Trump and Threats to Truth, Democracy and Peace

Stein Tønnesson delivered this year’s The Fjord Memorial Lecture  at Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Lillehammer. The lecture discusses Trump’s team of advisors, calls for fighting the increasing use of lies in political campaigning, sees Trump’s election as having weakened democracy worldwide, and perceives a major risk to world peace. Tønnesson ends the lecture with four scenarios for how Trump’s foreign policy may develop: chaos, status quo, lucky bargaining, or war.

Mr Fjord is a fictional character in a novel written by Norwegian author Dag Solstad. Mr Fjord was taught source criticism at the University but was persuaded to leave the path of truth when he became a member of a Marxist-Leninist movement. While Mr Fjord is a fictional character, Trump, who also has problems differentiating between truth and lies, actually exists. A similar character to Mr Fjord is the teacher Pedersen (Gymnaslærer Pedersen), here played by Kristoffer Joner.

Oh Mr Fjord, – it feels strange that you’re fictional while Donald Trump is real. You, the trainee reporter at the Norwegian local newspaper The Dawn; the history student who learned how to practice source criticism and became a lecturer here at Lillehammer University College; who were converted to Marxism-Leninism, underwent self-proletarization and became a worker at Mesna Cardboard Factory; and ended up as a dad with a lawnmower; you seem almost like an old acquaintance. But in fact you’re a fictional character in Dag Solstad‘s Novel 1987.

Meanwhile Donald Trump, who seems a completely improbable film character, actually exists. That a self-important, ignorant billionaire and reality TV star, who is unable to distinguish between truth and lies and has little respect for human rights and democratic procedures, can have taken up residence in the White House seems like fiction. I have to pinch myself when I think about the American people giving Trump the nuclear button. Donald Trump and some of his closest advisers want to tear down the current order in the United States and the rest of the world in order to recreate the wealthy and powerful America of an imagined past: America First! Make America Great Again!Read More

This Week in South Sudan – Week 10

Monday 6 Mars The Government of South Sudan (GOSS) has granted Oranto Petroleum International Ltd. a license to explore for oil in block B3. The Nigerian company will be the technical operator and 90% shareholder of the block, with the GOSS-owned oil company Nile Petroleum Co. holding a 10% stake. According to the UN, GOSS… Read more »

A Tourist in Search of the Real Cuba

After traveling in Cuba for two weeks, I sit down to reflect: What is Cuba?

  • A socialist laboratory for Che Guevara’s ‘New Man’?
  • A vast outdoor museum of Spanish colonial architecture?
  • An extraordinary collection of sixty-year old American gas-guzzling automobiles?
  • A zoo for humans (excellent health care, low infant mortality, high life expectancy, cheap housing, adequate nourishment, and low personal freedom)?
  • A land freed from the yoke of North American economic and political imperialism, or
  • a bankrupt country subsidized successively by the Soviet Union, Venezuela, and Cuban emigrants?
  • A tourist paradise with endless white beaches and all-inclusive hotels?
  • A pawn in a game between big powers?

All of those, and more, although the New Man is fading into the background.

The author as a tourist in Cuba, 2017. Photo: Private

Read More

This Week in South Sudan – Week 9

Monday 27 February Reported clashes in Tharwangyiela and Thonyor areas, Unity State. Foreign Policy: “South Sudan’s Man-Made Famine” New York Times “South Sudan’s Bleak Future” Bloomberg: “South Sudan’s Famine Is China’s Chance to Lead” Tuesday 28 February President Salva Kiir dismissed two state governors, Abraham Makoi of Western Lakes State and Rin Tueny Mabor of… Read more »

Trump Reminded Me Why I Am An Academic

“Why did you become an academic?” is a question that I’m frequently asked. For me, my path into this profession is pretty clear.

I was about fourteen and a freshman in high school in the early 1990s. A few of my friends joined the school chapter of Amnesty International, and I figured I’d go along. My world was changed. I learned of people being slaughtered because their ethnicity; political activists imprisoned for their beliefs; widespread torture and sexual assault; and refugees flooding across borders in search of safety. This was the era of massacres in Bosnia and Rwanda. CNN broadcast murder while the world just watched. The comfortable space of my childhood ended, and I began on a journey of human rights activism.

“My teens and early twenties were filled with passion and punk-fueled rage”. (This picture is for illustration, and otherwise unrelated to the author or the article). Photo: Mite Kuzevski. Creative Commons via Flickr

I became the president of the high school chapter, continued human rights work in college, and eventually took on a number of leadership roles with Amnesty International USA. Being the son of Iranian parents, I took a special interest in immigrant and refugee rights. I briefly worked for the International Rescue Committee and volunteered for a number of local organizations dealing with refugee resettlement. My teens and early twenties were filled with passion and punk-fueled rage. I was angry at the world for the brutality and callousness of its leaders, but I was also filled with hope that activists like myself could make a genuine difference.

My experience as an undergraduate student — first at community college, then at UC San Diego — helped me channel that passion and think more clearly about how to make an impact.

Read More

Remembering Boris Nemtsov – and Reflecting upon Russian History

Five years ago, Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of Russian liberal opposition, visited Oslo and made his cause for several audiences, who now remember his passion and joy. There is indeed much to reflect upon in this recent Russian history – and in its older pages as well.

Late February not only marks a momentous anniversary in Russia’s long and difficult history, but also solemnizes a tragic event from its much more recent past. One hundred years ago (March 8, 1917, but February 23 on the Julian Calendar, still used by the Russian Empire), a peaceful revolution dethroned the Romanov monarchy, opening for Russia an opportunity to emerge out of the catastrophe of World War I as a democratic state.

Public enthusiasm, however, evaporated quickly: the Provisional government lost control over the crumbling state, setting the stage for the Bolshevik coup in late October (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 20).

And two years ago (February 27, 2015), Boris Nemtsov, perhaps the most appealing and daring of the leaders of Russia’s democratic opposition, was gunned down on a bridge over the Moskva River, steps from the walls of Kremlin. The authorities granted the intrepid opposition permission to stage a march on Sunday in downtown Moscow, toward the “Nemtsov bridge.” Clearly, the Kremlin considers these groups too marginalized to interfere with the master-plan for re-electing Vladimir Putin for yet another presidential term a year from now (Moscow Echo, February 24).Read More

Yemen is on the Brink

Most of the world’s attention has recently been directed towards Syria. In the shadow of Syria, the conflict in Yemen has been left to its own devices, and Yemen is now set to experience an even greater humanitarian catastrophe than Syria.

In Syria, we witness the beginning of the end of one of the bloodiest conflicts in many decades. In Yemen, the conflict has barely begun.

In 2011, Yemen was seen as one of the few success stories from the Arab Spring. Photo: Al Jazeera / Wikimedia Commons

Read More

This Week in South Sudan – Week 8  

  Monday 20 February Further international reporting on the declared famine in parts of Unity State, South Sudan: Al Jazeera, Inside Story: “Who is to blame for famine in South Sudan?” Al Jazeera: “UN: $4.4bn needed to prevent ‘catastrophe’ of famine” New York Times: “Millions in South Sudan in Urgent Need of Food, U.N. Warns”… Read more »

With Orwell to the West Bank

The United States under President Trump is not the only place where the rule of law is currently being put to the test.

In early February hundreds of Israeli police officers battled on the West Bank with hundreds of determined young protesters armed with stones. Sixteen police officers were injured in clashes with the demonstrators, who had come to prevent the police and army from completing their task: the evacuation of Amona, a so-called “outpost” on the Palestinian West Bank.

A Jewish settler struggles with Israeli security officers during one of the previous clashes in Amona. Photo: The Pulitzer Gallery via Flickr

An “outpost” is an Israeli settlement built without authorization from the Israeli authorities. The demolition of Amona was ordered initially by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1997, but the battle between the legal system and the religious nationalist settlers – and the politicians who protect them – has lasted much longer.

Read More

Oslo: a Global Knowledge Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies

By entering into a new strategic cooperation agreement, the University of Oslo and the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) wish to contribute to solidify Oslo’s role as a global powerhouse for knowledge about the prevention and resolution of armed conflict.

  • Ole Petter Ottersen, Rector, University of Oslo
  • Kristian Berg Harpviken, Director, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

Signing the cooperation agreement. Photo: Martin Tegnander / PRIO

The world is undergoing profound political change. After World War II, we have evolved from a period of Cold War dominated by two superpowers, to nearly three decades with a single dominant superpower and a strong commitment to the finding of shared solutions. Now we see the position of the United States being challenged by other powers, in particular China and Russia, while at the same time there are major forces within the United States pushing for a more isolationist policy. Nationalism, including its more intolerant forms, is on the rise in large parts of the world. International institutions are being weakened. There is a growing willingness to use armed force, political leaders are once again talking about the possibility of using nuclear weapons, and major wars between states are not unthinkable.Read More