Wednesday, 7 October 2009

In the midst of life - Slide-show-girl

It all started on a bench in a public park. I was in my mid-thirties and it was Summer.

Sitting on that bench, I was busy sorting out and inspecting color slides in order to put them in specific order for projection. A park bench is certainly not the best place to do this but I needed open air.

While doing this and fuzzing around with the slides a girl came and sat down near me and started to read a book. From time to time she stopped and looked into the distance and we came to talk. We talked a lot, probably more than an hour and before leaving I had an invitation for the next day to come to her place and show her my slides.

This I did - I mean the coming - but, as far I can remember, I never really showed her those slides. But I stayed there for the night and next morning at breakfast she told me her story.

Ten years ago she was going to be married. Everything was arranged, papers, the ceremonies at the town hall and in the church, dinner, everything. Three days before the fixed date her fiancé met her somewhere in town and told her that everything is off. No reason given, no explanation, just the statement, "I'll not see you again in this life" he told her.

Naturally, she tried this and that but to no avail. She never managed to find out what has happened and she had to face it alone.

This kind of broke her. For ten years her life was limited to her studio apartment, going out only for work and for buying food and other necessities. "What did you do all this time", I asked her. "Nothing, just sitting there or playing the piano for hours".

"Play something for me" I said, "Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, whatever you like. "No, she said, and then she added "I play only Dvorak". I asked why but there was no clear answer, as far as I remember.

During the week that followed we saw each other nearly every day. "You are the very first person that came here after my failed marriage", she told me. But she must have been ready for something else some time before. She had published an advertisement in a newspaper asking for someone ready to go with her to the USA for a months' holiday, on shared expenses. And she got a positive answer because there was a Dutchman ready to go with her. Departure next week.

"Don't worry, she told me, I'll be back in no time".

The first half of that month I was away, too, crossing Iceland with a bunch of backpackers. Coming home, I started waiting. At the appropriate time, probably a little too early, I made my first phone call. Nothing, not yet back. Some days later, I called again and was amazed to hear "no connection under this number". This same evening I went to her place: her name on the apartment was gone. Then I managed to talk to an old lady living next door. "Oh, she moved out some days ago."

She had vanished without leaving a trace. I was not broken but certainly shattered. I talked it over with some friends and she became "the slide-show-girl" whenever the subject was raised.

More than a year passed and one day, in an inner city street, I hear "Bonjour, Georges" : my slide-show-girl! She told me Part 2 of the story. During those holidays in the United State States they decided to live together and back in town she married right away. When I met her she was certainly six months pregnant.

Happy end.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Democracy - an export product?

Being a regular reader of Newsweek, I remember quite well those days and weeks right after the invasion of Iraq. Democracy will finally brought to the Middle East, I was reading. There was one argument brought up again and again. "We brought democracy to Germany after the war and it worked so well. Why shouldn't it be the same in Iraq".

Holy innocence. These journalists, professional line scribblers, just don't know what they are talking about. Could be, too, that they were simply repeating what they gathered "from well informed sources".

Six years later nothing has come out of those noble efforts but democracy is still very much on the official agenda.

Bringing democracy to a country like Afghanistan or Iraq is like trying to teach step dance to a paralytic in a one-week-crash-course. I don't wish to say this is bound to fail. No! It is downright crazy.

Democracy is a frail plant, it needs constant care from everybody and its main ingredient is the rule of law. And the rule of law is only possible if the vast majority of the people concerned is honest and law abiding and not only when a police officer is breathing down their neck.

When the US forces took Baghdad in 2003, for several weeks or months there was no authority in the town. Saddam's forces of evil were disbanded and the Americans did not care and did not bother. They only guarded the Oil Ministry (and the oil fields in the country side, sure). And what happened? Hell broke loose, thousands of citizen started to loot and steal wherever possible. Any object not solidly embedded in concrete, museums, shops, administrations were looted and gutted. With people like this democracy is impossible. They need a benevolent dictatorship and naturally, that's what they get and deserve.

Next stop Afghanistan. There is the saying that the quality and the seriousness of a democracy is not shown during voting but during counting.

Afghanistan is not really a country or a nation. It is a big tribal area called Afghanistan and its people are dedicated poppy growers. The smallest entity is the family and at its head is the husband. Women and children are kind of property and if they know their place and behave accordingly everything goes well like in all families. If the family gets desperately poor - as is happening now - the master sells a girl.

Next comes the tribal chief. This guy is something like God's representative on earth, he alone gives security and rule of law, the tribal law meaning Muslim Sharia, the religious law. You don't vote against the Chief. If the Chief decides for superior reasons that he opts for socialism, conservatism, liberalism or any other -ism for money or power, the tribe votes along those lines. And in case the Chief has a new inspiration and switches - for superior reasons - from one ism to another ism, or from friend to foe, the tribal members change, too. That is their duty and their honor.

So, in a nutshell, let's keep democracy at home. Let's improve it here because we are far from perfect, everybody knows that. We should always be ready to give advice and a lend a helping hand like training specialists, opening our universities, activities like that. But, please, no more voting in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or elsewhere, sponsored by Western nations and paid by its tax payers.