Jacob Christensen

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Project 52 – 2014: Week 46

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Out in the open

Nothing much to this one: Just a walk on the path along the river in Vejle on a grey afternoon in November.

Written by Jacob Christensen

November 17th, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Project 52 – 2014: Week 45

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Overload

This week’s theme was “stirred” and in the end I went for the “stirred up memories” interpretation. In early 2012 I spent four months on sick leave due to stress-related burnout, something which in many ways is the disease of our age (at least in the post-industrial economies).

This month, Odense Teater presents a performance (rather than a play in the traditional sense) with burnout as its theme. It was based on stories told by real sufferers of burnouts and then edited and dramatised by the writer and director of the performance. Even if I got away from my burnout relatively easy (yes, I did write “four months of sick leave” above), the stories definitively stirred up memories.

But then again, it is not so much people like me who should learn from the performance as leaders and managers continuing to push people over the edge.

Written by Jacob Christensen

November 10th, 2014 at 8:30 am

November 9, 1989

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First, a personal recollection. On the evening af November 9, 1989 I was – of all places you could be in Denmark – at Christiansborg Castle, the seat of the Danish Folketing. The meeting I attended had nothing to do with the events going on in Central and Eastern Europe but was about documenting a 1963 crisis agreement. Still, it was Christiansborg, it was in the middle of the political season and the place was completely devoid of rumours or news about what was happening in Berlin. So at around 10 pm I caught a bus and a commuter train home and decided to turn on the radio and listen to the midnight news on Danish Radio.

Boom!

Obviously, November 9, 1989 is one of the major days in European history but the question is what significance the opening of the East German borders had in a larger perspective. Some would argue that November 9 was just a consequence of major events taking place elsewhere in the world. On the other hand, the fall of the Berlin Wall now stand as the major symbolic event in the dissolution of the Soviet empire.

2004-11 Berlin

The Palast der Republik, November 2004.

My take on this is that 1989 is closely linked with the decline and fall of the Soviet Union: None of the communist regimes in Eastern European would ever have been established without the direct intervention of the Soviet Union and they lived and died with the USSR. Less than ten years earlier, the USSR was still strong enough to stop political and economic liberalisation in Poland. In 1989 it was a case of controlling the collapse. Considering how messy the fall of empires can be, this was managed incredibly well by all parties. But essentially 1989 was the culmination of a process which had started some time during the late 1970s or early 1980s and the fall of the Berlin Wall was the symbolic culmination of 1989. The descent of Yugoslavia into civil war during the 1990s was the final act of the post-World War II era.

If we then look at the GDR it is easy to say with the benefit of hindsight that by November 1989 the SED regime was a dead man walking. The final collapse of the communist regime in Poland earlier that year was the mortal blow to the East Bloc that we had known for most of the post-war era. At the end of October it was also obvious that the GDR government was unable to control the wave of emigration from the country – this also had to do with decisions made by the Hungarian and Czechoslovak governments who had given up defending the East Bloc. The historical significance of 1989 was that in the end the SED surrendered to popular pressure without a fight and that the GDR managed a peaceful transition from a communist regime and command economy to a liberal democratic regime and market economy.

Going back 25 years we should also remember that the position of Germany (FRG) in the international system was a cause for major concern for a number of actors. Would a united Germany be too big for the existing European institutions? Would Germany – by its own will or pushed by the Soviet Union – pull out of existing military and economic treaties and opt for a status as an independent great power? These concerns initially led the UK and France to oppose any ideas of a German unification and it took a massive diplomatic effort by US President George H.W. Bush and the West German government led by Helmut Kohl and Hans Dietrich Genscher to convince France, the UK and the Soviet Union that a solution which made the FRG a fully sovereign country, integrated the GDR into the FRG and which kept the FRG integrated in the EC (now the EU) and NATO was indeed viable. Mikhail Gorbachev received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 but George HW Bush also deserves a place in the history books.

All of this doesn’t mean that the process and its outcomes were flawless. The East German Länder would probably have been better off with a settlement which saw two DDR-Mark exchanged to one D-Mark instead of the 1:1 exchange agreed in the treaty on the currency union but the short-term symbolism would have been too obvious. The Kohl government generally underestimated the state of the East German economy and promised too much too soon. The lack of an elite familiar with the workings of liberal democracy and market economy also haunted the Eastern Länder. Nobody in 1989, though, would have expected the Federal Republic to have both a President and a Chancellor coming out of the former GDR by 2014.

Berlin: Berliner Stadtschloss

The future Berliner Stadtschloss, building site. March 2014.

Written by Jacob Christensen

November 9th, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Project 52 – 2014: Week 44

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After the rain

A week’s illness and a lot of work meant that I missed two weeks of posting. The themes for week 42 and 43, respectively, were “Thankful” and “Family”. I may think of something to complete this year’s project later.

This week’s theme was “Water”. After a night’s rain, I noticed the still-wet surface of the pavement.

Written by Jacob Christensen

November 3rd, 2014 at 8:30 am

The Rise of the Populist Left and Right

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An opinion poll published on Sunday showed that “Podemos”, a new left-wing populist party, had emerged as the largest political party in Spain with nearly 28% of voters supporting the party. Similarly, Irish opinion polls have shown Sinn Fein conquering the top spot ahead of the traditionally dominant Fianna Fail and Fine Gail.

Obviously, Denmark isn’t Spain or Ireland which both saw massive employment and growth crises following the financial crises, but the country has been severely hit by the fall-out of the 2007-08 Financial Crisis and basically economic growth and employment has been flat for the past 5-6 years. So it is perhaps less surprising that parties outside the established centre have won support with the Danish People’s Party competing with the Social Democrats for second place and the Red-Green Alliance enjoying record levels of support?

“Populism” is a tricky concept – do voters support a party like DPP because of the leader’s charisma, because of the party’s stance on immigration and the European Union or because of a general feeling of unease about the development of the Danish economy and society? (Something similar could be said for the RGA). Still, even in a stable democracy like Denmark we may be witnessing the effects of some very deep forces and concerns unleashed by social and economic changes (eg. globalisation) and crises (eg. the financial crises) and not addressed by the traditionally governing parties who have worked on the assumption that problem-solving and administrative competence would be sufficient to mobilise voters.

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November 2nd, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Project 52 – 2014: Week 41

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Malmö: Södra Förstadskanalen at dusk

The theme was October. And what says October (or mid-autumn) to a Dane like crisp skies in the failing evening light? The photo was taken from the bridge over Södra Förstadskanalen in Malmö.

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October 13th, 2014 at 7:30 am

Project 52 – 2014: Week 40

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Odense: Fisketorvet

Topic: Buildings.

Odense is a city with lacks an overall sense of style and in many ways comes across as an anonymous provincial town. Most of the old town with single or two-storey houses was demolished during the 1960s so what we have now is an odd mix of buildings in very different styles, mostly dating from the late 19th century onwards. Odense definitively does have its gems but you’ll have to look carefully to find them.

To most people, this is more typical: A 1970s brutalist structure placed at what used to be the city’s busiest intersection. It could be any building anywhere. It fills its purpose, but the lack of grace is obvious.

Skt. Anne and environment

This is an also-ran which I didn’t use for the project partly because of the difficulties in catching the Skt. Anne’s complex. This photo has three or four generations of buildings: One turn-of-the-century at the back, the monumental functionalism of Skt. Anne’s (a building housing GPs and medical clinics) to the right, the 1970s red-brick style of Jyske Bank’s building to the left and an older post-modernized building at the back to the right.

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October 6th, 2014 at 7:30 am

Project 52 – 2014: Week 39

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This week I inflicted the pain on myself. My inspiration was a poem by Søren Ulrik Thomsen – Vent or Wait in English. I managed to take three photos which somehow addressed the theme.

First, a photo taken while I was waiting for the train in Nyborg on my way home after a two-day staff seminar:

Wait (2)

Second, a photo taken while I was waiting in Glamsbjerg for the bus back to Odense after attending my cousin’s 50th birthday party. Accidentally, the bus in the other direction drove by:

Wait (3)

But then there was a photo I took during a day of tutoring sessions while I was waiting for the next students:

Wait (1)

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September 29th, 2014 at 7:30 am

Project 52 – 2014: Week 38

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Rat

… Humour … [scratches head] …

Generally, I’m not too fond of graffiti but this rat* which has appeared at several places in Odense in recent years is a humorous element in the city landscape.

*No, not a rabbit. It has a long tail and I’ve been told from somebody who knows somebody.

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September 22nd, 2014 at 7:30 am

The Moderates: How a Good Performance Can Still Be a Defeat

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Elections can have their non-obvious aspects. At Sunday’s general election the Moderates suffered heavy losses, Fredrik Reinfeldt resigned as prime minister and party leader, and his statements on immigration and asylum policy during the election campaign became the subject of many discussions.

As usual, the image is more complicated. Viewed in isolation Sunday’s result was among the party’s best since the introduction of the single-chamber Riksdag in 1970: Only 1982, 2006 and of course 2010 yielded better results for the party. Here, we may note that the 2010 election now looks like an outlier – the Moderates benefitted from the support won by the Alliance during 2010 as a reaction to the handling of the fiscal crisis. Bizarrely, the Alliance actually increased its share of the vote from 2006 to 2010 but still lost its parliamentary majority due to the Sweden Democrats entering the Riksdag. In a way, is was the bad performance of the left-wing in general and the Social Democrats in particular, which cost the Alliance its majority in the 2010-2014 Riksdag.

On the other hand, the 2014 result should give the centre-right pause for thought. While the performance of the Moderates was in the top-four of the last 45 years, the combined performance of the centre-right was the worst since 1970, even including the result of the 1994 election which followed three years of parliamentary uncertainty and economic crisis. This time the weakness was of the centre-right’s own doing with the Moderates, in particular, losing votes to the Sweden Democrats. Given that Fredrik Reinfeldt and the Moderates chose a very positive line on immigration while Sweden Democrat voters cited immigration as their prime reason for voting for the party, this raises the question if a new Moderate leadership will turn the party in a more immigration-sceptic direction in order to win back lost votes or if the party leadership will hope that a large part of this section of the electorate will change its priorities during the next four years.

Finally, we can say that Fredrik Reinfeldt did chose an unusual strategy in dealing with the immigration issue. He and the Moderate leadership stuck to the immigration-positive line all the way and despite all innovations in campaigning and policy making, this points to Reinfeldt essentially being a policy- and not a vote- or office-driven leader.

Moderates and alliance 1970-2014

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 19th, 2014 at 7:30 am

Posted in Politics

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