Monday, June 22, 2009

Intermission

Back from the European waterways, ten days of intermission awaits in Gothenburg until it is time to leave for our second expedition this summer. Following a four hours flight down to Andalusia on 30 June, we will experience the red fortress of Alhambra before taking the boat to Morocco and the great desert.

It will be the first time that I travel to Africa and though I know that Morocco is quite different from the rest of the continent, it is still a door that I long have yearned to unbolt.

Friday, June 12, 2009

River tales

After a glorious election day in which the Pirate Party made it into the European Parliament, capturing at least one and possibly (depending on whether the Lisbon treaty will get ratified or not) two seats, Lina and I left Gothenburg for Germany. A first instalment of this summer’s vacation plans, we are to follow not only the Rhine but also the Danube and the Elbe for about a week, seeing friends and taking some slow river cruises.

In Frankfurt we were given a tour of Campus Westend from 1929, a monumental building in the new Realism style which first served as headquarter for the chemical concern I.G. Farbenindustrie AG (responsible for the development of Zyklon B) and then, in one of history’s many staggering turns, as coordinating centre for the Marshall plan and the office of General Dwight D Eisenhower. Since about a decade ago, the complex has become the main site for the University of Frankfurt and thereby also the setting for the exchange year undertaken by my friend Marcus. With such a back-story, one cannot help to feel envious of his new philosophical hunting ground, especially in the light of its prominent faculty consisting of people like Axel Honneth.

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Sitting down afterwards for asparagus and “Grüne Sauce”, I was reminded about how much all this has come to mean to me, at first maybe as an insecure identity marker when growing up in small-town Kalmar and being all too eager to differentiate myself, but then later as ever richer memories and unfinished dreams.

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

All Hands Hoay!

Tomorrow Sweden and most other countries in the union will vote for the European Parliament. Unlike earlier elections, in which I always have felt certain about voting for the Greens, this year has made the choice a bit more difficult.

Founded in 2006, the Swedish Pirate Party has rapidly grown into a serious contender with polls indicating that it could win as much as eight percent of the vote, giving it up to two seats in the parliament. Unlike other similar parties that quickly have gained (and then lost) electoral fame, it is worth nothing that the Pirate Party has a member base of more than 48 000 people, making it the third largest party in Sweden in terms of membership.

I signed up about a year ago, mostly as a reaction to the raft of new repressive laws that were being enacted at the time, most notably the electronic surveillance legislation known as “Lex Orwell”. Since then, the downward spiral has continued with IPRED being written into national law (giving private companies police-like authority) and then the grossly unfair verdict against The Pirate Bay which suggests that simply linking to proprietary material is a criminal act, implying among other things that this very blog post is illegal since it now has a link to TPB.

Since I decided to join, I have found myself in a number of heated debates. Friends and colleagues have tried to persuade me about how culturally barren a world without copyright would be or about the imminent dangers posed by Islamic terrorism. Too often have these debates degraded into the classic frontlines and the all too narrow question of how certain artists or authors are to be paid. This is not, and has never been, a question of how to financially support the production of literature, music or movies. It is a question of to what extent we are prepared to violate basic democratic freedom in order to satisfy commercial interests. It is a question of what defines democracy itself, of what our ideals truly mean when they are tested. As I have argued before, I believe that for democracy to triumph and ultimately become universal, it is pivotal that it remains true to its values.

If Sweden cannot live without monitoring the internet, how can we expect China to? If we today believe that the government has the right to intercept any international phone call in the pursuit of a marginal terror threat, what would we not be ready to do if there was indeed a major terror incident? How come that our commitment to our values and our readiness to sacrifice is so completely off-the-scale compared to what for instance the civilian population of London showed during the Blitz? Why cannot anyone stand up and say that democracy does not come for free?

I hope YOU do. Tomorrow.