Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Union for Workers vs. Workers for Union

Yes, what is meant to serve what - is trade union supposed to serve its members or the opposite? That's the question which appears in my head when I think about this latest trade union's protest action in Gothenburg. Why on earth do they need to start almost a crusade against one young owner of a small restaurant? According to the available information, those few persons who are employed at this place get even BETTER paid than they would be guaranteed by collective agreement, and NONE of them is member in the trade union.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to join such unions and enjoy the protection offered by them: "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests." The same declaration guarantees also right to not be member of any association: "No one may be compelled to belong to an association." To put it shortly, it's up to workers THEMSELVES to decide if they want to join the union or not.

Even if the trade union could argue that they have good intentions, namely to protect the interests of those who work in this restaurant, it does not seem to be a good argument for their cause. If the workers themselves are satisfied and get paid more than enough, what interests does the union protect? If they continue acting in the same direction, it will lead to bankruptcy for the restaurant, and accordingly to NO SALARY for the workers. How is that for justice?

Then again, trade union has used the good old argument that what they do is not unlawful, and therefore there is nothing wrong with their activities. Mixing up law with moral judgement seems never been demonstrated so bravely. There are many things that are legal that me or somebody else is still not doing - simply because we choose to do something else, or we consider these specific activities to be of no interest for us, for whatever reason.

What trade union seems to be doing in this case is, in my understanding, stubbornly following hard principles, even if it entails harming the ones they are supposed to protect. Oh, excuse me - of course they do not have to protect those traitors... Or do they? What is more important, trade union or its members?

For me the answer is obvious.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Lost to Live Together

Watching Lost has become very frustrating for me. Really, what's wrong with these people? They don't seem to care about arranging even some very basic model of society... although they are forced to live with each other on this island where you never know what's gonna happen next. You hardly know anything at all.

And here I go, switching my sympathy from Jack to John, then to Sawyer, then to Kate... And so on. Power politics, so exciting - as long as it is just a TV show and does not affect my own life of course.

Learning to live together is not easy, but that's the only way. Indeed, we are all just like passengers of an airplane crashed on an island in the middle of nowhere.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Killing Whom/What in the Name of Whom/What?

Killing Saddam Hussein, by hanging or any other way, is not gonna solve problems that Iraq is facing today. Nor will it be a sentence against all the dark period of his rule, as has been boldly proclaimed by Iraqi Prime minister. Death penalty as such, and also the method of execution, would rather entail giving new life to the norms and cultural patterns of that very dark period. Indeed, it would make the image of the martyr Saddam and the ghost of his rule more alive than ever - this time in the name of democracy, human rights and justice.

Perhaps Iraqi people should have the freedom to do what they see most compatible with their own sense of justice in this case. Why shouldn't they, after all the years of tyranny and oppression? Though this simple assumption should not stop criticism in the name of respect for their choice. Sensitivity does not have to entail silence. And not being silent does not have to entail violence.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Political Family

A very nice point expressed in the words from Latvian poet Māra Zālīte:

Sometimes almost, almost
I believe the newspaper babble,
that in place of a father I have NATO
in place of a mother I have the UN,
and to support me as an orphan
soon in my palm will be a Euro.

Monday, October 16, 2006

United Gangsters Security Council

The nuclear tests done by North Korea might, and should be condemned. But i have to agree with North Korea's UN ambassador on one point. Yes, UN Security Council in its current form is nothing else but gangsters. How otherwise can you call this peace-club of magic five who simultaneously are the biggest threat to the world peace?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Right to Vote Right

Parliamentary elections is said to be a sort of high time for democracy. Today it happens in Latvia. This time it will be a little bit special. It seems that many voters are tired of the established parties (and rightly so, in my opinion), so the radicals of both right-wing nationalist and pro-Russian parties have some real chance of getting enough votes to get seats in the parliament.

Democracy is, of course, power of the people. Or at least majority of the people. Though, as we know, this entails a risk - no less than risk to lose democracy altogether. Some of the people would love to use democracy as a tool for killing democracy. For example, some of the right-wing parties in Latvia, while frequently referring to their "right to opinion", want to severely restrict rights of sexual minorities. National Power Unity has gone so far as to call homosexuals "sexual criminals" and proposing criminalization of "homosexual propaganda". This very same party has the guts to claim that they are directly continuing the heritage of Latvian human rights group from the 80-ies, "Helsinki-86". Nothing from the goals back then has changed, the claim... Which is a plain lie. While Helsinki-86 stood for human rights, including the rights of national and linguistic minorities (even proposing minority schools in order to prevent assimilation), National Power Unity boldly claim on their website: " We do not support any multi-national policy with liberal tendencies as it serves not to interests of the nation." What do they really claim - the right to opinion or the right to lie?

Now back to the question of democracy. If by democracy we mean simply majoritarian rule, it is easy to see that such rule has the potential of becoming a majoritarian tyranny. We often see also that groups that want to restrict the rights and freedoms put forward bold and radical claims about their own rights and freedoms. In other words, the only interest they have in democracy and human rights is demolcracy and human rights as a way to get power. Not very conducive for the democratic process, to put it mildly... One way to go about it is to say that such claims are not valid, since rights are not to be used for damaging and destroying these very rights ( as is done for example in the European Convention on Human Rights, art. 17). Though we have to admit that determining such abusers of rights sometimes might be very tricky (people will of course try to claim that they have no intention whatsoever to limit or abolish rights), and it also presupposes that people do actually endorse human rights as such (which is not always the case).

Another possible way would be to reshape our understanding of democracy - democracy as a certain political regime. French philosopher Jacques Derrida argues for understanding democracy as a concept (and, notably, one of a kind) that inherits the valuable quality of self-reflection, and thus is indefinitely self-improving. Secret of democracy lies in the process, not in creating some static structure that will later be called democracy. What he means is thus that democracy, in order to be democracy, should never stop, never become static. Rather, it should be always moving, always changing, refining and improving itself. That is why Derrida opposes to democracy defined as a certain political regime. Not because we see variation of different manifestations of democracy in the world today - these different "democracies" could analyzed, compared and evaluated, thus leading to choosing the best model. Derrida takes another turn, for him the heart of democracy lies in its ability for self-reflection. As soon as one regime would be called “democracy”, it would mean the end of democracy itself. Therefore democracy does not exist as a thing, but does exist as a mode of doing things and as a direction.

So the question about radical right-wing parties is not spinning around their right to hold their opinion - it is a question of the existence of democracy and rights altogether. How to deal with such undemocratic democrats is another question, but only legislative measures (criminalisation of hate speech, forbidding racist organisations, etc) will surely not be enough.

Back on Track

The summer is really over, and I am more or less permanently back in Stockholm. Now with master degree in human rights.

And I am back here as well, ready to write, write, write...

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Dream or Nightmare of EU

EU is a fantasy, a specter that is haunting us and giving us more trouble than good. I have been saying this again and again with references to different EU-related incidents in my life. Here is the most recent one.

I have been using Internet services of my Swedish Bank for several years. To do that I have to have a small device which is generating codes to log in to the website. Since I lost this little gadget somewhere in Italy, upon my arrival to Stockholm I went straight to one of the bank offices to get a new one. This is not supposed to be anything complicated, just to pay 250 SEK, and that's it. Well, in my case it became a bit funny. My Swedish ID card had expired, and my bank didn't want to accept my Latvian passport, on the grounds that it does not count as a valid Swedish identification document. Valid Swedish identification document, as I got to know, is either an EU-passport or a Swedish ID card. The problem is that we in Latvia don't have EU-passports yet. So, in order to get this little device that I need to use services of my own bank I need to get a new Swedish ID card. That would take at least 3 weeks, the time I don't have at the moment.

And it is not only about convenience. Paying my bills through the phone costs, well, first of all phone-call itself, and then the bank is taking a fee for every bill paid. Through Internet it doesn't cost anything besides one single fee I pay for a year.

When I opened my bank account a few years ago, I didn't have a Swedish ID card. I could use my Latvian passport. What has happened now? It is the same passport I used back then, but now somehow it's become useless. Of course some would say that since it is a private bank it's their own business how they do with foreign passports. But state is restricting activities of private actors in many different ways. And why should they let a bank refuse to accept an internationally recognized, valid document?

Thank you, EU! Just give me more trouble, and be sure, I will make your existence not easy. It's a promise.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Please, Say Something!!!

"No comments." That was the answer that Ineta Ziemele, the leading human rights expert in Latvia, now working for European Court of Human rights, gave as an answer when she recently was asked by a Latvian newspaper about her opinion on the harsh things certain Latvian politicians have said regarding sexual minority rights.

What is this? Some typical lawyer attitude, or? I mean, seriously, she is well-known and respected person in Latvia, she could have raised her voice and said something. But no. Silence.

If this is what is considered to be impartiality then I don't want to be impartial.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Quote for Not Just Today

To understand political power aright, and to derive from its original, we must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions as they think fit, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man.

(John Locke)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Another Day, the Same Revolution

It doesn't happen very often that I read something and the only reflection I get is expressed by one word. But a quotation from this book, published in 1967... What can I say?

No other problem is as important to me as a difficulty I encounter throughout the long daylight hours: how can I invent a passion, fulfill a wish or construct a dream in the daytime in the way my mind does spontaneously as I sleep? What haunts me are my unfinished actions, not the future of the human race or the state of the world in the year 2000. I could not care less about hypothetical possibilities, and the meandering abstractions of the futurologists leave me cold. If I write, it is not, as they say, "for others." I have no wish to exorcise other people's ghosts. I string words together as a way of getting out of the well of isolation, because I need others to pull me out. I write out of impatience, and with impatience. I want to live without dead time. What other people say interests me only in as much as it concerns me directly. They must use me to save themselves just as I use them to save myself. We have a common project. But it is out of the question that the project of the whole man should entail a reduction in individuality. There are no degrees in castration.
(Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life)


Saturday, May 06, 2006

Sports, Politics - and Peace among the Nations

If Russia would play in the final, it would be a very positive step towards improving our relationship. It's such a good combination - Russia winning world championship in Latvia.
(Guntis Ulmanis, former president of Latvia, in a recent interview)

Really? Great idea, though I don't think it works this way in sports. Last time when Latvia won against Russia in hockey in St. Petersburg, it was not very conducive for any Latvian-Russian relationships.

Perhaps Latvia playing against Russia with 0-0 would be good. I remember how once a security guy in a pub in Stockholm (a pub where local football fans used to gather to watch games) told me - the best is if the result is 0-0, because then there are no fights. Otherwise, those who win are happy and smash the place... And those who lose do the same - because they are angry.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Difference Between "Dissident" and "Stupid"

"Dissident President" is the title of an article in "Opinion Journal" by Natan Sharansky, who was himself a well-known dissident in the Soviet Union.

According to Sharansky, Bush is to be considered a rare case of being a political leader and at the same time a dissident - because he has "deep belief in the universal appeal of freedom" and also practically applies it in his capacity as the president of the USA. And he stands his ground no matter all the criticism. In other words, a true believer, truly practising what he preaches, a saint-like figure.

I find Sharansky's definition of "dissident" slightly unorthodox, to put it mildly. According to Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary "dissident" means "a person who publicly disagrees with and criticizes their government". Most often the word is used when refering to political dissidents who show their disagreement with policies of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes - Sharansky being a perfect example of such a dissident. But how does Bush fit into this description? The chief of the world's mightiest military superpower, dissenting against what? If a simple fact of disagreeing with certain ideas qualifies one to be a dissident, then Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden & Co are also eligible to the glorious title of dissident.

Of course, one could try to argue that the above mentioned persons are the bad guys, that they are against freedom while Bush is for it. Still, we know that believing in the need of freedom is something fairly uncontroversial, something that majority of the world's population would subscribe to. There are certainly some mad people (like the above mentioned terrorist tandem) who would disagree. People in their countries or under their control who oppose the insanity of such leaders are certainly to be regarded as dissidents, not foreign presidents.

And then we know what Bush's "dissident activities" have meant for the whole discourse of international law and human rights. Fighting for freedom? Sure, for their own freedom to act as they want, no matter what. Sharansky calls this hardline stance "a dogged determination that any dissident can appreciate". I would rather call it extreme stubborness. And, yes, even stupidity. American anthropologist David Graeber explains Bush's stupidity as follows:

The Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem once tried to imagine the stupidest computer ever constructed. This is what he came up with: a giant computer that could do only one problem, 2+2, thought the answer was 5, and when anyone tried to tell it otherwise, it grew outraged and tried to kill them. It is in this sense that we can call Bush stupid. He is a man used to deciding what he thinks is right, and then sticking to his guns no matter how insane, disastrous or simply incorrect his premises turn out to have been. But of course this is precisely the core of what his supporters like about him. He's firm, they say. Decisive. A strong leader. Not like those over-intellectual flip-floppers who are always changing their minds or going on about how many sides there are to a problem.
There is one peculiar similarity between what Sharansky calls "dissident", and what Graeber defines as "stupid". Both paint picture of a person that is completely unwilling to exert any kind of self-reflection. Graeber argues that it is an essentially anti-intellectual quality, mark of a genuinely stupid person. Sharansky presents a black & white understanding of the world where dissident is somebody who fights against the evil. Staying true to ones ideals is crucial, since otherwise dissident would commit "the greatest of moral failures". Self-reflection? Never! "No matter the consequences," argues Sharansky. Wait a second, did I get it right? I thought it was about the armageddon-style battle between the good and the evil, where the good will prevail in the end! Perhaps Sharansky understands very well that there is no great battle between good and evil powers, and there will never be any final victory to present. Still, for the sake of argument, he claims that "we are in the midst of a great struggle between the forces of terror and the forces of freedom". Accordingly, we have to choose our side. And there are only two sides. That will say, in the world as seen by Sharansky. The world of pure ideas, or more precisely ideologies (which are clashing, of course).

It is not hard to understand that there is no way out of such argumentation, since whatever criticism of certain activities of Bush in the international arena, he is still representing "the forces of freedom". Hence, criticizing is being on the wrong side. And even more so, it is abusing the possibility to criticize. We are able to criticize only because "
there is a democracy agenda in the first place", says Sharansky. What he forgets is that democracy, or democracy agenda, was not created by Bush. The democracy agenda itself is fueled by discussions and constructive criticism of public policies. Cutting off this possibility would mean - and this is the bizzare point - oppression against eventual dissidents.

Of course, Sharansky doesn't need the dissidents anymore. He needs to obey his master, otherwise his master (and it's not very hard to figure out who that master is) might stop promoting his b
ook "The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror". And since Sharansky has resigned from his post in Israeli government - to protest plans to withdraw Israeli settlers from the contested Gaza Strip - he might need that extra cash from selling his book to potential freedom fighters. Naturally, the article "Dissident President" ends with sales link for Sharansky's book.