When the State becomes too powerful

[Watch video interview at the bottom]

Venezuelan-Norwegian Thor Halvorssen starts the ninth edition of his Oslo Freedom Forum (OFF) – featuring over 50 different talks and seminars – by bringing up the Thai military coup anniversary, in addition to authoritarian North Korea, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

He reminds us of the global crises, wars and conflicts where “65 million people are fleeing, about 280 million are affected by natural catastrophes, 793 million lack clean water and 836 million live in abject poverty.” He adds: “However, authoritarian regimes, dictatorships and democratic autocracies impact more people than all of the above put together. Which is more than half of the world’s population. This is what this year’s OFF is all about.”

The current OFF theme is “Defending Democracy”. To the 200-strong audience at Oslo’s Hotel Continental, Halvorssen states: “In our opinion, a true democracy has the following: freedom of speech, an active civil society, separation of power, and fair and free elections.”

From right: Antonietta Ledezma, Vladmir Kara Murza, Thor Halvorssen, Mohammed Nasheed, Wai Wai Nu and Kang Chol-hwan. Press conference. (Photo: Berit Roald / NTB Scanpix)

Background. Four days later, Modern Times Review meets up with the OFF-leader for an in-depth conversation. The motivation for his long term work for freedom and human rights is rooted in the experiences of his parents: His Norwegian father was falsely accused and imprisoned as a political prisoner until Amnesty and others finally managed to free him. Halvorssen’s mother fared worse. Some 13 years ago, he witnessed her being shot by the Venezuelan authorities, during a peaceful demonstration against President Hugo Chávez and his politics.

Every authoritarian system requires a lie

“The way I saw the event live on TV, I thought she had died. It caused me indescribable amounts of pain and anguish and a sense of unfairness. As a consequence, I bond naturally with people who have suffered this kind of violence – it does not matter where you were born or with what privileges. When someone you admire or care for is attacked, we understand what it is like to live in a country where authorities do not abide by the law. Even senior citizens, who only expressed their opinions during a non-violent demonstration, were attacked by the state. My grandparents were also present.”

Following this experience, Halvorssen wanted to establish the Human Rights Foundation – also because of his frustration over “Amnesty and International Human Rights Watch’s lack of focus on Venezuela – as Chávez –sympathisers”.

But, why hold an Oslo Freedom Forum, here on the other side of the globe?

“Because Norway puts human value high and has never incited war.”

The fact that his father was Norwegian is irrelevant, although the 41-year old Venezuelan reminds me that those of us who are born into freedom in Norway “have a responsibility for not forgetting those who incidentally do not grow up with the same opportunities”.

Individuals. The conference strategy was, as before, to present a series of witness statements from vulnerable individuals: “We believe, although this may sound strange to the collective mentality of Norwegians – that individuals really achieve things; that the truth is that individuals, not the group, is at the centre of society”.

“The suffering and survival of these people can make them liberating role models to others.”

Individuals make a difference. Someone else who spoke during the conference was Charlie Chaplin himself – in an extract from his film The Dictator (1940). Chaplin makes fun of Hitler’s use of mass suggestion; he talks about the dignity of life and that soldiers must not allow themselves to be subjugated into violence or blind aggression. Halvorssen introduced the excerpt by explaining the risks Chaplin had to take, and that he was forced to finance the film himself as The Dictator was banned at the onset of World War II. The enormously popular film was smuggled into France, where several soldiers – when they realised what they were watching – shot the screen to pieces.

Halvorssen has a vested interest in films. He has made several through his company Moving Pictures Institute – films aimed at promoting freedom: “But OFF is also a combination of politics, research, film and art. Early on, totalitarian movements understood the importance of films to influence people. We, the protesters, also know that truth and good ideas may need the help of a film. That is why we make the speeches here in Oslo into short films and spread them worldwide.”

I ask him about the witness statements of these individuals – whether the organisers also realise to whom, and what values they are providing a stage. “We do a series of investigations of every single person we want to invite; every single tweet or message they have published, we study every book or article they have written. Anyone who has defended the use of violence is not welcome as a guest here.”

TOPSHOT – Riot police clash with demonstrators during a protest against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on June 7, 2017.
The head of the Venezuelan military, General Vladimir Padrino Lopez, who is also President Nicolas Maduro’s defence minister, is warning his troops not to commit “atrocities” against protesters demonstrating in the country’s deadly political crisis. Tuesday’s warning came after more than two months of violent clashes between protesters and security forces. The opposition and a press rights group say security forces have run over, attacked and robbed protesters and journalists.
/ AFP PHOTO / Federico PARRA

Venezuela. We talk about Venezuela, although Halvorssen insists that he is not actively involved in its politics: “In Venezuela, the government spreads news of an imminent coup that is likely to happen any time. This is how the Turkish Erdogan recently gained enormous power – following the military ‘trying it on.’ Every authoritarian system requires lies.”

“Chávez stole as much money as the Norwegian Oil Fund possesses.”

Halvorssen is very critical of the Norwegian press coverage of Venezuela: “In 2010, we issued a public warning about the ongoing Venezuelan crisis, with children dying from hunger, and suffering due to malaria; the death rate in the capital Caracas was the highest in the world. During Chávez’s presidential period, more people died than the amount of people who were killed by the Farc guerrilla in Colombia!”

Hugo Chávez

We broach the corruption accusations: “Chávez stole as much money as the Norwegian Oil Fund possesses – over 1,000 billion USD disappeared. Before he gained power, no one starved, even when the price of oil was just seven dollar a barrel. So, why did more people become poor under Chávez, as the oil prices rose to 115 dollar? During Chávez, the National Health Service also disappeared. He blamed financial breakdowns. The government’s lies are obvious and plentiful.”

Halvorssen asks me how Norwegian journalists, “who defended this regime which caused so much destruction, are able to look at themselves in the mirror”. He lists journalists who defended Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. I am keen to know where Halvorssen stands in relation to the Venezuelan opposition, who now demand a new election or the removal of President Maduro who recently attempted to close down the national assembly through changes to the Constitution. Does Halvorssen support Julio Borges, the leader of the National assembly, or the presidential candidate for the opposition, Henrique Capriles? “No, I am not involved in Venezuelan politics other than in general. Otherwise, people would immediately react and say: ‘Oh, so you are from Venezuela, you must have money invested there!’ I do not like the candidates nor the politics of those you mention. No, my focus is on other countries such as North Korea, Ecuador and Singapore, where I cannot be accused of having investments. Instead, I am interested in explaining dictatorships.”

Anarchism. Do many people not consider anarchism to be the opposite of a totalitarian dictatorship, I ponder. The foundation of anarchism, as in the works of Norwegian author Jens Bjørneboe, is freedom and solidarity. Brotherhood. I mention that, within today’s more pragmatic anarchism, criticising the suppressing state remains prominent.

Thor Halvorssen

What does Halvorssen really think about anarchy? “Freedom has always been the concern of anarchy. But I’m not sure if we are really ready for anarchy, in the deepest understanding of the word. Even with totalitarianism as its opposite, anarchy is seen as the absence of order, and it would demand that people respected others and would not steal or harm anyone.” In other words, we cannot stop locking our doors. However, Halvorssen does imply that we will, perhaps in 200 years, have a society in need of less governmental control “because we have become less violent – in a time where biology, science and technology have made life easier.”

“I am not talking about Communism”, he says: “The point is, if you eat too much you get sick. There is only so much you actually need.”

I point out that anarchists do not want a state power, instead they want to be left alone from state control and governing. You gather together in small societies or networks of likeminded, affinity groups, less dependent on the national state. “Individuals make a difference.”

Halvorssen asks why I am wearing a black shirt – am I an anarchist? Critical voices in Norway often wear black, I reply. But, back to anarchy as an idea. I state that certain interest groups and minorities must be protected from today’s majority and the State, to which Halvorssen replies: “Every considered crime is perpetrated by those who say they will look after everyone. I believe that our best hope is the dissolution of national states and replacing them with city states with more opportunities.” He concludes on the topic by commenting that “states should stop hindering people who strive for a happy life.”

Authoritarian regimes. The philosopher Noam Chomsky mentioned, when I interviewed him some time ago, four essential forms of freedom: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear and freedom from hardship. But, he also spoke of a fifth freedom (which he attributed to the USA) – the freedom to suppress others.

I ask Halvorssen how it would then be possible to end authoritarian regimes: Is intervention the way forward, like in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya? “If you truly insist on removing authoritarian regimes, the best way is to enable their own civil society to do it. For instance, we in the OFF are working on informing the North Korean population – by smuggling in tiny memory sticks containing films and other pieces of information – so that they themselves will be able to react.”

The memory sticks probably also contain recordings of the recent North Korean defector Tae Yong-ho. From his refuge at the embassy in London, Tae speaks to the OFF conference about the atrocities of his country. Because the government had taken his family hostage, to silence the diplomates, he had to get his family out before he defected.

Thor Halvorssen resides both in New York and Los Angeles, so I am interested to hear what he thinks of President Trump. “I enjoy asking people who are worried about President Trump: Where were you in the eight years before he was elected? It is the power of the government itself you should really fear. They monitor you, so you should monitor them: Watch where the money goes, to whom, and what their interests are,” he says.

Fiat money. As Modern Times Review have featured pieces on “the state’s monetary printing press,” I mention the Fiat system (whereby central banks can freely print money) to Halvorssen: “I can hardly believe that you mention Fiat money! How many Norwegians really know what this is about? Fiat money from the governments is a frightening system where the money comes with no guarantee, but is instead just based on a trust in the system. Everything will collapse if the bubble bursts.”

Many have predicted that the 2009 financial crisis was just a taste of what is to come out of the world economical scenarios: “You need only to look at Venezuela, where this tragedy is playing out as we speak. When I was 12 years old, one USD in Venezuela cost the equivalent of four Norwegian Kroner (in Norway, the price was eight NOK). Today, almost 30 years later, one dollar costs almost 400 million NOK in the currency of that period. This terrible hyperinflation was caused, to a great extent, by the Chávez government. Inflation is the government’s way of stealing from poor people, and from unsophisticated people unfamiliar with finance.”

Defending the democracy is to simultaneously fight the authoritarians: “Authoritarian regimes live, as mentioned earlier, on lies: The Nazis advocated the lie about the Jews so they could act as they did. Soviet communists maintained the lie about Trotsky for a long time – that everything that went wrong was because of him. After his death, they needed a new lie. North Korea’s lie is the war, that the South would attack the North, and that therefore their ‘dear leader’ must have all the support he demands and take the freedom away from the people ‘to protect them’. But, it was the North who originally attacked the South, not the other way around.”

Meritocracy and inheritance. Towards the end of our hour-and-a-half long conversation, I try out some thoughts that are not about suppressing the elites. What about meritocracy as a possible uncorrupted system – where various ‘merits’ give value and position, meaning abilities, experience, knowledge and wisdom? Halvorssen joins in: “You could ask, if your mother was really ill, would you not want an experienced doctor? If someone were to advise you on economy, should he not be good at mathematics? In Venezuela, we now have a former bus driver as President, and we can see where that is taking us. Chávez was a charismatic leader, but with an encyclopaedic ignorance – a really dangerous combination.”

The meritocracy is not solely about what money you have at your disposal, or how you are financed – something which Halvorssen was chastised for. He agrees: “We live in a society where certain individuals are extremely physically fit and can run faster and lift heavier than the rest of us. Should they be put in chains? If someone is more beautiful than the average, do they have to wear a mask? If someone has perfect vision, should you ruin it a little? Or, when it comes to money: If you possess a lot of it because you work hard or save diligently, should you be penalised for this? Money can be put to use towards issues you care about, like the environment, or saving the whales. You could fight against child marriages, or promote vegetarian food to an unhealthy society – and money helps.”

«Freedom has always been a concern of anarchism.»

Equality. Beyond liberty and brotherhood, I finally add equality, the third, white colour in the flags of many a state: Do you actually have equal opportunity, if a small number of people inherit large sums of money, which is not really a sign of their own ‘merit’? Inheritance gives an advantage, and I do not only mean on the Norwegian property market. The temperature is heating up; Halvorssen has himself inherited. He becomes very involved, and asks whether I believe that the government is really equipped for looking after people’s money. He is sceptical to how state employees use money, and mentions all those who jet around the world First Class: “Only a few days ago, Norwegian media uncovered that The World Health Organisation spends more on First Class tickets than it does on fighting AIDS.”

In this way, Halvorssen has, with OFF, shown himself to be a good capitalist. His golden rule is to give away more than what he spends on himself. Nevertheless, I ask him again about inheritance, and he replies: “It is one thing growing up in abject poverty and working intensely your whole life to ensure that your descendants will lead a better life. Do you believe that the State should just take your inheritance away from them?”

Although Halvorssen did receive a significant inheritance, he also made his own money. He concludes: “Wealthy people should not give their children more than just enough to be free and live genuinely. Bill Gates is an example of that. My children will not get so much that they do not need to work for themselves – just enough to get an education, or receive good care if they fall ill. If you give them too much money, you could ruin them as a person.”

Read in Norwegian at Ny Tid.

Video interview with Thor Halvorssen:

See also www.oslofreedomforum.com

 


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Once a gaucho…

An elderly couple, Alba Rosa Díaz and Juan Armando Soria according to the credits, live in the middle of nowhere in Argentina; that is, in the Tucumán province in the north of the country. Their days are filled with slowed down routines of lifelong, everyday chores, and memories of days gone by. As viewers, we are introduced to a world that is pretty remote from what most of us know: a humble dwelling, slightly messy, in an arid landscape. Shrubs, cacti, hills in the background. The goats they keep seem to be their only companions as the noises and play of the animals break open the silence and stillness. Their bleating has become an incessant daytime soundtrack, accompanying the quiet lives of the pair, and especially for Alba. A night sky so full of stars you won’t believe it’s real.

Gaucho life. In a truly observational and intimate style, director Nicolás Torchinsky portrays these individuals and their surroundings with an extreme sense of patience, as he roams in and around the house. He establishes their personalities through images rather than dialogue. Relics of the past and other horse-related objects (a gaucho is an Argentinian cowboy) signify Juan’s persona, whereas domestic chores and objects define that of Alba.

In this utterly quiet world, life revolves around animals.

The Centaur’s Nostalgia records and implicitly celebrates a life – and a lifestyle – drawing to an end. Old age made Juan become an onlooker rather than a participant; he watches his younger colleague gauchos at work, earmarking goats, or celebrating some event with horses and a barbeque. Juan’s stories are accompanied by a kind of Argentinian gaucho blues, and by poetry. This utterly quiet world, in which life revolves around animals, is disappearing – here in Argentina as elsewhere on the globe. Up until this point, the film gently makes you contemplate the lives of its subjects as well as your own, and not least the differences between those lives.

The centaur’s nostalgia by Nicolás Torchinsky

But, after about 40 minutes, the language of the film – along with the storyline – changes quite drastically. In one interview Alba, and then Juan, gets to talk about their lives. It becomes clear they may have more in common with the rest of us than we think, as after so many years of marriage the romance has slipped away – or maybe it was never really there. Alba tells us that when they were younger, Juan would often abandon her and the children for long periods. She was left struggling to survive. Despite efforts with cows, sheep and now goats, horses remain the most important creatures of all to Juan. He talks about his work and freedom, which lasted until he decided to take a wife. He gave Alba his last name, but she gave him nothing in return, save for, of course, children and daily care, as he recounts. It’s the banality of a long life together. In this sequence the filmmaker is noticeably more present, as we hear him ask and repeat questions.

The subordinate position of women is presented in the guise of male nostalgia.

Macho culture. What makes the film problematic is that from this point on, the subservient position of women in the gaucho culture becomes painfully visible and tangible. This happens not only through the stories Alba and Juan recount, but also in the subsequent scenes. Although Alba is portrayed and gets to tell her story, she remains constrained to the house and her chores there while Juan goes out and meets his peers. The film celebrates this disappearing lifestyle with its macho character.

Even if the intensions of the filmmaker are to create a solemn portrait of two people and of their lives drawing to an end, what happens instead is that the deeply rooted subordinate position of women is presented in the guise of male nostalgia. How bad is it, really, to bid such days farewell?

 

 


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INTERVIEW: A Day in Aleppo

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Why Cash?

Trond Bentestuen

There is a deeper, psychological trend in an increasingly technological society. This is more than just a practical way of thinking, as Trond Bentestuen of major Norwegian bank DNB obviously seems to suggest. Bentestuen also knows, although he does not say it, what level of control the bank will then be able to exert over its customers. Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s suggestion would have given the state and banks complete overview and control over the money of the citizens.

This brings us to the very core of the matter. We are talking about a mentality, some kind of bio-politics; a modern desire to control the bodies of the citizens. Historically, the State has been more disciplinary, using methods like pillory and whip. In the modern Norway of today, these means have been replaced by clever devices such as taxes and new technology. This has resulted in ruling powers gaining an advanced apparatus of control of the majority of movements – the so-called surveillance society. I am not only referring to bank accounts, GPS, Facebook, Google and surveillance cameras. Many new control devices are steadily emerging under the guise of «security».

Certain powerful people want to take our independence away – the control we have over our own lives. Being able to keep some physical savings laying around in case the banking system collapses? No. Being able to shop without being tracked by the Government or commercial interests? No. Being able to remain outside of a debt-riddled society, whose bubble will inevitably burst at some point? No.

If someone is tracking your electronic money, they could easily know everything about you. Just like how bio-banks are able to reveal your weak spots and illnesses, monetary banks and payment systems are able to map out your purchasing patterns and who you support financially. Similarly to the way certain mobile apps map you on the road, surveillance teams and the Police Security Service will be able to gather intel on all of your actions.

Abolishing cash means that some people will inevitably fall outside the system. And, being on the outside, you will be rejected. This will not just be the elderly without Vipps (the Norwegian equivalent of Venmo, a mobile app that allows you to easily transfer money to friends and businesses from your phone), or those who do not own a smart phone. Or beggars without a payment terminal. Or my friend who is always cheering up my local neighbourhood, but who has not had a bank account in the last decade. We are talking about minorities, people who are different, entire communities who do not fit into a totalitarian way of thinking whereby you have to behave average, be like the majority of people.

However, the main idea of a democracy is precisely that: To protect minorities, as well as free spirits who ask to be left alone away by the majority. Protecting both those who cannot be «reckoned with» and those who think and wish to act differently – in other words protecting the living conditions of these very human humans.

Øystein Olsen

Governor of the Bank of Norway, Øystein Olsen was recently quoted as saying in Aftenposten Insight: «It is possible to imagine a system whereby the payment goes straight from payee to recipient, without circumnavigating banks and the Bank of Norway.»

Really? Does he suggest that we, the members of a civil society will handle this, using crypto-currencies or similar? No. He is referring to digital central bank money, which are issued by the Bank of Norway.

I would prefer crypto-currency, bitcoin and other similar payment means to be handled by civic society, using modern network technologies. If this were the case, monetary value could be guaranteed by for instance 40 points in an electronic civic internet via block chain technology. This would enable us to keep a distance and healthy scepticism to the governmentality of bankers and government. Especially as we know that banks only retain five per cent of our real capital deposits, and that the private banking guarantee fund actually does not assure up to two million of our bank accounts because they only possess five per cent of these. So, who can we trust?

By abolishing cash, the Prime Minister argues, we can catch criminals and choke the black economy. Again: Really? When less than 2,5 per cent of all transactions are cash? No, it is about time to trust civic society to retain their own payment systems. Or, to suggest that you keep cash and gold outside of the reach of banks and governments and their eagerness to utilise and govern. Some people stockpile tinned food in case of a crisis. In the same way, regular, discerning citizens should be allowed the same possibilities for the next time the financial system breaks down – before sending the bill to tax payers.

The suggestion of a cash-less society exemplifies the logic among those in power –which is edging ever closer, stopping us from breathing freely, not leaving us in peace. Rather than freedom and solidarity, this is the new bio-politics, the so-called «welfare». Except, it does not resemble being able to fare well.

 


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A loveless technology

We let demand for individual happiness, freedom and material welfare displace our ability to love. Modern technological civilisation stimulate the liberated and playful human, the Homo Ludens (from Latin meaning ‘man the player’), to freely seduce or let himself be seduced by the fun and games of our media age. However, this magic is usually short-lived. The superficial images of clichéd-filled advertising media contrast glaringly with what create strong friendship or love – what makes someone go out on a limb or care for someone else. Love cannot be bought, and if you are obsessed by freedom, you will not have the time for it. A gift such as love, is given when least expected. But, you must possess, which Kierkegaard deems ‘the urge for love’ – if you do not, you will be the poorest of all.

Modern French philosophy contributed several original and dynamic perspectives on our freedom-affirming, technological society. The French post-modern – which I deem trans-modern – technological thinking, has moved within several fields. The technology is described as pure speed (Virilio), simulation (Baudrillard), rhetoric (Barthes), aesthetics (Lyotard), and as technology of the subjective (Foucault), or as machines of desire (Deleuze/Guattari). Canadian Arthur Kroker, on the other hand, characterises the communication society as obsessive individualism. The point being that the current social guides let life be characterised by the virtual media reality. We are surrounded by media such as computers, mobile phones, iPads and TV, and influenced by the ensuing expression racket. It is almost possible to re-programme the human experience through the digitalisation wetware – the enormous media machinery which is indirectly connected to us. We have already surpassed, at least the MTV-generation has, the dialectic between human liberation and oppression. It is no longer about simulation or alienation. The virtual or aesthetical media room of freedom, will gradually substitute the physical and interpersonal real of experience. We let ourselves be obsessed by a new world where our digital dreams come alive.

Freedom enables you to understand life, but love gives you the possibility to seize it.

What the French describe is the full on aestheticized phase. Much of the thinking that follows virtualisation – the media society with increasing number of film stories, advertising images and other optical illusions – tend to view the world as a continuously nascent place. Humans have always wished to avoid their own mortality and the body’s fragility, and so diligently create ever more emergency exits. Herein lies what Nietzsche deemed a malicious resentment; a reluctance towards the bodily organs’ lack of immortality – for instance, gene manipulation as an attempt to postpone the cells’ aging process.

Humans have always been good at hiding the finiteness of our existence. Through the freedom which virtualising entails, a language is constructed, using ‘the theology of hope’ – we hide our knowledge about the body’s fragility by considering the virtual self freedom. Technology and science are light years ahead of humanities. Scientists will always attempt to liberate humans from nature’s limitations. But, this type of freedom does not work in the long run. After the welfare society’s abolishment of material suffering, we imagine the same can be done to the existential – helped by virtualisation. The problem, however, is that humans suppress their own existential conditions whilst alive. But, the body’s fragility is real enough, and in the end, death will get us all.

Only by recognising life’s experiences and interpersonal encounters – and instead of craving freedom will endure dependency – will humans be able to preserve their love. Russian Andres Nekrasov, pointed out, with his film Love is as Strong as Death at the Gothenburg festival, that ‘the West lacks suffering’. The film ends on the following prediction: ‘Of all the things death robs humans of, I will mention three: First of all the material, possessions and medals. Secondly, spiritual gifts, prayers, meditation – all that soothes the soul. But this is not all. Death robs humans of the hope of ever atoning their sins. No more than a hair’s breadth does she get close to Heaven, but will benefit from all that she has already earned. Love does the same to humans as death does. But, love, like death, is the soul’s separation from the body. Thus she is robbed of all comfort, and all hope of making anyone responsible. Such is love.’ Seduced by technology, or the communication society’s race for freedom, humans lose their ’urge for love’.

Freedom enables you to understand life, but love gives you the possibility to seize it.

This article was initially published in Morgenbladet, 20. February, 1998.


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State Of Denial

“Who, today, remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?” is a quote attributed to Adolf Hitler as the Nazis prepared for the total destruction of the European Jews. Yet an online search for the exact wording of this 1939 quote reveals numerous websites either claiming Hitler never spoke these words or that the Armenian Genocide didn’t actually occur.

Intent to Destroy director by Joe Berlinger

One hundred years after 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Academy Award nominated documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Paradise Lost) uncovers the profoundly bitter truth behind Turkey’s continual campaign of genocide denial.

The authoritarian regime of Turkish leader Recep Erdogan routinely spends millions in public relations fees to deny the Armenian Genocide, a carefully planned mass killing that calls into question modern Turkey’s very existence. Berlinger’s Intent to Destroy chronicles the systematic elimination of the Christian Armenians, and the manner this highly charged history has been depicted (and sometimes not depicted), particularly in the movies.

The film’s opening third comprehensively details the calculated deportations and death marches that nearly wiped out Turkey’s Armenian population from 1915 to 1923, the first time twentieth century means were utilized to eradicate a population. Berlinger’s assortment of historians makes the compelling case that the seizure of Armenian property and wealth paved the way for the creation of a Turkish upper and middle class.

Intent to Destroy structures this complex narrative by very effectively framing it within the making of a big budget Hollywood film about the Armenian Genocide. Joe Berlinger managed to embed himself on the set of The Promise, a one hundred million dollar dramatic epic, ambitiously touted as the Armenian Schindler’s List, directed by Oscar winner Terry George (Hotel Rwanda) and starring Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac.

Intent to Destroy director by Joe Berlinger

Owing to Turkey’s powerful denial machine, The Promise was shot in Spain, Portugal and Malta substituting for turn of the twentieth century Ottoman Empire. Though director George tried to keep the production low profile during filming, Turkey still does its best to make its menacing presence known. After Spanish actor Daniel Gimenez Cacho casually announces in a red carpet interview he’s been cast to play an Armenian priest in The Promise, Spain’s Turkish ambassador summons Cacho for a meeting in order to present him with a few handy volumes of denialist propaganda.

Intent to Destroy charts the fledgling Turkish state’s early attempts to erase any trace of the Armenian Genocide. Beginning in the 1920’s, Turkey used its strategic geopolitical position in the Middle East to obtain American acceptance on their version of history. Berlinger cuts from hand-held video footage of idealistic candidate Barack Obama’s recognition of the genocide in an early campaign speech to later news feed of President Obama patting the back of his ally, the visiting Turkish leader Erdogan.

Intent to Destroy director by Joe Berlinger

The documentary also presents a fascinating series of cables between the US State Department and Turkey’s former ambassador to the United States, Munir Ertegun (his son, Ahmet, went on to co-found Atlantic Records). In 1935, the Hollywood movie studio, MGM, was in pre-production on The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, an adaptation of a popular novel by Austrian writer Franz Werfel.

Intent to Destroy gives time to several scholars who deny the genocide yet feel uncomfortable been labeled as genocide deniers. For years, Turkey’s hard line has been to claim the massacres occurred mutually within the confines of a civil war, and that even the word genocide cannot be used since the term did not come into use until 1948. Berlinger’s film within the film conceit is most striking when the filmmaker cuts between a cacophony of deniers (one Turkish professor accuses the Armenians of ‘Holocaust envy’) and George’s fictional recreation of the Ottoman assault at Musa Dagh. This might be the documentary’s only drawback. Berlinger relentless cascade of interview testimony and information is occasionally exhausting.

Bankrolled by the late Armenian-American movie mogul, Kirk Kerkorian, The Promise, the most expensive independent film ever made, is scheduled for a wide release this year. Not surprisingly, Turkey’s sophisticated apparatus of denial began gearing up even before the films 2016 Toronto International Film Festival premiere. After only a few festival screenings in a theater of only 900 seats, some 50,000 votes were cast on IMDB giving The Promise a one-star rating, negative ratings apparently coming from voters who had not been able to see the film. It seems Armenian Genocide denial has entered the age of social media.

Filmmaker Joe Berlinger

It’s been a few weeks since a controversial referendum gave Recep Erdogan additional powers which could find him remaining in power until 2029. Many Turkish immigrants living in France were photographed casting their ballots dressed in 16th century Ottoman costumes, an era of empirical supremacy often invoked by Erdogan. A wildly popular television serial idealizing the empire’s founding, Resurrection: Ertugrul, not only fills screens in Turkey, but in most former Ottoman territories from Bulgaria to Bosnia. Two highly publicized Turkish sponsored films were released in the build-up to the dramatic vote – Reis (The Chief), a loving biopic of Erdogan’s early life and The Ottoman Lieutenant, a glossy First World War melodrama that whitewashes the Armenian Genocide. No doubt the denial will only deepen.

The late Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel often called Turkey’s attempted erasure of the Armenian extermination a double killing, the eighth and final stage of genocide. Vital and necessary, Joe Berlinger’s Intent to Destroy aims to overturn this equation.


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The final philosophical question

The role of science is to uncover all that is considered factual about the world, and to describe this. Through the use of controlled, demarcated and verifiable experiments, science discovers an item’s weight, a molecule’s traits, the way electricity works, how a planted gene functions in a foreign organism, and so forth. The more complex the systems investigated by science, the more unreliable it becomes. By its mere nature, science depends on stable, transparent and verifiable conditions, in order for the experiment to be repeated and verified.

This demand for method, unfortunately makes for a limited science. It is impossible to perform tests that can be repeated, checked and controlled on life itself, using Earth as biotope. Life within the biosphere – evolution – develops irreversibly. Being part of it, we are unable to completely comprehend it: something unknown will always pop up, another unexpected occurrence. We are ourselves such an event.

The biosphere consists of all organic and inorganic life forms on Earth. This include the effects of our sciences and our own explosive growth. It is an intricately composed entity where everything develops through mutual impact. When life eludes science, when it cannot be grasped by it, it is due to science being a subordinate part of Earth’s life. Our only options to understand life are through narration, philosophy. By the use of philosophy, humans try to find the correct way to understand the world, how it can be made sense of and what should be applied; how we are to live within and alongside the biosphere, from our understanding of it.

Philosophers draft descriptions of our biotope and recommend how to exist therein, and how we ought to live with and within this, our world. These descriptions, our world vision, constantly change. For the longest time, our experiences indicated that absolutely everything possessed life and soul. Plato, in his quest for stability, considered the world an imperfect imprint of an ideal, invisible realm. Christians allowed a permanent, almighty God to create Earth – and happiness. Whilst modern man swapped God for the individual and the dream of happiness with eternal growth.

The last five hundred years, philosophy has increasingly turned towards the actual world and its phenomena. It now boasts a closer connection with reality. Philosophers have tried to completely letting go of lofty ideas in a bid to better describe the world as it appears, as it is sensed and experienced. Science’s fact-based reality orientation played a crucial role in this development.

Today, we know almost everything about ourselves and our life on Earth. We even understand life’s random genesis. No longer do we speculate about the reasons we are here, nor do we pose the big questions. The metaphysical ideas have ‘flattened out.’ Philosophers have, based on science, started to describe the world as it is, and how best to exist within it. Many feel that, this way, philosophy is nearing its own demise. One final philosophical questions needs to be answered before we can shut down philosophy and concentrate on life practices. The answer to this, the final query – if it indeed has an answer – will direct our understanding of what is and what is not, what applies and what does not apply: how to live.

How WILL HUMANS BE ABLE TO GO FROM THEIR VIOLENT DREAM OF SOVEREIGNTY AND INFINITY TO BEING ABLE TO LIVE WITH ITS OWN AND THE BIOTOPE’S FINITENESS?

The fact that this question has surfaced in the last fifty-sixty years, is mainly due to two things: the growth of technologies making it possible to exploit our habitat more than it can withstand and to commit mass murder – humans have already irreversibly changed the Earth’s geological and biological future. An extension of this is a new understanding of – new insight into humans’ extermination of peoples, species and nature. We now know what it is all about, the obvious has been revealed. Earth has restricted space with limited resources, and one person is not worth more than someone else, one group of people has no more right to exist than another.

No longer are we able to, as we have done hitherto, justify exterminations and murder of other people, other species. We have a problem.

In a short amount of time, Homo Sapiens became seven billion individuals. We are everywhere. Only now do we truly see the massive violence we as a species directly and structurally have exerted, and continue to exercise. There is nowhere to go for those who want to start over. Everywhere is occupied. There is valuable life everywhere.

For the very first time in history, is the question of violence in the biosphere asked in all its totality. The question has earlier been asked on an individual level: Buddha’s answer to the problem of violence was terminating desire and letting the world flow freely through the desire-less human; Christ answered by loving the outcasts and turning his cheek to the rain of punches. However, violence as a problem of the biotope was never posed until now.

The final outstanding philosophical question is this: How can two different organisms, two separate species or groups come together, without one of these radically changing or being eradicated by the other; how am I able to live without excluding, or kill other valuable lifeforms? How do I become myself without excluding you, your life and your ideas? How is my culture able to continue without destroying other smaller or larger cultures?

In other words: How do we create justice?

During the interwar period, Jewish Marxist Walter Benjamin studied the written works of German Nazi and lawyer Carl Schmitt, to understand the role and nature of violence in the world. Schmitt opined that it would always be a person – the sovereign – who solves the crises by residing over violence. Benjamin answered that only a wide, populistic general strike will end the violent state and change the logic of violence.

DO WE YET AGAIN HAVE TO PROVIDE NATURE WITH ITS OWN ‘SPIRITUAL’ LIFE TO RE-ENTER A RESPECTFUL DIALOGUE WITH IT? OR DO WE HAVE TO REINTRODUCE THE SACRED IN A BID TO BECOME WISE?

Simone Weil worked on the nature of violence, simultaneously with Benjamin. Weil felt that the problem was the Western ego with its large personality and exclusive rights; personality must be stripped down to naked life and form part of the work for justice for all, she said. At the end of last century, due to the European Holocaust, Emmanuel Lévinas and Michel Foucault posed the question of violence with renewed power and weight.

As the massive violence humans exert directly and indirectly towards nature became evident to us in this, our century, violence became the main issue of philosophy.

In USA, thinkers including Cora Diamond, Marc Bekoff, Donna Haraway and Cary Wolfe position our relationship to animals in new perspectives: animals are as sensitive as we are. In Australia, Deborah Bird Rose and Freya Mathews investigate new forms of cohabitating with the vulnerable nature – in the countryside as well as in the cities. Whilst the Dutch Tim Ingold and David Abram research the sentient human animal with its alert movements hunting food and experiences. German Peter Sloterdijk has developed an understanding of our cultural forming as the human body’s extended immune system against potential enemies, and asks how the various immune systems are able to coexist.

Italian Roberto Esposito, another ‘immunologist’, asks who this command in our heads is who states that another part of us is an animal requiring discipline. He investigates what happens when the biological body’s need for immunity becomes the starting point for politics, as it was during the Nazi period, and today. Esposito searches for alternatives to what a human can be. In his large work Homo Sacer, fellow Italian Giorgio Agamben uses a magnifying glass to look for alternatives within our history, and investigates strategies for successfully evading violent power and dominance, and win freedom. All the while, the French François Laruelle puts an end to all the philosophies’ world descriptions, deeming them equal reality drafts, then proceeds to describe the world entirely from the stance and experience of victim’s, the outcast’s and the voice-less’.

From their very differing viewpoints, they all circle one question: how can you and I live without excluding another valuable life – how can life live alongside itself on Earth? How will humans be able to go from their violent dream of sovereignty and infinity to being able to live with its own and the biotope’s finiteness? There are no simple answers, this conversation has barely started. They do, however, agree on one thing: It is as separated from life, from nature – as disconnected from our origins, ourselves, that we are able to destroy our own basis for existence. How did we become so blind? And how are we able to reconnect with nature, including our own – how will we again be able to listen to and collaborate with our origins, co-exist with nature, without destroying it, as well as each other?

Do we yet again have to provide nature with its own ‘spiritual’ life to re-enter into a respectful dialogue with it? Or do we have to reintroduce the sacred in a bid to become wise? Only time with tell. Technology will help us. However, technology is worthless, even dangerous, until we have developed a finely tunes sensitivity – until we have, with our entire beings re-joined, reconnected, to our basis of existence. How will we regain our sight?

The Greek Thyestes seduced the wife of his brother Atreus. Atreus sought revenge by killing Thyestes’ children and serving him them for dinner. Precisely the way Gudrun in the ancient Voldsunge saga served King Atle their joint children for dinner. They enjoyed the food. Only after Thyestes and Atle were told that they had just devoured their own children, did they feel sickened and reacted. As this unfolded, the sun is said to have changed direction in pure disgust.

We are, at our base, innocents. We are unable to see our mistakes until we are told, until we acquire knowledge of these. Many perpetrators and abusers have themselves suffered violence and abuse, they see it as normal. A perpetrator must learn that what he is doing is wrong.

Our destruction of nature has finally dawned on us. We are faced with philosophy’s final question. How can we live without destroying life itself?


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The fight for Kobani

As they become an important contributor to the fight against ISIS in Syria, and backed by the USA, today they find themselves under attack from Turkey once more. It is a schizophrenic situation with different and double agendas.

With No Place for Tears, Turkish director Reyan Tuvi (Love Will Change the Earth… 2014; Offside 2010) sheds light on the war in Syria from a Kurdish perspective. The film follows a number of Kurdish-Syrian refugees from Kobani, a Kurdish city under siege by ISIS for four months between autumn 2014 and winter 2015. Kobani is situated only a few kilometres South of the Turkish border. The refugees have fled to the Turkish village of Maheser, where many have family. They are sheltered by their new fellow villagers, who guard the village themselves against any unwanted visitors. From a distance, they stare across the imaginary line we call border with their binoculars and witness the destruction of their beloved city and its inhabitants. They hope their chants of support are carried to the city and heard there. What they hear in return is mainly shelling, jets and bombs exploding. Columns of smoke rise up continuously.

In an observatory style, Tuvi follows the villagers as they celebrate their culture, keep their stories alive and concern themselves with the care for their fellow Kurds, while also keeping track of the news reporting on Kobani. One of the new inhabitants is the charismatic young Botan, who crossed the border alone through barbed wire, and regards himself a grown-up man, although really just a boy. He and others share their stories with the villagers and each other.

Tuvi offers little to no explicit explanation in his film, but lets the story unfold as the film progresses, relying, to a large extent, on a carefully constructed, strongly visual narrative. She enables the images speak for themselves.

«It is a celebration of the communal struggle»

The narrative not only addresses the current struggle for Kobani, but also the continuing fight for unity and independence for the Kurdish people, as scattered across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Where a boundary usually functions to separate nations, the borders here divide a people. (These same, rather arbitrary and invisible lines in the field currently also mark the difference between life and death.) Performances of resistance fights are held to boost morale. It is a celebration of the communal struggle.

Tuvi travels to a Kurdish refugee camp, where another former fighter, Ape Nemir, tells the story of his resistance, while a woman recounts her supporting efforts behind the front lines. As she praises Kobani excessively in propaganda-like texts (“Our children wake up and ask for Kobani… Kobani’s soil is sweeter than sugar, heavier than salt.”), it is hard to understand their personal perspective and feelings. As all people are introduced without names or additional information, it takes a while to understand the added value of what seem quite generic images of the refugees. However, as the film progresses, the few main characters slowly get more colour and become individuals.

Initially, we simply witness everyday life in an otherwise uneventful village in rural Turkey, or so it seems. Slowly, however, ISIS is driven out of Kobani and the city is liberated by YPG and YPJ forces. This is celebrated in Maheser as a major victory. It opens the doors for the return to the city that now lies in ruins. Although roads seem cleared of rubble and debris (some time may have passed), shells and bullet cases are all around. As people meet acquaintances and share more stories and experiences, inevitably accommodated with tea, they also start rebuilding their lives, and the city itself. School starts with an introduction on how to survive in a post-war landscape. As citizens return they put life back into Kobani, making it a symbol of survival.

But, although Kobani is freed from ISIS, the struggle continues outside the city and beyond the conflict in Syria. With political tensions between Turks, Kurds, Americans, Europeans, Syrians and ISIS in abundance and political ties weak and, depending on the occasion, quite flexible, the Kurds are bound to find themselves at the short end of any resolution to this conflict. Or, as The Guardian journalists Martin Chulov and Fazel Hawramy recently observed: “Here, the most complicated corner of the war in Syria looks certain to get messier.”  Although they demand their place in the history of the struggle against ISIS, given their larger agenda and the conflicting interests with other powers that be, the question very much remains whether they will get it.


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The Justified War

 A soldier is running up a hillside in a desolate desert landscape. The camera man is following him, and calls the soldier to get him to wait. “Hajar! Watch out!” The soldier keeps running without paying attention. Soon after he reaches the entrenchment at the top of the hill, which suddenly explodes with a large bang. When the soldier returns, he is covered in dust. “It’s nothing. Forget it! Leave me alone! » The camera man follows him and asks him to sit down. “Man down!” he yells. The soldier falls to his knees, and we are right next to his bloodied face as he shouts “Long live Kurdistan!”

This is the impact of Bernard-Henri Lévy’s documentary Peshmerga (2016). The image of the bloodied soldier necessitated the making of this film, he explains. “What is this Kurdistan, whose tragic and brilliant name seems stronger than death itself?” This is how Lévy starts his film on the Kurdish military forces’ war against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS or Daesh), trailing the troops around the Kurdish north-Iraq for six months, from July to November 2015. The film was screened amidst extensive security at the Copenhagen documentary film festival on 23. March.

«Had we left Libya alone, we may have had two Syrias today.” Bernard-Henri Lévy

Hero worship.Peshmerga, incidentally also the name of the Kurdish military troops we follow, depict the journey these forces take westward along the front towards Mosul. The documentary is packed with dramatic scenes: three injured men lay singing on the deck of a lorry. A white haired officer tells his soldiers to aim carefully before shooting at the enemy. Himself, he fires shot after shot, commenting on every hit he makes. Then he gets shot through his head and moments later dies.

The Peshmerga-fighters are portrayed as brave soldiers who live up to their name, which loosely translated means “those who are facing death” or “those who are first to sacrifice themselves”. Such an interpretation fits well with Lévy’s narrative about the fearless Peshmergas’ fight against the evil enemy ISIS. They fight bravely and shrewdly against barbarian, but cowardly, ISIS-fighters. «The scent of victory is in the air,» comments Lévy as a sort of «voice of God» over the images of the Kurdish troops victory parade following the liberation of the city of Sinjar and its many Yezidi inhabitants.

The Peshmerga hero worship and ISIS being portrayed as evil incarnate result in a very polarised documentary. Something which was commented on by Danish journalist Adam Holm during the conversation with Lévy, after the Copenhagen screening.

«The Kurds were our ‘boots on this bloody ground’. They did an invaluable job in keeping barbarism at bay, alone and with limited resources. Only sporadically were they supported by coalition air raids. The Kurds were on the ground, sacrificing their lives to this war. For their own, but also for us», says Lévy.

Lévy is vaguely optimistic on behalf of the Kurds’ own liberation war. The Peshmergas’ efforts in the fight against ISIS have shown that the Kurds are able to secure stability in northern Iraq. Such a stability would be able to increase the willingness to recognise a Kurdish desire for independence, he believes.

The soldiers fight bravely and shrewdly against barbarian, but cowardly, ISIS-fighters.

A justified war. Another thread journalist Holm is trying to follow, is what happened to the captured ISIS-fighters. In the documentary, they are taken away in a lorry, but the audience are not told what ultimately happens to them. Lévy explained that the reason he did not divulge this is due to the fact that he did not have complete information about all the prisoners. He managed to track two of the them, and was told they were imprisoned in

«I believe, and I have no reason to doubt this, that they are fairly treated”, says Lévy.

«We, and other colleagues who have been to war zones, know that no wars are justified, and prisoners rarely treated well. You deliver a romantic presentation of Peshmerga and we never get to know the war’s more sinister sides. I have seen reports stating that Pesmherga-fighters committed crimes against humanity”, says Holm.

“This film is my statement, and I witnessed no crimes against humanity,» parries Lévy. The opinionated film maker disagrees with Holm. He feels the term a “justified war” is legitimate in certain given contexts.

«When there are alternatives, when you are fighting against an enemy whose aim is to spread evil, when you enjoy wide, international support – a war can be deemed justified. The wars against Hitler and Franco were justified wars. This is also a justified war. What does not exist, are ‘good’ wars, says Lévy.

The documentarist rejects the notion of Peshmerga as a romantic film, but explains that it is not balanced. Lévy admits this could prove a limitation, but one that is wanted, in that case. He did not want to tell a nuanced story by dedicating five minutes to Peshmerga and five minutes to ISIS. That is not how to make films, states Lévy; you have to be honest, but not always balanced.

«What is this Kurdistan, whose tragic and brilliant name seems stronger than death itself?» Bernard-Henri Lévy

Influential. Previously, Lévy was a driving force behind the international intervention of certain nations’ internal conflicts. He campaigned for attacking the former leader of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi, and was among those convincing the then-leader President Nicolas Sarkozy to provide French support for a UN-led intervention in the country. The situation in Libya remains difficult, and many have been critical to the intervention as well as Lévy’s meddling.

«Look at the result. We did not intervene in Syria. Had we left Libya alone, we may have had two Syrias today, twice as many refugees and dead. History is never black and white. There is never one simple solution. Sometimes you have something terrible and something less terrible. Then we have to promote that which is less, said Lévy.

As a well-known intellectual in France, Lévy is able to influence many powerful people. He has already screened his latest film, Battle of Mosul (2017), in which he follows Iraqi military and militia groups, in addition to Peshmerga-troops, in their fight against ISIS, for several of the French presidential candidates. It was shot from October 17, 2016 to January 2017.

“I hope these candidates understand that the most important thing is what happens following the attack. What will Mosul be after Daesh? Will revenge be the decider, and will the divide between Sunny and Shia Muslims grow wider? Or could Mosul become a showcase for forgiveness and hope for the future?” asks Lévy.

 

Facts about Bernard-Henri Lévy

  • Born in Algeria in 1948.
  • Has published books on philosophy and politics since 1973.
  • Infamous as France’s “playboy-philosopher”.
  • Became a very controversial driving force for France’s wardare in Libya.
  • Was a strong advocate of former IMF-boss Dominique Strauss-Khan.
  • Peshmerga is his fourth outing as film director.

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Where the fight line is today

Lech Kowalski makes uncomfortable films. They are so uncomfortable that they even frighten his producers. This was the case with Arte, the French-German television channel, concerning his film Drill Baby Drill (2013). No TV station wanted to distribute the film in the countries concerned, namely Poland, the USA and Great Britain. Its subject: the habitants of a small agricultural village located in far eastern Poland discover that the world’s fourth largest energy corporation, Chevron, wants to build a shale gas well in their village. When it comes to money and the destruction of nature through fracking, state channels prefer to stay out of it.

Lech Kowalski is the son of Polish immigrants who fled a Russian concentration camp during World War II. They finally settled in the suburban town of Utica, upstate New York. Lech moved to New York City in his early twenties and today lives in Paris. Perceived as an ‘American director’, his engagements are characterized by two guidelines: following personal traces and being on the side of different forms of rebellions. His first documentaries treated the struggle for freedom in the early rock, punk and sex scenes of New York. When the ‘underground culture’ became a lucrative market, Kowalski lost interest.

He discovered a new frontline for resistance: farmers, normal people who want to protect their natural environment and livelihood from being destroyed by the financial interests of big corporations. This dying breed of people is the result of the ever-increasing void between rich and poor, and the crisis of the middle class in general.

Kowalski’s latest film entitled I pay for your story is set in his hometown of Utica, where he spent a large part of his adolescent years. In a key scene, he kisses his mother’s coffin and promises her, “we are making the next film together“.

I pay for your Story was selected for screening at the Visions du Réel competition in Nyon, Switzerland. Another film in the same competition already explores the deterioration of the social classes in attempting to explain the ‘Trump phenomenon’.

Utica, a four-hour drive away from New York City, was a flourishing industrial town when Kowalski was growing up, attracting workers from around the world. Today, it is just one of the many devastated cities in American’s ‘rust belt’ offering little hope of a future to its marginalised black community. The lack of basic social structures, including education or formation possibilities, and high unemployment rates has led Utica residents to turn to crime to survive. Kowalski revisited the former hot spots of his youth; the record shop, the music club and the once covered ice-skating rink, the perfect place to cool off on a hot summer’s day, available for everybody for free in these days. Now all that remains are ruins of the past, as nearly every shop or amusement park have disappeared.

Kowalski starts to collect life stories, for which he offer to pay double the minimum wage to anyone who come along to offer it. Very quickly the prevailing conditions of true lives is evoked. Getting accused of a crime in their youth, usually drug or theft related, in consequence being suspended from school, facing little to zero chance of finding a decent job in their adult years, forcing them to turn back to a life of crime.

Their lives interspersed between incarceration and dismissals. There is only one agent to profit of this circle; the prison industry. Prisoners often hear on their way out; “come back with a friend”. Quite a lot of the defeated in Kowalski’s film admit preferring prison life to wasting away outside. At least there they get three meals a day and basic medical care. One storyteller, speaking in front of his wife and children, revealed that despite having a bullet in his arm, a skull fracture, a partly damaged brain and eye, has no right to disability benefits, as ‘Whites’ would have for far fewer injuries.

Also, business men from abroad, who arrive with some business start-up money, have an easier life in Utica. They are exempt from paying taxes for the first ten years. In sharp contrast, the local inhabitants have no access to education or guidance.  A lucky few may find training as unpaid skilled workers, but not a permanent job. The only source of comfort for many of the young women living in these conditions is their children. They hope for a better future for them but remain very sceptical.

A rising level of police violence adds to this vicious circle. A growing number of black men are shot in the streets in cold blood. Investigations into their deaths are rarely followed up. Most of the storytellers in Kowalski’s film suspect a violent uprising in the near future. Drugs and violence characterise their daily lives. One storyteller estimates that 80% of his childhood friends are in prison whilst the rest are already dead. It is easy to understand how these people, who have been abandoned and repressed, react to promises of bringing work back to their town.

These promises were made by Trump along with his denunciation of a ‘government mafia’. These marginalised victims do not have the means or the background information to question the legitimacy of his promises, thus proving to be the perfect electorate target group. Kowalski puts his offer sign ‘I Pay for Your Story’ in illuminated letters on a terrace of a simple house in the neighbourhood. He gets part of the declining world. That is precisely why he was able to capture all these voices, who only just asked not to be disprized.


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