Ramon Schack (born in 1971) holds a Master’s degree in political sciences. He is a journalist and publisher writing for German, Swiss and Austrian quality dailies such as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Zeit Online, Deutschland-Radio-Kultur, Telepolis, Die Welt and many other renowned publications. In 2013, his book “Neukölln ist Nirgendwo” (“Neukölln is Nowhere“), which was already strongly debated before, was published. At the end of 2015, he completed his book “Begegnungen mit Peter Scholl-Latour – ein persönliches Portrait von Ramon Schack” (“Encounters with Peter Scholl-Latour – a personal portrait by Roman Schack“), memories of shared experiences and a personal exchange with the famous global observer. In 2017, Schack’s eBook “Zeitalter des Zerfalls” (“Age of Collapse”) was published, which is currently on Amazon’s bestseller list.
I had the pleasure to interview Mr. Schack for this blog and ask him some very interesting questions concerning our present situation in the world:
Mr. Schack, soon after the death of famous German publisher and global observer Peter Scholl-Latour you wrote a book about him. At what point do you feel his absence and the gap he’s left to his readers and friends the most?
I can feel the gap created by Peter Scholl-Latour’s death almost every day – especially when I look at the rapid historical developments which have become characteristic of our era but which few of us know to interpret. In this context, considering these general conditions, a chronologist of our times is missing who could analyze in historical depths and with the knowledge of the world that Peter Scholl-Latour had.
In your book you describe how, ranging from the highest diplomatic circles in Germany to an Iranian taxi driver in Berlin, a lot of people know Mr. Scholl-Latour. How can you explain that his books have never been translated to English or French and that he’s hardly known in these countries?
I can’t give you an answer to this question. In France, at least, some of his books may have sparked a lot of interest. Of course, I’m primarily thinking of Der Tod im Reisfeld (Death in the Rice Fields) but also Leben mit Frankreich (Living with France). Unfortunately, I never talked with him about this topic.
Scholl-Latour didn’t experience the climax of the European refugee crisis in summer 2015 anymore. Libya’s leader Muammar Gadhafi warned of the waves of refugees coming to Europe in his last speech on the Red Fort in Tripoli. What piece of advice would Mr. Latour give to EU policymakers in this ongoing crisis?
Particularly with regards to the recent disputes, he would say what he’d permanently say, and that is, that Europe finally needs to find its way to its own defense and foreign policy, without blindly following the directives of Washington, which has been the case for many years and decades. Scholl-Latour used to quote Paul Valery, who once called “Europe a cape of Asia”, which is true in a geographical and geopolitical sense.
Scholl-Latour often told me about his interview with Iraq’s former foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, a Chaldean Christian, who pointed out to us Europeans that we directly border regions in the Middle East and North Africa and that these regions would become our destiny whereas Americans can gladly withdraw behind the Atlantic. That was at the beginning of the so-called “war on terror”, which, as we all know, has turned terrorism into a globalized phenomenon.
In 2003, Chancellor Angela Merkel supported the War against Iraq. How credible is Germany’s engagement in the Middle East when the country is listed as the third-largest weapon exporting country in the world?
Their engagement is not credible at all, nor based on any standards, let alone moral standards. It also doesn’t serve any security interests in the region nor those of Europe and the world. It only served to follow the directives of Washington, including a permanent armament of Saudi Arabia, the most reactionary country in the region. And by the way, this holds true for all countries in the West including Austria. Concerning the tight relationship of the West with Saudi Arabia, which former CIA agent Robert Baer called “Sleeping with the devil”, author Salman Rushdie told me some years ago in an interview, “With the help of an enormous prosperity guaranteed by our petrodollars, the Saudis have spread a very fundamentalist version of Islam which once had the status of a sort of sect in the Islamic world. By this – the spread of this Saudi version – the entire nature of Islam has changed in a negative way.”
Your most recent book, “Zeitalter des Zerfalls“ (“Age of Collapse“) reads – similar to the books written by Scholl-Latour – like a warning of increasing fundamentalism and warfare. You list the Brexit and Donald Trump as symptoms. Would the world be more peaceful with a US-president Hillary Clinton?
No, but at least some things would be more predictable. So far Trump doesn’t seem to have the intention to keep the promises of his election campaign, and I’m only talking about foreign political aspects now. No, the symptoms which I wanted to show in the book you mentioned are the crises of our liberal political systems in the western world, which are exposed to heavy inner-political upheavals. They are, among other things, caused by revolutions at ballot boxes and accompanied by still very global claims.
Francis Fukuyama thought the “end of history” had come, because from now on the liberal western order would prevail on a global scale as every other alternative had been exhausted. The American political scientist was wrong, and he was wrong right from the beginning. Anti-liberal movements are on the rise. Even though capitalism has defeated centrally planned economy, liberal democracy has given way to oligarchy. Today, the western ideal competes with Moscow’s model of a “directed democracy” or Beijing’s model of an increasingly Confucian-influenced understanding of the state. But even in the old western world, lobbyists control parliamentarianism; citizens are surveyed by search engines and secret services in ways that will soon have surpassed George Orwell’s horror visions. Everywhere anti-liberal movements are on the rise. They reveal a gap between the political elites and the broad population. They are reactions to social conflicts.
Where people cannot cope with the complexes of our free world, they long for the “well-known past”, for “the old order of things”. Once political tensions explode, they eliminate this old order, they topple governments and exchange elites. They create something new or just something different, however not necessarily something ideal. Perhaps economist Joseph Schumpeter helps us understand this phenomenon in a better way as he speaks of “creative destruction”.
As a journalist you’re writing for many dailies. With regards to many international political issues – for instance concerning the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine – western reporters have taken a clear stance. How efficient do you consider the policy of sanctions against Russia which Brussels and Berlin support without any objections?
Russia’s harsh reaction concerning the future of Crimea is also the result of western policymaking – especially of NATO policymaking – towards the largest territorial state on our planet over the past couple of years. NATO’s permanent Eastern expansion, into the realms of Eurasian post-Soviet territories, has for a long time been perceived as a threat to national security by Moscow. The question is: In which western offices are such strategies planned?
“Without Ukraine Russia will not be a Eurasian Empire any more. It can still yearn for an imperial status, but it would primarily become an Asian Empire”* [*not original quotation], was a statement in the book The Grand Chessboard written by strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former US security advisor who recently passed away – a statement we remember when we think about NATO’s strategy with Russia in recent years. It would be desirable that current developments wouldn’t lead into a new Cold War but that NATO would reconsider its strategy. Meanwhile the West could ask its closest allies – like Saudi Arabia, for instance – to observe the human rights it demands from Russia.
The support of the West, of the so-called Orange, Rose and Tulip Revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia and Kirgizstan, demonstrates the failure of the political and strategic idea which made the involved countries neither more western and more democratic nor any more stable. For this reason I consider the policy of Brussels, Berlin, Vienna and Paris towards Russia to be inefficient.
One would assume that at present the Cold War is going on in the media. “Elves” are currently fighting against “trolls”. Scholl-Latour spoke of an “era of mass manipulation”. Are the new media a curse or a blessed achievement?
Probably they’re both, but certainly they’re not only tools of progress or emancipation, as shallow commentators once raved. New media have surely increased the possibility of mass manipulation. At the same time, many people have become more aware with regards to these issues. So I’m not sure. One thing’s for sure though: The nature of mankind is always the same, regardless of the state of technological innovation.
Peter Scholl-Latour, Karin Leukefeld, Jürgen Todenhöfer – they’re all exposed to a lot of public critique. Do you find this critique fair and how do you deal with your own critics?
French political scientist Pierre-André Taguieff once wrote, “In our epoch free thinking is abhorred.”* [*translation of quotation]. I don’t know exactly if this is true, but the Manichaean thinking in black-and-white terms is ubiquitous nowadays, and that’s why nowadays we don’t counter-argue anymore, no, we only discredit and abhor so we won’t have to make an effort to provide counter-arguments. To return to your question, of course critique is important and all right. I follow this motto when facing critique and critics: Never complain, never explain.
Mr. Scholl-Latour once told you he’d loved to have become an anthropologist. Now they say he wrote his books from a western point of view, critics even claim that he made his observations like a colonial chronologist. Do you agree?
Well, of course that’s complete nonsense and mostly comes from critics who’d like to impose western achievements to the world in a colonial way, like gender mainstreaming and other sorts of nonsense.
Your first book, “Neukölln ist Nirgendwo” (“Neukölln is Nowhere”), has made you quite popular. You still live and mainly work in Berlin. What keeps you in Neukölln? And how does this metropolis attract you despite its sad past?
Well, I’m living in the present. In Berlin this present is a city full of international mobility and popularity like I wouldn’t have imagined some years ago. Berlin is a good basis, especially when you’re traveling a lot as I do. What keeps me in Neukölln is basically my apartment, to say it simply. Everything else you can read in the book you’ve mentioned.
In which region do you enjoy traveling as a journalist the most?
This question is hard to answer. Actually in every region, but especially in Central Asia, East Africa and the Middle East.
Let’s assume an EU policymaker or maybe even the US President asked you for your political expertise in international relations. What would you tell him?
That would be two very different answers which would be way too complex for this interview. However, I’d advise them, very urgently, to find an agreement with Iran and terminate the close cooperation with Saudi Arabia.
“Zeitalter des Zerfalls“ (“Age of Collapse“) sounds far from a bright future indeed. Do you see our future, and Europe’s future in particular, to be a disaster or is there still some hope?
There’s still some hope if we finally learn to have a more realistic view of our history and the developments in our world.
Thanks a lot for this interview!
Remark: This is a translation by the interviewer. The original interview was done in German.