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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Sicilian Option?

November 1995. Saturday. 8.00 A.M.

A surprisingly sunny (albeit chilly) day as I gazed through the curtainless window of my 2nd floor room in Wohnheim 13 at the Walter-Rathenau Strasse, belonging to the Otto-von-Guericke Universität, Magdeburg, Germany.

I stared at the handful of blue-overall-ed, yellow miner-helmet-ted, grimy mustachioed Germans (4 in number) working at the overlooking greyed old cadaver of Wohnheim (whose number I forget now). They had kept that Student's Hostel beyond occupancy as erstwhile East German universities were trying to breathe fresh life into their attractiveness thanks to the West German Marks being siphoned to make-believe the completion of a cordial (political jingoism of Western Bloc?) integration of both Germanies. The point is this: the authorities were trying to make 'the twain meet' in an attempt to create a unified Germany where a student from Aachen would travel to Magdeburg and another would travel from Hamburg to Dresden to enrol and study. I actually had a guy at our regular Thursday-night Stammtisch parties in the Irish pub we used to meet, who came from Aachen and used to glorify Alfred Andersch as a great writer ('we' being the Magdeburg-resident native-English speakers and anyone who wanted to try and get their English going. Due to my better English ability, I was considered alongside the native speakers of English - all those Amis, Kiwis, Aussies, Canadians, Brits... - as party-able in English at this pub where we guzzled lot of Guinnesses and Kilkennys buffetting with a wide mixture of English accents and staged Monty Pythons in English to the bemused drunkenness of the local Teutons who came to have a jolly good noisy Thursday night. My friends back here swore at me for an indistinguishable accent in my English that anyway had lost all its traces of Indianness when I came back six months later.)

Ouch... a long digression. Coming back to subject! As I kept staring at these structures going up and those other structures coming down and the noise of machinery boring and drilling and baring their teeth and lifting and consuming humungous loads of mortars and bricks of erstwhile DDR, I was starting to think Wow! Germany is really happening!! Here is the hub of Europe's economy. This, my adopted country of research for another 8 months!!! I was to be laid low in less than a year. They say that Go East and you see ignominy and poverty and suffering. Go West and you see Germany. And here it was, totally topsy-turvy. But...

It was much later in 1996 November, when I shifted to Oldenburg to do my Internship at the Oldenburg State Theatre Lighting Department where I got to be involved in a production called "Herr Paul" by Tankred Dorst that I would realise what this merger has come to mean to the Ozzies as the erst-while West Germans called the erst-While East Germans and vice-versa. (Digression! Oldenburg has to be clarified for those not familiar with German geography. Like our Gandhi and Nehru and other Nagars and parts of cities across India, there are lot of places in Germany bearing the same name. So, I was at Oldenburg-Oldenburg as I would explain to the Railway Station ticket assistant each time I went by the Deutsche Bahn to someplace. There were 2 other Oldenburgs. And this Oldenburg is 30 mins. from Bremen which is one hour from Hamburg up on the North West part of Germany and just an hour or more drive from Groeningen, Netherlands) Coming back to the spin-offs and fall-outs of East-West merger: my conjecture is, plenty of West German academics would have had to camp down from Universities or would have had to be forced to accept low pay if the merger had not happened. Lot of artists would not have found new markets... so would the Karstadts, Kaufhofs and other innumerable West German commercial houses! A lot of unsuspecting Easterners who lead an ignorant life - even if it was filled with routine that Ernst Toller calls "born to live to eat to work to earn to eat to sleep to live to work to..." (it goes on, the cycle!) - happy enough to get their dose of all those standard East German branded pickles, cheese, pickled cucumber (those famous Spreewald Gurken), beer, whatnots that were glorified in that cult classic Goodbye Lenin. Plenty of politically charged interpretation would not have been possible in arts, further driving the bored German theatre going audience as well as Feuilleton reading intellectuals, not to mention the Sekt-sipping glitterati who throng the openings of an art exhibition in the Kunsthaus-es of the North Rhine Westphalia or the black-pashmina-ed Opera-house visitors! God, Germany, but for the East-West merger would have had an Art-attack leading to clogged veins and cardiac arrests in the pseudo-cerebrums! Anyway, I was disturbed from my reverie by my friend who was driving me to Quedlinburg to see the Dom on top of the picturesque mountain and on our way back, to the famous Jericho Cloister, a little detour off the Strasse der Romanik (The churches and Klosters and Doms that were built in the Romanic style along the Sachsen-Anhalt state route... something like our own Chennai's ECR Art corridor or IT Highway on the Old Mahabalipuram Road). And as we wound our way out of Magdeburg along the Elbe, we passed a small burg with shutters down on most industrial belts. He pointed me to a particular downed shutter. "That looked downed for 4 or 5 years", I remarked. He patted me saying I was right "Back in 1990 after Die Wende", he qualified referring to the change, the wall-downing. Also adding, "you know, it used to be the arms factory where 1000+ men used to work!" Did I sense a bit of pride from the past or lump in the throat of lost culture? I know not now. It is too long past. But there used to be work, and basics assured even if life was grimy and Dickensian in them old days of Communism.

I don't know if that was good or bad. One thing is sure, this acculturisation of the Eastern past and breaking up of lands or merger of lands (Slavic and Cyrillic especially in Europe and anyhow elsewhere in the world) is starting to show its impact. I believe it has added numbers to a lot of existent political agnostics who have lost trust and belief in the efficacy of any system to ameliorate or alleviate their predicament. And this division of lands has singularly identified, and made naked exposition of the Islamic population of some of these erstwhile Eastern bloc climes and specifically the Soviet people of the segmented Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan (all the 'stans'): a lot more addition to the existing separatist fundamentalists. Add to it, in the name of accommodating refugees, asylum-seekers of the African lands and Palestinians, and the Turks and the Greeks and the Croats who come seeking to earn living (of course, striving within the edicts of the Germanic constitution) in Germany, the country has put itself to seeds slowly but steadily whereby we have 5.5 Million unemployed in Germany alone.

I am focussing on Germany, because of my first-hand knowledge of its state of existence. And if this is the case of Europe's biggest economy today, think of other European nations... developed European nations... move on to Asia's weaker economic countries such as Burma, Pakistan, Indonesia, Phillipines... China-suppressed states such as Tibet and Nepal and neighboring North Korea, Mongolia... move as well to Central American neighbours of the Big Bully Brother United States... and we have a global network of crumbling economy, rising unemployment rates, plummeting currencies, deteriorating state of anti-state and -social activities, climbing belief in terrorism and separatism as the only elixir for a deprived horde of peoples!

It seems inevitable, given the global context of rising unemployment rates. Am shuddering to my bones... am scared... I had visited the StaSi headquarters in Leipzig on an Open Day in 1996. I have seen video clips, photos, hardcore real-time hard copy evidences and seen and heard and spoken to the victims of the East German StaSi regime. As the wall fell, the world as well as a huge part of Germany felt relieved. Or so it seemed. But the unrest brought by the jubilation and euphoria that there would no more be cruelty, no more slavery to work without enough compensation, pay and perks according to one's capability (wherein those who till now had to work for 48 or more hours and still get paid the same Laissez-faire would be able to see their real worth)... all vanished; the promise of a Western Capitalist Utopia left soon a disquieting feel and discomfited visages what this would mean in the long run.

The worse that can happen to man is NO WORK. This was one thing the Leftist philosophy and the socialist-communist school of politics never denied. As a result, they ensured workforce, work done to keep productivity (even if that was the euphemism for drudgery and driven work), paid all equally. Believe me, you even got your how-much-to-drink-and-smoke-and-what-brand quota of vodka and cigar based on what the state decided. And all domestic requirements rationed and served. Except, ultimately when you received your pay, wage, salary whatever, it was more like a basic pocket money in case you have to pay entertainment (which was not much except what the state decided to show. But why not, that's what happens in Hong Kong as well as Singapore in an oblique way) tax other than for sex entertainment with your spouse. Yeah, the logic is, if everything is provided for, what do you need money? And that was socialism, communist weather-vane! Nothing wrong in that, looks like a common-sense enough deal. But given man's nature and the Biblical quotation that Money is not Bad, But Lust for Money is what is Bad, the Reds had it figured right. But then, again, the call of flesh, heart and emotions are more urgent and urging than constrictive Communist ideals... and hence the wall had to give way sometime. And then there was none... like Dame Christie would write! That also meant, idiomatically, the Writing was on the Wall! Every change begets a chain reaction. The Proof of the Pudding is in the Pravda! Remember Glasnost and Perestroika? Well, I guess it is one thing to try and bury Lenin's statue and another to rebuild crashed economies. I don't envy Vlad Putin! Especially when Gorby himself advocates against the said action. And what of Mother Nature? She's having her say on the economies as well. As Keshav rightly drew it up in The Hindu Editorial page yesterday or so, Mother Nature truly is the resident-deity of the TIME Magazine cover. Why, she must be the Pin-up Girl in Playboy for all her Naked Fury!

Now what after all these years? You asking me? Have you been reading the papers the last one month? Seen the news channels in Telly the last 2 months? Surfing the NY Times, Guardian Unlimited, Herald Tribune and Die Zeit and FAZ, Le Monde and other requisite newspapers on the web? The global economy abetted in cahoots by the Grand Dame of all - Mother Nature - is waking up to ruins and battered visions buffetted by Ritas and Wilmas and Katarinas and tsunamis and others of the ilk, pointing to FRUSTRATION, UNREST, STRIKES triggered by LAY-OFFs because the Western world suddenly is not able to adapt to striking a balance between the need to lowering cost by the Governments; the Western world of employees is not able to adapt to the realization that their seeking high pay per hour work done (because they are DEVELOPED NATIONS!) is not anymore compatible with the rise in amount of global population that believes in getting paid for work rather than how much.

The entry of China and India into European Economy as well as the economy of the Americas (esp. the North America) has been happening for years, though suggestively, marginally, at the peripheries and negligibly. Suddenly, they are noticeable. Of course, the one consolation is the spiraling competition between Japan and China to grab more than a pie of the global economic pizza that the West, especially the Americans can hope to bank on to play the proverbial Cat between the monkeys fighting for the bread. Nevertheless, it is very clear that the Americans and West Europeans are having Economic Diaspora without having to migrate and in their very own couches that are becoming their little KZs. The Xetras and DowJones have not exactly been looking up although internally they claim (at least the Big Brother on the other side of the Atlantic Pond claims so) that the GDP has grown (well, so is the inflation!). They are getting laid off (pun intended) right left centre diagnoal horizontal vertical that their lives are looking like a veritable NYT Crossword.

Wow, the English would be proud their National Pastime is getting to be a metaphor for the Economy of the two biggies of the Western World. Colonialism at its best. These are two countries they never could colonialise in the past. Only, they, the Brits, are also getting shoved with crowbar up their rear-sides without buttering! Painful beyond pain. Ask the Labour MPs. So, it is gallows humour. But what the West gets, it passes down to the East as well. True Legacy! Yes, and this threat is looming large on the whole world now. UNEMPLOYMENT. Is this a capitalistic bane or necessary evil of materialism? Can this be Downsized! Lo! In this corporatised world of management jargons and jingoisms, even UNEMPLOYMENT can only be Downsized. We haven't reached Rightsized yet! Thank God for small mercies! But what say the Lefties?

I am not personally a Red or have or had Leftist leanings... but for me whatever works works. If Democracy works in the US and Germany and Socialism works in Russia and elsewhere and Social Democracy works in India, am all for the amalgamation. But the Commies may have the truth somewhere. In spite of it, the Capitalists can take comfort from the fact that while Communism has always been nailing the 99 Questions constantly on the foreheads of flailing Capitalist economies, they have not managed to come up with an alternative that works!

Feed in folks!


Srini said...

Wow (Sir) KK,

Shalom! Kudos! I doff my hat.... political history, historic politics tethered to social problems accentuated by the anguish of Mother Nature, who always takes special care of us, particularly when she pampers herself to show that we are mortals after all.

I have neither the experiential girth nor the pedagogical knowledge (as of now) at least to make a critical observation of your post.

But there is one very valid point that you make. For all that the left is saying about the right, do they have an alternative? And the right - or the red, as it were - might not be right after all, but at least in place of an arbitrary despotism. Russell says that every form of governance is valuable provided countries in question have enough political maturity to embrace the same.
The other interesting observation is "NO WORK" - fallout of which is unemployment worse than which is UNDEREMPLOYMENT!!! Suddenly Mr. Chirac is chirping from the hospital for the recovery of employment percentages to get the vote on EU, Blair goes for a conference in Gleaneagles to discuss Africa as EU's new President - only to come back to a bombed England, but the proverbially cold English tenacity - Gerhard Shroeder doesn't know how he's losing his majority, even as Bush - flitting between White House and Florida (now now anymore) and Texas, or between Texas and White House - who sleeps at 8:30 (his wife amusedly claimed at last year's annual party; as if it were a greater crime that invading /airaek/ - uses the protestant church to protest and shout down with American shoulders those who shout at him. Bush and Laloo enjoy a Mickey Mouse image and too-much-tummy innocence, courtesy Walt Disneyrica and Bighar, which Saddam doesn't and Hitler didn't ( I am of course not supporting them).
Interesting too that you should mention Communism, which pragamatically speaking, as you have said hasn't been shown workable; it is workable insofar as the Communist bosses are concerned and not the communists. Who said communism is not a quest for power? Engels is scholarly; Marx is anachronistic; Gorbachev is historical; Buddha is a prophet... but communism save some Bengali Bhattacharya, or some Russian Koznyshev is still a capitalism - which aims to capitalise universal poverty by defying capitalism, which deifies universal prosperity. Well, I am not a capitalist either - but I admit the fact - money is right, lusting for it not right.
Interesting that you should mention Hong Kong and Singapore in the same breath as Communist Nations, entertainment taxes etcetra. I have touched Singapore a couple of times and am quite familiar with Hong Kong, but during the British time. But now, I keep hearing that sans passports not only people put also obsolete-strung passions (bravo big Mao, and yeah... Chinese Taipei and South Korea grin at what was once an isled HK, geographically and culturally) from mainland China are disgorging themselves into Hong Kong thru Shenzen, Guangzhou and wherever passes are available. After all the Chinese have constructed the highest railway line!
Your description of Germany, I truly enjoyed. And some phrases were exceptionally witty (in the true and traditional sense of wit)... the title itself "Sicilian Opinion???" and economic pizza, the latter put a big smile on my face.

Srini said...


Have written an article on Generative Grammars. Will post it on my page during the week.

Krishna Kumar said...

Thanks for the wow, Srini. But look at the scenario. It is looking bleak, innit? Strikes have become non-runners when they become norms than protests. What happened to the days when strikes or hartal or roko would seriously hamper the entire life of people involved or affected. Today, we have strikes dime a dozen, protest marches all round. Who cares? Trade Unions have dissipated into too many political factioned cliques within a group, no one cares. Everything has become self-serving. And in such a scenario Communism has no place, while Capitalism has no proven alternative. We are stuck. It is a limbo, worse than an impasse. Hence "The Sicilian Option". BTW, just to point out a typo, it is Option not Opinion. You are scrammed down the throat with a smile and a muzzle point in-between and no way out but to swallow or choke to death. Either way... it emerges to me that Capitalism is true communism - power and luxury for the affordable few who happen to be in the right place at the right time. I have seen ex-Politburo members or helpers in the DDR after the fall, living covertly (having shaken off their earlier identity to the majority) as professors and lecturers of Political Science and Cyrillic and Russian and Czech Depts., who had owned posh cars while they helped the economy and industry produce stupid mass cars that look marginally better than our palanquins of the past only because these are motorized devices! But thanks for the input. Pass the link on. I would like to generate a larger opinion of this Work, No Work, Underwork phenomenon that is become draconic on our world!

xtremely_insane said...

the rich get richer the poor get poorer.
where is the world economy and politics heading to??
draconian policies,oppressed citizens...

Krishna Kumar said...

Hey xtreme... that is the question we should all stop asking and decide where shall we take it. Too much mercenary marketing, materialistic market-driven consumerist approach to luring any and every potential consumer to make and horde money. If we - ideally spaeking - did away with the concept of currency and went back to bartering, probably draconian policies can be eschewed.

Srini said...

Hello (Sir) KK,

One of my friends says in his sort of a world it is crime to be a samaritan. It appears to isn't it that Communists and Capitalists, if not Communism and Capitalism, are entwined agents, as our last exchange has prompted?

Very much so, I think capitalism is the right kind of communism it seems; albeit I don't know whether the fortune really favours the brave...