I wasn’t sure if I this week should write about the local snow leopards or something more international and perhaps political. But then I decided to write a bit about both, although not quite connected, except for that environmental issues and people movements belong to the most important and difficult issues in our time. First, I will write about the nature, animals , and environment. People are always in the centre, as custodians of nature, or as the culprits who overuse and pollute what God gave us. The issues are local and international, small and big at the same time, as most things are.
In the second half of my article, I shall write about the elections in Austria, where the young Sebastian Kurz (31) is set to become the country’s next prime minister. He and his People’s Party (OVP) in coalition with a party further to the right, the Freedom Party (FPO), want to restrict the number of immigrants heavily. OVP is likely to leave out the more sensible, but a bit stale, Social Democratic Party (SPO); maybe they don’t want to join OVP either. OVP is the largest party now, with close to 1/3 of the votes, while the two others have about to1/4 each. It is not animals , but people from outside, OVP and indeed FPO is afraid of!
And now to the snow leopards in Pakistan; they are almost extinct, just about 20 animals left, maybe some more. The work of the Snow Leopard Foundation (SLF) is more important than ever. This year, SLF will mark the International Snow Leopard Day, which is on Monday 23 October, with the Pakistan-Norway Association (PANA). Since I am PANA’s coordinator, I have also become involved in SLF’s work because Dr. Ali Nawaz is president both of SLF and PANA. In Norway, he studied the brown bears and the polar bears. Thanks to good government regulations, there are still some left of the mentioned bears in Scandinavia and in Canada. Regulations are needed so that the animals can live with people , and farmers and others can be compensated when the animals interfere with the farmers’ tame animals and crops. There must be rules for how people and animals live together, or near each other. Wild animals should mainly live in their own habitat. But it is great for people to go and see them, or just know they are there. When I lived in Kenya and Tanzania, we were all keen to go on safaris to see nature’s treasures.
In Norway, the brown bears are few, just a few hundred, while there are estimated to be a couple of thousand across the border in Sweden. In Norway, they have recently had heated debates about whether to reduce the number of wolves through hunting, or only kill them if absolutely needed when they are a direct threat to tame animals and humans.
Near the North Pole, the polar bear, or ice bear, is the king of nature, feeding on seals and fish as the largest carnivore. The on-going climate change makes the ice bears’ habitat threatened. With its heavy fur and its thick layer of fat below, the animal cannot live in warm weather. It thrives in minus twenty to forty degrees Celsius.
If the ice melts near the North Pole, there will be no more polar bears. And if the ice melts in the Himalayas, all life on the subcontinent will be in deep trouble; the monsoons will be gone and the rainfall scarce. The snow leopards may be around, but not many people to see them and live next to them in harmony – the way it was meant to be.
And then to another political issue, notably the Austrian elections, which were held last weekend, just a week’s time before the country’s national day on 26 October. That day is in commemoration of Austria’s declaration of permanent neutrality, established when the last foreign troops left the country in 1955, after the Allied Forces had occupied the country after the end of WWII. Neutrality has since become one of the fundamental values of Austrian foreign policy. It was perhaps more important during the Cold War decades, but even today, it is important, and could become essential again in future. Austria is not a member of NATO, along with Finland, Ireland, Malta, Sweden, and Switzerland. I wish that list was far longer – and hopefully, none of the mentioned countries will join the Western military alliance, which is today often seen as the cause of rearmament and war rather than a protector of peace.
The incoming Austrian PM, Sebastian Kurz, who in spite of his young age has already been a government minister for four years. How he will handle the heavy duty will be important not only for the Austrians but for all people in European, the West and beyond. Austria is an EU member and it will soon chair the EU Council. I hope even in that role, Austria will not play a separatist role, afraid of immigrants from within EU and from countries in the Middle East and Africa. I hope the world’s youngest head of government will shoulder his tasks and be that new, local and international leader that we can look up to. It is important far beyond Austria, a relatively small country with less than10 million inhabitants in the heart of Europe.
I hope that Sebastian Kurz and OVP could cooperate with SPO. To join hands with the populist, right-wing SPO, which is so scared of refugees and other immigrants, with racist streaks, would be a short-sighted choice for Prime Minister designate Kurz and OVP. Austria is at the crossroads of the immigrants’ route to Europe, but not so many settled in Austria; ths year, it has been decided that up to 37,500 will be given residence. But no country should stay static and Austria has a proud history of accepting people on the move; all countries should realize that we are in a melting pot, and that we will all become ‘rainbow nations’. That is a challenge for the survival of the ’liberal Europe’, the way we have come to know it.
I hope Sebastian Kurtz does the right thing. He has a golden chance to be a leader for the future. I hope he will listen carefully to advisers (from the centre and left), and yes, he can do some unorthodox things, too, but be all-inclusive and realize the time and world we live in. To the advisers, indeed the social democrats, I’d say: be positive and think about the future of young people , of all people . Don’t think of your own, old party, which needs renewal and lessons from Kurz, too. To Kurz, I’d say, with all your charm, good looks and intelligence, you need broad shoulders and your burden is heavy. But you can succeed, not with the rightists but with the centrists and leftists. I am sure, you know things that I don’t know, representing the new Europe, the world of tomorrow, in a similar way that social democrats and socialists did a hundred years ago. They did well; you can also do well.