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Sunday, 8 January 2017

Saying “Goodbye” to the United Kingdom as part of our own “EU Final Farewell tour”– a very personal story!

You know I love you, but I'm playing for keeps,
Although I need you, I'm not gonna make this,
You know I want to, but I'm in too deep.

Last Friday, January 6th 2017, my lovely wife Olga and I went to the United Kingdom, on a so-called minicruise.

This minicruise would bring us from IJmuiden (close to Amsterdam in The Netherlands) to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the United Kingdom; we would sail to England on Friday to arrive there on Saturday morning, with roughly five hours to spend on a short city trip, before we would leave again at 4.30 PM GMT in order to return to Dutch solid ground this Sunday morning.

Where I jokingly stated that it would be our “EU Final Farewell tour” to the United Kingdom – with a slight amount of pitiful sarcasm due to the oncoming Brexit – the trip felt indeed as us coping with a substantial and bitter loss, as in a loving relation gone terribly awry. To be honest, the UK will always remain the beloved neighbour of The Netherlands and the economic and political ties between both countries will probably remain strong after the Brexit, so things will not change too dramatically between our countries.

Nevertheless, the intended Brexit in 2018-2019 – or much, much later when Sir Ivan Rogers was right indeed – still feels like a very sad divorce, in which we all hope that the partners can get along fine in the future and will remain friends on behalf of the children.

But we are far from certain about that...

When looks do not deceive, this divorce between the UK and the EU could be a nasty one. A divorce with reciprocal feelings of bitterness and envy but also remorse about all involved parties not being able to set the record straight in time to save the relation.

At the time that the British population spoke in its referendum, it was already too late; the damage was done and the effects could not be mitigated anymore. And also in this case – like with many other divorces – there might be desperate fights between the involved parties for a “fair division of the shared property”. In this case the fights will take place on behalf of fair future agreements between the UK and the EU countries, regarding all kinds of economic, cultural, political and financial terrains.  

These negotiations must succeed eventually, as the current agreements on free movement of people, goods and money must be continued in the future in any which way. Probably this continuation of the current agreements will happen in a (very) different way than anticipated by both parties and nothing about the final outcome is certain yet; not even the amount of time that these negotiations will take before enabling the actual Brexit, as this is all uncharted terrain.

As a matter of fact, the negotiations to achieve the desired results could be really, really nasty and long-lasting; especially now that the UK have abolished their very seasoned and understanding diplomat Sir Ivan Rogers – who was very well-established and enormously respected in EU affairs – in favour of the also very seasoned, but much less experienced Sir Tim Barrow, who is considered a rookie regarding EU affairs.

And at the same time all the European populist parties are chuckling for joy, as they see the Brexit as the first domino to fall on their way to political domination for the extreme rightwing and leftwing parties, at the expense of the moderate liberal, conservative and social-democrat parties.

All these thoughts were tumbling through my mind when we were debarking in Port-of-Tyne for our short, but nevertheless impressive trip to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. And where I first felt some slight anger about the British ‘betrayal’ of our long-lasting and somewhat awkward friendship and harmony in the European Union and even gloated about the presumed British mistake – “in the future they will get a good economic and political lesson from the consequences of this event” – these negative feelings were soon replaced with feelings of observance and even admiration for the United Kingdom and for its long and impressive history, as one of the guiding nations in the world.

From the first Roman settlements in the city, via the medieval castle and other centuries-old monuments to the landmarks of the industrial revolution, my wife and I enjoyed this trip to Newcastle to the fullest.

What impressed me most about this city was the versatility of its inhabitants; these people were not only the archetypical pale, red- and brownhaired Britons with their freckles and sun-sensitive skin, but also a melting pot of Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, Pakistani, Iranian, African and Carribean people, in combination with continental Europeans from all countries.

And this proved in fact the current anti-immigration hype as being mainly pointless, as it is already impossible to return to a situation that does not exist anymore since the Fifties of last century. All these people with their different looks and different descents are all Britons-out-of-choice and they are all there to stay, unless something really dramatically happens. And what such a dramatical event is? God would only know!

What many of the aforementioned populist parties in the European countries want, is seemingly a return to a kind of fairytale country from the Fifties that never really existed: a Disney-esque version of the United Kingdom, Germany or The Netherlands, with all shiny, happy people holding hands and having fun. The Utopia of an all-white, all-native and all-Christian population, with the angry outside world being harmless and especially far, far away.

Olga and I had a 4 hour stroll from the Central Station to the Newcastle University in the North and to Gateshead in the South of this fascinating and wonderful, old city. We admired the old and modern bridges and architecture of Newcastle and enjoyed the riverside view upon the old city and realized that time and history never stand still, but are always in motion: sometimes very quiet and at other times very turbulent and intrusive. This is simply the nature of time.

Nevertheless, after this short, but wonderful trip I can only hope that both the European Union and the United Kingdom come to their senses regarding the Brexit and aim at a friendly and respectful divorce, that is in the best interest of our mutual heritage.

I believe unfortunately that it is too late to save the marriage between the EU and the UK at this point in time, as it was never a very happy one and too much animosity and misunderstanding grew during our years together. Therefore our trip to Newcastle was indeed our “EU Final Farewell tour”. 

But let’s celebrate life and peace together and let’s not be too harsh upon each other. We are still neighbours and we still need each other very much, albeit in a different way than before.


Enjoy the pictures:

Port of Tyne
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge
Port of Tyne
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

Poundstretcher "austerity shop" in Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge


Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

Thoughprovoking art in Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

Stunning architecture of this Gateshead building
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

WW I memorial bench in Gateshead
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

"View through a bridge"
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

"View through a bridge"
Pictures made by and copyright of Ernst Labruyère
Click to enlarge

Saturday, 31 December 2016

“There is no ‘rispetto’ anymore these days, Michael. And when there is no respect, this might lead to chaos, as people don’t appreciate each other’s power anymore!”.

I look on Twitter at a picture of a small duckling, with the word ‘LAME’ written through it; a quite hard to ignore insult of the leaving President of the United States, Barrack Obama.

Next to the picture, there is a 137 character rant against the latest measure that this ‘lame duck POTUS’ took: to expel 35 Russian officials from the United States, in order to punish them for their role in the alleged Russian interference in the American elections.

The challenged tweet of the Russian Embassy in the UK
Click to enlarge
This tweet was not published by a Republican splintergroup from say... Texas or Mississippi, that attacks Obama on a daily basis just for the sake of it. No, it was printed by the official and approved (!) Twitter account of the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom: an account that is part of the direct responsibility of the Russian ambassador in the United Kingdom.

I don’t know if this is a new kind of ‘diplomacy’, but I do know that it is an aggressive kind...

And suddenly I see an image for my eyes of Marlon Brando in his unforgettable role of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, while talking to his smartest and most talented son Michael with his distinctive, whispering voice:

“Listen, Michele. There is no ‘rispetto’ anymore between enemies these days.

In the past, we had our quarrels and it was nasty sometimes. But there was always respect for the power and strength of our enemies. We knew that if we hit them, they would hit us back hard. That notion kept the balance intact.

But look at the situation now, Michael. We don’t respect our enemies anymore and our enemies don’t respect us. They make fun of us, nowadays! And you know, when there is no respect, this might lead to chaos and accidents, as people don’t appreciate each other’s power anymore!”

Of course, this “dialogue” is not really from the Godfather, but rather a (partial) figment of my imagination. But Don Vito could have said it about the current situation between Russia and the United States! A situation that is even more dangerous than the real Cold War, as the archenemies at least respected each other’s power and strength in those days.

Leaders like Reagan and Gorbachev, Carter and Brezhnev or Kennedy and Krushev knew that they could not make one step too far, or things would get totally out of hand really soon.

Today’s situation is totally different, however...

The Barrack Obama administration and almost the whole American congress, as well as the NATO leadership and some powerful figures within the European Union, have been patronizing and ridiculizing the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin on a daily basis during the last 15 years, with an arrogance and ignorance that was very dangerous.

As if they reckoned that the Russian government was so weak and corrupted, that it could be simply overpowered with a brisk portion of American bluff, bravado and ‘faits accompli’.

Remember the designated rocket shield against “Iran” in Poland and Czechia? Remember the careless flirtations of the NATO (and the US) with Georgia and the Ukraine, in spite of old agreements between Russia and the NATO countries that such would not happen?
Remember the revolution in Ukraine, much akin to a coup d’etat?

In those years the United States acted like a man attacking a grizzly bear barehanded, because he reckons that the grizzly is not intelligent enough to really harm him... Well, it still is a grizzly, who could kill a person with one stroke of his paw, so give it the respect and the caution that a grizzly deserves.

And it seems that President Barrack Obama is finding the truth of that popular wisdom out the hard way, as he is getting the same medicine from Russia... in an even bigger dose.

Whether people like it or not, it seemed that Vladimir Putin turned the situation in Syria totally upside down, when he came with his army to the rescue for his ‘friend’ Bashar al-Assad. And now there is suddenly an end looming for the nearly six year old civil war in Syria, while the Russian interests overthere are more certain than ever before. In the meantime the American army is entangled in a web with various rebel groups, who all prove to be more or less akin to either Al Qaida or ISIS. The Americans could now almost be accused of keeping this civil war alive, instead of stopping it.

At the same time the relations between Russia and strategic NATO member(!) Turkey have been improving rapidly, after their dramatic low in 2015 when the Turkish government downed a Russian jet fighter. The governments of Russia and Turkey understand that they are two birds of a feather, which have more in common in their particular situation, than that Turkey has in common with the Western world – in spite of its prominent importance for the NATO alliance.

On top of that, if the American accusations about the alleged Russian cyber attacks against powerplants and other strategic American assets are true indeed, as a slightly hyperbolic Senator John McCain stated, it could prove that Vladimir Putin and his henchmen have also in this situation the better deck of cards (even though I of course don’t approve such attacks by the Russians).

Where the Americans traditionally boasted about them having the upper hand in every terrain of warfare – on the real battlefield, but also online –  the Russians might have proved that they could achieve the same or better results with a fraction of the American budget.

And now – in 2016 – Vladimir Putin has shown to the world that he could shamelessly interfere with the American presidential elections, knowing that the democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was already a sitting duck, with little popularity and – even worse – almost no credibility(!) among the American population.

The winning candidate of the American elections Donald Trump, even though he was despised in the rest of the western world, has shown already that he is more a friend of Russia and on top of that a personal admirer of Vladimir Putin, who he considers to be very strong, decisive and intelligent. This also adds to the strength and self-confidence of Vladimir Putin at this moment.

In fact Trump is even more a supporter of Vladimir Putin than he supports the current president Barrack Obama; while that might be treason to the eyes of many Americans, it is a fact of life that works enormously on the lame duck image that Barrack Obama now possesses.  

Suffice it to say, however, that this situation of mutual disrespect between Russia and the United States and its respective leadership is very dangerous.

Senator John McCain might be exaggerating with his statement that the Russian cyberattacks are an act of war. And the hardly disguised threats of Vladimir Putin of the past years towards the Eastern European EU member states (Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries), as well as his aggressive interference with respect to Ukraine, could be seen as a sign of relative weakness and lack of self-confidence.

But still think about Don Vittorio Corleone: “Without rispetto, things could start to go wrong, Michele. Think about that my son!”.

The stupidest mistake that both Russia and the United States could make in 2017 is underestimating the power and determinedness of their respective opponent. And Europe should be closely watching both parties, as Europe could be the ultimate battlefield for a quarrel that is the result of a lack of respect and cautiousness.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

“Things must get better in 2017, as things getting even worse is hardly possible, after the – on many levels – disastrous year 2016!”. My (rather personal) and angry retrospect on 2016.

And do you feel scared, I do
But I won't stop and falter
And if we threw it all away
Things can only get better

In hindsight 2016 was a really terrible year, on many personal, economic and political levels:
  • I lost the dearest neighbour in the world, due to lethal cancer originating from a normally pretty harmless, but now too lately discovered kind;
  • I almost lost a very dear friend from a nearly-lethal, flesh-eating bacteria infection, only to see him still recover physically (and mentally) more than half a year after this ordeal;
  • My 30 year old niece suffered from a severe stroke and almost saw her life and that of her husband and children lie in tatters. She is also still recovering from her illness;
  • I almost lost another dear neighbour from a nearly-fatal cardiac arrest, which was fortunately treated very quickly, thus saving his life and his general condition;
  • Yet another dear neighbour is now still recovering from nearly-lethal breast cancer that suddenly struck her last year;
  • And again another neighbour is suffering from another (probably lethal) kind of cancer.
And those were only the close relations, living less than 100 meters away from me in Almere Buiten or my closest friends and family.

Besides this, 2016 was also the year in which I had to give up my future as freelancer in the ICT industry, due to both the new DBA law – which made it potentially very risky for companies to hire freelance consultants as they could be treated as employees reciprocally by the Dutch internal revenue service – and my enduring difficulties in finding a new assignment as professional software tester. 

With this decision, I paid a high price for not being the right man at the right moment and for not working with the right people.

It was that I found a job as quality assurance engineer at a genuinely wonderful company – the headoffice for a Dutch, cooperative chain of supermarkets – in which I refound my self-confidence and working happiness, otherwise 2016 would have been an utterly lost and quite sad year on a personal level. A year, of which I only was glad that my family and loved ones survived it eventually.

On top of that some of the biggest talents in the music and film industry died in 2016; artists and characters like David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey, George Michael, Rick Parfitt, Carrie Fisher and the ueber-cool Motörhead bass-player Lemmy Kilmister. Real heroes with whom I grew up and to whose music and performances I watched and listened litterally all my life. And those are only the ones that I can recall right now.

Politics was also a mess in 2016, in The Netherlands and abroad: 
  • The Dutch voted in favour of a useless anti-Ukraine referendum, that in the end did not change anything in the relation between the European Union and Ukraine, but reconfirmed the Dutch reputation as a basically very happy nation, with nevertheless a quite narrow-minded view on the world, in the eyes of many other European citizens;
  • On top of that the Dutch put a series of politically destructive butterfingers and kamikaze pilots on 'the pedestal' of temporary political success, while leaving the more moderate politicians in a clueless shock-and-awe, basically caused by their own insignificance and ignorance;
  • The British voted in favour of leaving the European Union, in a campaign based upon sheer lies, unfounded statements of xenophobia and loads of false assumptions that proved untrue within days after the referendum ('NHS-gate'), only to wake up with a political mess and leaders that ran away, while screaming for their mummies;
  • The inhabitants of the Phillippines voted for an self-acclaimed mass-murderer – not only in words but allegedly also in acts – and blatant advocate of ‘executions without a trial’, in case of alleged drugs addicts and criminals, based upon the promise of 'him cleaning out the closet' in that Asian country;
  • A weighted majority of the American people – as a matter of fact a minority according to the system of ‘one man, one vote’ – voted in favour of someone, who scares the shit out of the rest of the American people. A man, feared for his aggressive, gung ho political approach, his political and executive incompetence and lack of experience, as well as his personality akin to a loose cannon, shooting at everything that moves;
  • And the only alternative that the Americans had to choose from – Hillary Clinton – seemed just as unfit and incompetent for the profession of American president, but for different reasons.

Everywhere in Europe and far, far abroad, the population seemed firmly in the grasp of populist politicians from either the far right or the far left side. Not only in Eastern European countries, like Hungary (PM Viktor Órban) and Poland (shadow-president Jaroslaw Kaczynski), but also in the United Kingdom (UKIP-leader Nigel Farage), France (Front National leader Marine le Pen), Germany (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands and Alternative für Deutschland) and The Netherlands (Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders).

And president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey?! He is more and more turning into a paranoid Sun King, who considers everybody that thinks differently inside and outside Turkey as his personal enemy, after a coup d’etat against him failed this year. And the European Union is glued to him and his policy, through the unscrupulous refugee-deal, that keeps the refugees out of our European sight, at an unknown, but probably high price.

Only ‘the formerly usual suspect of brewing right extremism’ Austria decided in the end, that they did not want to have an extreme right-wing country leader, in the form of FPÖ’s Norbert Hofer. A gesture, for which I praise and thank the Austrian population.

Europe and especially the European Union turned in the political “ugly ducklings” of the European citizens: appreciated by almost no-one and hated by nearly everyone. Not in the least as a consequence of the politically clumsy utterings (f.i. Jean-Claude Juncker) and the very rigid – almost autistic – neo-liberal policies (f.i. Eurogroup leader Jeroen Dijsselbloem and his 3% budget deficit ‘until death do us part’) of its leaders and officials in the European Commission, the various European (ministerial) councils and the European Central Bank.

Especially chairman Mario Draghi of the European Central Bank, with his increased deployment of Quantitative Easing, seemed an avid fan of the policy: “if a medicine did not work the first time, just increase the dose. And when it still does not work, than simply double the last dose”. The effects of this enhanced medicine will probably be the same as before, namely... ‘nothing’!

And the European politicians? They were so happy that somebody did something about the stalling economy, that they simply rested on their laurels and just looked at the effects of SuperMario’s policy: “Either we did it all right or he did it all wrong, so we cannot be blamed for it after all”. And so every correlation between political policy and the cautiously reappearing economic growth all over Europe in 2016 seemed sheer coincidence and not the effect of sound political decision-making.

The people hate us, but hell did we make them do it!” could be the European leaders’ mantra over the past eight crisis years, in which the European leaders totally lost touch with the European population. And this in combination with the same European leaders’ blatant failure to address the continuing refugee crisis as a whole and undivided Union, while instead trying “to kick the ball on other people’s turf” as soon as they could (in this case in particular Turkey, Greece and Italy).

That was national and international politics within the European Union in a nutshell in 2016: the same ol’ same ol’ as before, but only worse in its execution. This utterly failed policy made it darn hard to not give up on the European Unino and actually many people did.

At the same time, the Cold War in 2016 seemed back at the highest level since it officially ended. The Russians are nowadays accused of everything bad happening in the world and far, far abroad, including being solely responsible for the election of Donald Trump, as well as for the latest software-bug in the Apple iPhone operating system and for causing a big supernova at 15,000 lightyears distance in the Andromeda Nebula. Just saying...

Of course, Russia lies, cheats and rigs a terrible lot and probably many of the accusations made these days are true. They have a former secret agent as president, who has “propaganda” and “deceit” as his middle names and who doesn't scare away from rigging the political cards in his favour. Go figure! 

And on top of that President Vladimir Putin of Russia is more than happy to comply in almost every accusation made to him and scream ‘Up yours” at the rest of the world. He knows that this enhances his popularity and strength in Russia, in spite of his poor political and economic achievements at home.

But when one looks at the – IMHO – sometimes ridiculous accusations that are made against Russia by the US government?! And then remembers how the world was cheated into the ultimately disastrous Second Iraqi war – the “mother of all wars” that spurred the emergence of IS(IS) and caused chaos and havoc in Iraq and eventually the whole Middle East – by Colin Powell and his henchmen?! Such a person knows he really can’t trust any government official for always telling the truth. And the American president and his ministers the least!

As a consequence of all this, the world cries “blue murder” about the (indeed terrible) war in Syria and the undoubted war-crimes of the Russians and the Syrian army. And this is very justified indeed!

Nevertheless, the same people in the Western Society conveniently forget to do the same about the bloody war of “our Saudi-Arabian friends” in Yemen or the liberation of Mosul going awry for many, many Iraqis in distress. 

No, to the contrary, the Saudis can order every new batch of weapons and ammunition in the UK and the United States (and perhaps The Netherlands too), while they get ‘service with a smile’ from their Western allies. 

In 2016 the expressions ‘truth and credibility’ became increasingly under fire, like almost never before! 

So many lies and propaganda from all sides of the political spectrum and between countries have been spread, that it is nearly impossible to distinguish who tells the truth and who doesn’t anymore. Media turn more and more in service-hatches for the powers that be and for the communio opinis, as their editorial staff has been slashed by cutback upon cutback, making it nearly impossible for them to find things out themselves. Repeating the official and most-heard opinions is therefore more convenient and safe.

A tell-tale is that “fake news” became the buzzword of 2016 and that Facebook  as the world's largest media-outlet  initially declared itself ‘innocent’ for all the b*llshit that it spread through its 'billion visitor' website, but nevertheless is working on a solution to prevent from spreading fake news in the future.

And then there was religion-based terrorism, that spread from the Middle East to Europe, via low-tech, but highly successful attacks in France, Belgium and Germany: fighting for causes that few people know and even fewer people understand, but that many people fear. 

Concisely summarized, the world seemed a mess in 2016 and my “Howard Jones-ian” conviction that things should get better in 2017, is only based upon the hope that things can hardly get worse after 2016, unless some idiot causes a global war or a global (climate / food / water / fuel) crisis that crashes the world in misery. 

Therefore I hope that you carry the same glimmer of hope that I do and that you are ready to do your utmost for a better future yourself.

My more specified thoughts for the next year will be published in my outlook on 2017, that will appear soon on this website!

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