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Causes for Concern -Michael D. Higgins

Michael D. Higgins in Athens 2007

Photo by Kostas Kartelias


Michael D. Higgins - President of Ireland

Michael D. Higgins was elected as 9th President of Ireland on 27th of October 2011, and took office on 11th of November 2011.

He spoke last in Athens at the ECCM Symposium 'Productivity of Culture' held in conjunction with the Kids' Guernica exhibition at the Zappeion, Megaron in Athens in June 2007. Organized together with Spyros Mercouris and the then still existing network of European Capitals of Culture and Months (ECCM), he outlined his thoughts about the need for cultural spaces to further participation by all citizens.

At that time, he gave as well a poetry reading at Athens Centre the evening before the start of the Symposium. He made then the remarkable observation that every poet knows when a poem is 'made'.

In his book, 'Causes for Concern' he makes the prediction that the central figure of the 21st century shall be the 'migrant'. How true this is when everywhere in Europe xenophobic forces are on the rise and Rassist viewpoints assert themselves based on the illusion only 'pure nations' offer a solution. It is an expression of a crisis of humanity when democracy in the full sense of the word, meaning freedom, equality and solidarity is no longer embraced, but exclusive societies deemed to be the answer to economic and financial problems besetting everyone in a global world.

Michael D. Higgins has named 'inspirational logic' the truly universal ethical spirit that can move things and people on.

Official website of President Michael D. Higgins:



Michael D. Higgins came last to Athens when attending the ECCM Symposium 'Productivity of Culture' in October 2007. Upon meeting Jad Salman on the first evening together, he said immediately that the Palestinian story is one of the most difficult ones to tell.

Michael D. Higgins and Jad Salman

Always interested in cultural diversity, and therefore aware of the need for cultural space to allow this cultural diversity express itself, he would refer to not one but multiple stories in need to be told.

As his book 'Causes for concern' reveals, he has travelled far and shown his solidarity everywhere. Often he went as observer to monitor whether or not the elections were fair. And always he responded first of all to those who suffer under violations of their basic Human Rights. Most telling is his relationship to Ortega in Nicaragua. After the lost election, Michael D. Higgins observed the significance of what Ortega said to his followers: "we have lost the election, but not the revolution." By that he meant during the time in government, many changes had been introduced so as to ensure through the constitution that the Rights of everyone would be upheld. Compared to what was before the dictatorship of the rich over the poor, that underlined what transformation Nicaragua had gone through, and this despite the strong opposition and indeed Contra warfare supported by the United States.

When he was Minister for Culture for Ireland, he was most instrumental in the creation of a Radio and Television Station in Galway. It allows since then the broadcasting of programmes in the Gaelic language. Equally during his four years as Minister for Culture, he made his voice felt at European level. Still, he was disappointed at the lack of courage his fellow ministers showed. During that entire time only one main decision was taken.

Michael D. Higgins has witnessed a lot during his life yet despite all hardships and suffrage he has seen, he has remained sensitive to human plight. He started out like many in Ireland going to school without shoes. He recalls, however, that fantastic teacher who took the class up on the hill overlooking their village and teaching them a holistic vision even, as he put it, before that concept was invented.

Throughout his political career he has been most attentive to criticism of the 'politician'. About that he can be both compassionate and truly upset, and this in two ways: if there is injustice and no one listening, or if all the blame is put on politicians as if only dishonest figures and not hard working persons who try their best to achieve something in the interest of all people. That became apparent during a discussion at the EU CIED conference held in Leipzig, June 1999. He got up and critized this constant heaping of blame upon politicians. Political analysis without poetry and philosophy does not make any sense to him at all. And he followed up this refutation by speaking about some crucial words missing in the speeches of European politicians. Since that was at the height of the war in former Yugoslavia, and included the bombardment of Kosovo, something which upset completely the Greek delegation attending that conference, his speech "There exists an enormous sadness in Europe" was like a bridge for them to cross over that big divide which run then through Europe.

In his book 'Causes for Concern', he speaks about his prime concern, namely that we all risk to become 'whores of reason', if we only know how to analyse the reasons for war, but once it breaks out, stand by in silence or even give in retrospect some justification. This has just been done by the journalist Roger Cohen with regards to the Western help for the rebels in Libya. There is something within Western thought something which makes many miss the human point.

Indeed, when Michael D. Higgins wishes to articulate this human question, then fore mostly not only in his speeches but through his poetry. In that sense he belongs to that group of Irish poets who have always spoken out in a special way, may that be Michael Longley, Seamus Heaney, Brendan Kennelly or Michael D. Higgins.

There can be given many examples of his speeches, but this passage taken from his book 'Causes for Concern' dealing with Irish Politics, culture and society, can indicate how up-to-date he has been all the time:

The migrant by Michael D. Higgins

„The twentieth century will end, and the twenty-first emerge, with the figure of the migrant at the centre of things. Continued in the essence of the migratory experience are relationships to time and space that have, up to now, been seen as the experience of the minority which, for most policy purposes, could be neglected without cost.

The neglect of the migratory experience has meant that the nature of intellectual life has become distorted in its assumption of the sedentary, of the systematic, of the power and possibility of tradition.

At the heart of migration lies the transience of things. It is that transience that explains both the risks and the neglected benefits of having chosen, or of having been condemned to break the inherited links to space, time and cultural certainties.

The migratory experience is one of pain. The fact has been documented again and again. If migrants are to possess rights as both human persons and collectives, their rights attach less to place, nation, race or, indeed, property, than they do to persons, individually and collectively. The appalling destruction of the phrase 'human rights' as a term of abuse, hurled by one state at another, is made possible in part by the distortion of locating rights conditionally in space, culture or property.

The migrant's experience cannot be reduced to the learned assumptions of the point of origin or the point of destination. It is an experience born of the flux of things, not only precariously balanced between the learned past and the anticipated future, but creative in itself of something new and different. Migrants are at once the carriers of fear, wonderment and hope.

From that flux is created a unique capacity for tolerance. It is of the nature of transience that absolutes are left behind, that truths are varied and tenuous, all to be tested against the requirements of the human group and persons on the move.

The importance of today's displaced people and migrants is, in part, that they represent all our future possibilities for renewing and reshaping the human composition, the human contribution to the planet.

From an observation of the migrant's world of transience, a problem observed can become an empowerment. For the migrant also gains from the letting go of boundaries, barriers to seeing, cognition, understanding, action and historicity. The migrant regularly reinvests the world within the flux of time and space, as we all must learn to do now. This means letting go, and renewing and replacing institutional certainties, system of logic, patterns of thoughts and cultural security blankets. It is not accidental that the artist often foresees what the politician will labour to learn. It is very understandable when one recognises how often exile is chosen, even if only symbolically, by the artist as a necessary condition for creativity and celebration of the humanistic impulse.

If we are to learn tolerance and establish it as a general rule, it must include then the commitment to hear a multitude of stories, to share a panoply of dreams – as migrants have always been called upon to do – stories of the home left behind, dreams of the destination, food for disappointment perhaps, only to be replaced by a dream held in indomitable hope of the return home.

I have often felt the experience of migration in my own life in another sense of not belonging. As a participant in the intellectual and political world, I have been made conscious of how little sharing there is of insights, what little companionship in struggle, what little celebration of creativity – or what the authoritarians call madness. It is rather a matter of intellectual property being traded, becoming the stuff of joint ventures in derived and dead theoretical flourishes and conceits.

The migrant in the academy has to forget his or her own story. Like all migrants, he quickly comes to know that imitation from close observation is the most important tool in the possession of those who would belong, and would put an end to the alienating terror of transience.

Taken from Michael D. Higgins, “The challenge of building the mind of peace” in: Cause for Concern (2006/2007), Dublin: Liberties Press, p. 62 - 64

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