Nordic countries

WikiLeaks and extremism

This article in Reason magazine looks at some aspects of the WikiLeaks operation that seem to have been largely ignored by its supporters.

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Reading matters

The interesting blog of Swedish military historian and defence analyst Lars Gyllenhaal continues to provide thought-provoking insights into aspects of Nordic and European security, past and present. with references to little-known and little-publicized historical, literary and other documentary sources. Among recent posts to the blog are:

  • a review of a book called If Germany Had Won —  53 Alternative Scenarios, with a chapter containing speculations on questions such as what might have happened if Sweden had been drawn into the Winter War of 1939-40, or had said no to Hitler in 1941.
  • a dissection and general Fisking of the 9/11 “Truth Movement”, with some unexpected words from Noam Chomsky.
  • an examination of Russia’s new defence policy in the light of a recent BBC report, and a look at one puzzling recent development.

Danish cartoon axe attack

In a second New Year terror-related incident in a Nordic country, the 74-year-old graphic artist Kurt Westergaard, who authored one of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons in 2005, was attacked in his home on Friday night by a Somali intruder armed with an axe and a knife, but managed to take refuge in a secure room and activate an alarm which summoned police, the AP reports.  According to the BBC, the attacker was shot and wounded by police. 

Links to Danish press sources:

Politiken

Jyllands-Posten

Ekstra Bladet

Berlingske Tidende

Gates of Vienna has posted translated excerpts from Danish press reports.

See also: Espoo mall shootings

Bridging the gap

I don’t usually cross-post between different blogs, but this post from Nordic Voices in Translation is one that I want to publish here as well, as it fits into the general subject-area of A Step At A Time. The post is called Bridging the Gap: History and the Nordic World, and it forms part of an ongoing debate I’ve been having with Nordic translators Eric Dickens and Harry D. Watson:

I thought I’d continue out here in the open the discussion that started in the comments to Harry’s Bredsdorff post. Eric wrote:

While nowadays I am more on the right in economic and social-cohesion terms, I still read the former Communist weekly Ny Tid, partly out of nostalgia, partly because of its good cultural coverage, and partly because it is always useful to read opposite views. When I was at UEA and in Åbo, the Communists I knew were almost painfully middle-class offspring. They’d never been within an armsbreath of a worker. But I admired their idealism. And I hope that we people that kick against the cultural pricks of bestsellerdom and xeno-ignorance in the UK can adopt an even-handed approach in political terms.

I have to admit that my political sympathies are mainly centre-right/libertarian. This, I think, is partly a result of the relatively long ime I spent during the 1970s and 80s — after periods in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe — trying to do something to lift the veils of wilful ignorance that surrounded the view of the Soviet Union then prevalent among Western democrats, most of whom were apparently unable to perceive the true nature of global Communism. It’s also probably a result of the time I spent the United States during the same era, when the discussion of these issues had a different configuration from the one that characterized debate in the UK and Europe. Today, if I were still in the U.S. I suppose I would probably sympathize most with “right-wing Democrats” and “left-wing Republicans”.

This political stance caused me some problems when I met writers and intellectuals in the Nordic countries, most of whom held views that were even more the to the left than those of their counterparts in Britain. On the other hand, I became aware that — as Czeslaw Milosz pointed out in The Captive Mind — totalitarian ideology has the power to enslave the minds of individuals who are otherwise decent and intelligent, and that behind the ideological enslavement and blindness often lie beauty, truth and honesty. That is particularly true of writers and poets, I think. In Finland, for example, I found some poets who, though they professed to be Communists, were writing poetry that would never be accepted in the framework of Soviet literary dogma, and was even far removed from anything could be called “left wing”, or “politically committed”.

It wasn’t until I got to Estonia in the early 1990s that I began to meet writers and intellectuals from a Nordic cultural background who also had direct and personal experience of Soviet reality, and who because of that had managed to (even had to) bridge the gap between the personal and the public/political – much in the way that W.H. Auden had done in England and America decades earlier, though from a very different experiential base. These writers knew what Communism was and what it did to people, had felt its physically and mentally destructive force, which was similar to that of Nazi ideology and practice. Meeting these people was confirmation for me that even though in the rest of the Nordic world the influence of the Soviet threat and Soviet propaganda had put blinkers on many minds, there was a Nordic cultural reality that stood outside that limitation and beyond it.

I agree with Eric that the labels of “right” and “left” have become less meaningful since the fall of Communism – yet the old dichotomy remains, now mostly polarized around opposition to or support for the United States and its cultural and political role in spreading the values of liberty and democracy throughout the world. But also, for cultural and historical reasons, and probably because I’m British rather than European, the Nordic world has always seemed to me to stand somewhere between Europe amd America, and I guess I still see it as a kind of bridge between those two inwardly diverse but outwardly monolithic entities.

Facebook – 2

Last September I said that I didn’t want to join Facebook – however, as if to prove that we will all be on Facebook – or something like it – soon, I’ve changed my mind and joined. One of the factors that led me to do so was the sight of reasoned and intelligent discussions of Baltic and Nordic issues, not disrupted by trolls or troublemakers, taking place on Facebook in a calm and relaxed atmosphere. A step up from the comments boxes of many blogs and other public fora that explore such subjects.