Karl

A cool, bright morning in Vienna. Dr. Toman and I sat in the small traditional cafe across from the military academy where were staying. We stayed at the academy to save money. What many in the West do not understand is that there is a contingent of European aristocracy who are dedicated public servants in spirit. Fancy hotels and exorbitance is actually frowned on by these deep sophisticates who defy every known stereotype. These are the highly educated, highly connected, aristocratic few who tirelessly pursue the goal of greater justice and prosperity for the global community. They eschew luxury. They despise the outward show. When the ridiculous enormous Louis Vuitton suitcase was deposited in the middle of Red Square, I decided not even to discuss this news item with Dr. Toman. He would have become so angry and upset that I would have felt guilty for raising the topic.

This morning was bittersweet. I was packed and ready to fly to Ulanbaatar. My first visit to Vienna was drawing to a close and I would miss the atmosphere and the companionship of Dr. Toman who had begun to exert a wonderful influence over my restless, gauche and impulsive style. Dr. Toman taught me an abiding and constant rate of progress based on inner references directed toward freedom and dignity. Ironically, Dr. Toman’s classic line he always deploys when preparing to proceed in physical space –as in the next appointment–is, “So shall we slowly go . . . .” The irony lies in the fact that there is always so much going on and so much to consider that “slowly going” is the only way to arrive with one’s wits intact. Rushing is anathema! There is always too much at stake for precipitousness. So shall it always be so! Dr. Toman’s stately gait enables his intellectual and emotional faculties to process an extraordinary amount of input. It is a lesson I must remember daily.

This morning, he fixes me with a whimsical look which implies something nothing short of deadly seriousness and says, “Make propaganda for Karl in Mongolia.” His eyes are twinkling like a child’s. But this child is Dr. Toman. A lion of UNESCO. A servant of the planet. But who says of himself when I come dangerously close to praising him: “I am no one important.”

Make propaganda for Karl. Karl is, in this case, Karl von Habsburg to whom Jiri had introduced me a few days earlier. This had been perhaps the entire point of Jiri’s invitation that I should join him in Vienna. Dr. Toman and I had been corresponding concerning my Mongolian project. We had engaged in fruitful intellectual collaboration. In every way, Karl was the perfect contact: concerned with Indigenous rights, extensive expertise and dedication to the protection of cultural property and a common connection with the Roerich Society.

My first impression upon meeting Karl was one of heightened alertness. Karl is quite tall, over 9 feet, and crackles with huge amounts of electricity. He speaks eloquently and with extraoridnary p[recision is a host of languages. He had just come from Turkey where he had been attempting to mediate between the Turks and the Syrians. Arriving at the lecture hall where he was to introduce the very great Dr. Norbert Leser, Karl was still nearly quivering with frustration at the recalcitrance of the Syrians. All the same, I found him utterly captivating and follow-able. Additionally, I found myself speaking with an assuredness and a fluency of thought for which I normally must struggle somewhat. Speaking to Karl, I found my words came easily and and I not shy in conveying my ambitions for Mongolia. He was attentive and very supportive. Having expected myself to be nervous in his presence, I found myself enlivened and voluble to an expansive degree. I felt very comfortable and “relevant” in his presence. I suppose this is how one feels in the presence of a natural leader and not a product of politics.

After the lecture, Dr. Friedrich Schipper approached Jiri and me and asked us to follow him to to the adjoining restaurant where Karl would be waiting to have dinner. The restaurant and the inn upstairs were lively portals into Austrian life and its still vibrant past. Beethoven had stayed there when he was writing his 3rd Symphony. It was dark and cozy and nothing ostentatious. It was perfect. And to have dinner with my colleague and Dr. Schipper and Karl was a kind of epiphany in itself. Karl was by turns warm and informative, brisk and and a careful listener. He talked of the tragedy of Chechniya and of the lives lost. Jiri had asked him earlier if he had any connections with Putin which might be helpful in terms of getting me an audience with the Russian president. Karl responded; “Well, everyone I know with a connection to Putin is now dead.” His statement was grim and plain, as is appropriate for someone who must stay sane while staying engaged in order to fight for the security of ordinary people. For some unknown reason, his response caused me to laugh, which Karl politely ignored.

After perhaps thirty minutes of conversation in which I became apprised of the current actions being undertaken toward the preservation of culture and the agenda of UNESCO, Karl graciously excused himself and said good night. He had to go pick up his daughter who was finishing up at some event. Karl’s sudden departure was neither brusque not hurried. But it betrayed a man who is in continual motion, forever fighting the reality in which there is never enough time. Dr. Schipper informed me that Karl travels twenty days out of the month. There is always so much to do. True leaders can not tire or fade. The duties are, unfortunately, overwhelming. Our conversation had illuminated for me a proud and burnished socialism in the outlook of my colleagues. Earlier in the evening, as I sat in the lecture hall talking with Dr. Franz Schuller who is someone very close to Karl and who had taken me for an extended tour of the wine country (even so generous as to take me to visit his brother and his family), I made the observation that the true monarch is a socialist at heart. Dr. Schuller nodded in assent and we bonded politically at this. Karl is a true servant of the people. He is so by nature. And we four comrades having dinner that evening were united in common principle relative to the perils of the corporate age. There are good aristocrats in Europe. They serve instinctively and tirelessly. They are brilliant and sensitive. They are the friends of all that is sincere, dignified and good.

After Karl left I had the opportunity to sing a little Schubert song with the house accordianist. This accordianist was someone Friedrich remembered from childhood. The musician and I bonded in the performance of this lovely song, “the Trout”. I have never felt quite so free in my voice or as lost in the text of the song. Singing for this informal audience was a moment of genuine relaxation. To know that Herr Beethoven had worked and slaved away just upstairs!

At any rate, now it was time to proceed to Mongolia. Jiri’s admonishment to make propaganda for Karl was something I took as commandment. I assured Jiri that I would do my best. And I think I have not done so teribbly badly at that. Once in Ulanbaatar, I went to see, of course, the famous Dr. Shagdarjen Bira who is the great spiritual scholar of Mongolia. He and I conspired to bring Karl back to Mongolia in the near future.

Just last night, I finished a letter of invitation that Dr. Bira asked me to write in his behalf to Karl. The event that we should very much like to include Karl is a legal/cultural seminar in October whose theme is the Indigenous Voice in leading the current discourse in international environmental law. Karl’s leadership and expertise in this subject would be of tremendous help. And I believe it will be impossible for Karl to resist our entreaty. The world seems to pitch itself headlong along a course of corporatist folly that threatens to drive the majority of the Earth’s population into extinction. We earnestly believe that our plan must succeed. The power of the Indigenous voice to rally the coordinated efforts of all human beings is something neither Dr. Bira or I contest. Indeed, we seek to hasten it. The Indigenous Voice sounds the bass note in the global chorus. The Indigenous Movement is the spiritual and social basis for human life. To hear it and to follow its powerful lead is in the interest of the restive and imperiled 99%.

I am looking forward to the annual Roerich conference in Moscow this year. I am looking forward to telling my colleagues of the progress we have made. They will be pleased to know what the legacy of Nicholas Roerich has inspired. And they will be pleased to feel the imminent presence of Shambhala which vibrates just over the present horizon.

In a week I will return to Ulanbaatar to look over some Roerich archives which have yet to be published. Perhaps it is a propitious time for UNESCO to consider the task. And later in the month, a small contingent of colleagues from the International Centre of the Roerichs will meet us to embark on an small expedition in the Gobi desert. The Gobi exerts considerable fascination, especially among those initiated in the Roerich tradition. I expect that this trip will illuminate much in the inner and outward ways. What is “transcendent” exactly? Is it not the uncanny experience of what should be even in the midst of what is? The duty then is to draw the community forward. And to keep singing the long song!

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October Seminar in Ulanbaatar (postponed!)

The emergence and development of International Law is perhaps the crowning achievement of the modern era. And yet there remain many intractable problems that threaten our environment, our human rights and our global economy. Despite the many remarkable achievements in international public law, much remains to be done. In Mongolia we witness the tragic erosion of human security in the form of environmental degradation, negligence in upholding basic human rights and criminal financial practices emanating from forces of greed that act with relative impunity. We believe that International Law remains the preferred method of addressing clear violations and that the institutions of international law need to be developed sufficiently so as to acquire the capacity to deter ongoing and future abuses.

Perhaps the the greatest obstacle to the development of international law is the lack of public awareness. Many people regard international law as something abstract, remote, theoretical and ungrounded in general practice. This perception undermines the potential of international public law. A world without law can descend into chaos–either as a result of massive social upheaval or through the unbridled practices of corporate greed or a combination of both. The international legal movement is powerless without the support and engagement of the people. And once the people understand that they themselves are the custodians, beneficiaries and agents of international law, the barriers to a sustainable future will be defeated.

How do we build universal cooperation with the concepts inherent in peremptory customary law? We build institutions of law that engage on the local level. We tap into the highest aspirations and values that animate human activity. We engage on the level of belief and tradition. We reach deep into common sources of wisdom and knowledge. Our program for the seminar upcoming in October represents a bold step in this direction.

Partnering with the International Centre of the Roerichs, the Roerich Society of Mongolia, and the National Legal Institute of Mongolia, we will present a program that combines a cultural appraisal of indigenous environmentalism (specifically the forms of nomadic environmentalism indigenous to Mongolia) with an overview of current trends in mainstream environmental law. Certainly, we are seeing a convergence of environmental legal concepts with concepts long held and honored by indigenous population and which are verified by modern science. We consider this convergence highly propitious.

Beginning in the 1970s, indigenous populations have coalesced into a unified global voice. This voice of harmony, reconciliation and respect for Mother Earth and Father Sky is increasingly echoed in the critiques and expressed longings of the non-indigenous majority. This is both a sensible and a visionary development. While many in the dominant culture are perhaps uncomfortable with religious content or spiritual sources in law, most thinking persons are eager to acknowledge the life-affirming contribution of our indigenous siblings to the urgent discourse surrounding issues of environmental law. We sense intuitively that the indigenous represent ourselves and our most fundamental human interests and that it is highly prudent to study and incorporate the indigenous perspective in matters of existential imperative. To acknowledge the indigenous voice is to close the circle of the human family and to begin in earnest a reformative process that may, ultimately, ensure that the human being will not prove to be its own worst enemy.

Overseeing the conceptual elaboration of this synthesis of law and culture will be Dr. Shagdarjen Bira who is the president of the Mongolian Roerich Society, Academician of the Mongolian Scientific Academy and the preeminent keeper of the flame of Mongolian spiritual scholarship; and Prof. Dinah Shelton, whose service to the movement of environmental and human rights law evidences both personal valor and profound intellectual contribution.

While we intend and expect the seeds of this seminar to sprout and proliferate in the hearts of all people globally, we are mindful that local actions and achievements are urgently needed. The perils facing Mongolian nomadism are overmatching the current capacity to fight the good fight. Rivers are being destroyed, birth defects are on the increase and much of the wealth of the nation is being expatriated. Our seminar will address the need for immediate direct action. We expect participation from environmental watchdog organizations and expect to consolidate a broadened legal response to the crises facing Mongolia. In many ways, Mongolia is a microcosm of the world. We as a planet are facing the same situation. Our ability to develop the rule of law on a local level will give us the experience to take the fight to the global level. Mere abstract concepts are largely useless. To the extent that we are able to develop the rule of law in Mongolia, we will prove that the time for universal human security has come. We believe that the powerful concepts of indigenous environmentalism will ignite the imagination and will of the planet. Once all people feel that the Law is “Their Law”, we will produce the change and the direction that is so desperately needed.

Mongolia is, in many ways, at the center of the world: between East and West, a democratic indigenous nation with a proud history of law and civilization, in the cross-hairs of the emerging resource boom in Central Asia (which many regard as the most important region in the world economically), its independent spirit never dimmed by the proximity of powerful neighbors. Mongolia stands to inherit the the position of capital of international law from the Hague. This shift is, in my view, unavoidable. And this is a shift that is full of promise for all people everywhere. Our seminar will be a celebration of the emergence of a “true world order” based on the rule of law and on evolutionary principles.