On backlash and global opinion

A piece published at The Hill on 11 February by András Simonyi about the global backlash Denmark recently received in light of their response to an influx of asylum seekers caught my attention —

But Danes — politicians and the general public alike — need to realize something that strangely eluded them completely: that they are held to higher standards in the world than the overwhelming majority of other countries, like, say, Hungary (my native country, which has veered off-course as a fully fledged democracy). There is an expectation in the world toward it to show the way. It is seen as one of the true defenders of the liberal and democratic values of society, which includes humanitarian values. Denmark is a nation that is seen as a beacon, a standard-setter for the world for decades; its balanced, humane and tolerant policies the example for others to follow. It has worked hard to obtain this status and should do everything it can to maintain it. Together with the other Nordic countries, they hold the solutions to many of the problems of modern society, a source of inspiration for all of us who believe in freedom and democracy in the midst of the onslaught of Putin-esque illiberal thought.

Denmark’s performance in the field of human rights and social policies as a strong transatlanticist has earned the country the ability to punch above its weight in the world. This is important. Denmark has amassed enormous amounts of goodwill in the past. Its fundamental democratic values are strong. It should make every effort to hang on to them. But then, goodwill is like equity. Stocks can skyrocket based on real value added, but also perceptions. However, negative perceptions can be destructive, and a stock that was valuable one day can lose much or all of its value the next. But if the company is basically healthy, and its fundamentals strong, it will get over it.

Given, of course, that leadership is prepared to do the right things to correct mistakes.

see also: Small States Seeking Status: Norway’s Quest for International Standing (2015), edited by Benjamin de Carvalho and Iver B Neumann.


On perpetrators and victims

Stumbled across a fascinating conversation hosted over at Foreign Policy: in discussing victims and perpetrators of genocide, Joshua Oppenheimer and David Rieff touch on film, intervention, kitsch and smugness. [note, the transcript is a reduxed version of the audio]

Joshua Oppenheimer: Most nonfiction films dealing with human rights abuse tend to tell us that things are well in hand because we’re following an activist or an investigator or a judicial process that promises some sort of resolution even if, when the film ends, things are still a mess. The sense of things getting better when we leave allows the viewer to more easily let go of the experience and to feel like it is being dealt with by somebody, somehow. It also serves the viewer to feel that, by having this explained to us as a phenomenon that’s at least at arm’s length from us, it’s something that we can understand from above. The task of cinema in intervening in and exploring these issues is to actually immerse us in these problems, in these phenomena, so that we actually feel something about what is it like as a survivor or, in the case of The Look of Silence, to have to live surrounded by the still-powerful perpetrators and to live in fear for half a century. Most human rights documentaries also replicate that most basic form of narrative escapism, dividing the world into good guys and bad guys. That is reassuring because we inevitably identify with the good guys. But it’s problematic because it makes it difficult to understand — not in the sense to excuse, but to understand how human beings do these sorts of things to each other and the consequences for how we continue to live in the aftermath of atrocity. If we don’t accept the uncomfortable proposition that every perpetrator of virtually every act of evil in our history has been a human being like us, then we actually foreclose the possibility of understanding how we do this to one another and therefore make it impossible to figure out how we might prevent these things.