Les Leҫons du Pouvoir, Lessons of Power

Les Leҫons du Pouvoir

Les Leҫons du Pouvoir, the Lessons of Power is an extensive book by Franҫois Hollande, French President 2012-2017. Books by politicians in high positions are always promising as they reveal the work done behind the curtains of media spotlights. The 500 pages of Les Leҫons du Pouvoir are only partly filled with interesting facts and events. Much of it is a description of his views, his convictions. However, there are very interesting sections that make it worth reading.

Les Leҫons du Pouvoir give the impression of a President who sees himself as a unique statesman in the first place. At some moments you think, my goodness, the ego! Then at other moments Franҫois Hollande surprises by his devotion to France, his willingness to serve, his claims of integrity and deep rooted values of liberté, égalité and fraternité. He is clearly a person who was in public positions all his life with large experience and well-founded visions.
Nevertheless his reflections hardly inspired me, maybe because of the over-abundant language he uses. Or it might be his style that is rather defensive: mentioning the arguments of his opponents to put his own arguments forward, stating how his economic measures really brought his country forward. Big events like the attacks of Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan, Nice are described but on no occasion was I as a reader ‘into’ the subject – of course not every secret can be revealed in dealing with security but he could have said more that he does. The same goes for the international visits he made, or the negociations leading to the Paris climate agreement. Les Leҫons du Pouvoir concentrates on economy, the labour market, pensions and many other internal politics, although this presidency occurred in a period and country that moved many people worldwide.

A difficulty for a non-French reader is that Les Leҫons du Pouvoir never explains the French political system or institutes, nor the abbreviations used; also names of politicians are assumed to be familiar. This book is clearly not written for the international scene although its writer underlines on several occasions that France is a major player in the international community. Franҫois Hollande focuses on the international powers that he sees as relevant to the greatness and influence of France: Germany, the USA, China, Russia. A country like the Netherlands plays no role in his memoirs.

Les Leҫons du Pouvoir

Some of the interesting sections I particularly liked:

  • His admiration of the courage of the police officer who entered the supermarket where people were taken hostage by terrorists: ‘ses chances de survie étaient bien faibles. Il n’a pas hésité une seconde’.
  • His thoughts about trust as key to the state – a lack of trust can make democracies stagger
  • The moment Barack Obama, Mario Monti and Franҫois Hollande try to grill Angela Merkel about euro politics; they want her to accept ‘growth over cuts’. She holds strong and follows her own road.
  • His descriptions of several occasions that he wants to do or show something which is interpreted differently afterwards. For example he pays a visit to a château that has been available for all presidents’ holidays, and he walks with his partner to the beach as he wishes to have a ‘présidence normale’ but he is highly criticized – what he wants to do and express is not how the media and/or the public view it. It shows the complexity of power in relation to how it is perceived.
  • The endless European gatherings; 28 people all get 5 minutes to talk in the first round which is already long, however when the Portuguese prime minister takes half an hour, he is not interrupted by the chair… He considers that it is the longlasting European peace that causes the boredom: ‘à moins que ce ne soit l‘ennui lui-même qui garantisse  la paix’. One of those observations that form the pearls in this book!
  • How the debate about taking away the nationality of terrorists became impossible because it remembered the French to WWII and the Vichy regime that took away the French nationality from Jews and resistance fighters – the proposal is withdrawn.
  • The story of one of his ministers (‘l’affaire Cahuzac’) who is very convincing when lying to Franҫois Hollande with open eyes about his innocence, full of indignation. That is an incredible story and shows how difficult his job has been.
  • His relation to Emmanuel Macron, how it started, how it grew, and how it developed with Emmanuel Macron running for president, leaving Franҫois Hollande many steps behind in the political game.
  • The selection of the members of his government and the different fights they have, although the insights he gives do not explain all events concerned.

This book is about lessons learned about power, so I like to finish with 4 lessons:
1. Choose your battles – ‘à vouloir intervenir sur tout, on ne pèse sur rien’ (p. 70)
2. What counts is not the time spent to come to a decision but the traces the decision leaves in the long run (p.70)
3. Do not assume that your personal qualities like sympathy and understanding weigh more in diplomacy than the actual power relations (p.102)
4. Talking is not communicating. Don’t be too present in the media, don’t react to too many questions as people will not see or hear you any more (p.229)

You may also like these blogs:
Simone Veil, Une Vie
Robert Badenter, Idiss

Idiss – by Robert Badinter

Idiss

Idiss was the grandmother of the French well-known politician Robert Badinter. He wrote this book in her honour. It offers both a moving family history and perspectives of jewish and non-jewish Europe. Idiss is an interesting and moving book.

Idiss is the story of a turbulent life that started and ended amidst crises of antisemitism. Badinter’s grandmother was born in 1863 and raised in Bessarabie, Yiddishland: a region ruled by Ottomans, Russians, Roumanians and Soviets, nowadays part of Moldava. Her community were Ashkenazic Jews, most of them living in poor circumstances. Idiss married her great love, Schulim.

The atmosphere in Bessarabie is threatening towards Jews, discriminating against them in many acts. In 1903 a terrible pogrom takes place, killing 50, wounding 100s, looting and destroying shops and houses. The two sons of Idiss and Schulim leave for Paris, to start a new life. They are quite successful and in 1912, Idiss, Schulim and daughter Chifra – Badinter’s mother – follow their track. Imagine what that journey meant for Idiss who never left her village before.

Robert Badinter shows how France was seen as a paradise through the eyes of the inhabitants of Bessarabie. Yes, there was the antisemitic affaire Dreyfus but Dreyfus was nevertheless protected by the law and the values of the République Française (‘laïque’) and famous French people stood up for him. So from the perspective of the Yids in Bessarabie the proverb ‘living like a Jew in France’ remained attractive.

Badinter describes the situation of Jews in France in the first half of the XX century as a place where they were considered as French in the first place: being Jewish was their religion: “citoyens français de confession israélite” (p.39). Simone Veil in her biography gives a similar vision. It is interesting to read how French society dealt with the Jewish citizens, rich like Rothschild and Citroën and poor like Idiss and Schulim.

Badinter gives more nuanced insights later in the book (p. 61-64) explaining how Jews were envied or despised by the French, suspected for plots to dominate the world and not considered as ‘real’ French: “Pour eux, les juifs avaient beau donner tous les gages du patriotisme, ils n’en demeuraient pas moins d’étrangers sur la terre de France, plus hospitalière dans ses lois que dans les coeurs” (p.62-63).

He tells that the Jewish community was not homogeneous like antisemitic pamphlets suggested and that there was some kind of zionist movement but that most “Israélites français” considered it more of a fantasy than a real dream, saying: “Un sioniste est un juif qui paye un autre juif pour envoyer un troisième juif en Palestine” (p.63).

Idiss

I cannot simply resume this book as it has several layers. The language used is beautiful and suits the life of Idiss that was pure and loving. Many happy years are described, a great pleasure to read. The different developments in the family are very interesting and by times amusing. In 1942, the end of the book, Idiss dies. It is 2nd World War also in France and there is only one son, Naftoul, present at the funeral; the rest of the family is hiding, hoping to escape the Holocaust that is in full development. Naftoul is arrested soon after the funeral and dies in Auschwitz. Badinter’s father dies in Sobibor. The book Idiss leaves you with the same feeling as the first chapters of the biography of Simone Veil: you are just living your life, working, trying to do good things and be happy, and then you get persecuted for how others see you: as a Jew and a Jew only. They want you to die for that reason.

Idiss is very refined in language, lovely to read. Moreover Badinter succeeds to describe times, insights and places that are not common knowledge in Western-Europe. In the Netherlands, Sephardic customs and contributions have traditionally dominated more than Ashkenazic experiences (see also this book). Idiss can enrich your views of the European society and European diversity.

More about Idiss in this (French) blog.

You may also like these blogs:
* Anne Frank House Amsterdam: remembrance and reflection
* Grandfathers, Jews and the impulse to act

The Coffee Trader

The Coffee Trader is a good book for you, a friend told me and sent me a second hand version by post. My friend was right. What a story about trade in 1659 Amsterdam, where cultures and religions vary and new ways of doing business occur in the markets. David Liss is a writer who knows the word research: he depicts the 17th century with many details of context and history. A great book!

The Coffee Trader tells about Miguel Lienzo, a Jew who lived in Portugal as a converso – a Jew converted to Catholicism – like many other Jews. However the conversos in Portugal were still facing discrimination and many had to fear for their life. So he flew to Amsterdam, at that time a safe haven for Jews. Jews in Amsterdam could practice their religion and be active in trade – although there were plenty of rules between Jews and non-Jews. That in itself is a story so interesting that it is worth to read the book for it. You’ll learn how different communities found a way to live together in a religiously and culturally divided city and have relative peace and justice; at that time, unique in Europe.

Also it is intriguing how converted Portuguese Jews rebuilt their ‘identity’ in Amsterdam. A well organised structure supported those who knew little or nothing about that identity. I particularly liked the description of a woman’s position, Miguel’s brother’s wife Hannah who was brought up in ignorance, thinking she was a Catholic and unable to read or write. In Amsterdam, she is suddenly a Jew, supposed to adhere to a religion and a people that she had learned to despice. She is not walking on that path automatically.

New for me was also the idea of a Mahamad, an 17th century authority in Amsterdam that dealt with all matters for Jews: religiously, politically and legally. Together with rich Portuguese tradesmen they supported the poor Jews, so that the Dutch in Amsterdam would not complain about a burden on their back that came with the Portuguese refugees. However, when tudescos, Jews from eastern countries like Poland arrive in Amsterdam, that attitude is less generous. Most of the tudescos are poor. Although they faced very severe persecution in eastern Europe, the Mahamad takes measures to make their life difficult in the hope that they will choose other destinations than Amsterdam. There are really surprising details about the historical context in The Coffee Trader – and by the way nothing that could not be seen today…

the coffee trader

Miguel lives in an era where tradesmen can easily become very rich or the opposite: loose everything they have. This period in Holland is called the Golden Age and brought a lot of wealth but it was risky. Miguel lost almost everything in the trade of sugar and now wants to try his fortune in a brandnew product: coffee. He wants to acquire the monopoly over this new drink that he estimates to be very promising. His strategy is breathtaking. And so is his playing field. There are so much rumours and hidden agendas around the trade market of Amsterdam that the story is a dazzling experience for the reader. It is really difficult to remember all that’s happening or has been said or might be possible. And that was exactly the reality for tradesmen in 1659 Amsterdam. How can they make their daily decisions without an excellent memory and the right focus?!

Many ethical questions come with the way business was done amid rumours and hidden agendas. Intriguing is the fact that in the end, the hidden agendas Miguel expected were exagerated. Half of them can be interpreted as misunderstandings or even imagination. An interesting lesson learned – but still, when bankruptcy is around the corner for tradesmen who do not watch their backs in the all or nothing market of 1659 Amsterdam, maybe inevitable.

handelaar in koffie

Even though The Coffee Trader appeared already in 2000, this book is of great interest also in 2020. In the light of history, these 20 years do not matter at all. Go read it if you love Amsterdam, if you love trade, if you love history, if you love Jews and the Dutch, if you love risk taking and of course: if you love coffee!
The Coffee Trader exists in Dutch under the title Handelaar in koffie.

You may also like these blogs:
Anne Frank House
Minorities in Gaziantep
Jewish Museum Warsaw context

In gesprek met mijn moeder

in gesprek met mijn moeder

In gesprek met mijn moeder is een roerende en persoonlijke bundel van Manola Sint Jago. Met prachtige teksten en beelden neemt zij ons mee in het grote gemis van de geliefde moeder die zij nooit heeft gekend. Daarmee opent zij haar ziel voor degene die haar bundel inziet en brengt zij verbinding tussen zichzelf, de lezer, haar moeder, alle moeders en talloze dochters. In gesprek met mijn moeder is een werk met grote verfijning.

“Het drong pas tot me door op de kleuterschool. Mijn eerste kaart voor moederdag. Je was er niet, maar ik dus wel. Het was heel vreemd, ik was de enige die jou niet had.
fragment uit het gedicht ‘Bestaat er een hemel en een hel?

Manola Sint Jago werd geboren op Aruba. Haar moeder overleed kort daarna. Behalve een foto heeft zij geen herinneringen aan haar moeder. Dit gemis ging ‘als een rode draad’ door haar leven. De gedichten die Manola Sint Jago door de jaren heen over haar moeder schreef, vormden een vorm van gesprek met haar moeder. Na jaren van schrijven en het creëren van prachtige verbeeldingen, is dan nu deze ‘verhalende gedichtenbundel’ verschenen, zoals Manola de bundel zelf noemt.

Lieve moeder, ik heb van die dagen, dan Google ik je naam op internet in de hoop dat ik die vind met je adres of een verhaal met foto’s over jou.
fragment uit het gedicht ‘Lieve moeder, ik heb van die dagen

Van de vele mooie kunst van Manola Sint Jago ben ik al langer een fan. De variëteit is enorm: etsen, schilderijen, houtwerk, sieraden, vazen, kunstkaarten, en al deze werken vanuit een waanzinnige variatie aan materialen. In gesprek met mijn moeder heeft afbeeldingen van diverse prachtige kunstwerken die rond het thema moeder zijn gemaakt. Daarbij toont Manola zich ditmaal dus ook als iemand met de gave van het woord. Ik wil, kan, mag geen volledige gedichten citeren hier. Daarom beperk ik me tot de aanbeveling van enkele gedichten met beelden die ik het mooist vind: Zomaar een dag uit mijn herinnering, over een bezoek aan moeder’s graf als zesjarige; Begrip en vriendschap, over de onzekerheid in het menselijke contact van geven en nemen; Verbonden, de bijzondere afsluiter van deze bundel die ons verbindt met de maker.

In gesprek met mijn moeder
Verhalende gedichtenbundel
Verkrijgbaar via de website van Manola Sint Jago

Lees ook deze blog: De jacht op mijn vader

Bilqiss: the chance to be the one I should have been

bilqissBilqiss is about regrets and hope for the chance to be the one you should have been. Living in a burqa is more than just having some inconvenient clothing; it is the expression of a patriarchal society where women live within the boundaries men grant them. Individual men have the right to totally suffocate the women they live with. You might be bored when I write it like this but reading Bilqiss will not bore you.

Bilqiss: resisting boundaries
Saphia Azzeddine is a very talented writer. The language she uses is beautiful, rich and harmonious: a pleasure to follow, to listen to with your soul. Her main character Bilqiss lives the reality of these boundaries from the moment she was born – and she resists. She has kept an independent mind. Her inner voice of self confidence never stopped. Whatever happened in her life, she reinvented herself and kept hope to ‘be someone’ at last (p.185). Bilqiss is a moving character who uses her strengt hand intelligence to be an individual, to learn and discover. She is a proud woman who refuses to be treated unequally, be it by men in her society or by Western women with their feelings of pity and compassion.

Bilqiss: challenging boundaries
Bilqiss has done the unthinkable: she as a woman has climbed up in the minaret of the mosque and woken the village by singing the morning prayer. While doing so, she added some tweaks in the way she as a true believer sees muslim faith. Her acts are received in the village with indignation and horror. She will be stoned to death as a punishment but before that, she will be heard in a courtcase. She defends herself without advocate in clear and eloquent wording. Many things happen during that period. The judge seems to listen and prolong the time of the courtcase. Meanwhile he starts visiting Bilqiss in prison every evening, probing her ideas and appreciating exactly that what society expects him to annihilate with his judgment. Just like Mandela once said, he is a prisoner of his own system and also unable to be what he should have been.

Bilqiss: a big cry to resist
Different views and perspectives on what happens to Bilqiss and why are intertwined naturally in the story and give it depth. More and more foreign attention is attracted as videos about the court case appear on youtube. An American-Jewish journalist, Leandra, comes over to follow from nearby what is happening. Leandra is welcomed the way people in the Middle East welcome their guests. It takes some time before Leandra finds out that this is not because the locals like Americans so much… However, she stands as a character and surprises with her calm and truthful reactions until the very end of the book. I found the end surprising and one big cry to continue resisting patriarchy and the form of islam that serves it.

Some quotes that you will find more meaningful in the full context of the book

> About the lost past of the Andalusian spirit of curiosity and learning for all
“Il était loin, le temps où la valeur spirituelle d’un musulman se mesurait à la quantité de livres qu’il possédait, où les bibliothèques champignonnaient comme des minarets, loin aussi le temps où les mosquées, au-delà des salles de prière, abritaient le savoir que les hommes et les femmes pouvaient venir goûter sans distinction” (p. 150)

> About being a subject in a book
“Leandra s’était jetée sur mon histoire pour l’écrire avec ses larmes teintées de mascara. Peut-être même que, un jour, je me retrouverais en tête de gondole dans les boutiques d’aéroports ou de gares au milieu d’autres best-sellers pour divertir ou émouvoir d’autres voyageurs des long-courriers selon qu’ils aiment les femmes ou détestent les musulmans. Je refusais d’être une intermittente de leur spectacle”. (p. 154)

> About denial of responsability
“Une vilaine habitude philologique de notre langue voulait que ce soit l’extérieur qui nous frappe et non l’inverse. Ainsi nous ne disions pas ‘J’ai attrapé froid’ mais ‘Le froid m’a frappé’, ‘la fenêtre m’a cogné’, ‘la soupe m’a brûlée’. Jamais nous n’étions responsables de ce qui nous arrivait”. (p. 160)

> About the gap between us
“J’aurais voulu être elle (Leandra) pour avoir une chance d’être celle que j’aurais dû être si j‘étais née ailleurs. Celle que j’aurais pu être si l’on ne m’avait privée dès le plus jeune âge de la plus infime liberté. J’aurais voulu être celle qui éprouvait de la pitié plutôt que celle qui en inspirait. Leandra n’y pouvait rien et c’était son plus grand tort”. (p. 176)

Useful links about this book and the author:
* https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saphia_Azzeddine
* https://nathavh49.blogspot.com/2016/08/bilqiss-saphia-azzaddine.html
* https://en.qantara.de/content/book-review-saphia-azzeddineʹs-bilqiss-just-being-born-a-woman-is-a-provocation

Find other books to read in these blogs
* ‘Why are people like this?’ Boualem Sansal
* Simone Veil: une vie
* Portrait du décolonisé

Beyond the Difference

beyond the differenceBeyond the Difference – the Importance of Inclusive Leadership is the title of my new book, published this week by Common Ground – USA. It is a great honor to have my book published for a worldwide audience and I hope it will inspire many readers!

Ideas and instruments deriving from the best practices in a variety of organisations now find their path to a world wide public. They show why inclusive leadership is essential and what scientific theories were developed. Globalisation and individualisation have considerably increased diversity at work. Organisations frequently face situations of (apparently) conflicting values. We urgently need leaders who understand how the dynamics of diversity impact daily business. We need leaders who are knowledgeable about these processes and who do not fear to address diversity issues that are not just easily solved. And there is enough to gain with these efforts!

A quote from Beyond the Difference (and yes, indeed, I quote my own words now, very funny): ‘Although we live in difficult times for diversity & inclusion, opportunities occur for organizations who think across silos and borders and who are strong in trade, customer relations and innovation. Inclusive leadership is of inestimable value for prosperity, both materially and immaterially’.

beyond the differenceAs I have been active in the field of culture, diversity and inclusion (through my company Seba), the book does not just offer some analytic observations but concrete methods and tools to implement the business case for diversity successfully along the three headlines of:
1. giving direction
2. role model behaviour
3. organising

If you compare my work to that of other experts in this field, you can see that I care less about what people think, about opinions and the like, and more about what people do, how they act. I notice that in most Western countries ‘having the right opinion about diversity’ often dominates the debate, while (Middle-)Eastern countries usually have a more pragmatic approach: they are looking for the most effective way to go forward. I find all those opinions about diversity often time-consuming with little effect on the business case. Therefore, consider Beyond the Difference as a working guide for leaders to make progress in a context of paradoxes, uncertainty and dilemmas.

Buy Beyond the difference at the publisher’s bookstore, or shops like Amazon.com.
For those who prefer to read in Dutch, buy Voorbij het Verschil

Blogs you may also like:
Perceptions of power
Investeer in jouw inclusief leiderschap!

 

 

 

‘Why are people like this?’ Boualem Sansal


Since I went to Tunis two years ago, I became a fan of Arab-French literature again. This started as a student of French many years ago and got lost during the years… until I found the brilliant bookshop in Tunis, simply named Al Kitab. It has a diversified collection that reminds more or less the inspiration of Al Andalus: the time when cultures and religions lived next to each other and arts and science flourished. Al Kitab made me discover the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal. The first book I bought was Le serment des barbares (see a short note in this blog), and on my return to Tunis I found 2084 and Le village de l’Allemand in the shelves.
Boualem Sansal is a unique writer. When he wrote his first book Le serment des barbares, he was still working in a high position of Algerian industry. Boualem Sansal is an engineer and an economist. Since he started writing, he won many prices: many French ones, but also this German price. His books are not easy to read or light lecture. He is writing about the sharpest sides of humanity: the massive violence, cruelty, corruption, treason and dictatorship. Free thought and free speech are continuously in danger, as well as sincerity, trust and integrity. His books have a theme and an agenda. Boualem Sansal, although rather pessimist in his books, is a strong defender of enlightened mankind and for that he uses magnificent language skills.

Le serment des barbares (1999)
(The oath of the barbarians > only translated into Spanish?)
This was Boualem Sansal’s first book that brought him several prices. Boualem Sansal shows here the power and richness of his language skills in describing his country, Algeria, in decline. Thirty years after the independance of Algeria, the wounds of the fierce war they fought are still there. Factions of the army for freedom FLN, islamists and maffia-type politicians lead the country into a downward spiral of poverty and corruption while distrust shapes the day-to-day relations.
The leading story is about detective Larbi who starts the investigation of the murder of a poor guy, Abdallah. While doing so, step by step the actual way of life and the status of Rouiba, once the prosperous industrial suburb of Algiers, is revealed as if you walked there yourself. Le serment des barbares does not end well and that is a logical consequence of the story. When religious fanatism, anger, madness and greed reign, there is no hope.
Links you might want to read:
https://www.babelio.com/livres/Sansal-Le-serment-des-barbares/30900
https://www.lexpress.fr/culture/livre/le-serment-des-barbares_804680.html

Le village de l’Allemand, ou le journal des frères Schiller (2008)
In English: The German Mujahid
I found this a very good book, I could not stop reading. It is less descriptive than the other two and the plot is impressive. Malrich Schiller lives in a banlieu in France. His brother committed suicide six months earlier and left him a journal. The book develops over the gradual lecture of the journal. There is a lot to discover. Malrich finds out that his parents who lived in a village in the south of Algeria, were killed in one of the terrible raids of GIA islamists.
His father, a German, was a hero who fought with the FLN (freedom army) against the French for independance but was killed with all the others in their village. Then he finds out that his father was a former Nazi; his brother who had to clear the house of the parents, describes in the journal how he found multiple objects and memories of that period. Their father never destroyed them but hid them in a safe corner. This comes with so much guilt and also identity problems; who was my father? who am I? And it comes with resistance and anger as islamists are already active in the banlieu and are organised to take over. And with despair about the ever repeted cruelty and the mass killings: ‘My God, why have you created mankind like this? Who can save them?’ This book is the dark history of mankind made personal – and reverse.
Links you might want to read:
http://eveyeshe.canalblog.com/archives/2015/12/01/33008684.html
https://vmesny.wordpress.com/horizons/romans-contemporains/le-village-de-l’allemand-boualem-sansal/
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6570427-the-german-mujahid

2084 La fin du monde (2015)
In English: 2084 The End of the world
2084 is very descriptive. It tells about L’Abistan, a world that is stable and closed in itself. Religion is dominant in every aspect of daily life. To instaur the system, the past where this religion was not dominant has to be forgotten and free thought is seen as a major threat to the system. So there are many ways to check and control what people think and do. Every answer is given to the people. There is no reason for them to ask questions. However the book’s main character Ati got somehow ‘enlightened’ during a sick leave where he had time to think and to meet different people than usual. From that moment he is in constant danger.
I found the story of the book slow to go, too slow actually but I did continue reading because I wanted to know how it would end. Especially when Ati discovers a ghetto where life is more free, it becomes interesting. Step by step Ati finds out that l’Abistan is not the entire world as it pretends to be. And he does find his way out. I like books with a good ending and I did not persevere in vain, there is hope in the end.
https://la-plume-francophone.com/2015/11/02/boualem-sansal-2084/
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/10/2084-boualem-sansal-review-timely-tribute-george-orwell
https://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/book-review-boualem-sansal-s-2084-the-bestselling-novel-where-isil-is-in-charge-1.90285

You might also like this blog about Albert Memmi: Portrait du décolonisé
Or this movie, playing in Algeria: Loin des hommes

Simone Veil: une vie

I found Simone Veil’s autobiography Une Vie while buying groceries in the Super-U. In France, culture and quality can be found everywhere, a characteristic that I adore in that country. It is a breathtaking book about a life that started in an ordinary, middle-class way and got heavily interrupted by the Second World War, went through the Nazi death camps and then on to government positions at the highest level of France and Europe. Compared to the intensity of that life, the book is short (343 pages Livre de Poche). There are many chapters where the reader would like to know more because her experiences are unique and give insights one rarely gets.
Simone Veil was a Holocaust survivor and she was also a major player in France’s after-war period. Une Vie tells a lot about the things she did, but her influence went much further than that because of who she was, a woman with clear principles that she followed in any function she would fulfill: ‘le sens de la justice, le respect de l’homme, la vigilance face à l’evolution de la société‘ (p. 262).
She says she liked politics but not the political game and indeed in her book the description of such games are rarely found. It is about the goals Simone Veil was going for and about what she achieved. The reader can only wonder how she did that. The same goes for all the positions she got – it seems to be just the natural flow of her life and it would be so interesting to learn more how she got there. The political part of Une Vie shows little relations or emotions; if I may criticize Une Vie, the only point by the way: this is not about living a (political) life, it is too factually descriptive for that (though very interesting).
Anyway I highly recommend this book that was translated in many languages; (just) some parts of the book that I found breathtaking:

* the description of the Holocaust, an inside story. ‘l’enfer‘ (p.53-89)

* the question whether governments should have stayed or left their countries during the Second World War. France had the Vichy-régime that collaborated with the Nazis. Simone Veil always thought that was wrong, until she met Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands who told her how heavily her mother Queen Wilhelmina was criticized for leaving to Canada and thus ‘abandoning her people’. ‘aucun événement historique, aucun choix politique des gouvernants, surtout dans des périodes aussi troubles, n’entraîne des conséquences uniformément blanches ou noires‘. (p.46)

* the letters she got when she fought as Minister of Health for the first Law on Abortion in 1975. The verbal abuse was so terrible that her staff destroyed some letters. Simone Veil regrets that because these letters are witnesses of a history of reform and should have formed study material by now to remember that changes come with pain. ‘il faut rappeler aux esprits angéliques que les réformes de société s’effectuent toujours dans la douleur‘. (p.165)

* in the beginning of her European period she expected that in twenty years countries would go beyond their national frame. She found out that it doesn’t work like that and that everybody looks for their roots. Thus nowadays she compares the EU more to the aggregate of Russian matrushka puppets than a monolithic building. (p. 190)

* her ideas about human rights that she supported all her life; how militant activists rarely bring peace and rather increase human rights violations because their approach is too one-sided; that there are no universal human rights when it comes to business and other modus vivendi. ‘Au fond, ce sont toujours aux faibles que l’on fait la morale, tandis qu’on finit par blanchir les puissants‘. (p.194)

* Simone Veil concludes that she has become more and more a fighter for women’s rights because equal chances for women are not naturally based in laws or in the rules of the game. ‘Les chances, pour les femmes, procèdent trop du hasard‘. (p.258)

Links:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/30/simone-veil-funeral-paris-pantheon
http://www.theheroinecollective.com/simone-veil/
https://www.editions-stock.fr/livres/essais-documents/une-vie-9782234058170
https://www.trouw.nl/cultuur/simone-veil-succesvol-omdat-ze-een-vrouw-is~abb3e42e/

Other blogs you might like:
Mikve Israel-Immanuel synagogue: religious pearl in orange-loving Willemstad
‘Why are people like this?’ Boualem Sansal
Perceptions of power

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

  Today, November 12 2017, the well-known presentator Leila Prnjavorac read one of the great Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls in a gigantic bed in the Public Library of Amsterdam. It was a great act to observe, especially at the moment that all the children imitate the ‘camouflage’ that Queen Nanny (1686 – 1733) taught the Marrons at Jamaica to protect themselves from the English ennemy. See and enjoy the youtube I produced about that particular story (in Dutch, click on the image):

The book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls has now been translated for Dutch children under the title Bedtijdverhalen voor Rebelse Meisjes. The stories of 100 special women are described in a nice, easy-to-go way in combination with beautiful and colorful images.
Is it possible to be inspiring and practical on a simple page? Yes it is.
For example the book describes the story of an Irish girl who wanted to be a sailor and a pirate. When her father told her that her long read hair would get stuck in the ropes of the sails, she just cut her hair off, leaving her father no other choice than to take her onto the ship. Girls learn that there are solutions to problems they might face and that they can take action all by themselves. And they see what can be achieved. The Irish girl ended up being personal friends with the Queen of England she initially fought against. It is a joy to read the different stories of the book, with women from all over the world, from many cultures.
No shortcomings in this book then? Yes, but just one. The choice was made to describe also the stories of women still alive. That always comes with the risk that they might still do less heroic things after the story was written. For example Myanmarese Aung San Suu Kyi is in the book as a Nobel Price winning political hero. However at this very moment her Nobel Price is heavily discussed due to her negative role in the immense drama of ethnic cleansing of the Rohinya in Myanmar – not exactly the good night story one would choose for one’s kid to tell…
However, this is a minor shortcoming that still leaves 99/100 inspiring stories in the book. Therefor I warmly recommend it for all rebel girls >>> and their mothers!

Bedtijdverhalen voor Rebelse Meisjes
Geschreven door Elena Favilli en Francesca Cavallo
Uitgegeven 2017 door Rose Stories

Another blog you might like: Puteaux: a French world in pink and blue
Or this one: Left Handers Day and high giftedness

Investeer in jouw inclusief leiderschap!

 

Inclusief leiderschap is hard nodig in deze tijd. Niet jouw intenties die ongetwijfeld goed zijn, gaan het verschil maken voor inclusiviteit maar je deskundigheid en je vaardigheden. Investeer daarin!

Een vreemd verschijnsel in de organisatiewereld van diversiteit en inclusie is de wijdverbreide aanname dat het wel goed komt als je maar van goede wil bent. Geen enkele organisatie zou zijn financiële huishouding overlaten aan de goede wil van medewerkers alleen – er zouden meteen zorgen opkomen over de juistheid, de volledigheid, de rechtmatigheid van de financiële acties. Ook voor de juridische afdeling, de ontwerpers of de onderwijzers wordt het volkomen normaal geacht, zelfs een harde beroepseis, dat deze medewerkers een opleiding en/of ervaring in hun vakgebied hebben, vaak in combinatie met bij- en nascholingen.
Helaas komt het bij diversiteit & inclusie regelmatig voor dat dergelijke eisen niet gesteld worden. Er zijn benoemingen van diversity managers puur gebaseerd op de betreffende medewerker’s interesse voor het onderwerp; echt, dat is geen uitzondering. Blijkbaar wordt zoiets niet ingeschat als een risico voor de organisatie, en de keerzijde van die gedachte is dan ook dat het goed inzetten van diversiteit & inclusie niet kritisch is voor het succes van de organisatie. Toch is dat wel zo…
Deze blog is te beperkt voor het noemen van allerlei voorbeelden die dat aantonen. Mijn boek Voorbij het Verschil geeft er wel veel. Je kunt dat boek kopen en wellicht spreekt het je zo aan dat je mee wvoorbij het verschil coverilt doen met de masterclass Inclusief Leiderschap die Seba regelmatig geeft. In deze masterclass lopen we de hoofdthema’s van inclusief leiderschap door en is er veel ruimte om – vertrouwelijk – de casuïstiek van de deelnemers te bespreken. Daarom is de groep niet groot; bij veel aanmeldingen wordt niet de groep uitgebreid maar een extra datum gepland zodat de persoonlijke aandacht maximaal blijft.
De ambitie is om van diversiteit & inclusie het vak te maken dat het daadwerkelijk is; daardoor neemt de effectiviteit van interventies aanzienlijk toe! Zo creëren we organisaties waarin medewerkers van alle soorten en maten kunnen en willen werken; organisaties die het effect sorteren waar onze maatschappij blij van wordt…

Andere blogs over dit thema:
Palmpasen in Jordanië – daar waar je invloed hebt…
Diversiteit in Marokko en Tunesië
Seba culture and diversity workshops in Malawi

Travels with Herodotus

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski is an amazing book that was given to me as a second hand book by a friend already years ago. It ended up at a pile and stayed there for years. However since I travel a lot for my work in the Middle East these days, I am reading book by book through that pile while waiting at airports or flying in airplanes.
Travels with Herodotus is one of those books that I should have read earlier and that I couldn’t let go once I started reading. It is not a new book (published in Dutch in 2005 already) but who cares, nor is Herodotus who lived in the 5th century BC.
Kapuscinki proves that Herodotus has not lost any of his actuality in 2500 years for 2 main reasons:

1. He is the first known author to check and double check his stories, indicating for his readers how (im)probable the history he offers would be; that is tremendously interesting. His way of operating is amazing, checking stories in the 5th century BC cost him years but that didn’t stop him at all. He must have felt that he was not just writing for his contemporaries but for the entire humanity. So as readers in the 21st century we can follow pretty accurately the games of power of the ancient world.

2. Herodotus shows with facts the extreme cruelty of the rulers of his time – and of their advisers, family and the like. They make you think of some 20th century dictators; indeed not mankind has changed but the possibilities individuals get to apply their cruelty in daily reality. Herodotus describes the cities of Athens and Sparta as cities with a democracy where power was limited or should we say: diffuse, divided; no one was able to rule through fear and cruelty to the extent that it was found among Persians, Assyrians, Parths and many other people where the power was in the hands of one person or family. Somehow it is the system that allows humans to be cruel – or stops them. In the light of today’s debate about the value of democracy, these are intriguing thoughts.
The division of power leads to endless discussions, even on the battle field where the Greek leaders fight although the Persians are near. It is fun to read for those who have experience with democracy; nothing changed in the ‘way it is done’. And the surprise is that small Greek states without apparent unity win the war over well organized Persians who outnumber them and do not loose time in discussions about strategy. The book proves that it would have changed the course of history in Europe, had the Persians won the war. It is an encouragement to proceed on the way of checks and balances in the institution and execution of power!

Travels with Herodotus is not just about Herodotus, it is also about the author Ryszard Kapuscinski himself. He interwaves his personal story as travel journalist with Herodotus’ book Histories in an interesting and also meaningful way. I think Kapuscinski saw this book as his personal life story. On his first foreign trip that he undertook while he had always lived in closed communist Poland, Herodotus’ book accompanied him and did so on many other journeys that followed. It was not just a source of inspiration but also a method and a continuous challenge for reflection. Kapuscinski shares a lifetime outcome of that with his readers; this book has a depth that is rarely seen. It is a gift for humanity: buy it, in a second hand bookshop if no longer available, who cares.

Travels with Herodotus is a must-read for anybody who is interested in:
– (the development of) democracy versus dictatorship
– Asian and European ancient history
– travel journalism, both content/stories and methodology
– philosophy, politics, culture and anthropology.

Useful links:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/jun/30/featuresreviews.guardianreview6
http://www.geschiedenis.nl/nieuws/artikel/912/reizen-met-herodotos (in Dutch)

Other blogs about books you might want to read:
‘Why are people like this?’ Boualem Sansal
Simone Veil: une vie
Dead Aid in Malawi

 

Hôtel Saint-Georges: I understood…


There is a very good bookshop just outside the kashba of Tunis where I found a pearl of Algerian-French literature: Hôtel Saint-Georges by Rachid Boudjedra. There were hundreds of books in that store so what made me choose this one? (by the way maybe they were all very good). Once I started reading this book, I couldn’t let go. It is very easy to understand the many different characters, the reader will love them all and wants to read their perspective on the life they live. This desire is largely rewarded by the author.
Also Hôtel Saint-Georges gave me new insights about Algerian family relations, for example I didn’t know that it is the role of the uncle from mothers side to be tender and show love (while the uncle from fathers side only gives ‘the name’). Boudjedra pictures Algerian family dynamics in such a way that you as a reader can feel like a family member. It also gives more insights in how the cultural notion of ‘collectivism’ works. Usually when people in the West discuss collectivism that exists in countries like the Maghreb, as opposed to individualism, they think a person can not be an individual due to the family relations. Boudjedra shows that within these collectivist families, family members have strong individual lifes and characteristics. The problem as pictured in this book is rather the impossibility within a collectivist structure to discuss what goes wrong and to ‘correct’ actions of individual family members, even heavy ones that really damage others. It is intriguing to read how the FLN (an army structure to oppose the colonial regime) is used to kill a family member who had an incestuous relationship rather than confronting him and seek justice in the system. The secret remains, the punishment is sought in different ways.
A very important aspect of Hôtel Saint-Georges is Boudjedra’s choice to see actual, cruel developments as an element of history: Algerian history since the independence in 1962, French history of colonialism 1830-1962 but also ancient history, medieval history. The 90+ year old family patriarch, Sidi Mohammed, who traveled a lot and speaks many languages, gives his conclusions of a lifetime: ‘J’ai compris aussi que la barbarie est le véritable patrimoine commun de l’Humanité. J’avais fini par comprendre que le propre de l’homme, c’est la cruauté’. (‘I have understood that barbarity is the real common heritage of humanity. I have finally understood that the characteristic of mankind is cruelty‘). From this point of view, it is not an optimistic book.
And there is something else to say about this approach. In the French literature of the Maghreb, some authors long for the colonial period of the French who introduced many good things that the countries still profit from today. Faced with the actual problems of incompetence and corruption on the one side and violence and radical Islam on the other side, authors like Boualem Sansal (le Serment des Barbares) give up hope for Arab leadership and think that the French offered more. Boudjedra shows how cruel the French regime has been in Algeria; even though that did not improve after the Algerian independence, that does not mean that he feels nostalgia for the French colonial times in Algeria, on the contrary: he is rather inclined to conclude that cruelty and barbarity is part of human history, in whatever shape or nationality.
Even though it is not a happy book, it is a very beautiful book in language, in themes, in richness – it is a book that gives you a lot of food for thought. Highly recommended!

I could not find a translation of this book. Also the links I recommend are in French only:
http://www.babelmed.net/
http://www.djazairess.com/fr/infosoir/61703
http://www.lorientlitteraire.com/

Find here a recent blog about Boualem Sansal, Le serment des barbares, other books and his work as a whole
Find here a blog about Portrait du Décolonisé d’Albert Memmi
And about a great movie, filmed in Algeria, Loin des hommes