditionings deal with the ‘father’ figure in their very last film.

The cultural root of Bengal has a significant departure from the rest of India. The influence of Tantric mores and the impact of indigenous tribal practices ensure that importance is ascribed to the role of women and the fact that mother goddesses dominate Bengali culture.

How much that may be attributed to the Proto-Australoid origin instead of the Nordic Aryan one is debatable. However, if the rest of India worships Rama, Ganesha, Shiva or Hanuman, Bengalis for centuries pay their highest respect to Durga, Kali, Saraswati and even Lakshmi in domestic spaces ahead of Ganesha.


It is with Manmohan, the elderly protagonist of Agantuk [1991], that Satyajit Ray introduces a ‘father figure’.

It is during the Pala rule (roughly 8th to 12th century) that the famed Mymensigh Geetika, a collection of folk ballads, was written. It is to be noted that the ballads depict stories of common human beings, not that of gods, kings or the rich as did the earlier Sanskrit plays. Significantly, the majority of the ballads were named after their heroines, Behula, Mahua, Chandravati, Kamala, etc.

These ballads have a unique mix of portraying woman as mother (and hence nurturer) as well as woman as lover (aware of her preferences and likings). If the latter has been a cornerstone of strong women characters in later day literature of Rabindranath Tagore and the films of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen, the former is the source of Ritwik Ghatak’s much famed ‘Mother Archetype’ in several of his films.

Rabindranath Tagore himself was heavily inspired by the Upanishad where God was always the father - “Om Pita Nohsi”. He wrote songs upholding the father figure - “Tumi amader Pita, Tomay Pita bole jeno jani, Tomay noto hoye jeno mani” (You are our father, Let us know you so, Let us bow to you ever). In his prose, in quoting from Upanishad, Tagore explains, “The father has the affection of the mother. But he is not seen as very affectionate because he is not bound by narrow boundaries.” This idea of the ‘father’ disposes Tagore from inclining towards a ‘mother’ cult in his literature.


Charulata [The Lonely Wife, 1964].

With his Brahmo uprising, Satyajit Ray subscribed to similar sentiments because of which he had strong women characters in Charulata [The Lonely Wife, 1964], Mahanagar [The Big City, 1963], Pratidwandi [The Adversary, 1970], as well as important mother roles in the Apu Trilogy [1955-59] and Kanchenjungha [1962] but none attuned to the mythical, primordial ‘mother’.

The closest approximation of such is in Devi [The Goddess, 1960] where Ray’s philosophy towards derision of traditional Hindu customs steeped in superstition is not concealed. Yet, most of Ray’s cinema, apart from a few like Mahanagar, Devi or  Kanchenjungha, is also conspicuous by the absence of an impactful father figure.


Chhabi Biswas in Devi [The Goddess, 1960].

Ritwik Ghatak, on the other hand, was torn between his obsession with Tagore (primarily his songs) and his fascination for the ‘mother’ cult. Interesting enough, in Ghatak’s case as well, the father is marginalised, incapacitated, ineffective.

Both Ray and Ghatak, different in their mental makeup and film aesthetics, were similar in one aspect. Both never wished to explore a ‘father’ archetype in their films. It is hence, important to observe, what may have lured them to seek refuge in a sort of a ‘father’ figure in their respective last films.

Satyajit’s traditional hero, inspired by his creator’s vision, has always followed the arrow in his eyes. He is a chaser of truth, an explorer of the avant-garde. That is why, the hero is mostly a wanderer - through spaces, in time, across values.

From Apu in the Apu Trilogy to Amal in Charulata and Amulya in Samapti [1961], onto the urban heroes of Aranyer Din Ratri [Days And Nights In The Forest, 1969] and the three films of the Calcutta Trilogy, all move away from the traditional in pursuit of the modern. All of them (except Siddhartha in Pratidwandi [1970]) also move away from the rural to settle in or return to the urban space.

It is with Manmohan, the elderly protagonist of Agantuk that Ray introduces a ‘father figure’, albeit childless, who has already travelled the world. Manmohan is à la mode who is in search of the primitive. In one of the climactic exchanges, he laments that he can’t be a ‘tribal’; however, he behaves like one, since from his childhood, his perceptions and vision are shaped by the writings of Tagore, Bankim Chandra, Vidyasagar and the other beacons of the hailed Bengali Renaissance.

His niece and her husband don’t put much faith in his authenticity as the estranged uncle. Manmohan, claustrophobic in an environment seeping with disbelief and mistrust spins off to a tribal village near Santiniketan, Tagore’s abode, only to return to Kolkata en route vagabonding about the world again.


Ritwik Ghatak in Jukti, Takko aar Gappo [1974].

In Jukti, Takko aar Gappo [1970], Neelkantha, the middle-aged derelict (played by Ghatak himself) leans on a young man and a woman, both migrants from their homes, like him. Unlike Manmohan, Neelkantha has full faith in the younger generation, attenuated in his debate with the Naxalite leaders in a forest in the later part of the film.

But like Manmohan, he also must leave the big city since the answer to existence and sanity lies elsewhere, away from the centre. Neelkantha and his followers meet Chhau exponent Panchanan who tells them how the ancient art form perishes due to the highhandedness of the urban rich. The masks are no longer used for performance. They are mere artifacts for decorating the rich middle-class’s showy interiors.

Manmohan and Neelkantha are misfits, both must vacate the rural as well as the urban spaces. In his explanation of the Upanishad, Tagore writes, “The attainment of the father is that he gives sorrow.” What the ‘father’ also does, he takes the bullet on behalf of the rest. That confuses him and often makes him a renegade. Neither Ray nor Ghatak left a proper inheritance of their cinematic legacies. Ritwik’s Neelkantha is the other side of Ray’s Manmohan. Satyajit, is the lurking shadow of Ritwik.

Note: Amitava Nag is an independent film critic based in Kolkata and editor of Silhouette. His most recent books on cinema are 16 Frames and Smriti Sattwa o Cinema. Visit amitavanag.net.

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TAKING AIM AT UKRAINE: HOW JOHN MEARSHEIMER AND STEPHEN COHEN CHALLENGED THE DOMINANT NARRATIVE

May 18, 2022 – 6:48 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

HOW TO DONATE

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Evil Putin vs Good Guy Zelensky? By Michael Welton.

Interfering in another state is tricky business

Interfering in another state is tricky business - so says the gutsy University of Chicago international relations scholar John Mearsheimer (The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, 2018). It is tricky - and dangerous - and the exceptional nation, the US, may think pushing NATO (with its missile sites and troop placement) to Russia’s borders is benign.

But another state - Russia - thinks it is threatening. Mearsheimer admits that great powers may follow “balance of power” logic, but they can also embrace “liberal hegemony.” When they do, “they may cause a lot of trouble for themselves and other states. The ongoing crisis over Ukraine is a case in point” (p. 171).

It sure is - and very few citizens in Canada and the US have a clue about what this crisis is about: they just assume, saturated in decades of various forms of anti-Russian propaganda, that the military operation launched by Russia on February 24 was, pure and simple, the logical extension of an evil leader, Vladimir Putin.

In other words, Ukraine is mere “worthy victim” - and the propaganda machine in the West doesn’t miss a chance to display images (often false) of the destruction of buildings and people by evil Putin and his military. Evidence is not necessary to substantiate any claims fed to us by the mass media. Images will do because they arouse emotions. Putin is to blame; Zelensky is the noble defender of Ukrainian nationality.

Mearsheimer informs us that: “According to the prevailing wisdom in the West, this problem [ie, the crisis] is largely the result of Russian aggression. President Vladimir Putin, the argument goes, is bent on creating a greater Russia akin to the former Soviet Union, which means controlling the governments in its ‘near abroad’ - its neighbouring states - including Ukraine, the Baltic states, and possibly other Eastern European countries. The coup against Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych on February 22, 2014, provided Putin with a pretext for annexing Crimea and starting a war in eastern Ukraine” (ibid). Putin as instigator. Blame him, and him alone!

Flatly, Mearsheimer states: “This account is false. The United States and its European allies are mainly responsible for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO expansion, the central element in a larger strategy to move all of Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West” (p. 172).

Mearsheimer claims that the West’s strategy was based on liberal principles - the “aim was to integrate Ukraine into the ‘security community’ that had developed in western Europe during the Cold War and had been moving eastward since its conclusion. But the Russians were using a realist playbook. The major crisis that resulted left many Western leaders feeling blindsided” (ibid). One wonders - really, could they have been that clueless or deluded?

The US and allies strategy for making Ukraine part of the West

Mearsheimer provides us with a helpful framework to see how the US and allies could rip Ukraine out of the Russian orbit: “NATO enlargement, EU expansion, and the Orange Revolution, which aimed at fostering democracy and Western values in Ukraine and thus presumably produce pro-Western leaders in Kiev” (p. 172).

But Moscow was “deeply opposed to NATO enlargement”. In fact, Russian leaders believed that, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, NATO would not move an inch toward Russia’s borders. They believed that “no enlargement” had been promised, but were deceived by the Clinton administration.

Ordinary citizens probably have no understanding that, in eminent Russia scholar Stephen F Cohen’s analysis (in War with Russia: from Putin and Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate, 2022), since the “end of the Soviet Union in 1991, Washington had treated post-Communist Russia as a defeated nation with inferior legitimate rights at home and abroad.

Russian leaders believed that, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, NATO would not move an inch toward Russia’s borders. They believed that “no enlargement” had been promised, but were deceived by the Clinton administration.

The triumphalist, winner-take-all approach has been spearheaded by the expansion of NATO - accompanied by non-reciprocal zones of national security while excluding Moscow from Europe’s security systems. Early on, Ukraine and, to a lesser extent, Georgia were Washington’s ‘great prize’” (p. 16).

With the Russian bear in miserable condition (it lost its cubs) through the 1990s - Solzhenitsyn thought his country at this time was living “literally amid ruins” - NATO expansion, in 1999, brought Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into the alliance.

The second component of the expansion occurred in 2004, which included Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the three Baltic countries. “Russian leaders complained bitterly from the start.” The inept Boris Yeltsin saw fire on the horizon when NATO bombed Serbia in 1995. “When NATO comes right up to the Russian Federation’s borders… The flame of war could burst out across the whole of Europe” (p. 172) Too weak to derail these developments, Russia could take small comfort that only the tiny Baltic countries shared their border.

But all hell broke loose at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, when Ukraine’s and Georgia’s membership came up for discussion. Both Germany and France had qualms, but the Bush administration wanted these countries inside their security zone.

The final announcement proclaimed that Geogia and Ukraine were welcomed for membership. Putin, Mearsheimer maintained, “that admitting those two countries would represent a ‘direct threat’ to Russia. If anybody had any doubts about Russia’s seriousness regarding accepting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008 should have dispelled those deluded thoughts.

Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, who was deeply committed to drawing his own country into the NATO circle, had first to resolve the disputes with two separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Putin prevented this from occurring - and invaded Georgia, gaining control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Saakashvili was left in the lurch by the West. “Russia had made its point,” Mearsheimer observes, “yet NATO refused to give up on bringing Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance” (p. 173). We need to be reminded that the Georgian war was “financed, trained and minded by American funds and personnel” (Cohen, 2022, p. 187).

The EU expanded eastward. “Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the EU in 1995, and eight Central and Eastern European countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) joined in May 2004 along with Cyprus and Malta. Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007” (p. 174).

These developments were a stick poke to the Russian bear’s eyes. This Eastern Partnership was perceived as hostile to their country’s interests. “Sergei Lavrov complained bitterly that the EU was trying to create a “sphere of influence” in Eastern Europe and hinted that it was engaging in ‘blackmail’” (ibid). Who can deny that Moscow correctly sees EU membership as a “stalking horse for NATO enlargement” (ibid)?

All hell broke loose at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, when Ukraine’s and Georgia’s membership came up for discussion. Both Germany and France had qualms, but the Bush administration wanted these countries inside their security zone.

The final, and third, tool for “peeling Ukraine away from Russia was the effort to promote the Orange Revolution” (ibid). The US and European allies endeavoured to foster social and political change in countries formerly under Soviet control.

Essentially, the aim was to spread Western “values” and promote “liberal democracy” - efforts funded by NGOs and official governments. That sounds innocent enough: but it isn’t. The underlying geopolitical agenda was clear: to foment hostility to Russia and to execute the “final break with Moscow” and to “accelerate” Kiev’s membership in NATO (Cohen, 2022, p. 24).

The crisis of the Ukrainian coup

Now we enter the great quagmire of conflicting interpretations of the events of 2014. The fateful crisis began in late November 2013, when President Yanukovych “rejected a major economic deal he had been negotiating with the EU and decided instead to accept a Russian counteroffer” (p. 174).

Over the next three months there were protests against the government, and on January 22, 2014, two protestors were killed. By mid-February one hundred more died. Hurriedly flown in, Western emissaries tried to resolve the crisis, so claims Mearsheimer, by striking a deal on February 21 that permitted Yanukovych to “stay in power until new elections were held sometime before year’s end” (p. 175).

But protesters didn’t permit him to stay in office - on February 22 Yanukovych fled to Russia. The new government in Kiev “was thoroughly pro-Western and anti-Russian. Moreover, the US government backed the coup, although the full extent of its involvement is unknown” (ibid).

Perhaps - but we do know that the Maidan protests were “strong influenced by extreme nationalist and even semi-fascist street forces, turned violent” (Cohen [2022], p. 17). Snipers killed scores of protestors and policeman on Maidan Square in February 2014. The neo-fascist organization Right Sector (and its co-conspirators) played a key role in bringing to power a virulent anti-Russian, pro-American regime.

Cohen counters the prevalent narrative that Putin bribed and bullied Yanukovych to reject the “reckless provocation” of the EU proposal - forcing a “deeply divided country to choose between Russia and the West” (p. 17). Further, Cohen argues that the EU proposal would have imposed harsh measures on Ukraine and, significantly, “curtail longstanding and essential economic relations with Russia” (ibid).

There was nothing approaching benign in the EU’s proposal. Mearsheimer states that the US backed the coup, and the egregious “Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), for example, participated in anti-government demonstrations, while the US ambassador in Kiev proclaimed after the coup that it was a ’day for the history books’” (p, 175). A day of infamy for lovers of a peaceable world order. Don’t ask me to “please, have a cookie or two”.

“A leaked transcript of phone conversation,” Mearsheimer tells us, “revealed that Nuland advocated regime change and wanted Arseniy (“Yats”) Yatsenyuk, who was pro-Western, to become prime minister in the new government, which he did. It is hardly surprising that Russians of all persuasions think Western provocateurs, especially the CIA, helped overthrow Yanukovych” (ibid).

“Fuck the EU” - Nuland’s vulgar rallying cry stills rings in our ears to this day. Cohen comments: “Europe’s leaders and Washington did not defend their own diplomatic accord. Yanukovych fled to Russia. Minority parliamentary parties representing Maidan and, predominantly, western Ukraine - among them Svoboda, an ultranationalist movement previously anathematized by the European Parliament as incompatible with European rulers - formed a new government” (p. 17).

Ominously, Washington and Brussels “endorsed the coup and have supported the outcome ever since. Everything that followed, from Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the spread of rebellion in southeastern Ukraine to the civil war and Kiev’s ‘anti-terrorist operation,’ was triggered by the February coup” (p. 18).

The “anti-terrorist” military campaign against its own citizens in Luhansk and Donetsk is the “essential factor escalating the crisis”. Well-over 10,000 citizens have died; and millions of refugees created. The crisis cannot be laid at Putin’s feet.

What ordinary citizens do not understand, to say the least, is that the coup was cultivated by the US and allies, thus triggering Russian responses. And they do not understand that, from February 2014 until the present military conflict in Ukraine in 2022, that the West (including the Russophobic Canadian Liberal Party) have been training military in Ukraine and turning a knowing blind-eye to the neo-Nazi militia, who have played a key role in attacking Russians and everything “Russian” in the country: The “anti-terrorist” military campaign against its own citizens in Luhansk and Donetsk is the “essential factor escalating the crisis” (p. 18). Well-over 10,000 citizens have died; and millions of refugees created. The crisis cannot be laid at Putin’s feet.

The western press has blanked out accounts of events such as the “pogrom-like burning to death of ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians in Odessa shortly later in 2014.” This action “reawakened memories of Nazi extermination squads in Ukraine during World War II.”

The Azov Battalion of 3,000 soldiers - a neo-fascist militia (as evidence by regalia, slogans, and programmatic statements) - has played a “major combat role in the Ukrainian civil war”. Most Canadian citizens would be astonished to hear this - that must be propaganda from the evil tyrant Putin. Sorry: it isn’t. Nor are the “storm troop-like assaults on gays, Roma, women feminists, elderly ethnic Russians, and other ‘impure’ citizens are wide-spread throughout Kiev-ruled Ukraine.”

The neo-fascist militia have also desecrated a sacred Holocaust gravesite in Ukraine - with legal authorities doing nothing in response. Most disturbingly, Kiev has systematically begun “rehabilitating and even memorializing leading Ukrainian collaborators with Nazi German extermination pogroms during World War II” (p. 180).

Putin’s response to the coup

Mearsheimer presents the basic outline of Putin’s response to the coup. If Ukraine joined NATO, the Crimean port of Sevastopol would serve beautifully as a US/NATO military launching pad. The act of incorporating Crimea into Russia was “not difficult given that Russia already had thousands of troops at its naval base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

“Those forces were augmented by additional troops from Russia, many of them not in uniform. Crimea was an easy target because roughly 60 per cent of the people living there were ethnic Russians, and most preferred to become part of Russia” (p. 175).

Putin, Mearsheimer informs us, “also put massive pressure on the Kiev government to discourage it from siding with the West against Moscow. He made it clear that he would wreck Ukraine as a functioning society before allowing a Western stronghold to exist on Russia’s doorstep.

Toward that end, he has supported the Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine with weapons and covert troops, helping to push the country into civil war. He also maintained substantial ground forces on Russia’s border with Ukraine and threatened to invade if Kiev cracks down on the rebels. Finally, he has raised the price of gas Russia sells to Ukraine, demanded immediate remittance of overdue payments, and at one point even cut off the supply of gas to Ukraine… Putin is playing hardball with Ukraine…” (p. 176).

Liberal blinders

The realist Mearsheimer chides the US (and, indirectly its allies) that if they had a “rudimentary understanding of geopolitics should have seen this coming” (ibid). “The West was moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests.

“A huge expanse of flat land that Napoleonic France, Imperial Germany, and Nazi Germany have all crossed to strike at Russia itself, Ukraine serves as an enormously important strategic buffer to Russia itself. No Russian leader would tolerate a former enemy’s military alliance moving into Ukraine. Nor would any Russian leader stand idly by while the West helped install a government in Kiev that was determined to join that alliance” (ibid).

Why does the US and its obedient allies imagine that they can get away with these war-mongering actions? Reminding us of his own country’s Monroe Doctrine, Mearsheimer argues forcefully that the US does not tolerate for two minutes “distant great powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western Hemisphere…” (ibid).

Many critics have turned the tables on the US - inviting them to consider their reaction if China built an alliance and tried to install governments in Mexico and Canada. What say thee, Anthony Blinken? What say thee, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland?

Russia has told the US and its allies time after time that they will not “tolerate NATO expansion into Ukraine and Georgia (the 2008 Russia-Georgia war and present conflict in Ukraine should make this clear). Let me finish with two brief conclusions from Mearsheimer.

First, Western elites have a “flawed understanding of international politics” (p. 177). The US believes that “it is a benign hegemon that does not threaten Russia or any other country” (ibid). One gags upon reading this nonsense. Second, the “grand scheme to turn Europe into a giant security community went awry over Ukraine, but the seeds of this disaster were sown in the mid-1990s, when the Clinton administration began pushing for NATO expansion” (ibid).

At this historical moment Putin and Russia are being fiercely and relentlessly demonized because this “grand scheme” has been resolutely rejected and the West is heaping vitriol on Russian actions and its people for rejecting their exceptional gifts. Stephen Cohen, who died on September 18, 2020, looks down from the sky above and says, “I warned you about this coming war between the US and Russia.”

Note: Dr Michael Welton is a professor at the University of Athabasca. He is the author of Designing the Just Learning Society: a Critical Inquiry. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

   John Mearsheimer - The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, 2018

   Stephen Cohen - War with Russia: from Putin and Ukraine to Trump and Russiagate, 2022

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WATCHING THE RIVER FLOW: SIDDHARTHA 100 YEARS ON

May 15, 2022 – 6:49 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

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One hundred years after Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, the adolescent religions that rose from the Middle East are still terrorising eastern thinking and culture. By John Kendall Hawkins.

“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”
- The Bhagavad Gita

By the time I was introduced to Hermann Hesse for the first time, some 50 years ago, I had already crossed many rivers in my life. Born and partially raised in southern California, moved to Dad’s Missouri haunts, and on, because of tragic events, to the New England Home for Little Wanderers in Boston.

And now, here I was a working class Lowell High School student at a summer Upward Bound program (GLUB) held at the prestigious Groton School, where maybe the young Roosevelt, alumni of the school, Teddy and FDR, first wet-dreamed of Manifest Destiny and the New Deal, respectively, from dormitory cubicles with curtains for doors.

Hermann Hesse came to me, by means of a friend I can no longer properly remember, who’d also introduced me to I Ching, and who had a propensity for lighting his farts on fire with a Bic in the basement smoking room of 100 House, during a transition period in my life - economic, educational, religious, and autonomy.

The first Hesse book I read was Beneath the Wheel, a bildungsroman which depicted the Goethe-esque destruction of a promising seminary student ground to death by the soul-sapping wheels of the German educational system, his body found in the river.

The next Hesse book I absorbed was a volume of his verse, Poems. Like my start, Siddhartha: An Indian Poem, Hesse’s 1922 novel, is also a product of life transitions - both for the author’s life and as a narrative he explores after returning home to Switzerland from a “journey” to the East.

What’s more, by 1922, fin de siècle malaise and its subsequent anticipation of some ‘shock of the new’ ahead, meant that civilization itself was in transition, from the Nietzschean propositions that God Is Dead and the Will to Power is ahead (German soldiers were said to have read Nietzsche’s Zarathustra in the trenches of WWI), implying that we were on our own - and at the mercy of charismatic populists to direct the “democratic” energies of the West. Asia had its autocrats and emperors.

And 1922 was a pivotal year in a number or areas of our collective experience, featuring events that would either come back to haunt us 100 years later or presage brave new technologies and scientific visions that would alter us forever. A quick perusal of the Wiki entry for the year reveals:

The Irish Civil War and ‘the Troubles’ begin and, by year’s end, Michael Collins will be assassinated; radio is introduced in the Harding White House; the international justice court is opened at The Hague; Mahatma Gandhi is arrested tried and sentenced for sedition in India; Joseph Stalin is appointed General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party; Teapot Dome scandal; Genoa Conference, with representatives from 34 countries, convenes in Italy to deal with monetary economics, in the wake of World War I; hyperinflation in Germany (by year’s end, 7000 marks to the US dollar, will bring pressure that leads to the rise of Hitler); the last hunted California grizzly bear is shot; the 9/11 revolution in Greece takes place; TS Eliot publishes The Wasteland, James Joyce publishes Ulysses, Antigone, a tragedy featuring the hubris of tyrants, by Jean Cocteau appears on stage in Paris, with settings by Pablo Picasso, music by Arthur Honegger and costumes by Coco Chanel.

Sigmund Freud publishes Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego and Beyond the Pleasure Principle; Mussolini becomes PM of Italy; the Ottoman Empire is abolished after 600 years; Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Transcaucasian Republic (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) come together to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; Mandatory Palestine and the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement lead to the troubles there today; Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr’s work with atomic structures provides the first glimpse of the quantum; and,Vegemite is invented in Australia.

What a consequential year.

Buddhism is centered on ending suffering, most of it caused by human desire caught up in cycles of craving and illusion that lead to bad karma and unwanted rebirth into the world. Capitalism is real bad karma, by this principle.

Hermann Hesse, in 1922, was in transition, coming off years of sturm and drang. At the beginning of World War I, he objected to the nationalistic fervor for the war and wrote a tract, “O Friends, Not These Tones,” which decried the tone of hatred the war fomented. He argued in the essay that artists had a protected neutrality:

Each day brings with it the destruction of much that all men of good will among the artists, scholars, travellers, translators, and journalists of all countries have striven for all their lives. This cannot be helped. But it is absurd and wrong that any man who ever, in a lucid hour, believed in the idea of humanity, in international thought, in an artistic beauty cutting across national boundaries, should now, frightened by the monstrous thing that has happened, throw down the banner and relegate what is best in him to the general ruin.

Hesse was made a pariah for a while for such rationalization. (It is reminiscent of the ‘fer us or agin us’ trap set for pundits of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine.)

This was a rough patch in Hesse’s life, from the end of the war to the publication of Siddhartha. His Wiki entry notes, “a deeper life crisis befell Hesse with the death of his father on 8 March 1916, the serious illness of his son Martin, and his wife’s schizophrenia. He was forced to leave his military service and begin receiving psychotherapy.” His marriage became untenable, and he himself sought answers in psychotherapy, a pathway that led him to the world psychology (archetypes, collective unconscious) and therapeutic processes of CG Jung.

The “O Freunde” essay (the title referencing Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy,” which in turn was an important contribution to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony chorale) seemed to be written by a headstrong and wayward individual (good little Lutheran) who had a vision thang going. In a letter his Ma had written his Pa, she observed willfulness that caused concern:

The little fellow has a life in him, an unbelievable strength, a powerful will, and, for his four years of age, a truly astonishing mind. How can he express all that? It truly gnaws at my life, this internal fighting against his tyrannical temperament, his passionate turbulence […] God must shape this proud spirit, then it will become something noble and magnificent - but I shudder to think what this young and passionate person might become should his upbringing be false or weak. (Wiki)

Luckily, his upbringing was just fine for a little German boy needing a good paddling. He ended up winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, so… Such headstrong ways are clearly visible in the characterization of his later Siddhartha.

But his deepest, most inquiring inner journeys were influenced by his readings and encounters with Arthur Schopenhauer (especially the Eastern-influenced World As Will and Representation), Friedrich Nietzsche (his philology and philosophy of the future), Jacob Burkhardt (the great German historian), Indian culture and, of course, Buddhism. Freud and Jung, art and myth, and Hesse’s love of music and math (Bach) contributed lifelong schema to his developing worldview.

Hesse was introduced to Indian thought and Buddhist principles early in his life, as he was regaled with the tales of his grandparents’s missionary life in India, where his mother, Marie, spent her early life. Hesse who pursued Lutheran mission life for a while was well-acquainted with the Buddhistic starter kit: The Middle Way, The Four Noble Truths, The Noble Eightfold Path, The four dhyānas (meditations), The three marks of existence, The five aggregates of clinging, Dependent origination, Karma and rebirth, and, Nirvana.

“Its simple prose and rebellious character echoed the yearnings of a generation that was seeking a way out of conformity, materialism and outward power. In a world where we could see the many lies of governments and the incapacity of leaders to propose a real alternative, Siddhartha emerged as a symbol; the symbol of those who seek the truth - their own truth.” - Paul Coelho (introduction to the Penguin edition of Siddhartha)

Buddhism is centered on ending suffering, most of it caused by human desire caught up in cycles of craving and illusion that lead to bad karma and unwanted rebirth into the world. Capitalism is real bad karma, by this principle.

The name Siddhartha comes from the Sanskrit words, siddha (achieved) + artha (what was searched for), which together means “he who has found meaning (of existence)” or “he who has attained his goals.” [Wiki] The Buddha was, in his earlier princely life, Siddhartha Gautama. Hesse refers to him in the book as Gotama. The Buddha had broken away from his privileged life and father’s control after seeing suffering in the world all around him and finding the need in himself to do something about it.

The simple plot of Siddhartha begins similarly, seeing the rebellious lad resisting following in father’s footsteps as a Brahmin. Hesse describes the father’s pride:

There was happiness in his father’s heart because of his son who was intelligent and thirsty for knowledge; he saw him growing up to be a great learned man, a priest, a prince among Brahmins. (Penguin, p.12)

But Siddhartha has other plans. Like Gotama, the young Brahmin had seen troubles in his day:

…everything lied, stank of lies; they were all illusions of sense, happiness and beauty. All were doomed to decay. The world tasted bitter. Life was pain. Siddhartha had one single goal - to become empty, to become empty of thirst, desire, dreams, pleasure and sorrow - to let the Self die. No longer to be Self, to experience the peace of an emptied heart, to experience pure thought - that was his goal. (p. 20)

He leaves home, joined by his good friend Govinda, to seek Enlightenment among the Samanas, a group of wandering ascetics.

Siddhartha “had engaged in debate with Govinda and had practised the art of contemplation and meditation with him.” (p.12) They had already addressed many of the most profound questions about the Self and Atman and existence.

After three years of limited progress among the Samanas, they split up after they come across the Buddha’s ascetics and Govinda decides to join The Illustrious One. Siddhartha breaks his friend’s heart when he tells him he has to go his own way, without teachers. There is a poignant tete-a-tete between the Buddha and Siddhartha, as the latter explains his decision. Here is the scene depicted in the 1972 film version of Hesse’s book:

Siddhartha comes to the Ganges river. Vasudeva, an old boatman, tells Siddhartha secrets of the river, its beauty and truths uttered, as he ferries him across, and predicts that they will meet again one day.

Siddhartha then hooks up with a courtesan named Kamala, who teaches him all the moves of tantric pleasure. Again, from the 1972 film, their first meeting promises to open up the doors of heady sensuality and carnal knowledge:

To help him pay for her erotic services, she finds him a job assisting Kamaswami, a businessman, through whom he becomes, over many years, rich, famous, fat-headed and dead inside. His long relationship with Kamala begins to lose its lustre. He thinks one lucid morning,

Did he still need her - and did she still need him? Were they not playing a game without an end? Was it necessary to live for it? No. This game was called Samsara, a game for children, a game which was perhaps enjoyable played once, twice, ten times - but was it worth playing continually? Then Siddhartha knew that the game was finished, that he could play it no longer. A shudder passed through his body; he felt as if something had died. (p. 71)

They agree in a bedroom chat that given their detachment from life neither is capable of real love. Indeed, Siddhartha reckons only the poor may have such a disposition to it. Siddhartha leaves her, she, tearfully saddened by their end, doesn’t get to tell him she’s preggers.

Profoundly unhappy, and in despair of ever finding Enlightenment, Siddhartha attempts to drown himself in the river, but fails. It’s as if the river just won’t let him drown. He collapses on the shore and lays asleep when Govinda, among Buddha’s ascetics walking by, rests by the “unknown” man as he sleeps on the river bank to protect him from harm. When Siddhartha wakes the two recognize each other and share wisdom notes:

…It seems to me, Govinda, that love is the most important thing in the world. It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.’

‘I understand that,’ said Govinda, ‘but that is just what the Illustrious One called illusion. He preached benevolence, forbearance, sympathy, patience - but not love. He forbade us to bind ourselves to earthly love.’ (p.116)

They separate again.

A rejuvenated Siddhartha comes across Vasudeva again and becomes his assistant ferryman. Then, one day, Kamala, accompanied by Siddhartha’s child, comes across their path, on their way to attend the Buddha’s rumored imminent death; she’s bitten by a snake and dies, leaving their rebellious son in Siddhartha’s care.

Young Siddhartha runs away to be free, and his dad reluctantly lets him go. Too old to continue, Vasudeva leaves Siddhartha, sailing away on the river. Then Govinda, recognizing Siddhartha again during a ferry ride, re-befriends him and becomes Siddhartha’s co-ferrier. Peace, Enlightenment, and fade.

As I previously indicated, the above is a basic outline. The long title for the book says it all: Siddhartha: An Indian Poem. It’s a lyrical, deeply personal narrative. The book carries many essential themes, including life as Journey; reconciling the appetites of mind and body; the one and many river; eternal recurrence; amor fati; the essentiality of love; the nature of suffering and things we can do to alleviate it; and, the structure of the Self.

All of these themes were mighty important back when I was a teenager feeling my oats, looking to be free and in love with Love. My generation was really the ’70s and Hesse’s work helped heal some of the lesions of the ’60s brought about by the war and White House criminality, race riots and domestic terrorism and general unease with the System.

Lennon would famously sing, in the song “Revolution,” You tell me it’s the institution/Well, you know/You’d better free your mind instead. And that’s the beauty of Hesse’s writing: It transcends the banal politics of aggressive youthful cries for change met with old, entrenched indifference. You can go on a journey (many journeys and trips) and come back changed by the experience of relativism regarding all things micro and macro, man.

So what is Hermann Hesse’s legacy in America 50 years removed from its heyday in the ’70s and 100 years after its publication? In his introduction to the Penguin edition of Siddhartha, Paul Coelho may have the best read of its continued importance:

Its simple prose and rebellious character echoed the yearnings of a generation that was seeking a way out of conformity, materialism and outward power. In a world where we could see the many lies of governments and the incapacity of leaders to propose a real alternative, Siddhartha emerged as a symbol; the symbol of those who seek the truth - their own truth. Hesse sensed - decades before my generation, and surely for the generations to come - this unrest, this intrinsic necessity of youth to unravel its path, the necessity we all have to claim what is truly and rightfully ours: our own life.

This truth about who owns our lives has never been more important under a global surveillance state and heading toward an AI future with the nature of the Self never more uncertain.

Siddhartha provides a lesson in the differences between times; to know that the unplugged ’20s and, to a lesser extent, the ’70s (no Internet) still allowed for life space and time to grow into an -ism comfortably, although it should be kept in mind that the pursuit of -isms is largely a bourgeois pursuit unlikely to see folks with two or three jobs to get by finding time for.

Today, we live away from placidity and our mental lives almost entirely online. We take short cuts to make room for data to satisfy our insatiable infomania. More often than not today, we eschew the hard yakka of full Buddhistic pursuit for the breathing exercises of meditation and mindfulness, allotting ourselves strict time slots to practice the Om. Nirvana on the half-shell.

Of the three major literary works published that year - by Hesse, TS Eliot’s Wasteland, and James Joyce’s Ulysses, arguably Hesse’s novel has stood the test of time best among ordinary educated people than the far more erudite requirements of Eliot and Joyce. Siddhartha is a practical book, in addition to being a poem. It is immensely enjoyable, still thought-provoking, and I highly recommend it.

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For those interested in reading or downloading Hermann Hesse’s works further, I recommend the material found at the Internet Archive, the web’s public library. The collection there includes:

Siddhartha, Penguin Edition (2008) with Paul Coelho introduction

Siddhartha text and audiobook (recommended) from ThoughtAudio (2016)

Siddhartha film version (1972)

Zacharia (1971), a Siddhartha film version, western musical, with Don Johnson

Buddha (1961), a Chinese language drama with subs, gives insight to Chinese production values

The Buddha: The Story of Siddhartha (2010)

The Wayfarers Song Lyrics and Music

Note: John Kendall Hawkins is an American expat freelancer based in Australia. He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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HYSTERIA AND THE SOLOMON ISLAND-CHINA SECURITY PACT

May 11, 2022 – 7:27 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

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Whose island is it? The Americans? The Australians? It belongs to the islanders. By Binoy Kampmark.

Visits to Honiara, part plea, part threat. Delegations equipped with a note of harassment. That was the initial Australian effort to convince the Solomon Islands that the decision to make a security pact with Beijing was simply not appropriate in the lotus land of Washington’s Pacific empire. [Ed: Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal, is the capital city of the Solomon Islands. Solomon Islands is a sovereign country consisting of six major islands and over 900 smaller islands in Oceania, to the east of Papua New Guinea and northwest of Vanuatu.]

Despite an election campaign warming up, (Australian) Senator Zed Seselja found time to tell Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare that Australia remained dedicated to supporting the security needs of the Solomon Islands, and would do so “swiftly, transparently and with full respect for its sovereignty”.

The Pacific country remained a friend, part of the “Pacific family”. He went on to “respectfully” urge the Solomon Islands to reject the security pact with China and “consult the Pacific family in the spirit of regional openness and transparency, consistent with our region’s security frameworks.”

Having not convinced Honiara to change course, a range of reactions are being registered. David Llewellyn-Smith, former owner of the Asia Pacific foreign affairs journal The Diplomat, took leave of his senses by suggesting that a Chinese naval base in the Solomons would see “the effective end of our sovereignty and democracy”. In a spray of hysteria, he suggested that this was “Australia’s Cuban missile crisis”.

The Labor opposition, desperate to win office on May 21, are calling this one of the greatest intelligence failures since the Second World War, which perhaps shows their somewhat tenuous command of history. Their leader, Anthony Albanese, seeking some safe mooring in a campaign that has lacked lustre, was particularly strident.

It was a chance to show that Labor was not shaky or wobbly on national security. “The security agreement between China and the Solomons is a massive failure of our foreign policy,” stated the opposition leader as he campaigned in Bomaderry in southern New South Wales. “We are closer here today to the Solomon Islands than we are to Perth. That shows how strategic they are to Australia.”

David Llewellyn-Smith, former owner of the Asia Pacific foreign affairs journal The Diplomat, took leave of his senses by suggesting that a Chinese naval base in the Solomons would see “the effective end of our sovereignty and democracy”. In a spray of hysteria, he suggested that this was “Australia’s Cuban missile crisis”.

This belligerent, simple note might have been stronger were it not for the fact that his deputy, Richard Marles, had previously made the unpopular suggestion that the Pacific islands were somehow sovereign entities who needed to be treated as such while China, in providing development assistance to them, should be “welcome” in offering it. The goons of the Rupert Murdoch roundtable capitalised, hoping to find a Chinese Red under Marles’s bed.

Scratching for electoral gains, Labor thought that it was inappropriate to have sent the junior minister, as if that would have made much of a difference. Foreign Minister Marise Payne, it was said, should have been flown in to bully those misguided savages into submission.

In Australia, the message being fanned is that the deputy - in this case, Canberra - failed in the task, leaving it to the United States to come in and hold up what seemed like a sinking ship of strategy. “The United States very much relies upon Australia and sees Australia as playing that key role in the Indo-Pacific,” lamented Anthony Albanese, the Labor leader. “Australia and Scott Morrison have gone missing.”

The Morrison government poured water on such criticism by suggesting a fair share of oriental deviousness at play. Not only had the likes of Defence Minister Peter Dutton been advised by the intelligence fraternity to keep matters tame in terms of attacking the security pact; the agreement was the product of bribery.

On radio, Dutton responded to a question from 3AW host Neil Mitchell about the suggestion. “You asked the question about bribery and corruption - we don’t pay off, we don’t bribe people, and the Chinese certainly do.”

This clean linen view of Australian conduct is fabulously ignorant, ignoring such inglorious chapters as the oil-for-food scandal which saw the Australian Wheat Board pay $300 million in kickbacks between 1999 and 2004 to the Iraq regime via Alia, a Jordanian trucking company. These bribing arrangements, which breached UN Security Council sanctions imposed after Baghdad’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, were unmasked in 2005.

With Australia failing to change minds, the paladins of the US imperium prepared to badger and bore Honiara. On the list: President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan; Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink; and National Security Affairs Indo-Pacific chief Kurt Campbell. It seemed like an absurd gathering of heft for a small Pacific Island state.

Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is unrepentant. “When a helpless mouse is cornered by vicious cats it will do anything to survive.” He has already told his country’s parliament that there is no intention “to ask China to build a military base in Solomon Islands.” He felt “insulted” by such suggestions and felt that there was only one side to pick: “our national security interest”.

The theme was unmistakable. A bullying tone was struck in a message from National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson, who seemed to forget the Solomons was not some ramshackle protectorate of the Five Eyes. Officials from the US, Japan, New Zealand and Australia had “shared concerns about [the] proposed security framework between the Solomon Islands and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its serious risks to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

At the Washington Post, Henry Olsen was trying to speak home truths about an empire facing rust and decline. The unipolar world that came into being after the demise of the Soviet Union had ended. “Our adversaries can fight back, and they are increasingly using every means at their disposal to push back against American influence.”

He went on to put focus upon the thin stretch of territory in the Pacific that has exercised so many in Washington and Canberra. “Lose too many places such as the Solomon Islands, and the threat will start to get uncomfortably close to home.” It was more prudent “to spend big and push outward now rather than to be boxed into a corner later.” In other words, more bribery, the very thing tut-tutted by Dutton, was needed.

As for the Solomon Islands itself, divided, fragmented and vulnerable to internal dissent and disagreement, Prime Minister Sogavare is unrepentant. “When a helpless mouse is cornered by vicious cats it will do anything to survive.” He has already told his country’s parliament that there is no intention “to ask China to build a military base in Solomon Islands.” He felt “insulted” by such suggestions and felt that there was only one side to pick: “our national security interest”.

His confidant and former prime minister Danny Philip also reminded critics barking about the lack of transparency over the Sino-Solomon Islands deal that they should know better. “People in Australia know very little about Pine Gap in the middle of the desert, the military base of the United States.” There were “agreements that open up all major ports in Australia that are not being seen by all the citizens of that country.”

Unfortunately for the government in Honiara, thoughts of invasion and pre-emptive action on the part of Australia, possibly with aid from the United States, cannot be ruled out. Instead of being parked in an asylum of inoffensive obscurity, pundits such as Llewellyn-Smith are encouraging invasion and conquest. Australia, he advocates in a refreshing burst of honest blood-filled jingoism, “should invade and capture Guadalcanal such that we engineer regime change in Honiara.”

Sovereignty for the Pacific was always a qualified concept for those exercising true naval power, and US-Australian conduct in recent weeks has made an utter nonsense of it. At least some cavalier types are willing to own up to it.

Note: Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email him here. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

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REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST

May 5, 2022 – 5:37 pm

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

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“No history is mute. No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is,” said Uruguayan scholar and journalist Eduardo Galeano. The Philippines General Election is on May 9, 2022. Will the Marcoses be brought back to power? Filmmaker and cultural critic Ram Botero reflects on her nation.

A few days ago, a friend suggested I’d be an interesting subject for a documentary because I remember everything. An exaggeration, of course, but I do try to remember as much as I can. Equally, I try to make my recollection as truthful - free from my own embellishments - as possible.

Chinua Achebe writes that memory is an affirming god, a transcended guide in the ritual of continuity. But when spurned, when repressed, memory becomes a trickster imp and seduces the wayfarer to the precipice and beyond.

Nine years ago, we visited our grandmother’s older sister in Antique. She was in her 90s and blind, preferring to stay in her clean little house, which was dark but quiet. We introduced ourselves as the grandchildren of Marie, her younger sister who moved to and got married in Davao.

She replied in a commanding tone and a quivering voice: “I do not have retention in my brain.” Her neices, our aunts, who lived close to her said she doesn’t remember so much anymore. She only recognizes Malou, her daughter’s daughter who takes care of her. You’ll eventually stop remembering, they said, it comes with age.

I read Milan Kundera that same year, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. He said, the struggle of man against power is like the memory’s struggle against forgetting. So I made a conscious decision to remember as much as I can.

To revive the oldest memories I have, no matter how mundane, and to let them become beacons to signal other memories. And, for as long as those memories remain unchanged and closely resemble what I know to be accurate, I can be confident in my own recollections.

One of these memories is when I was three years old, gazing at myself in the mirror after spreading gold dust on my chest that I found on my mother’s little orange plastic tray, with a little orange plastic bow. We were living in my grandfather’s house, in my mother’s old bedroom.

I was very pleased with my reflection. I was wearing my favourite black kamesa de chino; I was glittering like a pixie and, in the background, was the wooden walls painted blue, a black-and-white poster of Farrah Fawcett in a bikini, and a poster of a mustachioed cowboy saying, “You’re the boss”.

Another such memory is when I was in kindergarten; Ate Glo, my mother’s second cousin who was also staying at my grandfather’s, took me to school that afternoon. We arrived just when the rain started to pour. My teacher ma’am Templanza, the kindest I ever had, ran down the steps and grabbed my other hand while Ate Glo held the other. When we got to the highest step, close to our classroom door, I leapt with joy that I wasn’t drenched in the cold rain. I swung between the two women. I felt safe.

Memory has been an area of interest in the fields of sociology, history, psychology, and anthropology, specifically collective memory, the shared memories of a social group significant to the group’s identity. One form of collective memory is national memory.

Thirty six years ago, ex-President Ferdinand Marcos was driven out of the country and out of power by the will of the masses. We celebrate it today as the EDSA Revolution, the People Power revolution. It installed Cory Aquino, the widow of the Marcos critic Ninoy Aquino, to the presidency.

This has been the historical memory enshrined in our textbooks in primary school, Sibika at Kultura. Nobody challenged that truth until recently, with the Marcoses, heirs of the fallen dictator, worming their way back to the palace. The futulity of upholding the memory of EDSA and the deposition of the dictator is not because they are not true, but because they have been appropriated to serve a political interest and marketed by the culture industry to serve the hegemony.

Thirty six years ago, ex-President Ferdinand Marcos was driven out of the country and out of power by the will of the masses. We celebrate it today as the EDSA Revolution, the People Power revolution.

Memory and truth can be tricky; they are subjective. Collective memory can compete with individual memory and dominant collective memory with other collective memories. Memory can be augmented and emotionalised to reshape nationalmemory. Propagandists of the current President Rodrigo Duterte like Mocha Uson dismissed the marching of nuns in EDSA to confront the military with their guns and war tanks as dramatic (Ed: Click here.)

It erodes our objective analysis of our country’s past. The social movements and people’s war that rose during the dictatorship, years before EDSA, are seldom discussed and, worse, even seen as an inconvenience. This includes the boycotting of banks and crony businesses of the Marcoses that effectively crippled the dictatorship and its enablers.

Perhaps this is to not remind the people of the true power of EDSA, beyond Cory and Ninoy, and that, with the collective will of the people, we can decide our nation’s destiny. To prevent the appropriation of history by the hegemony, it is imperative that we understand it objectively.

History must be viewed in a sociological manner. At the same time, we must interrogate our personal truths and individual memories, especially those that were handed to us. In my mother’s recollection, when Marcos declared Martial Law in September 1972, the day was nothing out of the ordinary, except that her classmates joked girls won’t be allowed to wear micro mini skirts anymore.

She was in college, taking up nursing in the city. She had an inkling of the political unrest; a cousin of hers was involved politically and had been a community organiser as long as she could remember. In the province, in her hometown, her sister has a different memory.

Militarisation had intensified, and paramilitary groups were swarming the countryside; they rounded up activists, members of the church, and anyone who dared to speak against Marcos. There were neighbors and peers of my grandmother from church who were abducted, incarcerated, and tortured.

My aunt remembers they hid under the sofa in their sari-sari store [convenience store] from the crossfire between the paramilitary and the revolutionary groups. She remembers how a hole was secretly dug in their backyard and how my grandmother supervised the burying of what were considered subversive documents then, without her husband’s knowledge.

As we commemorate the memory of EDSA, we cannot do so without acknowledging the looming election and the project of the Marcoses to assert their version of history. In our efforts to combat them, we must put ourselves to task: will we confront their machinations by asserting our own narrative of history in a competition of which history shall prevail, or will we endeavor to truly understand history in all its complexities in order to preserve facts alongside the multitude of memories.

History, according to Gramsci, has deposited in us an infinity of traces without leaving an inventory. Edward Said calls this the most interesting human task, the task of interpretation. It’s a task of giving history some sense and shape.

For a particular reason, not just to say my history is better than yours, my history is worse than yours, or I am the victim and you are the oppressor. But rather to understand my history in relation to others. To move beyond generalisation.

The great goal is to become someone else. To transform itself from a unique identity to an identity that recognises and includes the other without suppressing the differences. That is the ultimate goal of writing the inventory, not only understanding oneself but understanding oneself in relation to others as you would understand yourself.

At the same time, we must include in the discourse the connection between memory, forgetfulness, identity, and national imagination. To not see forgetfulness as an individual flaw, but rather as the establishment’s ongoing project to keep the masses poor, thereby hindering their remembrance.

These days, I often hear the question, did EDSA fail? No. EDSA is an important moment in our history, a beacon that will signal future social movements. Some may forget but the words of the Uruguayan scholar and journalist Eduardo Galeano is a salve to this malady: “No history is mute. No matter how much they own it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is.”

Note: Ram Botero is an artist, feminist, and cultural worker from Davao City, Philippines. She wrote and directed her debut short film, Pamalugu (In Limbo), which won Jury Prize for the Ngilngig Asian Fantastic Film Festival Davao (2019) and Pluma delas Rosas of Festival de Cine Paz Zamboanga (2019). The film also had an international screening at Fukuoka Independent Film Festival in Japan (2021).

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NOW IS THE TIME FOR NONALIGNMENT AND PEACE

May 4, 2022 – 6:55 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

HOW TO DONATE

Our costs will always be there. So readers who can donate towards the cost of the site, please open a Skrill account. Readers who wish to contribute to BigO will now have to use Skrill (click here). We are no longer able to use PayPal to receive donations. Register an account at Skrill. To make a payment, use this e-mail address as recipient’s e-mail address in Skrill: mail2[at]bigomagazine.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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It’s time to get back to where we once belonged. The Nonalignment Movement needs to be restarted back on the road to peace, progress and prosperity. By Roger McKenzie and Vijay Prashad.

War is an ugly part of the human experience. Everything about it is hideous. War is most obviously the act of invasion and the brutality that goes along with its operations. No war is precise; every war hurts civilians. Each act of bombardment sends a neurological shudder through a society.

World War II demonstrated this ugliness in the Holocaust and in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From Hiroshima and the Holocaust rose two mighty movements, one for peace and against the perils of further nuclear attacks, and the other for an end to the divisions of humanity and for a nonalignment from these divisions.

The Stockholm Appeal of 1950, signed by 300 million people, called for an absolute ban on nuclear weapons. Five years later, 29 countries from Africa and Asia, representing 54 percent of the world’s population, gathered in Bandung, Indonesia, to sign a 10-point pledge against war and for the “promotion of mutual interests and cooperation.”

The Bandung Spirit was for peace and for nonalignment, for the peoples of the world to put their efforts into building a process to eradicate history’s burdens (illiteracy, ill health, hunger) by using their social wealth. Why spend money on nuclear weapons when money should be spent on classrooms and hospitals?

Despite the major gains of many of the new nations that had emerged out of colonialism, the overwhelming force of the older colonial powers prevented the Bandung Spirit from defining human history. Instead, the civilization of war prevailed.

Twenty-nine countries from Africa and Asia, representing 54 per cent of the world’s population, gathered in Bandung, Indonesia [in April 1955], to sign a 10-point pledge against war and for the “promotion of mutual interests and cooperation.” The Bandung Spirit was for peace and for nonalignment, for the peoples of the world to put their efforts into building a process to eradicate history’s burdens (illiteracy, ill health, hunger) by using their social wealth. Why spend money on nuclear weapons when money should be spent on classrooms and hospitals?

This civilization of war is revealed in the massive waste of human wealth in the production of armed forces - sufficient to destroy hundreds of planets - and the use of these armed forces as the first instinct to settle disputes.

Since the 1950s, the battlefield of these ambitions has not been in Europe or in North America, but rather it has been in Africa, Asia, and Latin America - areas of the world where old colonial sensibilities believe that human life is less important.

This international division of humanity - which says that a war in Yemen is normal, whereas a war in Ukraine is horrific - defines our time. There are 40 wars taking place across the globe; there needs to be political will to fight to end each of these, not just those that are taking place within Europe. The Ukrainian flag is ubiquitous in the West; what are the colors of the Yemeni flag, of the Sahrawi flag, and of the Somali flag?

Return to Peace, Return to Nonalignment

We are overwhelmed these days with certainties that seem less and less real. As Russia’s war in Ukraine continues, there is a baffling view that negotiations are futile. This view circulates even when reasonable people agree that all wars must end in negotiations. If that is the case, then why not call for an immediate ceasefire and build the trust necessary for negotiations?

Negotiations are only feasible if there is respect on all sides, and if there is an attempt to understand that all sides in a military conflict have reasonable demands. To wit, to paint this war as the whims of Russian President Vladimir Putin is part of the exercise of permanent war. Security guarantees for Ukraine are necessary; but so are security guarantees for Russia, which would include a return to a serious international arms control regime.

Peace does not come merely because we wish for it. It requires a fight in the trenches of ideas and institutions. The political forces in power profit from war, and so they clothe themselves in machismo to better represent the arms dealers who want more war, not less.

Most of these countries voted against the condemnation of Russia not because they support Russia’s war in Ukraine, but rather because they recognize that polarization is a fatal error. What is needed is an alternative to the two-camp world of the Cold War.

These people in the blue suits of bureaucracy are not to be trusted with the world’s future. They fail us when it comes to the climate catastrophe; they fail us when it comes to the pandemic; they fail us when it comes to peacemaking. We need to summon up the old spirits of peace and nonalignment and bring these to life inside mass movements that are the only hope of this planet.

It is not merely sentimental to reach back to the past to breathe life into the Non-Aligned Movement of today. Already the contradictions of the present have raised the spectre of nonalignment in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Most of these countries voted against the condemnation of Russia not because they support Russia’s war in Ukraine, but rather because they recognize that polarization is a fatal error.

What is needed is an alternative to the two-camp world of the Cold War. That is the reason why many of the leaders of these countries - from China’s Xi Jinping to India’s Narendra Modi to South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa - have called, despite their very different political orientations, for a departure from the “Cold War mentality.” They are already walking toward a new nonaligned platform. It is this actual movement of history that provokes us to reflect on a return to the concepts of nonalignment and peace.

Nobody wants to imagine the full implications of the encirclement of China and Russia by the United States and its allies. Even countries that are closely allied with the United States - such as Germany and Japan - recognize that if a new iron curtain descends around China and Russia, it would be fatal for their own countries.

Already, the war and sanctions have created serious political crises in Honduras, Pakistan, Peru, and Sri Lanka, with others to follow as food and fuel prices rise astronomically. War is too expensive for the poorer nations. Spending for war is eating into the human spirit, and warfare itself increases people’s general sense of despair.

The warmakers are idealists. Their wars do not settle the major dilemmas of humanity. The ideas of nonalignment and peace, on the other hand, are realistic; their framework has answers to the children who want to eat and to learn, to play and to dream.

Note: Roger McKenzie is a reporter for the Morning Star. He is the general secretary of Liberation, one of the oldest UK human rights organizations. Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma. The above article was produced by the Morning Star and Globetrotter. It was also posted at CounterPunch.

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THE SHOCK OF THE NEW

May 1, 2022 – 6:56 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

HOW TO DONATE

Our costs will always be there. So readers who can donate towards the cost of the site, please open a Skrill account. Readers who wish to contribute to BigO will now have to use Skrill (click here). We are no longer able to use PayPal to receive donations. Register an account at Skrill. To make a payment, use this e-mail address as recipient’s e-mail address in Skrill: mail2[at]bigomagazine.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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What a wonderful world… the Kazakh New Wave. By Philip Cheah.

The shock of the new is sometimes comparable to the shock of the old. Take two points that stretch across decades. The first point is 1988 with Rachid Nugmanov’s The Needle and the second point is 2007 with Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s short, Bakhytzhamal.

In those roughly 20 years, the brash hard-hitting rock music of Victor Tsoi morphed into Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World. Did so much change? And if it did, why does Louis Armstrong sound so ironic and why indeed is the film so angry?

Therein is our memory of the Kazakh New Wave’s first impact. Victor Tsoi’s punk aesthetic was the shock of the new. “Changes, we desire changes” were the lyrics that his fans rallied to. It was everything that the Soviet system did not allow for - irreverence, rebellion and anti-establishment. It was, in short, a serious shock to the system.

But the real shock of the new was the emergence of a generation that was all geared up to go somewhere, a generation so gifted that their achievements ran ahead of them. Think about it. Rachid Nougmanov, director of The Needle, the most iconic film of the Kazakh New Wave, and the one who coined that label for his generation, was voted in as First Secretary of the Union of Kazakh filmmakers, even before he had graduated from film school, the All-Russian State University of Cinematography (VGIK).

Neither had Serik Aprimov graduated when his thesis film, The Final Stop (1989), won the Best Director Prize at the Molodist International Film Festival in Kiev. Just as surprising was Ardak Amirkulov who had not yet graduated from VGIK when Kazakhfilm Studio approached him to direct The Fall of Otrar (1990), the first genuine Kazakh historical epic.

For a young student director to manage the scale and mammoth logistics in the retelling of Genghiz Khan’s Mongol invasion of Central Asia, was quite unthinkable and a stupendous feat. And to deliver an epic imbued with the individualistic cultural spirit of the Kazakhs with a visceral sense of dramatic cinema indicated the force of this generation’s arrival. This is a film where the shock of the new meets the shock of the old. History is rewired with modern angst.

As Amirkulov told film academic Gulnara Abikeyeva, in her book, The Heart of the World - Films from Central Asia+: “In the Fall of Otrar, undoubtedly, the plot, costumes, sets - all surface elements - are historical. However, the internal dramatic arc, I think, has to be current, even more so: a little bit futuristic. I purposely avoided the pompousness of historical films.

“Remember our Asian historical films: war, exploits, characters, their thoughts and lives all looked unconvincing… Finally, we have this paradox: the stylised paintings of the East are more realistic than realistic paintings of the West, say of the 20th century. During chaotic periods when there are no rules in the arts, the traditional is the most avant-garde.”

Herein is a clue to how the Kazakh New Wave blazed such an unmistakeable trail. Due to the prevailing chaos from the collapsing political Soviet system to the emerging perestroika and glasnost, the young could reimagine the world any way they wished.

Amirkulov did not have to follow the dogma of Soviet historical films. He brought the “internal dramatic arc” to the fore. He made his film “a little bit futuristic”. He could remake “the traditional” as “avant-garde.” After all, The Fall Of Otrar could be read as the fall of the Soviet regime. They too, never saw what was coming at them.

The brutal and detailed torture scenes could refer to the deadly Stalinist times. Foreign film critics saw other things. US critic, Dave Kehr wrote: “The Fall Of Otrar has an edge of cynicism and cruelty that just as often suggests the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone.” But everyone could see that a new energy was exploding in front of them.

What is a New Wave? Nugmanov took this question from the late film historian Ron Holloway in 2001* and replied: “A wave is, after all, a wave. Perhaps I’m viewing the three or four years of its existence too much from my former position as the elected First Secretary of the Union of Kazakh Filmmakers (1989-1992).

“That’s when Kazakh cinema was really on the move. In retrospect, ours was not a full-fledged movement - rather, the wave hit the beach and then disappeared as quickly as it came. However, for the sake of clarity, or perspective, I can well understand why some critics and historians like to state that the Kazakh New Wave lasted approximately 10 years, from 1984 to 1994…

“Although we were not all the same age, most of us had assisted Sergei Soloviev on The Wild Pigeon (1985), a Mosfilm feature he had shot in Kazakhstan in 1984.” It was this fateful participation that led Soloviev to invite his young Kazakh crew to attend his master class in VGIK.

As Nugmanov recounted in Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s documentary, The Story Of The Kazakh Cinema (2015): “Soloviev kept a very tight rein on us… we were working on the set for weeks, we had to prepare sketches. It was an absolutely realistic game with objects that prepared us for real shooting. Afterwards, it was very easy for us during the shooting.

“Because this was absolutely anti-theatrical training. And we found our language; and people working at Kazakhfilm began to call us Soloviev’s gang. By that time, everyone had made a few films… and all these films were sent to the Moscow Film Festival. But it was necessary to find a title for this programme. Suddenly, it occurred to me. Since we can’t call it Soloviev’s gang, let’s call it the Kazakh New Wave. And it all started from there.”

Nugmanov’s own iconic debut, The Needle (1988) was seen by over 25 million fans in the Soviet Union, and this explosive reaction makes one wonder: What did the young Soviet audience see in The Needle at that time? One must assume that the bulk of the audience for this film was young because the iconography of the film was definitely rock ‘n’ roll and, more specifically, it was the sound of ’80s new wave pop and rock.

The haircuts, the clothes, the eye glasses and yes, the drugs. That close-up shot of the syringe needle shooting up into the heroine’s vein was very likely what the youth identified with. Plus Victor Tsoi was considered a rock superstar of that period. Interestingly, the inclusion of Tsoi wasn’t just rock-star identification. His was an Asian face and for the Kazakh audience, it was seeing themselves projected as superstars finally.

Nugmanov was, of course, naturally evoking the spirit of his generation. If the West had Elvis Presley and James Dean, Nugmanov had Tsoi. That opening shot of Tsoi coming through the deserted alley evoked Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, minus the placards. But you could still hear Dylan-Tsoi-Nugmanov saying: “Don’t follow leaders/Watch your parking meters,” as Tsoi  gives a middle finger to a railcar employee and then fishes his coin out of the public telephone that he’s just used.

The anti-hero imagery continues in a totally unexpected sequence when Tsoi follows the heroine to the desert where she undergoes cold turkey. That desert turns out to be the arid Aral Sea, and Nugmanov captures it in all its aching desolation and stark beauty. It was the closest evocation of a romantic interlude but as Gulnara Abikeyeva pointed out in her film review: “the scene at the Aral Sea looks like a metaphor for the disintegrating Soviet Union - abandoned houses, the dried-up sea, ships stuck in the sand, a crewless ship.”

The Needle broke all the rules of Soviet cinema as there was no sign of a literal narrative. For a Western viewer, The Needle could have possibly evoked James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. Both anti-heroes challenged artifice, fakery and hypocrisy and lived for inner truth.

Where Nugmanov captured urban reality, his peer Serik Aprimov demythologised the idyllic rural aul (village) in The Last Stop (1989). Just as Nugmanov expressed the shock of the new, it was Aprimov who confronted with the shock of the old.

As Aprimov told Abikeyeva: “I am denying the lie that was perpetuated  during all these years. If I created a film with the same concept but about the city life of Kazakhs, people would agree, they would say; ‘Yes, the city corrupts people.’ But Kazakhs developed their holy of holiest places - an aul (a Kazakh village) - where their traditions and morals are kept alive. Our writers always exclaimed in a very theatrical way - ‘My aul! It is my source of wisdom and intelligence! Of everything!’ I ignored this and showed the true life.

“For example, we developed a fairy-tale about our kind-hearted attitude towards women. I say ‘No!’ Women in villages have a hard life and dirty and exhausting labour. Finally, prostitution exists there. I even brought down our belief about respect of the elders. You should see how much alcohol people drink there.”

The Final Stop didn’t stop there. Aprimov carried on with his deconstruction of the idyllic aul with later works such as Three Brothers (1999) and The Hunter (2004), proof that the Kazakh New Wave was no flash-in-the-pan. Their generation had something to say.

In Three Brothers, a gang of children live in an aul near an airfield. Of significance is an old train yard where the kids plan their adventures and listen to the stories of an old train driver who is caretaker of the depot. On one level, the film is a lyrical paean to the foibles and dreams of youth, almost a coming-of-age tale but with a political parable that is introduced in the start and explodes at the end.

On another level, the film is allegorical. The old man represents the previous generation who lived under Soviet rule and the children who are the future. But the old man and his trains are on a collision course with the dreams of the children who want to fly higher. There is no middle ground, no reality that they can be rooted in.

Aprimov went back again to look at his less-than idyllic aul in The Hunter (2004). Seen today, The Hunter could be a Me Too movement film depending on which side of the debate you stand on. But it is one of the key films that examines the Kazakh attitude towards women.

Again, Aprimov makes his point through the eyes of a child. An adopted son is angry that his step-mother is so free sexually with many men (Is this the prostitution that Aprimov has mentioned?). On the night that the hunter sleeps with his stepmother, the boy goes berserk and shoots up the neighbourhood. To avoid arrest, the hunter takes the boy with him to the mountains.

While ostensibly, the film seems like a rite-of-passage film for the boy to reach adulthood, it can also be read as a fascinating account of what Kazakh men think about women. The hunter of wolves and the hunter as wolf. In the most sensational sequence in the film, the hunter notices a woman who lets her hair down. That is taken as a sexual invitation and segues into a sex scene where the act is performed on a galloping horse. But that really isn’t the film’s key scene.

The poignant moment occurs near the end when the pair find the boy’s stepmother frozen by the wayside. To revive and save her, the hunter insists that the boy lie naked against her to share his body heat. As Aprimov explained, Kazakh boys when young are not touched or caressed by their mothers for fear of inciting manhood (sexual maturity)

As a result, the tenderness that men feel for women is inhibited and repressed. This explains the final scene when the boy finds sexual drawings that the hunter has kept. None of the women in this film have names, again expressing the depersonalised relationships Kazakh men have with women.

There were many others who came out of the New Wave. Darezhan Omirbaev, critic-editor for the Almaty-based New Film journal, is referenced as an inspiration by many younger directors today. His debut feature, Kairat (1991), won the Silver Leopard at the 1992 Locarno festival. Abai Karpikov’s Little Fish in Love (1989), was an important addition to the urban tales while Amir Karakulov’s A Woman Between Two Brothers (aka Homewrecker, 1991) is a meditative psycho-drama.

Whether you take the view that the New Wave lasted a brief four years, from 1989-92, or a longer decade, from 1984-94; what’s important to note is that it didn’t sputter out and vanish. Even a filmmaker such as Ardak Amirkulov, who had an epic beginning, with The Fall Of Otrar, went back to investigate his underground roots in 1997, Rustem’s Notes With Drawings [1998].

The music has changed from the new wave pop rock of The Needle to thrash metal. As Amirkulov told Gonul Donmez-Colin in her book, Cinemas Of The Other - A Personal Journey with Filmmakers from Central Asia#: “I thought it might be good for our memory to transfix a special time in history. Everything around us has been changing so fast that we wanted to make a film to mark this period in time to return one day to revive our memory.

“1997 was also the year when it became clear that the political changes were now irreversible, the year when all the monuments were replaced in Kazakhstan… At the same time, it was the 850th anniversary of Moscow, the return of Hongkong to China and the death of Princess Diana. We wanted to mark all these events.”

This was the first contemporary film for Amirkulov but the film is really an inversion of The Fall Of Otrar. 1997 was an improvisational film made with his students when Amirkulov was professor at the Kazakh State Institute of Theatre and Cinema, and showed the disaffected youth of that time.

It was a snapshot of that period. It was modernity as history, an inversion of how The Fall Of Otrar looked at history as a comment of modern times. Perhaps, in the end, nothing has really changed. Just as the heroine walks in a circle in the final scenes, the music also reverts back to new wave pop.

Fast forward 10 years and we come to Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s short, Bakhytzhamal (2007). Whatever we first saw in the Kazakh New Wave, we saw it here again. That raw quality of Nugmanov’s The Needle from his use of non-professional actors was a lesson for Yerzhanov.

In later features such as The Gentle Indifference Of The World (2018) or A Dark, Dark Man (2019), Yerzhanov’s trademark minimalism draws from Omirbaev. As Yerzhanov said in his documentary, The Story Of Kazakh Cinema: “Omirbaev was first to understand the nature of minimalism. His laconic approach freed cinema from unnecessary effects. His film Cardiogram showed that Kazakh cinema can be both silent and austere.”

The epic sense of the New Wave seen in Amirkulov’s The Fall Of Otrar can be found again in Yerzhanov’s most important and most overlooked film, Night God [2018]. It’s equally epic, a grand and terrible gaze at the looming apocalypse.

The dark and foreboding nature of the film was already expressed in the press kit: “In Night God, a father, carrying a bomb strapped to his chest, and daughter, travel through an apocalyptic world where light seems to have disappeared, save for a few meteorites lighting up the darkness. In this nightmarish, violent and absurd land, it is said that whoever sees the Night God shall perish.”

Night God just happens to be the central statement of Yerzhanov’s filmography. In his worldview, there is little hope left, from the homelessness of his early features (Realtor, 2011; Constructors, 2013), the insane bureaucracy (The Plague At Karatas Village, 2016), the issue of unfair ownership (The Owners, 2014) to even philosophical malaise (The Gentle Indifference Of The World) and in his recent film, Yellow Cat (2020), he rhetorically asks the villains - “why does the world have to be this way?”

But in Night God, the apocalypse is already at our doorstep but we cannot recognise it. And because we can’t fix it, we continue with the injustice. As Yerzhanov says: “The hero sees signs in the sky, the demons walk the streets, and nobody cares about his ticking bomb.

“The fate, the irrational force is hiding behind every fatal event, every social injustice, and it’s hard to understand or to fix. The hero relies on rational logic, but there’s no point anymore and no one who could help - the end of the world is already happening, quietly but for a very long time.”

The Kazakh New Wave appeared at a juncture when everything changed and when everything remained the same. It was noted by many directors that one could not make films during the Soviet times due to censorship and then after that, one could not make films during glasnost because there wasn’t any money.

But if there are only two words to define the Kazakh New Wave then those words are hopelessness and energy. That sense of hopelessness at society was also a mysterious source of creative energy. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, if all of us are in the gutter of Night God, then some of us are still looking at the stars, at the film’s end.

+ Published 2003, pp 41
* Published in BigO #198, June 2002, pp 39-45
# Published 2012, pp 27

Note: The above essay was first published in the book, Kazakh New Wave, edited by Gulnara Abikeyeva, released in February 2022. Tselinny Publishing. Almaty, 2021. ISBN 978–601–06–7425–7. An English translation of this book is not available yet.

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WESTERN-LED GLOBALIZATION MIGHT END, BUT THE NEW GLOBALIZATION MIGHT HAVE AN EASTERN FACE

April 27, 2022 – 6:22 am

Fifty years ago today, Beatle George told us that All Things Must Pass. Then he told us about Living in the Material World. For 36 years, BigO has been trying to keep the spirit and history of the music alive. Before all things pass, we still need your help to live in this material world. You can help us to do this with a kind donation. Please give what you are happy to give…

HOW TO DONATE

Our costs will always be there. So readers who can donate towards the cost of the site, please open a Skrill account. Readers who wish to contribute to BigO will now have to use Skrill (click here). We are no longer able to use PayPal to receive donations. Register an account at Skrill. To make a payment, use this e-mail address as recipient’s e-mail address in Skrill: mail2[at]bigomagazine.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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JUST TO LET YOU KNOW
To reduce spamming, the BigO website is going through Cloudflare. What it does is scan your browser to ensure the visitor is not a spam. Do not be alarmed as this usually takes only a few seconds.  Email us if you still have difficulty accessing the BigO site; or playing or downloading the tracks. If you know a better way of reducing spam, do let us know.

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Time to loosen the West’s grip on globalization. Look East. By E Ahmet Tonak and Vijay Prashad.

An article written by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge for Bloomberg on March 24 sounded the alarm to announce the end of “the second great age of globalization”. The Western trade war and sanctions against China that predated the pandemic have now been joined by the stiff Western sanctions imposed against Russia after it invaded Ukraine.

These sanctions are like an iron curtain being built by the United States and its allies around Eurasia. But according to Micklethwait and Wooldridge, this iron curtain will not only descend around China and Russia but will also have far-reaching consequences across the world.

Australia and many countries in Asia, including India and Japan - which are otherwise reliable allies of the United States - are unwilling to break their economic and political ties with China and Russia.

The 38 countries that did not vote at the United Nations General Assembly meeting on March 24 to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine included China and India; both of these countries “account for the majority of the world’s population”, Micklethwait and Wooldridge observe in their Bloomberg article. If the world bifurcates, “the second great age of globalization… [will come] to a catastrophic close,” the article states.

In 2000, Micklethwait and Wooldridge published the manual on this wave of globalization called A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Promise of Globalization. That book cheered on the liberalization of trade and finance, although its authors acknowledged that in this free market society that they championed, “business people are the most obvious beneficiaries”.

The inequalities generated by globalization would be lessened, they suggested, by the greater choices afforded to the consumers (although, as social inequality increased during the 2000s, consumers simply did not have the money to exercise their choices). When Micklethwait and Wooldridge wrote A Future Perfect, they both worked for the Economist, which has been one of the cheerleaders of Western-shaped globalization. Both Micklethwait and Wooldridge are now at Bloomberg, another significant voice of the business elites.

With the faltering of the Western economies, both China and Russia, as well as other major economic powers, began to seek alternative ways to globalize. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which was announced in 2013, is a signal of this gradual shift, with China developing its own linkages first in Central and South Asia and then beyond Asia and toward Africa, Europe and Latin America.

In an article for the International Monetary Fund, Kenneth Rogoff, a professor at Harvard University, warns of the risk of deglobalization. Such an unraveling, he notes, “would surely be a huge negative shock for the world economy”.

Rogoff, like Micklethwait and Wooldridge, uses the word “catastrophic” to describe the impact of deglobalization. Unlike Micklethwait and Wooldridge, however, Rogoff’s article seems to imply that deglobalization is the production of Russia’s war on Ukraine and that it could be “temporary”.

Russia, he states, “looks set to be isolated for an extended period.” In his article, Rogoff does not delve very much into concerns about what this means to the people in many parts of the world (such as Central Asia and Europe). “The real hit to globalization,” he worries, “will happen if trade between advanced economies and China also drops.” If that happens, then deglobalization would not be temporary since countries such as China and Russia will seek other pathways for trade and development.

Longer Histories

None of these writers acknowledges in these recent articles that deglobalization, which is a retreat from Western-designed globalization, did not begin during the pandemic or during the Russian war on Ukraine. This process has its origins in the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

With the faltering of the Western economies, both China and Russia, as well as other major economic powers, began to seek alternative ways to globalize. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which was announced in 2013, is a signal of this gradual shift, with China developing its own linkages first in Central and South Asia and then beyond Asia and toward Africa, Europe and Latin America.

It is telling that the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, a backwater event founded in 1997, has become a meeting place for Asian and European business and political leaders who see this meeting as much more significant than the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting held in Davos, Switzerland.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, countries such as China began to de-dollarize their currency reserves. They moved from a largely dollar-based reserve to one that was more diversified. It is this move toward diversification that led to the drop in the dollar’s share in global currency reserves from 70 per cent in 2000 to 59 per cent in 2020.

As the United States widens its net to sanction more and more countries, these countries - such as China and Russia - seek to build up trade mechanisms that are not reliant upon Western institutions anymore.

According to author Tony Norfield, the share of dollars in Russian foreign exchange reserves was 23.6 per cent in 2019 and dropped to 10.9 per cent by 2021. Deprived of dollars due to the sanctions imposed by the West, the Central Bank of Russia has attempted various maneuvers to de-dollarize its currency reserves as well, including by anchoring the ruble to gold, by preventing the outward flow of dollars and by demanding that its buyers of fuel and food pay in rubles rather than in dollars.

As the United States widens its net to sanction more and more countries, these countries - such as China and Russia - seek to build up trade mechanisms that are not reliant upon Western institutions anymore.

Deglobalization Leads to a Different Globalization

On January 1, 2022, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) - the world’s largest free trade pact - went into effect. Two years ago, 15 countries met virtually in Hanoi, Vietnam, to sign this treaty.

These countries include close allies of the United States, such as Australia, Japan and South Korea, as well as countries that face US sanctions, such as China and Myanmar. A third of humanity is included in RCEP, which accounts for a third of global gross domestic product. The Asian Development Bank is hopeful that RCEP will provide relief to countries struggling to emerge from the negative economic impact of the pandemic.

Blocs such as RCEP and projects like the BRI are not antithetical to the internationalization of trade and development. Economists at the HKUST Business School in Hong Kong show that the BRI “significantly increases bilateral trade flows between BRI countries”.

China’s purchases from BRI countries have increased, although much of this is in the realm of energy and minerals rather than in high-value goods; exports from China to the BRI countries, on the other hand, remain steady. The Asian Development Bank estimates that the BRI project would require $1.7 trillion annually for infrastructural development in Asia, including climate-related investments.

The pandemic has certainly stalled the progress of the BRI project, with debt problems affecting a range of countries due to lower than capacity use of their BRI-funded infrastructure. The economic and political crises in Pakistan and Sri Lanka are partly related to the global slowdown of trade. These countries are integral to the BRI project. Rising food and fuel prices due to the war in Ukraine will further complicate matters for countries in the Global South.

The appetite in many parts of the world has already increased for an alternative to Western-shaped globalization, but this does not necessarily mean deglobalization. It could mean a globalization platform that no longer has its epicenter located in Washington or Brussels.

Note: E Ahmet Tonak is an economist who works at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. Vijay Prashad’s most recent book (with Noam Chomsky) is The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and the Fragility of US Power (New Press, August 2022). The above article was produced by Globetrotter. It was posted at CounterPunch.

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