Tag Archives: Peace

“Polite Conversation is now Undesirable”: Peace and Agonism in Georg Johannesen’s Rhetoric

When I tell the truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do. (William Blake)

Sometimes, the voice for peace is aggressive, oppositional and agonistic to the point of violence. The Norwegian rhetorician, author and public intellectual Georg Johannesen (1931-2005) was no stranger to forceful rhetoric. Indeed, the promotion of peace by conscious and forceful articulation of agonism is one of the central and recurring motifs across his multifaceted oeuvre. In this article, I will focus on one, short, and relatively early text by Johannesen. It is an illustrative example of the rhetoric of what I suggest calling “counterhegemonic peace movements” in the nuclear age. Apart from introducing Georg Johannesen to a non-Norwegian public, the aim of this paper is to sketch out what I mean by that.

This topic fits well into the thematic framework of “reason and emotions in the landscape of (contemporary) politics”. The United Nations adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on June 7th, 2017. This is obviously a landmark decision and may be taken as an index of hope. On the other hand: None of the nuclear powers nor their allies have signed or ratified it. Whether we regard these facts optimistically or pessimistically, there is no doubt: The nuclear age is still our age. Thus, the history of controversy regarding nuclear weapons is an important element in the ‘ontology of the present’ (Foucault), and it does indeed highlight the conceptual complexity of relations between reason and emotion.

First, the nuclear age is an age of fear. Fear, however, is not irrational. According to the Philosopher (Aristotle), it is crucial to fear the right things at the right time and in the right way. This is courage: the apt response to danger. The fear of nuclear war is perfectly rational. Advocates for nuclear deterrence acknowledge this; according to this doctrine, it is the fear of nuclear escalation that prevent nuclear powers from going to war against each other. Advocates for nuclear disarmament counter this by pointing out that effective deterrence presuppose an effective treat, i.e. the readiness to use the weapons; to avoid the danger of nuclear escalation (and the devastating effects of even limited deployment of nuclear arms), these weapons should be abolished altogether.

The landscape of contemporary politics has the possibility of nuclear war as its horizon. Thus, the bomb is already in use by virtue of its very existence, as Georg Johannesen pointed out in the preface to his 1981 book Om den norske skrivemåten (“On the Norwegian Way of Writing”). He wrote that at a time of accelerating arms race – and of mass protest against it. The text we will present and discuss here is however some twenty years older. It was published as an editorial in a Norwegian journal in 1962 and reproduced in Georg Johannesen’s 1975 book Om den norske tenkemåten (“On the Norwegian Way of Thinking”). The initial publication did indeed cause a stir, but the reprints has reached a substantially greater audience. Both Om den norske tenkemåten and Om den norske skrivemåten were reprinted in 2004, and once again in 2019. The “Editorial” translated in extenso below.

Georg Johannesen – a very short introduction

Well-known in Norway as an author, as a public intellectual and as an academic, Georg Johannesen was outstanding, albeit controversial, in all these fields. What made him unique, however, was the way in which he combined them. As he himself put it: “If you divide GJ into three parts: 1) the scholar, 2) the poet and 3) the politician, I reinterpret this to be a division in accordance with three different situations in the interviewer, not in GJ.”[1] Some of his poetry is published in translations (into English, German, French, Serbo-Croatian and Vietnamese), and Norwegian actor Geddy Anniksdal has toured the world with three solo performances based on texts by Georg Johannesen.[2] Apart from this, Georg Johannesen is virtually unknown outside of Norway. An introduction is thus appropriate.

Georg Johannesen was born and raised in Bergen, in a lower middle-class family; Word War II and the German occupation (1940-45) left strong and lasting impressions in an obviously sensitive and intelligent child. He was never a pacifist but refused to do military service; of the 18 months of alternative service for conscientious objectors, he spent ten in prison. He studied English, History and Norwegian at the University of Oslo from 1953 on. Before graduating in history of literature in 1960, he had published a novel in 1957 and a volume of poetry two years later. Both earned considerable attention; in particular, Dikt 1959 (“Poems 1959”) was hailed as the voice of a new generation.

Georg Johannesen was a member of Sosialistisk studentlag (“Socialist students’ society”), affiliated with the Norwegian Labour party. He edited the society’s journal Underveis and wrote regularly for Orientering. This weekly paper was the mouthpiece of the opposition against NATO and more generally for the left wing of the Labour party. The majority of the Socialist student’s society, including Georg Johannesen, was expelled from the Labour party’s youth organization in 1959, following a visit to the GDR. (The loyal minority included Thorvald Stoltenberg, Knut Frydenlund og Gro Harlem Brundtland, who later held central positions in state and party.)This was a prelude to the events leading to the founding of Sosialistisk folkeparti (“Socialist people’s party”) in 1961: The Labour party turned down initiatives that would have committed Norway to disconnect from the nuclear strategy of the NATO and also banned any association with Orientering for party members. In the general elections of the same year, the new left-wing party won two seats in parliament, breaking the majority that the Labour party had held since 1945. Georg Johannesen joined the new party from the beginning.

Partisan commitment: A document and an example

This situation is the backdrop for Georg Johannesen’s 1962 text, to which we will turn in a moment. First, some details on the publication in which it occurred. Among the initiators of the Socialist people’s party were Torolf Solheim (1907-1995), veteran from the Communist resistance (but a member of the Labour party during the first post-war years), who published the periodical Fossegrimen (1954-1968). (“Fossegrimen” is a well-known figure in Norwegian folklore and national iconography. He lives in waterfalls and is a master fiddler; the best folk musicians are supposedly his pupils.)  For a period from 1962 on the journal was renamed Veien Frem (“The Way Forwards”), as a continuation of the antifascist periodical of the same name, published in the 1930ies by Nordahl Grieg (1902-1943); this was also a way of reclaiming a patriotic icon for the left. (Journalist, poet, playwright and novelist Nordahl Grieg earned controversy for his plays, writings and communist leanings during the 30ies. His wartime poetry, however, was in high esteem across the political spectrum. He died in an air raid over Berlin, aboard a Lancaster bomber as an enlisted reporter.)

In 1962, Georg Johannesen as one of the co-editors of Fossegrimen/Veien Frem, and wrote the following editorial statement:

The new weapons originated here. Our most prominent ally made them during their last fight with our second most prominent ally. Our allies number three and four also possess such weapons. (West Germany only demand them, it is part of sovereignty, one claims there.)

In our states, there is no insight. There, the perdition of humanity is prepared; at the same time, one perceives oneself to be extraordinary advocates for human dignity. This trick is called freedom. To prepare insight, we must create contempt for the western freedom.

We are, for instance, not impressed by the fact that we are permitted to publish this journal with deviant opinions. We understand that it occurs to be quite harmless to the harmful people. We ourselves will know exactly when we have found the way forwards: the moment when they want to prohibit us.

The will to war equals the enthusiasm for the western freedom. The hatred to Russia equals the lack of insight now demanded from everyone. For who can claim that the Russians are so much worse than us that it justifies our current policy? We repeat that the new weapons originated here; they were used twice by our great friend, who still show no signs of de-Trumanisation.

For this is the most important difference between the 30ies and the 60ies: the ones that the 30ies fought now govern us. It is possible that there are other villains, but here we are governed by our own.

We should no longer engage in alehouse politics and whisper the three princes of Laos a word of advice. We should try to prepare ourselves for something that must happen precisely here and in short time. If this sounds like a threat, it is correct. If it sounds like an empty threat, it is also correct. Now, nuclear Catholics and nuclear Protestants confront each other like fascists and antifascists once did. This is the most important similarity between the 30ies and today.

Polite conversation with supporters of NATO is now undesirable. From three reasons:

It would be far from matter-of-factly to discuss with a man who without insight ran about with a loaded gun. Knocking him over is matter-of-factly. We do not believe in the distinction between evil and stupidity or in the usefulness of explaining without changing.

Increased use of invectives would make Norwegian politics more matter-of-factly. Our spades should transform into spades, and our governments into what they are. This is insight.

We intend to seize power in this country, and then we intend to put Hallvard Lange and similar before a court of law. There, conversation may commence.[3]

Hallvard Lange (1902-1970), was Norwegian minister of foreign affairs (Labour) from 1946 until 1965. Two notes on the translation: “Alehouse politics” is in the original “politiske kannestøperier”, an allusion to Ludvig Holberg’s comedy Den politiske Kannestøber (“The political Tinker”, 1722). The expression “matter-of-factly” translates the Norwegian “saklig”; it has strong normative connotations, pertaining ideals of unbiased, reasonable and rational public and academic discourse.

“Saklighet” was a key term in Arne Næss’ En del elementære logiske emner (“Some elementary logical topics”). First published in 1947, Næss’ book has seen eleven reprints, and was until the turn of the millenim by far the most used textbook for examen philosophicum, the introduction to philosophy course still mandatory for all university students in Norway. Næss himself was a pacifist, maintained “saklighet” as a basic democratic virtue, and appealed to it in his unequivocal critique of cold-war-policies, cf. his contribution “Mer saklighet i Øst-Vest-debattene” (“More matter-of-fact-ness in East-West Debates”) in Tenk en gang til – om fred og forsvar (“Think once again – on peace and defence”, Oslo, Tanum 1952). Among the contributors to that volume, all highly critical of cold-war-policies (and Norway’s role in it), were Gutorm Gjessing, professor of etnography at the University of Oslo and co-initiator of Sosialistisk Folkeparti in 1961.

Ever since its publication, the “Editorial” has been cited as proof of Georg Johannesen’s alleged extremism, which supposedly has exerted bad influence on generations of Norwegian leftists. It is obviously provocative, and intentionally so, but the message is extremely matter-of-factly: To start a political party is to seek power. If you accuse your adversaries of complicity in severe crimes, they should be allowed to answer – preferably before a court of justice. It is of course impolite to call the government ‘villains’; this government does, however, support the nuclear strategy of the NATO, which imply threatening with nuclear weapons. If we (reasonably) assume that the deployment of nuclear arms implies total war, threatening with nuclear weapons (which imply the will to use them), is arguably in close vicinity of fascism. To produce and possess nuclear weapons is arguably to prepare for the perpetration of crimes against humanity. Etc.

Georg Johannesen’s attack on the moral and political integrity of the government was thus an attack on the doxa (‘the Norwegian way of thinking’); an attempt to shift the premises of the discussion, and a call for mobilization. At the time of its initial publication, it addressed a specific political situation – but more than that, it thematized the situation as such. Most of all, it was an attempt to clarify the self-understanding of the left-wing opposition and its new-formed party. Unsurprisingly, the message did not come down well with everyone, especially among the party’s academic supporters. Left-wing students like Jon Elster and Nils Petter Gleditsch (both of whom were to become prominent academics) were loudly critical.[4] After all, it was their circles who were accused of engaging in “ale-house politics” (i.e. giving priority to academic discussions of international affairs at the expense of working for change at home).

When reprinted in a volume of “Articles and interventions on cultural and socio-political issues 1954-74” (as the subtitle translates), the text was in one sense made available as a historical document. But along with the rest of the book, it became something more: a kind of bottled message for successive generations of new readers. Historical source-material becomes a source of self-reflection for those readers who somehow identify with the historical understanding articulated in the text. A rhetorical intervention in a specific situation becomes an articulation of the “ontology of the present”. Pertaining to the initial publication, the “Editorial” may be read as an appeal to members and supporters of the newly formed party in the specific constellation of Norwegian politics in the early 1960ies. For subsequent generations of readers, it becomes an example of partisan reasoning as such, and of the necessity of partisan commitment.

Note that “partisan reasoning” and “partisan commitment”, as I use the terms here, does not mean to subordinate one’s reasoning to party doctrine or one’s commitments to party discipline. A political party in the ordinary sense of the word, is a way of organizing political activity – including collective reasoning – around shared commitments.[5] Parties (as political organisations) express partisan commitments, they do not create them. Commitments to collective ideals and projects are partisan to the extent that they are opposed to and in conflict with other ideals and projects. Partisan reasoning is agonistic and relational; it must reflect upon one’s own commitments, upon the adversary and upon the nature of the conflict. Albeit analytically separable, these aspects will always be articulated on each other.

All these aspects are obviously present in Georg Johannesen’s text. It appeals to mobilization of a partisan “we”, aware of its present powerlessness, but committed to seek the power needed effect change. It makes serious charges against those in power, i.e. it goes far beyond expressing disagreement. Finally, the conflict is described as a matter of life and death, notably in a non-metaphorical sense. It is this combination that illustrate the rhetoric of counter-hegemonic peace movements in the nuclear age.

Hegemony and opposition

Before I give an outline of my idea of counter-hegemonic peace movements in the nuclear age, some – tentative – conceptual clarifications are in place. ‘Hegemony’ is used here in a broadly ‘neo-gramscian’ manner, inspired by Laclau and Mouffe. [6] Theoretically, the concept of hegemony can be used to trace the internal relations between material, institutional and symbolic domination, while avoiding reductionism. Hegemony is intended to account for non-coercive forms of domination, particularly in settings marked by social, cultural and political diversity. Here, domination works by organizing, rather than by suppressing pluralism – and the same goes for resistance. Religious hegemony is not the power to impose orthodoxy, but the capacity to draw the line between heterodoxy and heresy, and to determine the terms of recognition and toleration. Political hegemony may acknowledge, recognize and even encourage oppositional voices and movements; it works through the designation of spaces and roles for partisan commitments and in the soft and subtle limits put on them. Loyal opposition is a part of hegemony.

Rhetorical hegemony is the capacity to define the limits of legitimate public expression. To clarify, we may make an ad hoc distinction between disagreement and dissent. Let us say that disagreement pertain to differences of opinions, attitudes and commitments that appear legitimate within a shared framework. If the framework itself is challenged, we encounter deeper or more radical differences. This is what I call dissent: The expression of opinions, attitudes and commitments that are incompatible with the generally accepted framework. They are not necessarily intended to challenge hegemony but nevertheless expose the limits of legitimate public expressions. Dissent makes the framework visible by showing that not everyone shares what is taken to be common ground. In this sense, dissent is a political analogy to the anomalies that expose the presuppositions of a scientific paradigm, i.e. the kind of hegemony that unites a research discipline.[7]

Occasional expressions of dissent are normally put aside, much like anomalies in normal science; they will supposedly wither away or be dealt with later. Recurring protest may, however, turn into a more persistent opposition against current policies. The more central the policies challenged by opposition are to hegemony, the more difficult it will be to accommodate oppositional claims. Permanent frustration will potentially severe loyalty on both sides and turn differences into conflict: Opposition becomes the other of the hegemonic “we”, and the dominant powers becomes the other of the oppositional “we”. Normal politics – melioristic mitigation of differences – is replaced by political agonism, postulating a division in the ‘body politic’.

In standard usage, the ‘body politic’ is united under a single governmental authority.[8] A divided body politic is thus a contradiction in terms, expressive of a genuine paradox. In theories of radical democracy, this paradox is the locus of the political: Any authority is legitimate only to the extent that it is contestable in principle; if it is contested in fact, authority weakens by loss of legitimacy. Political stability require that the basis for legitimate authority is not seriously challenged; in other words, that hegemony prevails in circumscribing opposition. Hegemony is at safest where opposition need not be taken seriously.

Rhetorical hegemony does not work by suppression of oppositional voices. In democracies, the limits of legitimate public expression are not maintained by censorship, but by symbolic power, the authority that unites public opinion (the ‘soul’ of the ‘body politic’). This unity is not a matter of a unitary doctrine, but of doxa – a shared framework within which disagreement is possible and accepted. Symbolic power is operative in authorising some voices, arguments and expressions as valuable and relevant to the formation of public opinion, and relegating others to the margins of public debate. When not met with silence, dissenters are typically met with ridicule, condescendence and suspicion. Divergent opinions and expressions are tolerated to the extent that they do not challenge hegemony. Sometimes, they are the negative foil for the projection of hegemonic commitments; sometimes they may be acclaimed as a ‘useful corrective’ that ultimately assert the correctness of hegemony.

Thus, even radical opposition may be co-opted, either negatively, as the incarnation of disloyalty, or positively, by limited concessions or varieties of repressive tolerance. But the heart of the matter remains. Radical opposition, appealing to common sense, decency and commitment to the common good, challenge the unity of public opinion. Dissent articulates impertinent questions: Is ‘common sense’ really common? Does it really make sense? Is the ‘common good’ good for all and everyone? When oppositional claims are consistently frustrated, and oppositional voices are relegated, parts of the opposition may eventually question hegemony as such.

Campaigns for nuclear disarmament will e.g. argue that nuclear deterrence is too expensive and risky by the standards of common sense; that threatening potential enemies with annihilation is the epitome of indecency; and finally that peace is acknowledged as fundamental to the common good. Advocates of status quo who want to counter such arguments head-on, may apply varieties of the common saying “That May Be True in Theory, but It Is of No Use in Practice”, insinuating a lack of understanding on part of the opposition. “Matter-of-factly” reference to Realpolitik is often accompanied by overt attacks on the integrity of the opposition: Conscientious objectors may be accused of cowardice; to address the consequences of nuclear war may be dismissed as alarmism; activists may be described alternatively as naïve or cunning, i.e. as either the enemy’s useful idiots or his agents.

The conscious dissident does not believe in the mitigation of differences but rather take an agonistic stance towards commonly accepted premises for communication. Often, the standards of polite conversation are broken: The dissident address topics that are normally avoided or euphemised, in a confrontational manner, disrespectful of common symbols and commitments. Georg Johannesen’s text above is a case in point.

From fear to anger: Contesting deterrence

No one deny that nuclear weapons are extremely powerful and dangerous; the foreseeable consequences of any use of them give reason to fear. This fear is ontologically constitutive for the nuclear age; it is ‘our age’ insofar as there is a ‘we’ that is aware of the existential threat of nuclear disaster. Foucault coined the notion of the “ontology of the present” in commentaries on Kant’s writings on enlightenment and revolution.[9] In Kant’s interpretation the enthusiasm for the idea of a republic, voiced by spectators witnessing the French revolution from a safe distance, was a “historical sign”, indicating humanity’s moral disposition.[10] In analogy, the reactions to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, could also be interpreted as a historical sign, indicative of the moral disposition of distant spectators. This analogy would certainly merit closer examination. For now, it must suffice to note that a salient point in the ‘ontology of the present’ is the interpretation of public responses to events that reveal and evoke hope and fear simultaneously.

The doctrine of nuclear deterrence is based on a certain interpretation of the rationality of fear: Supposedly, the fear of nuclear escalation – to the point of mutually assured destruction – makes it rational to avoid or limit war as much as possible. Several objections can be raised against this: There are e.g. good reasons to avoid or limit war anyways, and nuclear powers may wage conventional wars on the assumption that their geopolitical adversaries are deterred from interference, etc. In this context, I will focus on the role of fear in the contestation of the doctrine of nuclear deterrence. A basic point in the rejection of deterrence is that nuclear deterrence itself is dangerous; it is a risk-game based on heightening the stakes infinitely. Moreover, deterrence relies on the effectiveness of threats, and a threat is effective to the extent that it implies its potential execution. Put simply: If we have reason to fear nuclear war, we have reason to fear those who threaten with nuclear arms – and no less our allies than our enemies.

Even to put forward such a description of the situation is a counter-hegemonic move, inasmuch as it undermines conditions for trust and loyalty that seem to be indispensable for a stable political order. That the wider public is reluctant to accept this understanding of the situation may indicate the strength of the hegemony. Apathy seem to be a more common response, since to accept this understanding of the situation give reason to despair. The response of peace movements is to politicise despair by transforming fear into anger and directing it towards those responsible. I repeat that fear is not irrational per se; neither is anger. Righteous anger is an apt response to grave injustice and arguably the most important political emotion, precisely because of its intrinsic links to reason, i.e. justifiable accusations, claims, and projects. So long as these accusations, claims and projects remain controversial, any commitment to them will remain partisan, and their justification will be an articulation of partisan reason.


Representing the Socialist people’s party, Georg Johannesen was a member of Oslo’s city council 1967-71, focusing on urban development (i.e. housing and traffic policies). He ran unsuccessfully for parliament in 1969, was not elected to the central committee of the party, and eventually withdrew from party politics. From the early 1970ies, Georg Johannesen was affiliated with the University of Bergen, as a researcher and eventually as associate professor at the department of Nordic studies. He was pioneer in the study of popular literature and non-fiction, demanding a “totalized” concept of literature, and introduced a rhetorical turn in Nordic studies and didactics.

His re-education from freelance author and translator to university teacher involved (according to his own words) “ten years of serious hobby studies of among other subjects: Norwegian literary criticism, classical rhetoric, language theory from abroad, continental sociology, Norwegian daily press and public broadcasting, moral philosophy and religious texts, party programs or poetry.”[11] Basically, he was catching up with his European contemporaries. His age peers count intellectual celebrities like Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida, Guy Debord, Félix Guattari, Umberto Eco and others. WWII and its aftermath shaped their formative years, they all digested intellectual impulses from structuralism and western Marxism; as publicly visible but not yet established intellectuals, with an independent attitude to genre and disciplinary boundaries, they became anti-authoritarian authorities in the 1960ies and beyond.

Georg Johannesen’s deconstructive reading and his rhizomatic writing may well be characterised as post-structuralist and post-marxist. Note, however, that these terms should not be taken to indicate that structuralism and Marxism are obsolete. The point is rather to avoid falling behind the insights from them, and to continue the investigations into the (de)formation of language and discourse that they inspire. When Georg Johannesen turned from activism to academic pursuits (at a time when numerous students made the opposite turn), this was not a farewell to his basic commitments. We may put it this way: He had challenged hegemony and tried to change the premises of debate by rhetorical effort. This however, proved extremely difficult, and he turned to the study of rhetoric in order to understand the operation of hegemony and the formation of the premises of public discourse.

“If I take part in public debate”, Georg Johannesen used to say, “it is to expose the moderator as the enemy”. His last book was on history’s losers and was aptly titled Eksil (“Exile”). It was published in 2005. He passed away unexpectedly on Christmas eve the same year; two months short of his 75th birthday. From 1986 on, Georg Johannsen received a Norwegian government grant.[12] He continued in a part-time position at the University of Bergen, from 1996 as professor of rhetoric. The experts who assessed his qualifications for professorship, noted matter-of-factly that international rhetorical research has been completely unaffected by Georg Johannesens activities.[13]

Georg Johannesen explicitly downplayed his own impact factor: “I may have influenced some dozens of students and five to ten close friends of mine.”[14] This may of course be dismissed as an instance of false modesty, but in view of the consistency of Georg Johannesen’s commitments, it carries a more sincere significance. In 1967 he claimed that world peace is best served if states like Norway are abolished. The reasons he pointed out are still valid: Reliance on nuclear arms and NATO membership, overconsumption of resources, and the unwillingness to face up to the fact that we are governed by our own villains.


[1] Georg Johannesen and Hans Marius Hansteen in conversation: “Skiljet mellom forskar og diktar er skapt av ein dum forskar” [“The distinction between scholar and poet is invented by a stupid scholar”], i Gjerdåker/Skarheim (red.) Samtaler på universitetet. 19 faglige møter mellom lærer og student. Oslo, Universitetsforlaget, 1991, s 69. Translated here.

[2] Internationally, Anniksdal perform in English and Spanish. Her shows are produced by the independent theater company Grenland Friteater: Blue is the Smoke of War (1997-2005), No Doctor for the Dead / No doctor par les muertos (2004-) and 7 Songs of the Refugee (2015-). http://en.grenlandfriteater.com/shows/.

[3] Georg Johannesen: “Lederartikkel”, in: Om den norske tenkemåten, 1975, p 114-115. Translated here.

[4] Cf. Helge Vold: “Om Veien Frem og Fossegrimen”, in Basar, 2, 1978 (p 66).

[5] Cf Jonathan White and Lea Ypi: The Meaning of Partisanship, Oxford, Oxford Univ. Press 2016.

[6] Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe: Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London, Verso 2001 (first edition 1985).

[7] Thomas S. Kuhn described the history of science in political terms, and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions highlight how seemingly pure intellectual commitments are emotionally charged and entangled in power relations. Kuhn was inspired by French historical epistemology; this may account for the ‘family resemblance’ to Foucault’s notions of discouse, explicitly applied in Laclau and Mouffe’s reformulation of Gramsci’s theory of hegemony.

[8] “body politic,” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/body%20politic. Accessed 6/5/2020.

[9] Michel Foucault (1986) “Kant on Enlightenment and revolution”, Economy and Society, 15:1, 88-96, DOI: 10.1080/03085148600000016 See also: Foucault: “What is Enlightenment?” in The Foucault Reader, NY, Pantheon Books, 1984, p 32-50.

[10] Cf. Kant, Streit der Fakultäten.

[11] Om den norske skrivemåten. “Innledning” [“introduction”], 1981, p 7.

[12] A Norwegian government grant (“statsstipend”) is awarded by parliament in order to give select individuals opportunity to pursue scholarly, artistic and cultural activity on an independent basis.

[13] Øivind Andersen, Jørgen Fafner og Kurt Johannesson: “Georg Johannesens retorikkforskning” / in: Arnfinn Åslund (red.) Johannesens bok. Om og til Georg Johannesen. Oslo, Cappelen 1996, p 328.

[14] Hans Marius Hansteen and Georg Johannesen in conversation, op cit page 75.

North and South – And a Traveler from In-Between

Instead of an Introduction (Starting from the Middle)

The Balkans is an especially unique place on Earth. It is really a difficult task to compare it with any other part of our world, but I would take the risk of comparing it with the Caucasus. The Balkans comprise dozens of linguistically related and non-related nations sprinkled in a seemingly random manner all over the mostly mountainous peninsula. In reality, nothing is random or spontaneous about that. Their placement in space (and not only space) is a result of thousands of years of warfare, power games, ideological and religious indoctrination, violence, and, to a great extent, trade, cooperation and intermarrying. All these nations and their respective languages are crowded between the high mountains, powerful rivers, deep lakes and crushing seas; all of them representing their own national truth, all of them carrying their own type of hatred and love. That is the reason why in this land many hilltops are crowned with castles. Each castle has displayed dozens of different flags, depending who the master was at the moment. Each castle wall has seen thousands of deaths by wounds, disease or hunger, and some of the walls contain the bodily remains of the enemy. What for? So that we would have history books filled with national history. So that we could rename places and call them differently in our own language. Furthermore, castles are great for tourism – they are money machines, and tourists love them. Romantic selfies taken upon a meter or so of soil which covers tons of bones and still rotting blood.

But the key questions among the nations of the Balkans is surely the following:

‘Who was here first?’

Because someone was. Some nations are sure that their forefathers were the aborigines of the peninsula. Some claim that they came later but the land was already empty due to evil Romans. And then some claim that we are all descendants of the aborigines, just to varying degrees. I would not be surprised if all of them were mostly wrong, and all of them just a bit right. One fact is for sure: The Balkans was populated even before humans by Neanderthals. So, arrows have been flying through these woods for a long time. And just like Americans, Spaniards in South America, Canadians, Australians, etc., most of the nations of the Balkans have that complex of getting there too late and seizing other people’s land. That complex is manifested in hundreds of different ways, some of them even being incorporated into the notion of national pride. In that respect, Rhaeto-Romans (in all variations), Albanians, and Greeks are a bit different because they undoubtedly regard themselves as the original peoples of the Balkans, and they rather take on the role of the historical victim than that of a historical conqueror.

Although modern genetics is telling a different story, the majority of the people of the Balkans remain firmly anchored in their traditional postulates: We are all nationally pure and homogeneous, we all righteous, we are all brave conquerors/tragic victims, we are all better than the others. We will sooner or later receive our justice. In reality, all of the people of the Balkans have spent the vast majority of their history as slaves to other white people. Some nations reached short term independence, mostly when big powers got bored and tired of killing them and investing in high mountain wars. It was only in the 20th century that the nations of the Balkans started on the path of independence, and on a long and successful mission of becoming Europe’s poorest and most backward region. The inflamed appendix of Europe. The Balkans, the abused child of Europe enters puberty. People who have experienced suffering in long lasting, devastating slavery in the 20th century started practicing their sovereignty in the most unlikely of ways. People so complicated in their profound experience, and so simple in their utter stupidity.

If you are a person from the Balkans and you are visiting Iceland for the first time, absolutely nothing can prepare you for the culture shock. That is only understandable. It was by a great coincidence that just a few months after Iceland I had a chance to visit a culture in the southern extreme of the Mediterranean – Lebanon. Although being strikingly different from the Balkans, Lebanon nevertheless seemed to be culturally and historically closer to me than Iceland. And the distance between Iceland and Lebanon seemed as a never-ending journey. I am extremely grateful for being able to compare the North, the South, and the thing in the middle.

Allow me to share a part of my vastly subjective experience.

The Battle of Iceland

It was plus +45° C on my Mediterranean terrace as I read the email sent by the organizers of a scientific conference (on Canadian culture) in Akureyri, Iceland. In the email they strictly warned the conference participants, including me, to take warm jackets, although it was summer in Akureyri. I read that sentence twenty times while big drops of sweat kept falling down my forehead. It was just one day before departure. In my typically self-confident but, nevertheless, superficial Balkan manner I thought: ‘A jacket takes a lot of space in the bag. And summer is summer everywhere. It can’t be that cold. I’ll take only one warm pullover. I mean, it is in Europe.’

A decision I regretted instantly upon arrival.

Cold or not, the scenery was breathtaking. The black colors of lava, and those specifically Icelandic shades of green and brown, which collided with the blackness above and beneath the waterfalls, kept my face stuck to the bus window. I was sleepy and exhausted but had no intention of missing even a second of the Icelandic landscape. And I watched. No castles. No wide, boasting roads. No dramatic highway bridges built on IMF loans, and so typical of the poorest European countries. No visible attempts to subordinate nature with large chunks of reinforced concrete. Just timid, mostly wooden, beautifully painted houses (with large SUVs parked in front of them, some of these cars being as big as the houses; I learned later that these cars are a result of sheer necessity in Iceland, and the shovel attached to the rear is not a matter of tuning but rather good sense). Great roads but just wide enough to serve the everyday needs of inhabitants. And virgin nature around, untouched, proud and content. I had a feeling that the Icelanders and their nature constantly cuddle each other. That’s all they do, they cuddle. And both the people and nature know when is the right moment to safely pull back the hand, stop cuddling, and let mutual respect do the rest.

Somewhere above Skagarfjörður the bus stopped and I got out. The first time I’d experienced the Icelandic wind. I was told this wind was far from its maximum galore, although it was already stronger than anything I’ve ever experienced in Europe, including our infamous eastern Mediterranean bura (or bora) and the brisk northern winds of the Baltic Sea. And, yes, I was frozen again, but happy to discover one interesting thing: You can eat Icelandic air. It has a wonderful smell and the taste of Earth’s untouched north and breathing it is close to the experience of eating skyr for the first time. I could see a fjord, and a dark sea. Icelandic horses on the field far away. There were black peaks of mountains that looked like the teeth of a dragon sleeping on his back with his mouth wide opened. There was me eating the air. I suddenly realized how really wonderfully different Iceland was.

I arrived in Akureyri around midnight. The bus stopped at the central bus station in front of the Hof. I got out of the bus and right away I was frozen. The bus driver asked me where my hotel was. I told him the street, it was some 400 meters away. The bus driver told me: “Hop in, you’ll freeze”. He started the bus and drove me a few streets further at the beginning of the Hafnarstæti. Mind you, and official Icelandic transport bus. I couldn’t believe it. I started thanking him and then I noticed he was a bit annoyed. Later I realized that you don’t need to thank too much in Iceland, you don’t even have to ask. People just help when they feel that help is needed.

I realized right away that Icelanders don’t fall for empty words, phrases and formal courtesy. They just do what they feel is right. And their feeling of righteousness is deeply rooted in them through their culture, tradition and history. I was never a fan of traditionalism in the continental sense of the word, but in Iceland the air is different, and so is tradition. Because of the rough climate and isolation, the core of any tradition in Iceland is based on mutual help. In other words, without any fallacy of politeness, a traveller constantly feels as though surrounded with members of loving and caring family. You don’t have to know a word of the language.

I got to know about the hostel on Hafnarstæti through an Icelandic friend of mine I met via the Internet. Owners of the hostel, who were my friend’s relatives, greeted me in a way that would not be considered whole-hearted in the Balkans, but they right away gave me a big discount, helped me to settle in, and started treating me as one of their own. After a few days there, I felt like a part of the team. As if I was a part of the family or, at least, employed by the hostel. Following my friend’s tip, I went to the Icelandic Red Cross center and purchased a wonderful traditional Icelandic wool jacket. I paid three times less than what I would have paid in the center. I was proud but instantly bothered by that fact. In a conversation with the hostel owners and employees, I tried to express that in a self-justifying joke. I said: ‘Hah, I’m a real Balkan opportunist: a day in Iceland and I already raided the Red Cross’. No one laughed, and there was a long moment of confusion. Then, as if he felt my Eastern European mentality infected with all sorts of inferiority complexes, the owner of the hostel told me: ‘Relax. We are all relaxed here. And we all buy cheaper when we can. We are not crazy to do any different’.

Relax. Indeed, a key word in Iceland. I saw nervous people; I heard people raise their voices. But it would all soon pass, and life continued without any drama. It was just like the Icelandic wind; it came unexpectedly kicking up dust and stones, and then it would disappear even faster leaving the scenery equally beautiful.

The other thing I noticed about Icelanders right away was their deep, unscrupulous and opened self-criticism. Where I come from, we generally still feel like we have to prove to Western Europe that we too are Europeans. We very often hide our weak sides and consider them shameful. One big part of our existence is occupied by gluing tons of cultural make-up on the face of our intellectual decay and especially the burlesque inefficiency of our economy and deeply corrupted society. On the other hand, Icelanders, a nation incomparably richer and more developed than mine, were entirely comfortable claiming that they were an unhappy nation of utter weekend (and not just weekend) alcoholics, adulterers and villains, led by a weak and corrupted government. Nothing could have surprised me more. I listened to what they had to say about themselves. What I concluded is that Icelanders on average really do not look “violently happy”, as Björk would have it, but their sadness is perfectly softened by all of the great aspects of life in Iceland, and these aspects are numerous. They seemed to me more down-to-Earth than depressed. There is a problem with drinking in Iceland, although the extent of that problem could not be compared with anything we have on the continent. From Scandinavia and Iberia all the way to the Balkans and the Caucasus, alcohol consummation is a huge problem. Most Icelanders are at least decent enough to typically drink Friday evening and over weekends in designated bars. And yes, some of them drink until they fall off their seats, and then they are carried home. But I never saw groups of young people lying drunken and unconscious in a park, for example. Not to mention tons of heroin syringes covering public spaces like pointy flowers – you can’t see that in Iceland. As far as their marital and extramarital practices are concerned, coming from a culture terribly suppressed by a mostly false and hypocritical understanding and practice of faith, I found their way of life much more original, straightforward and morally acceptable. I never met villains in Iceland in any possible sense of the word. While I am sure that corruption exists everywhere, in Iceland as well, I will not lose time or energy on even trying to compare the level of institutional corruption in Iceland and continental Europe, not to mention Eastern Europe.

I did not try to contradict them because I noticed one thing: Their open self-criticism is an efficient way of coping with their problems, and, more importantly, an important tool in repairing the damage and keeping their social problems under control. Successful self-correction through unbiased self-criticism: this is a complex personal skill and an essential social virtue, which even some developed continental European societies still have to adopt and/or perfect.

One thing drew my attention, an apparent lack of ill-tempered nationalism. Icelanders do not seem to compare themselves to anyone. Not in the way we do that on the continent at least. Around them is the sea. Furthermore, they have accepted an enormous number of foreign workers (for the most part from Poland), and I saw quite a few Icelanders walking in the streets with spouses from different countries, races and religions. I spoke with some of the foreigners, Poles and Croats to be precise, and they told me only good things about Icelanders and their attitude towards foreigners. One Croatian immigrant I met in the hostel told me the following: ‘No one asks you where you came from, they just want to see what you can do. If you work fairly, you will have everything. If you break the rules, you have nothing to look for here. This is a different world.’

While people of the Balkans quite often insist on their national purity, Icelanders will openly and proudly tell you that the Vikings formed only one half of their national genetic pool. Apparently, the Vikings, on their way to Iceland, stopped in Scotland and Ireland to borrow a certain number of females. These Celtic women provided the other half of modern Icelandic cultural identity. Hence, the amusing idea of mountain trolls seems to be much more important for the Icelandic cultural identity than an idealized image of a Viking warrior. You can quite often see troll dolls in shop windows, on streets, in souvenir shops, and in the windowpanes of private homes. Vikings seem to reside mostly in museums, books and in the names of several bars (this is, at least, what I experienced in Akureyri). I can easily imagine that, if the people of the Balkans inhabited Iceland, they would be ashamed of traditions connected to trolls, but they would have streets named after Vikings, with large Viking monuments on every square. These Vikings would be fierce warriors with swords, cutting off the heads of every possible enemy. Especially heads of the Danes, the ex-colonists, disregarding the fact that Danish rulers and Vikings were separated by at least nine centuries. But Iceland is not such a society.

Another thing about Iceland impressed me, and that is the absence of the national flag. You can buy it in all souvenir shops, but you can rarely see it on buildings, even governmental ones. I bought an Icelandic flag, and looking at it in the evenings, I wondered how many Icelandic flags remain on the island, and how many travel with tourists around the globe. My guess was that only one small portion of the flags stays in the country. In the end, I had no idea where the urge to buy the flag came from in the first place.

On my way back from Akureyri to Reykjavik, I took a tourist bus that takes travelers on a longer road through the center of Iceland. In the bus, stuck over the driver’s head, I saw a small Danish flag. That really intrigued me; this kind of behavior would spark debates in the Balkans. I mean, the flag of the ex-colonist! So, I approached the driver and asked why the Danish flag was waving over his head. He got confused, he stared at the flag for a moment. Then he asked: ‘This is a Danish flag? I didn’t know that. I am from Poland. I just drive the bus’.

The feature of Icelandic society that has utterly won my heart is their trust in basic human goodness. We have all watched documentaries about desolate parts of the world, untouched by human civilization. In these parts of the world animals are not afraid of people, but they often approach them out of curiosity. I had the same feeling when observing young Icelanders and children. Children would approach foreigners without fear, and they seemed so confident in their surroundings. My Icelandic friend had arranged that I meet with her son, which I did (although at the moment she was at the other end of the country). We went rowing shortly in a boat in the middle of the fjord. Then we ate an ice cream. Her son was everything that a child of his age should be, a curious little prankster, but every now and then he would turn into a serious and extremely well informed interlocutor in English. I was amazed by this balance of childish carefreeness and responsibility and maturity of a grown up. The same happened when I spoke with the son of my colleague whom I met at the conference in Akureyri. His son, a boy of nine years, who is, just to mention, multilingual, told me about the games and sports he likes, and then he told me about his job as a porter in a hotel. In Iceland, children can have grown up jobs, and they are paid fairly for that. Listening to his childish laughter interrupted by his briskly sharp and serious thoughts of a responsible member of society, I couldn’t help wondering how they achieve that in Iceland. And I thought that this is how children must have been, at least a little bit, in my country some hundred years ago, not because of excellent education and responsible upbringing but rather out of necessity that arose from poverty and hardship.

Children in Iceland are real children, mischievous and playful, but at the same time they are responsible, and in every way efficient parts of the society. How come a twelve-year-old boy goes rowing alone in the fjord with a stranger, engages in an interesting two-hour conversation, and then hurries home because his job is waiting in the morning? I compared that with the upbringing we have back home. First of all, we are over protective parents, and the first thing we teach our children is not to trust strangers, actually, not to trust anyone (although I cannot blame the parents for that). An important part of that is implanting in them utter doubt about the society and the establishment as such (and I don’t blame parents for that neither). Secondly, our schooling system molds them in a way that suppresses their creativity, critical and independent thinking. Growing up in our society basically comes down to surviving and learning to cope with numerous forms of open and tacit types of humiliation imposed by people, by peers, by bureaucracy, by the establishment, etc. Your success is measured according to the level of your acquired resistance to humiliation. We insist that children stay childish as long as they can, and responsibility… We are never taught how exactly to take on or cope with any responsibility. In my country it is not rare that children stay with their parents until the age of 40. Of course, this is closely connected with the state of our economy, but still, so much could be improved.

Reflecting on my Icelandic experience, the way Icelandic children are brought up was maybe one of the most impressive things I saw in that country. Icelandic children are fully integrated into their society at an early age. They feel absolutely safe in the society, hence their childish joy of living, but on the other hand, they very early learn how to contribute to society through meaningful and useful work. Ever since I visited Iceland, I’m thinking that this is a societal experience and upbringing I would wish for my children.

To summarize the most striking features of life in Iceland, I will make a very personal claim that Icelandic society displays that wonderful streak of an intuitive society. Intuitive society in the sense of a group of people with a developed higher sense of societal responsibility, the appreciation of justice, humanity and natural surroundings, actually, to the point where most of the forms of the repressive apparatus become redundant. Social proofs to this claim are abundant, and in the political sense, the strikingly clear sign of highly developed social intuition in is the Icelandic Pirate Party (a movement for direct democracy which is intrinsically related to intuitive societies) which at one point in 2016 won more than 14% of votes in the general elections.

I remember how, upon the news that the Pirate Party won enough votes to send representatives to parliament, the reaction in my country varied from disbelief to mockery. I myself could not believe how that could have happened, and I thought that the rise of the Pirate Party had to be mainly preconditioned and sparked by the shocking experience of the collapse of banking and the economy from 2008 to 2011. While that might be partially true, only after visiting Iceland have I gotten the full picture. The fact is that Icelandic society already is a partially intuitive society, a society so complex and well balanced that every freedom and justice movement finds fertile soil there. In that respect, it is enough just to look at the Icelandic attitude towards female rights. The truth is that Icelandic society is decades ahead of any other European society. The size of the society and their relative isolation have surely been factors which Icelanders were able to turn to their benefit. I believe it will take decades for other European societies to grasp the level of the intuitive society now existing in Iceland, and even more decades to implement it.

I would add here that I spent ten days in Iceland, and I never saw a police officer. In 2018.

Meanwhile, people of the Balkans still vote mostly for their serious parties falsely divided into the so called left and right. They continue giving their support to people they do not trust but they consider them less harmful than some other people. They continue living in the fog of empty nationalist rhetoric that gives full license for the political opportunists to continue spreading their web of crime and corruption. Meanwhile, more and more potential immigrants from the Balkans dream about finding their future in the west and north. I understand them fully.

People I met in Iceland asked me: ‘How does it feel to live in a country surrounded with hostile neighbors, squeezed behind the land borders that are so often visited by the demon of war?’ I did not try to fully explain the hate and bad blood that flow through every creek in the Balkans, in every pit, under every stone, and forms waterfalls over every elevation in the Balkans, just like volcanic and glacial waters do in Iceland. I couldn’t explain it fully, even if I wanted to. Especially not to Icelanders. Icelanders took over an uninhabited island. They did not cause a genocide of any other nation upon their final settlement. From the very beginning they were blessed with a clean start. And then, although colonized by Denmark, they were left out of all the carnages that Europe produced and went through. Furthermore, when the British army took over the island during WWII, Icelanders largely profited from that moment in history as well. And today Iceland is one of the most developed and richest nations in the world. What I told my Icelandic friends basically comes down to following:

You are lucky to be surrounded by the sea. So lucky.

History has spared you.’

There is a history museum in Akureyri. It is situated in a vast modernist villa which, with its symmetry and sharp edges, somehow sticks out from its surroundings (and, of course, reflects the architectural outlines set by Mies van der Rohe in his Villa Tugendhat in Brno). I read that the villa was built in the first half of the 20th century by a German family, obviously in favor of the modern building style and the Icelandic landscape (which is interesting and somehow contradictory; while the general public in Germany in those times largely idolized Iceland and its culture, they were quite negative towards modern architecture and art in general). Taking into consideration that the family is no longer there, and that the house is a museum, I gather that’s a way that Icelanders successfully closed that monstrous chapter in Europe’s history on their soil (while, let’s be fair, a large portion of the European continent still lives in the year of 1945).

I was thinking how a history museum so far north could possibly look like (just under or barely in the Polar circle, depends which claims stated by Wikipedia you accept as true) and what can it offer here in this history-free land? I came to the museum just at closing time. However, a young curator of the museum (she herself being a child) decided to keep the museum open for another half an hour just for me. And that half an hour changed everything.

I soon learned that the Vikings tried to inhabit the island three times but the island kept on killing them. After the final successful colonization of land, the remaining population was several times almost annihilated by the climate, diseases, and hunger. Icelanders lived in horrible poverty for centuries, constantly under the threat of freezing, hunger, and, strangely enough, fire (the city of Akureyri was hit by devastating fires several times, and most of them seem to have started in bakeries). According to the data revealed in the museum, at the beginning of the 20th century Iceland was one of the poorest countries in the world. All the way up to WWII a large portion of the people lived in dugouts, dwellings dug in the dark Icelandic turf. During WWII, when the British arrived, and later the Americans, Icelanders started trading with them, they learned the English language (almost all Icelanders are fluent in English), they got rid of the Danish rule entirely (only in 1944), and that has sparked a speedy development of the economy. The rest of the century Icelanders dedicated to successfully becoming one of the richest nations in the world.

I realized that my country was actually much more developed, much richer and better off than Iceland probably all the way until the fifties of the 20th century. And since then, Iceland has gone further, and my country became one of the poorest in the EU. All this new information shocked me. I was speechless, just staring at a photograph of children taken during carnival. I was pulled out from my thoughts by the young curator who now politely warned me that the half an hour had passed a long time ago. I realized I was totally and absolutely wrong: Iceland was not spared by history. Not at all. Their entire history was, and still is, a battle. I realized now that the battle of Iceland was one of the fiercest in the history of Europe. It was the battle against the elements and nature, the only battle people can never entirely win.

Iceland also had to be fought for, and its conquest claimed more people (compared with the overall population) than in any other nation in Europe. And houses dug in the soil, warm springs, tiny horses, and most of all, strong expanded families, these were Icelandic castles.

The enemy of Icelanders were not others who brought death, but rather death itself.

I continued my walk up the slope behind the Museum. Being an almost typical Croatian, I wanted to take a walk in the city graveyard, because here we believe that this is the final and the crucial step in getting to know a place. A visit to the field of death. The oldest part of the graveyard followed the pattern of other European graveyards – at the beginning were old, dignified but totally solemn monuments marking the remains of Danish rule.  Even if they bore Icelandic names, their promise to rest in peace was written in Danish, or, at least, in Danish orthography. And then a great surprise:  I saw, in the newer part of the graveyard, Icelandic flags everywhere. Almost all of the graves were marked by one small national flag stuck in the ground. The graveyard looked like a field of flags, a field full of blue, red and white flowers (I did see a few Danish, Norwegian, and one Finnish flag as well). A nation which rarely uses their national flag among the living, uses these symbols of colorful cloth to mark what was left of their dead. It all became clear to me.

There is no land that hasn’t been fought for, by sword, by word, or by central heating of some sort. And this wonderful land, Iceland, was one of the rare places on Earth morally and practically worth fighting for.

Lebanon Refuses (to) Disappoint(ment)

First I saw it from the air. It was night, the lights disclosed the shape of the coastline. As the airplane approached the city, even from the high altitude I could feel the luxury and grandeur of Beirut. Before the war they used to call it ‘Paris of the Middle East’. They also dubbed Budapest ‘Paris on the Danube’. I could never really understand why should anyone compare other cities, especially those in the East, to Paris in the first place. This is how the world works, I guess, in constant collaboration of the feelings of superiority and fear. By naming an alien place after something you consider yours and supreme, the fear is reduced and superiority is set to thrive. Beirut looked nothing like Paris to me. It was Beirut.

I was overwhelmed with joy upon the news that the second part of the Saudi crime serial, in which I had a role of an American mafia guy, would take place on set in Lebanon. When I told the people close to me that I would travel there, they became anxious and their faces darkened under a shade of worry. They told me that this part of the world is not safe, if nothing else, because it was too close to the war-torn Syria. That made me even more determined to go there.

I saw armed people at the Frankfurt airport upon boarding the airplane. Special forces, all covered and wrapped up. I could not help noticing that the soldiers were present only at the gate where the passengers for Beirut were boarding. They checked us all thoroughly. Passengers bound to other destinations were strolling down the corridor behind our backs and observing in astonishment. When they saw the word ‘Beirut’ on the display, I saw their face expressions change into a large Aha! sign. Travelers to Beirut have to be checked, naturally.

I saw soldiers again in the airport in Beirut. They were armed lightly and seemed utterly uninterested about what was going on. It was much warmer than in Frankfurt. The young woman at the customs asked me about the hotel where I was staying. I told her I didn’t know the hotel’s name. She told me that in that case I could not enter the country. I hastily connected to the airport Wi-Fi and called the assistant director. He said: ‘Just give them this name’. I gave them the name of a hotel I eventually never visited. The young woman smiled and I was in.

At the exit there was a guy waiting with my name written on a piece of paper. I approached him, and, without many words, I found myself in a black van. Behind the windshield, there was a paper with the Arabic inscription saying ‘Ehktiraq’ or, translated in English, ‘Infiltration’, which is the title of the crime serial we were shooting. In this instance as well, a familiar name has cured some discomfort. I was the only passenger in the van.

We passed by some crumpled looking palm trees, then through an underpass made of massive concrete blocks, and then the astonishing beauty of night time Beirut struck me as a sudden light after darkness. Although it was late, the traffic was quite thick, and that gave me the time to observe the wonderful buildings and squares were passed by. The driver was silent. He lit the second cigarette even before we reached the center.

Again, I pushed my face against the window. The center of Beirut seemed as an otherworldly mixture of traditional and modern architecture. And, what surprised me a bit, streets were riddled with sacral objects belonging to a variety of different religions. If I would fall into a temptation of comparing Beirut with other places, I would say it looked to me like a mixture of Athens, Rome, and Tunis, but then again, it looked nothing like any of these places.

Once we passed the strict center, I first saw buildings whose facades bore the scars of the civil war. I remembered growing up in the 80’ and watching this terrible war on the TV. In those times Beirut was a synonym for death and destruction, and its Holiday Inn the symbol of the war. Little did I know that I would live through in many ways a similar conflict in my own country just a few years later. Splinter holes in walls look the same all around the world.

The traffic got even thicker on the half-highway that connects all the Lebanese coastal towns. I noticed right away that the quality of the road could not support the bravery of some drivers. The traffic looked like a deadly mixture of chaos and speed. The driver was getting more and more nervous, I heard bitter words coming out of his mouth together with the cigarette smoke. I thought it was a right time to start a conversation in my broken Arabic and a bit of gesticulation. ‘Is it always like this?’, I asked. To put it short, the driver told me that road safety and the death toll are one of the burning issues in the country. Every day people die on Lebanese roads, good people that would otherwise build the future of this land.

‘Roads have killed more people in Lebanon than any war.’

And just when that thought was about to sink in, we saw a large shadow over the opposite side of the highway, a few hundred meters further from us, a shadow that quickly disappeared, and then produced a loud crash. On the road where people drive up to 150 km/h with a half a meter distance between vehicles, only luck will prevent chain crashes when someone suddenly kicks the brake. And that’s exactly what happened; the driver pushed the brake violently, I grasped the seat in front of me. We stopped. Sounds of honks, and very soon sirens. After waiting for about twenty minutes, we started moving slowly towards the place where the accident had happened. It took us a half an hour to make that few hundred meters. The driver opened his window and looked left. There was a sight of total destruction on the opposite side of the highway. It seems that one of the cars hit the rear part of the other car in high speed, which propelled that car into the air. The flying car then fell on another moving car and then bounced over to our side of the highway.  The driver shook his head in disbelief and lit another cigarette.

It was a horrible scene. However, just like holes in walls, all car accidents look more or less the same. But one thing I will never forget; there was an older woman standing in middle of the highway, trembling, crying, and shrieking. She was constantly calling the name of God, which in Arabic translates as Allah (Arabs of all religions have only one name for God, and that’s Allah, and it can be found in the Arabic version of the Bible as well. Contrary to the western media, there is no need to get paranoid just upon hearing the word uttered by any Arab). I think she was the one who caused the crash, the driver of the flying car. She stood there and shrieked. In one moment, a younger man left the group of men he was standing with near another crashed car, and he approached the woman. She cried once more: ‘Allah!’ In that moment he hugged her and tapped her on the back.

I was shocked. Absolutely shocked. Coming from a place where even parking disputes can result in shootings and dead people, I was shocked to see that one of the afflicted people hugged the culprit. It was me who now said: ‘God, are they hugging now?’ The driver of our van continued nodding his head. He then muttered: ‘Crazy people’. He threw the cigarette butt out of the window, and we slowly left the scene of the accident. The sounds of sirens became more silent; it was all behind us now. The driver looked at me in the mirror and said: ‘Welcome to Lebanon.’

Due to some technical issues, the shooting was postponed for a couple of days. I didn’t mind at all. I stayed in a wonderful hotel built right on the beach in the center of the city of Jbeil, also known as by its ancient Phoenician name Byblos. I took long walks in this ancient city. I saw the ruins of the Phoenician town and the port, I visited old Christian basilicas, mosques and the bazaar with narrow streets full of life. It struck me as a place where people live in peace and harmony. A lot of people, because Lebanon is a very small country with a population of over 6.8 million. More than a million of them refugees.

I’ve noticed right away the freedom of movement and expression. No one stared at no one, no one asked questions. I could walk freely everywhere, even in the shabby part of the town, and I never felt unsafe or even unpleasant. At one point I got hungry and I decided to go far further from the center to find a traditional Lebanese restaurant, not a touristic place such as those displayed in the center. After a longer walking I didn’t find any restaurant, so I asked an old man sitting in front of his thin but high house (in this way builders win space on a crowded land) to help me. ‘Are there any restaurants here?’, I asked showing with my hand towards the East and the mountain slopes. He nodded his head in a bit worried manner. ‘Yes, well… yes’, he replied and also pointed towards the East with his hand. I walked further and crossed the highway on a pedestrian overpass (practically the only and definitely the safest way to cross roads in Lebanon because zebra crossings are almost inexistent and very dangerous) and got uphill to the eastern suburbs. I asked another man about a restaurant. He said he didn’t know of any. I’ve noticed a large shopping mall a hundred meters away, and asked him if there was a restaurant in the mall. He said: ‘Yes… yes, it has to be.’ I asked for the reconfirmation: ‘In the shopping mall?’ The man looked towards the ground and said in a hesitant way: ‘Yes… on the second floor. Or somewhere.’

So, I went to the mall just to learn that it had no second floor. The security guy laughed at me for ten minutes. I asked him if there was a restaurant nearby. He answered in French: ‘Not that I know of, but there has to be at least one somewhere.’ I walked further, more and more uphill. I thought, ‘if I continue like this, I would very soon have my lunch in Syria’. And then I gave it the last try. An old woman. I asked her about a restaurant. She told me: ‘Go to the center. It’s full of restaurants.’  I told her: ‘I want something not so touristic.’ The woman replied: ‘But I also eat there, in the center.’ I shrugged my shoulders. One last try. ‘Do you know of any traditional, family-type, smaller restaurants around here?’ The woman asked: ‘Here?’ and she looked uphill towards the place where the last houses were slowly disappearing in the Mediterranean macchia and rocks. She sighted, looked to the ground, and she said: ‘Yes… there has to be. Somewhere…’. And she left. By that time, I knew there were no restaurants around at all. All the restaurants were in the center. I enjoyed the view of the city that I had from the hill slope, and then I returned to the hotel.

I made friends with all the people working in the reception. It wasn’t hard, they were wonderful young people. I helped them decorate the Christmas tree because it was that time of the year. By the way, the biggest Christmas tree in the world is erected in Jbeil, and it is made of high metal construction covered with empty green water bottles. After three hours of unsuccessful search for a restaurant, I returned to the hotel and grabbed a bottle of water at the reception desk, took a long sip and asked the young woman who worked there: ‘Why is everybody here lying?’ She was shocked. ‘Who’s lying?’ and then I told her my restaurant story. She smiled, although she obviously felt a bit unpleasant. She told me: ‘They are not lying. In Lebanon there is Yes and Yes. One means No. This is so because nobody wants to disappoint you.’

You have to know which yes is no. It’s not hard if you’re not a silly tourist trying to implement your logic on the clarity of an ancient place with a troublesome history like Jbail. The young woman at the reception also told me: ‘You can eat in the center. These are real Lebanese restaurants, and no one will cheat on you. And anyway, you can eat anything and anytime in the hotel restaurant because the film production had already payed for everything.’ Was I walking in vain. Not quite. It was a great experience on so many levels.

It was almost Christmas, and just a few days before the Independence Day. The sea was still warm and the beach full of swimmers. I took a long swim and then some selfies in the sea just to make my friends freezing back home a bit jealous. There were both men and women on the beach, and surprisingly enough (or not?) one day there was a Polish Catholic priest on the beach. He was talking to some young people. Trainer aircrafts of the Lebanese Air force were constantly flying over us in various formations preparing for the Independence Day celebration. I observed them lying on the beach and sunbathing.

One day I was on the beach, and I entered the sea. But just when I was about to start swimming, I heard that horrible sound. The sound that you hear once and never forget it. It was coming from far away, but I had no doubt these were explosions. I thought maybe there was a military practice somewhere in the hills. I haven’t heard these hellish sounds since the war in the nineties. It really messed up my day at the beach. I returned to the hotel earlier than planned and opened the Internet. The news spoke about a strong bombing of Aleppo that had happened earlier that day. I asked at the reception if it was possible to hear explosions on the beach in Jbail. ‘Of course’, they told me, ‘We hear that almost every day. The sounds of bombs from Damask, Aleppo, all the other Syrian cities in a hundred kilometers range from the border.’ I felt bad about the fact that people were dying a few hundred kilometers away while I was swimming in the sea and sunbathing.

Lebanon is crowded. It is crowded for the last 6000 years or so. There is no place in Lebanon, except maybe on the high Lebanon Mountains, where you can dig in the ground and not find the traces of ancient buildings (which is partially true for some parts of the Balkans as well). Pieces of ancient ceramics and brick are everywhere; people have lived here continuously for so long that you can hardly start building and be the first on that spot. As far as culture and history is concerned, this is heaven, ground zero of what we call the western civilization. As far as ecology is concerned, the early settlement and development of the area had one very sad result: The coastline from the Sinai Peninsula all the way to Hatay is built up. That means that you could walk along the seaside from Egypt to Southern Turkey without ever stepping off concrete (of course, that could be possible only if the politics in the region would be different). In Lebanon I came to a horrifying realization that the entire Eastern-most part of the Mediterranean is one long concrete pathway. In Lebanon there are smaller patches of original coastal vegetation between the cities, but these parts are minuscule. 6000 years of history and 6.8 million people had taken their toll. Even the symbol of Lebanon, the cedar tree, now grows only in some parts of the highest mountains.

Just for the comparison, Lebanon has the area of 10.452 km², while Iceland covers the area of 102.775 km², making Iceland almost exactly ten times larger. But the population of Iceland is 360.000 people compared to Lebanon’s 6.8 million (just for reference; Croatia: 56.594 km² and the population of about 3.9 million). Such a small country like Lebanon boosts three main religions divided into numerous subgroups. Actually, roots of both Judaism, and especially Christianity can be found in Lebanon. Bible was allegedly named after Byblos, today’s Jbail. From here Christianity spread in the region and to Armenia. It was here where the Romans got infected with Christianity which they then took to Europe in a very changed, in a way, simplified form. Today Christianity is usually regarded a true European faith, actually, that has been the credo of many rightist movements in the ‘old’ continent. But the truth is that the Middle East is much older, and that all the three monotheist religions were established by the forefathers of the local people that today live from Egypt to Turkey, Iraq and Yemen. I spoke about that with some Lebanese Christians and I got the feeling that they feel a bit puzzled by Europe’s usurpation and modification of their faith, and they generally perceive Europe’s treatment of Syrian refugees as appalling (those who knew about that treatment; there seems to be a media blockage regarding the information on the fate of Syrian refugees in Europe). However, they are proud of their alliance with the Pope of Vatican, and they practice various polite and unobtrusive ways to show that. The Muslims I spoke with in Jbail had only good words for their neighbors of other faiths, and whole Muslim families were delighted to make photos with the giant Christmas tree. I also had a chance to meet several Druze men who told me, with a large smile on their faces, that they were ‘a little bit of everything.’

Besides the Arabs, there is a large Armenian minority, and various smaller ethnic groups in Lebanon. I have witnessed that many of the workers at the construction sites were from the Philippines and other countries of South-East Asia.  I wondered how did an extremely bloody civil war happen in a such a society like the Lebanese one? People were generally reluctant to talk about the Civil War, but those that did speak about it emphasized the fact that most of the war was instrumented from outside of Lebanon, particularly from Israel and Syria. I could feel a bit of bitterness when they spoke about the role of Syria in that war, nevertheless, they were more than opened to help the Syrian people who are today afflicted by a somehow similar conflict. Lebanon learns and forgives.

One of the people I met on set in Lebanon told me an interesting story. During the war there was an unusual number of Lebanese soldiers killed by Israelis in one particular part of Beirut. These killings were done with amazing accuracy and from far away, as if the Israelis knew the exact movement of Lebanese forces (belonging to some of the ideological/religious fractions). It was later discovered that the Israelis had a spy in the street. Literally in the street. It was a local beggar that Israel had installed in one busy street long before the war. The man who told me the story laughed as he asked:

‘And who sees better than the beggar?’

The Independence Day was an extremely well balanced and tasteful celebration. There was very little cheap national pathos so prominent for such manifestations in the Eastern Europe. In the port of Jbail they made a water wall (pumped out of the sea) on which they projected a film about the national history. It struck me how little was shown of wars. People watching the projection on the water wall hugged each other, families and friends, sometimes chanting and singing. I felt the love that they had for the place where they lived in, and I experienced absolutely no negative or destructive feelings. I, and other foreigners, were constantly cheered by the smiles of the local people. There were no us and no them. In such an atmosphere I was taken over by the good vibes and I felt proud and satisfied to be a part of this celebration.

A lot of the interesting cultural input came from the stuff of the hotel. They were mostly young people, half of them refugees from Syria. Most of them had a burning wish to escape from Lebanon, and those who did not dream of leaving Lebanon (or at least returning to Syria) expressed their worries about the future. These young people were painfully aware of the deepest problem of modern Lebanon, and that is corruption. They were quite opened and articulated about it, and they believed that changes were on the way (at the time I revised this text, the Lebanese Revolution of 2019 had already happened, and the corrupted government has fallen giving place to unstable coalitions and partially the military). What amazed me is the fact that the Syrian refugees had an idea that they were genuinely welcome in Europe, and that Europe was easily reachable. I told them about the human traffickers which rob people on their way, I told them about boats full of people that capsize in the sea, about fences along borders, about refugee camps and violent police forces. They were mostly ignorant of all this. ‘But why would they do that to us?’ one of them asked me in utter disbelief.

I will remember my stay in Lebanon for yet another thing. This was when I, for first time in my life, experienced the power of fake news. One day, it was before the Independence Day, I came down to the lobby and found some actors from Serbia standing there (there were quite a few actors from Serbia and the whole of Balkans because we shot one part of the project in Belgrade). They were visibly agitated and afraid, and some of them were fully packed to leave. I asked them what was the problem. They told me the war had started, and that Israel had crossed the southern border in the morning.

‘This is a small country; they will be here in a few hours, just like the last time!’

I can’t say I wasn’t afraid. I asked them to show me the news, and they opened some Serbian on-line portal. And really, it showed the right date, and it said that Lebanon had been invaded. My first thought was to somehow get to Cyprus over the sea. Then we heard the airplanes. There was a silence. But I recognized the sound. I came out to the terrace and saw Lebanese trainer aircrafts. I looked down on the beach, there were swimmers there. Why would they train for the celebration and even swim in the sea if the war had started? Are they so calm about the whole thing? Actually, that would not surprise me.

I went to the reception and asked the young woman there if we were in war. She was confused, then she started laughing. Then, in a bit worried manner, she checked Lebanese news online. Then she called home. ‘No, no war today,’ she said.

In that moment, the assistant director appeared in the hotel lobby. They asked him about the invasion. He nodded his head and said: ‘Impossible. It is Summer. Never in history have they attacked in Summer. We make wars in Winter only.’ It turned out that the news was totally fake and launched as a decoy in Serbia on a day when the country faced some political instability.

Summer or not, we were happy that there was no war. The hotel stuff was laughing at us and our naivety. In order to amuse them even more, we decided to give them an improvised performance. One Serbian actress took on a role of the invading Israeli army, while I, a Croat, acted the Lebanese forces. In a macabre parody that resembled fencing in Bollywood productions, I was victorious, and I forced the Israelis out to the hotel’s terrace. There we were served coffee and fresh fruit salad.

Lebanon refuses to disappoint.

The Peace System – As a Self-referential Communication System



Ever since Abbé Saint-Pierre wrote his magisterial Projet d’une Paix Perpétuelle, published in the aftermath of the Utrecht Peace in 1713, it has been questioned whether the “system of peace” could tackle the “system of war”. Earlier, “times of war” followed “times of peace” or vice versa. Under the umbrella of a pontifical order, the organisation of peace could manage to cool the inner dynamics of armed conflicts though the pope was definitely sometimes part of heated campaigns and war endeavours, as at the time when he initiated the first crusade in 1095. During the so-called Italian Wars, from 1494 to 1559, the combined dynamics of state organised campaigns were loaded with new heavy weapons as guns and soon after specialised warships; defensive strategies of fortifications followed by the religious conflicts of the Reformation did indeed rupture whatever could still be established as a pontifical peace (Porter 1994; Autrand 1998). The last such half-hearted peace endeavour was the Trento Council in the middle of the 16th century. Albeit the “Landesfrieden” in 1555 established a peace between Catholic and Protestant princes inside the Roman Empire of the Holy German Nation, an ongoing explosive conflict began in France in 1561 between Catholics and Huguenots only to be followed by the rebellion of Dutch provinces against the rule of Spanish Philip II in 1566.

From that moment a still stronger whirl of war increased the call for state organisation and its justification principle, the “necessities” entailed by a “raison d’État”, only to be followed by an increased competition among militarily organised states that copied each other’s innovations with a still higher speed. The so-called Thirty Years War took its departure in that context with the Bohemian rebellion, the “defenestration”, against Austrian rule in 1618; it faded of exhaustion in the years before the famous Treatises of Münster and Osnabrück that concluded the Westphalian Peace in 1648. Still, the French-Spanish Peace of the Pyrenees and the Danish-Swedish Peace had to follow in 1659.

After a hundred years of war, the system of war won an internal self-reference and was established as a functional system that was ungovernable for any other system outside itself. Its means were too strong, its dynamics too necessary and the powers that did not follow its imperatives were annihilated such as Burgundy in the 16th century, Denmark-Norway nearby in 1659 and Poland at the end of the 18th century. When Carl von Clausewitz, in the aftermath of the Napoleon Wars, was able to write that “war is the continuation of politics with other means” (Clausewitz 1832/1952: 888), it was because even absolute wars were in need of real supplies, and logistics could be governed. The still more complex and professional military organisation system could be controlled and governed; but not the war system.

The struggle between control and ungovernable dynamics has always been tested as one of finance. Seemingly politics could control war finance when the political legitimacy of still higher taxes disappeared, and loans and credits were stopped; however, this turned out not to be the case. Wars demand extremely increasing supplies of finance, and they have always exceeded any limitations whatsoever. The invention of not only new taxes but especially new credit systems far beyond imagination turned out to be part of the competition, symmetric or asymmetric, of wars. Every major war was decided less by the so-called decisive battles and more by the exhaustion of resources and their financial sinews.

What happened to the peace system? If the war system had its own hard-hitting dynamics, what about the dynamics of the peace system? Could any dynamics and self-referential codes of communication be identified in what was once called a peace system? Or did the peace system disappear after 1648 or 1713 as anything worth mentioning as a “system”? What are the semantics, he codes and resources to be found in such a system? And which potentialities could be detected inherent to a peace system (Bély 1993)?

This does indeed question: What precisely does “system” mean? What advantages, if any, could such a conception offer to a description of peace potentialities?

I will begin with a short outline of some frames offered by recent system theory. Although several system theories have been presented since Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes, Gottfried Leibniz and Abbé Saint-Pierre presented the first system theories – and especially has been established with great endeavours from German immigrants in America after the 1930s – the only system theory I find just remotely adequate to answer these questions is German sociologist Niklas Luhmann’s. He did not himself undertake the task of writing anything like “Der Frieden des Gesellschaft” comparable to his many magisterial books about Das Wirtschaft der Gesellschaft (1988), Der Wissenschaft der Gesellschaft (1990), Das Recht der Gesellschaft (1993; Law as Social System 2004), Die Kunst der Gesellschaft (1995; Art as Social System 2000) Die Politik der Gesellschaft (2000), Die Religion der Gesellschaft (2000; A Systems Theory of Religion 2013) Das Erziehung der Gesellschaft (2002), Die Moral der Gesellschaft (2008) and not even his greatest achievement Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft 1-2 (1997; Theory of Society 1-2, 2013). As a German, born in 1927, he did not feel that he himself was sufficiently at a distance to write a “Der Krieg der Gesellschaft” nor a similar book on peace, on it functions, its communication codes, semantics and self-descriptions, its evolutions, organisations, structural couplings, sense and whatever else such a theory would imply. Though, comparable to a so-called “contingency formula” of for example “justice”, he several times wrote about the importance of a contingency formula of war/peace indicating when a war or a peace begins and ends. Gertrud Brücher wrote Frieden as Form (2002) and later Gewaltspiralen (2011) to compensate this lack in the theory of self-referential systems; but she did not focus on the form of communication and the codes of diplomatic communication according to the historical evolutions of diplomatic self-descriptions.

Yet, Luhmann wrote an important booklet on Trust (Vertrauen, 1968). From this he embarked into studies of risk and mistrust. Diplomacy and peace establishment is constituted by trust in order to cope with mistrust, and we may say that trust re-enters into mistrust, interprets mistrust and interprets war and conflict with peace, negotiations and contracts. Whereas Luhmann in his major general theory of Social Systems (1984) writes about conflict as the continuation of communication but in other means, he does not only paraphrase Clausewitz’ “war is the continuation of politics, but in other means” he also describes how conflicts could be displaced into law and contracts. To Luhmann the evolution of law and contracts was his answer to the solutions necessary to replace war with peaceful if not conflict free and dissent free means.

No other system theory is not even close to the level of theoretical and historical elaboration offered by Luhmann’s theory of self-referential communication systems. In the first section, I shortly introduce some of the basic conceptions of the theory useful for a construction of a system theory of peace (I). In the second section, I mark some of the basic self-references and use communication codes of diplomacy as an example (II). In the third and concluding section, I indicate what diplomatic communication codes mean in the actual modern world.


I. Medium, code, function and system: Giving sense to peace


Niklas Luhmann was not the only one to warn against identifying society with a nation-state, its territory, its population, its language and its narration of a national history. Émile Durkheim, Norbert Elias, Jürgen Habermas, Anthony Giddens and, more recently, Slavoj Zizek have done the same, and before them, perhaps more than any, Karl Marx. The problem is to detect exactly what the problem is. Using Gaston Bachelard’s famous concept, Luhmann describes the distorted identification as an “obstacle épistemologique”. The strive to concretise by identifying society with a certain spot to be circumscribed as the green, yellow or blue surface on a map, repeated over and over in schools for the past two hundred years, dissolves the possibilities to observe exactly what is the object in question. In fact, several obstacles are layered into each other.

Another obstacle is to conceptualise society as if it could be adequately observed as a sum of individuals or eventually as more than the sum of a mass of individuals, as if the little word “more” is adequate to answer questions about the dynamics of the mass. On the contrary, a Dutch society is not more flat than a Swiss, and an American society is not discovered to be heavier than a Japanese even if statistics show that Americans have another bodily weight than Japanese citizens.

Rather, “society” is a concept used in history in order to establish a communication with certain concerns. Above all, “society” is a medium of the communication that takes form in society itself, i.e. in the object in question. Hence the failure or obstacle is to turn immediately to the object rather than to constitute the conceptualisation with the concept of communication. Society is about communication. Society has the form communication offers, and it is very possible that the course of history has led society to communicate about territories, population statistics and grammatically well-defined languages. However, communication has led in all different kinds of directions. The spatial reference of communication has throughout history also and perhaps mainly been occupied with water, with rivers, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Chinese Sea, but also with marital alliances and links between princes, princesses, uncles, aunts and parents. Even more to the point, the post-Jewish monotheist theologies developed conceptions about a trans-territorial and transcendent spirit of interpretation, whether the Umma or the Holy Spirit enabled synchronisation of communication across huge distances. More than anything, this re-established a conception of society after the dissolution of the Roman societas civilis. Society was constituted as a body of differentiated societal orders and estates (Luhmann 1980). Such a system of orders – to speak with Bodin (1583/1961: 562, 1056) – could use historical records of hereditary privileges in order to structure its own ordered hierarchy and even later on call it national history in order to exclude incomers.

Accordingly Luhmann defines society as a communication system and not a society of individuals, but what is communication? Communication cannot proceed without reference to individuals or space; but above all communication must be able to refer to communication itself and leave individuals, space, organic or mechanical systems outside in the environment of a communication system. Communication is not able to communicate about everything at the same time. Complexities have to be reduced if social communication about any matter should give any actual sense. In a social dimension, communication has to reduce complexities in order to establish communication about any substantial matter in any temporal delimited sense. When sense and nonsense is defined in communication, it is because communication can establish distinctions between left out external complexities and internal reduced complexities handled inside communication. Communication operates with distinctions. But these distinctions are asymmetric; they observe communication from the side of the internal operations of communication, not from the external overly complex side of communication. Thus, the distinction operated in communication can be designated in the following way (Figure 1) just as Niklas Luhmann does when he follows George Spencer Brown’s logical designation technique (Baecker 1999; 2005).


Figure 1. The form of distinction










More advanced communication theories usually go back to a tripartition of communication in order not to reduce communication to a transfer of information or transfer of intention – again two epistemological obstacles well-known to communication analyses. Since Charles Sander Pierce and Karl Bühler, several proposals have designated such tripartitions. Luhmann distinguishes between information, message and understanding. Full communication operates with a temporal dimension of ongoing understanding of information as a substantial dimension in the form of the social dimension of messages. This tripartion could be indicated as in Figure 2.



Figure 2. The form of communication











Thus, understanding is, in fact, only possible if communication can operate with its own understanding of whatever is accounted for as information. Information might appear as if it handles some observation of an outside world, but information only makes sense if operated by an ongoing communication interpreting information as if changing information is the difference that makes a difference to the understanding itself. Such operations are possible because messages take form as all kinds of semantics some of which are coded in binary ways as for example justùunjust peaceùwar or trueùfalse. The operation of such binary codes allows for a duplication of the form of codes, hence the distinction can be handled in a way that in itself is justùunjust; this duplication can be established and in the course of history even monopolised by a legal system that has monopolised communication about the code justùunjust in such a way that it can claim to communicate about it in a just way. Hence Luhmann describes how communication re-enters into itself in a form of self-reference separated from other forms, as law communication is differentiated from political communication, aesthetic communication or communication about war. With a reconstruction proposed by Dirk Baecker this could take a form as sketched in figure 3.


Figure 3. The differentiated form of communication separated from other forms



















Communication =




























The same construction of re-entered communication can be observed in cases of the codes of war and peace. And communication of war could even re-enter into – what Luhmann terms a “structural coupling” of law communication – the communication war has on war, this might happen with the so-called jus in bello and its codes of conduct.

However, operations of war were originally coded in terms belonging to the peace side, such as honour, justice, sacral virtues etc. The tactical codes of war as a form of interchanges about annihilation of force were in operation and can be traced in Roman or Greek warfare. However, war communication had not fully managed to communicate about tactics, strategy and operations; it only did so in the self-referential hard-hitting form that professionalised itself according to its own codes since the Thirty Years War. Ever since Cicero’s Republic and Augustin’s The City of God (book 19, chap. 12), the code peaceùwar was communicated as if it was self-evident that peace was understood as being the side from which the observation of the code was undertaken. This might still apply to systems of legal communication or political communication; however, in war communication the opposite distinction replaced it at latest with the Thirty Years War and, accordingly, Clausewitz could write his masterpiece as if the code peaceùwar was replaced by one of warùpeace as if war could strive towards absolute war without moderation of realities. All functional systems communicate about themselves as if they can neglect the moderations imposed by their environments; this is of course an illusion but, indeed, a very real illusion filled with consequences when wars go on and are planned as if their opponents have no plans of destroying those plans and accordingly planned without thought for constraints to the gravitation centres of moral, sorrow, public opinion, finance and credit.

Here the question is: What happens with the code of peaceùwar observed from the peace loving side?


II. Diplomatic communication about peace


The semantics and codes of peace communication can be observed in diplomatic communication. This entrance to the analysis of peace systems is obvious due to the fact that diplomacy throughout history has been extremely concerned with communication in every obvious way. The role of diplomatic communication has been described according to the communication form that wars begin and stop when diplomacy stops respectively begins.

In his penetrating book A History of Diplomacy, respected British historian Jeremy Black describe three functions typical of modern diplomacy as it emerged since the 17th century: Information gathering, representation, and negotiation (Black 2010: 12, 73ff). Other functions such as tribute and vassalage can also be observed, for instance in the Osman Empire, in Russian traditions, Popal diplomacy and in Chinese Ming or Manchu traditions. If anything was the result of the Westphalian peace system, it would probably appear to be a certain shift in diplomatic communication, a transformation that did not occur during the negotiations in Osnabrück and Münster, but rather in the interpretations that stabilised some of the codes of communication that ex post were traced back to 1648, and even better, they could also be traced back to the Landesfrieden in 1555 or the Italian and especially Venetian republican interaction system of diplomacy. Under Louis XIV, French semantics conditioned a diplomatic communication structurally established and coupled to a bureaucratic organisation system. Diplomats travelled to other monarchies instructed with codified dispatches as if they were commissioned as commissaries, later called intendants or prefects. They should inform about who, how and what (Harste 2013; King 1948; Bely 1990; they should negotiate for and represent their absent monarch This was no evident commission given the fact that the telegraph, not to say telephone, internet or even a regular postal service was well established. Black describes the interdependency of those functions as if they were held together by the communication form figured above. Hence I will re-describe diplomatic communication as in Figure 4.



Figure 4. The form of diplomatic communication










The representation form enables the temporal dimension of ongoing communication. Representation is about a lot of often extremely costly rituals establishing what communication theory normally calls phatic communication: keep in touch, especially when the presence of political decision-makers (princes, ministers, generals) is quite absent.

The communication established among diplomats emerged as a form structurally coupled to the organisation system of foreign ministries. The French foreign ministry was probably the first ministry to departmentalise itself into resorts, simply because foreign affairs have many sides. In other states, the departmentalisation into resorts often followed linguistic skills, but in Paris and among diplomats the language was French anyway, especially after the transition with Versailles, Colbert and Louis XIV 1660-1680. Organisation systems can be observed with system theory as communication systems specialised in decisions are always in the temporal form of decisions about decisions (Luhmann 2000). Furthermore, organisation systems do include members and offer them positions as responsible persons in hierarchies according to a stratified ordered society; responsibility is communicated as a form that can be delegated and, in extreme cases, decentralised by sending persons far away from the present organisation to re-present positions. This construction was established by the church organisation of a body of monks, coordinated and synchronised inside the communication form of a Holy Spirit. During the 17th century, this theologically interpreted corpus spiritus was replaced by a secular form of an esprit de corps that permitted delegates to interpret their commissions according to the same codes present at the organisational and political centre, for instance in the councils and the court in Versailles.

Thus, as a whole, war communication took place as a certain self-codifying form; but it was structurally coupled to the war system, inside it but also striving for control of war, at least from a distant position, organisation systems did increase their decision-making communication and their organisational complexities; then again, inside organisational systems, diplomatic communication took place in a form oscillating between internal and external positions. Diplomatic communication could very seldom offer anything like a securitisation of a link between internal decision-making operations and external negotiations. Stretching the figures of form analyses to their outmost possibilities, the form of classic early modern diplomatic communication could be sketched somewhat sophisticated as in Figure 5.


Figure 5. The form of diplomatic communication structurally coupled to war communication and organisation systems












organisational decision-making



































Of course there was a paradox inherent to classic diplomatic communication: Displaced and departed negotiators could only negotiate as if they were still to be trusted as representatives, as if they did not have their own interests and as if they somehow were online with the spirit of decision-making present at the organisational centre. Therefore, cities emerged as a medium of credibility where entrusted representatives could inform themselves and at the same time interpret and understand which decisions their far away organisational centre, who financed their costly commission, would favour. Seemingly absurd forms of communication in diplomatic communication offers far less non-sense to the careful symbolisation of respect, politeness and forms of listening inherent in diplomatic communication; a famous example is offered by Rousseau:


The context of what Kant had in mind was provided by Rousseau who, in his somewhat ironical commentary to Abbé Saint-Pierre in Extrait du Projet de paix perpétuelle, wrote about the common sense of diplomatic deliberations that


”From time to time there are convoked in Europe certain general assemblies called Congresses, to which deputies from every State repair solemnly, to return in the same way; where men assemble to say nothing; where all the affairs of Europe are overhauled in detail; where men lay their heads together to deliberate whether the table they sit at shall be square or round; whether the hall shall have six doors or five; whether one plenipotentiary shall sit with his face or his back to the window, whether another shall come two inches further, or less far, into the room on a visit of ceremony: in fine, on a thousand questions of equal importance which have been discussed without any settlement for the last three centuries and are assuredly very fit to engross the statesmen of our own. It is possible that the members of one of these assemblies may, once in a way, be blessed with common sense. It is even not impossible that they may have a sincere desire for the general good. For reasons to be assigned shortly, it is further conceivable that after smoothing away a thousand difficulties, they will receive orders from their sovereigns to sign the Constitution of the Federation of Europe.” (Rousseau 1761/1971: 340)


No doubt, Rousseau himself behaved as a careless communicator with disrespect of everything and everyone. Yet, the main formula for respect and carefully coded communication is found in Le Callières Comment negocier avec les princes from 1716.

The costs covered by those who commissioned the delegate was in itself a symbol of trust; high costs signified the standing of the negotiator at the same time as the centre sending the entrusted diplomat could risk that they invested to much in the symbols. Thus, fixed embassies are a relatively new phenomenon, especially outside Paris, since Paris was, so to say, as a city the centre of negotiation, information and representation. The central position is revealed by the fact that the absolutist Danish king found his foreign minister, Johan Bernstorff, in Paris. He was a Hanoverian diplomat, who was probably, even for a while, a close friend or even the lover of Madame Pompadour; his nephew and two sons later also became foreign ministers, one of them first in Denmark and later in Prussia.

The risky oscillation of diplomatic communication could be short cut with congresses among princes, dukes and others with similar standings. This bracketed the organisation system and even the functional system of war. The mythical position of such meetings is still absolute in the mass media. In reality, diplomats always made the hard work in negotiations, information, argumentation, deliberation among possibilities etc. in such a way that the decisions made were embedded in form of communication responsible to all kinds of accounting. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who had a background as a diplomat in Venice, was sceptical of the possibility for self-referential peace systems to be something that could match war systems. He revised Saint-Pierre’s project about the possibilities of a peace system and his description of classic diplomatic communication signifies the form of meaning he accounts for when describing diplomatic communication.



III. Conclusion


The legacy of classic diplomacy seems obsolete and absurdly embedded in l’ancien regime, but it is not. Rather it was truly an early modern way of communication in a modern functionally differentiated society in which status, at that time, was important, but the point was to communicate across lines of divisions. Divisions took place between different functional systems, different status layers, across borders, cultures and languages (even if the main post-Latin language was French). Already Hugo Grotius displayed how rules and normative orders are possible across confessional divisions (Grotius 1625/1999).

A very important example may give a hint of why communication constituted by codes of honour and respect is not obsolete. When George W. Bush’s diplomacy in 2002 – 2003 should convince the world public and Saddam Hussein that Iraq had delivered on the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), the classic (French) diplomatic code of communication said that Hussein, as an Arab clan leader, in no way could admit that he had a less threatening weapon arsenal than he had claimed in his military diplomacy of threats towards Iraq’s most important enemy, Iran. In fact, earlier, USA strongly supported Iraq in its deterrence policy against Iran; materials used in weapons of mass destruction were sold to Iraq in order to build up such deterrence. An Arab leader had to sustain his glory and be feared by his opponents. This is not a substantial question of facts and materials, but an unavoidable and indispensable symbolic fact. This code of honour was far more important in the 6,000-year-old Mediterranean and Mesopotamian cultural context than life and death. In cultures based on honour, the identity of persons and positions is constituted beyond life and death into eternity.

This is well-known to informed diplomacy. Governments that do not recognize such cultural foundations for diplomatic communication will be unable to establish peace communication. Peace systems are not constituted only by one actor or one state. Peace systems are built in co-operation with a system that tolerates differences in actors including differences of their communication form and how they communicate about responsibility and honour. Instrumental responsibility of materials (WMDs) is ontologically secondary to the primary code of deontological communication, which Western diplomats should have known. The result of this neglect was a war that has cost at least 120,000 lives plus an extra one million lives; thousands of US soldiers have been killed and even more continue to commit suicide because of such communication failures. The financial system of the world lost its stability and USA its position as a monolithic superpower.  

A reflexivity of opposed temporal orders is established by such codes. It is possible to proceed into the future with Immanuel Kant’s theory of post-national con-federal networks and his theory of a self-organisation among such systems; at the same time, it is possible, historically, to trace the constitutionalist potentialities detected by Kant back to the legal and organisational means invented and constitutionalised during the pontifical reconstruction of canon law since the 12th century (Thornhill 2008; 2011; Brunkhorst 2012). The European Integration re-constitutionalised the first sufficiently self-referential peace system (Harste 2009). This system does not proceed without risks; it is especially risk differentiated by incoherent system dynamics that unfold their internal temporal structures in unbalanced ways; rather than having a well constitutionalised separation of powers, more than anything the capitalist logics used in its beginnings and, in combination, the intellectual deficit – not any so-called “democratic deficit” – among political elites and mass media has distorted the risk structure of a European peace system. An admittedly risky further conclusion can describe some of the risk structures inherent in a modern future world society. The lack of a political legitimacy of the war induced debt structure of US as a falling star, – or a falling 50 stars – is a political risk outside imagination. At the same time, Chinese diplomacy will induce a more vassalage based peace system not constitutionalised by law and justice but by a far stronger state legacy than the absurdly incoherent Pax Americana. Kant outlined the possibilities of a convergent system among great powers. This is what Europe could hope for, the risk, however, is that a US population, still reluctant to pay taxes after the 1776 – 1783 War of Independence, will be unable to accept China as a main creditor and step into a still more neo-fascist desperate strife for claims of a worldly rule of the American Way of Life.




Abbé Saint-Pierre (1713/1981). Projet pour rendre la paix perpétuelle en Europe I-III, Paris: Garnier Frères.

Autrand, Françoise (1998). ‘Les artisans de paix face a l’État. La diplomatie pontificale’, i P. Contamine (dir.). Guerre et concurrence entre les États européens du XIVe au XVIIIe siècle, Paris: PUF.

Baecker, Dirk (1999). Problems of Form, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Baecker, Dirk (2005). Formen und Formen der Kommunikation, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

Bély, Lucien (1993). ‘Les trois paradoxes du congrès d’Utrecht’, i Pierre Chaunu (red.), Les fondements de la paix. Des origines au début du XVIIIe siècle, Paris: PUF.

Bély, Lucien (1990). Éspions et ambassadeurs au temps de Louis XIV, Paris: Fayard.

Black, Jeremy (2010). A History of Diplomacy, London: Reaktion.

Bodin, Jean (1583/1961). Les six livres de la république, Aalen: Scientia.

Brunkhorst, Hauke (2012). ‘The co-evolution of cosmopolitan and national statehood – Preliminary theoretical considerations on the historical evolution of constitutionalism’, in Cooperation and Conflict, June 2012, Vol. 47: 176-199.

Brücher, Gertrud (2002). Frieden als Form. Zwischen Säkularisierung und Fundamentalismus, Opladen: Leske & Budrich.

Brücher, Gertrud (2011). Gewaltspiralen. Zur Theorie der Eskalation, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.

Calières, François de (1716/2006). L’art de négocier sous Louis XIV, Paris: Calligram.

Clausewitz, Carl von (1832/1952). Vom Kriege, Bonn: Dümmler.

Grotius, Hugo (1625/1999). Le droit de la guerre et de la paix, Paris: PUF.

Harste, Gorm (2009). ‘Kant’s Theory of European Integration’, Jahrbuch für Recht und Ethik, Band 17: 53-84.

Harste, Gorm (2011). ’Fear as a medium of communication in asymmetric forms of warfare’ i Distinktion, Vol.12, Issue 2: 193-213.

Harste, Gorm (2013a). ‘The improbable European state. Its ideals observed with social systems theory’ i Robert Egnell, Peter Halden (eds.). New Agendas in Statebuilding, London: Routledge.

Harste, Gorm (2013b) ‘The Big, Large and Huge Case of State-Building – Studying Structural Couplings at the Macro Level‘ in Alberto Febbrajo, Gorm Harste (eds.). Law and Intersystemic Communication: Understanding ”structural coupling, London: Ashgate.

King, James (1948/1972). Science and rationalism in the government of Louis XIV, New York: Octogon Press.

Luhmann, Niklas (1968). Vertrauen, Stuttgart: Enke Verlag (Engl in Power and Trust, 1979).

Luhmann, Niklas (1980). ‘Interaktion in den Oberschichten’, i Gesellschaftsstruktur und Semantik 1, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

Luhmann, Niklas (1984). Soziale Systeme, Frankfurt a.M. (Engl. transl. Social Systems, 1995).

Luhmann, Niklas (1997). Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft Band 1-2, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

Luhmann, Niklas (2000). Organisation und Entscheidung, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1761/1971). ‘Extrait du projet de paix perpétuelle’, i Oevres Complètes T. 2, Paris: Seuil.

Thornhill, Chris (2008). ‘Towards a historical sociology of constitutional legitimacy’, Theory and Society 37 : 161-197.

Thornhill, Chris (2011). A Sociology of Constitutions. Constitutions and State Legitimacy in Historical-Sociological Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Imagine A Collective Landscape



The 150th year anniversary of Sir R.F. Burton and the Speke East Africa expeditions’ (1857-59) discovery of the Tanganyika and Victoria lakes has been celebrated in 2008 (Fig. 1).


Fig. 1 – LakesVitctoria and Tanganika discovered by Burton and Speke 1858 – Stamp
(Source: http:/Burtoniana.org)

This event is conceptually connected to both the Ólafur Elíasson’s (2008) The New York City Waterfalls [2] art project and the Yõko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower (2007) art project in Iceland (Fig. 2) .


Fig. 2 – The New York City Waterfalls, Ólafur Elíasson, June 28-Oct. 13, 2008

The link is made by the Iceland on the brain concept elaborated by Sir R.F. Burton in Ultima Thule; or, a summer in Iceland (1875; preface) [3].

Landscape nostalgia is at the roots of both Sir R.F. Burton’s and Ólafur Elíasson’s works.

Cultural Landscape

Landscapes treasure past, frame current and affect future environmental, socioeconomic and cultural change. Assuming that landscape is made of what is visible has more than one implication. What does it mean for landscape to be visible? Visible by whom and from where? The last centuries increased use of images makes these questions necessary. Cinema, colour printing systems, satellite pictures and the internet have all contributed to speeding up the circulation of images as well as stimulated and widened imagination. As custodians of the time-space interface and of the sense of place, landscapes also encourage our territorially steered memories, emotions, perceptions and knowledge, as well as our interests, decisions and actions.

At the beginning of the 20th century both flight technologies and the diffusion of electricity have dramatically changed the perception of landscape as well as its representation. As a consequence, cultural landscape changed and its manipulation became a common practice. In this context, landscapes are the media through which the existing and emerging identity features of places and regions are generated, recorded, assumed and claimed. In short, landscapes are constitutive elements and factors of changing territorial identities.

In the 1940’s, designer and cartographer R.E. Harrison understood the potential impact of the bird eye vision and indirectly concurred in modifying the landscape concept [4]. He used a new and unconventional point of view. His innovative maps were published monthly by Fortune Magazine and in Look at the World: The Fortune Atlas for World Strategy [5]. As a consequence of a new landscape perception cartography changes as well. Harrison’s zenithal projection showed an unusual landscape. In his three dimensional maps as in those of cartographers of the 16th century, mountain profiles were painted onto the profile of the globe. This way of seeing the world, previously made popular by the catholic western vision, had until then been the prerogative of god, angels and saints. This zenithal vision has been well represented in both sacred paintings and frescos. In 19th century, man entered the upper spaces until then considered sacred, and transformed his perception of places. Marc Chagall’s and Osvaldo Licini Amalasunte’s dreamlike landscapes are an example of the ongoing change in landscape perception. A new vision which has anticipated John Lennon’s song Imagine [6].

As a result of this new way of dealing with landscape R. Harrison emotionally reached President Roosevelt’s New Deal America and gave an example of hegemonic use of landscape. Meanwhile – as a consequence of a more and more technological official cartography – ontological landscape elements acquired flatness and conventional colouring while conventional contour lines became a distinguishing feature of landscape representation.

Iceland on the brain

At the turn of the 19th century, a new organization of both global space and global time emerged: the conventional time zones. Industry as well the construction of the extended American rail road system needed workers. Migratory waves of workers brought people from Europe to North America as it also had happened with the previous slave traffic from Africa. The emergence of a new middle class ends in a new expressivity.

Exploration of the continents has begun. Von Humboldt with his expeditions chronicles (1798-1804) to the equinoctial regions opened new frontiers for the geographic and colonialist culture at the beginning of the 19th century. In the same context Sir R.F. Burton (1821-1890) travelled to Africa, India and Near East. During his East African expedition (1857-59) the Tanganyika and Victoria lakes were discovered. Almost fifteen years later (1873) he travelled to Iceland. In his book Thule; or, a summer in Iceland (1875, 2 volumes) he delivered a great quantity of deluded comments about the destination. The most cited and significant, of those comments stands in the book’s preface: Travellers of the early century saw scenes of thrilling horror, of majestic grandeur, and of heavenly beauty, where our more critical, perhaps more cultivated, taste finds very humble features. They had “Iceland on the brain” [3 p. X]. Burton derided the imagination of those who (…) found the landscape thrilling, in his opinion, the only people who were entranced by Iceland where those who had limited experience outside their own country [7]. Burton seemed persuaded that only the other travellers take with them a preconceived idea of Iceland, but in the preface of his book he expressed at least three statements which are in conflict with this assumption:

– The subject (Iceland) is, to some extent, like Greece and Palestine, of the sensational type: we have all read in childhood about those “Wonders of the World”, Hekla and Geysir, and, as must happen under the circumstances, we have all drawn for ourselves our own Iceland – a distorted and exaggerated mental picture of what has not met, and will not meet, the eye of sense [3 p. IX]

– I (Burton) went to Iceland feeling by instict that many travellers had prodigiously exaggerated their descriptions, possibly because they had seldom left home [3 p. X]

– A friend described to me life in Iceland as living in a corner, the very incarnation of the passive mood; and travelling there as full of stolid, stupid risks, that invite you to come and to repeat coming, not like the swiftly pursuing or treacherously lurking perils of tropical climes, but invested with horror of their own – such was not my experience. [3 p. X, XI].

In a way, Burton admitted and denied, within the same text, his preconceived mental image of Iceland.

The Icelandic cultural landscape

There are places where the supernatural, even if well apart from fate and religious practice, is somehow inscribed in the landscape. They are those places and spaces where human settlement is rare and where the genius loci is more often a personal rather than a collective experience. In this kind of deserted sandy or icy landscape, specifically the Icelandic landscape, human survival depends on the aptitude to read landscape and interpret sounds, odours/scents and colours. In this kind of landscape, human survival can be betrayed by an erroneous perception of reality. Senses involved in landscape perception may be thwarted by extreme conditions of nature and amplified by the constant need to remain alert against disorientation, frost, fatigue, wind, light, darkness and possible starvation, as a means of survival. Because of these features a new landscape arises: the parallel world landscape. The invisible peoples (huldufólk) landscape hidden in the visible cultural landscape is definitely a peculiar type of Icelandic cultural landscape.

In 2006 film maker Nisha Inalsingh, presented the documentary titled Huldufólk 102 [8] (Fig. 3). In it she iterviews people (e.g. teachers, historians, farmers, film makers, folklore researchers etc.) regarding the existence of a parallel universe and recounts the interesting and charming landscape related aspects of the Icelandic culture.


Fig. 3 – Huldufolk 102
(Source http://www.huldufolk102.com/home.html)

She says that the movie“(…) is about an idea. How often do you see a documentary that’s about an idea? They are usually about a person or an event or a place, and here we are looking for something that in reality may or may not exist. (…) The charm of the film lies in a blend of breathtaking beautiful scenary worthy of a travel film and the way the Icelandic believers are presented as perhaps eccentric, but never delusional. We get a nice mishmash of history, folklore and first-hand encounters. In the end the impression is of the rare place where the proponents of Christianity were never able to entirely destroy the old gods and beliefs and wisps of Norse goddess Freya still hang in the air. The soundtrack backs up a deliberately ethereal feel. That feeling you get in Iceland, the isolation and also this idea of really being in nature and with nature, we have to be there and get the whole crew feeling that [9]. The documentary is presented on the net with the following words: Beneath the quiet veneer of Iceland lies an invisible nation of huldufólk (hidden people). This fascinating phenomenon, rarely discussed with outsiders, not only pervades Icelandic culture, but also impacts its infrastructure (e.g. road construction and buildings).

(…) Winter’s darkness allows the dazzling and supernatural Northern Lights to pervade the country with its amorphous shapes; casting brilliant colours of yellow, pink and green downward to the land below. Black lava rocks, green mossy rocks, geysers, volcanoes, and glaciers all play their role in this mystical landscape, where the wind snow and light show the power of nature. This spectacular displays reveal the paradoxes that man must contend with-the simplicity of things that we see on a daily basis versus the complexity of things we are unable to see within the world [8].

In the Icelandic landscape the cultural aspect is not only determined by the visible landscape but it includes all kind of related energies.


Fig. 4 – Vík (South Iceland) from Reynishverfi
(M.S. Campanini, 2006)


The understanding of the Icelandic cultural landscape relies on syntonic vibration of sounds and colours waves, as well as light waves, soils magnetism and poisonous gas or vaporous soil exhalations (Fig. 4, 5, 6). All these phenomena are well described by some of Iceland’s painters, like Kjarval, who depicted the elusive and mysterious sense of the lava fields in his painting.


Fig. 5 – Námaskard, Iceland:
(M.S. Campanini, 2006)


The need of orienting oneself in space and time is primary for humankind. Interpreting landscapes depends on cultural categorizations. The latitude of places and spaces plays a key role in the process. Landscape perception involves the interaction of the five senses generating an emotional response which is then filtered by cultural assumptions. Due to the climate change, at the beginning of the 21st century, the newly acquired accessibility to the Arctic region, until then considered marginal, disclosed the conception of new landscapes. The conception of these marginal landscapes emphasizes both sounds and colours and the need to understand the richness of the native cultural landscape.


Fig. 6 – Búlanstíndur, Iceland
(M.S. Campanini, 2006)


Global village landscapes

The modern globalized world, is in part the result of 20th century technological improvements in the field of transportation, which changed the economic value of spaces. This along with the impressive escalation of the media culture’s dissemination (e.g. press, television, cinema, internet etc.) has paved the road for a large scale migrating landscapes phenomenon. Cultures are nowadays influenced and somehow touched by the landscape other by several means:

exoticism          travel offers

information       events



entertainment    movies

                           image projection


memory sharing migrants (immigrating and returning home)

                            travel industry

These influences satisfy the human need to appropriate somebody else’s landscape and sense of belonging to a peculiar landscape.

Active and passive actions are part of the two steps paradigma process:

1 – acquisition of a landscape (it is part of my acquired culture)

I know it        passive action        

– I’ve been there        active action

– I’ve seen it        active action

2 – sense of belonging to a landscape (it is part of the acquired culture)    

– it is the cultural landscape of my origins

. to which I go back when possible            

. from which I come

. from which I ran away

. for which I feel nostalgia

– it is the cultural landscape in which I recognize my cultural identity

All together these migrating landscapes evolve into both place and space social representation, as a shared landscape. In few words the phenomenon develops a dynamic of the genius loci based on the emotional need to evoke and materialize a mental genius loci. Little difference stands between the original and its representation.

Due to their ability to evoke emotion, images of landscapes are now being marketed by the media and advertising industry in order to sell products such as cars, life insurance, telephones etc. This type of marketing boomed in the last two decades of the 20th century. The automobile industry for example often uses scenes of Iceland’s uninhabited landscape to advertise cars.

Landscape nostalgia

In 1937 W.H. Auden e Luis Mac Neice, back home from a travel to Iceland, sponsored by their publisher, wrote Letters from Iceland [10]. In this epistolary book MacNeice writes a poem to his travel mate in which he says:

…you replied

That the North begins inside,


How much is this intuition true? Can it be universally accepted? Answering it is difficult. Sir R. F. Burton in his two volumes book Thule; or, a summer in Iceland made evident his estrangement, which was probably difficult for him to identify. As a matter of fact, while trying to diminish the prodigious Icelandic landscape, he keeps on confronting it with the landscape of places previously visited.

What is the origin of this obsessive need to compare? The uniqueness of the genius loci makes the place. Being in a place, and especially being in Iceland, activates space and time related senses. Burton was instead disinterested to find both alpine flora and glaciers on the sea level and 24 hour sun light which put man in the centre of the sun dial. He compared the Icelandic experience with previous ones ignoring that they are filtered by a different circadian rhythm . Burton seemed to be imprisoned in a chaos of rigidly, mentally catalogued landscapes collected during his life of adventure and travel. Burton’s brain was contaminated by landscapes. Is it possible to suffer from overexposure to landscape?

Danish-Icelandic artist Ólafur Elíasson’s approach is different. In each of his works he expresses the Icelandic-ness of his DNA. Elíasson has totally interiorized the surprising fickleness of the Icelandic landscape which enabled him to transform it into a cultural art product. His astonishing art works are inspired by the cheated senses (senses bewildered by extreme weather conditions). They are samples of migrated Icelandic cultural landscapes. The New York City Waterfalls project, with its four waterfalls, reproduces the Icelandic need to contaminate the others landscape with the Icelandic one (Fig. 7, 8).


Fig. 7 – Waterfalls in Thjórsádalur, Iceland
(M.S. Campanini, 2006)



Fig. 8 – The New York City Waterfalls (Ólafur Elíasson, June 28-Oct. 13, 2008) are on display at four waterfront locations in Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Governors Island.
(Source:http://www.nycwaterfalls.org/sections/about/waterfalls_brochure.pdf, p. 6)


In the New York Waterfall project – the exhibition of four man-made waterfalls of monumental scale are on view until October 13 at four sites on the shores of the New York waterfront: one on the Brooklyn anchorage of the Brooklyn Bridge; one on the Brooklyn Piers, between Piers 4 and 5 near the Brooklyn Heights Promenade; one in Lower Manhattan at Pier 35 north of the Manhattan Bridge; and one on the north shore of Governors Island [11] – the artist plays with the topos and the names of places. The word island in the Governor Island (North Shore) name may be read in both English and Icelandic languages. Iceland in Icelandic is Ísland, the name of the island from whose cultural landscape the project is derived. The Icelanders’ need to anchor their space-temporal orientation to peculiar landmarks became evident at the beginning of the 20th century when the state owned ships were named after waterfalls. The location Elíasson chose for his project in New York is on the East river which is part of the New York harbour Estuary system. That means it is a place where fresh water (from the Hudson river) and salt water (from the Atlantic Ocean) meet. The location simulates, in some way, a typical Icelandic phenomenon: the confluence of the icy waters of glacial rivers with fresh water rivers (e.g. the confluence of the river Sogn in Jökullsá in southern Iceland). A similar inspiration and emotion arises also from another art work by Elíasson: the Green river (1998) (Fig. 9).


Fig. 9 – The New York City Waterfalls, Ólafur Elíasson, June 28-Oct. 13, 2008
(Source:http://www.nycwaterfalls.org/sections/about/waterfalls_brochure.pdf, p. 4)

Ólafur Elíasson’s art stresses how light makes visible or invisible landscape features, modifies colours perception and switches on the epyphisis: the biological watch which ties the body to the environment/habitat. The gland seems to have a regulatory function that lets the body survive in all kind of different habitats. This happens through the hormonal secretion of melatonin which works as biological synchronizer and is rhythmically secreted (starting from the syntesis of serotonin) following the light and dark (day and night) alternation [12].

As told by MacNeice and ignored by Sir Burton: the North begins inside! [10]

Landscape for peace

The icelandic imaginable landscape has been widened by two events: the construction of the Hring vegurinn (Road n° 1) finished in 1974 and the 200 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that Iceland obtained in 1975 [13].

Both events moved the landscape perception from the horizontal to the three levels vertical axis: the sea bottom, the island surface, the space above [12] (Fig. 10). The point of view on landscape was renewed. The cultural approach as well.


Fig. 10 – The three levels vertical axis of Iceland
(Source: Studi Urbinati, 1993)

The mix of cultural landscapes (sea, land and sky) derived from this new viewpoint is vertically crossed by the four primordial elements: fire (magma and eruptions), earth (formed by emerged magma), water (ice generating rivers and sea), air (sky, clouds and winds).

Due to its strategic location during the Cold War era, and to renewable energy resources such as hydroelectric and geothermal energy, Iceland gained acces to the world geopolitic scenario.

On October 9th, 2007 John Lennon’s birthday was commemorated in Iceland by Yõko Ono with a work of art. Imagine Peace Tower is the work of art she dedicated to him [15]. With her work Yõko Ono has enlighted, switched on, the landscape giving visibility to Lennon’s dream of peace for our globalized world [16] (Fig. 11).



Fig. 11 – Stamp Imagine Peace Tower, October 9, 2008
(Source: Frímerkjafréttir 3/2008 Iceland Post, Reykjavik)

Her work, as she explains in her web page’s You Tube video, is inspired by both the Icelandic nature and the architectural elements of a recently man-made Icelandic landscape.The heat of the ground is transformed into light to penetrate the sky. Yõko Ono’s work makes visible also the theory of the three levels vertical axis of Iceland and transforms the high temperature magma heat in a peaceful spear of light.
Iceland is now seen as a tower of peace in the panarctic landscape. In Agust 1941 Harrison conceived the Arctic zenithal projection which generated the comprehensive map titled One  World One War [17]. The same projection was later used to elaborate the UN flag. It is now time to change the title of the map into One World One Peace.
John Lennon defined himself as a dreamer. 

You may say I’m a dreamer
… [18].

Yõko Ono gave ontological form (visibility) to a dream. Iceland is facing a critical moment in its overall weak economic history. It is time to dream and free new energies. Due to the near default of  the Icelandic economy (october 2008) for many people in Iceland everything seems lost. Yõko Ono’s art work might appear as a life-belt.[19, 20] (fig. 12, 13).



 Fig. 12 – Revolution by Johann Smari Karlsson
Mostra fotografica




Fig. 13 – New year’s eve in Bessastadir (Jan. 2010)
(Source: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2010 Nr. 2 / Seite 15)


Quoting Lennon’s song Imagine, Icelanders are solicited to elaborate a new cultural landscape and become actors of peace:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
… [18].

At the turn of the new Millennium, new global economic and cultural landscapes arise  from the Arctic, the  top of  the world. The key of a globalized peaceful future stands on the concept of time 0 and space 0, The point (place) where meridiens as well as time zones virtually start.



Fig. 14 – Time 0 and Space 0 [p.105 modified]
The point (place) where meridiens as well time zones start



A new deal can arise from the Arctic core (where time and  space originate). Iceland, strategically located in the Atlantic corridor which accesses the Arctic Ocean, plays  a  new  role  [22]. The country which hosted the Reagan-Gorbachev historical meeting in 1986, should now  (almost  thirty  years  later)  be  able  to  promote peace by means of its landscape features. Iceland, the terrestrial guardian of the two marine  corridors which give  access  to  time  0  and  space  0, should offer humanity its imagined landscape for peace.



According  to  Burton,  Auden,  MacNiece,  Kjarval, and Elíasson the dialogue with landscape is very personal and intimate. It may include or  ignore the   rhythms of nature and their alternation. Ólafur Elíasson in New York (MOMA, SP2 and New York City Waterfalls) stresses the two-way dialogue between art and cultural landscape:

– cultural landscape activated by art
– art contaminated by landscapes natural features.



Yõko  Ono, in the Imagine peace tower, stresses the power of land art as a landscape element to promote peace. Peace is the new Icelandic genius loci. The world changes, but again and again landscape, art and the written word will appear to be tied together by aspects of the personal and collective identity as well, as the personal and collective perception of landscapes.



You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one


Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world…


You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one

… [18].




[1] http://burtoniana.org, (accessed on January 28, 2010)


[2]http://www.nycwaterfalls.org/sections/about/waterfalls_brochure.pdf, (accessed on January 28, 2010)


[3] Burton, R.F. (1875) Ultima Thule; a summer in Iceland, Vol. 1 – 2, W.P. Nimmo, London (Preface Vol. I, p. X)

Google digital copy: ref. 1.267.061 Library of the University of Michigan, accessed on 28 Jan., 2010


[4] Schulten, S. (1998) Richard Edes Harrison and the challenge to American cartography in Imago Mundi: The International Journal for the History of Cartography, 1479-7801, Vol. 50, Issue 1, pp. 174-188


[5] Knopf, A.A. (editor) (1944) Look at the world: The Fortune Atlas for World Strategy, New York


[6] Lennon, J. (1996) Imagine: a celebration of John Lennon, Penguin Studio Books, New York


[7] Oslund K. (2005) The “North begins inside”: imagining Iceland as wilderness and homeland in the GHI Bulletin n. 36 (Spring 2005), (p. 92)


[8] http://www.huldufolk102.com/home.html (accessed on January 28, 2010)


[9] Arpe M. (2006) A little trip into the mystic. Toronto Star, October 27, 2006


[10] Auden W. H., MacNeice L. (2002) Letters from Iceland, Faber and Faber, London


[11]http://www.publicartfund.org/pafweb/projects/08/eliasson/eliasson-08.html (accessed on January 28, 2010)


[12] Foster, R. Kreitzman, L (2007) I ritmi della vita. Gli orologi biologici che controllano l’esistenza di ogni essere vivente (original: Rhitms of Life, 2004), Longanesi, Milano


[13] Jónsson H. (1982) Friends in Conflict . The Anglo-Icelandic Cod Wars and the Law of the Sea, C. Hurst and Co Ltd, London


[14] Campanini. M. S. (1993) Percezione del territorio islandese attraverso le metafore dell’ultimo millennio (da Snorri Sturlusson a Einar Jónson) in Studi Urbinati, B Geografia p. 25-53), Quattroventi, Urbino, p. 48


[15] Friðarsúlan í Viðey in Frímerkjafréttir Ny Frímerki september-nóvember 2008, 3/2008 Iceland Post, Reykjavik, p. 6-7


[16] Lennon J., Ono Y., Sheff D., Golson G.B. (1981) The Playboy interviews with John Lennon and Yõko Ono, Playboy Press, New York


[17] Klinghoffer, A. J. (2006) The power of projections: how maps reflect global politics and history, Greenwood Publishing Group, Boston


[18] http://www.john-lennon.com/songlyrics/songs/Imagine.htm(accessed on January 28, 2010)


[19] Insel des Feuers, (2010) Wirtschaft, Süddeutsche Zeitung Nr. 2/Seite 15, Munchen


[20] Karlsson, J.MS. (2009) Revolution – Mostra fotografica (Bartolucci. M. editor), Roma


[21] Campanini M. S. (2005) Three Posters, Borgo del libro, Cavi, (p. 2)


[22] Campanini M.S. (2009) Spazio e Tempo sul planisfero. Il punto di vista non è univoco. Suggestioni per un PERCORSO DIDATTICO POLARE CON TRAUSTI VALSSON, p. 85-112 in Campanini M.S. a cura IPY 2007-2008 Esperienza transnazionale per il Laboratorio di Didattica della Geografia, Lampi di Stampa Messaggerie, Milano


[23] Atlante Geografico (2007) Grandi tascabili Istituto Geografico De Agostini (p. 105 modified) Novara: Istituto Geografico De Agostini


01  02