The euro’s first 20 years played out very differently than many expected, highlighting the importance of recognizing that the future is likely to be different from the past. Given this, only a commitment to flexibility and a willingness to rise to new challenges will ensure the common currency’s continued success.
BRUSSELS – Twenty years ago this month, the euro was born. For ordinary citizens, little changed until cash euros were introduced in 2002. But in January 1999, the “third stage” of Economic and Monetary Union officially started, with the exchange rates among the original 11 eurozone member states “irrevocably” fixed, and authority over their monetary policy transferred to the new European Central Bank. What has unfolded since then holds important lessons for the future.
In 1999, conventional wisdom held that Germany would incur the biggest losses from the euro’s introduction. Beyond the risk that the ECB would not be as tough on inflation as the Bundesbank had been, the Deutsche Mark was overvalued, with Germany running a current-account deficit. Fixing the exchange rate at that level, it was believed, would pose a severe challenge to the competitiveness of German industry.
Yet, 20 years on, inflation is even lower than it was when the Bundesbank was in charge, and Germany maintains persistently large current-account surpluses, which are viewed as evidence that German industry is too competitive. This brings us to the first lesson of the last 20 years: the performance of individual eurozone countries is not preordained.
The experiences of other countries, such as Spain and Ireland, reinforce that lesson, demonstrating that the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and a willingness to make painful choices matter more than the economy’s starting position. This applies to the future as well: Germany’s current predominance, for example, is in no way guaranteed to continue for the next 20 years.
Yet the establishment of the eurozone was backward-looking. The main concern during the 1970s and 1980s had been high and variable inflation, often driven by double-digit wage growth. Financial crises were almost always linked to bouts of inflation, but had previously been limited in scope, because financial markets were smaller and not deeply interconnected.
With the creation of the eurozone, everything changed. Wage pressures abated throughout the developed world. But financial-market activity, especially across borders within the euro area, grew exponentially, after having been repressed for decades. For example, eurozone member countries’ cross-border assets, mostly in the form of bank and other credit, grew from about 100% of GDP in the late 1990s to 400% by 2008.
Then the global financial crisis erupted a decade ago, catching Europe off guard. The first deflationary crisis since the 1930s was made especially virulent in Europe by the mountain of debt that had been accumulated in the previous ten years, when countries had their eyes on the rear-view mirror.
Of course, the eurozone was not alone in being taken by surprise by the financial crisis, which had started in the United States with supposedly safe securities based on subprime mortgages. But the US, with its unified financial (and political) system, was able to overcome the crisis relatively quickly, whereas in the eurozone, a slow-motion cascade of crises befell many member states.
Fortunately, the ECB proved robust. Its leadership recognized the need to shift focus from fighting inflation – the objective the ECB was designed to achieve – to curbing deflation. Ultimately, the euro survived, because, when push came to shove, leaders of the eurozone’s member states expended political capital to implement needed reforms – even after blaming the euro for their countries’ problems.
This pattern of demonizing the euro before recognizing the need to protect it continues to unfold today – and it should serve as a second lesson of the last 20 years. Italy’s populist coalition government used to speak bravely about flouting the euro’s rules, with some advocating an exit from the eurozone altogether. But when financial-market risk premia increased, and Italian savers did not buy their own government’s bonds, the coalition quickly changed its tune.
In fact, the eurozone’s economic performance has not been as bad as the seemingly endless stream of bleak headlines implies. Per capita GDP growth has slowed over the last 20 years, but not more so than in the US or other developed economies.
Moreover, continental European labor markets have undergone an under-reported structural improvement, with the labor-force participation rate increasing every year, even during the crisis. Today, a higher proportion of the adult population is economically active in the eurozone than in the US. Employment has reached record highs, and unemployment, though still high in some southern countries, is continuously declining.
These economic realities imply that, even if the euro is not particularly well loved, it is widely recognized as an integral element of European integration. According to the latest Eurobarometer poll, support for the euro is at an all-time high of 74%, while less than 20% of the eurozone’s population opposes it. Even Italy boasts a strong pro-euro majority (68% versus 18%). Herein lies a third key lesson from the euro’s first two decades: despite its many imperfections, the common currency has delivered jobs, and there is little support for abandoning it.
But probably the most important lesson lies elsewhere. The euro’s first 20 years played out very differently than many expected, highlighting the importance of recognizing that the future is likely to be different from the past. Given this, only a commitment to flexibility and a willingness to rise to new challenges will ensure the common currency’s continued success.
Daniel Gros is Director of the Brussels-based Center for European Policy Studies. He has worked for the International Monetary Fund, and served as an economic adviser to the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the French prime minister and finance minister. He is the editor of Economie Internationale and International Finance.
Caitlyn Jenner is a trans woman, ‘asexual for now’; Rachel Dolezal identifies as black. Who owns your identity, and how can old ways of thinking be replaced?
by Kwame Anthony Appiah
In April 2015, after a long and very public career, first as a male decathlete, then as a reality TV star, Caitlyn Jenner announced to the world she was a trans woman. Asked about her sexuality, Jenner explained that she had always been heterosexual, and indeed she had fathered six children in three marriages. She understood, though, that many people were confused about the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity, and so she said: “Let’s go with ‘asexual’ for now.”
Isn’t it up to her? What could be more personal than the question of who she is – what she is? Isn’t your identity, as people often say, “your truth”? The question is straightforward; the answer is anything but. And that’s because a seismic fault line runs through contemporary talk of identity, regularly issuing tremors and quakes. Your identity is meant to be the truth of who you are. But what’s the truth about identity?
An identity, at its simplest, is a label we apply to ourselves and to others. Your gender. Your sexuality. Your class, nationality, ethnicity, region, religion, to start a list of categories. (Raise your hand if you are a straight, male, working-class, Afro-Latinx evangelical US southerner.) Labels always come with rules of ascription. When we apply a label to ourselves, we’re accepting that we have some qualifying trait – say, Latin or African ancestry, male or female sex organs, attractions to one gender or another, the right to a German passport.
More important, there are things we believe we should feel and think and do as a result. Identities, for the people who have them, are not inert facts; they are living guides. Women and men dress the way they do in part because they’re women and men. Given that we connect these labels with our behaviour, it’s natural to expect other people to do the same. And that means we’re going to have to tell other people not just which labels they can claim, but what they must do if they are to fit our labels. So identities don’t just affect our own behaviour; they help determine how we treat other people.
At the same time, all the ascription conditions here are contested. Are you a trans woman if you haven’t transitioned? Is someone with seven European great-grandparents and one African one truly black? Would a Daughter of the American Revolution who renounced her American citizenship still be an American? So are the associated norms of behaviour: is a reform Jew less Jewish than an orthodox one? Is an effeminate man less of a man? Because identity, in the sense we typically use it these days, is a social category – something shared with vast numbers of other people – everything is up for negotiation and nothing is determined by individual fiat. In this sense, identity is at once loose and tight.
To say that the borders are contested is also to say that they are policed. Boys who default from gender norms of behaviour are deemed “sissies”; girls are “tomboys”. Some old-guard radical feminists, such as Ti-Grace Atkinson, Marge Piercy and Faith Ringgold, have suggested that trans women aren’t really women. Black authenticity, too, is a perennial battleground. Here’s Pusha T on Drake, in a recent, widely publicised rap beef: “Confused, always felt you weren’t Black enough / Afraid to grow it ’cause your ’fro wouldn’t nap enough.” Latinos sometimes hurl the insult “coconut” at other Latinos who “act white”, suggesting that deep down they’re not Latino at all.
So, in a liberal spirit, we could wonder: why not ditch the guards and adopt an open-border policy? Why not agree that people are whatever they say they are? We could follow the lead of Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland:
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’,” Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t – till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’” “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
By the logic of Humpty Dumpty, everyone should be able to assume whatever identity they choose. There’s glory for you.
Or maybe not. Like all the words in our language, the identity labels we use are a common possession. Were everybody to follow Humpty Dumpty’s example, we simply couldn’t understand one another. If Toni Morrison isn’t a black woman, the term isn’t doing any work. The ability to apply identity labels in a broadly consistent way is what allows us to use them to tell people who someone is, and so, in particular, to tell others who we are ourselves. It’s because there’s some agreement about menswear that “man” is a useful label when you’re shopping. And labelling ourselves only helps others if it can guide expectations about what we will think, or feel, or do. “Lesbian” isn’t much use if you’re looking for a partner on Bumble unless it signifies a woman who might be open to sex with another woman.
If identity continues to vex us, we should bear in mind that this usage of the term is historically recent. Until the middle of the 20th century, in fact, nobody who was asked about a person’s identity would have mentioned race, sex, class, nationality, region or religion. When George Eliot writes in Middlemarch that Rosamond “was almost losing the sense of her identity”, it’s because she is faced with profoundly new experiences when she learns that the man she thinks she loves is hopelessly devoted to someone else. Identity here is totally personal.
Then sociologists such as Erik Erikson and Alvin Gouldner introduced the modern sense of the term in the 1950s and 60s. In recent decades, identity has exploded as a political theme; identity groups, especially marginalised ones, sought recognition and respect precisely as bearers of an identity. Yet talk of social identities – the identity of “identity politics” – often rubbed up against these earlier notions of authenticity. Hence the faultline I mentioned. Don’t try to tell me who I am: this motto will have power as long as Eliot’s sense of an innermost self contends with the modern sense of identity as a vehicle and vector of recognition.
Not all identities fit their bearers like a glove; sometimes we’re talking oven mitts. Over the years and around the world, taxi drivers, putting their expertise to the test, have sized me up. In São Paulo, I’ve been taken for a Brazilian and addressed in Portuguese; in Cape Town, I’ve been taken for a “Coloured” person; in Rome, for an Ethiopian; and one London cabbie refused to believe I didn’t speak Hindi. The Parisian who thought I was from Belgium perhaps took me for a Maghrebi; and, wearing a kaftan, I’ve faded into a crowd in Tangier. Puzzled by the combination of my accent and my appearance, once our ride is under way, taxi drivers regularly ask me where I was born. “In London,” I tell them, but that’s not what they really want to know. What they mean to ask is where my family came from originally. They’re wondering about my ancestry and all that might come with it.
The answer to the question of origins is that I come from two families in two places pretty far apart. My mother was English, a countrywoman at heart, who in the 1950s was working for an anti-racist organisation in London that supported colonial students. It was called Racial Unity. That was how she met my father, a law student from Ghana (then the Gold Coast). He was an anticolonial activist, the president of the West African Students’ Union, and a British representative of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, who was to lead Ghana to independence in 1957. You might say she practised what she preached.
My father raised us with stories of his family, and one of the names he gave me, Akroma-Ampin, was that of the illustrious 18th-century general who founded his lineage. In a sense, though, it wasn’t really our family. Just as my mother’s people, being patrilineal, thought you belonged to your father’s family, my father’s, being matrilineal, thought you belonged to your mother’s. I could have told those taxi drivers I had no family at all.
“Identities,” the cultural theorist Stuart Hall once observed, “are the different names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within the narratives of the past.” Yet it’s also true that the labels can sometimes displace the narrative. In the case of my “racial” ancestry, efficient identity experts come up with a summary: black father, white mother, grew up in Ghana and England – got it. I recall attending a sports day, a few decades ago, at a school in Dorset I’d attended as a preteen, and meeting the now elderly man who had been headmaster in my day. “You won’t remember me,” I apologised, as I introduced myself to him. Hearing my name, he brightened and took my hand warmly. “Of course I remember you,” he said. “You were our first coloured head boy.” That wasn’t a formulation that would have occurred to me at the time; but inasmuch as identities are social, my formulations weren’t the only ones that mattered.
And precisely because social identities continue to be shadowed by that precursor sense of an innermost self, the dance on the borderlines of identity can be delicate. Shaun King, the Black Lives Matters activist, speaks, dresses and wears his hair in ways that are marked as black. When reports circulated that both the parents cited on his birth certificate were white (though, not his biological father), his wife responded with an artful online post, calling his story “beautifully difficult”, and declaring: “What’s white about him is white, and what’s Black about him is Black and always has been from the time he was a child.” In other words, accept the mystery.
Mostly, people have. But there are limit cases. A much-loved episode of Donald Glover’s TV series Atlanta presents a mock reported segment about “Harrison Booth”, a black teenager (birth name: Antoine Smalls), who identifies as a 35-year-old white man. Preparing for his transition, he wears a button-down Oxford shirt, wanders through farmers’ markets, plays golf, and asks a bartender: “What IPA do you have on tap?”
In the real world, the German model Martina Adam has announced that she has transitioned to black (with the help of melanin-promoting hormones and various filler injections) and, citing a baptismal ceremony she underwent in Kenya, is to be called Malaika Kubwa. The public response was no more supportive than that which greeted the retired baseball great Sammy Sosa when he dramatically whitened his once dark visage.
There is a rich imaginative literature on African American “passing”, a groaning shelf that includes James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex‑Colored Man (1912), Nella Larsen’s Passing (1929) and Philip Roth’s The Human Stain (2000). There’s also a rich tradition of such passing; millions of white Americans have unsuspected black ancestry. Going from white to black isn’t nearly as common. But most people knew how they felt about Rachel Dolezal, who, carefully permed and tanned, had officially identified herself as black and spent a year running the Spokane chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, until she resigned amid suspicions that she’d fabricated reports of hate crimes she’d suffered. When her white midwestern parents outed her and sparked headlines, one black commentator suggested that Dolezal embraced “an a la carte blackness, in which you take the best parts, and leave the pain aside”. Dolezal now says she identifies as black, but not as African American. That’s a bid, though; it doesn’t count if there are no takers.
That identity is contested, then, doesn’t mean it’s up for grabs. We don’t own our words; other people get a say.
Identity norms are enforced in myriad ways, and the work that goes into entrenching them reveals their vulnerability. The fact that identities need to have some common meaning doesn’t require that we leave them just as they are. It’s obvious that conceptions of gender half a century ago suited some people better than others. No doubt many middle-class women were and are perfectly happy as managers of households and primary caregivers for children. (No doubt this arrangement suited many men, too.) But it left lots of women unsatisfied. The women’s movement challenged ideas about the proper places of women in the home and outside. Now, in much of the developed world, we mostly agree that sharing parenting more equally doesn’t make a woman less of a woman, or a man less of a man, and though the ideal of workplace equality remains unrealised, it is no longer controversial.
Being a real man or woman once meant being straight. That suited many people, but it was deeply unsatisfactory for those women and men who found their erotic attractions were to people of their own sex. A movement gained momentum in the North Atlantic world, and engaged in a long project of reshaping the general understanding of gender, so that being homosexual was no longer a defective way of being a man or woman. But in those long struggles, the advance guard of these movements couldn’t simply declare a new meaning for womanhood or manhood. They had to negotiate with others, women with men but also with other women, gay people with straight people but also with one another, to try to reconfigure the shared understandings that shape the opportunities available to us. The trans movement is a predictable extension of these earlier struggles.
When people responded to Jenner by saying she was just a man pretending to be a woman, they weren’t just being discourteous and unkind: they were taking the meaning of the words “man” and “woman” as fixed and non-negotiable and insisting on their right to use them as they always had. That’s what Republican legislators in North Carolina were doing when they passed a law in March 2016 denying trans people the right to use public bathrooms of the identity they claimed for themselves. When the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump declared that Jenner could use any bathroom she chose at Trump Tower, Jenner, who supported him in the race, took him up on his offer, posting a video of herself entering a women’s room. It was an argument about rights, but it was also an argument about language.
At the same time, talk of the “LGBTQ community” sometimes runs aground because it seems to treat gender identity as akin to sexual orientation, and many trans activists are especially concerned to head off any confusion between the two. That’s why many transgender people would like to remove the “T” in “LGBT”. In the words of one Belfast-based trans woman columnist: “It’s not a sexuality. It’s a gender. It makes no more sense being included with LGB than if you were to add ‘female’ in there.” She explains that she’s now heterosexual, and asks, “when talking about issues that concern sexuality why is transgender included?” When trans women such as Jenner or the Wachowskis, the illustrious film-making siblings, decline to identify as lesbian, they may be responding to a sense that their gender identity should be considered separately from their sexual or affectional orientation.
“What I want to do is to widen the bandwidth of gender,” says Alex Drummond, the Cardiff psychologist and author and a trans woman, who decided to keep her beard, while also forgoing surgery or hormones. Drummond, who identifies as lesbian, told BuzzFeed: “If all you ever see is trans women who completely pass and are completely convincing as natal females, then those of us who just don’t have that kind of luck won’t have the confidence to come out.” (Most trans women have not had genital surgery, according to a recent survey by the American National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.) Her project of “gender queering” hasn’t met universal acceptance; one trans woman writer has likened her to “the older, oversized bully” who “throws himself into the toddlers’ sandpit and kicks everyone else out”. Did I mention quakes and tremors?
But a conversation – a negotiation – has begun, gloriously. Every day, men negotiate with one another about what masculinity means. And not just men. “Man” and “woman” are part of a system of interacting identities. Nor, for that matter, can black and white and Asian and brown racial identities be negotiated separately by black and white and Asian and brown people. That’s why we have to resist the liberal fantasy in which identities are merely chosen, so we are all free to be what we choose to be. In truth, identities without demands would be lifeless. Identities work only because, once they get their grip on us, they command us, speaking to us as an inner voice; and because others, seeing who they think we are, call on us, too. If you do not care for the shapes your identities have taken, you have to work with others inside and outside the labelled group in order to reframe them so they fit you better; and you can do that collective work only if you recognise that the results must serve others as well.
There will soon be 8 billion of us on this planet, and the chances are slim that every one of us will find that the particular set of identities in the society into which we are born perfectly fits our needs. Conflicts are inevitable, because a system of identities that fits snugly around me will not perfectly suit everyone else. Changing the old gender system that gave pride of place to the middle-class female homemaker and the male breadwinner involved making some people uncomfortable not least because, in the new configuration, their existing options were no longer seen as the unique and honoured ideal. The old racial system that we have gradually tried to dismantle in the United States offered something to all white people, namely the sense that, however little money or power or status they had, they were, at least, better than black people. This was not, evidently, great for black people. Not a few white people were discomfited by it, too; their sense of justice was offended by it – they didn’t want whiteness to mean that. In some of the darker recesses of the internet, meanwhile, enthusiasts for the idea of Anglo-America as the home of the white race make it plain that the old dispensation suited them better. You might think there is no space here for compromise.
But in our renegotiations of race, there are in fact compromises available. White people are entitled to ask that they not be assumed to be bigots or blamed for the racism of other whites. They can choose to distance themselves from the privileges of whiteness by refusing them when they see them – and by learning to see them more often. Black people can recognise that, since the system of racial identities is made by all of us, it’s absurd to blame individual white people for the privileges they experience. Privilege is not something an individual is guilty of. But, when it’s unjust, it is something you ought to help undo. And in that process you’ll discover that our identities can only become more livable for everyone if we work on the task of reshaping them together.
So, too, when Caitlyn Jenner offered to “go with ‘asexual’ for now”, she was recognising that to get to where she wanted to go, she might have to compromise with others. It may not have been the best offer to make, but she was right to see that she had to start the bidding. Let’s see what we can negotiate tomorrow.
• Kwame Anthony Appiah’s The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity is published by Profile. To order a copy for £12.74 (RRP £14.99) go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.
Protracted economic stagnation in rich countries continues to threaten the development prospects of poorer countries. Globalization and economic liberalization over the last few decades have integrated developing countries into the world economy, but now that very integration is becoming a threat as developing countries are shackled by the knock-on effects of the rich world’s troubles.
Trade interdependence at risk
As a consequence of increased global integration, growth in developing countries relies more than ever on access to international markets. That access is needed, not only to export products, but also to import food and other requirements. Interdependence nowadays, however asymmetric, is a two-way street, but with very different traffic flows.
Unfortunately, the trade effects of the crisis have been compounded by their impact on development cooperation efforts, which have been floundering lately. In 1969, OECD countries committed to devote 0.7% of their Gross National Income in official development assistance (ODA) to developing countries. But the total in 2017 reached only $146.6 billion, or 0.31% of aggregate gross national income – less than half of what was promised.
In 2000, UN member states adopted the Millennium Development Goals to provide benchmarks for tackling world poverty, revised a decade and a half later with the successor Sustainable Development Goals. But all serious audits since show major shortfalls in international efforts to achieve the goals, a sober reminder of the need to step up efforts and meet longstanding international commitments, especially in the current global financial crisis.
Aid less forthcoming
Individual countries’ promises of aid to the least developed countries (LDCs) have fared no better, while the G-7 countries have failed to fulfill their pledges of debt forgiveness and aid for poorer countries that they have made at various summits over the decades.
At the turn of the century, development aid seemed to rise as a priority for richer countries. But, having declined precipitously following the Cold War’s end almost three decades ago, ODA flows only picked up after the 9/11 or September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Monterrey Consensus, the outcome of the 2002 first ever UN conference on Financing for Development, is now the major reference for international development financing.
But, perhaps more than ever before, much bilateral ODA remains ‘tied’, or used for donor government projects, rendering the prospects of national budgetary support more remote than ever. Tied aid requires the recipient country to spend the aid received in the donor country, often on overpriced goods and services or unnecessary technical assistance. Increasingly, ODA is being used to promote private corporate interests from the donor country itself through ostensible ‘public-private partnerships’ and other similar arrangements.
Not surprisingly, even International Monetary Fund staff have become increasingly critical of ODA, citing failure to contribute to economic growth. However, UN research shows that if blatantly politically-driven aid is excluded from consideration, the evidence points to a robust positive relationship. Despite recent efforts to enhance aid effectiveness, progress has been modest at best, not least because average project financing has fallen by more than two-thirds!
Debt is another side of the development dilemma. In the last decade, the joint IMF-World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative and its extension, the supplementary Multilateral Debt Relief initiative, made some progress on debt sustainability. But debt relief is still not treated as additional to ODA. The result is ‘double counting’ as what is first counted as a concessional loan is then booked again as a debt write-off.
At the 2001 LDCs summit in Brussels, developed countries committed to providing 100% duty-free and quota-free (DFQF) access for LDC exports. But actual access is only available for 80% of products, and anything short of full DFQF allows importing countries to exclude the very products that LDCs can successfully export.
Unfortunately, many of the poorest countries have been unable to cope with unsustainable debt burdens following the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Meanwhile, there has been little progress towards an equitable and effective sovereign-debt workout framework despite the debilitating Argentine, Greek and other crises.
In addition to facing export obstacles, declining aid inflows, and unsustainable debt, the poorest countries remain far behind developed countries technologically. Affordable and equitable access to existing and new technologies is crucial for human progress and sustainable development in many areas, including food security and climate-change mitigation and adaptation.
The decline of public-sector research and agricultural-extension efforts, stronger intellectual-property claims and greater reliance on privately owned technologies have ominous implications, especially for the poor. The same is true for affordable access to essential medicines, on which progress remains modest.
An international survey in recent years found that such medicines were available in less than half of poor countries’ public facilities and less than two-thirds of private facilities. Meanwhile, median prices were almost thrice international reference prices in the public sector, and over six times as much in the private sector!
Thus, with the recent protracted stagnation in many rich countries, fiscal austerity measures, growing protectionism and other recent developments have made things worse for international development cooperation.
Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.
The Long and Winding Uncertain Journey for Pakatan Harapan (Hope Coalition)
by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee
The new government’s 100 days is now up. What was put out as 10 key reforms by Pakatan in a manifesto aimed at enticing voters is dominating the headlines. However these are still very early days to assess the progress made with the promises of
● easing the burden of the public
● reforming the nation’s administrative institutions and politics
● reshaping the nation’s economy in a fair and just manner
● reinstating the rights and status in Sabah and Sarawak
● building an inclusive and moderate Malaysia in the international arena.
By way of contrast it is useful to recall that Barisan Nasional with its theme of “With BN for a Greater Malaysia” had a 220 page manifesto with 364 pledges covering almost every single community and group – Felda settlers, women, youth, orang asli, the people of Sabah and Sarawak, the bottom 40% households, Chinese community and other non-Muslims. Possibly the only group that was not covered was that of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) currently in the public limelight and under fire.
The Challenge That Pakatan Faces
In evaluating the performance of the present government, it needs to be remembered too that Pakatan’s victory was against the odds. Most analysts – as well as Pakatan’s leaders – saw little hope of ending the continuation of Barisan rule in GE-14.
Since the first election in 1955, the Alliance and its BN successor have gradually tightened their power through a combination of constitutional and extra-constitutional measures, the deployment of an enormous patronage machine and the cooptation of the nation’s civil service in suppressing whatever opposition exists in the country. The ruling coalition has also effectively exploited racial and religious faultlines to maintain its hold on the Malay majority voting population.
They are back as a tag team. Will they do it again with the politics of Race and Religion in the name of Ketuanan Melayu?
Lest we under-estimate the magnitude of the reform challenge, let it not be forgotten that most of the present crop of Pakatan’s current leadership have been among the active supporters of the indoctrination movement in its diverse manifestations. They have been responsible for the Malay psyche, which needs transformation if the new Malaysia is not to remain a mirage.–Dr. Lim Teck Ghee
Not only was there little hope of an election upset but there was also a big question mark as to whether there could be a peaceful transition of government and power. Now that we have had both extraordinary outcomes – to paraphrase what Dr. Mahathir, the Prime Minister, recently described in Japan as the nation’s unique and lucky peaceful transition of power – we need to be realistic about the challenge that Pakatan faces.
This is because the missteps, wrong doings, abuses and transgressions engaged in by the BN government – some going back to the time of Dr. Mahathir’s first stint as Prime Minister – are so rampant and the ensuing damage to the country’s socio-economy and governance structures and race and religious relations so egregious that it will require more than a few years – perhaps a decade – of sweeping and far-reaching policy changes and reform to undo them.
High level corruption and economic excesses and crimes are currently a major preoccupation of the new government. However, it is perhaps among the easiest of the improprieties and legacy of the BN regime that the Pakatan government has to deal with and correct.
More resistant to remedying are the policies, programmes and mindsets which the country’s state apparatus and most institutions of government (educational, media, professional and socio-cultural organisations, religious bodies, etc.) have propagated to a largely captive audience.
As explained in a recent article by Fathol Zaman Bukhari, editor of Ipoh Echo
“The Malay psyche is not something difficult to fathom. It is the result of years of indoctrination (brainwashing) by a political party that is long on hopes but short on ideas. Fear mongering is UMNO’s forte because the party believes that Malays are under threat. That their religion and their sultans are being assailed and belittled by imaginary goblins and make-believe enemies …. Anyone other than a Malay and a Muslim is considered unworthy to assume any sensitive appointments, which are only reserved for Malays. But on hindsight it is the Malays who have let the nation and their own kind down. Najib Razak, Rosmah Mansor, Apandi Ali, Rahman Dahlan, Tajuddin Rahman, Khalid Abu Bakar, Jamal (Jamban) and all the obscenely-paid heads of government-linked companies are Malays. But this is of no consequence to a race that makes up over 60 percent of the nation’s population. They continue to feel threatened.”
It is this less easily definable, less financially quantifiable, but more ubiquitous, and ultimately more destructive and ruinous feature of nation-building directed and manipulated by the previous leadership for the last 60 years, that needs to be contended with and purged of its toxic ethno-religious content if the new Malaysia is to have any chance of succeeding.
Lest we under-estimate the magnitude of the reform challenge, let it not be forgotten that most of the present crop of Pakatan’s current leadership have been among the active supporters of the indoctrination movement in its diverse manifestations. They have been responsible for the Malay psyche, which needs transformation if the new Malaysia is not to remain a mirage.
Greetings from Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh for Xmas and 2018
Dr. Kamsiah Haider in Kuala Lumpur and Din Merican in Phnom Penh wish all our friends and associates around the world a Merry Christmas 2017 and prosperous New Year, 2018. We are indeed grateful for your warm friendship and support we enjoyed during 2017. We forward to working with you in the coming year and together we can make our world a better place.
We have little time for politicians and ideologues as they are a crop of egoistic, misogynistic and greedy people. All we have to do is to look at Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan and other places to see for ourselves their handiwork. People are their victims, especially women, children and the elderly. They have lost the moral high ground and we must put our differences aside and work hard for peace.
On the occasion of Christmas and the New Year 2018, may we ask Michael Jackson to sing for us his famous song, Make The World a Better Place. –Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican.
Why Denmark is a Special Place– It is not just the Mermaid of course
by Benedict Lopez*
The Little Mermaid to Copenhagen– The mermaid statue was created in bronze by Edvard Eriksen, and was unveiled in August of 1913.
Eriksen was commissioned in January 1909 by Carl Jacobsen of Carlsberg Breweries to create the statue. Carl was fascinated by a ballet at the Copenhagen Royal Theatre based on the fairy tale about the mermaid, and asked the star of the ballet, Ellen Price de Plane, to model for the statue. Price declined modeling in the nude for the sculpture, and Eriksen enlisted his wife Eline Eriksen (who modeled for several other of his works) to model for the mermaid statue. A popular story has it that Price modeled for the face and Eline Eriksen for the body, but in actual fact Eline Eriksen was the model for the entire sculpture. This is easily seen when comparing the statue’s face with photos of Eline Eriksen, and the faces of Eriksen’s other statues.
This mermaid statue is one of the top tourist attractions in Copenhagen, and has become an icon and a symbol of both Copenhagen and Denmark. While the story by Hans Christian Andersen was more than enough to make this mermaid statue known around the world, the Disney movies have only added to the fame and the appeal of this statue.
There are copies of the statue – with some differences – in a number of locations around the world, which in some cases are authorized by Eriksen’s heirs, and in other cases have been allowed to remain without specific authorization from the heirs.
The mermaid statue on display in Copenhagen is the actual original, but other copies and sizes were made as well – which is a good thing, as the original has been vandalized several times, and then lovingly restored using the copies. Several sizes are available for purchase at the official website for this most famous of all mermaid statues.
While the statue is often seen as being smaller than expected, it is actually larger than it appears, about 25% larger than lifesize. The spectacular location and the grand features of ocean, harbor and shoreline around the statue contribute to make it look small in comparison. The original statue here is the only true copy of the statue in this size – according to sculptor Edvard Eriksen’s will, only smaller copies may be produced, with Copenhagen Harbor having the only full-size statue.
Benedict Lopez is drawn to the simplicity, integrity and passion for the environment on display in Denmark.
Although I have visited Denmark several times since 2010, I always look forward to my next visit.
I feel comfortable being in the home of Carlsberg, not for the beer alone (although I enjoy a pint or two occasionally) but also for the core values of this country of 5.5m people – values I cherish as a human being.
Like in Sweden, discrimination is prohibited on the grounds of race, colour, religion, gender, disability and sexual orientation in Denmark.
On each visit, I observed as many things as possible as to what makes Danes the happiest people in the world. I personally believe it is the sense of security given to the citizenry by the state.
Sharply in contrast to citizens in many other countries around the world, Danes need not worry about the basic necessities in life like healthcare, education and social security as Denmark is a welfare state. This is made possible because of high taxes, accountability in public expenditure, little wastage, checks and balances in the system and virtually non-existent corruption.
Having travelled the length and breadth of the land of Hans Christian Andersen, I have observed many facets of Danish life. The virtues of the Danes may be summarised as follows: integrity, simplicity and passion for the environment.
Government ministers, civil servants and all public sector officials are held accountable for their actions. And when inefficiency, negligence and breach of fiduciary responsibility is highlighted, the minister or official concerned resigns immediately or is reprimanded. Transparency ensures that public expenditure is effectively scrutinised with any leaks in the system immediately plugged.
There is a high level of integrity among ordinary people too, and they seldom hoodwink or defraud others. Seldom does one read about any form of dishonesty, abuse of power or financial transgression.
Simplicity is a virtue the Danes are noted for. About a third of Copenhagen residents cycle to work and the rest take the train or drive to work. Most of those who drive have ordinary cars. In my six years traveling all over Denmark, I never once saw posh makes like Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Ferrari.
In sharp contrast to their Malaysian counterparts, chairmen, CEOs and managing directors of companies in Denmark usually drive to work on their own – without a personal driver. There are no special parking spaces reserved for them at their place of work. All staff park their cars in the same place. Meeting rooms are simple with ordinary tables and chairs; no expensive executive chairs even for the top brass in the company.
Just like in Sweden, simple dressing is the order of the day for the office and meetings, and most men wear a jacket without a tie. Their dress code contrasts conspicuously with many in the upper echelon in Malaysia, who have a passion for branded products and wait for the opportunity to display their opulence.
The offices of top management staff in companies are simple, quite unlike what you find in Malaysia. No posh office furniture. I have noticed this in many companies in Denmark over the years and this is something we Malaysians can emulate. In Denmark, people look down on you if you flaunt your wealth conspicuously.
I always take the flight to Billund, the home of Lego, via one of the European cities, and the one-hour drive to Julesminde is just awesome. I admire the beauty of the Danish countryside while passing through country towns along the way.
Each time after arriving in Juelsminde, a small town of less than 5,000 people, I immediately check into the guesthouse. Without wasting any time, I go for a jog on the beach in front of the guesthouse for an hour. The clean fresh air, unpolluted environment and early morning sunrise keeps me rejuvenated as I jog in the mornings and evenings.
I subsequently laze about outdoors reading a book with, of course, a glass of good wine beside me in the evenings, before I go for a satisfying Danish dinner with colleagues.
Danes are passionate about their environment and are moving at an accelerated speed towards zero dependence on fossil fuels by 2050. Much of Denmark’s renewable energy requirements will be met through wind, and wind farms are conspicuous on land and sea all over the country.
All through my travels in Denmark and my dealings with the Danes, I have observed one of their traits, and that is if you are honest and sincere with them, they respect you. I too was always candid in my dealings with them, constantly being the “unsubtle diplomat”.
After all, honesty is the mark of self-respect in any human being, and only those without this trait try and boost their self-esteem in other, less edifying, ways.
Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. During the course of his work, he covered all five Nordic countries. An eternal optimist, he believes Malaysia can provide its citizens with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries – not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime.