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Shadow play: the New Great Game in Eurasia

By       Message Pepe Escobar     Permalink
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On his return to the Asia Times fold, veteran columnist and author Pepe Escobar writes that the West's Divide and Rule approach to global rivals may no longer cut the ice in an age of New Silk Roads.

Wayang kulit puppets in Java, Indonesia.
Wayang kulit puppets in Java, Indonesia.
(Image by Photo: Collection Jean Francois Hubert)
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So, right in the heart of Bali, spellbound after a serious conversation with a dukun -- a spiritual master -- it struck me: this should be the new Yalta, the perfect setting for a Trump-Xi-Putin summit setting the parameters ahead for the ever-evolving New Great Game in Eurasia.

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Balinese culture makes no distinction between the secular and the supernatural -- sekala and niskala. Sekala is what our senses may discern. Niskala is what cannot be sensed directly and can only be "suggested." Massive geopolitical shifts ahead could not be more shrouded in niskala.

Captive to the vertiginous velocity of the here and now, the West still has much to learn from a highly evolved culture that prospered 5,000 years ago along the banks or the river Sindhu -- now Indus -- in what is currently Pakistan, and then migrated from the Majapahit empire in Java to Bali in the 14th century under the pressure of advancing Islam.

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In the Hindu-Balinese conception of cosmic structure, Man is a kind of scale model of the universe. Order is personified by Gods, disorder personified by earth demons. It's all about dharma and adharma. As for the West, adharma rules, unchecked.

In Hindu-Balinese religious philosophy, for every positive force there is a counterbalance, a destructive force. The two are inseparable -- coexisting in dynamic equilibrium. Western dualism is so unsophisticated compared to it.

In the Suthasoma -- a great Mahayana Buddhist epic poem composed in central Java at the time when Buddhism was merrily mixing up with Shivaist Hinduism -- we find an outstanding verse: Bhineka tunggal ika ("it is different but it is one").

That also happens to be the motto of Indonesia, emblazoned in its coat of arms, below the golden Garuda mythical bird. It's a message of unity, like the American e pluribus unum. Now it looks more like a message presaging Eurasian integration via the New Silk Roads; it's not by accident that Xi Jinping officially launched the Maritime Silk Road in 2013 in Indonesia.

With the Trump era about to begin, our current geopolitical juncture looks and feels like a massive Wayang kulit -- a Balinese shadow play.

The historical origin of the shadow play lies most possibly in India, although it has been performed all across Asia. Good and evil coexist in shadow play -- but Hinduism seeks to depict the clash as a sort of quirky partnership.

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Kulit means skin, covering. Wayang is the puppet, made out of cow hide, painted and braced with sticks that the dalang -- the puppet master -- manipulates at will.

Every Wayang kulit performance is a story told by a dalang through voices (which he must impersonate), shadows on a screen, and atmospheric music. The dalang -- a sort of priest -- incarnates all characters and must know the stories he tells by heart.

Only a select few in the West qualify as dalangs -- especially in the geopolitical sphere. The real dalangs are in fact totally invisible -- deep down in niskala. But then we have their emissaries, the visible, media-savvy, media-worshipped dalangs. Back to them in a New York minute.

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)
 

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