Category Archives: Podcast

Tales of the world episode 71 – I saw a documentary

In this episode Tales of the world takes an experimental route to make a point. Enjoy a multi-track and polyvocal creation taking a stab at the fact that we are so well informed on just about everything, and yet, somehow, we can’t or won’t go beyond that.

Tales of the world episode 70 – Of (UN) interns and men

It is fitting to start the new season of Tales of the world podcasts with a news story arc that happened in Geneva this August. It was broken to the public by the very local newspaper Tribune de Genève, which, for three whole days, knew the glory of being quoted and mentioned by the global media giants, in their search for human-interest stories that could touch their readers during the typically slow summer reel.

The premise of the story arc was quite simple: the newspaper posted on Monday evening, around the time people check their facebook and twitter feeds, a potentially explosive news, as it was directly related to Geneva: young unpaid UN intern has to live in a tent during his internship because he cannot afford anything else, raising the question about who can actually afford to take up this kind of unpaid job. The response was quite immediate and overwhelming: almost everyone in Geneva knows someone or has been in the situation of being an unpaid UN intern, so they sympathise. They also feel inspired that someone courageous has finally took it upon themselves to say something, when they themselves did not do it, although the thought has crossed their minds. So there go offers of lodging and support. On the other hand, as the story is being picked up by more and more international media, the UN itself is forced to come up with a half baked declaration about how it helps its interns survive the fourth most expensive city in the world.

The next day, around midday, lo and behold, the intern buckles under the unexpected pressure of media coverage and claims himself touched and surprised by such reaction. He decided to resign however, and above all, to do this in a press conference in front of Palais des Nations, full of symbolism and fake humility, which instantly raises suspicions as to his ingenuity in this affair. The alarm bells started with the question of “how did the TDG journalist hear about this story” are confirmed, and sure enough, by Wednesday evening, in the middle of a heated public discussion about UN interns and their pay, or lack thereof, the third act in the drama is played and David Hyde confesses publicly that his was a communication coup orchestrated in order to get attention to this topic, about which he intended to do a documentary.

Meanwhile, UN interns did go out on a protest asking for a change the system, which was reported virtually nowhere in the press. And now, for the fifth act and the revenge, as it is called in theatre theory…the weekend papers wasted no time in calling this story a “publicity coup”, a “lying strategy”, with its main character “coming clean”, “confessing” to a “deception” and a “stunt”. By doing this they buried, in their turn, the real story – which is the growing inequality and injustice embedded in the UN internship system – under the cover of self- righteousness.

Three main observations occur to me in relation to this saga.

First, I am appalled by the comments posted by people on the first articles describing the interns’ situation, which, in their majority, did not even engage with the possibility that something is rotten in the system, and kept saying that the only thing to do is to adapt and essentially submit to the current situation, work hard and eventually “earn” the right to have a good internship, when it is pretty clear that these are no longer sufficient conditions to achieve one’s goals. I guess this is Calvinism at its best and Calvin may rest in peace, his city is still under the spell of his 16th century ideology and hypocrisy.

Secondly, my thoughts turn towards David Hyde, the unhappy protagonist of this story. I choose to be naïve enough to believe that his was not a self-interested publicity stunt, but rather the case of young person of strong convictions, who was overwhelmed by hubris and the arrogance stemming from the fact that, at the root of it, he had a good point to make. Also, let us be honest, this type of calculation turns out to be the only way to actually get through to the press, who fell so quickly and so hard for a story which was in the image of the way it works. If the idea of a documentary about this subject really existed, it was a good one and an honest one. The rub is that it needed time and reflection, values and skills that are no longer taught in schools, families and society at large. This brings me to my third point.

The ethics of journalism. What kind of journalist falls right into a youth’s poorly organised plan of making a splash for an idea? Or should we think that, more cunning than a fox who studied cunning at Oxford, the TDG journalist was complicit in this plan out of their support of the cause? I think this overestimates that particular individual on several accounts. Also, what kind of media, in general, fails to stop and reflect on why this entire situation happened, and why, ultimately, it failed to treat in depth the real subject: inequality, injustice and entitlement, and the many forms they take, including in the institutions that are meant to combat these very things. That which has failed us, including David Hyde, most in this story, is lazy journalism, which promises the glory of an instant for an individual, only to bury deep the idea or the cause they happen to stand for.

So there we go, the start of a season, which begins with a bang and a whimper and with a very precious insight: we cannot take the system on full frontal, no matter how right we are; we shall always be crushed, not least by the complicities it generates within ourselves; we can, however, build strategies and proposals based on reflection and medium and long-term processes, which help us build ourselves and narratives that will withstand the temptations of arrogance and hubris and truly build a better future.

Tales of the world episode 69 – La crise grecque un dialogue de sourds à l’européenne

En littérature, on sait qu’on se trouve devant un classique quand chacun qui le lit, et même ceux qui ne l’ont pas lu, trouve quelque chose de fort à en dire, que ce soit positif ou bien critique. Quand les échos d’une œuvre dépassent et vont bien au-delà de son message, au prix de l’obscurcir et même de le pervertir, nous sommes bien devant une production qui touche une question profonde. Selon ces critères, ce qui se passe en ce moment avec la Grèce et son avenir européen est non seulement un grand classique mais aussi, une grande expérience de littérature contemporaine d’écriture à milliers, voir des millions, de mains.

La tragédie à laquelle nous assistons n’a de grec que son air d’inévitabilité et d’étrange aveuglement que ses personnages exhibent. Pour le reste, il y a des éléments de la commedia dell’arte, de vaudeville français et des notes brechtiennes.

 L’aspect le plus interpellant de cette crise est que chacun de ses personnages lit le texte de ce qui se passe exclusivement selon sa version des choses. Les Européens, en disant « mais nous, on a voulu vous aider, on vous aide, même maintenant que vous nous avez roulé dans la farine avec le coup de poker du référendum, signez les termes et conditions, des plus généreux d’ailleurs, et on ne vous lâchera pas. Et de toute façon c’est vous qui nous lâchez, pas nous… » Et aux grecs de décrier la « fausse générosité du bourreau qui donne avec une main pour prendre avec l’autre tout en gardant son masque d’humanité. Nous sommes les victimes du terrible complot du capitalisme et des banques. »

Ce qui rend ces deux positions crédibles et même véridiques est que chacune d’entre elles contient des éléments de vérité. Juste ce qu’il faut de vérité, en fait, pour conforter chacun dans son cocon d’idées et ne pas les pousser à examiner les choses avec plus de détachement. Car les européens ont raison, ils ont été généreux … avec les banques qu’ils ont aidées et qui avaient prêté de l’argent à la Grèce sans regarder les failles de son système politique et économique. Ils ont cru être généreux quand ils ont passé l’éponge sur les mensonges grecs à propos du budget lors de l’entrée de la Grèce dans l’Euro et quand ils ont continué à nourrir la machine corrompue de ses élites au pouvoir.

Et les grecs ont raison, ils sont victimes du capitalisme et des banques, mais des victimes consentantes, qui ont vécu en s’accommodant des petits arrangements balkaniques et byzantins avec les autorités et les oligarques qui les dirigeaient. En tant que roumaine, ce type de mentalité m’est bien connu : quand le peuple est pauvre et a le sentiment de ne rien pouvoir changer il s’accommode de tout régime, en se disant que, de toute façon l’un vaut un autre, ils vont tous voler et être corrompus de la même manière et on n’y peut rien. Alors, autant essayer de survivre et tirer tant que possible la couverture à soi. Sauf que, en tant que roumaine, j’ai aussi vu qu’avec le soutien du l’UE, quelques dirigeants inspirés et une société civile qui s’active, il est possible de changer ce type de mentalité. La Roumanie est loin d’être un exemple parfait et en ce moment même ses oligarques et dirigeants corrompus mènent une bataille à vie et à mort contre les institutions anti-corruption qui menacent leurs petites affaires personnelles, basées, comme en Grèce sur le siphonage des fonds européens et investissements étrangers. Mais, quelque chose a changé et la société civile est au moins consciente du fait que si elle ne s’engage pas dans la politique, le pays méritera son sort. On ne pourra blâmer personne d’autre.

Ce genre de prise de conscience est cruciale dans le devenir d’un pays, et elle n’est pas naturelle. Ce sur quoi l’Europe aurait dû vraiment insister face à la Grèce, non pas ces dernières 5 années, mais bien avant, était la mentalité qui soutenait la corruption et la domination mafieuse de l’état par des réseaux d’intérêts personnels. De faire le parent sévère aujourd’hui ne sert à strictement rien, à part se fourrer la tête encore plus loin dans le sable, et ce, des deux côtés de ce drame.

 Donc, si le peuple grec décide de voter non et d’assumer la faillite de son pays, que ce soit clair que ce sont deux faillites qu’il assume : celle de sa propre mentalité gangrénée et celle du système capitaliste européen qui a lâché sur les valeurs démocratiques au nom d’une survie, qui s’avère temporaire et inutile à la fois. C’est peut-être la seule manière qui reste d’articuler des véritables réformes de l’état en Grèce et en Europe. C’est juste dommage qu’on s’obstine à incarner l’inéluctable des mythes grecs au lieu de les écouter et prendre note.

Avec la musique du groupe grec Imam Baildi, une chanson qui parle du désamour de deux amants…



Tales of the world 68 – Actionable insight

On actionable insight and the topics that the chronicle will be looking into in the near future.

Thank you for listening after so long an absence on my part!

Best, Ruxandra

Dostoyevsky and Putin, our contemporaries

Sense and meaning are the two pillars on which Western civilisation and discourse are built. No matter the depths of despair or heights of euphoria onto which history may push us, the first reflex we have is to make sense of them. Rationalisation is one of the pitfalls of this passion as is the fact of calling anyone who does not fit our sense of meaning, mad.

In the past few months Western leaders and pundits, newspaper readers and even writers of chronicles with a twist, have been puzzled about the seeming senselessness of President Putin’s behaviour regarding Ukraine. What is he on about this Putin, what SENSE can we make of his actions? Can he not see that sanctions and low oil prices are running his country into the ground? Is he not afraid of eroding domestic support for his dismal policies? What is the MEANING of his double speak, on one side sticking like glue to the language of international law and treaties in the morning, and on the other, thrashing in the evening the very principles he upholds in front of cameras? He is mad!!!!

 Such questions are at the heart of efforts to negotiate peace in Ukraine, which is the scene to a very peculiar kind of theatre of war: Soviet propaganda meets “going to the people” meets hybrid tactics in the field meets manipulation of information on Internet.

 What if, only for a moment, we willingly suspended our search for sense and meaning, that is, the way we think of them, as constructive outcomes, and at least a plan for peace and the improvement of the situation for everyone, and recognised the current Russian tactics for what they are: an endless string of moments meant to preserve a present situation, with no end and no future in sight. Currently, the Russian President and his camarilla are at the height of power – shabby and dwindling as its foundations may be – this is a timeless power, much like Vladimir Putin’s face, which for the past 10 years seems to have taken no wrinkles and no blows.

Walter Benjamin said: “fascist regimes are advertising regimes”. Publicity and advertising are the realm of the present par excellence, and what Russia has been serving the world lately is the most exciting ads on the market; with every shot and turn we hold our breath, wondering how we shall be outwitted this time, our attention diffused and distracted by the puppet master. The seeming inevitability of it all obscures even the horror of the growing number of deaths, its direct consequence.

As long as the Western gaze remains trapped in this manner, negotiators will not be able to introduce the key element that could bring things, slowly, to a halt: time. Time is introduced in a conversation only when we look past immediate gestures, and past immediate outcomes. When we start asking “what is the project pursued”? and we are not satisfied with circumstantial answers or the answers that “make sense”.

Perhaps, as others have done recently in order to try to understand Vladimir Putin, we can turn to Dostoyevsky for a clue on a classic Russian take on this: Here is an exchange between the Karamazov brothers;

“I understand too well, Ivan. One longs to love with one’s inside, with one’s stomach. You said that so well and I am awfully glad that you have such a longing for life,” cried Alyosha. “I think everyone should love life above everything in the world.”     “Love life more than the meaning of it?”     “Certainly, love it, regardless of logic as you say, it must be regardless of logic, and it’s only then one will understand the meaning of it. I have thought so a long time. Half your work is done, Ivan, you love life, now you’ve only to try to do the second half and you are saved.”