söndag 27 mars 2011

Cheering dictators on Swedish public-sevice television

Björn Kumm is an old journalist and fan of revolutionary movements who has written a biography of his old fave Fidel Castro. Here he is being interviewed about it by Mattias Österlund in a program produced by the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company, UR, and broadcasted by Kunskapskanalen – "the Knowledge Channel". Kumm does the standard dance-around to avoid admitting the political oppression that Castro stands for, while extolling his hero for being such a strong, charismatic, inspiring, forceful and thoughtful person. 

And Österlund listens intently and very respectfully to dictator-fan Kumm, who compares Castro, a dictator who doesn't mind throwing dissidents in prison, to the Swedish Social Democratic prime minister of the sixties, Tage Erlander. To Kumm, Castro is thoughtful and an educator -- whereas Cubans in exile in the U.S. are "vicious" and "hateful". (Oh, I'm sure there are plenty of them who are, but I'm also pretty certain that very few, in fact most likely very close to none of them, have ruled a country as a dictator for decades, persecuting dissidents.)

(The revolutionary romantic Kumm also takes the time to describe his life's greatest sorrow, the death of Che Guevara.)

During all of this cheering for a dictator, amid claims that Cuba liberated itself once and for all with Castro taking power, what does the interviewer Österlund do? Does he challenge Kumm's romantic view of the revolution? Nope. Does he question Kumm's extolling of the qualities of the dictator Castro? Nope. He listens intently and highly respectfully to Kumm's man-love for an oppressive dictator, asking very, very polite and somewhat obsequious questions, like an acolyte might ask a revered guru. 

Towards the end, Österberg actually does bring up the lack of free elections and people being imprisoned, asking how much of a dictator Castro has been. Kumm brushes it off, denying that Castro is really a dictator and glossing over the lack of free elections ("well, sooner or later, there's going to be some sort of free elections"), and what does Österberg do? Does he question Kumm's assertions about the greatness of Castro – in light of the lack of free elections and other democratic rights – or does he point out that it is abject hypocrisy to praise a democratic breakthrough in Latin America's old dictatorships while extolling the virtues of a dictatorship that is still in place, or does he in any way pressure Kumm on his brushing off the lack of democracy in Cuba?


He does not.

The issue gets less than a minute's attention in the half-hour program, and most of that time is spent by Kumm rationalizing Cuba's lack of human rights and democracy under Castro. It is an utter disgrace. Not only for Kumm, who reveals himself as an anti-democrat, and not only for Österberg , who reveals himself to be either A-OK with such unwavering support for dictatorship or too incompetent to actually do his job as an interviewer, but for the entire editorial board of the program, for the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company who produced this mess, and for Kunskapskanalen for broadcasting it. I can't help but wonder if everybody involved would have been equally A-OK with a defense of the crimes and anti-democratic deeds of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. (Well, strike that – I'm actually quite certain they would be justifiably appalled at anybody defending that vicious dictator as some sort of folk hero.)

These are supposed to be public service broadcasting companies. With that comes a particular responsibility to not support dictatorships and anti-democratic forces, and everybody involved failed that responsibility.


(You want to read up on Fidel Castro, I advice you to stay well clear of Kumm's biography – or, more likely, hagiography. Try Wikipedia instead; not only will you save time and money and avoid the nauseating dictator-worship, you'll most likely be served some facts that are too inconvenient for the authoritarianism-loving Kumm to even bring up.)

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