A commentary on the week in review – week 42/23
According to the information available to me, the philosopher and publicist Gunnar Kaiser recently died of cancer. I got to know him personally at the „Future Conference“ in Vienna co-organised by Idealism Prevails in 2021, where he gave a lecture on the topic of technocracy and transhumanism, the contents of which he discussed in more detail in a backstage conversation.
Less than a month later, I was allowed to have a personal conversation with Gunnar Kaiser for the civil society initiative for human rights and freedom of expression “Platform RESPECT” about the situation that had been prevailing for almost two years at that time due to the measures taken as a result of the “Covid 19 pandemic” from a humanities perspective. We looked at the concepts of health and illness, which he described as “politicised”, and also talked about his personal path through the crisis and the islands of freedom he envisioned. I remember him as an unagitated, profound person with a consistent drive to change the world for the better. In doing so, he tried to convince people with his spoken and written words (on his Youtube channel, on his blog and in his books) as well as through his deeds (including the founding of a refuge) that they themselves have it in their hands to move the world in this way. With this approach, he massively opposed the intoxication of the powerful who told the world what to do, and the mania for feasibility of those who wanted to eradicate disease with their war against a virus. This earned him fierce criticism, even defamation, among others in the German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit”, which saw him, the “eloquent defender of freedom”, going astray and called him an ideologue. He definitely did not make it easy for himself in the last years of his still young life – and his loss leaves a big gap.
I was left depressed by his last Youtube video, in which he pondered whether travelling is ultimately not just an escape from oneself. I have never seen him so thoughtful, so exhausted in public before. And yet, even with these paradoxically powerful words, he revealed a truth that is certainly unwelcome, but all the more worthy of consideration and reflection. Gunnar Kaiser will be greatly missed. But what remains should be an impulse and a guideline for us when we face the challenges of life and the questions it has for us. After all, “Die Welt” also wrote in its obituary about why we should remember him. Live long and prosper, Gunnar!
Criticism of power madness and delusions of feasibility should be on the agenda for journalists. Criticism, however, in the sense I am referring to, is not “against” but, in the sense of the word’s Greek origin (kritikḗ), the “art of judgement”. In fact, it is an art to subject events to an assessment or to prepare them in such a way that they can be assessed. However, the matter should be in the foreground and not the emotion.
The ORF correspondent and business journalist Sonja Sagmeister was recently dismissed by her employer, because she sued the ORF in the labour court because of her transfer within the company. The reason – according to her – was that she had resisted an attempt to intervene in an interview with Labour Minister Kocher the previous year. The ORF denies her account of the events.
Freedom of the press has been deteriorating for years. The authors of the Democracy Index 2023 write in their summary that “media diversity and independent journalism … are endangered” and urgently need to be strengthened. “Despite the economic pressure, media companies are required to guarantee internal press freedom and to enable their journalists to work independently. And further: “The arbitrary allocation of public advertisements must come to an end. State media subsidies should give way to convergent journalism subsidies that are awarded and evaluated transparently and that require clear quality criteria (e.g. membership in the Press Council, editorial statutes, journalistic jobs).” With the recently adopted media package, the Austrian government wants to achieve exactly these goals, whereby critics rather see a strengthening of existing conditions. And independent media, whose number has grown at an above-average rate in the last three years, will not even be able to benefit from state support because of the criteria adopted, which is both a curse and a blessing. You have to be able to afford independent journalism, as we know at the independent media platform Idealism Prevails, which has been reporting from Austria and around the world in a variety of ways for about seven years.
In an internal editorial group on the app Signal, a colleague wrote the following thought-provoking words on this topic: “Richard David Precht & Co. have already analysed this anyway (which is why he has being attacked so fiercely recently): there is no one who prescribes a certain narrative, but rather a self-censorship of the media. As a journalist, you learn quite quickly what you are allowed to talk about and what not. Some stick to it for ideological reasons, others for fear of repression. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all journalists, but if you look at various topics, you notice a surprising equality of opinion almost across all media.”
And so-called “niche products” that do not reach an adequate number of readers or a certain “click rate” are on the brink of extinction at the latest when their financing can no longer be secured. Not long after the daily newspaper „Wiener Zeitung“, the oldest newspaper of the world, disappeared from the market in the middle of 2023, the monthly magazine “Das Biber”, which was founded 16 years ago and was mainly aimed at people with a migration background and was considered a hotbed for young journalists in Austria, has also been hit. The last issue will be published in December 2023 and it will be a “Best of” collection.
But also the well known newspaper “Der STANDARD” will lay off up to 25 employees by the end of the year due to worsening financial conditions, as the managing director of the Standard Verlagsgesellschaft Alexander Mitteräcker announced upon request.
In the Westminster Declaration for Freedom of Speech, the authors warn of increasing censorship that threatens centuries-old norms of democracy: “We write as journalists, artists, authors, activists, technologists and academics to warn of increasing international censorship that threatens to erode centuries-old democratic norms”, they say at the beginning. They make three „calls to action“, namely that „governments and international organisations fulfill their responsibilities to the people and uphold Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)”, that “tech corporations undertake to protect the digital public square as defined in Article 19 of the UDHR and refrain from politically motivated censorship, the censorship of dissenting voices, and censorship of political opinion” and that “the general public joins us in the fight to preserve the people’s democratic rights”. And in conclusion: „We must also build an atmosphere of free speech from the ground up by rejecting the climate of intolerance that encourages self-censorship and that creates unnecessary personal strife for many. Instead of fear and dogmatism, we must embrace inquiry and debate.“
Allowing debate and discourse is not everyone’s cup of tea. According to reports, this was also the experience of those who clashed with the former section head in the Ministry of Justice, the criminal law expert Christian Pilnacek, who died a few days ago under circumstances that have not yet been fully clarified. In the last few years, Pilnacek, who was endowed with a sense of power and a drive to achieve, had to accept the abrupt end of his previously stellar career, was involved in numerous skirmishes with the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Economic Affairs and Corruption (WKStA) and was even suspended by the minister for justice due to criminal and disciplinary proceedings. After his unexpected death, the minister found conciliatory words and even spoke of the fact that the lifting of his suspension had been planned soon. How far her remarks were influenced by the tragic events cannot really be determined, but – as the saying goes – it is better not to say anything bad about a deceased person. The effects that mortification can have on the human psyche have been described by the well-known psychologist and court expert Reinhard Haller, who has also written a book on the subject entitled “The Power of Mortification”. And the fact that the path to power or away from it is always connected with mortification is immanent. The only question is how one learns to deal with it.
The former chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurz, also had to experience a fall from the heights of politics into the depths of the courtroom. The trial against him for allegedly making false statements to the parliamentary investigative committee will continue in November after the first days of the trial this month. Kurz presented himself in court as being offended and misunderstood and he even mentioned Mr. Pilnacek’s death and claimed that he had spoken to him on the phone just a few hours before he died. It remains to be seen how his defence arguments will be received by the court when the trial continues.
Sahra Wagenknecht, who was regarded as an icon of the party “Die Linke” (The Left) in Germany, has now left her party – as she says – in order to fill a “political void” and to create a political home for those, who do not feel represented by any of the existing parties. The founding of the association “BSW (Alliance Sahra Wagenknecht) – For Reason and Justice” was the first step towards the establishment of a new party. This move shook up the political system and produced the kind of media echo that she had probably hoped for.
The cornerstones of the BSW-programme were presented at a press conference and are as follows:
Maintaining Germany as a business location, strengthening social policy, a thoughtful and balanced foreign policy, freedom of opinion and neutral reporting.
„Die Linke“ called Wagenknecht´s move an “ego trip” and “irresponsible”.
Moreover, the parliamentary group status of the „Die Linke“ in the German Bundestag is also in danger, as it can be assumed that Wagenknecht and other MPs who support her will split from their current parliamentary group in early 2024. This will result in the loss of finances and parliamentary rights, which explains the strong reaction of her former party colleagues.
Some are already calling Sahra Wagenknecht a “right-wing” leftist, as she holds diametrically different political positions on the issues of immigration and climate policy than her former party „Die Linke“. In an opinion poll at the end of September 2023 19% in West Germany and 29% in East Germany could imagine voting for a newly formed party headed by Sahra Wagenknecht.
The coming weeks and months will show how Germany´s “old parties” deal with the new competitor and how they position themselves vis-à-vis her.
Power and feasibility are also on the agenda of Austria´s government. Interior minister Gerhard Karner demanded an extension of powers for the police, when he appreared on ORF´s press hour programme on 22.10.23. Due to the recent increase in the danger of terrorism, he argued it was urgently necessary to add to the existing possibility of analysing text messages the possibility of analysing chats in messenger services.
And sport is no stranger to fantasies of feasibility either: “Alles machbar beim Nachbar“ (Everything feasible with the neighbour) was written on the T-shirts that the players and coaches of the Austrian national soccer team wore after qualifying for the EURO 2024 in Germany, which will take place in June of next year. Afterwards Austria´s coach Ralf Rangnick even said that, based on the recent performances of the red-white-red team, every opponent was beatable. Rangnick´s bold claim will be put to the test when Austria will play Estonia in the last, already insignificant qualifying match and then, at the end of the season, in a “friendly” match against arch rival and EURO 2024 host Germany, who want to return to their old highs under their new coach Julian Nagelsmann after a dry spell since the 2022 World Cup.
There are many proverbs and quotations on the subject of power, but they all have one warning in common, which should make us humans aware that we must use it carefully. “Power corrupts”, for example, or “Give a man power and you will know his true character”. And many who have power do not talk about it or even dismiss it. In principle, it is not a bad thing to be aware of what can be done – also to leave behind the powerlessness we sometimes feel. Because we are always creators and have the possibility to shape the world or – as Viktor Frankl puts it – to at least face the inevitable with a smile.
Picture right links:
|WG – 2023 KW42-E-YT||Wolfgang Müller||CC BY-SA 4.0|