Harry Potter’s 6 rules for resistance

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There are lessons to be learned throughout space and time on how to confront autocrats. Some are out of space and time: Harry Potter battled Lord Voldemort in his seven adventures and his story is a classic story of fighting against an overwhelming, ruthless enemy. His eventually successful struggle offer some insights for our Muggle (in the US No-Maj, non-magic) world, beyond wands, charms and magic:

1.Name him

In Harry Potter, even before Lord Voldemort returns, wizards are afraid to speak his name, using euphemisms like “You-Know-Who”, “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”. Harry Potter is the one who speaks his name. This is how true dictatorships work, people are afraid to mention the name of the ruler for evoking his (or rather his minions’) wrath. When I spent a month in Syria in 1993, I was told in no uncertain words by Syrian acquaintances not to use the word “Assad”, no matter what I said (good or bad), as just mentioning his name creates attention by the wrong guys. Thus, naming the one responsible is essential. If you no longer can, you have crossed into the land of fear and outright authoritarianism.

2. Mock him

The charm to defend against a Boggart is the Riddikulus spell. It transforms the Bogart, the stuff of your greatest fears, into something silly. While a commentary in  The Times recently argued that comedy and satires of Trump are just leftist and liberal self-indulgence, the opposite is true. Silliness, irony and satire can challenge not just Boggarts, but also authoritarian forces, who thrive on being taking seriously.Autocrats cannot stand to be mocked (see Trump and SNL). Mocking them is their worst challenge, as Otpor in Serbia demonstrated and one of its activists, Srdja Popovic, promoted to movements challenging dictators around the world.

3. Find allies

When Harry Potter fails to share his knowledge with others, Luna Lovegood reminds him in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix “Well if I were You-Know-Who, I’d want you to feel cut off from everyone else; because if it’s just you alone, you’re not as much of a threat.” Dumbeldore’s Army was how  Harry Potter and his friends rallied together, motivated and organised and imagined resistance. Authoritarian regimes live from the fragmentation of opposition. The more there are, the more self-absorbed with in fights, the better.

4. Don’t trust the media

The Daily Prophet was the original wizarding fake news. The main news paper of the wizarding world denied the return of Lord Voldemort and instead attacked Harry Potter, so it was misleading out of fear of the power that be. Instead, The Quibbler, a publication of odd articles, conspiracy theories and discussions of imaginary creature becomes the critical voice. As the wizard Ted Tonks states: It’s not so lunatic these days, you’ll want to give it a look. Xeno is printing all the stuff the Prophet’s ignoring, …” A critical eye of the media cannot be replaced by the inflationary use of fake media and news.

5. Don’t rationalize and normalize the abnormal

The first big battle in defeating Voldemort was convincing the Ministry of Magic that the dark wizard had returned. Minister Cornelius Fudge went to great lengths to deny the obvious. The temptation to ignore and dismiss what does not fit into ones desired view of the world (‘he will not win’, ‘he will be impeached’) it great. It is easier to downplay, normalize and otherwise dismiss the threat and acknowledge it. Harry Potter and his friends persisted, yet only when deniability was no longer plausible did they succeed. Keeping a careful watch of what ‘normal’ should mean and comparing reality to it helps to not be the metaphorical frog in water slowly being brought to boil.

6. Find the Horcruxes

No, autocrats do not split their soul into multiple pieces and hide them in different objects to stay immortal. But it is a fitting metaphor. Confronting autocrats means collecting horcroxes and destroying them. Autocrats are difficult to challenge head-on, but rather their power-basis have to be weakened. These power-structures are often informal and obscure, just like the horcruxes Harry and his friends found. Thus discovering  and destroying them is a time-consuming and necessary quest to deprive autocrats of their power.

Of course all of this is a lot easier with charms, a Patronus, magical friends and all kinds of other magical tools, but muggles can make it too.

 

*I originally thought of writing these rules as six lessons on how to fight autocrats from the Balkans, but Harry Potter seemed like a more fitting and universal metaphor. Real life examples from around the non-magical world, however, are plenty.

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Drumfkowsci victory has international community worried. Dispatch from Syldavia

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Klow. As the church bells ring menacingly in Klow, the capital of Syldavia, the small Muslim minority is increasingly fearful, afraid to display their religion in public and worried about their co-religionist from seven countries not being able to enter Syldavia. In a surprise move, not even his own border guards were informed, newly-elected president Drumfkowsci banned citizens from Ishtar, Jawhar, Qurac, Agrabah, Qumar , Derkaderkastan and Qamadan from entering the country on grounds that they posed a terrorist threat. No citizens from these countries have been involved in terrorist acts in Syldavia, so the measure is widely seen as a populist measure to distract from him taking tight control of the country. Drumfkowsci promises a return to a golden age that evokes memories of radical nationalism and exclusion of minorities for some, and a promise of full employment and a more hierarchical and orderly past to others.

His narrow electoral victory only became possible due to an obscure and byzantine electoral rule, used around the world only in Syldavia, that delegates the vote of president to an obscure body names izborniki kolizzj, or “electoral college”, which bypassed the popular majority against him. The OSCE has nevertheless called the election “free and fair”. Ironically, Drumfkowsci challenged the results himself, despite his victory, claiming that hundreds or thousands Bordurians and other illegal immigrants voted for his opponent, a widely respected moderate politician.

Drumfkowsci, an erratic and corrupt tycoon and minor TV celebrity has been quick in taking control of government. After taking office, he announced that he would move to build the wall along the border with neighboring Borduria. While relations with the smaller, poorer Borduria have been good in recent years, there is a history of border disputes and migration at the border. The planned border project does not only threaten to ruin relations with the neighbor, but also prove costly. In an escalation, Drumfkowsci called for military intervention in Borduria, threatening to catch “losija covetkoia”—bad men in Bordurian.

Drumfkowsci closest confidant appears to be Stjepan Ndalimne, a radical nationalist journalist who worked previously for the rabble rousing publication “siroki bradskija”. He is together with an unprecedented number of controversial businessmen and military officers part of the inner circle around the president that bypass established institutions . While Syldavia has a checkered history with democracy and nationalism, including a string of generals who became presidents, expropriation of minority land, segregation of “Carny” minority and lynchings in the past, such days where thought to be over after decades of democratization and reforms.

Drumfkowsci declared his inauguration the “national day of patriotic devotion” and demanded from his citizens “total allegiance to the Republic of Syldavia, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” His supporters, including the popular TV station “lisicia”, dismiss claims of creeping authoritarianism and point to his popularity. An NGO worker, who does not want to be named, is concerned, however “We are worried we might be called foreign agents, just like in Zubrowka.” Indeed, a well-known American philanthropist of Betonian origin has been attacked by media loyal to Drumfkowsci and echoes similar attacks on foreign supported media and NGOs in the region. On the day after taking office, he visited the headquarters of the Zentralkia Injeligancia Ajencia (ZIA), one of the dozen spy agencies of the country and threatened the independent media with menacing words: “And the reason you’re my first stop is that, as you know, I have a running war with the media.  They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”

The rise to power of Drumfkowsci is even more worrisome as Syldavia is not only the first country to launch a man on the moon, but with its large nuclear arsenal in the hands of a radical and erratic nationalist poses a regional, if not global threat.

Officials of the EU express their disappointment, off the record, about the turn away from democracy in Syldavia, but besides reminding the new president Drumfkowsci of international law and standards find little leverage. Based on his behavior to date, it is unlikely to listen. Thus, Syldavia threaten to move from a regional beacon of democracy to a threat for its neighbors and citizens.

 

 

Biden’s Unfinished Balkan Business

Gülnur Aybet and I just published an op-ed commentary with the Washington Post Newsweek’s PostGlobal website on Joen Biden’s visit to the Balkans.

Diffusion of Madness

If you think that the suggestion of Igor Panarin, the director of the Russian diplomatic academy, that the United States is going to disintegrate any time now is lunacy, consider the pieces it will disintegrate into: He suggests that the Northeast (which has a  “totally different ethnos and mentality”) will ‘join’ the EU with Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina (!). And talks about the Indians in the middle of the USA wanting to secede (“May I remind you that five central states where the Indians live had announced their independence.”).  Such analytical brilliance, probably based on considerable field work is reminiscent of other recent brilliant analyses, such as by Mohammed Saïd al-Sahaf (“There is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad”) and Goran Matic (“CIA instructors are working not only with NIN”): I see a pattern of lunacy diffusion emerging (thanks to Holly for this). Madness seems to be the best response of dictators (and their spokespersons) to the threats of democracy. Matic, al-Sahaf and Panarin seem to share some features on their analysis:

a) they ascribe to others what happens to themselves (or they do to others)

b) they confuse wish and reality

c) their governments don’t end well (at least for the first two, the jury is out for the third).

Obama

Just finished watching the inauguration of Obama here at Cornell with some colleagues. While not his best speech, it was very moving. Especially his reference to the rest of the world no longer makes the gap between here and there as big as it has seemed in the past. In addition to a welcome reference to the ‘non-believers’ (very en passent but better than not at all) his clear acknowledgement to lead globally by example rather than by force is not only a clear break with Bush, but also encouraging. Now the hard part begins…

Loosing an easy target

Over the last eight years, it was easy to dislike the US and its policies around the world. All too often, America-bashing seemed to become a favorite past-time without understanding the country’s internal dynamics. Especially in academia, uncritical bashing of the US has been all to common, underestimated the ability of the country to renew itself.

It will not be an easy job for Obama to restore the country’s international standing. At the same time, it should be also an opportunity to abandon the easy target and to try to understand America’s complexity better and to also admire its ability to change.

Hillary’s Dangerous Encounter with Bosnia

Hilary Clinton discovered in retrospect, how dangerous it was going to Bosnia in 1996… sounds like in five years, she will also remember that she fought of Radovan Karadzic single-handedly after the landing and chased after a horde of assorted war criminals. Describing Bosnia in March 1996 as a war-zone is surely a bit silly (esp. if you are an American). I’d say visiting the US embassy in Belgrade today might be more risky…

Veljko in Florida?

Where’s Veljko?

A few years ago when looking to rent a flat in Belgrade, we nearly rented from Veljko Kadijevic daughter-in-law. She shared her outrage with us that he was wrongly maligned as the last minister of defense of Yugoslavia. Apparently the USA agrees.
As Blic reports, he is living in Florida, advising the Pentagon in Iraqi bunkers these days. Wasn’t that the same Kadijevic who was raving about the ‘foreign factors’ destroying Yugoslavia …

Op-ed for Washington Times

I admit that writing a letter to the editor for the Washington Times is like writing a policy brief to Rumsfeld telling him that the war in Iraq was a bad idea and hoping for change. Anyhow, I did write one following a particularly disturbing opinion piece on Bosnia, which hit on all the themes any nationalist publication in Serbia would be proad of: The Islamist-terrorist threat, the artificial nature of multiethnic states and the threat through centralization to Serbs and Croats.

The letter can be read at:

https://fbieber.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/2005-12-letters-to-the-editor-the-washington-times.pdf

The original article “Islamist State in Europe” with such memorable lines as “The Croatians are dying” is available at:

http://washingtontimes.com/commentary/20051218-125507-6951r.htm

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