ctrp424 Behind the Coffeeshop Counter

photo by El próximo viaje / Victoriamdq on flickr

When it comes to drug policy and coffeeshops in the Netherlands, we rarely hear the voices of those who work behind the counter and see how things work (or don’t work).  Nel has lived and worked in the coffeeshop world for over 5 years and in that time he has seen the daily routine of the cannabis industry and the politics that revolve around it. What he knows is not the political theater that so often gets reported on in the media, his story is the reality that somehow does not always trump the growing list of myths that surround cannabis in the Netherlands.

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No President is Sacred

Last month there was a big to-do in South Africa over an art piece by Brett Murray, depicting president Jacob Zuma posing in a Lenin-style look to the future along with his penis being clearly visible.  Protesters have called it everything from disrespectful to racist, culminating in one enraged person attacking the artwork, damaging it, and closing the exhibition (or is it back already? I haven’t heard the latest)

Zuma has long been a contreversial figure, especially when it comes to sex and sexuality. He has had 6 wives and from them a grand total of 20 children. More infamously, he was acquitted of rape in 2005.  Throughout his political career in some way sex or sexuality has always been there, either in the background or the foreground. This would seem to be the grounds for which the artist chose to prominently include the president’s penis in the image.

Many disagree. They see these matters and personal and not subject to public criticism. They also feel the president of the nation deserves respect and not to be made a caricature of. But they don’t just disagree and write about it in the media and express their opinion in the many forums available to people today. They take it further and seek to have such images banned and follow that with all manner of accusation about the intentions of the artist.  Its a familiar theme in a world that has become very much about not just expressing an opinion, but stopping others from expressing their perhaps less popular opinion. Everyone is very busy being offended, and they demand someone else get in trouble for their alleged suffering.

Im neither South African nor a real artist, but I think there’s a global message in the events taking place around this work.  Therefore I’m making sure “The Spear” is available on this site… enjoy – or don’t.

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The Importance of Being EU

 

Georgian Parliament

As I walk by Georgian Parliament on my way to the nearby café in the morning, I notice two flags always flying out front: The Georgian ride and white flag, and the European Union navy blue with yellow stars flag (Georgia is a part of the Council of Europe among other institutions).  When I discuss the position of Georgia in the world, although bordered by nations like Russia and Armenia (to name 2) it is widely proclaimed that Georgia is part of Europe.  Like numerous nations located even closer to the heart of the European Union, the goal here is very much to one day be part of the European Union. Why? Although I don’t usually get a specific answer, the implied answer is a sense of belonging. Perhaps also the goal of achieving the quality of life similar to that which it is thought members of the EU enjoy. Or to make it even more basic, one major reason is to further distance this place from Russia, a nation that is – to put it mildly- disliked.  As part of not liking Russia, there is the goal to make sure the world knows (as well as Russia itself) that Georgia is very much with those guys over there on the other side of the Black sea. No longer a victim of their occupation but standing on its own two feet with its European friends.

 

Now compare this sentiment with that in Southern Europe these days, where people are enraged and disillusioned; not exactly with the European Union, but with their own governments who of course are members of the EU and have presided over, if not played a role in, a massive economic collapse and policy failure.  While some nations in the EU curse their governments for not representing them in what is financially a very troubled union, here we find those outside wishing to get in. With what seems like very different goals, at least when it comes to the symbolic desire to be EU… maybe Georgians would find more happiness in being a member state, even if the economy looks pretty bad.

In the coming days here in Tbilisi, I’ll of course hear more about this bid to be part of the EU and the primary reasons for it. I’ll report back with what I learn.

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ctrp372 Dissecting Dictators

2011 is the year where many observers and so called experts around the world scramble to understand how it is that so many dictatorships suddenly arrived at a crisis. As people take to the streets and battles take place in city squares throughout the middle east, we discover that in fact many of the dictators of these regions have not been well studied or understood.

Natasha Ezrow, Director of the International Development Studies Program at the University of Essex and author of Dictators & Dictatorships: Understanding Authoritarian Regimes and Their Leaders, has written about the important differences between dictators which we now see being played out by how they handle calls for reform.  She also lays out criteria for why types of leaders might flee a country before anyone is harmed, while others would stay til their last breath.

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