Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat


OK, just a couple of days ago I wrote that I wasn’t going to write anything until next week (It takes more than a village – #Italy #EU #Presidential #elections #terrorism #reforms #Amazon https://www.frype.com/robertolofaro/blog/?p=12834014)

But I had not expected that over 50 people would have bothered may be not to read, but at least to get through a 4,000+ words post 😀

Let’s just say that probably that was also linked to my name day (in Latvia, at least), over 100 visitors to my profile, and dozens of “wish you well” messages.

Did you ever experience getting up in the morning, and then having a song in your head from when you took your shower, through the day?

Well, I often have something similar- but with reference to a book, or author, or speech, or movie… and just few times a song 🙂

I know that this sounds weird- but, anyway, I see plenty of people whose postings are composed just of quotes or pictures: as if they had no individuality, and they were just a projection of somebody else.

This morning, I had in mind a quote from Brecht: “Andrea: Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.
Galileo: No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero. [Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat.] ”.

Admittedly, Brecht himself was contradictory on the role of heroes, and I received as a gift long ago a short scroll with a picture of Che Guevara and another quote from Brecht: “Hay hombres que luchan un día y son buenos. Hay otros que luchan un año y son mejores. Hay quienes luchan muchos años, y son muy buenos. Pero hay los que luchan toda la vida, esos son los imprescindibles.” (why in Spanish? Just for fun- today is Saturday).

I shared yesterday with a former colleague my feed-back on the latest “heroes” (yes, some in Italy complained about my breakfast talks: but I say nothing more than I write online- I do not have multiple personalities as it is so popular in Italy, sometime with so many twists that the impersonators too get confused on who they really are :D).

Short summary: two young women decided to go into a war zone to be humanitarian volunteers, were kidnapped, and there were ensuing negotiations.

There were also rumors about a ransom paid (launched by none other than the released captives, who stated that the kidnappers had said that their aim was just getting money), that could end up as in Afghanistan, i.e. paying a bribe to avoid violence, bribe that ends up as a funding for those committing violence- a scheme common e.g. in kidnapping of oil platform workers.

It is already questionable a first “round”, i.e. going in a war zone to feel better, not because you have some specific contribution, but even thinking of returning there, as it has been ?

Well, if a ransom was paid, half-jokingly I said that they should be receiving a bill (in Italy, in cases where amounts exceed your income, there is a kind of “1/5th withholding limit”, i.e. no more than 1/5th of your salary can be withdrawn)- easy to be heroes and then, as it was aired few months ago, after they were kidnapped, say that if something negative happens, it is the negotiators’ fault…

At least, if they had to buy an insurance, others would think twice about jumping into a war zone assuming that somebody else will come to their rescue, whatever the (human, financial) cost: being a volunteer is something, forcing others to support your choice of being volunteer is an act of egoism.

Today, as usual, this was turned into a political debate, with the party secretary of the Northern League, Mr. Salvini, stating something close to what I said (but he said that their properties should be taken away), while a politician from the left, Mr. Manconi, quoted Golda Meir and said that nobody should be left behind.

Personally, I think that both were off-the-mark, notably Mr. Manconi (on the left), for trivializing the Munchen 1972 Olympics and others interventions of Israeli forces to retrieve hostages: the Israeli athletes in Munich attended peaceful games, while passengers on flights that were retrieved had just been on scheduled flights or travels, not jumping into the Lion’s mouth…

I think that “lone wolf volunteers” are as socially damaging as “lone wolf terrorists”: the former, because they divert resources and undermine more structured efforts to provide real relief (e.g. they might provoke neighboring countries into closing down specific venues of access); the latter, by creating a climate in countries that could provide relief reducing the options available to politicians.

But Italy now looks for heroes- and when none is found, a few are created. Therefore, taking care of citizen’s security in the XXI century in our self-righteous “civilized” societies implies also avoiding our citizens dragging the State along with themselves into adventures (we had in the past even cases of “impromptu mercenaries” getting stuck and crying for help).

Currently, at last European countries are doing something that, until recently, nobody really wanted to do: whoever goes abroad to fight in or support an unsanctioned (by the State they hold a passport for) war, has to expect a criminal prosecution once back.

Should such a law also cover other unsanctioned wars, not just those waged by extremists, including those that are undeclared but supported (i.e. those we traditionally provide mercenaries for, as in Coll “Ghost Wars” http://www.librarything.com/work/13405/book/113506162)?

Should it include non-violent support to warring parties?

Should it include the behavior of those supporting those wars also in our countries, or non-violent support (e.g. through the media), foreign and domestic but by citizens (e.g. the new “Lord Haw Haw” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Haw-Hawfrom the Middle East)?

When I was working in France (and also after that), I bought the less controversial “Canard Enchainé”, but never “Charlie Hebdo”, as I found it too… extremist: not satire, but a political agenda (hence, the limited number of copies that sold until the tragic events in Paris).

I know that this sounds close to what some Muslim communities (and, indirectly, also Pope Francis) said, but I think that it still holds true an old dictum: your freedom ends where everybody else freedom starts.

Yes, both believers and non-believers can be extremists.

In France, a comedian already tested the boundaries of our freedom of speech and social acceptability, but probably it was appropriate to unleash the discussion.

Today I saw that a wave of arrests in Brussels was done in the same area where I met and worked and discussed with my Arabic-speaking colleagues…

I do not know about other countries- but, if anything, in Italy the release of the two “Italians in Syria” right after the “Charlie Hebdo” killings, followed by the wave of arrests all across Europe, showed that the idea of a “Fortress Europe” is a figment of imagination.

Moreover, the side-effects of the war in Libya and current negotiations (were Italy, was reported, when as far as taking care of the transportation to Geneva of the delegations) outlined that Europe is gradually accepting that it has to do something more than just cope with the events in the region surrounding.

It is a matter of making choices (also standing out of a conflict is a choice), but for the long-term, and not just for the couple of weeks that a “feel good choice” allows to hold the front page of newspapers.

This is a year of changes, in Italy: the Italian Constitution will change, the electoral system will change, the various “Città Metropolitana” around Italy started officially on January 1st, and in few weeks the new President will be elected (have a look at a post on this subject that published on October 14th on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20141014203350-1331147-summary-and-comments-on-costruire-la-citt%C3%A0-metropolitana-esperienze-internazionali-e-prospettive-italiane-synspec-bfm2013?trk=mp-reader-card).

Yesterday evening I joined my parents to an event organized by one of the think-tank organizations that are associated with the Partito Democratico, as it was an event on the new “Città Metropolitana”.

Few years ago I made the choice to start turning down invitations to attend “party events”, but, after checking online the details on the event, I saw that it was more institutional than partisan- it just happens that most of the local authorities involved are from the Partito Democratico.

It was interesting, albeit I found myself way too often in front of a flashlight or video recording light- something that I got used to since I lived in Brussels.

Anyway, when it became “question time”, I had just a couple of questions that really originated from my business experience- basically, what you would expect from an opportunity to reduce costs and improve services by increasing economies of scale (something that I wrote about often in the past), plus the chance to introduce new direct communication channels with citizens.

On the latter element, my question was toward adopting something close to the Chinese concept of having locally elected officials (mayors-equivalent) discuss publicly each year how money was spent, plus the idea that I first saw in practice in the early 1990s, when I discussed with my German then-girlfriend, who was a Stadtplannerin, how town planning was done in Northern Europe.

As for the former… in the case of Turin, my birthplace, creating a Metropolitan Area implies having 315 formerly independent local authorities work together, with an area larger than few Italian regions, and 2.3million people (i.e. slightly above the threshold required to access European funding).

In Italy, the structural choice has been to have a “mayor” of each new “Città Metropolitana” who is elected by existing mayors (in the case of Turin, all 300+ of them).

Probably, the understandably rationale was that, if citizens were to directly elect somebody, they would choose somebody that they like, and more often than not somebody to counterbalance the existing mayors (there is a wave of anti-politics in Italy, as you probably know), not somebody able to make them work together.

Electing a somebody with a Torquemada-like attitude when dealing with fellow mayors wouldn’t be appropriate even if the election were for a new “auditor in chief”- even auditors need collaboration from those that they audit..

Hence, the second level election, something that we still have for the President of the Italian Republic (coming soon) and used decades ago to have for the European Parliament.

Moving up through the political feeding chain, who is going to be the next Italian President of the Republic?

Well, I shared some ideas few days ago, but over the last couple of days the sitting Prime Minister, Mr. Renzi, outlined a profile that I matched with Mr. Amato, known in Europe for his role during the European Constitution writing process- you can also find on YouTube some speeches that he delivered, e.g. at the CFR talking about Europe and Russia after the “5 days war” in Georgia; he is also involved in something closer to the subject of Piketty’s “Capital”.

I wasn’t obviously alone in reading the tea leaves: Mr. Berlusconi, as a comment on what Mr. Renzi said about the profile of the perfect candidate, said that Mr. Amato could be the right candidate (as he had said that also in November 2014), and an interview published today with Mr. Cuperlo from the Partito Democratico (internal opposition to Mr. Renzi) described somebody whose profile is matched by Mr. Amato.

But Italian Presidential elections are a little bit like a conclave to elect the Pope, i.e. in Italy we say “chi entra in conclave Papa, ne esce Cardinale”, as the favorite never wins.

We have also a simile for candidates whose names are disclosed before such an event, saying the name gets “bruciato”- literally “burned”, i.e. wasted.

If he were to be elected, Mr. Amato would be a President born in Turin from a Sicilian family who grew in Tuscany- i.e. one man uniting the country from the North to the South 🙂

His “political CV” is available on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giuliano_Amato

Anyway- let’s move to a more personal level (I will skip all the other Circus appearances since my previous post, including yesterday evening- you get used to commentary, it is akin being part of the “Truman Show” movie but being informed).

Obviously, I completed my reading of Piketty’s “Capital” and Diamond’s “Collapse”, but for the former I think that it is highly advisable to read the original edition, in French; I also went through the Italian edition of Diamond’s “The Third Chimpanzee”, but I would prefer reading it in English 🙂

I added few more books, before moving onto other business books by the end of this month.

Subjects? On China (Samarani “Cina, ventunesimo secolo”, with an interesting analysis of the background of leading political figures, analysis that was in good measure matched by ensuing events) and Italy’s potential (Illy “La rana cinese. Come l’Italia può tornare a crescere”).

It is my “Diamond and China” time, it seems, so, to complement what I read about the early Han empire, I added Lewis “The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han (History of Imperial China)”, and to complete the “Diamond tour” I am reading also “The World Until Yesterday – What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies”.

Frankly, both Diamond and Piketty are related to another book that I read recently, written by an Italian university professor, about the potential evolution of our economy, in preparation of a seminar conference that I attended in December, to be probably followed by another one next week.

Reading those books actually brought back to mind a short but useful book by Brafman “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations”.

To get back to the title of this post: I prefer catalysts to heroes, as the former try to generate positive change, while the latter, way too often, remind me of a movie, “The Cross of Iron”, where somebody was obsessed about becoming a hero- to say nothing about those who want to confirm their own “hero status” (a nice movie worth watching is “Third Person”, with Liam Neeson)

There are those who say that extraordinary times require extraordinary people, but, frankly, I saw way too often in business how crises were aggravated by people focused on showing how exceptional they were, as if “crisis management” could be carried out only once they had been acknowledged to be as the next best thing after water.

It is a matter of priorities and communication, as usual…

A charismatic leader can lead on trust- for a while.

But, eventually, (s)he will need that also others between her/his followers turn into inspirational leaders, reassured by results that they followed the right leader, so that they can expand not just the audience, but also the number of those willing to roll up their sleeves and help 🙂

Enjoy your Sunday!


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