Jan Myrdal: Catastrophes are more than possible but not inevitable
The International Conference of the Chişinău Forum on alternative strategies to 21st century neoliberal globalism 15-16 December 2017.
Your excellency Igor Dodon, President of the Republic of Moldova, the Joint Committee of the Chişinău Forum, respected participants, ladies and gentlemen.
I am grateful for the invitation to speak here as I agree with the organizers both that an open and rational exchange of views is necessary and that once liberating ideas can harden and change to ideologies, false consciousness. Or to put it more plainly; like many of us in Europe I can see much of my own political roots among those to the left in the French National Assembly 1789. But at the same time I know that individuals and organizations labelling themselves "Left" in Europe today, as during first the nineteenth century and then in different ways during the twentieth, have been politically responsible for imperialist and colonial wars. Phrases as "the Left" obfuscate the issues. Instead we have to seek truth from facts. (That Mao Zedong used those words in 1938 should not disturb anyone as they go back to the rational core of classical thought both in Chinese and Western tradition.)
I will take four different examples:
The refugee crisis, that is the mass migration to Europe from Afghanistan, West Asia and Africa is creating serious and threatening major social problems and conflicts here in Europe. But it is not the result of any "act of God" as earthquakes or a climatic catastrophe. I know this well. Sixty years ago I moved to Kabul. Afghanistan was a poor tribal, feudal country that by being fiercely independent had managed to survive the "great game" in the Nineteenth century. My wife and I travelled all over the country. We were young and poor but as we were polite and unarmed we were protected by the pakhtunwali also when we stayed with the black tent nomads. They moved from the high mountain pastures to the lowlands in autumn but there were no Afghan refugees fleeing the country! (I wrote a book to make Afghanistan better understood in our countries. It was published in many languages, also in Romanian.) We all know what then happened. Now NATO is continuing its illegal war against the Afghan people for economic and political control of Central Asia, even officially neutral Sweden is taking part with troops. Fleeing Afghans can now be seen begging in Stockholm. As Chaucer put it in 1390: The chickens come home to roost. This is not a humanitarian crisis. It has to be handled and seen as an international political crime.
My second example is different:
I am from a country in Europe that has not experienced war for more than two hundred years. That we have been spared is not only due to some kind of historical luck but also partly to a specific tradition in foreign policy. Ever since Sweden and Russia were being shaped as nations in northern Europe there were wars. For eight hundred years these wars created great suffering. Also in this part of Europe the troops of Charles the Twelfth were waging war. Finally in 1809 Sweden was militarily so utterly defeated that it lost the eastern part of the national territory. (At that time there was neither Finland nor Sweden. It was one rather poor peasant country where the languages were mixed, Finnish was spoken not only in Stockholm but among ancestors of mine, the forest Finns of Dalecarlia. Finland as a nation took shape during the Russian occupation in the Nineteenth century.)
In Sweden the utterly incompetent king was overthrown and the French Napoleonic Marshal Jean Baptiste Bernadotte was called in as a crown prince. He had been a revolutionary who became an extremely pragmatic Realpolitiker. (The Dictionnaire des girouettes published in Paris during the Hundred Days of Napoleon in 1815 pointed out that Bernadotte had sworn ten different oaths of fidelity and broken them after the circumstances.) He saw what the Swedish politicians had been unable to understand. The eight hundred years of war were pointless. Russia could be weak or be strong but it existed and was larger. He immediately took contact with the Russian Tsar and without any regard for Swedish sentiments he changed Swedish policy for good.
I am not going in on his whole history even though it is fascinating, he was not able to gain the French throne he was aspiring to but he managed to maneuvre and despite the Holy Alliance and political Legitimism he survived as a monarch. In Sweden he is known for his struggle against the freedom of expression. In 1834 he formulated the foreign policy principles that became known as the Bernadotte policy. Sweden was a small country encircled by great powers to the East, South and West. It could survive only by suppleness and still keeping the vital interests. A principled Realpolitik, you could say.
My third example is a personal one from the last war.
In July 1940 my father, Gunnar Myrdal, was going back to the United States to finish his study of the Negro Question (that 1954 became of central value to the Supreme Court in its decision of de-segregation). He needed a German visa to be able to go to Portugal and reach the ships for the United States. He was at that time both an academic and a prominent Swedish politician. As an anti-fascist he had been black-listed by the German government and now Sweden was in principle surrounded by German troops. A representative of the German Legation (it was not an embassy att the time) came to us. I remember it well. The German diplomat said:
- We are a broad minded people. We let bygones be bygones. We are now building the great European house. We will let Sweden leave its small cottage, enter the great house and take its rightful European place.
- But, my father said, we Swedes prefer our own small cottage, one that we manage ourselves.
Of course he didn't get a visa and had to go over Russia and Japan to the United States. But he kept his opinion of the small cottage even to his end when many important people were working to get Sweden to enter what was becoming a new big European House, a European Union without the self determination that Swedes could have in our own cottage.
My fourth example is a little different.
It concerns meetings and conferences like this one. During the decades I have taken part in many. Take the one we held ten years ago in the Palais Bourbonne in Paris on "Justice internationale et impunité, le cas des États-Unis" It gathered a wery wide spectrum of intellectuals and public figures for an intellectually honest and rational debate on the extralegal behaviour of the United States and how to safe guard the rights that the people in different countries have gained the last centuries. (My paper used the arguments of Herman Goering during the Nuremberg Trial to clarify the reasoning of politicians like Bush and Blair.)
It is true that official media and serving academics in every crisis can beat the drums of war and spread unreason. In 2005 I myself held a large exhibition with a well documented catalogue for our Royal Library on this subject. But in the long run it is the rational and reasoned arguments in conferences like this that prevail. That is, dear collegues, at least what I in my ninetyfirst year have seen during my life.
Jan Myrdal (writer, columnist, Sweden)
The books I refer to are:
la raspinitia civilizatiilor
Ed. Nils Andersson, Daniel Jagolnitzer, Vincent Rivasseau
Justice internationale et impunité le cas des États-Unis.
Ed. Nils Andersson, Daniel Iagolniotzer, Diana G. Collie
International Justice and Impunity.
The Case of the United States.
Atlanta GA 2008
Sälja krig som margarin