Saturday, March 31, 2007
The chorus of the Stalinist song from the 70s on the richest families of Finland sung with great passion out of tune by Kristiina Halkola popped into my mind today while listening to the debate about corporate social responsibility here at Sabanci University in Istanbul. The second day of the Network Effect paid a great amount of attention to the role of a few rich Turkish business families and their contributions to the society. We went through the richest family of Turkey (Sabanci) founding a private university and the Eczacibasis supporting classical music and founding the Istanbul Modern museum. Some of the participants made highly critical remarks on the paternalistic models of these actions and whether they can substitute gaps left by the government. “It is somehow worrying how the taste of one family can set the principles of modern art in Turkey”, one of the participants observed.
Continental Europeans often tend to ignore the development patterns of their own societies when assessing developments for instance in Turkey. As the list in the Finnish song points out, these families with a few others played a crucial role in the nation-building. And it is not only Finland and Turkey where philantrophy has at some moment stepped in. You get the picture by thinking of surnames like Tate, Rockefeller, Bonnier, Bertelsmann or Wallenberg.
A Swedish journalist quoted a while ago an assessment made by I think The Financial Times that when the 20th century can be considered as the century of the welfare state, the 21st century seems to be the century of philantrophy. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s engagement with the developing world was used as the most powerful argument. If one looks into the European and American history, one could make the statement that we are returning to an old model. As the recent defeats of Social Democrats show across Europe (the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland etc.), the ideal welfare state starts cracking up and someone else is called for rescue. In that sense I am not sure whether it is fair to state that Turkey is behind us in a development or whether they just skipped one step.
Although this development also has worrying consequences (in a philantrophy mode the poor need to stay grateful and obedient and priorities are set based on individual interests), I would also like to see a positive side in all this. It can help in shaking off the “overdeveloped” notion in Western Europe of full dependence on the state and put more emphasis on individuals. We can also revise the stubborn notions of good money and bad money. As we can already see among the younger generations and their consumption patterns, achievements and personal driving forces get more emphasis over hierarchies and classifications.
The issue is not black and white. Business works based on the notion of success whereas democracies should work on the notion of good. We still need both but the shake-up opens a window of opportunity to re-negotiate these positions.
The most important re-realisation of this event for me is the same one as from the Network Effect in Amsterdam. Societies are made of people. Successes are made by people. People are the ones that stimulate and are stimulated. And that the privileged people with connections and skills do have an obligation to share, enable and make things happen.
Part of the programme of the Network Effect today was a visit to a Turkish women's organisation called Kagider. It is an organisation of 151 female entrepeneurs willing to improve the position of women in the Turkish business life.
As a professional conference attendee my expectations were not too high for this visit. I was ready for a few hours of discussion about organisational challenges and politically correct blah-blah. But these women really charged up my batteries. They are powerful leaders in the business sector but they also are courageous enough to take a personal stand and get involved in societal development. They support the notion that people with the position and the skills have a responsibility towards the society they belong to. Their views on the development of Turkey really fueled me up. These women stated that the need to improve gender equality is not an issue pushed forward with the EU card but it is a realisation from within.
In the Network Effect in Amsterdam in June 2006 I gave a presentation on "a theory" I came up with called the Spiderman Effect. My main point in that presentation was very much what Kagider is doing: people with the skills and connections can and should play a role in developing their society. The most astonishing of the women was Munheta. She is leading a cleaning company with 2.000 employees. She gave a powerful testimony on how she wants to develop her society as a woman who came from Eastern Turkey who made it. "I want to offer a possibility for university students to enter our debates early enough in order to stimulate them to go further. I am really passionate about this. In a way let them breathe the same air as we do and in that sense build up the feeling that making it is also a possibility for them."
She really impressed me. These are the people who make the difference. Munheta is a good reminder that when we look at companies we should pay more attention on the people in them. We can plan a lot of policies but people are in the end the ones that need to get up from their comfort zone and get things moving.
p.s. The poster in the picture is a campaign of the Turkish feminist movement for the upcoming parliament elections. The woman in the picture is one of the leading figures of Kagider. The text says:"Do you have to be a man to get to the parliament?" Once again: it is about individuals, getting involved, taking risks.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
In the end things worked out, I comforted myself at the central station with an expensive yoghurt-strawberry smoothie and am now sitting on the plane on my way to Istanbul’s Sabanci University (well, first, Atatürk Airport). I am attending a British Council event (Network Effect) for young professionals on public-private partnerships in building a welfare state. I am in an Advisory Board for the project which is superfun (international project, great and intelligent people). I am really looking forward to this weekend although my voice is still a bit down due to the flu earlier this week.
Yep, Turkey again. Or to be more precise Istanbul. I was there last year four times and this year I know that I am heading there at least on three occasions. I am starting to love the city. It is mostly due to the wonderful people I know there. My Istanbul is not “a bridge between East and West” or “The Gate to the Orient” or a “Muslim capital” but a group of sincere, intelligent, passionate, kind and hospitable people. My Istanbul invites me to its homes, to the hip underground bars, plays top-of-the-class electro rock, gathers into a cafe for a four-hour breakfast and produces the funkiest T-shirts on the planet.
I met part of my Istanbul friends for a drink last Sunday as they were performing in Amsterdam. Some things they said really stuck to my head which is why I also shared them with a number of my colleagues who are heading to Turkey in April:
“If you look at the Turkish history, we have always been forced to adapt. Adjusting is part of our character so the development of the last few years is nothing new. In the same way as complaining is part of belonging to the Turkish ingelligentsia.”
“Our music does not sound at all Turkish, I mean we sing electro rock in English with no darbukas, so we get this questions of the bridge between East and West all the time. I must confess that I am slightly fed up with it. I mean, I would like to talk in the interviews more about our music and less about our government or the Kurdish question.”
Monday, March 26, 2007
This happens every year. You get all excited because of the sunny weather on a Sunday and head out in spring jacket. Only to find yourself on the next morning with a terrible flu.
So I stayed out of the office. Well, nearly. I spent most of the evening on YouTube watching clips from the comedy series The Office. As working for an organisation with a slogan Experiencing Diversity, this episode of The Office sort of struck me.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
I have never been too keen on animations. It's been quite tricky for me to understand the boom with all these films like Toy Story or Bug's Life. OK, I understand if you have a 10-year-old nephew and you want to go to the cinema together but for a Saturday evening with friends. I mean guys, aren't we slightly passed that age?
This pondering emerged on Saturday. All of us were still feeling a bit shaky from the party on the previous evening so we decided to occupy my friend's sofa, heat the leftovers and take it easy. The discussions on which film to watch took ages and we finally ended up watching The Incredibles. I was not too excited but hey, one has to make compromises sometimes. And they served the food so my negotiation position was somewhat weaker.
It is at times nice to prove yourself wrong. The Incredibles is one of the funniest films I have seen for years. It is witty, snappy, fast, heartwarming. uses a lot of references to other films, does not run solely on male heroes (so not a Scorcese film) and manages to be highly intelligent and incredibly silly at the same time. I like the sort of game where you try to spot all the references to Bond, Star Wars, Superman and so forth. And in a way if one digs slighly deeper, the film poses a good question on normality but in a tongue-in-the-cheek sort of way. I really recommend the film - for the ten-year-old nephew and for the sometimes too cynical aunt or uncle who has seen lately too many intimate drama films.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I want to know more than that the Prime Minister wants a cabinet with 120/200 backing or that the Centre Party continues with the same chairperson of the parliamentary group. I mean who cares. Give me sensations, give me arguments, give me drama.
My boss asked me yesterday what I thought of the results of the elections. I think he was somewhat surprised when I said that I actually saw some positive light in all this. The major slap for the Social Democrats may actually mean that they realise their future challenges and come up with a real optimistic alternative for the future. I guess they realised that most people do not want to have someone telling them who they should NOT vote. One clear indication of a change starting is that the leftish branch of the Social Democrats took over the chairmanship of the parliamentary group.
And on the other hand a centre-right with a bit of green in it could actually mean fresh takes on climate change and more investment in higher education and culture. We shall see.
But still someone should tell me what happens behind the doors. Tell who does not like whom and what are the points of negotiation. Dear fellow journalists, I am not content with:"All parties have today signalled their willingness for joining the cabinet." Big news, bro.
Monday, March 19, 2007
So what happened:
- Centre Party survived as the biggest party and will continue as the leader of the cabinet
- Coalition Party (liberal right) won 10 seats and made its way to the second biggest party only one seat away from Centre Party. The former leader of the party and former Minister of Finance got 60 498 votes which was 10 % of his party´s votes.
- Social Democrats lost 8 seats with the worst elections result in 40 years
The big loser of the day was Finnish democracy. Only less than 69 % of the people used their right to vote. This indicates the major challenge of the future and shows the failure of the government programme on citizenship. The policy of supporting think tanks linked to parties has not really benefited an active civil society. The other major mistake was putting the focus on the 100th anniversary of parliamentarism (year 2006) into celebrating the Parliament. My dear decision-makers, celebrating equal voting rights should not be about the ones elected through the procedure nor the institution, it should be about the people with the power.
But the biggest winner is the gender equality. 84 women out of 200 is a magnificent result and a record-breaking level in Finnish history. But even with this result I tend to support the approach that voting a woman is still a worthy political move.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
They are just fantastic and I cannot wait cycling with them across Amsterdam. Seldom something so simple makes me smile when I just look at them. But then again: how many people you know with bright yellow shoes?
As we got to the hotel, we headed with my Turkish friend to the teahouse to smoke a waterpipe. Our Polish friend told us afterwards on the way to the party:"You know, I was lying in my bathtub, splashing around as I noticed every now and then this strange smell of goat. It took me a while to realise that it was the shoes." Our Turkish friend told us based on experience that one has to prepare to live with that for a few months. But looking at her bag of new babouches, it seems that a bit of odour from the farm is worth the comfort.
Friday, March 16, 2007
It is and then again it is not. We continued on the subject later over delicious tagine. My hosts told us, the European guests, that people even in Morocco often talk about going to Africa when heading South. "Funny, i do not think about this very often."
We continued our discussion on the topic of perceptions on the others. As we were a group of Moroccans and Europeans preparing a cross-Mediterranean media event, the topic was both personally intriguing and professionally important. We talked about the role of images and whether most of the collaboration is truly two-directional. I heard the same as some weeks back from some Turkish people I work with. They pointed out that collaboration and especially financial support is often strongly being driven by the European agenda, not by the things high on the agenda in the receiving country. "Just some time back I got this feeling in an event that this situation is not really equal. I am giving more than I am being given", a Moroccan friend commented.
He told a story of ending up into a fierce debate with a British scholar some time back on backwardness and narrow-mindedness of certain cultures. He told me what he said in the situation which I realised that I have not thought of very often:"I pointed out in the situation the fact that I speak more European languages than she does, I know more about her history that she knows of mine, I know more about her legal system than she does of mine, I know more about her religion than she knows of mine and I know her economic system better than she knows mine." I had to write the remark down as I found it so fresh. It is true that every now and then we Europeans end up reinforcing the colonial notion where the rest of the world needs to constantly position itself to Europe but not the other way round.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Just finished watching The Departed, according to the Academy Awards the number one film of the previous year. Although it is well acted and rough, it still has the same problems as all the other recent Scorceses: overstretched and overmacho. And I must say that Jack Nicholson is nowadays merely repeating the grins we saw already in The Shining or As Good As It Gets. Based on my assessment Scorcese’s latest does not manage to open any new insights or make any sorts of fresh statements. It is rather perfect in the setup and in carrying its unsurprising plot but maybe perfection is exactly what it stumbles on.
Well, going through the entire Be-Ne-Lux (actually Lux-Be-Ne) in one afternoon shows also the differences of the three countries. Whereas Luxembourg is an idyllic French castle city, Brussels manages to surprise me every single time with its dirtiness. It seems shockingly run-down if one takes a look at the backyards and sides of the railtracks.
Somehow Brussels is a good miniature version of today’s Western Europe. The past glory is visible but deteriorating, daylight shows how dirty everything is, white man is not the automatic default and everyone looks rather tired.
We just got to Roosendaal which is already the Netherlands. I am reading currently the perfect book for this journey: Ian Buruma’s exciting Murder in Amsterdam going through the incidents around Theo van Gogh’s murder. But more about that later.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
This my first time in Luxembourg (The European Capital of Culture this year) although the event that I am attending is very much detached from its surrounding. Colophon2007 is a global symposium for magazines. So as I am sure you can gather, a gathering of übercool twenty-somethings. I am here to scout for magazines for my work, for a European workshop for indie magazines. I have already found some. My favourites so far are:
- Rojo: Spanish visual arts magazine completely without text. Run by fantastic Barcelonians. I know them from before so we basically just hang out like before. Now we are chilling on Fatboys in the lobby. I think March is asleep. They also made a permanent impact on me: their arts project left paint stains on my Acnes. But that is kinda cool and streetwise I gather.
- DIK: A Polish fagzine very similar to the famous BUTT magazine. Their last photocopied issue is on the gayscene of Ukraine. Kinda cool.
- Clark: A clever French street culture magazine. Not afraid to use colours which works for me. And not the dominant macho-laddish attitude at all.
- Jaffa: A Latvian arts and culture magazine. Very underground but ambitious.
Haven't seen a lot of Luxembourg. Somehow I am not sure if that is a problem. I guess not. What I have seen has a lot of similarities to Belgium. An Luxembourgish is a funny language which looks to me like a misspelled version of Dutch. Tonight there is some sort of electropop party or so.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Just got home after the ultimate feelgood film: Dreamgirls. Not much of a story, not top of the class acting but absolutely fantastic music, great dresses and lighting and a lot of attitude. But one ends up wondering why Beyoncé is presented as the female lead when it is Jennifer Hudson who does all the work. She is magnificent. As a friend of mine enthusiastically described it yesterday: Jennifer Hudson is the queen of everything.
And hey, Dreamgirls is historical in other ways as well. I cannot name a lot of films making it on top of the charts without a white actor leading the way.
And if you wonder why you should see the film, check this clip where Beyoncé Knowles, Anika Noni Rose and Jennifer Hudson perform in the Academy Awards some weeks back.
Friday, March 02, 2007
I was today in Utrecht giving a presentation on theoneminutesjr to people doing youth media projects. Inspiring event as I realised once again how strong the Netherlands seems to be in this field. While sipping my coffee on the brake, a girl came to me:"Sorry but are you Tommi?" I answered positively but had no idea whatsoever who she was. She told me that she had been filming an event where I spoke some time back. She had been asked to do appr. one minute edits of all the speakers. She told me that I became sort of a celebrity within her group of friends as she was constantly complaining that I was switching subjects in the middle of the sentence. I know I have that habit. She did not mean the comment in a bad way - I guess the frankness was just an example of a Dutch way of telling things to your face. Respect.
Another person with an in your face tactique is Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She has now been away from the Netherlands for some time promoting her book in the US. Her interview was today in a Dutch free magazine called Ted. She stated with her old style:"I think people are now finally starting to understand that the problem is not a small group of terrorists but islam itself." Come on. Ayaan, where does that comment take us? I really don't feel that comments such as this are in any way constructive, helpful or brave. But I guess her sensationalism is over here in the Netherlands which makes it very wise to move to bigger markets.