Brexit-vote against the global city

On 25 juni 2016, in migratie, politiek, by Zef Hemel

Read in The Independent of 24 June 2016:


The Dutch presidency of the EU in the first half of 2016 ends with a Brexit. Well done. In Amsterdam, where all the EU-meetings were held, we can put away the flags. The party is over. The young and fragile Urban Agenda of the EU will be an agenda without London, by far the biggest city of the EU. So goodbye Urban Agenda. This Brexit doen’s mean the proud nation of the UK will be restored. Nation-states are outlived and will not come back, unless they start a new world war. No, it means the UK is becoming a city-state in a globalizing world, with a cosmopolitan London, still in favour of the EU, being forced by its shrinking and ageing hinterland to step back. The same holds for Manchester, Leeds, and Belfast, where a majority has also voted against Brexit. Brexit is a vote of the shrinking hinterland against the Global City. What will London do? Think of its urban economy, which is already fully globalized. Its former mayor, Mr. Boris Johnson, has a chance to become the prime-minister of the new London city-state. How ironic. He will weave his urban ‘nation’ in the new networks of global cities, starting with New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Moscow, and Shanghai, all cities with economies as big as the UK. It is a scenario. Or a way of seeing things.

The other option is Mr. Sadiq Khan, the new mayor of London, will come up with the proposal to leave the UK. Why not? London will certainly not become the new capital city of a former powerful country, it is a global city already for quite a long time, a very powerful city indeed, which in many ways is disconnected from its surroundings. There are more than a million Europeans living in London. Besides, there are quite a few millions of immigrants living in London from all over the world. Mr. Khan is one of them, his family is from Pakistan. The Brexit vote was a vote against immigrants in the first place, against the global city. So how did the new mayor respond to the Brexit vote? “There is no need to panic.” And: “I want to send a particular message to the almost one million Europeans living in London, who make a huge contribution to our city – working hard, paying taxes and contributing to our civic and cultural life. You are welcome here. We value the enormous contribution you make to our city and that will not change as a result of this referendum." Will they stay? It starts with London protesting.  Mind ‘London Stays’.

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Bombing does not help

On 17 november 2015, in migratie, politiek, by Zef Hemel

Seen in the Opera house, Amsterdam, on Friday 13 November 2015:


Strange. Very strange indeed. On Friday night, while we were enjoying ‘Dialogues des Carmélites’ of Francis Poulenc at the Amsterdam Opera and were captured by the killing of all those nuns in revolutionary Paris by the mob’s guillotine – the end scene of the opera -, more than hundred citizens were being killed in …. Paris. What a coincidence! The terror and turbulence of the French revolution provides the backdrop for Francis Poulenc’s powerful opera of faith, bravery and redemption. The Dialogues culminate in one of opera’s most devastating final scenes, as Blanche – the timid daugther of an aristocrat – embraces death with her fellow nuns to a transcendent setting of the Salve Regina hymn: sixteen killings. The Canadian Robert Carsen showed us one of the most incisive scenes in the history of world opera, after its premiere in Milan in 1957 almost forgotten by the audience, but now staged in Amsterdam. At the same moment some eight very young islamic fanatics killed more than hundred innocent citizens in Paris. Can you imagine?

Of course, in the streets of Paris in history a lot of killings have been staged. I hope the people in the countryside will not conclude that cities like Paris are dangerous and evil places, where mobs of migrants, refugees and islamists are revolting against the people. Quite the opposite. It’s the countryside that is revolting against the city, or better even: former villagers, now living in cities and feeling disaffected, are the brainchildren of most revolutions. Nothing new. As Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit wrote in ‘Occidentalism. The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies’ (2004): “In Europe, the metropolitan behemoths that swallowed entire rural populations in their glittering maws were often identified with Jews and other rootless moneygrubbers.” Outside Europe, it was the West that was blamed for the metropolitan condition and the vanished rural idyll. The more the East gets urbanized, the more the urban poor in those countries think the West is to blame for their loss of faith, worship, peace, religion, community. Regimes in those countries feed this anger by adopting Western technology without fitting it into the local value system. The result: “The former dream of going back to the purity of an imaginary past: Japan under the divine emperor, the Caliphate under the Islam, China as a community of peasants.” Hopeless, but it happens. Bombing does not help. It makes it only worse.

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Keep it light

On 2 oktober 2015, in politiek, by Zef Hemel

Discussed in the House of Lords (Eerste Kamer) in The Hague on 1 October 2015:

The conference was about ‘Contours of the Third Century of the Dutch Kingdom’ in the House of Lords (Eerste Kamer) at the Binnenhof in The Hague. The seminar was organized by the Scientific Advisory Board of the Dutch Government (WRR) and marked the end of all the festivities of ‘Two hunderd years Dutch kingdom’. My presentation was on globalization, the retreat of the nationstate and the future of Dutch cities. Most of the lectures in the morning were about democracy, citizenship and the Dutch constitution. Many complaints were heard, but I really felt a lack of imagination; it was almost depressing. Andreas Kinnegin, professor philosophy of law at Leyden University, was quite pessimistic (he warned for the tyranny of the state and the disappearance of the protestant ethos), so was Kustaw Bessems, historian and journalist of de Volkskrant (who warned for islamic antidemocratic acts). His message: we are living in the best possible world, it will get worse. Even Jonathan Holslag of the Free University of Brussels was negative in his analysis of the international geopolitical situation. Nothing to be proud of. Scary even.

It reminded me of the lecture of Peter MacFadyen at the ‘Flatpack Democracy’ event of last Saturday in Brighton, UK. Peter had told us about creating independent politics in Frome, Somerset, south of Bath. After years of missed opportunities, a group of residents had taken control of their town council and had set about making politics relevant, effective and fun again. Frome counts 26.000 inhabitants. Its political system lacked vitality, people didn’t feel represented any more. Peter: “Britain today has a dysfunctional political system. Many politicians are making decisions to meet their own needs or those of their party, not the needs of the people they serve.” In detail he described how citizens took control of the system and searched for a radical democracy, without making use of political parties.The underlying ethos of all our actions is to build confidence and facilitate opportunity.” MacFadyan’s speech inspired many in the audience who apparently do not feel represented after the last election too, when most of the UK turned ‘blue’. MacFadyen gave a manual of how to develop a political system from the bottom-up. Essentials: work as a group, agree your ways of working together, use facilitators, friends, experts, people with skills, keep it light, decide on a good name. He told us it works. Why not?

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