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The Siberian archipelago

sam, 01/18/2014 - 8:45am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pimg style=margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: right; src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/CtcGEKhpXjzevTL6YY9jjXNuO0Xolej4Arx6my79840/mtime:1389873636/files/Novosibirsk%20oo-O-oo.jpg alt= width=160 //ppspan style=font-size: 13px; line-height: 1.5;There’s a popular misconception about Russian politics that ‘everything happens in Moscow.’ But sometimes it’s the capital that has to catch up with the regions (or with Siberia at least)./span/p /div /div /div p class=BodyMany people think of Siberia as an uninhabited wilderness of permafrost and pine forests. But in fact most Siberians live in modern cities connected by road and rail links, with the major cities – Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude and Chita – all on the famous Trans-Siberian railway, and Barnaul, Kemerovo and Tomsk within easy reach of it. These are all cities with populations of more than half a million, and one (Novosibirsk) has one-and-a-half million inhabitants. Distances between ‘neighbouring’ cities are however large by European standards, ranging from 250 km (Novosibirsk-Barnaul, Novosibirsk-Tomsk, Novosibirsk-Kemerovo) to 1,000 (Krasnoyarsk-Irkutsk). Indeed the political map of Siberia is probably best described as an archipelago, where each large city is an island leading its own separate existence./pp class=Bodyimg src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/4jQHbD3lPmzNnUAjpcEcu1b5T211IecMpgbKICzCY28/mtime:1389869861/files/download%20sib%20cities.png alt= width=460 height=211 /br /span class=image-captionThough connected by modern roads and railways, Siberian cities are very remote from each other./span/ph2Siberian politics as seen from above/h2 p class=BodyIn the 1990s the various parts of Siberia rang with the sounds of political clashes as various factions fought it out at elections for mayors and governors. But even then, the ‘classical’ political picture associated with western-type democracy, where candidates from various parties stand against one other, had no basis in local reality. /p p class=BodyThe issues here had nothing to do with parties or socioeconomic groups. Financial-industrial conglomerates were busy dividing spheres of interest among themselves, and elections were merely another arena for their battles. Aluminium kings clashed with their oil and timber counterparts, with the bureaucratic clans walking a tightrope between them. /p p class=BodyThe numerous candidates for public office told the public how they would provide ‘Work for the Strong, Care for the Weak’ (a popular slogan at the time, rolled out at every election). But the voters could see how these candidates would spend enormous sums of money on their election campaigns and then, having won the seat of their choice, would disappear until the next time./pp class=pullquote-rightIn the 90’s, the key question in Russian politics wasn’t ‘What are his opinions?’ or ‘What’s he promising us?’ but ‘Whose man is he?’/p p class=BodyAs parties rose and fell like ninepins, political consultants (members of a fast growing and extremely profitable profession in the 90s) would descend like locusts to explain to the electorate how a particular fat cat or his crony would enrich their lives, while the local papers would offer them editorial space for this propaganda bullshit and the parties would haggle over places in electoral lists. The key question in Russian politics wasn’t ‘What are his opinions?’ or ‘What’s he promising?’ but ‘Whose man is he?’/p p class=BodyThe result of these orgies of unscrupulousness and irresponsibility was that the electorate lost all interest in voting and turnout at municipal elections fell below 25%./pp class=Bodyimg src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/UeHu2tBmfNfRVlf2oruxMQNXppwHMMwVRDAnAd_i0ak/mtime:1389870330/files/siberia%20yeowatzup.jpg alt= width=460 /br /span class=image-captionJourneys between cities of this archipelago can take hours or even days. Photo CC yeowatzup./span/p p class=BodyThe arrival of Vladimir Putin, however, did much to clarify the situation. All the ‘kings’, ‘barons’ and other neo-feudal ‘noblemen’ were corralled willy-nilly into 'United Russia’, after which the ‘battle of the clans’ was internalised within the party and only rarely intruded on the public’s consciousness. Occasions when it did included a battle between the United Russia leadership in Irkutsk and its then governor Aleksandr Tishanin. This ended with resignations on both sides, and a standoff between the Altai regional governor, Aleksandr Karlin, and Vladimir Kolganov, mayor of Barnaul, that led not only to the mayor’s resignation but to the abolition of mayoral elections in the entire region. /p p class=BodyIn the 2000s it looked as though regional politics was dead. United Russia won a convincing victory at every election; the opposition parties were going nowhere. The public, happy to have a bit of order and stability (pensions and salaries began to be paid on time), lost any interest it ever had in politics. But the observant might have noticed a few new shoots appearing as early as 2006. nbsp;/ph2The beginnings of civil society/h2 p class=BodySomething new started happening in Siberian cities in the second half of the last decade – grassroots campaigning by various population groups. This type of activity was categorically forbidden in the Soviet period and this ‘prohibition’ was hardwired into the mindset of former Soviet citizens. Ordinary Russians’ basic attitude was that, ‘making any demand of the state can be dangerous and is in any case pointless. You just have to wait until the state realises what you need and gives it to you.’ But since the state was giving less and less, and taking more and more, people began to emerge who had managed to surmount this psychological barrier in themselves and others./pp class=pullquote-rightIndependent grassroots activity was categorically forbidden in the Soviet period and this ‘prohibition’ was hardwired into the mindset of former Soviet citizens./p p class=BodyThe first to do so were, surprisingly enough, car owners. Most cars in Siberia were bought second-hand in Japan, so were right hand drive models, and the government tried more than once to restrict their import or increase customs duty on them. But each attempt met with a storm of protest in the Russian Far East and Siberia, as even used Japanese cars are much better than new cars from Russian factories. The car owners’ movement also protested against bad roads and the high price of petrol./p p class=BodyAgainst the backdrop of general political sterility and apparent total domination of United Russia, the success of this campaigning group was impressive. Later, during the economic crisis of 2008-2009, the government succeeded in raising the duty on imported used cars, but the idea of banning them has been quietly dropped and is unlikely to be revisited. And the movement also succeeded in its campaign for a review of the ‘Shcherbinsky Case’– people were incensed when this ordinary driver was threatened with prosecution over a road accident in which the Altai regional governor Mikhail Yevdokimov died./pp class=Bodyimg src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/CtcGEKhpXjzevTL6YY9jjXNuO0Xolej4Arx6my79840/mtime:1389873636/files/Novosibirsk%20oo-O-oo.jpg alt= width=460 /br /span class=image-captionNovosibirsk skyline. Siberian cities are isolated but modern and vibrant cities. Photo CC oo-O-oo/span/p p class=BodyThe Greens are also active here in Siberia. There were always a few environmentally-minded people campaigning for the protection of Siberia’s wonderful natural beauty – from small rivers polluted by oil to the great sacred Lake Baikal poisoned by effluent from a giant paper mill. But what turned ecological issues into a mass campaign was the Transneft project, which planned to run an oil pipeline along the lake shore. The protest began in small scientific and academic circles, but suddenly acquired momentum among the population of Irkutsk, the large city nearest to the lake. In 2006 public protest began in earnest, with rallies attracting several thousand people. And a href=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/4945998.stmPutin/a actually responded, drawing his famous arrows on the map showing a new route for the pipeline further away from Baikal./ph2Growing grassroots activity/h2 p class=BodyAfter the 2008 economic crisis public activism started increasing by leaps and bounds, and although people involved in building a civil society are still a tiny minority of the population, their number doubles every year. Novosibirsk, for example, has a parents’ movement fighting for more nursery places. Russia has provided heavily subsidised nurseries for pre-school children since Soviet times, but in the 90s, when the birth rate was only half that of the previous decade, many nursery premises were handed over to other public sector organisations or private businesses. /p p class=BodySince 2000, however, the birth rate has been rising again; there is a great shortage of nursery provision (and waiting lists not entirely transparent in their operation) and many young mothers are forced to stay at home rather than working, causing a serious drop in family income. So the parents of a few dozen of the 30,000 children in Novosibirsk waiting for a nursery place, instead of ‘awaiting their turn quietly and with dignity’, as one local official put it, have started organising pickets and turning up at local government offices and deputies’ surgeries with their children. They are demanding not only an overall increase in nursery places, but compensation for parents whose children don’t get a place and more transparency in waiting lists. And thanks to their efforts, the subject is being actively debated at national level and there has been a significant increase in government funding for the building of nurseries. Parents in Novosibirsk are still waiting for their compensation and transparent waiting lists, but in a few cities in Russia this has happened as well. /p p class=BodyIn 2010 a tragic event took place in Novosibirsk: an ambulance failed to get a child to hospital on time. Medical services were so badly organised that he had to travel 40 km along congested urban roads, and he died. The child’s mother, Darya Makarova, set up an organisation called ‘Healthcare for Children’ which attracted hundreds of members and the city authorities were forced to take action. /pp class=pullquote-right In 2012 lefties, nationalists and liberals were to be found marching side by side – unthinkable in the 90s when they all hated each other more than they hated the regime./p p class=BodyGrassroots protest spread to more and more groups of the population. At the start of 2011, the Novosibirsk Regional authorities cut the concessions received by pensioners on public transport, triggering a mass campaign among senior citizens, who organised a monthly protest march. The marches attracted crowds of up to a thousand, which was totally unexpected given that these older people had spent their lives in the Soviet Union’s ‘political winter.’ And with their explicitly anti-United Russia slogans, they had had a clear political message as well. /p p class=BodyThe other new thing that was noticeable around that time was the unusual pragmatism of the protesters and the willingness of people with widely differing views to come together in a common cause. Lefties, nationalists and liberals were to be found marching side by side - unthinkable in the 1990s when they all hated each other more than they hated the regime. But in 2012 they won their common battle for the full restitution of their concessionary fares./ph2The thaw began to spread/h2 p class=BodyBoth mass meetings and the coming together of various strands of opposition to form a united front happened earlier in Siberia than in Moscow. When the capital’s ‘creative class’ were still avoiding any involvement in politics, and United Russia won an enormous majority in elections to Moscow’s city council, the party was beginning to lose control of cities in Siberia. In 2010 United Russia suffered a string of defeats in the Irkutsk Region, with Irkutsk, Bratsk and Ust-Ilimsk all returning opposition mayoral candidates. This was not down to brilliant campaigning on the part of their respective parties (the Communists and ‘A Just Russia’) – the mass protest vote was informal and spontaneous. The mutiny had become openly political. /p p class=BodyIn 2011, this tendency began to spread geographically – in the Novosibirsk region, for example, United Russia lost three cities in the spring (although Novosibirsk itself didn’t have an election then). And in the autumn, United Russia won ‘only’ 45% of votes in elections to the regional assembly in the 50% of constituencies where candidates were returned by a party list system [the other 50% used a single member, first part the post system], which led to the resignation of the entire regional party leadership./pp class=pullquote-rightIn 2010 United Russia suffered a string of defeats in the Irkutsk Region. And this mass protest vote was spontaneous. The mutiny had become openly political./p p class=BodyThis, let me repeat, all happened a year or more before mass protest meetings began in Moscow. In the 2011 parliamentary elections United Russia had less than 40% of the vote in most Siberian regions (with only 35% in the Novosibirsk region, 10% less than the previous year), whereas in Moscow official figures put its share at 49%. It was probably these disappointing results for the ruling party that led to the appointment of new governors in the major regions of Siberia, rushed through by the Kremlin just before the law changed to restore direct gubernatorial elections, which had been abandoned in 2004. That way, elections for governors in the Omsk, Tomsk and Irkutsk regions were ‘postponed’ for another five years. /p p class=BodyThe protests against the rigged 2011 parliamentary elections that began in Moscow quickly spread to the regions and attracted a large number of previously apolitical young people into the opposition movement. Throughout 2012, opposition activity in Siberia mirrored that of the capital, but it petered out a lot more rapidly. /p p class=BodyRussia’s political culture is noted for its battles for lofty ideals, its division of the world into ‘black’ and ‘white’. Mass protest brings people together and unites them in a common cause, but it doesn’t address the question of ‘What next?’ The key to solving Russia’s problems doesn’t lie in Moscow, but in the regions, since Moscow’s problems are very different from those in the provinces. It wasn’t vote rigging and propaganda that returned Putin to power – it was a conscious decision by the provinces, fearing the rise of people who were completely detached from real life in Russia. The question still stands: could the regions put forward possible ways for their country to go, or will they always be restricted to the choices made in Moscow?/ph2In conclusion/h2 p class=BodyInstrong /stronghis book emFace-Off: Russia - USA, /emco-authored withstrong /strongprominentstrong /strongjournalist and TV talk show host Vladimir Solovyov, the political analyst Nikolai Zlobin recounts a conversation with western Russian specialists where he asked them why they disliked Russia so much. And they answered: ‘We were inspired to study Russia by the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky; we wanted to discover people of great strength of character and the mysterious Russian soul. Instead of which, we have found a great many mean-spirited people with eyes that contain only dollar signs. Russia has deceived us.’ /p p class=BodyPolitics in Russia is organised very differently than in the west. Almost all political battles in Russia are conducted not between different people, but within each individual person. There was a period when Russia was inundated by a wave of consumerism and greed. People committed terrible crimes, selling everything and selling out. But after plumbing the depths of moral degeneration and corruption, only some of them stayed there; others pushed off and floated upwards again. And, quite unexpectedly, the strength of character described by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky has started appearing in those same mean-spirited pygmies who but yesterday, it seemed, were only interested in money and new possessions.nbsp;nbsp;/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/od-russia/gayane-petrosyan/licence-to-kill-on-lake-baikalLicence to kill on Lake Baikal/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/od-russia/ben-judah/why-russia-is-not-losing-siberiaWhy Russia is not losing Siberia/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/od-russia/aleksei-tarasov/has-siberia-had-enough-of-russiaHas Siberia had enough of Russia? /a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Russia /div /div /div div class=field field-rights div class=field-labelRights:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Creative Commons /div /div /div

Next-generation extremism: next-generation responsibility

ven, 01/17/2014 - 2:57pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pGaming companies occupy a much stronger position to create effective and legitimate counter-narratives than governments./p /div /div /div pLast December, the emGuardian/em published a leaked NSA document by whistle-blower Edward Snowden that discussed the threat of terrorists’ uses of ‘a href=http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/dec/09/nsa-files-games-virtual-environments-paper-pdfGames and Virtual Environments/a’ (GVE). The NSA and GCHQ have been systematically infiltrating popular game servers to spy on users, with the aim of countering potential terrorist activity. /p pThey are concerned about the potential for the radicalisation and recruitment of gamers into extremist organisations or terrorist groups. While the launch of the much anticipated next-generation gaming consoles a href=http://www.xbox.com/en-GB/xbox-one/meet-xbox-oneXbox One/a and a href=http://uk.playstation.com/ps4/PS4/a will enhance the virtual gaming experience, some believe this world could provide a sophisticated platform to exploit others, and a fresh arena to recruit into extremist movements, terrorist groups or foreign conflicts. But is there really a credible threat?/p pGaming content has come under increased scrutiny as more explicit, graphic and sometimes controversial content is offered to customers.nbsp; Prominent First-Person Shooter (FPS) franchise a href=http://www.callofduty.com/uk/enemCall of Duty/em/aem /emhas been a href=http://www.geek.com/games/the-most-controversial-moments-in-call-of-duty-history-1488919/periodically criticised/a for some of its content. Drawing on narratives from existing conflicts, it has shaped its own ‘fictional’ storylines around real life scenarios. Many plots have pitted American troops against Muslim terrorist factions. Primary antagonists include an enemy known as ‘a href=http://callofduty.wikia.com/wiki/Khaled_Al-Asadal-Asad/a’; a virtual storyline playing into the current conflict in Syria. The popularity of the emCall of Duty/em brand a href=http://counterideology2.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/jihad-in-syria.jpghas been used as propaganda/a by Syrian rebels. An underlying message is promoted that reinforces prejudices and cultural stereotypes and endorses an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ narrative between ‘Muslims’ and ‘the West’. nbsp;/p pExtremists have also attempted to use popular gaming culture to rationalise real-life conflicts to those who are not able to critically engage with the content, particularly young men. Hezbollah famously launched ‘a href=http://web.archive.org/web/20050105091655/www.specialforce.net/english/indexeng.htmemSpecial Force 2/em/a’ to glamourise the conflict with Israel, and ‘educate’ upcoming generations on the importance of their struggle. ‘Foreign fighters’ in Syria have also uploaded videos onto the internet a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XvmGAPP6d4mimicking the perspective of a First-Person Shooter/a (FPS) to try to tap into this market as a possible recruitment ground. /p pMeanwhile, Arid Uka, convicted of murdering two US airmen in Frankfurt in 2011, a href=http://www.stripes.com/news/uka-s-lawyers-to-focus-on-his-youth-impact-of-video-games-1.165411obsessively played violent video games/a whilst watching jihadist propaganda videos online during his process of radicalisation. Far-right terrorist Anders Breivik also discussed ‘a href=http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/apr/19/anders-breivik-call-of-dutytraining’ on Call of Duty/a. /p pNext-generation consoles would have the capacity to accelerate this process. But to those who have not yet been radicalised, or young people seeking a purpose via the medium of gaming, this is where counter-narratives to extremism may be the most valuable./p pGaming corporations have the resources, manpower and technical expertise to actively counter extremist narratives and prevent online recruitment. They have the capacity to work with actors in this field to develop subtle counter-narratives for their system interfaces, to enable users to critically engage with and think about the content of games and agendas of fellow users. Given the evidence to suggest that these platforms are being used by extremists, counter narratives can be part of a long term project to counter this./p pIdeally, educational messages and positive real-world connections to games can be tailored for those who are most susceptible to extremist narratives, and unable to critically engage or detect bias in a subject or story. Using experience and technological expertise, gaming companies can create impressive visual displays and alluring videos that attract users to them through innovative interfaces, to deliver carefully crafted counter-messages. Gaming platforms are in many ways an ideal space to create positive identities and build resistance to extremist narratives. They could be another tool in the struggle against extremism online, and could throw weight behind the call to end government surveillance of these platforms./p pLast December, the world’s leading technology companies came together to demand comprehensive changes to US surveillance law as a response to disclosures by Edward Snowden. Microsoft is one of a number of companies supporting Barack Obama’s proposed reforms. They are clearly concerned about their customers’ privacy and confidentiality being compromised. However, they may not recognise the potential for their new hardware and software to be used by extremists./p pCovert government surveillance and infiltration reaffirms the extremist narratives of both far right and Islamist movements. Their shared anti-government conspiracy theories are vindicated. With this new leak now exposed to gamers worldwide, covert infiltration can only serve to foment an atmosphere of distrust in the gaming public – distrust both of government and gaming providers, alienating a vast reserve of dedicated, enthusiastic and loyal fans that pump millions of pounds into the market each year./p pStill, gaming companies occupy a much stronger position to create effective and legitimate counter-narratives than governments. Having gaming companies on board in this field is critical and can illustrate gaming corporations’ guardianship over their genuine, law-abiding users. It would also indicate a willingness to make their service secure. They should use their powerful position of authority to attempt to tackle extremism head on, with the gaming fraternity, civil society, and charities./p pTo their credit, governments and civil society are trying to develop useful counter-narratives. Still, gaming corporations have a vital role to play in this space, one that is no longer optional. They have a duty of care that is mutually beneficial, which can enhance their reputation, protect their users, and aid governments in their efforts to tackle extremism and terrorism.nbsp;/p pThe rapid evolution and innovation of the console gaming market will continue. Next-generation consoles’ hi-tech assembly of social networking apps, private voice-chat forums and instant video upload capability, combined with game content resembling real-world scenarios, make them a potential paradise for extremists, who could easily thrive in this space if left unchecked. nbsp;Next-generation gaming calls for next-generation responsibility and action./pdiv class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd United States /div div class=field-item even UK /div /div /div div class=field field-topics div class=field-labelTopics:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Conflict /div div class=field-item even Culture /div div class=field-item odd Democracy and government /div div class=field-item even Ideas /div div class=field-item odd International politics /div div class=field-item even Internet /div /div /div

Giant banks play Russian roulette with our future

ven, 01/17/2014 - 2:19pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pGovernments – particularly in the United States and the European Union – must start showing the intestinal fortitude to stand up against the banks.strongnbsp;/strong/p /div /div /div pFive years after the Great Recession of 2007-08 destroyed the lives of millions of people and cost trillions of dollars to the economy, many of the big banks that caused the collapse are still involved in highly risky and sometimes fraudulent activities that could crash the economy again.nbsp;Fear is ever present among independent economists because the giant private banks – particularly US banks – bet trillions of dollars that are not properly secured and could cause havoc if defaulted on.nbsp;/p pEfforts to bring the banks under control have had mixed success. Last December, after more than three years of wrangling with the big banks, US law makers approved the a href=http://blogs.cfainstitute.org/marketintegrity/2012/01/03/the-volcker-rule-the-wrong-track-toward-the-right-objective/Volker rule/a. The intention was to lessen the possibility of another major crash, but critics say it will not make much of a difference. The billions of dollars US banks spent lobbying against the law paid off for them./p pnbsp;“A resurgence of right-wing economics, driven, as always, by ideology and special interests, once again threatens the global economy - or at least the economies of Europe and America,” said economist a href=http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/07/20117714241429793.htmlJoseph Stiglitz/a, a Nobel Prize winner./p pMillions of a href=http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article41178.htmlordinary citizens/a who have their savings and investments tied up in big banks are unaware of the extent of the risks. In southern Europe, millions of people have not recovered from the 2008 collapse./p h2Crisis in the corner office/h2 pMulti-national banks – which of course have huge legitimate activities – employ “the best and brightest” minds they can find, and pay them big bucks to work out a href=http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/05/02/jpmorgan-caught-in-swirl-of-regulatory-woes/?_r=0illegal schemes and find loopholes i/an government legislation that will make them even more rich./p pHere are a few examples of some well documented fraudulent activities of some big banks since the crash:nbsp;/p ullistronga href=http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/bank-of-america-too-crooked-to-fail-20120314#ixzz1p6UIG7ntBank of America/a/strongstrong:/strong emThe Rolling Stone/em magazine exposed the “limitless criminal conspiracies” they’re involved in.nbsp;/lilistronga href=http:/C:/Users/Nick/Documents/All%20My%20Files/2013%20-%20NEW%20BLOGS/Banks%20-%20Intl%20piece/%E2%80%A2%09.%20http:/rwer.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/deutsche-bank-fifty-shades-of-fraud/Deutsche bank:/a/strong Among many things, the German bank is paying $550-million to resolve a tax shelter fraud investigation.strongnbsp;/strong/lilistronga href=http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/dec/11/hsbc-bank-us-money-launderingHSBC Bank/a/strongstrong:/strong The bank paid a record $1.92-billion penalty in connection with a money-laundering scheme involving Iran and Mexican drug cartels./lilistronga href=http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/03/david-dayen-out-of-control-new-report-exposes-jpmorgan-chase-as-mostly-a-criminal-enterprise.htmlJP Morgan Chase/a/strong: The bank admitted to being involved in a number of criminal activities, including the fraudulent sale of unregistered securities./lilistronga href=http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/27/barclays-libor-settlement-charges_n_1630644.htmlBarclays Bank/a/strongstrong:/strong They were hit with fines of $448-million for its “serious, widespread” role in trying to manipulate the price of crucial interest rates that affect the cost of borrowing for millions of customers around the world./lilistronga href=http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/11/libor-rate-scandal_n_1664737.htmlCredit Suisse/a/strongstrong:/strong It was one of a dozen banks found guilty of fraudulently manipulating Libor interest rates to grab illegal profits./li/ul pAmazingly, despite all the a href=http://deltafarmpress.com/blog/almost-5-years-after-financial-implosion-and-nobodys-been-jailedcriminality/a, not one executive of any giant international investment bank has gone to jail, or even been prosecuted./p h2Bankers use exotic instruments to get rich/h2 pThe investment banks and traders use an array of a href=http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/v/volcker_rule/index.htmldizzying financial instruments/a to make massive, often illegal profits. Included are derivatives, hedge funds, credit default swaps, reverse convertible bonds, and other exotic creations that promise either huge gains or disastrous losses./p pEven before the big banks start their gambling, they have a href=http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/26/opinion/were-all-still-hostages-to-the-big-banks.html?pagewanted=allamp;_r=0amp;pagewanted=printlittle room for any losses/a. As crazy as it may sound, some banks routinely have liabilities of perhaps 95 percent of its hard cash assets. This means that a medium size loss could put the bank in a near-bankrupt situation./p pEven so, they are not afraid to gamble bigtime./p pa href=http://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/derivative.aspDerivatives/a, one of the main trading instruments, are a complex, extremely high risk transaction. As one example, a href=http://business.financialpost.com/2013/08/14/former-jpmorgan-traders-charged-with-fraud-in-us6-2-billion-london-whale-scandal/two former JPMorgan Chase employees/a are facing criminal charges related to a derivatives trading scandal that cost the bank $6.2-billion. The bank ignored growing risks and hid losses from investors and federal regulators./p pNo one knows the exact a href=http://www.globalresearch.ca/financial-implosion-global-derivatives-market-at-1-200-trillion-dollars-20-times-the-world-economy/30944value of derivatives/a that exist globally, but it’s at least an unimaginable $1,200-trillion, which is more than 20 times the size of the entire world economy. And the amount is still increasing. nbsp;nbsp;/p pnbsp;“We can say this with virtual certainty,” wrote Steve Denning in emForbes/em magazine, “if we continue as now and ignore them [derivatives] again, the great white shark of a a href=http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2013/01/08/five-years-after-the-financial-meltdown-the-water-is-still-full-of-big-sharks/global financial meltdown/a will gobble up the meagre economic recovery and make 2008 look like a hiccup.”/p h2Mega-banks fighting against being regulated/h2 pThe mega-banks, headed by unscrupulous executives and with the support of thousands of lobbyists and hundreds of high-paid lawyers, are now defying efforts by authorities to stop them from engaging in their risky and often illegal financial dealings./p pIn Europe, the a href=http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/106aabde-9d15-11e2-88e9-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2cwOfkrnq%20%20http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basel_IIIbankers won/a a significant victory in January 2013 when officials backed down and agreed to broaden the definition of the assets the banks can use to back up their loans. The governments also agreed to delay the start of the regulations to 2019./p h2Giant banks must be brought under control/h2 pGovernments – particularly in the United States and the European Union – must start showing the intestinal fortitude to stand up against the banks. The way things stand now, the banks irresponsible behaviour could lead to another even worse crash./p pFirst, for now, governments must urgently step in and get control of dangerous gambling instruments, such as derivatives. Banks involved with derivatives should put up billions of dollars to protect against unforeseen losses. nbsp;nbsp;/p pSecond, we must overcome the strong influence that banks have over governments and the general public. In southern Europe, banks have been so powerful that they have literally pushed aside the democratic process. Elected politicians have given way to appointed financial experts, and their interests are to ignore the social needs of the people while they make sure the banks get back all the money they had lent to governments./p pOur world will not be safe until we start really controlling the power of the giant banks. nbsp;/pdiv class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd United States /div div class=field-item even EU /div /div /div div class=field field-topics div class=field-labelTopics:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Democracy and government /div div class=field-item even Economics /div div class=field-item odd International politics /div /div /div

The European Green primary experiment

ven, 01/17/2014 - 12:15pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pPrimary elections to elect the new leaders of the European Greens will take place tomorrow. What makes this hustings particularly special?/p /div /div /div p class=image-captionimg src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/USUAHXy3ldFprrnAoM5pNCHQSwFDAZm_yUelTu9hSqM/mtime:1389980129/files/Contenders%20%281%29.jpg alt= width=460 height=307 /Candidates for the European Greens leadership. From l-r: Rebecca Harms, José Bové, Monica Frassoni, Ska Keller. Photo used with permission of author. All rights reserved./ppThe Scottish referendum this year, whatever the result, will mark one significant change in British politics, with 16 and 17-year-olds being able to vote “yes” or “no” on the nation’s constitutional future. (Find out more a href=http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/referendum_scotland.aspx?gclid=CMy7r4yP_rsCFc3KtAodviUAFQhere/a if that applies to you and you haven’t already registered.)/p pBut this won’t be a first, for 16 and 17-years-olds, all around the United Kingdom, will have an earlier opportunity to cast their vote – in the a href=https://www.greenprimary.eu/European Greens primary election/a, now open and continuing until January 28. Anyone aged 16 or over, who can indicate with a simple tick that they support the Greens principles, is entitled to cast their ballot – an opening up of democracy that is another European first./p pThe Green Party of England and Wales has long been a leader in promoting votes for 16-year-olds, believing that young people should have a say in their own future, and that encouraging involvement in the political system is critically important for our democratic future./p pIt’s the first time any of the major European groups (the Greens/EFA group is the fourth-largest in the parliament – you might like to note that the Tories belong to the a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Conservatives_and_Reformistsfifth-largest/a) has selected lead candidate(s) by such an open, democratic procedure. (The other groups have simply anointed from within.)/p pThe selected two candidates – for the Green Party has maintained its long tradition of ensuring female representation by having two lead candidates, at least one of whom will be female – will be the “face” of the European campaign./p pThis isn’t, of course, a presidential election, although as in British politics, the tug of presidential-style politics has been strong for the European election, on which voting in Britain will be on a href=http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/how_do_i_vote/voting_systems/european_parliament_elections.aspxMay 22/a. But it will be selecting the individuals who’ll front the major debates, present the Green case for a Europe in which everyone has enough for a decent life, while living within the limits of our one planet, /p pIt’s a democratic experiment, albeit one using technology and experiences from online voting that’s been used in more than a dozen European national elections. It might well be a forerunner for opening up electronic voting in British polls./p pThat means we’ll have to see how it goes, what we need is the involvement of as many people as possible to at least check out the site, check out the process, and let us know what they think./p pPerhaps unsurprisingly, the field has three female candidates and one male. They are co-president the European Green party a href=http://www.greens-efa.eu/36-details/harms-rebecca-39.htmlRebecca Harms/a, its migration policy spokesperson a href=http://www.greens-efa.eu/36-details/keller-ska-47.htmlSka Keller/a, co-chair a href=http://europeangreens.eu/people/monica-frassoniMonica Frassoni,/a and a href=http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/96744/JOSE_BOVE_home.htmlJosé Bové,/a a French MEP who needs little introduction – just think about that a href=http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/onthefuture/A706736demolished McDonald’s/a./p pIf you’d like to see the candidates first hand (there’s also lots of chance to interact online), they’ll all be in London on a href=http://london.greenparty.org.uk/events/january-2014-events.html#EGPrimaryJanuary 18/a, available to answer your questions./p pAs London’s Green MEP Jean Lambert, who’ll be chairing the debate, said: “Survey after survey tells us most people are pretty uninspired by most politicians - and disconnected from the EU. They want more of a say in how the political parties that dominate our democracy - especially at EU level - choose their candidates. The Green primary gives people just that.”/p pI’ll be at the hustings, and I look forward to hearing the candidates again, having already heard them debate in politics. On that experience I can be sure that Saturday’s debate will be well worth hearing, and will offer a face of green politics, a different kind of politics, a different perspective and way forward./pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/node/67917Escaping the environmental pigeonhole: Natalie Bennett and long term vision of the Green Party /a /div div class=field-item even a href=/blog/ourkingdom-theme/rupert-read/2008/08/21/political-history-will-be-made-at-green-party-conferencePolitical history will be made at Green Party Conference/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd EU /div /div /div

Euro elections 2014 bloggers introduce themselves: Part Two

ven, 01/17/2014 - 9:07am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pWhat is Europe for you?nbsp;span style=line-height: 1.5;What does it mean to be young andnbsp;Europeannbsp;in 2014?nbsp;/spanspan style=line-height: 1.5;An exchange of views between bloggers across the continent.nbsp;/spanstronga href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-itCan Europe make it?/a/strongspan style=line-height: 1.5;nbsp;has the pleasure of introducing you to our guest columnists for the run-up to thenbsp;/spana style=line-height: 1.5; href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-2014European elections 2014/aspan style=line-height: 1.5;./span/p /div /div /div lia href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/christoph-heuermann/what-has-happened-to-idea-of-united-europeWhat has happened to the idea of a united Europe?/a/lilia href=YOU TELL US What is Europe for you? What does it mean to be young and European in 2014? An exchange of views between bloggers across the continent.My interest in Europe is personal as well as academic/a/lilia href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/vasil-silyanovski/eu-is-best-thing-that-has-happened-to-bulgariaThe EU is the best thing that has happened to Bulgaria/a/lilia href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/maria-antica/ask-me-whether-i-feel-european-or-notAsk me whether I feel European or not/a/lilia href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/marzena-sadowska/i-would-like-to-see-campaign-informing-eu-citizensI would like to see a campaign informing EU citizens what they can do already/a/lilia href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/ioanna-karamitrousi/as-aristotle-said-people-are-naturally-political-animalsAs Aristotle said, people are naturally political animals/a/lih3spanWhat has happened to the idea of a united Europe?/span/h3p class=MsoNormalBynbsp;a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/christoph-heuermann/what-has-happened-to-idea-of-united-europeChristoph Heuermann/a/ppBeing a 23 year old German by birth, I consider myself more a cosmopolitan. Europe has an astonishing diversity of people, culture and landscapes, but studying in Konstanz near the Swiss border, I sometimes like to have a break from the European Union. After school I went volunteering in New Zealand. Living at the other end of the world was quite amazing and brought a deep change to my life. So reading has given way to traveling. I love Europe, but not what happens in it politically. I think Switzerland as a country, with its decentralism, direct democracy and economic freedom, holds some valuable insights for the EU./ppI’ve lived in Vienna and am now studying in Madrid. I’m still astonished how close we Europeans are to each other despite some cultural differences. Meeting so many exciting people makes me forget that there are borders which define nationalities. Borders are an important European issue for me. Being a classical liberal, I deeply believe in the case for free migration and free trade, both of which seem to be in trouble at the moment. On the one hand, people die almost daily while trying to reach the stronghold of Europe from Africa, drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. On the other hand, the free trade agreement with the US is in some difficulty as a result of revelations about the NSA. Speaking as a cosmopolitan, Europe should be a free and open society, not closed to anyone./ppBut we still have a long way. Nationalism unfortunately is on the rise. My French flatmates shocked me recently, when it turned out that they vote for the Front National. Then I noticed this was not the only example, in other conversations with other people. What has happened to the idea of an united Europe? Why do actually really friendly and tolerant people vote for far right-wing nationalism combined with economic protectionism? This question bothers me./ppYou already see, I am quite political and idealistic, although not bound to any political party. I do not really like party politics (although I interned with a German MP last summer), thinking that changes in society are better achieved by individual efforts like (social) entrepreneurship and collective action. I can fully understand the more pragmatic approaches to European issues in times of crisis. However, Europe needs more than technocrats. It needs a vision. Indeed being political, I am not sure yet if I am going to vote in the European elections. I neither want the previous path to continue nor to vote for haters of Europe. And in Germany at least, there is not much choice in between./ppHaving friends all around Europe I am sad about what the crisis has brought to them. Currently living in the centre of Madrid, there are few signs of this. The city buzzes. However, many young Spaniards are trying to emigrate. A friend of mine is off soon to Germany – the country I was glad to leave. Although Germany lies in the heart of Europe, my heart does not lie there. This is not so much to do with Germany’s history, as it is about current politics and the German mentality - though I really love the vast variety of German landscapes, its beautiful medieval cities and the great thinkers born there. For that reason, I also see the German influence on European issues as quite critical. Europe should not become another Germany, it should stay as colourful as it is. For this Europe I fight, and for this Europe I hope to write and explain my ideas./ph3spanMy interest in Europe is personal as well as academic/span/h3p class=MsoNormalBynbsp;a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/marcus-how/my-interest-in-europe-is-personal-as-well-as-academicMarcus How/a/ppMy name is Marcus How and I live in Essex, just outside of London. I studied Philosophy at the University of Nottingham. At first, I didn’t think that this was the most practical of degrees, a suspicion compounded when I graduated in July 2010, and emerged into a job market that was at the nadir of its depression. However, this assumption was incorrect. The analytical import of the discipline – together with giving you a weird ability to pick up new concepts quickly – put me in good stead when I began working as an intern in the political risk sector./ppAfter three months I was hired full-time, acting as the firm’s social media analyst, which involved developing methodologies by which to systematically mine risk-relevant information from social media platforms. This was particularly interesting, as it was at the time of the Arab uprisings and the Occupy protests in the US and Europe. I also worked as a research analyst for the North America desk./ppAfter eighteen months in the job, I felt I’d hit a ceiling in terms of responsibility and decided to do a Masters. I chose International Political Economy – i.e. economics for people who can’t add up – which I studied at King’s College London. In the meantime, I continued working part-time as a research analyst for the Western Europe desk; a role that neatly complemented my academic area of focus.nbsp;/ppMy interest in Europe is personal as well as academic. My mother’s side of the family are from Vienna, and I am bilingual in German. I am fascinated in Austrian history, especially the interwar years and the Habsburg Empire. The Viennese-Habsburg connection has also bred in me a strong interest in Central and Eastern Europe. I’ve travelled extensively across the region. Although I’ve been to many other countries, nowhere gets me going like Austria and the ‘new Europe’./ppThe three issues I feel should be discussed in any current debates about Europe are the following. First, the consolidation of the European banking sector. The focus of my Masters dissertation was on Austrian finance in CEE. This was a fascinating project because by analysing financial indicators, one is able to assess the depth and sustainability of economic development. The extent of economic convergence between countries becomes plainer to see. It becomes particularly important when one considers that in the Eurozone at the moment, structural asymmetries continue to exist between members. Without a robust, comprehensive and unequivocally supranational banking union, these asymmetries will likely prove to be very destructive in the coming years./ppSecond, populist politics is a fascinating area, one that is growing in importance. It is a symptom of the disconnect between the EU’s institutions and its citizens. Many citizens feel as though globalisation is not working for them, and rather than acting as a shield, the EU is merely perpetuating the ill effects of liberalisation. Populist parties are also particularly interesting for me because they tend to be movements rather than parties, and thereby transcend the left-right divide, highlighting how arbitrary a distinction it is. I feel that the populist politics of the interwar years were basically the same phenomenon, appealing to the same anxieties. Besides this, I think the rise of populist parties in recent years asks the question: does the EU have to be democratic in order to be effective? Can technocratic governance ever be enough? Do people only appeal to the democratic deficit when times are bad?/ppFinally, a neglected area of discussion is the nature of integration. On the left, it is often said that the EU should effectively be dismantled, and reconstructed along democratic lines. But is this vision realistic? Is it possible to create a United States of Europe overnight? Would states ever willingly cede sovereignty to the extent that real democratic decision-making could be taken at the supranational level? How could this happen? Could EU institutions accommodate for such a move? What other cases of integration can we learn from? As to the last question, I think the US is a massively neglected and potentially fascinating area of study in this regard. Taking a look at US integration from the War of Independence onwards, and comparing it to Europe, would be an unusual but relevant area of discussion. After all, in pursuing economic convergence and political integration, the US ended up having to fight a civil war!nbsp;/ph3spanspanThe EU is the best thing that has happened to Bulgaria/span/span/h3p class=MsoNormalBynbsp;a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/vasil-silyanovski/eu-is-best-thing-that-has-happened-to-bulgariaVasil Silyanovski/a/ppMy name is Vasil Silyanovski. In my opinion and the opinion of other young people whom I know, the EU is the best thing that has happened to Bulgaria. I personally graduated in Economics in Vienna and so have seen the advantages of being an EU citizen. I returned back to Bulgaria and I am currently studying Law with the intention of helping in the development of my country, to continue its European development and to acquire European values. Those are my goals and my dream is that one day Bulgaria will be a model country, both for Europe and for the rest of the world./ppThe latest university occupation was a natural progression from the ongoing protests in Bulgaria. It all started with the appointment of a media mogul to head up the National Department of State Security. This struck us all as yet another impudent and corrupt political move on the part of the government currently in power in what is described as the “transition period”. This was insanity. Our immoral, non-visible, non-democratic government had finally gone beyond any tolerable limits./ppHowever, maybe I ought to explain things by taking a step back. From the fall of communism to nowadays, the former communist party and their successors are the main powers in the land. The main difference between them and civil society is that they consider success is achievable only if you play an active role in power politics. For us, success is achieved on merit by demonstrating knowledge and hard work. Principally, this is the difference./ppIn the last 24 years, communists have repeatedly seized power. But this time, their moral degradation has sunk to new depths. Aiming to be in power at all costs, they have entered into a coalition with the far right nationalist party and the ethnic Turkish party. A few words on these parties’ typical voters. The former communist party’s electorate is full of people of lower social status who dream of turning the clock back to Communist times. The ethnic Turkish party’s vote is kept artificially high by instilling fear amongst the ethnic Turkish people and manipulating them accordingly. The nationalist party is a purely demagogic organization, and one absolutely discredited following a series of scandals which began with their silent participation in this insane coalition government, and included photos of their members visiting their leader in some of the most expensive hotels in the world.nbsp;br /br /The university occupation was a mild and peaceful way to express our disagreement with the absurdity taking place in the Parliament. But the students are now starting to enlighten themselves. This is where our name comes from - The Early Rising Students, (because we have acted before it is too late). We have found ourselves in this situatation due to the outrageous acts occurring at every level of the political system./ppNow, we are taking things into our own hands, because we realise it is up to us to fight for the change we want to see in our country and community. We want to be the change. We want to be an example for everyone. Up until now, Bulgarians have waited for someone to come and make things better, to save us. For a spiritual leader to take us to the promised land; for a Messiah. We, the Early Rising students, are very much aware of the fact that there is no Messiah. If we want a democratic, pure country of integrity where people have the opportunity to develop and prosper on fair terms, we will have to earn it. We hope everyone else will come to know this as well. We will not give up, because we want a better future for Bulgaria./ph3Ask me whether I feel European or not/h3p class=MsoNormalBynbsp;a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/maria-antica/ask-me-whether-i-feel-european-or-notMaria Antica/a/ppFive years ago, when I began to study political sciences in Bucharest, I was asked ‘why?’ by a professor. I had pretty much no idea, although I mumbled something about getting to know “the system” better so that I can start to change it. It must have sounded like so much bombast. What system? What change? What for? I was glad nobody asked: back then, I didn’t have any magic answers in my pocket./ppBut the question has dogged me ever since. Joining a political party wasn’t an option at the time and still isn’t. And ‘the system’ anyway always seems to be somewhere else. I started to volunteer in civil society projects with a focus on education and Roma issues. My interest started to grow in domestic affairs, citizenship, rule of law, democracy as an overall concept and grass roots activities. I did a bit of everything but not enough of any, as my day job was unrelated and time and resources limited./ppMeanwhile I discovered my passion for foreign and international affairs so took some classes in my master programme. Working with a Romanian think tank, withnbsp;emForeign Policy Romania/emnbsp;magazine and recently, an internship at the Center for European Policy Analysis followed on as a natural progression. This was when my interest in the EU, more specifically, in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries came to the fore. How have the new EU members been accepted amongst a group of ‘well established’ democracies while having to put themselves back on track at home? What does being ‘European’, with this new set of values, really mean and how is it to be achieved?/ppLooking back I realize it was all these little steps and projects that have helped me to understand that for none of these countries is democracy immediately, once and for ever, established at the point of EU accession. Romania was no exception. People’s lack of trust in any democratic tools due to a long communist legacy, their apathy and frustration caused by so many of the actions and decisions taken by their elected representatives, must be contrasted with the huge expectations and enthusiasm that followed shortly after the 1989 Revolution or after joining the EU in 2004. I was one of many who didn’t really think that protesting or involving myself in any cause would be of any use when ‘nobody was going to listen anyway’./ppA year ago, I had this talk with a good friend, both of us being dissatisfied with the current state of affairs: that democracy is not ‘sexy’ enough for our politicians nowadays, that citizens don’t really know what parties think on important topics, especially on those of concern for the public interest; that there is no accountability for any decision taken in the Parliament, and simply that people’s voices can’t really be heard./ppThat’s how thenbsp;ema href=http://romaniapublica.ro/Public Romania/anbsp;/eminitiative was born. In a nutshell, it was designed as a platform or a civic forum where, with some ‘common sense’ and clear rules, politicians, experts and regular citizens gather, debate and vote on controversial issues as a democratic exercise in an attempt to make both ‘sides’ see that things are not only black and white, that citizens need to keep an open and critical eye when it comes to politicians’ decisions and that politicians have to explain their decisions better and take responsibility for them./ppThis is only one attempt among many others by those who are trying to awaken and strengthen Romanian civil society. I would love to see more engaged citizens in their communities, people who do trust that their actions can bring change, people who won’t tolerate corrupt politicians and who understand that change starts firstly with themselves, from their closer circles to their whole communities. Not paying a small bribe for a doctor to take care of you, or a police man for not giving you a traffic fine. It starts there, and these are just small steps, but their effect can cascade. Reacting when unlawful decisions are taken in the Parliament or when the justice system or rule of law is at risk should be more than a moral duty to stand tall and say no to these acts. And the latest protests in Bucharest and the whole country show that people have started to care for more than wages and their social and economical wellbeing (although these are important as well)./ppAsk me whether I feel European or not and I can only answer: it depends on the people I meet. I feel European when I find open-minded people, willing to give some of their time for causes they think are important for the societies they live in, who get engaged in their communities - people who are being critical, constructive and creative./ppBut all the rest gives me the opposite feeling. And this, in the end, is ‘the system’ that I’d love to help change from within. A sense of solidarity and cohesion is what brings me closer to a European feeling, without at all annihilating my sense of being Romanian. On the contrary, this is what healthy, strong societies should want and encourage. Democracy is a continuously changing system and, along with citizenship, it is also fragile. It can be ‘updated’ at any time, either through active engagement or, worse case scenario, by not participating at all in the Agora./ph3I would like to see a campaign informing EU citizens what they can do already/h3p class=MsoNormalBynbsp;a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/marzena-sadowska/i-would-like-to-see-campaign-informing-eu-citizensMarzena Sadowska/a/ppI feel both Polish and European. Pressed to choose, I’d say more Polish since I grew up in Polish culture, Polish is my first and favourite language and my whole family is Polish. European, because I have friends in Germany, Austria, UK, Macedonia, Turkey and Spain and I obviously have common language with them too. Our culture is common, to some extent, and the differences I found are fascinating to me./ppThere is always a question ‘what is Europe’? Is it only European Union? Definitely not, but then, where are its borders? What are borders of culture, anyway? I think cultural ones are more important than geographical, especially when we talk about Europe (taking into consideration that in school I learned about eastern border of Europe being somewhere in the middle of Russia). Is Turkey European? Is Georgia or Armenia? I like to think of Europe as a concept./ppTo me, Europe is only what we make it and has very wide borders, with Armenia and Georgia included. I don’t really see why not. And with Turkey too, because I don’t believe in Europe as a group of only Christian countries. There are Muslim countries in the Balkans and we should look at the history, at the Caliphate of Cordoba and stop pretending that Islam is completely foreign to us./ppWhen there was a referendum on whether or not should Poland join the European Union, I was too young to vote. It was, obviously, a pretty big deal and everyone was talking about it, me and my friends included. I remember my way of thinking then. I wanted Poland to join the EU because I didn’t see any better alignment for Poland. Only later I came to appreciate European Union and the possibilities it brought us./ppI travel because I can. I go to places because there is something there I want to see, or someone I want to meet with. In the last one and half years, I have lived in three different countries and travelled to eight in total. Two of my longest stays abroad were thanks to the European Union: I was an Erasmus student in Istanbul for nine months, and then an intern of the Leonardo da Vinci programme in Berlin. I’ve met so many amazing people in all these places, people of different social backgrounds, different beliefs, different first languages, different values./ppSomehow, thanks to that, the world becomes a little bit easier to understand and at the same time I feel more and more responsibility to be better informed. Suddenly so many issues stopped being just issues for me and acquired the faces of real people.nbsp;/ppThe issues I would like to see more action on?/ppWell, firstly I would like to see a campaign informing EU citizens what they can do already. In Poland this is definitely not common knowledge and with better informed people there is greater possibility of change./ppI’d like to see more transparency when it comes to certain issues, like international agreements that will closely affect our lives. This could be for citizens to decide, I think, not only for politicians./ppAnd while we are at it, I believe that citizens should have the deciding vote when it comes to the decisions regarding our privacy on the Web./ph3As Aristotle said, people are naturally political animals/h3p class=MsoNormalBynbsp;a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/ioanna-karamitrousi/as-aristotle-said-people-are-naturally-political-animalsIoanna Karamitrousi/a/ppWalking on the street we often confront people whose faces are full of sadness and dissatisfaction. They walk in an imperious way and it looks like something troubles them. But it is normal because of the things that take place in the country and the era we live in. Let me introduce myself. I am Ioanna Karamitrousi, I am from Greece and I am studying political sciences at the Democritus University of Thrace. I also participate in many simulation activities all over the world as a member of the model European Parliament. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to deal with politics. Why political sciences? Everything around us is related to politics. As Aristotle said, people are naturally political animals./ppLet’s go back to our topic now. Also, let’s go back a few years. It was a cold morning in 2008. Waking up and casually changing channels on TV, I realized that reporters and political analysts were talking about unspeakable things; at least that was what I thought at the moment. I was just 15 years old. I was scared. “What does crisis mean? Is our country bankrupt?” I was wondering./ppEventually, I realized that the crisis is not only economic but also institutional, as well as a crisis of values. The crisis is global. nbsp;It has no boundaries. It’s all a cycle according to international economics. All that I have described above is the main reason why people distrust institutions and no longer wish to get involved in politics. They do not feel the need to vote in elections or participate actively in the governance and decision-making procedures. Instead, people become passive in their social and political life./ppThe hard truth is that the weight of the austerity measures is falling unequally upon the people who bear the least responsibility for the creation of the debt debacle and who stand to suffer the most from the policies chosen to get Greece out of its hole. They are Greek citizens as well as thousands of migrants and asylum seekers. They feel that a large share of responsibility for the crisis in the Greek economy today, belongs to Europeans./ppThe European Union imposes temporary taxes and under such conditions the Greeks fail to meet even the immediate and basic needs such as electricity, water and even food. Clearly, they feel excluded from Europe and more locked into a specifically Greek destiny. Citizens must understand that this is not just a Greek problem. It is also a European one. Europe must prevent the situation in Greece from becoming an out-and-out humanitarian catastrophe and make sure that the same “remedy”- ineffective and unjust-is not applied to other weak economies such as Portugal and Spain./ppPersonally I support the European Union and my identity is European and Greek at the same time. I also support more integration. The European support to Greece is important and the financial assistance provided for the creation of infrastructure of its co-financing helps the development of Greece. Alongside, the programs of the European Union to reduce unemployment and the students exchange programs allowing Greek students to study a semester at a university abroad is extremely important./ppGreece has made mistakes but the on-going austerity-only policies are not a solution to the crisis. On the contrary, they impede economic growth and have a devastating impact on people. Greece has to restructure its economy and get its finances right. However, sustainable economic recovery is not just about balance sheets and fiscal targets./ppAfter all, European integration is about peace, cooperation, solidarity, and a shared destiny, not just about economic austerity. I hope in a hopeful future that will bring prosperity not only to the Greeks but throughout Europe. This will be achieved through mutual efforts and respect for every European nation./p

Euro elections 2014 bloggers introduce themselves: Part One

ven, 01/17/2014 - 8:55am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd p class=p1What is Europe for you?nbsp;span style=line-height: 1.5;What does it mean to be young andnbsp;Europeannbsp;in 2014?nbsp;/spanspan style=line-height: 1.5;An exchange of views between bloggers across the continent.nbsp;/spanstronga href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-itCan Europe make it?/a/strongspan style=line-height: 1.5; has the pleasure of introducing you to our guest columnists for the run-up to the /spana style=line-height: 1.5; href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-2014European elections 2014/aspan style=line-height: 1.5;./span/p /div /div /div lia href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/nikolay-nikolov/europe-and-me-imagining-communityEurope and me: imagining community/a/li lia href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/csaba-olah/i-believe-in-europe-roma-perspectiveI believe in Europe: a Roma perspective/a/li lia href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/karl-littlejohn/europe-is-anthropologically-interesting-but-lacks-awarenessEurope is anthropologically interesting, but lacks awareness/a/li lia href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/maximilien-von-berg/i-wish-to-see-more-europe-more-participative-europeI wish to see more Europe, a more participative Europe/a/li lia href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/joe-lo/i-want-to-know-whether-political-class-in-brusselsI want to know whether the political class in Brussels is any of different from that in Westminster/a/li lia href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/adri%C3%A0-rodriguez-lotta-tenhunen/europe-that-isn%E2%80%99t-any-more-and-isn%E2%80%99t-yetA Europe that isn't any more and isn't yet/a/li h3Europe and me: imagining community/h3p class=MsoNormal By a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/nikolay-nikolov/europe-and-me-imagining-communityNikolay Nikolov/a/p pMy name is Nikolay Nikolov. I am currently pursuing a PhD in Politics at University College London, blog fornbsp;a href=http://www.banitza.net/www.banitza.net/anbsp;and, as a journalist, am preoccupied right now with the protest movement in Bulgaria./ppFor the last six years when I have lived and studied in the United Kingdom, the focus of my studies has slowly progressed from political science towards social theory and philosophy. One of my core theoretical values is to negate linear histories, causality and predetermined paths of progress. Yet I see a clear pattern in my own biography: both my parents have taught at universities; they are politically outspoken, strictly anti-communist (and thus right-wing, in the eastern European, post-socialist sense of right wing). It is no wonder then that my own gaze would be turned towards the political./ppWhen I came to the United Kingdom, I became fascinated by modern philosophy and the notion of Enlightenment. I wanted to understand how nations such as Poland, having been frozen in time during their totalitarian regimes, have managed to ‘return’ to history, to Europe, and reorient their national identity and their historical consciousness back to the core values of the unfinished project of modernity./ppEssentially, the notion of European identity became my primary academic interest, and more specifically, how that applies and moulds itself in post-socialist societies. For Central European nations, questions of national identity must be directly linked to Europe vis-à-vis ‘The West’ as history and culture. It is a matter of civilization./ppBut this is not so for a country like Bulgaria, for example – and this distinction can be clearly recognized in the kind of protest movement that is forming there today./ppThe question in Bulgaria, despite 24 years of democratization, remains whether to look East or West for the normative foundations of the meaning of its democracy. Post-socialism and democratization, freedom and European integration seem hollowed out symbols of identification; national identity is almost non-existent and social atomization and public passivity are more than prevalent./ppThat is why I got involved in the protest movement – the direct link between my academic interests and an actual, real-time, opportunity for affecting change. The protests, beyond all else, are a force for societal consolidation and the signifier for a growing active community, which shares a normative outlook and a language. That force of social engagement was not present in Bulgaria in 1989 – something that differentiated it from its Central European neighbours. They rectify and reorient the progress of democracy./ppThe current political crisis in Bulgaria has also brought me closer to a strictly European identity. What I mean by that is – an identity centered on the values of democracy, solidarity, and integration. I believe in these, and associate with them on a personal, as well as on a political level./ppAs such, and to conclude, I would like to touch upon one terrain where I would like to see more action on a European level – the supranational expansion of political culture and civic solidarity./ppAfter four years of economic and political crisis, the European Union is shrinking and becoming isolated. It is becoming a two-tier supranational institution: on the one hand, you have an increasing monopolization of the EU by political elites; on the other you have the growing indifference, and apathy of citizens with regards to decisions made by their parliaments in Brussels. False nationalism, fueled by economic crises, still seems to obscure the constellation of the vantage points of member states./ppThe answer is a learning process where the public spheres of nations open up to each other, foster dialogue, and build a common discourse. What is essential is to expand the individual citizens’ notion of the public beyond the imagined borders of a given nation, a long-term programme of educating people, bridging the gap between decisions made at a EU level and their everyday lives. This is a process of creating an ‘imagined community’ among all Europeans, and of fostering a transnational political culture./p h3I believe in Europe: a Roma perspective/h3p class=MsoNormal By a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/csaba-olah/i-believe-in-europe-roma-perspectiveCsaba Olah/a/ppI am Csaba Olah, a first year master student in Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Central European University in Budapest. I grew up in North-East Hungary in a musical Roma family. I spent my childhood in my hometown. Although we were never rich, I had a happy childhood which I am always happy to remember. After finishing primary school I went to high school in my hometown. Since I was much more interested in humanities than in natural sciences, I did my undergraduate studies in Cultural Anthropology at Miskolc University./ppDuring my undergraduate studies I became very interested in class issues, identity politics and in the social, economic and political status of the Roma in contemporary society. In my thesis, which I wrote on the identity of the Roma musician, I was focusing on how ethnic boundaries are constructed by this particular community. After my graduation I worked at the Gömör Museum for more than one year. During the summer of 2011, I became part of Hungary's biggest alternative school project where I was teaching primary school children coming from underprivileged, mostly Roma families./ppIn the 2011/2012 and the 2012/2013 Academic Years I was a student of CEU's Roma Access Programs. In the Roma English Language Program I studied English language, then in the Roma Graduate Preparation Program the English classes and the tutoring classes in Sociology, Social Anthropology and Nationalism Studies prepared me for my MA studies. I am very grateful for this opportunity not only because I studied from excellent teachers and I got accepted to CEU's Sociology and Social Anthropology master program but also because I could enrich my knowledge on the situation of Roma in other countries, often by learning from my classmates./ppIn my would-be master thesis I would like to investigate how state policies on national identity have been framing the political discourse on Roma and how these policies are influencing the path of so-called Roma integration./ppI consider myself a Hungarian Roma, Hungary is my homeland. I feel strongly tied to both Hungarian and Roma cultures. At the same time I belong to a diverse community living almost all over the world, but mostly in the different countries of Europe and America./ppI believe in Europe. Both nation states and the European Union have a key role in the emancipation of the Roma. Europe, the home of different nations, cultures and religions, has had a long and meandering history. In the course of the centuries, the boundaries, the values and the identity of its countries have been questioned from time to time. The different cultural values and ideologies often led to wars, which often completely reshaped the political boundaries./ppThe European Union is a good example of how peace can be achieved and maintained if there are common goals we can agree on and if all the citizens are treated equally, considering them all belonging to the political community of the European Union. I can imagine the future of the European Union both as the union of nation states or as a federal state. The considerable difference between the two and the resistence to the idea of a federal state by many, in my opinion, is to a great extent the result of the often very different understandings of what it means to be European./p h3Europe is anthropologically interesting, but lacks awareness/h3p class=MsoNormal By a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/karl-littlejohn/europe-is-anthropologically-interesting-but-lacks-awarenessKarl Littlejohn/a/ppI am currently reading an MA in Black Sea Studies at the International Hellenic University in Greece, because I have always been fascinated by the Balkans and Eastern Europe. But more than my research, Greece’s very culture, history and language have offered me a complete life package in a culturally dynamic country./ppHaving studied Maltese and Mediterranean history at the University of Malta, new themes have become important for me, relating to identity, the Mediterranean, 20th century politics and International affairs. This has given me a new sense of obligation as a European citizen, to write on subjects that many of my fellow Europeans must feel are either unquestioned or else unanswered./ppFirst of these is the highly debatable concept of European identity. It seems to me that identity is not something that can be established in constitutions, treaties, and laws. Being part of Europe, or a ‘citizen’ of it, must be part of one’s individual or collective consciousness. Countries currently in the EU were already European from way before. Greece did not become more European from 1981, Malta and Cyprus did not become more European in 2004./ppThe notion of being ‘European’ is clinched in one’s territorial belonging, social cohesion, language and culture. However, there is no fixed identity. The significant difference lies between an identity that changes because it is destroyed through cultural replacement, or else, one that changes through a cultural continuity.nbsp; Identity is indeed a complex subject./ppThe European Union in its beginnings set out to secure peace and prosperity in a continent that was always torn apart by wars and conflicts. Europe is also the physical continent, the smallest continent on Earth, yet the most linguistically and culturally diverse. This is what makes Europe interesting anthropologically, with its discrepancies from region to region, dialects and customs. For example, I come from the tiniest and the southernmost territory of Europe: Malta. The Maltese language is mainly of old Semitic origin, written in Latin alphabet and has heavy grammatical influences from Italian and minor inputs from English./ppThere are issues which I sincerely believe must be tackled or tackled in a different way in the EU. I must confess that I am not a person who puts massive trust in institutions, believing instead that either political or social change must come from the people and not vice-versa./ppSo it follows that people through their individual abilities, should contribute to resolving issues collectively. There is one main problem in Europe in my opinion: lack of consciousness within Europeans. This is not a question that can be institutionalized and legislated for. Better education policies are key./ppTo genuinely understand the problems of economic recession, mass immigration, environmental destruction, an absurd political class, injustices and overall degradation, consciousness and awareness and a sense of belonging to a wider community must be restored to Europeans./ppI would like to address these issues in my upcoming blogs in a contemporary European context for the preparation of the European Parliament elections this May./p h3I wish to see more Europe, a more participative Europe/h3p class=MsoNormal By a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/maximilien-von-berg/i-wish-to-see-more-europe-more-participative-europeMaximilien von Berg/a/ppRaised and educated in Belgium (12years), France (5years), and the United Kingdom (4years). I also spent time in Switzerland (6months), Austria (3months) and Italy (3months). I hold a French baccalaureate, a BA in International Relations and an MPhil in Politics from British universities. I have grown to know each culture well and have found integrating into a new European culture almost effortless./ppAmid notable differences even across regions within European countries, similarities amongst Europeans abound. Our histories share key similarities, our present concerns are mutual, and our futures are likely to tie us together. The old dream of a united Europe was repeatedly pursued as much from reasons of shared interest as shared culture./ppEurope's diversity and multiculturalism are an inspiration to many citizens ofnbsp;the world. But in today’s Europe, countries seem to be caving inwards due to internal and external societal and financial challenges. Instead of finding solutions in European institutions, politicians are increasingly using Europe and its workings as a scapegoat.nbsp;In addition, Europeans are increasingly growing disenfranchised by a system in which they do not feel represented.nbsp; While we remain attractive to outsiders – Europe is a club of advanced countries where the quality of life is high (human rights, security, welfare, research, technology, etc.) – Europeans seem to have fallen out of love with what our fathers built.nbsp;Personally, I am located somewhere between Belgian European unconditional love and the French will to shape Europe more than to be shaped by it. I find myself at odds with current British repulsion for Europe./ppThe consequences of the American subprime mortgage crisis sparked a financial crisis in Europe, which gave way to a liquidity crisis in banks, forcing governments to spend massively to save banks and ensure the survival of the financial system. The problem is that most European states are now operating with heavy debt burdens that weigh on their people and will do so for an extended period./ppLogically, we now need to work hard to have a future as a Union and this comes across as unfair to many. But we seem to have come to a standstill in European construction. The financial crisis has affected countless financial institutions and bankrupted states – it has eroded the old dream. Europe seems a burden when it should be a shield. The debt crisis currently affecting most European nations is set to remain an issue for much of my generation's active life (at least). Moreover, a number of MEPs represent anti-European parties who want to pull out of the Euro, see their country leave the Union, and reintroduce tariffs and protectionism./ppBut the solution to today's problems must be found in a more participative Europe. I wish to see more Europe, but more of a different Europe. States must abide by more stringent regulatory standards, which a more powerful European executive must be able to monitor. We need to slow down the legislative agenda, make decision-making more transparent in the institutions, and ask for more leadership from the executive.nbsp;/ppIn other words, the Europe I hope to see develop is one where member states do not surrender sovereignty but abide by rigorous standards in terms of finances (mainly) but also food, education, transport, immigration and border control. In addition, the progress of new members cannot be detrimental to that of more developed members: more discipline orchestrated by the EU leadership and mechanisms to monitor all members should pave the way to a peaceful and prosperous collective future. We should not let present concerns obscure past achievements./ppFinally, I think the field of foreign policy should remain largely state specific. NATO remains an efficient military solution to collective defense. But we need an inspiring set of leaders to give impulse to what is too often perceived as an amorphous and expensive monolith that only complicates the opportunity of being European. I think we owe it to those who have given their lives for the chance for, as of now, twenty-eight countries to cooperate, live peacefully and prosper together. This reality is unheard of in time and space. Let's not forget it./p h3I want to know whether the political class in Brussels is any different from that in Westminster/h3p class=MsoNormal By a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/joe-lo/i-want-to-know-whether-political-class-in-brusselsJoe Lo/a/ppMy name's Joenbsp;Lo. I'm a 23-year old who's lived in London all my life apart from an enjoyable 3-year stint at University in the northern city of Sheffield. I live in a 3-bedroom flat with my girlfriend and three of her friends and I'm studying an intense year-long course in Journalism at Kingston University. My main interests are politics and football and I'm a Green Party voter and a Chelsea FC fan.br /br /To the European Union I feel ambivalent. I'm not a Eurosceptic but neither am I a Europhile. A question that's often asked in Britain is who runs Britain? Brussels or Westminster?. This is a rhetorical question. It's taken for granted that you'd much rather be ruled from Westminster (the area of London where the British parliament is based) than Brussels (where the European parliament is based). For me, the question seems less relevant. The important question is what sort of people are running our lives? In whose interests? At whose expense? Not where exactly they are located geographically.br /br /So what I want to know is whether the political class in Brussels is any different from that in Westminster and over whom do ordinary people have more control. I think they are very similar. They're both mainly made up of rich, white men and bend to the wishes of big corporations not the ordinary people who vote for them. The proposed referendum on our membership of the EU is a meaningless distraction from the real issues that affect British people like unemployment, the cost of living and inequality./ppI think many of my friends feel the same as I can not remember ever discussing the EU although I discuss politics regularly. I think this is because my friends are young and live in the multicultural metropolis of London. The people who are obsessed with the EU are generally older and live in less internationalized areas. Perhaps they have never visited Europe. For my generation, living in the EU is a fact of life. We don't consciously think about it but leaving it seems a bit weird, a bit drastic. Like leaving Facebook. You could do but why would you? Everyone else is on it.nbsp;/ppThis doesn't mean we feel European though. I would describe myself first and foremost as a Londoner. Secondly as British or English and only European as an afterthought. Only 14% of British people in a recent survey described themselves as European compared to 48% of Poles, 39% of Germans and 34% of French people. When we go on holiday across the channel we describe ourselves as going to Europe. I have an Austrian friend who finds this irritating. You are in Europe, she says, What are you talking about? You are just going to another part of Europe.nbsp;br /br /I think there are three reasons why we feel like we are not European. The first is geographical, we have to cross the sea to get to Europe. Prices for the ferry, Eurostar train and the Channel tunnel are expensive so this is a real barrier. Unlike most of Europe we can't just drive across borders. We have to bring passports and book in advance.br /br /The second is linguistic. There are many non-European countries that share our language. This is not unique. Much of the world speak Spanish, French and Portugese but those countries are largely former colonies that have a very different standard of living and culture to their colonisers. Whereas English-speaking former colonies include wealthy, culturally similar ones such as America, Canada and Australia.nbsp;a href=http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/30/britain-european-exit-poll-gulf-eu-attitudes?guni=Keyword:news-grid%20main-1%20Main%20trailblock:Editable%20trailblock%20-%20news:Position2:sublinksA recent poll/anbsp;showed that we see these countries as our strongest allies, with France only in fourth. The talk of a Special Relationship between America and Britain is much mocked, both seriously after the unpopular Iraq War and humorously in the romantic comedynbsp;ema href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMJcZpvyNokLove Actually/a/em, but it seems we do still cling on to the idea.br /br /The third is historical. While most of Europe was invaded by Hitler or the Soviet Union (or both) during World War Two, the British mainland was not invaded. Although we love to talk about the Second World War, as it was the one time in history we were the good guys, we escaped from it relatively unscathed and so the idea of European Unity is not seen as of such vital necessity./p h3a name=6/aA Europe that isn’t any more and isn’t yet/h3p class=MsoNormal Bynbsp;spana href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/euro-elections-you-tell-us/adri%C3%A0-rodriguez-lotta-tenhunen/europe-that-isn%E2%80%99t-any-more-and-isn%E2%80%99t-yetAdrià Rodriguez and Lotta Tenhunen/a/span/ppHello! Let us introduce ourselves: Adrià from Barcelona and Lotta from Tampere, living in Madrid. We met for the first time over skype in June 2013, but then we realised we already knew each other from the online organising ofa href=http://99agora.net/Agora99/a, a meeting of groups engaged in various social struggles that aspires to serve as an organisational tool from below at a European level./ppSince then we have met several times for political reasons in Barcelona, Madrid and Rome, and are sure to meet many more times throughout the continent. We both participate in the post-15M struggles, mainly within the nodes of thea href=http://fundaciondeloscomunes.net/Fundación de los Comunes/anbsp;network. We both also work on political videomaking – (these are our latest projects:nbsp;a href=http://projectkairos.net/Project Kairosnbsp;/aandnbsp;a href=http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0I5FOETuOrotO7SWnPs3jYCusK8ifOvXMovement of the Multitude/a). Between now and the European elections, we will be posting on several topics: battlefield Europe, emerging political conflicts and the challenges posed by the hypothesis of a demos-multitude of the 99%. To kick off, this is our story…./ppstrongStarters. A story of confluences/strong/ppMaster scene: Titanpad. Two young Europeans writing from different vantage points in Battlefield Europe./ppemSubscene 1. A skype call Helsinki–Barcelona/em/ppTut-turu... tu-ruru.../ppA: Do you remember our first skype? When was it?/ppL: It was in June 2013. I was in Finland and I wanted to participate somehow in thenbsp;a href=http://civilsc.net/15mp2p#15MP2P seminar/anbsp;in Barcelona, so I started translating tweets coming out of the event. When you outlined thenbsp;a href=http://projectkairos.net/Project Kairós/anbsp;I wrote to you right away because it was exactly the same thing I'd been doing the previous summer. We had drifted through the post-Arab Spring-Europe, the post-15M-Europe mapping its social movements. We called the collection thenbsp;a href=http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0I5FOETuOrotO7SWnPs3jYCusK8ifOvXMovement of the Multitude/aand put it up on Youtube./ppA: I remember... I remember your email explaining that to me. Then we realised that we already knew each other from the process of organising thenbsp;a href=http://99agora.net/Agora99 meeting/a. We arranged to skype: it was weird, like talking with an old friend that you don't know yet. An internet era phenomenon.../ppL: Exactly, a matter of being already connected through processes of thinking together without knowing each other personally. I believe we are not the only ones.../ppemSubscene 2. The Barcelona encounter/em/ppA: We met for the first timenbsp;a href=http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=afkAFK/anbsp;in thenbsp;a href=http://hubmeeting20a.wordpress.com/HubMeeting in Barcelona/anbsp;in September 2013, right?/ppL: Sure, talking about anbsp;a href=http://www.peoplesassemblies.org/page/2/metropolitan strike/anbsp;in the occupied hotel La Dispersa. I was starting a piece of work on the anti-eviction movementnbsp;a href=http://afectadosporlahipoteca.com/La PAH/anbsp;and you offered to help me. The interviews we shot were a clear example of how guilt and shame can make us think our problems are individual, so that we stay at home and nothing changes. Or it changes for the worse: Don't stay at home, or they will take it away from you./ppA: I would saynbsp;a href=http://afectadosporlahipoteca.com/La PAH/anbsp;is the most important political movement in Spain – or even in Europe. It has been able to build up a solid and distributed process of self organisation with more than 200 nodes all around the country. Do you remember that we went to thenbsp;a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkrM-zBGjBQemObras Sociales/em/a, the housing blocks occupied by La PAH? That's one of the things they do, besides fighting to stop evictions, and claiming a retroactivenbsp;emdatio in solutum/emnbsp;and the provision of social housing./ppemSubscene 3. All paths really do lead to Rome/em/ppA: Then we met in Rome for the secondnbsp;a href=http://99agora.net/Agora99/anbsp;meeting. For me, it has been the most important gathering of European struggles ever./ppL: Within Agora99 the central challenge concerned a Europe thatnbsp;emisn't any more/emandnbsp;emisn't yet/em. EU: real democracy and social rights? That's not how I would portray it. I think a strong neoliberal regime of debt control is a more precise description. So now we're trying to invent new ways of relating ourselves to each other on a continental level. I mean, what are the social and political institutions we want to have in the future?/ppA: That's definitely not an easy question to answer. The role of the nation states in restraining the transnationalization of subjectivity and conflict is a big problem, but not the only one. Networks such as Agora99 are fundamental for confronting it, because the European space is fundamental too./ppL: That brings to mind one motto of the 15M: There are more things that unite us than ones that separate us. I think that's also the case in Europe./ppemSubscene 4. Hacking the European elections/em/ppA: The next time we met was in the plenary meeting of thenbsp;a href=http://fundaciondeloscomunes.net/Fundación de los Comunes/anbsp;in Madrid. In that plenary there wasn't much time to be frank for discussing the European issue, but I think that thenbsp;a href=http://newrapeofeurope.net/New Abduction of Europe/ameeting in February will be a great opportunity to advance these debates further. Will you be in Madrid for that meeting?/ppL: For sure, I wouldn't miss it for anything./ppA: In that case, see you there, very soon!/pp***/p

This week's window on the Middle East - January 17, 2014

ven, 01/17/2014 - 8:50am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pArab Awakening's columnists offer their weekly perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. Leading the week, a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/hasan-tariq-al-hasan/corruption-in-bahrainCorruption in Bahrain/a./p /div /div /div lia href=#1Corruption in Bahrain/a/li lia href=#2El Sisi: the revolutionary president?/a/li lia href=#3Kafr Batna, Syria/a/li lia href=#4Lebanon: a year which promises little but foreboding?/a/li lia href=#5Reveries of an English teacher on vacation/a/li lia href=#6The many crises of Erdogan: have we come to an end-game?/a/li lia href=#7A constitutional mirage in Egypt/a/li h3a name=1/aCorruption in Bahrain/h3p class=MsoNormal By a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/node/78366/Hasan Tariq Al Hasan/a/p pBahrain’s Crown Prince has a href=http://www.bna.bh/portal/en/news/594705ordered/a the referral of a number of cases mentioned in the National Audit Court (NAC) report to the Public Prosecution for criminal investigation on suspicion of corruption, singling out cases related to the state-owned Bahrain Flour Mills Company and the Bahrain Chamber for Dispute Resolution for special mention. It was announced that those on trial for corruption charges would be also be suspended from work. /p pThe unprecedented announcement could almost not have been better timed. For the past month, local press has been full of the usual controversy that surrounds the annual publication of the anti-corruption NAC report. But calls for greater accountability have grown louder over the past few days as the government hesitantly announced its intention to embark on a subsidy reform program. Basic commodities are expected to be affected: a href=http://www.thenational.ae/world/middle-east/bahrain-to-almost-double-diesel-price-by-2017diesel will see a price hike/a of up to 20% as early as January 2014./p pThe NAC, an entity independent of the executive created by the King in 2002, issues an annual report that documents instances of financial and administrative violations committed by ministries, public agencies and state-owned enterprises. In cases of a criminal nature, a href=http://www.legalaffairs.gov.bh/LegislationSearchDetails.aspx?id=4207#.Up7wzeK1uSoarticle 11 of Decree Law no. 16 for 2002/a grants the NAC power to transfer these to the judiciary for prosecution./p pAlthough the NAC report is not a public document, its major elements are published in the press, and copies usually obtained by members of parliament can often be found freely exchanging hands at almost any of Bahrain’s traditional emdiwaniyya/em’s./p pIt was the government’s misfortune however, that the publication of the NAC this year roughly coincided with an deluge of rain that exposed weaknesses in the country’s infrastructure, leaving a number of roads and social housing projects considerably affected. To add insult to injury, word was soon out that the Minister of Education had a href=http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-25088333ordered/a schools not to provide pictures of flooded schools and classrooms to the press, reinforcing public anger against corruption and the incompetence of certain government officials. /p pTo make matters worse, the NAC report proved incapable of assuaging public concern over the level of public-sector corruption. Due to restrictions on its mandate, the report omits some of the major instances of corruption committed by government officials, some of which have eventually made themselves known to the public. Over the years, this has afforded the report the semblance of impotence. /p pTo illustrate, in an otherwise staunchly pro-government, traditional emdiwaniyya/em in the Sunni stronghold of Muharraq, one MP from Bahrain’s Muslim Brotherhood society aptly described the NAC report as “a PG photo album of a very decadent party”./p pOne such case is the multi-million dollar a href=http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/09/us-bahrain-alba-alcoa-idUSBRE89810I20121009Alba corruption scandal/a that predates the creation of the NAC. The case has captivated public opinion, but is nowhere to be found in the report – the result of the NAC‘s inability to investigate violations retrospectively. To the frustration of many, the related a href=http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/12/10/uk-britain-bahrain-trial-idUKBRE9B90DX20131210bribery trial/a of businessman Victor Dahdaleh in British courts appears to have recently collapsed./p pThe NAC has consistently failed to make any meaningful use of its power to transfer cases to the judiciary for prosecution, even when the scope of its findings has remained relatively narrow. The NAC’s recommendations to government entities routinely fall on deaf ears, since no credible threat or enforcement mechanism has so far been put in place./p pSo unsurprisingly, frustration over the level of corruption has anything but leveled. Bahrain’s ranking in the Corruption Perception Index – which “measures perceived levels of public sector corruption” – worsened six places down in 2013 compared to the previous year, ranked 57thnbsp;out of 175 countries worldwide./p pEven then however, the Crown Prince’s renewed anti-corruption effort faces serious threats particularly from powerful elites with a deep vested interest in maintaining the fig leaf of impunity. In the latest episode of the ongoing proxy war around corruption, a small yet vocal clique of individuals have gone to some lengths to protect a senior official implicated in the $3 billion Alba corruption scandal. They have waged a a href=http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/NewsDetails.aspx?storyid=367317smear campaign/a against Mahmood Al-Koheji – CEO of Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat – for allegedly authorizing the $45 million legal fees required to see the $3 billion case through court. The intimidation campaign is the latest in a series of efforts intended to dissuade Al-Koheji and others from taking on similar cases./p h3a name=2/aEl Sisi: the revolutionary president?/h3p class=MsoNormal By a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/node/78270/Maged Mandour/a/p pOver the weekend there were some dramatic announcements, later rescinded, that General El Sisi had been relieved of his position as Minister of Defense in preparation for the formal announcement of his presidential candidacy. El Sisi has been well positioned by the media, as well as by coopted intellectuals and the revolutionaries of yesterday, oppressors of today, to run and comfortably win any “free and fair” election that takes place in Egypt. His candidacy will be the most obvious symptom of the attempt of the Egyptian military to return to the pre-1967 political order, where the military ruled overtly, in a centralized fashion. But this attempt will prove much more difficult, and his decision to run might provide a breath of life to the revolutionary movement that has been badly damaged and splintered, since the coup of June 30./p pA brief historical overview is in order. The regime during Nasser’s reign was an outright military regime, where the military overtly controlled the state, using a civilian cloak for legitimacy purposes, namely “The Nationalist Union”. However the power remained concentrated in the hands of the military, with officers controlling most posts in the government. This was possible due to the then hegemonic nature of the Egyptian political order, where the Nasser regime followed populist policies that benefited large segments of Egyptian society, particularly the middle and lower classes, providing the regime with a solid social base, which allowed it to rule alone, through a centralized power structure. /p pAfter the devastating defeat of 1967, this centralized power structure was no longer tenable for the regime. The military started to retreat from overt to covert rule, the government was civilianized, and the military began to rely on civilian partners in the ruling coalition, namely the crony capitalist class that relied on the state to subsidize capital accumulation, and the Islamist elites that agreed to act as an illiberal opposition in exchange for an increased role in civil society. This set-up in the end allowed the state to re-trench and withstand the onslaught from the once powerful Egyptian left. The above-mentioned partners are also known as the National Democratic Party (NDP), the ruling party under Mubarak and Sadat, and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which acted as an illiberal opposition to the military regime, crowding out genuine opposition, and supporting the regime in the realm of civil society. /p pThe current situation in Egypt has severely damaged the traditional power structure, where the crony capitalist class and the Islamists played their conventional role, of acting as a shell and facilitators of military rule. The crony capitalist class were a focus of the anger of the masses of Egyptians that poured into the streets on 25 January 2011. The power of this class has been decimated, and its ability to act as a front for military rule has been severely damaged. With all the weaknesses of the revolutionary movement, which have been discussed elsewhere, it was nevertheless able to expose and severely diminish the ability of the crony capitalist class to act as a surrogate for military rule. The façade has been destroyed, and it is difficult to imagine a situation where the credentials of this class can be repaired. /p pThe only other possible alternative was the Muslim Brotherhood, that was organically connected to the crony capitalist class. One only needs to remember that Khairat El Shater and Hassan Malik, among the top brass in the Brotherhood, are also successful members of the crony capitalist class. The Brotherhood seemed to present a logical escape from this conundrum, where it would replace the National Democratic Party as the ruling party, absorbing popular anger arising from unpopular policies, and a worsening economic and social situation. This would have allowed the military to enjoy its privileges, and maintain its position as an independent power centre heavily penetrating the State. In short, the Presidency of Morsi seemed to provide an invaluable opportunity. However, as things turned out, the lust for power, as well as, the failures of the Brotherhood have instead provided the military with the motivation and opportunity for what looks like a historic blunder./p pThe removal of the Brotherhood from power has placed the military in a difficult position. Their traditional allies have now been vilified and their ability to play their traditional role has been all but destroyed. There are a number of movements that might attempt to fill the void left by the National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, namely “Tamarod”, as a replacement of the National Democratic Party, and the Salafist Al-Nour party as a replacement for the Muslim Brotherhood. But these options are fragile and have a much weaker social base, in terms of civil society penetration. This places the military between a rock and a hard place, where they have to attempt to re-centralize the Egyptian power structure, in a manner that would make them the only ruling power in the land./p pThis helps to explain the apparent rush of the military to consolidate power, and their use of severely repressive techniques to silence any possible opposition, however timid it may be. One look at the Egyptian constitution and one can see the military’s glaring attempt to legalize repression, and protect its position. However, there is a fatal flaw in this plan, namely, that the military’s legitimacy is based on the demonization of the Brotherhood by labeling them as a terrorist organization, and the securitization of Egyptian political discourse. This means that support for the military, in essence, shares one of the main failures of the Egyptian revolutionary movement, namely that it is a rejectionist movement which is unable to offer the masses a vision that could act as the ideological basis for a new regime. The military is not offering civil society the basis for a new hegemonic political order, but calling on support that could dissipate with the waning of what is perceived by many, particularly in the urban middle classes, as the “threat of the Brotherhood”./p pAnother fatal mistake in the military`s power grab, is its new exposure to direct criticism from the revolutionary movements. Civil society, previously controlled by the military’s loyal allies, the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Democratic Party, has now been merged directly with the state, making any assault in the realm of civil society a direct assault on the State. In other words, the military has run out of allies capable of absorbing popular discontent, and civil society has lost its effectiveness as a moat that protects the State from direct assault. /p pIn this way El Sisi running for president might be the best thing that has happened to the revolutionary movement. Social and economic failures will be blamed on those actually responsible, rather than on the sidekicks of the military. This could lead to further de-mystification of power relations within the Egyptian polity, exposing the military regime to direct attack and hastening the collapse of “false consciousness” that has spread throughout the urban middle classes. Attacks on the regime will now become more effective and painful, unless the military is able to find other allies who can effectively fill the shoes of the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Democratic Party. It is only a matter of time before repression reaches a point that becomes unacceptable, leading to severe instability and un-governability. /p pEl Sisi, I sincerely hope that you run and win! nbsp; nbsp; nbsp;/p h3a name=3/aKafr Batna, Syria/h3p class=MsoNormal By a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/node/78515Emily Reid/a/p pIt started with a general awareness of what was happening in Syria – the knowledge garnered through reading the news and seeking out information about the current goings on in the Middle East.nbsp;But through a friendship made in Egypt over the summer, I have gained a disturbing insight into the unseen realities of life for ordinary Syrians.nbsp;As the fighting has raged on for close to three years, the international media has become bored of yet more desolate images of a country going through civil war.nbsp;/p pI met Emad in Nuweiba, East of the Sinai Peninsula.nbsp;He spent a brief spell at the farm I was working on and opportunities occurred for us to meet again, stay in contact and become good friends.nbsp;A few weeks ago, Emad made a humanitarian appeal on behalf of the people of his hometown, Kafr Batna, on the outskirts of Damascus.nbsp;This neighbourhood is under control of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) but is subject to government blockades and tactics intended to ‘starve out’ the opposition.nbsp;As a result, basic necessities are being denied to the civilian population: there is a dire shortage of bread, other food supplies, and medicine: nothing is allowed in.nbsp;A black market exists but who can afford the skyrocketing prices? Bread costs $20 USD for 1 kilogram.nbsp;People are hungry and cold.nbsp;The plummeting temperatures are adding to an already dismal situation.nbsp;Images of refugee children whose families have fled to surrounding Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are seen playing in the snow and ice.nbsp;In the background, frost-covered tents and figures with haunted eyes huddled around fires burning in metal bins belie the hard actuality of these people’s escape and current existence.nbsp;In Syria itself, the once stunningly beautiful cities of Homs and Damascus are tragedy exemplified under a dusting of white.nbsp;Buildings are ripped concrete and shattered glass.nbsp;Streets are erupted tarmac sniper-runs.nbsp;Entire neighbourhoods are the shooting ranges of the FSA and regime forces.nbsp;/p pThis is the general picture of Syria: the cruelly stroked canvas that is painted by the main media outlets.nbsp;If given a glimpse beyond that narrow window, what you find there is seared into your conscious.nbsp;My glimpse was obtained through the story of Saleh Zeno.nbsp;nbsp;/p pEmad went to school with Saleh and fate has brought them in these last years to two very disparate points.nbsp;Taken into custody on the 1 January 2011, Saleh Zeno is but one among the many civilians arrested without charges being brought against them.nbsp;Taken to Harasta Air Force Intelligence prison in Ghouta, and following an error by the officer registering prisoner names into the computer, Zeno was left to languish in jail for almost two years.nbsp;Saleh only emerged after having starved to death on the 12 November 2013.nbsp;His body was discovered in one of the basement systems of Harasta in a state of severe malnutrition.nbsp;Tim Damascene, of East Ghouta, was also imprisoned for seven months in the Harasta branch of Air Force Intelligence – he met Saleh there and has given evidence regarding the conditions of the prison.nbsp;Each single cell was one metre by one metre (maximum 1m x 2m).nbsp; In Room 2, the ‘water room’, dripping water is used as a method of sleep deprivation.nbsp;/p pFor the first seven months of Saleh’s imprisonment, he was in Room 4; however, he was then transferred to solitary confinement for a week.nbsp;In this time, Saleh developed a neurological condition and was put in the courtyard of the prison.nbsp;Reputed as the ‘courtyard of breath’, it reportedly houses more than 300 prisoners.nbsp;A typical daily diet was breakfast of bread and olives or uncooked potato with an evening meal consisting of semi-cooked rice or bulgur.nbsp;‘Once a week they fed us meat but we were always sick from it – we don’t know why.nbsp;All our food was without salt.nbsp;During my time as a prisoner, I never tasted sugar’ reported Damascene.nbsp;/p pEmad first learned of his school friend’s death through the delivery of Saleh’s emaciated corpse: the body was found close to the line of fire separating the strong holds of the FSA and regime forces.nbsp;Weighing 30kg, Saleh Zeno is thought to have been sent as a message to the Free Army: tactics of trapping and starvation have not been spoken about from anyone within the regime ranks.nbsp;Normally the victims of these circumstances are put into unmarked mass graves.nbsp;Saleh’s body, in being given back to the family, suggests some pointed motivation by the regime.nbsp;/pp Saleh Zeno is a tragic – and tragic in the true sense of the word – example of the kinds of injustice that are being inflicted on the people of Syria every day.nbsp;War is raging on and civilians are paying the price.nbsp;Emad feels that nothing can or will be done, that people are numbed to such images of pain and suffering, and that the political powers have the unchallenged capacity to command the fates of millions.nbsp;Maybe to an extent this is true.nbsp;But I want to believe, have to believe, that when people learn of what is truly going on, when they hear the story of a man such as Saleh, they will want to act.nbsp;To stop, and acknowledge that this is happening.nbsp;Perhaps then we can move to some tangible change and work towards a global society where these things are not widespread yet unreported horrors./p h3a name=4/aLebanon: a year which promises little but foreboding?/h3p class=MsoNormal By a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/node/78444Helen Mackreath/a/p pPeople stayed off the streets to welcome in the New Year in Lebanon, deterred by the car bomb in central downtown a few days earlier, or perhaps unwilling to celebrate the arrival of a year which promises little but foreboding. This time last year Lebanon’s involvement in the Syrian conflict was still being fiercely denied but, a year on, it is now widely accepted that most of the country has become immersed in the turmoil./p p‘Most of the country’ still remains an inaccurate statement on a geographically fractured Lebanon. Lebanese Sunni militants now regularly engage in violent clashes with pro-Assad Shiite and Alawite rivals in geographical hotspots such as the southern city of Saida and the eastern Bekaa Valley, as well as the northern city of Tripoli, which has been perpetually unstable for the past two years. /ppThe north and border regions of the country have collapsed into limbo areas of unrest as refugees, soldiers and arms regularly cross arbitrary borders and civilians fear attack from the air regardless of their nationality. The car bombs which devastated the southern suburbs of Beirut and Tripoli during the summer of last year, and the suicide bomb attack to target the Iranian embassy in November, were regarded by most as attacks specifically against Hezbollah, seen as a entity ‘separate’ from the state, in geographical and ideological terms. These attacks, widely believed to be perpetrated by Sunni radicals, were aimed at forcing Hezbollah to withdraw their support from Syrian President Bashar Assad, who they publicly confirmed they would assist last May. Whilst causing devastating loss of life, they were still seen by some as geographically isolated.nbsp; /p pBut the a href=http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/beirut-bomb-blast-kills-six-including-antiassad-exminister-9027038.htmlassassination of anti-Assad minister Mohammad Shatah/a in the central Downtown district of Beirut on 27 December, widens the threat of violence to new actors, and has opened the possibility of hitherto relatively peripheral attacks becoming increasingly centralised. Before the assassination, central Beirut, still rumbling with the noise of construction and the advertised promise of a bright future, had remained relatively isolated from direct violence. Now, even as it reels from that deadly warning, it continues its pretensions to normalcy, but is increasingly self-conscious doing so. /p pThe view from an individual perspective in Lebanon, which will necessarily differ according to where one is living, is a foggy one, obscured by political stalemate, inflamed by sectarian competition and the impact of indirect international prevarication over Syria. The individual is, again, victim both to unfavourable geopolitical influences on the country and its own domestic complexities./p pDomestically, political stalemate is entrenched. There is currently no middle ground between the effectively oligarchic system of politicians at the ‘top’ of the political chain, and the numbers of private individuals and groups, largely operating along sectarian agendas, taking violent action at the ‘bottom’ end of the chain; the Lebanese citizen is stuck between a rock and a hard place with little real democratic power. /ppWhile proposals for a new ‘all-embracing’ cabinet formation have been announced, which represent a slight weakening of the political paralysis, they are yet to gain the support of all ministers. The Sunni population remain the key group here. Essentially politically leaderless since the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, private individuals, mostly fundamentalist leaders, have filled the political vacuum. /ppThe mainstream Sunni community in Lebanon today has few unifying political options and the increasing numbers of Lebanese Sunni militants, coupled with continuing Hezbollah dominance over the state, economic fragility, and increasing resentment at the neutral Lebanese Army, continues to exacerbate tensions. That the car bomb attacks directed against Hezbollah - nbsp;the latest in Beirut’s suburbs on January 2 in response to the Shatah assassination - appear to have been the work of Sunni extremist groups has prompted analysts to voice concerns about their increasing strength, and potential for larger-scale militancy. With politics at the ‘state’ level effectively nonexistent, and Hezbollah (acting as another ‘state’ entity) distracted in Syria, there is currently little to stop nonstate groups taking free reign in Lebanon./p pGeopolitically, while Lebanon continues to host direct proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran (through the Sunni community and Hezbollah) and, indirectly, the US and Russia in Syria, there are signs that the west may be losing patience over its inability to take a domestic political rapprochement seriously. According to reports, the Belgian foreign minister, Didier Reyners has a href=http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Opinion/Columnist/2014/Jan-09/243501-lebanon-is-hearing-the-alarm-bells.ashx#axzz2qSviF7bRwarned/a Lebanon that international interest in the country was declining, a stance which poses particular questions over the numbers of UNIFIL international troops currently stationed in the country. /p pAs if to make up for political interference, the international community is attempting to exert itself in other ways by wrapping its legal and humanitarian arms around the country. But many in Lebanon remain unconvinced. People may respect the intentions of the trial of the a href=http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Special-Tribunal-for-Lebanon-to-try-Hezbollah-defendants-for-Hariri-assassination-338052Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague/a to try four Hezbollah men, accused of perpetrating the Hariri assassination in 2005, due to start this week. But they are cynical about the actuality of the perpetrators being convicted and appropriately punished. /ppDecades of unsolved kidnapping and murder during the civil war, alongside later political assassinations never brought to court, have given the Lebanese little faith in legal practice. Similar cynicism pervades the international humanitarian response to the refugee crisis which, while supportive of providing financial assistance to refugees in Lebanon, has not extended to opening doors to those fleeing the Syrian implosion. 64,000 refugees have sought asylum in Europe (2.4 per cent of the exodus), mostly in Germany and Sweden. To date, five hundred have been accepted in France, 10 in Hungary, 90 in Ireland, and none in the UK. The burden of providing assistance is a heavy one for Lebanon, where Syrian refugees represent roughly a quarter of the population. Here, they can deservedly feel let down by the international community’s response. /p pThe feeling of being hamstrung by international events both out of their control but with direct consequences, combined with domestic political stalemate and factionalism, is all too familiar. Sitting tight and hoping that one, or both, of these levels will firstly prioritise Lebanese cohesion and secondly inspire it, remains top of the New Year wish list for most people in Lebanon./p h3a name=5/aReveries of an English teacher on vacation/h3p class=MsoNormal By a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/node/78469/Efraim Perlmutter/a/p pThese past three weeks have been a contrasting set of experiences for me, so please excuse me if I tend to ramble through my reveries./ppEvents began with the American Studies Association (ASA) adopting a resolution to boycott Israeli universities. On a different forum I became involved in a discussion of this action and, as you might expect, I expressed criticism of the ASA boycott. As is my practice, I read all of the pro and con material that came my way. Most of the pro-boycott articles contained the usual negative characterizations of Israel and Zionism. However, in one of the articles, the writer made the unusual accusation that the State of Israel's school system was an example of segregation, like that practiced in the American South back in the 1950's and 60's. I was surprised by this description of the Israeli education system. I have taught in several Israeli schools over the years and have never viewed them as being segregated. Certainly Israeli colleges and universities, the objects of the ASA ire, cannot be described as segregated either in terms of student body or faculty. But the question remains as to what is it about Israeli K-12 schools which would cause someone to think that they are segregated? The answer came to me on the last day of school just before the winter vacation./ppIn the Bedouin school where I teach, the semester came to an end and the winter vacation began about three weeks ago. On the last day of school a ceremony was held to give certificates of accomplishment to several students as well as celebrate the end of the semester. The assembly began with a ninth grade male student reading a selection from the Quran. This was followed by a young female student reciting with great feeling a poem that she had written about the Prophet. The entire ceremony was conducted in the Arabic language. It was there that I began to understand why the Israeli school system could look segregated to someone on the outside, even though it is not. In the Israeli case the misperception results from the State of Israel's attempt to abide by principles laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights./ppArticle 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights deals with education and has three parts. They read as follows:span/spanspan/span/ppstrongArticle 26./strong/ppemstrong/strongspan(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit./spanspannbsp;/spanspan/spanspan/spanspannbsp;/span/em/pulliemspan/span/em/liliemspan/spanspan/span/em/li/ulpemspan(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace./spanbr //em/pulliemspan(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children./spanspan/span/em/liliemspan/span/em/li/ulpspanThose who are familiar with education systems dealing with minority populations may notice the contradiction between the first two paragraphs and the third in the UDHR. Essentially what is one to do when parents do not want their children educated according to the curriculum designed for the majority population? In fact how does one design an educational system to meet the demands of modern society according to the UCHR when parents don't want their children educated at all? In the case of the Israeli school system, what is to be done when parents refuse to educate their children, limit their children's education or insist on what the content must or must not be? In the Bedouin school where I currently teach English, it is quite a challenge to get some of the parents to send their daughters to school. Some parents agree to send their daughters on condition that their daughters' faces are completely covered while in school or they won't let them attend. So, something that would be considered an unacceptable infringement of women's rights in some European states is permitted in our school as a compromise so that girls can be educated. These parents certainly would not allow their daughters, covered up or not, to attend a Jewish or mixed Jewish-Muslim school. Bedouin parents justifiably insist on the curriculum containing the study of the Quran, and that this study be conducted in the Arabic language. They also insist that the curriculum not contain any study of the Jewish or Christian bible. Hebrew is taught in the school but as a second language just as Arabic is taught as a second language in most of the other Israeli schools. Thus the Israeli schools are structured to meet the educational demands of the community of parents which they service. This is consistent with paragraph three of Article 26, but to an outsider it may look like a segregated school system. /span/ppspanThere is one other element which differentiates the educational situation in Israel and segregated education in the mid-twentiethnbsp;/spanspancentury American south. There is no law in Israel forbidding the education of Jews and Arabs together. In fact I have taught mixed classes in Israeli schools. This situation can be beneficial to all but not without costs. As one Arab mother whose children attended a non-Arab school and who lived in a Jewish neighborhood in Be'er Sheva told me, she was worried that her children were assimilating into Israeli society and forgetting their Arabic language and culture./span/ppI enjoyed my vacation from teaching school and spent my extra time working on my farm. I had my first pick of pineapples, which I picked, sorted and packed on my own. Unfortunately I developed a mild case of the flu so my wife insists that the rest of the season I use hired workers for the job./ppTowards the end of my vacation Ariel Sharon died. The papers were full of analyses, commentary and obituaries. The best that I read a href=http://www.algemeiner.com/2014/01/11/ariel-sharon-the-end-of-the-romance/appeared/a in an American Jewish newspaper called the Algemeiner.nbsp;spanI can't add much to the Algemeiner article. I met Sharon only once and that was at my home, about 36 years ago when he was Minister of Agriculture. It was his first important post as a politician and his reputation until then was based almost solely on his army career. Our village was among the first to grow tomatoes in hot houses for export to Europe. Most of the growing problems had been overcome but we were having a big problem with the Israeli bureaucracy when it came to managing the export of our produce. About a dozen of us drove up to Sharon's farm to complain, only to discover that he wasn't home. I wrote a note inviting him down to our village to discuss the problems and left it with someone there. A few hours later Sharon called and said that he would come down to meet with us the following Sunday, --two days away./span/ppOn Sunday morning he arrived with about a half dozen cars full of Ministry of Agriculture officials and one of his sons. My neighbors, the ministry officials and Sharon gathered in our living room, Sharon sat on the biggest chair that we owned and we discussed the various problems. What surprised me was how quickly he understood the problems and what he needed to do to fix them. And truth to tell, during his tenure as Minister of Agriculture things went quite well with government officialdom./ppThe winter vacation had come to an end but the day of Sharon's funeral coincided with the Prophet's birthday and my Bedouin school was closed. Therefore, unlike most other Jewish teachers in the country I had the day off and I was able to follow the events on TV. Sharon was buried on a hill, next to his second wife across the road from his farm house. I entertained the idea of attending the funeral but I decided not to go. Instead I will pay my respects in the spring when the hill is covered with the bright red wild flowers for which it is named./p h3a name=6/aThe many crises of Erdogan: have we come to an end-game?/h3p class=MsoNormal By a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/node/78307Oguz Alyanak/a/p pNever has the end seemed so near for the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). That is the word on the street, the prophecy circulating lately in various op-eds, news pieces, and messages via social media. Although this is neither the first time that the AKP has come under the spotlight, nor the first attempt to predict its expiry date, the most recent episode in the AKP’s list of crises is certainly doing the most harm to the party. But why now? How is this crisis any different from previous ones?nbsp;/ph2December 2013: the great corruption probe, a.k.a. #AKPGate/h2pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/sObXaa--PtYNcE6wHOszADlUaUbZHcoLmmlVwn21ORg/mtime:1389603089/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/Untitled1_0.png rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/VBRDxKCJzG2yO2ccYCGg_97UNjXWr4R3WKyRGiLoKPI/mtime:1389603087/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/Untitled1_0.png alt=Image Source: roarmag.org title= width=400 height=143 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Image Source: roarmag.org /span/span/span/ppFirst, a brief description of the current crisis. On 17 December 2013, shady business deals that involve members of the AKP were brought to light by the Istanbul Police Department. Scandalous corruption charges were directed at the sons of AKP ministers—of Interior, Economic Affairs, and Environment and Urban Planning—along with the Mayor of Fatih district of Istanbul (Mustafa Demir/AKP), the general manager of the biggest state-owned bank in Turkey (Suleyman Aslan/Halkbank) a construction magnate (Ali Agaoglu), and an Iranian-Azerbaijani businessman (Reza Zarrab). There were bribes involved, sent from the construction magnate to the Minister of Environment and Urban Planning in exchange for illegal construction permits. Hidden transactions of a similar nature allegedly took place between Reza Zarrab and the other ministers. The accusation was that Zarrab bribed the ministers’ sons, and the general manager of Halkbank in order to carry out illegal transactions between Turkey and Iran, and to obtain Turkish citizenship for himself and his family. The amount of transaction Aslan had undertaken between 2009 and 2012 was an a href=http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=334277alleged 87 billion Euros/a. An amount of 4.5 million dollars, which was found at HalkBank general manager’s home, stacked into shoeboxes, was the most striking evidence that opened the door to this dubious affair. /p pspanAlthough this is not the first time that the AKP is charged with corruption, the case this time appears to be better grounded. Previously in 2008, the AKP faced a similar challenge when a sum of 41 million Euros collected by the transnational Islamic charity organization, Deniz Feneri e.V, was embezzled by the organization’s chairpersons. Although the Frankfurt court in charge of the case found no trace of money transfer from Deniz Feneri e.V to the AKP, eyebrows were raised in Turkey. Various media outlets affiliated with the biggest media conglomerate in Turkey, Dogan Holding, pointed out /spana href=http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/english/domestic/9865318.asp?scr=1alleged ties/aspan between Deniz Feneri e.V and entrepreneurs close to the AKP’s circles. In 2008, ministers of the AKP interpreted the case as a “/spana href=http://arama.hurriyet.com.tr/arsivnews.aspx?id=9864838conspiracy/aspan” that aimed to bring down their party. It was seen as a foul scheme deployed against them. Today, the same rhetoric is in play. However, with Erdogan asking for the resignation of the ministers involved, corruption appears to be more established as a reality that surrounds the AKP than it was in 2008./span/p pFurthermore, powerful actors in the diaspora are also irritated by these shady deals. Two days after the transactions were discovered, another blow to the AKP came from their long time supporter, preacher/scholar Fethullah Gulen and his transnational emhizmet/em movement. The movement, which is an integral part of the larger Islamist movement in Turkey, represents an important transnational network in the US, Europe, Middle East and Central Asia, and is connected to a considerable body of supporters as well as business circles in Turkey. Many members of the Cabinet come from the emhizmet/em circles and are known for bringing the AKP into close proximity with the emhizmet /emnetwork. Nevertheless, the relations between Gulen, who has been in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, and Erdogan have been lukewarm for quite some time—with the cracks becoming all too apparent in their divergent responses to the Gezi Protests (and before that, to the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident). These relations now are emen route/em to a speedy collapse as Erdogan threatened Gulen with the closure of prep-schools in Turkey, which serve as an essential financial and intellectual lifeline for emhizmet/em. /ppSoon after the corruption charges were publicized, Gulen commented on the developments on his website by staging a public stunt where he literally cast a curse on all those involved with corruption. A day later, the three ministers involved with the scandal resigned following a request from the Prime Minister, which led later that day to the reshuffling of ten ministers of his Cabinet. As the court case continues, what is now on the horizon is that new charges will be summoned, eventually reaching the Prime Minister himself and his own family (sons), bringing them to Court and thus putting an end to his power. Rumour has it that Erdogan’s son has already received a a href=http://www.dw.de/erdogan-family-drawn-into-corruption-probe/a-17344379notification/a inviting him to testify in the General Public Prosecutor’s Office./ph2May - June 2013: the Gezi Park protests/h2pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/0207pu9TOPVV7Dihwy-wSHALJfHuBmsNVktmtcXAUVQ/mtime:1389603090/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/Untitled2.png rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/eVqpZ6Tu1bc89U9TMQ4jMeH0j7-KlStoQKuq03xmPL8/mtime:1389603087/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/Untitled2.png alt=Gezi Park Protests title= width=400 height=142 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'May-June 2013: Gezi Park Protests. Wikipedia/Public Domain./span/span/span/ppIn light of these recent corruption charges, one of the first a href=http://rt.com/news/thousands-protest-turkey-erdogan-804/reactions/a by thousands in Turkey was to go out on the streets - a spirit rediscovered over the summer and adopted by the masses since then. The protests of the Summer of 2013 started with the occupation of a public park and later spread to dozens of cities around Turkey. Millions were out on the streets for weeks, protesting against the government’s authoritarian role, lack of accountability, and its dismissal of the rule of law. Protestors asked for a more responsible government and a more critical media. In return, they received brutal treatment at the hands of the police forces./p pGezi Protests may be seen as “a href=http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/06/erdogan-end-era-turkey-protests.htmlthe beginning of the end of Erdogan's era/a”. It was, after all, an “a href=http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/student_voices/turkish-people-awakened-by-protests-says-student/awakening/a” in itself. Although the Turkish state’s use of violence against its own citizens comes as no surprise to those even vaguely informed about the armed conflict that has been taking place—mostly—in southeastern Anatolia since the mid 1980s, nevertheless, with the exception of May Day protests, state violence has never been so clearly deployed in western Turkey. This was the first time. The state took the lives of young protestors and left dozens without eyes or limbs. Streets were no longer safe but at the same time, streets were the places where the fight had to be lost or won. It was a profoundly shocking discovery that the power people fought against lacked even a modicum of tolerance and sympathy. At Gezi, the AKP lost whatever humanity was left within it.spannbsp;/span/p pMoreover, Gezi was also a breaking point for the AKP in terms of a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/oguz-alyanak/why-care-about-international-prestigeretaining international prestige/a. With Gezi, AKP lost not only legitimacy at home, but also abroad. Countries like the US could not longer turn a blind eye to Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record—as has been clearly spelled out by the US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone both during the a href=http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/us-ambassador-ricciardones-message-on-protests-in-turkey-repeated-for-second-time-in-two-days-.aspx?PageID=238amp;NID=48088amp;NewsCatID=338summer protests/a and a href=http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/24/world/europe/growing-mistrust-between-us-and-turkey-is-played-out-in-public.html?_r=1amp;today/a. Unlike the pre-Gezi days, international media is now much more critical in its analysis of the AKP’s deeds. Hence, all the bitter headlines accusing Erdogan of misdeeds and pointing out to him his own limits./ph2May 2013: The Reyhanli Bombings/h2 pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/5cAUFUkg7NS4MhleXxXlnpImX8B0vyqPEdKdr3GbwJQ/mtime:1389603090/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/Untitled3.png rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/yq_TY7M1fPR4spBvJW9rqVNQqxjOWQNkNHkoh6aiXp8/mtime:1389603087/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/Untitled3.png alt=Milliyet / www.milliyet.com.tr title= width=400 height=169 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Image Source: Milliyet / www.milliyet.com.tr/span/span/span/ppIn May of 2013, two car bombs exploded in the Reyhanli district of Hatay province, killing 51 and injuring over 140. The event was to be recorded as the biggest terrorist attack on Turkish soil to date. Bombings in urban settings are a relatively rare scene in Turkey, so people have questioned the forces behind the attacks. Although the organization responsible for the killings is yet to be identified, many looked for suspects at the Turkish-Syrian border and blamed the attack on the escalating tension between the two countries. The Syrian state was unofficially deemed guilty of the crime, and the bombing has been interpreted as a warning by the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad against Turkey’s increasing involvement in the Syrian Civil War.spannbsp;/span/ppThe escalation of violence in Syria must come under the heading of Turkey’s discretion with regard to Turkey’s foreign policy emphasis in the region as a whole. Hosting a large number of Syrian refugees, Turkey took an active role in the Syrian conflict—a matter widely contested by the opposition in the Parliament, as well as in the Turkish media and among Turkish voters. In addition, relations with Syria were particularly tense due to Syria’s Sunni majority population ruled by the Alawite al-Assad family. Certain a href=http://www.newrepublic.com/article/world/102679/turkey-syria-assad-alawites-alevis-sectariancommentators/a pointed a finger at the AKP for using the bombing as an excuse to undermine Syria’s Alawite government and play the Sunni brother card. /ppFrom this perspective, the conflict has reached a point of no return with the Reyhanli bombings. They make crystal clear the Alevi (in Turkey)/Alawite (in Syria) element that the AKP is allergic to, and urgently needs to come to terms with in orienting its policies towards the Middle East. In short, Turkey’s Middle Eastern policy in general and the AKP’s Syria policy in particular has been undermined by this severe failure. With NATO/American forces not intervening and Assad regaining power in Syria, Turkish policy has reached a dead-end. The Reyhanli bombings were a stern warning sign flagging up the AKP’s foreign policy as dysfunctional.nbsp;/ph2December 2011: the Roboski Massacre/h2pThe Turkish public woke up to a late December day watching a massacre committed by its own armed forces. The fact that this one—unlike many others—was televised, aggravated its effect. People saw dead bodies being wrapped up in body bags on their screens. These bodies, unlike the initial expectation, turned out not to belong to the “enemy”. In brief, a group of smugglers carrying diesel oil and cigarettes across Turkey’s Iraqi border—a common practice at the border—were taken for the enemy, that is, the Kurdish guerillas (PKK) and consequently, the Turkish Armed Forces, already ostracized due to previous neglect in taking action against PKK raids, bombed the smugglers' convoy. The F-16s took the lives of the country’s own citizens. The burned and mutilated bodies of 34 people were discovered in the morning, and visual images of the destruction zone were shared with the media. What followed—in addition to a broadcast ban—was a blame game between the Kurds and the AKP, with no formal apology granted to the families of those killed by the bombing./p pLeaving the precarity of life aside, what was additionally troubling was the lack of communication between the Armed Forces and the Prime Minister, as well as both actors’ disregard for the gravity of the scene. While Erdogan took a href=http://www.todayszaman.com/newsDetail_getNewsById.action?newsId=322057no responsibility/anbsp;for the act (“I certainly did not give the order”), the Chief of General Staff dismissed the case as an accident. nbsp;The case, which was under investigation by the military prosecutor, reached a non-jurisdiction decision on 8 January 2014, meaning that the army officials under investigation were cleared of accusations. According to the a href=http://www.aa.com.tr/en/news/271770--non-jurisdiction-for-uludere-casestatement/a issued by the Military Prosecutor’s Office, the “mistake” made at Roboski was “unavoidable”, thus necessitating “no reason to file a criminal case against the actions of the suspected persons.”/p pThe Roboski bombing was a sad yet revealing moment in Erdogan's history and that of the AKP. Not only did it provide the opposition with material to exploit, it also gave Turkish people a snapshot of the AKP’s lack of authority over the country’s Armed Forces (both the President and the Prime Minister chair the National Security Council’s bimonthly meetings, and other select members of the cabinet attend these meetings), and the extent of the mutual mistrust between the party and the Kurdish population—whose votes Erdogan had oriented towards the AKP quite successfully in previous elections./ph2May 2010: MV Mavi Marmara Flotilla incident/h2 pMavi Marmara, also known as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, brought Turkey into a diplomatic crisis with Israel in 2010, a year after the much cited a href=http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/24/world/europe/growing-mistrust-between-us-and-turkey-is-played-out-in-public.html?_r=0exchange/a took place between the Turkish and Israeli Prime Ministers at the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos. While emen route/em to Gaza, the Turkish flotilla carrying a number of activists and bringing aid was stopped by the Israeli navy (who claimed the activists were armed). The resistance to the military operation led to the killing of nine activists on the ship and the wounding of many others.spannbsp;/span/p pAlthough Erdogan’s ardent stance in requesting an apology from the Israeli Prime Minister (which he received in 2013) was lauded by his constituents at home and his supporters in the Middle East (thus granting him the “Sultan” title), the aggravation of relations with Israel (such as expelling the Israeli ambassador) was also read as an immature and hastily taken diplomatic move that was directed only at gaining a more favourable position in the Middle East (particularly among the Sunni Muslims) at the expense of losing Israel. Furthermore, the growing tension with Israel was also read as a sign of growing anti-Semitism in Turkey. Neither the Jewish citizens of Turkey nor its Jewish investors a href=http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/jewish-youth-leaving-turkey-due-to-political-strains.aspx?pageID=238amp;nID=56659amp;NewsCatID=338felt safe/a under the rule of a government that openly detested Israel. Erdogan and the AKP may have won the hearts of their Muslim constituents, however, this only came at the expense of the sympathy of their Jewish friends./ph2October 2007; October 2008; June 2012: PKK raids and intelligence crises/h2pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/INSgkASUUpOvRwSi-5Uyot64nZ_7vuVom21jt_XojB4/mtime:1389603090/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/Untitled4.png rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/gwfzIiecHvuLBbzvgKkTDcSrUGfKZnCbH5XGQ7qLCSM/mtime:1389603087/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/Untitled4.png alt=Image Source: Today’s Zaman / www.todayszaman.com title= width=400 height=150 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Image Source: Today’s Zaman / www.todayszaman.com/span/span/span/p pAKP’s legitimacy in handling Turkey’s longstanding conflict with Kurdish guerillas (PKK) has been severely tested numerous times. Although ending the conflict was one of Erdogan’s promises in collecting his votes, his attempts have been intermittently interrupted. The latest major occasion was the a href=http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303836404577475982005313936Daglica raid of June 2012/a, which led to the killing of eight Turkish Army soldiers, with 16 others wounded. The raid was reminiscent of another attack that took place in October 2007, in the same district of Hakkari, where Kurdish guerillas killed 27 members of the Turkish army, wounding many others and kidnapping eight as prisoners in two separate instances. In response, the Turkish army retaliated. Thousands of protestors came out on the streets to condemn the PKK, proffer solidarity to the Turkish army and call on the AKP to take immediate action./p pThe AKP was challenged by the PKK also in 2008, when over 600 guerillas carrying heavy arms raided a Turkish outpost located at the northern Iraqi border, killing fifteen members of the Turkish military and wounding many others. What particularly spurred public debate this time was the lack of intelligence in detecting the movement of such a large group in an organized fashion. In addition to blaming the PKK, the public also sought to blame the army, as well as the AKP. Public attitude took a particularly sharp turn when a Turkish newspaper, emTaraf/em, headlined a piece stressing the gravity of the neglect in handling the raid. It emerged that intelligence regarding a forthcoming raid was a href=http://www.taraf.com.tr/haber/aktutunu-itiraf-edin-demistik-biz-acikliyoruz.htmpassed onto/a the General Staff almost a month before the raid took place. This signaled a lack of professionalism and more importantly, miscommunication between the Turkish Army and the AKP in handling Turkey’s most critical threat. /ppRather than taking full responsibility, the Armed Forces and the AKP instead chose to blame emTaraf/em for revealing state secrets, installed a national broadcast ban and opened up a lawsuit. A similar attitude was shown in both actors’ responses to the Roboski massacre and the Reyhanli bombings. Rather than discussing the failures, and learning from mistakes, the AKP (and the Turkish military) chose to cover it up./ph2March - July 2008: the AKP closure trial/h2 pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/V7Ekl8JgNZ_URh0JNPKeNDsCZu2GZiFjurk87q3XcaY/mtime:1389603090/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/Untitled5.png rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/RT-zyjdnHmBpo30DK1QTV5oIJYfJm1LeNvVI3FgHMtQ/mtime:1389603087/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/Untitled5.png alt=Image Source: Aksam / aksam.medyator.com title= width=400 height=172 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Image Source: Aksam / aksam.medyator.com/span/span/span/ppIn 2008, the AKP was brought to the Constitutional Court under the accusation that its “anti-secular” activities were jeopardising the Republic. In the Prosecutor’s a href=http://bianet.org/english/english/106004-constitutional-court-starts-akp-closure-trialwords/a, the Republic was in danger. This was a claim that had been directed at previous representatives of the Islamic movement, later banned in Turkey, such as the Virtue Party (banned 2001) and the Welfare Party (banned 1997). It was also a claim that the Turkish public did not fully support. Despite the mass demonstration of late 2006 and 2007 in which secular Turks rallied against the election of Abdullah Gul (whose wife wore a headscarf, thus bringing a “covered” First Lady to the Presidential Palace) as the President, many others were undecided about (or outright rejected) the banning of a political party—regardless of its name or political orientation.spannbsp;/span/p pThe 'closure trial' of 2008 could in some ways be read as a test for the reaffirmation of faith in Turkish democracy, and its representative, the AKP. Not only would the decision decide the fate of the AKP and its leader, Erdogan, but it would also provide Turkish democracy with yet another chance to solve its problems by itself—that is, without having to end a political party’s existence through a judicial manouevre (what the anthropologist a href=http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2008/07/30/turkeys-coup-by-court/Jenny White/a called a emcoup by court/em) or a military coup d’etat. The 2008 closure trial, moreover, provided the AKP with an opportunity for a fresh start: by remaining in politics, it would come out triumphantly as the democratic face of Turkey, therefore gaining the appreciation of both national and international actors. This would be a much needed success for the AKP, especially in light of the trust lost in its (mis) handling of the previous year’s Dink assassination and the May Day events.spannbsp;/span/p pWhen the judges voted one shy for the closure of the AKP, people hoped that the AKP would take the message and make its policies more in accordance with the needs of greater publics (and not just the AKP’s constituents). However, less than a year later, members of the AKP were not there to show solidarity with the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), which was banned later that year by the Constitutional Court. This was a revealing moment regarding the Janus-faced character of Turkish democracy, and its product empar excellence/em, the AKP./ph2January 2007: Hrant Dink's assassination/h2 pXenophobia may be a value-laden term, yet it is also one that helps us explain the emergent feeling in Turkey that brought about the assassination of Hrant Dink in 2007. Following the Cartoon Crisis in Denmark, which caused great disturbance among Muslim populations all around the world, Turkish citizens belonging to minority religions in Turkey have been put under the spotlight. In this environment, the (February) 2006 murder of Father Andrea Santoro, the Roman Catholic Priest of Trabzon’s Santa Maria Church, and the (April) 2007 murder of three Christians at a Bible-publishing house, Zirve Yayincilik—though unfortunate—came as no surprise./p pAnd then there was the assassination of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. It was as much about the assassination as it was the state’s handling of the case in the following years that proved to be a major letdown for many liberals who have supported the AKP in previous elections (2002 and 2004) with the hopes of a transformed Turkey: that is, one that would come to terms with the past crimes committed against its minorities (particularly in 1915 and 1955) and turn over a clean sheet in negotiating with them today. The impression (which fueled people’s frustration) was that rather than seeking justice, the AKP used these assassinations as an excuse to further undermine its opponents in the military and among the secular elite./p pDink received death threats several times before the assassination took place. In addition to his Armenian heritage, as a journalist, Dink was under the spotlight for his statements on the Armenian genocide, and was under prosecution for “denigrating Turkishness” under Penal Code Article 301 (the same article the Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk was tried under a year before). Prior to his assassination, Dink was working on an investigation on the Armenian roots of the adopted daughter of Ataturk, the founder father of Turkey.spannbsp;/span/p pOn January 19, Hrant Dink was shot dead in front of his office. Thousands attended his funeral, and even more participated in the demonstrations taking place in the following weeks (and years) asking the government to open a fully-fledged investigation into Dink’s assassination. In the hours following the shooting, a 17-year-old suspect was caught. The public learned about the suspect via a picture of him posing heroically in front of a Turkish flag next to gendarmerie officers at a police station. He was treated as a national hero./pp Weeks after, the person behind the planning of the assassination was also caught. In his interrogation, he pointed to an intelligence officer within the police department as the primary suspect. All three were put on a trial which lasted for five years. Rather than explicating the organizational links behind the assassination, the trial ended with the acquittal of the intelligence officer and the imprisonment of the killer and planner. Many were not satisfied with the outcome. After all, it was documented that almost eleven months before the assassination took place, the police had information that the people who would later on take central roles in the assassination were planning to assassinate Dink. His assassination was part of a bigger scheme—yet no one in the government was brave enough to call for an investigation that would go this far.spannbsp;/span/p pThe assassinations of Father Santoro, Hrant Dink and the three Bible-publishers in Malatya have revealed a great rift between the Turkish state and the AKP government. One could argue that in handling these cases, the AKP had little power over the state. In fact, part of the argument was that Dink’s assassination was part of a bigger plan to bring down the AKP by causing havoc in the country and promoting a coup d’etat. In response, as the 5-year-long trial “a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/oguz-alyanak/democracys-hall-of-mirrors-in-post-gezi-world-call-for-global-dialogueErgenekon/a” which was to follow these assassinations reveals, the AKP exerted power over the state, and obtained the opportunity to expose the networks that orchestrated those tumultuous times. However, AKP’s democratization (through the Ergenekon trial) had its limits—perhaps because individuals close to AKP circles were benefiting from the ongoing conflict, as were the military generals. The case itself revealed that the main purpose behind the investigations was more about disabling AKP’s political opponents than bringing criminals to justice. nbsp;nbsp;/ph2July 2004: the Pamukova train accident/h2pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/y289Blf8ELYZkf1_nIprza3-q1lqM9VtmqYjOKGywsU/mtime:1389603091/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/Untitled6.png rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/U8jIWU--P-GH6bbC5o3ycHCSrQXz36Yo8ghq0ypr8qw/mtime:1389603087/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/549460/Untitled6.png alt=Image Source: www.ntvmsnbc.com title= width=400 height=144 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Image Source: www.ntvmsnbc.com/span/span/span/ppMajor accidents with grave consequences are expected to harm the legitimacy of even the most faultless-seeming government officials. Accidents create a moral obligation that lays the ground for the resignation of the ministers responsible and in charge. In Turkey, by contrast, responsibility is hardly ever sought if those involved are prominent decision makers. Those at the top are rarely held accountable for failures. In July 2004, the newly installed high-speed train between Istanbul and Ankara was put on a test run. The train, which was carrying 230 passengers, crashed due to excessive speeding, killing 41 and injuring over 80. Although a trial was opened against Turkish State Railways (TCDD), only the train’s operators faced charges. And even though the Minister of Transportation, Binali Yildirim, stated that he would a href=http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/default.aspx?pageid=438amp;n=yildirim-i-will-resign-if-necessary-2004-09-04resign if necessary/a, the necessity, apparently, never materialized. As of February 2012, the case was dropped due to a statute of limitations. The irony is not lost on the public when in response to a train accident in Spain, Binali Yildirim who is still serving as the Minister, takes it upon himself to comment on the accident with the following words: “This looks similar to what we experienced in Pamukova”.spannbsp;/span/p pThe high-speed train was one of the first major projects that the AKP was to undertake. Although its failure was not widely discussed in 2004, its ghost was brought back to earth as the AKP undertook yet another railways project in 2013: this time, an undersea tunnel connecting the Asian and European banks of Istanbul. The project went through despite the recommendation for a delay by the Chamber of Architects and Engineers, and their detailed presentation on the possibility of a catastrophe, in which the Pamukova accident was also a href=http://www.yapi.com.tr/Haberler/tmmmden-marmaray-aciklamasi-pamukovayi-unutmayin_113433.htmlcited/a. The very first day Marmaray was opened, the a href=http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/30/world/europe/turkey-marmaray-tunnel-first-day/project/a experienced a power outtage, which brought the trains to a halt midway through the tunnel. People had to walk in the underwater tunnel to the next station in order to make it to the nearest exit. Few dared to ask what the possible death toll could have been had power been restored, possibly frying the dozens walking on the tracks. Once again, rather than seeking the responsibility of those in charge of the project, a href=http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/marmaray-hit-by-problems-on-the-first-day-in-service.aspx?PageID=238amp;NID=57072amp;NewsCatID=341blame/a was laid at the door of the passengers: “halts were caused by people who pushed the emergency button out of curiosity.”/p h2Back to 2013, back to corruption…/h2 pThe crises listed above do not provide an exhaustive inventory of AKP debacles. We exclude, among others, a href=http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/06/world/turkey-says-us-has-detained-some-of-its-soldiers-in-north-iraq.htmlevents/a of major importance such as the detention of Turkish soldiers by the American Forces (in retaliation to Turkey’s refusal to take part in the Coalition Forces and grant access to these forces to use Turkish land and airspace in 2003) or the public outrage over the Turkish government’s sloppy response to the earthquake in the city of Van in 2011. /ppThe point here is that despite crises of such a grand scale, the AKP, under the helm of Erdogan has still managed to be a behemoth occupying every space, adopting every value, and appropriating every ideology. Despite the many challenges it has faced, the AKP has continued to grow. Much of this success has been credited to its leader, Erdogan, whose political aptitude and personal charisma has kept a political party that is necessarily representative of various political factions and interest groups intact. Also, many credited the strength of the Turkish economy to the AKP's handling - in the macro, for example, bringing the inflation and unemployment rate down, paying off Turkey’s debt to the IMF, increasing GDP/capita, undertaking major infrastructure projects or turning the country into an investors' paradise. The economy may have played a role in many people turning a blind eye to the AKP’s previous failures. The same could be argued when it came to the AKP's fight against the Kemalist establishment. In this fight, the AKP gained the sympathy of supporters who may have had little interest in Erdogan’s religious discourse but rather greater interest in taking down a repressive statist regime. (Today, especially in the aftermath of the Hrant Dink trial and Gezi, it would not be too much of an exaggeration to argue that the AKP has lost that voter base completely.) nbsp;/p pHowever, now is the time to ask: is the AKP really the omnipotent force we make of it? Let us stop for a second and reflect on what we make of this political machine. As people critical of the repressive form the AKP has taken over the years, we cannot simply continue blaming Erdogan’s conservative, nationalist and faithful/Islamic constituents (and they constitute a fragment of AKP voters) for fashioning this Sultan figure. Altogether, we have constructed a mirage of invulnerability, and turned the Prime Minister into the leader of a political party whose supreme power today drowns out our protests. Instead, we need to believe that it is a mirage after all. A recent emNew Yorker/em commentator writing on the corruption crisis starts the account with a trite yet relevant phrase: “a href=http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/12/recep-tayyip-erdoan-demise.htmlthe revolution always eats its children first/a”. For those who have constructed this revolutionary nightmare, the time is ripe to finally disappear. After all, once the strings holding the party intact are cut, both Erdogan and his followers would have to comply with the rules of physics and fall… because so does everything else./p pThe reason for us to be encouraged to finally open our eyes and witness Erdogan’s downfall lies in the peculiarities of the latest episode of the crisis. The corruption case reveals obvious signs of weakness for both Erdogan and his AKP. Erdogan has never been this lonely in his ten years of rule as the Prime Minister of Turkey. In previous crises, he may have lost the support of liberals in Turkey, as well as minorities, Israel and the US. However, he still had the support of his own cabinet, the spiritual figure Fethullah Gulen, and many of the institutions (such as the police and the judiciary) arguably “infiltrated” by or representative of Gulen’s emhizmet /emnetwork. His prestige may have shattered those outside the Islamic movement, but inside, he was still impervious to criticism. /ppThe corruption case, however, has deprived him of all these lines of support. First, the people who were once his closest allies no longer hesitate in directing their critiques at the Prime Minister. When the Minister of Environment and Urban Planning Erdogan Bayraktar handed in his a href=http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25514579resignation/a, he openly stated that his stepping down would also necessitate PM Erdogan relinquishing his position as the Prime Minister. Here was criticism coming from the inside, from one of the people close to the Prime Minister. Such an act, in AKP’s three-term rule, is unheard of./p pThen, he lost the backing of emhizmet /emcircles, as well as his credibility within the larger Islamic movement. Today, rather than perpetuating ties with the emhizmet /emnetwork, Erdogan is purging those whom he believes to be followers of Gulen. He is a href=http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/01/08/uk-turkey-corruption-idUKBREA070A920140108attempting/a to bring the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, an institution chiefly in charge of appointing judges and prosecutors in Turkey, under the surveillance of the Ministry of Justice (which is a major violation of the principle of the separation of powers). He is also a href=http://www.voanews.com/content/amid-corruption-scandal-erdogan-reassigns-350-ankara-police/1824752.htmlfiring and reassigning/a police forces, thus reshaping the organizational schema of the police department. Although Erdogan argues that in doing this he is taking preventative measures against a coup d’etat against his AKP, his method of attack is no less coup-like./p pAlso in retaliation to emhizmet/em, there are some signals that Erdogan is considering befriending his old enemy, the secular military, by reopening the trial on the previous coup d’etat plots: Sledgehammer and Ergenekon. Although this is still an idea in progress within AKP circles, experts argue that by showing that these trials, conducted by judges and prosecutors close to the emhizmet /emcircles, and reached a verdict on 2012 and 2013 respectively, were held in an unfair manner, Erdogan a href=http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/54e6b830-7581-11e3-aa68-00144feabdc0.htmlattempts/a to “vilify” Fethullah Gulen and “expose” the true face of his movement. As the local elections draws near, blaming emhizmet/em for the current episode of the nation’s ills may be a strategic move aimed at regaining his constituents’ trust./p pFinally, Erdogan seems to be losing one of his strongest pillars, Turkey’s economic figures and credit ratings. With credit rating companies sending the government a href=http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/06/us-turkey-corruption-rates-idUSBREA050I920140106warning signals/a and the Turkish lira seeing record lows against the American dollar (which, a href=http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/03/us-turkey-corruption-economy-analysis-idUSBREA020GT20140103apparently/a, does not please investors and businessmen), the Turkish Prime Minister will have to do more than retaliate against his enemies. This is not the Gezi “gang” that he blamed for “a href=http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-28/erdogan-says-gang-within-state-is-imperiling-turkey.htmlsmashing windows/a”. The threat, this time, comes from those who are (were) closest to him.nbsp;/p pThere is also an emotional or more intimate side of this story that most analyses often forgo - possible due to the fact that it offers a much less complicated explanation than the ones listed above. Corruption, in short, has a peculiar nature. Ironically, in today’s world, killing dozens of innocents is more easily justifiable than embezzling taxpayers’ money. /ppIn previous crises the AKP has faced, the blame could have been placed in other quarters. As discussed above, Turkey’s Kemalist legacy, the Turkish military, Turkish media, Israel, the US, reckless train mechanics, Kurdish guerilla forces, Christian missionaries, spying minorities, among others, could have been singled out as primarily responsible for these failures. The blame could have been diverted. /ppHowever, with a corruption scandal that hits the friends closest to you, and is expected to hunt you down, it is hard to play the blame game. Not that Erdogan, as well as other ministers in the AKP are not attempting to do this. They are. But it no longer carries its power of persuasion because the scandal attacks the very moral foundation that he has built over years. The rhetoric before was that both the failures and successes were committed for the good of the nation. They were all undertaken with good intentions. As the AKP’s 2009 election jingle stated: “Everything is for this nation.” Erdogan and his ministers were servants of the nation and Allah. This rhetoric, equating them almost to the messengers of Allah, provided them with an aura of protection. /ppHowever, these corruption claims challenge this rhetoric in two ways. First, corruption leaves nothing for the nation to gain. While all the gains are personal, only the losses become collectively shared. And second, corruption is a sin; rather than serving Allah, one starts serving oneself—thus seeking personal and material gains rather than communal and spiritual ones. In short, corruption takes away from Erdogan’s repertoire both the worldly and otherworldly references. Whether this graft probe is yet another coup attempt against him or not, the damage is already done. For a politician that relies so much on the power of community and spirituality, which constitute the main themes around which he build his speeches, the question then is, can he succeed without them?/p pHe may, but possibly not in this current configuration, where he serves as the Prime Minister of a tainted political party. Perhaps he could as a dictator or a Sultan in the true sense of those words, as someone who has absolute power, and therefore rules over all other institutional powers. AKP ingenuity has surprised us many times before. But today, facing a corruption scandal, and with the local elections only three months away, the future for Erdogan and his party looks alarmingly bleak. The AKP’s rise to power may have been an unexpected development. And despite the gravity of the crises it has faced in the past, equally unexpected has been its maintenance of power. Its retirement from power, by contrast, may not be so unexpected./p h3a name=7/aA constitutional mirage in Egypt/h3p class=MsoNormal By a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/node/78377/Islam Abdel-Rahman/a/p blockquotep“Next 4 months vital in a href=https://twitter.com/search?q=%23Egyptamp;src=hash‪#Egypt/a. A referendum and elections which are open, free and fair would create stability and a platform for growth”/p/blockquotepThis was a href=https://twitter.com/sblhickey/status/403216705490395136tweeted/a last November by Stephen Hickey, UK Deputy Ambassador to Egypt, echoing what the military-backed government portrayed as its agenda for post-coup Egypt./p pA month later, the 50-member constitutional committee assigned by interim president Adly Mansour - who in turn was assigned by the military - finished their amendments on the 2012 constitution to which a referendum will take place on the 14 and 15 January 2014.nbsp;spanUp until this point, it all sounds hopeful as Mr Hickey said Egypt is heading towards stability and growth, however the reality of what is taking place on the ground is completely different.nbsp;/spanA glimpse at events that have taken place over the past few months may put everything into perspective. /ppLet’s assume that the constitution will emphasize the independent rule of the judiciary; will it be the judiciary that imprison youth today for having a camera, or a href=http://patrickgaley.com/2013/11/27/14-girls-receive-11-years-in-jail-for-protesting-in-egypt/girls for raising balloons/a with the Rabaa sign on them, or a href=http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/10/egypt-schoolboy-arrested-stationery-morsi-symbol-rabaaschoolboys/a for having a ruler and notebook with the same sign? This is the same judiciary that acquitted all the police officers accused of killing thousands of Egyptians during the 25 January 2011 revolution and it is also the same judiciary that refuse to look into any cases related to the thousands of Egyptians killed by the authorities after the coup on 3 July 2013./p pLet’s assume that the constitution guarantees freedom of expression. Will the security forces that shot journalists during demonstrations and imprison others for reporting views other than their own apply such articles of the constitution? A superficial look at state-run and private media outlets, all singing the same song, will give you a sense of where freedom of expression is heading.spannbsp;/span/p pMany will argue about the right and importance of education in this draft, but how many students have been killed and injured inside university campuses across the country during the barbaric raids of security forces to quell student’s protests while the constitutional committee was discussing such articles? Or army officers giving a speech at a primary school about the “armed legitimacy” that tops any other legitimacy? A clear indication of what and how the coming generation will be taught.spannbsp;/span/p pThere is no doubt that the right of assembly has a place in the constitution, but a glance over what is actually taking place since July 3 reasserts the dangers of these rights in the “new” Egypt. Every protest, rally or march expressing people’s opposition to the coup has been attacked, suppressed and demonized with every possible tactic the police and army forces possess; from water canon to live ammunition. Such repression was not only meted out to Islamists, it was extended to secularists, and the imprisonment of three liberal activists for protesting against the “Protest Law” issued in November 2013 was a clear message that the military will not tolerate any group of Egyptians singing a note other than their own.spannbsp;/span/p pFinally, the decision of the government to sentence any Egyptian participating in an anti-coup demonstration to five years with the potential tonbsp;a href=http://www.elwatannews.com/news/details/380275execut/aenbsp;those leading such demonstrations gives one the clear message of how those in power in Egypt now are serious about protecting Egyptian rights until they have dealt with their last opponent.spannbsp;/span/p pThese examples are only a glimpse of what is actually taking place on the ground. From the tragic to the ridiculous, human beings, animals and puppets it seems are all under threat: from the violent dispersal of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins, to the arrest of a “a href=http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/80411/Egypt/Politics-/CORRECTED-Egypts-security-puts-spy-stork-under-arr.aspxspy stork/a” and most recently the a href=http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/egypts-latest-terror-suspect-the-popular-felt-and-yarn-puppet-abla-fahita/2014/01/02/ced0def6-73c3-11e3-9389-09ef9944065e_story.htmlinvestigation of a puppet/a, Abla Fahita, for conspiring against Egypt./p pIn such a “promising” environment, there is little hope for the campaigns on the referendum; where only “yes” vote posters are allowed to be displayed everywhere across the country and aired hourly on state-run and privately owned TV channels. Those calling for a boycott or a “no” vote are being sent to prison. All this gives a clue about how fair and transparent such a referendum will be./p pA constitution is no doubt a vital document for any nation that strives to have a progressive and stable political environment, but at the end of the day it is just a piece of paper. What gives such a rulebook significance, legitimacy and value is the people’s will and determination to apply what is actually stipulated in such a document.spannbsp;/span/p pIn the case of Egypt, the constitutional draft and referendum are only cosmetic changes to cover up the atrocities of the military regime, and a way to obtain legitimacy; not from the Egyptian people but in the eyes of other nations, who feel they need “Mubarak style” elections and a referendum to legitimize their support for the military coup. Till this fake referendum and elections take place, will we see tweets like that of Mr. Hickey while mass killings and repressive measures receive faint condemnations, if any, in routinely published statements, exactly the same as during the old days of Mubarak? nbsp;/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/arab-awakening/hasan-tariq-al-hasan/corruption-in-bahrainCorruption in Bahrain/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/arab-awakening/maged-mandour/el-sisi-revolutionary-presidentEl Sisi: the revolutionary president?/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/arab-awakening/emily-reid/kafr-batna-syriaKafr Batna, Syria/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/arab-awakening/helen-mackreath/lebanon-year-which-promises-little-but-forebodingLebanon: a year which promises little but foreboding?/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/arab-awakening/efraim-perlmutter/reveries-of-english-teacher-on-vacationReveries of an English teacher on vacation/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/arab-awakening/oguz-alyanak/many-crises-of-erdogan-have-we-come-to-end-gameThe many crises of Erdogan: have we come to an end-game?/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/arab-awakening/islam-abdel-rahman/constitutional-mirage-in-egyptA constitutional mirage in Egypt/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Bahrain /div div class=field-item even Egypt /div div class=field-item odd Lebanon /div div class=field-item even Israel /div div class=field-item odd Palestine /div div class=field-item even Turkey /div div class=field-item odd Syria /div /div /div

Aloneness is central to our collective wellbeing

ven, 01/17/2014 - 6:55am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pIs spending time alone an escape from reality, or a gateway to more effective social action? A walk can be transformative when no one is babbling in your ear./p /div /div /div pimg src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/3mG071RDEbDNjoyX54HDZZCguZJGninnsqCnejBE7HU/mtime:1389906972/files/aloneness.jpg alt= width=460 height=460 //pp class=image-captionOriginal artwork by Dionne Kasian-Lew. All rights reserved./p pIf you want to be more deeply connected, spend time alone./p pThat’s not a fact, underpinned by research. It’s a reflection. An anecdote. But it may have value./p pIf you came to me and said — emI feel empty/em, or — emas if something is missing — /emif you complained about feeling blocked or stagnant or that negative drama (gossip, shouting, pointing the finger) made you feel more alive — I would say: emthink about spending some more time alone./em/p pThat’s regardless of if you’re an a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraversion_and_introversion target=_blankextravert/a, a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraversion_and_introversion target=_blankintrovert/a, or even a href=http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2013/04/10/move-over-extroverts-here-come-the-ambiverts/ target=_blankambivert/a (think happy middle ground)./p pThese are just personality types./p pThe rewards of time alone apply across categories. Aloneness is a deliberate practice of emnot /emseeking someone (or something) ‘other’ to fill you up. I believe it’s a deep human need, as vital as connection./p pA walk can be transformative when no one’s babbling in your ear, either because they’re beside you, or in your headphones (so you can go inwards, and down towards emotion)./p pSometimes silence has to accompany solitude, but not always. Music can help. It appears to take you in the same direction as aloneness. I don’t know why. (If you do, please leave a note.)/p pBeing alone can mean sitting on the couch, but with the TV and laptop, tablet and smartphone off. You can read (some kinds of) books. I’m not sure what makes one type of input a distraction from connection, as opposed to a support. But there it is. Focus? Intention? “Does this take me in the same direction as music?em” /emThat might be a way to decide./p pThere was a huge response in 2013 to Susan Cain’s book on a href=http://www.amazon.com/Quiet-Power-Introverts-World-Talking/dp/0307352153 target=_blankQuiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking/a. I have yet to read it, I confess, but I liked her a href=http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/sixteen-things-i-believe/ target=_blankmanifesto/a and read much commentary that followed its release./p pIt seemed to me that there was a collective sigh of relief that someone had at last articulated what many wished they could say in response to demands for yet more teamwork, group projects, planned activities and holiday ideas: emleave me alone. /emOthers were quick to point out the a href=http://keithsawyer.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/does-solitude-enhance-creativity-a-critique-of-susan-cains-attack-on-collaboration/substantial research/a that exists on the benefit of collaboration when it comes to creativity or generating ideas./p pSides were taken, as if it were a competition, with a right answer, that could be won./p pI found the reaction fascinating because - let’s face it - even with a bit of quiet thrown in, emmost/em of our time is spent with others, or being distracted./p pMostly we are:/p p· Not silentbr / · Not meditatingbr / · Not on solitary walksbr / · Not by ourselves in an officebr / · Not staring out the windowbr / · Not alone./p pBut this debate really stirred things up. Everyone wanted to know what the truth was. What the research showed. Facts. What made people more creative? Alone, or not alone? What was the best way to generate new, exciting, interesting ideas? Alone, or in groups?/p pThese are all important questions, but this is not what aloneness is about, or at least, not the kind of aloneness I am referring to./p pAloneness is not a transaction –“I’ll give up time with others in exchange for being more creative;” or give up some of my aloneness to seek out people in exchange for generating more ideas. It’s much deeper than that./p pI’m talking about being alone for the sake of it. Not even to see where it leads you, emif /emit leads you anywhere. Aloneness is important because it’s needed, like other hard-to-define qualities such as meaning and love whose deficiency is difficult to quantify or event detect but which has a profound impact on our wellbeing. /p pSo why do we find the prospect of aloneness frightening?/p pI don’t know./p pI have, however, noticed that when you’re alone for long enough, sooner or later you tend to appreciate what is going on in your life more deeply, what you are feeling about it. And I mean what you are emreally /emfeeling, rather than the official version. And that can be good or bad./p pDon’t ask me why emotions tend to present as high notes, then move to disquiet (“I’ve got to get out, eat something, have another drink”) and - if we manage to resist interruption - to whatever lies underneath./p pIs what’s underneath important? I think it drives a lot of our behavior, but we do a lot to avoid this recognition. If we do not guard our downtime zealously, others won’t hesitate to commandeer it in order to avoid their own./p pemChitter-chatter, chitter-chatter. Do, do, do. /emIt’s so exhausting./p pBy contrast, being alone guides us towards the ‘underneathness’ of what is going on. And it doesn’t even have to be about understanding the hinterland of unconsciousness, or what little we know of consciousness, once we are there./p pTry spending more time alone. Your wellbeing depends on it, and so does mine./pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/transformation/michael-edwards/has-tim-ryan-lost-his-mindHas Tim Ryan lost his mind? /a /div div class=field-item even a href=/transformation/alessandra-pigni/practising-mindfulness-at-checkpointPractising mindfulness at the checkpoint/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/transformation/michael-edwards/loving-kindness-%E2%80%93-it-just-takes-practiceLoving kindness – it just takes practice./a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-topics div class=field-labelTopics:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Ideas /div /div /div div class=field field-rights div class=field-labelRights:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Creative Commons /div /div /div

Egypt's constitutional referendum: the untold story

ven, 01/17/2014 - 6:27am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pBy ignoring expressions of people power in the Egyptiannbsp; constitutional referendum, some western political commentators and the media are showing a disconnect with the pulse of the citizenry and engaging in a dangerous politics of omission, argues Mariz Tadros/p /div /div /div pWhile western policy analysts and “experts” were lamenting the a href=http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/10570170/Egypt-turns-the-clock-back-with-military-backed-referendum.htmldeath of democracy/a in Egypt, women took to the streets during the two days of referendum over Egypt’s constitution, ululating, clapping and challenging the red lines of female propriety by a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UlkKt1HetMdancing in broad daylight in public/a. Most western analysts and media have ejected from their accounts the occurrence of Egyptian women’s spontaneous burst into singing and dancing across many polls in Egypt because it is incongruent with their accounts of a country that has more or less lost “positive” citizen agency since the ousting of President Morsi after the military intervened. /p pIt is interesting that when women challenged many social conventions and norms in the Egyptian revolution of 2011 against President Mubarak, it attracted much western attention. When women's participation reached new heights - in the second revolution of June 2013 against President Morsi - it was sidelined. When women take to the streets in unconventional displays of agency, as they did in the constitutional referendum of 2014, they hardly featured in western reports and media coverage. Undoubtedly what was happening on the streets of Egypt during the two days of the constitutional referendum was an expression of female agency, uninhibited and unrestrained by patriarchal mores internalized through years of disciplining of what respectable women should and should not do in public. However, no one considered that this may possibly be an element of people power because these women were dancing and singing to the tune of emteslam al ayadi/em, a song that was produced immediately after the 30th of June revolution to celebrate the role of the military in ousting President Morsi.nbsp; /p pThere is no examination of why the women who constituted the biggest bloc of voters endorsing the Muslim Brotherhood-initiated constitution also represent overwhelmingly the largest number of voters endorsing this constitution. There is no examination of why women were responsive to el-Sisi’s request that they participate in the revolution, nor why the level of animosity that they harbour towards the Muslim Brothers has become so intense. By failing to ask these questions, we are missing important signals for understanding how people are thinking, what they are expecting, and why.nbsp; /p pCritics would argue that these women out there to show their support for the constitution have not even read the text of the constitution. Certainly some of them would not have, and they were there to show support for el-Sisi, more so than a commitment to the constitution. However, if we were to read the constitution through gender sensitive lens, women are conceivably some of its most notable winners.nbsp; For the first time ever, the constitution stipulates that the state is committed to women holding public and senior management offices in the state emand their appointment in judicial bodies and authorities without discrimination. For the first time too the state commits to protect women from all forms of violence(article 11)/em. Article 180 sets a quarter of seats in the local council for women, again for the first time ever. True the presence of article 2 which stipulates that Islam is the principle source of legislation can be used by conservatives to undermine the idea of unqualified rights, however, any removal of that article would have been met with complete opposition from large segments of the constituent assembly. Article 93 stipulates the state’s commitment to international conventions which is instrumental for women’s rights in view of Egypt’s ratification of CEDAW, and will help leverage the constitutional premise for the state’s observance of women’s rights.nbsp; /p pFrom the very outset, the constitution-drawing process faced a tension between inclusive processes and inclusive outcomes. The process was shunned by the western media and the Muslim Brotherhood for not including the latter. That the Muslim Brotherhood were not represented in the constituent assembly is a flaw, however, negotiations were difficult from the outset because the Muslim Brothers insisted that there can be no political solution unless President Morsi is reinstated as President, which would have in effect negated the will of the millions who had revolted against his rule. It is also important to note that the constituent assembly did include the Al-Azhar, the bastion of the Sunni world’s religious teaching, the Salafis as well as several Islamist thinkers. By far, the constituent assembly this time round included far greater representation of the political forces and orientations in the country than the previous one. Let us not forget that Al Azhar, the Coptic orthodox Church and various political parties and figures had a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/mariz-tadros/egypt-islamization-of-state-policypulled out of the constitution drawing process of 2012/a. /p pIn terms of inclusive outcomes, the constitution of 2013 a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/heather-mcrobie/egypt-tale-of-two-constitutionsdoes not fulfil the aspirations of the 25th January revolution. /aIt also has problematic articles vis-à-vis the powers of the army (which existed in the previous constitution as well). However, it goes much further in recognizing the rights of women, youth and the Christian minority in the country than the previous constitution. /p pWhat is being suggested here is that there is a politics of omission that betrays a certain level of hypocrisy by western analysts and the media in what constitutes inclusiveness, legitimacy and people power. For example, this constitutional referendum saw people’s participation exceed 45% of those eligible to vote, far higher than the 30% who participated under the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in 2012. Results show an overwhelming positive endorsement for the constitution, estimated at a href=http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/91686.aspxover 90%/a, in a referendum overseen by international and local observers. However, in press stories like this one under the title “voters views” it has a href=http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-25739477only one perspective/a, one voice, that of a young woman who has decided to boycott the elections unlike their coverage of the 2012 constitution which at least present the pro-Muslim Brotherhood stance as well as opposing perspectives.nbsp; /p pThe politics of omission become particularly conspicuous when discussing the political environment in which the constitutional referendum was playing out. Western attention has pointed, rightly so, to the fact that the political opponents were denied the freedom to openly advocate a no vote among the people and were subjected to police harassment. However, a href=http://mideastafrica.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/01/14/egyptians_vote_in_key_constitution_referendum_amid_tensionsthis report/a and a href=http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/17/world/middleeast/egypt-constitution-nears-passage-as-authorities-step-up-crackdown-.html?rref=worldamp;module=ArrowsNavamp;contentCollection=Asia%20Pacificamp;action=keypressamp;region=FixedLeftamp;pgtype=articleamp;_r=1others/a have failed to mention the a href=http://gate.ahram.org.eg/News/443409.aspxviolence/a that voters have experienced in some parts of the country at the hands of pro-Morsi factions. In the village of el Nahya in the governorate of Giza, the Muslim Brotherhood actively blocked people’s access to the polling stations and tried to a href=http://gate.ahram.org.eg/News/443409.aspxburn the ballot boxes/a, ending in clashes with the security. While such violence does not absolve the security from the unrestrained force that they use against the opposition, it does however, challenge the image of a brute police state systematically cracking down at a peaceful group of protestors. This is but one example. /p pThere is no predicting whether Egypt will pursue a path of democratization. The favourable endorsement of the constitution is not a signal that things will necessarily get better, they are not a predictor of the mood on the streets in future. However, when coverage of the constitutional referendum becomes almost a href=http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/15/egyptians-vote-referendum-constitution-muslim-brotherhood-morsi-violenceexclusively focused/a on one segment of the population- the Muslim Brothers - and the voices of millions is simply obscured from the narrative of what is going on, it can only generate a disconnect from the pulse on the ground. Undoubtedly, there is a need to press against majoritarian rule that negates the agency of a political minority (the Brothers) and the intention here is not to justify human rights abuses. However, the negation of the rest of the population’s agency and people’s will only serve to make things worse: it creates the conditions for the intensification of ultra-nationalist voices that associate the western negation of voice with their non-recognition of the revolution of 30th of June, 2013. It also makes it harder for local human rights advocates and activists to press the government for accountability for its human rights record because they have to contend with a discourse that points to the west’s double standards in whose rights and voices count. /ppemAlso read Heather McRobie's article/em: a href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/heather-mcrobie/egypt-tale-of-two-constitutionsEgypt: a tale of two constitutionsnbsp; /a/p pnbsp;/p pnbsp;/p pnbsp;/p pnbsp;/p pnbsp;/p pnbsp;/p pnbsp;/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/5050/heather-mcrobie/egypt-tale-of-two-constitutionsEgypt: a tale of two constitutions/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/mariz-tadros/egypt-islamization-of-state-policyEgypt: the Islamization of state policy /a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/5050/zainab-magdy/egyptian-women-performing-in-margin-revolting-in-centreEgyptian women: performing in the margin, revolting in the centre/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/mariz-tadros/opportunities-and-pitfalls-in-egypt%E2%80%99s-roadmapOpportunities and pitfalls in Egypt’s roadmap/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/5050/heather-mcrobie/diary-of-constitutional-crisisDiary of a constitutional crisis/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/zainab-magdy/feminism-of-patriarchy-in-egyptThe #039;feminism#039; of patriarchy in Egypt/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/5050/rawia-m-tawfik-amer/egypt-back-to-military-despotismEgypt: back to military despotism? /a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/hania-sholkamy/from-tahrir-square-to-my-kitchenFrom Tahrir square to my kitchen/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/5050/zoe-holman/state-complicity-in-sexual-abuse-of-women-in-cairoState complicity in the sexual abuse of women in Cairo/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/mariz-tadros/egypt-politics-of-sexual-violence-in-protest-spacesEgypt: the politics of sexual violence in protest spaces/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/5050/leila-zaki-chakravarti/performing-masculinity-football-ultras-in-post-revolutionary-egyptPerforming masculinity: the football ultras in post-revolutionary Egypt/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/leila-zaki-chakravarti/chez-morsi-palace-petitioners-and-street-entrepreneurs-in-post-mubarak-eChez Morsi : palace petitioners and street entrepreneurs in post-Mubarak Egypt/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/5050/karima-bennoune/algeria-real-lessons-for-egyptAlgeria: the real lessons for Egypt/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/mariz-tadros/mutilating-bodies-muslim-brotherhood%E2%80%99s-gift-to-egyptian-womenMutilating bodies: the Muslim Brotherhood’s gift to Egyptian women/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/audio/5050/afaf_el_sayyedInside the Muslim Brotherhood: quot;living the other side of existencequot;/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/mariz-tadros/signs-of-islamist-fascism-in-egyptSigns of Islamist fascism in Egypt? /a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/5050/deniz-kandiyoti/fear-and-fury-women-and-post-revolutionary-violenceFear and fury: women and post-revolutionary violence/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/hania-sholkamy/egypt-will-there-be-place-for-womens-human-rightsEgypt: will there be a place for women#039;s human rights? /a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/5050/nelly-van-doorn-harder/egypt-does-revolution-include-coptsEgypt: does the revolution include the Copts?/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/5050/mariz-tadros/perilous-slide-towards-islamist-dictatorship-in-egyptThe perilous slide: towards an Islamist dictatorship in Egypt?/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Egypt /div /div /div div class=field field-topics div class=field-labelTopics:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Civil society /div div class=field-item even Democracy and government /div div class=field-item odd Equality /div /div /div

The UK is flooded in climate silence

ven, 01/17/2014 - 4:52am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pThe last time there were major floods in the UK, they were met with climate change marches and demands for action. Now, one victim of the floods asks if a climate silence has descended on Britain./p /div /div /div pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/w4f3E9b8tVqeRKWRlp-dMs6xwIwDD7kR_1-PV1_NsSI/mtime:1390034213/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/552765/jamie-flood1.jpg rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/OJVvSfC2_c2tpcSZaJOGEd1_-Qah0Y8LRJvTWaV42BQ/mtime:1390034184/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/552765/jamie-flood1.jpg alt= title= width=400 height=331 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'the author/span/span/span/ppFor the past week wellies have been the shoe-wear of choice in our neighbourhood, but this has been an exceptional week or has it? My wife, Eve, two small kids and I have been forced to leave our home by the floods that hit central Oxford. Floods of this scale are meant to happen once every 100 years. Yet this is the third (and highest) such flood in six years./p pWe call a houseboat home and the unprecedented river levels meant our front path turned into a chest high river. Whilst our home simply rose with the water, getting the children on and off didn’t feel safe so we decided to find steadier accommodation. After a string of emails and facebook posts to friends and family we managed to coordinate a series of three homes we could ‘sit’ while their occupants were away. For the children an exciting adventure has turned into repeated cries of ‘I want to go home’ interspersed by repeated packing and unpacking. For Eve and I life seems to be on hold, living out of bags and constantly unsettled./p pWhena href=http://youtu.be/Jhsq_ZmJehk I spoke to my neighbours/a living on the adjacent estate of council housing, relocating seemed like a relatively easy option. Their lives have been massively disrupted. Sandbags lined the entrance to dozens of houses, many of which had pumps working day and night to keep the water from rising into their rooms. Families in the area were unable to use their toilets or have a shower for days because the flood waters had blocked the drains. Portaloos were brought in by the council./p pTwo of the main roads that run into the city, and bisect the community, were closed off as they were under water, creating a disconcerting calmness in an area normally full of traffic. The local school and nursery was closed, many people couldn’t get to work. A vibrant urban community had been turned on it’s head./p pEveryone I spoke with said this was the worst flood ever to hit the area, Dot who had lived in the same house for 80 years agreed she’d never seen anything like it. Young and old all said it was making life very difficult and that these events were becoming more common. /p pWhen I looked at the newspapers vast swathes of the USA were suffering from some of the coldest weather on record, whilst in Scandinavia the winter has been unusually warm./p pFor me this experience and the extreme weather around the world fits the pattern predicted by climate change but I seemed disconcertingly alone in saying this out loud. a href=http://www.climateoutreach.org.uk/flooding-and-climate-change-personal-stories/Floods%20and%20Climate%20ChangeI interviewed local people, some of whom saw a clear connection but many of whom didn’t./a Flooding seemed to be the only topic on the local BBC radio station but climate change was never mentioned, the ‘Greenest Government ever’ struggled to be clear on the link and meteorologists appeared to be uncertain as to whether there was a connection when asked belatedly agreeing there was. Not even the environmental charities or Green Party focused on the link. Aa href=http://www.climateoutreach.org.uk/portfolio-item/climate-silence-and-how-to-break-it/ climate silence/a does appear to have taken over./p pHow different to the previous record flood in Oxford during the summer of 2007. Similar events took place and were met by climate change headlines in the media, climate change statements by politicians of all hues and community marches demanding climate action./p pThis worries me deeply as I believe the world’s scientists when they say climate change is a real and a very pressing global threat on a magnitude that dwarfs anything else we have seen. But it makes me ask why this is the case, why is there a a href=http://www.climateoutreach.org.uk/portfolio-item/climate-silence-and-how-to-break-it/climate silence/a?/p pMany will say it is vested interests promoting skeptical voices and pseudo science to prevent real and meaningful climate action in the same way as the tobacco industry for years successfully sowed doubt and fought off legislation around smoking. Undoubtedly there is a large element of truth in this and I strongly believe we need to counter these efforts. But having spent year working with young people from very mixed backgrounds around these issues it seems to me that this is only one explanation./p pClimate change has become a polarising issue up there with politics and religion as not being fit for discussion in polite company. It is largely accepted that on the right of politics climate change is a toxic issue but climate silence has even permeated even traditional advocates./p pDuring the floods I met up with friends who fit firmly within the environmentalist label. Whilst they recognised that climate change was a massive issue and many had campaigned on climate change in the past, none of them when asked said they discussed let alone campaigned on it now. Reasons for this included ‘it’s depressing’ and ‘we can’t fix it’ countering instead they were putting their efforts into community based projects. Whilst I see these as very worthwhile I suggested that ignoring climate change won’t fix a problem that could override all their admirable work./p pTo generate the local, national and international action necessary to tackle the issue we need to break this deadlock. We need to ensure people can relate to climate change, they see it an issue that is relevant to them, they can see a positive future in which we can all participate./p pClimate change needs to move into the collective morals of populations in the same way as the NHS is or free education. Trying to undermine these national treasures is akin to political or social suicide in most situations. More recently the nation was mobilised to invest billions into the Olympics, a one-off sporting two week event./p pOur challenge is to break the a href=http://www.climateoutreach.org.uk/portfolio-item/climate-silence-and-how-to-break-it/climate silence/a and generate the same level of societal support for climate change on an ongoing basis. We need to connect to people’s morals and sense of justice by building empowering narratives and frames, climate stories, that work for all./p pbr /strong id=docs-internal-guid-600d8b14-9632-cde5-fe0e-cf99c5493d5dspanLiked this piece? Please donate to OurKingdom /spana href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donatespanhere /span/aspanto help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you./span/strong /pdiv class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd UK /div /div /div

Time to re-introduce nature's flood management engineer - the beaver

ven, 01/17/2014 - 4:52am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pAs climate change brings more rain, Britain is suffering from the extinction here of our native flood engineers - the beaver. One reintroduction project in Scotland is showing this week why they are so important./p /div /div /div pThe UK is drenched in flood waters again. With a changing climate meaning this will become a more and more frequent phenomenon, we're going to have to start to think more seriously about how to stop heavy rainfall from soaking people out of their homes and rotting fields of valuable crops. /ppThere used to be a creature in Britain which helped significantly with this effort. It was made extinct here around four centuries ago, but recent reintroductions of this rodent have shown the vital role they once had in reducing flooding – and how they could take up that mantle once more./p pIn spite of their reputation for causing floods, beavers also have the capacity for mitigating the impact of flooding, but on a rather bigger scale. /p pHere’s an example to illustrate the point. Some beavers were brought to a farm in the Tay catchment to live in large enclosures in 2002, as a demonstration project./ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/iJ9ztYiOijaT5aWBhbs37nyn0_3kyE8qX-qAowKfGq8/mtime:1389684547/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550254/beaver%20dam.JPG rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/ADugVSVGZWJ4d_nh3FjtgvQF6dm8H6HodneD7bO5dR8/mtime:1389684545/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/550254/beaver%20dam.JPG alt= title= width=400 height=533 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'a beaver dam on the farm in Perthshire, holding back water - beaversatbamff.blogspot.co.uk/span/span/span/p pBefore there were beavers, across most of the flat land there was a five foot deep ditch running through. In dry times the ditch had very little water in it. In rainy times, and times of rapid snowmelt the water rushed down the ditch and tipped out into the burn that flowed down the little den and on to the neighbouring land. All that water headed quickly on its way through the agricultural land to the east, and on down the burn and into the Isla and then the Tay. In January 1993, when a fast thaw followed a big freeze, the Tay flooded its banks downstream at Perth and caused widespread damage to homes and great misery to many. Since then floodwalls have been built in Perth and there hasn’t been another flooding incident yet, but the water has come close to the top of the wall on a number of occasions. Other parts of low-ground Perthshire continue to suffer regular flooding. /ppThe beavers on the farm got established and started breeding by 2005. Over time they built, perhaps thirty dams and as a result they are holding up thousands of tonnes of water at the moment, as almost relentless rain has fallen in the last month. /ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/jVCPxLTa1z42gJoUIRT7VHQ3YyCPGQs7kubIxPlwKxM/mtime:1390034210/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550254/dam%203.jpg rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/CaCoJmdzB4ihNTlYHUIxzkZ33ZsYvCbrH_SBINO57-g/mtime:1390034183/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/550254/dam%203.jpg alt= title= width=400 height=602 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'This dam alone is around 100m long, and holding back many tonnes of water beaversatbamff.blogspot.co.uk/span/span/span/ppJust beyond the ditch there are two ponds that were dug in the 19th century for recreational use. By thirty years ago they were starting to dry out and one of them had become more of a wetland than a pond, and not a very wet wetland at that. The pond had shrunk and was heading the same way. The beavers, released into the pond, began by building up the barrage to increase the height of the water. Then when water started to overflow it they dammed the overflow in many places, creating a series of terraced pools. Looked at from a drought mitigation point of view there would be no question that the beavers have made the low-ground a wetter place than it used to be with plenty of water for livestock even in the driest summer. But it is clear to see that if this pattern were repeated in similar places all over the Tay catchment (or any river catchment) then in times of heavy rain or sudden snowmelt, the water rushing down from the highlands would be slowed up and absorbed more effectively by the large ponds, wetlands and streams with flights of beaver dams, than by deep cut ditches designed to channel water as fast as possible on to the next place. /ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/xPa-gOhxrfP_ycT3xRrOTijhAIUkLgE_5g14k4kNNMM/mtime:1389684547/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550254/beaver%20pond.JPG rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/HrwX879ey6nv20CUV51-gQKCOUTDv3PEdSTQmBF_MJ0/mtime:1389684546/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/550254/beaver%20pond.JPG alt= title= width=400 height=266 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'the pond held back by a beaver dam - beaversatbamff.blogspot.co.uk/span/span/span/p pA flood, of course, is a pond in the wrong place. And beavers don’t always put their ponds in the right place. Sometimes they decide to put them in someone’s garden, or over a road. In cases like that they are not seen a flood mitigators, rather as flood creators. But the point is that, by creating multiple small floods, ponds, pools and wetlands upstream, they can help to mitigate bigger floods downstream. And small floods made by beavers in inconvenient places can be reduced or drained in various ways. Dams can be removed or modified. Whereas large floods cannot be so easily dealt with and may cause widespread problems. /ppAlong with floodwaters goes sediment, and this becomes a serious pollutant once it reaches the cities and the sea, clogging drains and damaging marine life. Beaver dams hold back sediment to a hugely significant extent, as shown by studies done a href=http://www.wou.edu/las/physci/taylor/g407/butler_mallanson_2005_MACNAB.pdfin Texas/a and a href=http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2013EGUGA..15.2640NBelgium/a. (The two species, Eurasian and North American are shown to have much the same impact). /p pWith increasing climatic uncertainty it is going to be necessary to take some land in the former floodplains out of agricultural use and restore old oxbow lakes and wetlands to allow the absorption of floodwaters and sediment in times of spate. As George Monbiot is a href=http://www.monbiot.com/2014/01/13/drowning-in-money/quite right to point out/a, how upstream land is managed has a vital role in determining whether or not there are floods downstream. The way to stop water from flooding houses (alongside not trashing the climate) is to stop it from running so quickly off the hills. For thousands of years, British beavers contributed enormously to this work. It's time that we allowed them to once more./ppspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/zwuVzxsx_29zbXuMRa3YcoFK7UXQeKN3zsFnd3XRIAM/mtime:1389684547/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550254/beaverkit.JPG rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/0ikAZZIaAh_cKuh-LAZGXvvQNERftXcbH5PVksrs_Cg/mtime:1389684546/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/550254/beaverkit.JPG alt= title= width=400 height=297 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'beaversatbamff.blogspot.co.uk/span/span/span/ppemstrongspanLiked this piece? Please donate to OurKingdom /spana href=http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/donatespanhere /span/aspanto help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you./span/strong/em/pdiv class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd UK /div /div /div div class=field field-rights div class=field-labelRights:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Creative Commons /div /div /div

Cameron's government sided with the speculators - and lost

ven, 01/17/2014 - 4:51am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pIn the teeth of oppostion from the British government, the EU has agreed regulations to curb gambling on food prices./p /div /div /div pspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/AN7MIobS4mUH9Vbb6OclqYSv2KLHhdVs0GtbhcLJaig/mtime:1389969423/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/552765/stopfoodspeculation.jpg rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/P3xsg2Pp02yoMRMI3pG9Eq_OGa0gDnY5baPaTuV1p4s/mtime:1389969393/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/552765/stopfoodspeculation.jpg alt= title= width=303 height=166 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'image - WDM/span/span/span/ppOn Tuesday night a historic agreement was reached in Brussels which will curb the ability of banks and hedge funds to speculate on food prices. It’s a success in the battle to reclaim our society from finance. But once again, the British government stood firmly on the side of the banks. /ppThe snappily titled Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II (‘MiFID’) attempts to clamp down on the sort of ‘dark trading’ in financial instruments that represented the high point of ‘out of control’ finance. So-called ‘high frequency trading’, using computer algorithms to make decisions on data measured in the microsecond, has been given a regulatory framework. Investors get better protection against being conned by toxic products of big finance. /p pBut the real victory for campaigners is the new restriction on trading in food (and other) commodities. ‘Food speculation’ has been the focus of campaigns in Britain and elsewhere, and has caught the public interest during a period when the global and domestic effects of food price volatility have been all too apparent. The new European rules will reduce speculation on food prices by introducing ‘position limits’, curbing the ability of large financial institutions to control the market. /p pThis is important because the market in food contracts is awash with speculative capital – to the point that speculation is a major cause of volatile food prices globally. /p pIn other words, banks and hedge funds, which have no role in the production, manufacture or distribution of food, are driving up food prices, feeding into the sort of food crisis the world saw in 2008. One fund manager told the US Senate in 2008 “Most of the [food contract] business is now speculation – I would say 70-80%./p pGoldman Sachs, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley together made an estimated £2.2 billion from speculating on food between 2010 and 2012. And at the end of last year, the spana href=http://www.wdm.org.uk/World Development Movement/a/span estimated that UK pension funds bet around £1.5 billion on food prices, meaning that around £180 belonging to the average UK pension saver is being used to speculate on global food prices. /p pNot a penny of the billions of pounds pouring into food commodity markets goes towards improving food production, so this money is not ‘investment’. Speculation is better described as financial gambling. At the excessive levels it has reached, it has no function but to make banks and hedge funds a quick and easy profit./p pSudden spikes in the price of basic foods affect people everywhere. But while households in ‘developed’ countries tend to spend between 10 and 15 per cent of their incomes on food, many households in ‘developing’ countries spend between 50 and 90 per cent. When the price of a staple food doubles, the consequences are disastrous. /p pAnything which curbs this trade is to be welcomed. The new regulation is not a revolution, and it contains serious loopholes. But it is a step in the right direction that, like the US’ Frank-Dodd Act (2010), begins to unwind the unquestioned deregulation of finance since the mid-1980s, driven by banks like Goldman Sachs. /p pA core reason the European regulation is not tougher is the position of the British government. The government has opposed regulation from the beginning, believing that the speculators are better left to their own discretion and good sense. The Treasury opposed position limits throughout the three and a half years which this regulation has been held up in discussion – years in which speculation has continued to fuel high food prices and contribute to the global hunger crisis/p pLast week the World Development Movement disclosed information on a series of meetings from 2010 onwards held by then Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mark Hoban, urging finance companies to lobby against the proposed regulation. Hoban and other Treasury ministers encouraged the City to coordinate lobbying efforts with the Treasury, and travelled around Europe to persuade other governments to join with them. /p pOne result of this lobbying is that the limits on food speculation will be set nationally rather than at an EU level, something which risks a ‘race to the bottom’ as countries could compete to set weaker limits./p pBefore the new regulation comes into force, it must be incorporated into law in each of the 28 EU member states. As has happened in the US, which was first to legislate to curb speculation, there will no doubt be further lobbying from the finance sector and its friends in government. Campaigners are urging the European regulator ESMA to make sure the new rules are implemented effectively./p p So we’ve moved in the right direction, but the battle to reclaim our society from finance continues. Once again, Cameron has shown the British public where he stands on this issue./pdiv class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd UK /div /div /div

Iran and the Arab world: a change in foreign policy

jeu, 01/16/2014 - 3:57pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pimg src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/FFzjzU1Hy9Od1_xz2-jKf25CyKeayArQvZAqgxaOd5c/mtime:1389972826/files/Maged%20Pic%20%281%29_0.jpg alt=Maged Mandour hspace=5 width=80 align=right //ppIran has lost a significant component of its soft power in the Middle East. No longer viewed as a Muslim nation, it is regarded as a Shiite nation. This might be very costly for Iran in the long run.nbsp;/p /div /div /div pEver since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has been following a foreign policy that a number of observers have called “radical”, sometimes even “extremist”. Iran was cast aside as an irrational actor, driven by religious zeal and ideological extremism to extend the grip of religious fundamentalism across the Middle East. Iran was sometimes compared to the Soviet Union, the prime example of the “evil empire” archetype, both regimes having been born out of great social revolutions, and both actively supporting similarly minded, anti-western, actors abroad. But a fundamental shift has occurred in Iranian foreign policy with its decision for heavy involvement in the Syrian civil war./p pPrior to 1979, the Shah, as a client regime of the United States - on which Iran was heavily reliant for survival at the time - allowed Iran to act as a pillar for American foreign policy in the region. Iran found itself in the same camp as Saudi Arabia, facing the tide of Arab nationalism that threatened American goals in the region. One only needs to remember Iranian support for the Yemeni Royals during the Yemeni civil war, as well as, the Iranian intervention in Oman, which alienated the Arab masses. Iranian foreign policy at the time aimed at stopping the tide of progressive and radical forces that were sweeping the Middle East./p pAfter 1979, the situation altered. The left wing of the Islamic revolution, led by Ayatollah Montazeri, initiated a policy of supporting radical allies abroad, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. This policy was not just driven by ideological zeal, as some might argue, it was also driven by the desire to create inroads into the Arab world to increase Iranian prestige and soft power in the region. Iran became one of the strongest supporters of the Palestinian cause, sometimes taking more radical stances than the now de-radicalized Palestinian leadership. The aim was to transcend the isolation imposed on Iran as a Persian Shiite state surrounded by Arab Sunni neighbors, an isolation that arguably dates back to 1501 when Iran was converted from Sunnism to Shiisim under the Safavid./p pUntil the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Iran was relatively successful in bridging the gap. Iran, together with regional allies like Hezbollah, was seen as a bastion of resistance against imperialism. Numerous Arab nationals wished their governments would adopt similar foreign policies to Iran. Iran was no longer seen as a Shiite state - rather as a Muslim state that supported the Palestinians and opposed American imperialism. The Pan-Islamic rhetoric employed by Iran seemed effective. There was even Arab popular support for Iran to produce nuclear weapons and act as a deterrent against the vast nuclear weapon arsenal that Israel possesses. Iran finally became the “good guy”./p pThis perception of Iran withstood the bloody sectarian strife in Iraq, as it was not seen to be directly intervening in the conflict defending the Shiite population. This put it in an advantageous position, especially after the elimination of its main regional rivals by the American military; namely the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. Iran seemed to be poised to take a historical step in spreading its hegemony on an unprecedented scale over its neighbourly Sunni Arab populations. This however has not occurred./p pThe relationship between Iran and the Syrian regime is both deep and historic; it is enough to note that Syria supported Iran against Iraq during the first Gulf War, while all the Arab states supported Iraq. From this perspective, Iranian support for the Syrian regime is understandable. Syria is not only a close regional ally, it also gives Iran strategic depth in the Levant. Syria is also an ally of Hezbollah, which is also a close ally of Iran.nbsp;spanThe support for Assad allows Iran to apply pressure on the United States for recognition as a regional powerhouse and an important player in the region. Iran wants to reclaim its international position and hopes that its continuous support for Assad will allow it to do so. This has yet to occur, as Iran has yet to be invited to the international peace conference on the Syrian crisis due to be held in Geneva./span/p pFurthermore, Iran has lost the sympathy of a large mass of Sunni Arabs who now see it as a Persian Shiite State, supporting the Shiites in a sectarian war. The increased sectarian nature of the Arab revolutions, mainly due to the Syrian civil war, has placed Iran in a role it had hoped to avoid. /p pIran has also lost a large part of its investment in the Palestinian cause, which it used as a bulldozer to clear its way into the heartlands of the Arab world. This is due to a number of reasons. First, with the advent of the Arab revolutions, the Palestinian cause is no longer the premier cause in the Middle East. Second, Hamas - the Arab Sunni ally of Iran - has distanced itself deliberately from both the Syrian regime and the Islamic Republic. Hamas meanwhile has been under severe attack by the Egyptian military-backed government, which accuses them of allying with Iran in order to destroy the Egyptian state; a demonization campaign that Hamas has been trying to avoid. This significantly reduces the ability of Iran to make inroads into the Arab world. It turns support for the Palestinian cause into at best a tool for domestic consumption, and domestic legitimacy building, rather than a tool for enhancing Iranian prestige abroad./pp All in all, one can safely argue, that Iranian involvement in the Syrian civil war on such a wide scale has damaged Iranian soft power in the Arab world. Iran hasnbsp;spantacticallynbsp;/spanspangained: it can potentially be included in drawing up the future of Syria and appears to have achieved recognition from the United States as a regional powerhouse that can no longer be ignored. However, Iran has lost a significant component of its soft power. This might cost Iran heavily in the long run. With its support for Assad, it has also significantly prolonged the conflict, possibly leading to the destabilization of neighbouring countries across sectarian lines; andnbsp;/spanspanas these lines become deeper and Iranian Shiism become more prominent,/spanspannbsp;it is very likely that the isolation of Iran will be expedited. nbsp; nbsp; nbsp; nbsp; nbsp; nbsp;/span/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/maged-mandour/de-radicalisation-of-iranian-foreign-policyDe-radicalisation of Iranian foreign policy /a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Iran /div div class=field-item even Syria /div /div /div

Lebanon: a year which promises little but foreboding?

jeu, 01/16/2014 - 3:10pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pimg src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/pDq1_XVPnujFrtNK0qaOtq9YJ78qdvSzp2875vxrSCw/mtime:1389954822/files/Mackreath.jpg border=10 alt= hspace=10 height=80 align=left /The feeling of being hamstrung by international events both out of their control but with direct consequences, combined with domestic political stalemate and factionalism, is all too familiar.nbsp;/p /div /div /div pPeople stayed off the streets to welcome in the New Year in Lebanon, deterred by the car bomb in central downtown a few days earlier, or perhaps unwilling to celebrate the arrival of a year which promises little but foreboding. This time last year Lebanon’s involvement in the Syrian conflict was still being fiercely denied but, a year on, it is now widely accepted that most of the country has become immersed in the turmoil./p p‘Most of the country’ still remains an inaccurate statement on a geographically fractured Lebanon. Lebanese Sunni militants now regularly engage in violent clashes with pro-Assad Shiite and Alawite rivals in geographical hotspots such as the southern city of Saida and the eastern Bekaa Valley, as well as the northern city of Tripoli, which has been perpetually unstable for the past two years. /ppThe north and border regions of the country have collapsed into limbo areas of unrest as refugees, soldiers and arms regularly cross arbitrary borders and civilians fear attack from the air regardless of their nationality. The car bombs which devastated the southern suburbs of Beirut and Tripoli during the summer of last year, and the suicide bomb attack to target the Iranian embassy in November, were regarded by most as attacks specifically against Hezbollah, seen as a entity ‘separate’ from the state, in geographical and ideological terms. These attacks, widely believed to be perpetrated by Sunni radicals, were aimed at forcing Hezbollah to withdraw their support from Syrian President Bashar Assad, who they publicly confirmed they would assist last May. Whilst causing devastating loss of life, they were still seen by some as geographically isolated.nbsp; /p pBut the a href=http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/beirut-bomb-blast-kills-six-including-antiassad-exminister-9027038.htmlassassination of anti-Assad minister Mohammad Shatah/a in the central Downtown district of Beirut on 27 December, widens the threat of violence to new actors, and has opened the possibility of hitherto relatively peripheral attacks becoming increasingly centralised. Before the assassination, central Beirut, still rumbling with the noise of construction and the advertised promise of a bright future, had remained relatively isolated from direct violence. Now, even as it reels from that deadly warning, it continues its pretensions to normalcy, but is increasingly self-conscious doing so. /p pThe view from an individual perspective in Lebanon, which will necessarily differ according to where one is living, is a foggy one, obscured by political stalemate, inflamed by sectarian competition and the impact of indirect international prevarication over Syria. The individual is, again, victim both to unfavourable geopolitical influences on the country and its own domestic complexities./p pDomestically, political stalemate is entrenched. There is currently no middle ground between the effectively oligarchic system of politicians at the ‘top’ of the political chain, and the numbers of private individuals and groups, largely operating along sectarian agendas, taking violent action at the ‘bottom’ end of the chain; the Lebanese citizen is stuck between a rock and a hard place with little real democratic power. /ppWhile proposals for a new ‘all-embracing’ cabinet formation have been announced, which represent a slight weakening of the political paralysis, they are yet to gain the support of all ministers. The Sunni population remain the key group here. Essentially politically leaderless since the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, private individuals, mostly fundamentalist leaders, have filled the political vacuum. /ppThe mainstream Sunni community in Lebanon today has few unifying political options and the increasing numbers of Lebanese Sunni militants, coupled with continuing Hezbollah dominance over the state, economic fragility, and increasing resentment at the neutral Lebanese Army, continues to exacerbate tensions. That the car bomb attacks directed against Hezbollah - nbsp;the latest in Beirut’s suburbs on January 2 in response to the Shatah assassination - appear to have been the work of Sunni extremist groups has prompted analysts to voice concerns about their increasing strength, and potential for larger-scale militancy. With politics at the ‘state’ level effectively nonexistent, and Hezbollah (acting as another ‘state’ entity) distracted in Syria, there is currently little to stop nonstate groups taking free reign in Lebanon./p pGeopolitically, while Lebanon continues to host direct proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran (through the Sunni community and Hezbollah) and, indirectly, the US and Russia in Syria, there are signs that the west may be losing patience over its inability to take a domestic political rapprochement seriously. According to reports, the Belgian foreign minister, Didier Reyners has a href=http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Opinion/Columnist/2014/Jan-09/243501-lebanon-is-hearing-the-alarm-bells.ashx#axzz2qSviF7bRwarned/a Lebanon that international interest in the country was declining, a stance which poses particular questions over the numbers of UNIFIL international troops currently stationed in the country. /p pAs if to make up for political interference, the international community is attempting to exert itself in other ways by wrapping its legal and humanitarian arms around the country. But many in Lebanon remain unconvinced. People may respect the intentions of the trial of the a href=http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Special-Tribunal-for-Lebanon-to-try-Hezbollah-defendants-for-Hariri-assassination-338052Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague/a to try four Hezbollah men, accused of perpetrating the Hariri assassination in 2005, due to start this week. But they are cynical about the actuality of the perpetrators being convicted and appropriately punished. /ppDecades of unsolved kidnapping and murder during the civil war, alongside later political assassinations never brought to court, have given the Lebanese little faith in legal practice. Similar cynicism pervades the international humanitarian response to the refugee crisis which, while supportive of providing financial assistance to refugees in Lebanon, has not extended to opening doors to those fleeing the Syrian implosion. 64,000 refugees have sought asylum in Europe (2.4 per cent of the exodus), mostly in Germany and Sweden. To date, five hundred have been accepted in France, 10 in Hungary, 90 in Ireland, and none in the UK. The burden of providing assistance is a heavy one for Lebanon, where Syrian refugees represent roughly a quarter of the population. Here, they can deservedly feel let down by the international community’s response. /p pThe feeling of being hamstrung by international events both out of their control but with direct consequences, combined with domestic political stalemate and factionalism, is all too familiar. Sitting tight and hoping that one, or both, of these levels will firstly prioritise Lebanese cohesion and secondly inspire it, remains top of the New Year wish list for most people in Lebanon./pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/arab-awakening/helen-mackreath/lebanon-in-turmoilLebanon in turmoil/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Lebanon /div /div /div

Personal responsibility lost in Hitchens v Perry debate

jeu, 01/16/2014 - 2:16pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pWatching the enthrenchednbsp;a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wnwXNQdzEk target=_blankNewsnight/a argument between Matthew Perry and Peter Hitchens, I found myself agreeing with some of what Hitchens had to say. Not on the ‘war on drugs’ - but that there is no real medical evidence for this thing we call addiction./p /div /div /div p dir=ltrI am someone who has spent many years in addiction and recovery. My subjective experience has led me through being named and shamed as an addict in a local paper at 18 years old, being pronounced a chronic addict by a doctor at age 19, several residential rehabs over 10 years and many other ‘badges of honour’ to the addict. /pp dir=ltrI have followed and failed harm reduction programmes, and abstinence programmes, and was an active member of both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous for several years until I decided they weren’t for me. I left those fellowships to begin training as a psychotherapist, but, I must add, only felt confident to make that decision due to the significant ‘clean’ time I’d gained as a member of those fellowships./pp dir=ltrAA and NA are for hopeless cases; people who have lost any belief in themselves. At their best they provide a practical and spiritual solution to a problem that often defies medical and penal intervention. It makes complete sense that, to someone who has for years handed their sense of will-power over to the pursuit of intoxication, the solution is to hand it over to something else; something that they can believe will save them from their vice. Handing over to another human is dangerous as humans are fallible, so the addict is encouraged to hand their will over to ‘the fellowship’ of their meeting or to a higher power. I’m not knocking that. As I had nothing to lose I threw myself into it and it worked for me for some time, until I built up enough confidence to begin questioning the scientific truth of it. And for me it lost its truth. /pp dir=ltrThe ‘addict’ has a build up of guilt and shame and resentments that their vice helped them to ignore. Patterns of behaviour and belief become well worn neural pathways in the brain and drug abuse causes problems with plasticity, making it harder to form new pathways, but not impossible. /pp dir=ltrspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/uDsUaCFaOrRQUMbC2v72EmIKNgH1vSWsSan_zDi437Q/mtime:1389897414/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550565/898954_0.jpg rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/sZj_RBkT_oOVnszxSLcwXH5aWAnHpJi1TSoKVyzqGWo/mtime:1389897758/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/550565/898954_0.jpg alt= title= width=240 height=297 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Addict, Demotix/ James Njuguna Mwaura. All rights reserved/span/span/span/pp dir=ltrAlthough throughout history there have been people obsessed by intoxication, the word addict, which would originally have been reserved for severe cases of physical drug dependence, has become a label for many types of behaviour. The archetype of the addict has become dominant in our culture of excess and greedy profit. It’s connected to dissociation and desensitisation which have become a normal part of our society. Think people with headphones on staring at mobile phones, or even just spending chunks of time on video games or television. Think also of politicians obsessed with creating personal wealth to the detriment of the people they promised to serve, so blinded by money and power that they will do whatever the corporations ask of them. Where once we had religion, or spiritual practices, we, as a society, have lost meaning and direction./pp dir=ltrThe ‘drug addict’ is someone who has taken those values and applied them to substances that don't have the same appeal to others. Often there is an unconscious desire for personal transformation which gets placed on the vice of choice. The addict wants to change themselves and the only option that seems available is the drug, which may have once given them the desired results. Of course there is much more to it than that. Each addict has their own personal set of circumstances and nuanced reasons behind getting involved with drugs, and their descent into anti-society. I might add that automatically being labelled a criminal perpetuates the anti-social aspect to the addiction. /pp dir=ltrIn sociological terms when a collection of people who are generally unwilling to look at their darker sides find it easier to project those aspects onto a subset of that society the Jungian concept of the shadow is played out. The non-addicts get to ignore some of their own issues as they are more noticeably acted out by the addicts who have, for various psychological reasons, identified with and taken on that role. This is perpetuated by the mainstream media who have a fascination with sensationalised stories of addiction. This is similar to when the shadow gets cast onto other races, creeds, or sexualities, although I assume that Hitchens would argue addicts choose their predicament. I wouldn’t dispute that. It comes down to choice, but the people that make those choices and end up taking on the role of addict take it on due to psychological problems that would lead, if they didn’t use drugs, to other anti-social behaviours. Drug taking is not the cause of addiction, it is one symptom of personality traits or disorders. /pp dir=ltrPerry made the claim that addiction is an allergy. There is no scientific evidence for this. However, in early recovery the allergy metaphor can be useful for explaining to an addict why, after days or years of abstinence, tasting even a tiny dose of something psychoactive will cause them to feel compelled to take more. In my experience it’s about boundaries, and when I know I’ve crossed a line I find it hard to reset that boundary. A physical reaction does occur, but that’s not surprising after years of finely tuning the body and mind to trigger reward circuitry from psychoactives. I would go as far as to say that a more powerful reaction can be set off when anticipating a relapse. The mix of fear and excitement, guilt, shame and expected momentary release are a heady dose in themselves. Think Pavlov’s dog after being locked in a box, expecting both an amazing treat and a severe beating when it’s eventually released./pp dir=ltrThis is why the word compulsion is often used. The addict’s brain circuitry connects all strong feelings with getting intoxicated, so the more they think about relapse the more they are triggering themselves to go in that direction. This is why a recovering addict needs friends and phone numbers, so they can break out of cycles of dangerous thinking by talking to someone who understands their needs./pp dir=ltrOne of the most useful things I learnt was that obsessing about relapse is such a selfish thing. Relapse is such a self obsessed act, that before I reach that point I need to find a way out of myself. It was suggested that I find ways to serve my community, which helped me stop feeling the shame that pervaded my early recovery. I did voluntary work for the elderly, and eventually got a job caring for others. I found that even just walking along the street and picking up litter (there’s always plenty of that) for half an hour would usually be enough to release me from a wave of drug obsession. I’m not suggesting that this method is a cure all for addiction, but it’s an example of the options available for someone desperate to create some new neural pathways, and stay clean another day. /pp dir=ltrThere are so many different views and arguments within the drug treatment community mainly between abstinence based advocates and those who see total abstinence as key to a href=http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/14659891.2011.580228 target=_selfrecovery/a. My recovery got easier when I stopped thinking of myself as an addict, and just someone who is better off finding more meaningful ways to approach life. I can’t say that I stayed clean since I left the fellowships. I had a lot to learn and now feel more able to notice and deal with the problems that led me to relapse. /pp dir=ltrWhat I noticed about the Hitchens debate is that every time he appears on a show like Newsnight, which had no intention of reaching a useful dialogue, he manages to polarise opinion. Regarding prohibition he has a stance that causes his opponents to so fiercely defend their position that the debate loses any meaning, and alternative positions are left unconsidered. Some addicts get what they want from NA, some from other abstinence based models, and others from harm-reduction. Some even find their own way out. Unfortunately the rest either die young or spend the rest of their lives trapped in the miserable addict paradigm./pp dir=ltrOn Hitchens' blog he relishes the moment that both Meacher and Perry fall into his 'elephant trap'./pp dir=ltremPeter Hitchens:/em nbsp;‘If this is what you believe, that this is a terrible frightening disease after which they cannot stop taking drugs. If you really believe that…’/pp dir=ltremMatthew Perry/em: ‘Yeah’/pp dir=ltremHitchens:/em Then you would presumably think that the best thing would be that they never ever came into contact with those drugs?'/pp dir=ltremBaroness Meacher and Perry (almost in chorus) :/em ‘Of course!’/pp dir=ltremHitchens:/emspan ‘…Wouldn’t it therefore be wise to deter them from doing so…'/span/pp dir=ltremMeacher :/emspan ‘Yes’/span/pp dir=ltremHitchens:/em ‘…by a stern and effective/pp dir=ltremMeacher/em: ‘No’/pp dir=ltrspanHitchens: ‘…criminal justice system, which actually persuaded them it was unwise to take the drugs in the first place.’/span/pp dir=ltrYes Peter, a nice bit of pantomime for Christmas. /pp dir=ltrI began taking drugs when I was thirteen years old. I knew I might get into trouble and that was part of the buzz. At that age I started sniffing glue and aerosols, as well as drinking and smoking weed. I now wonder if a jail sentence would have deterred me from those activities and, as the reason for doing those things was an increasing sense of alienation from the world, I'm sure prison would have only exacerbated that problem. You might say we should be trying harder to make sure all psychoactive substances are kept out of society, but you can't stop people sniffing household products, and you're less likely to stop people drinking alcohol which is no different. /ppWhat we can do is open up the debate. Not on whether getting intoxicated is good or bad, but on what we can do to help people behave more responsibly. Hitchens could make better use of his time telling people of the wonders of abstinence. I'd be with him on that one. The debate about responsibility should range from personal responsibility over our individual thoughts and actions, through to what every person can do for their community, and into what responsibility we hand over to others. When it comes to national and global responsibilty we seriously need to look at our collective dissociation and ways to overcome this. /pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/simon-g-powell/phony-warA phony war/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/marie/war-on-drug-users-familiesThe war on drug users#039; families/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-rights div class=field-labelRights:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Creative Commons /div /div /div

European austerity seeds governance alternatives

jeu, 01/16/2014 - 2:06pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd p class=Standard‘If representative democracy is only to choose every four, or five, or six years the person who’s going to do everything they want without taking popular will into account... we are in a sort of trap and I think that’s certainly the case today for Europe and elsewhere.’/p /div /div /div p class=Standardspan class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'a href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/OnmutsnsKt0CNFhx4RuwY8oynTlouJkzSnxEgpPNr0o/mtime:1389947548/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/537772/800px-EnricDuran_by_Zaradat_cc-by-sa_0.jpg rel=lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline] title=img src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/AE3K2_qqiHjVUutf86u1NQv-IJhzrKzZRxGzFUaUYrE/mtime:1389947533/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/537772/800px-EnricDuran_by_Zaradat_cc-by-sa_0.jpg alt=Enric Duran title= width=460 height=306 class=imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge style= //a span class='image_meta'span class='image_title'Enric Duran. Wikimedia/Zoraida Rosell. Some rights reserved./span/span/spanWhen Enric Duran stole nearly half a million euros from Spanish banks in 2008, it wasn’t really about the money. His act was more a two-fingered salute to global capitalism and its capture of representative democracy./p p class=StandardDespite the Robin Hood comparisons, the bearded Catalan didn’t hand the cash to victims of his target banks’ reckless lending. There wasn’t enough, in any case. He and his friends used it, instead, to explore different ways of doing society’s business./p p class=StandardFive years later Duran is on the run, though it seems he’s barely jogging. More important are the numbers joining Catalonia’s Integrated Cooperative, a grassroots counter-power movement seeking answers to the question dogging political thinkers and activists the world over. With today’s systems of government so in bed with business and money – just what are we to put in their place?/p h2Building alternativesnbsp;/h2 p class=StandardBarcelona’s Aurea Social seems too posh a place from which to plot a global revolution, let alone bring it into being. Less so when you find its occupants are under imminent threat of eviction. Tucked away near the towering spires of Gaudi’s Sagrada Família, the premises carry all the trappings of their intended design as an upmarket health clinic. The previous owners gave the keys to the cooperative before defaulting on their loans./p p class=StandardSo, while there is plenty of yoga on offer, the classes are open to all and jostle for space with fresh produce deliveries, film and theatre nights, health clinics, political meetings and much else./p p class=StandardAurea Social is one of hundreds of projects sprouting up under ‘la Cooperativa Integral Catalana’ or CIC, a sprawling, work-in-progress experiment in building alternatives to capitalism. My visit there was to meet some members including one of their number willing to translate a planned internet call with Duran, the man whose civil disobedience helped it all happen./p p class=StandardCarolina Zerpa, a Venezuelan mechanical engineering graduate, is busy sorting fresh vegetable trays in the foyer as I arrive. It’s part of her work, connecting the cooperative’s producers and consumers.nbsp;/p p class=StandardBefore I know it, I’ve volunteered to be a journalist embedded in revolutionary construction, helping cook lunch as Carolina explains how the place works./p p class=StandardCarolina has been at Aurea Social for sixteen months, coordinating its mosaic of workshops in return for a basic income paid in euros and the cooperative’s alternative eco currency. She brings experience and inspiration from the Trade School in New York, a project where students barter with teachers in return for classes./p h2A public cooperative/h2 p class=StandardWith nearly six in ten Spanish youth unemployed, bartering for skills offers a precious alternative to piling up student debt with scant prospect of getting paid work at the end. Learning how Aurea Social works is probably as important as the classes themselves./p p class=Standard‘People think public means it’s for free but it’s a public cooperative,’ she says. ‘You have to be involved in how this education system is going to work. This is what we are trying to do at Aurea Social.’ That applies to all who cross the threshold – even journalists. She explains: ‘If you want something – get involved. We don’t want to give people the mandarin already peeled. People love to be children and if there’s someone who’s a bit mother like, it’s very easy!’/p p class=StandardUp on Aurea Social’s roof-garden terrace, with beds of herbs, late-season tomatoes and peppers all around, Gorka, a Basque native who’s spent three years as part of the cooperative, explains the variety and extent of CIC activities. He says they include 400 or so projects to grow or make things, fifteen to twenty community projects and the same again dedicated to trading within Catalonia. Layers of assemblies and working groups coordinate relations between the largely autonomous nodes. Participants fare better or worse depending on how well they grasp skills including self-management, self-organization and ‘direct democracy’ decision- making.nbsp;/p p class=StandardWhat makes the CIC something of a cooperative with muscle is the preparedness of members to challenge existing power structures. That might mean illegally occupying buildings and land or pushing the boundaries of laws related to tax, currencies and cooperative legal structures. ‘We don’t accept the limits of the state and the market and the banks. We need disobedience if we want to overcome these limits,’ says Gorka./p h2Challenging a biased system/h2 p class=StandardWith lunch delivered, it’s time to hook up an internet call with Duran. For a man meant to be hiding, he’s pretty easy to track down. Language is a trickier barrier, so Carolina interprets./p p class=StandardDuran pulled out of his legal trials in February 2013. His ‘no show’ was a protest at being kept in the dark about court proceedings and not being allowed to choose his witnesses or defence lawyer. He says the system itself, laws included, is inherently biased towards banks in forgiving their bad debts while letting private individuals go bust./p p class=Standard‘Let’s say the issue is between me and the banks but the legal system is on the side of the banks,’ he/p p class=Standardsays via Carolina. The thirty-seven-year-old seems relaxed about the possibility of prison, his immediate destination should he be caught. He has pledged to re-emerge on condition his case be treated under a restorative justice process tied to the wider financial crisis. That would entail broadening his case to have banks alongside him as offenders answerable for the damages done to their victims./p p class=StandardDuran has asked in the past for potential supporters not to spend time on his case but to consider civil disobedience themselves. Rather than writing texts, signing petitions or joining mass protests, he sees more fertile opportunities in imagining and creating alternatives to the status quo./p p class=StandardHe says: ‘I have been thinking for twelve years already about how to make a change by creating new alternatives from the bottom. I think the most coherent way to do it is through civil disobedience. It’s obvious that the state is not going to allow a group of people to create new alternatives from the bottom up on the margins. Not alternatives only, but a completely new system.’/p p class=StandardIt is what Duran and fellow CIC members call ‘integral revolution’, a wholesale challenge to the state, the market and representative democracy itself. While the idea may seem far-fetched to western audiences it’s more familiar to the world’s indigenous communities, particularly those in the Americas, from whom the Catalan draws inspiration. It’s no coincidence CIC talk and actions abound with images and language from Mexico’s Zapatista rebels. Their autonomy project in the country’s south-east was built in the teeth of the low-intensity warfare waged by the state. It celebrated two decades of survival in the public eye on 1 January 2014.nbsp;/p h2A Greek alternative/h2 p class=StandardYannis Youlountas usually teaches philosophy in France but has turned his hand to film-making to record how Greeks are coping with life under prolonged financial crisis.nbsp;/p p class=StandardThe Franco-Greek’s film emLet’s no longer live like slaves/em took its title from graffiti daubed on walls around Athens and elsewhere. It encapsulates the wealth of creative responses to crisis Youlountas found there, which are little talked of outside the country. They include volunteer-run shops offering goods for free, autonomous spaces much like Barcelona’s Aurea Social, a flowering of producer-consumer exchanges and many alternative ways of learning, thinking, making art and relating to other people./p p class=StandardJust as important, the film showed participants defending their projects and people from attack by neo-nazi groups, including supporters of the ultra- nationalist Golden Dawn.nbsp;/p p class=Standard‘At the moment in Greece there are many alternatives being created. You have to give examples because, perhaps, today people are tired of talk about theories of change and need to see what that might look like,’ Youlountas said. ‘If representative democracy is only to choose every four, or five, or six years the person who’s going to do everything they want without taking popular will into account... we are in a sort of trap and I think that’s certainly the case today for Europe and elsewhere.’/p p class=StandardHe believes today’s governments resemble oligarchies, with power falling to money and those able to manipulate public opinion, and asserts: ‘The only democracy is direct democracy – to take charge of our business ourselves and not to delegate it to others.’nbsp;/p h2New paradigms/h2 p class=StandardMany on the cusp of governance innovations confess to bafflement about where things are going. Many see shifts in power as imminent, both upwards and downwards, from nation-state levels. Those changes that do occur, if they are to be progressive ones, will be as much personal as institutional./p p class=StandardVinay Gupta, an associate fellow of UCL’s Institute for Security and Resilience Studies, deals with threats to human survival from disasters caused by climate change and biodiversity loss. He says the threats are unmanageable under current representative democracy. ‘What we’ve got is too much government at the nation-state level,’ he says, ‘way too much government at the household level and not enough at the global level. Unless we start approaching governance as being a mechanism for increasing our collective intelligence, there’s no point in discussing it.’nbsp;/p p class=StandardChris Thomson has been a Bank of England economist, a lawyer in Scotland and a Scottish National Party candidate, but now works in Catalonia as a course leader. He has a clear vision: ‘I don’t think the mainstream structures will last much longer. They are in their death throes. One global paradigm is dying and, at the same time, another one is growing that will replace it. The new paradigm hasn’t got a name but you can see signs of it, social and economic signs.’/p p class=StandardHe explains: ‘It’s like any birth – it’s painful for the mother and it’s utterly confusing for the child. The real success of the paradigm will be individual change, individual by individual.’/p p class=StandardemThis article is part of the Democracy unmasked - inspiring new visions series in this week's Quaker magazine a href=http://www.thefriend.org/The Friend/a. The series is available on subscription or online for free trial on registration.nbsp;/em/pdiv class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd EU /div div class=field-item even Spain /div div class=field-item odd Greece /div /div /div div class=field field-topics div class=field-labelTopics:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Civil society /div div class=field-item even Culture /div div class=field-item odd Democracy and government /div div class=field-item even Economics /div div class=field-item odd Ideas /div div class=field-item even International politics /div /div /div

Reveries of an English teacher on vacation

jeu, 01/16/2014 - 12:33pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pAs discussions of the pros and cons of the ASA boycott continue, a historic leader's life comes to an end. Efraim shares his experiences as an English teacher and farmer, and remembers when Ariel Sharon paid a visit to his home./p /div /div /div pThese past three weeks have been a contrasting set of experiences for me, so please excuse me if I tend to ramble through my reveries./ppEvents began with the American Studies Association (ASA) adopting a resolution to boycott Israeli universities. On a different forum I became involved in a discussion of this action and, as you might expect, I expressed criticism of the ASA boycott. As is my practice, I read all of the pro and con material that came my way. Most of the pro-boycott articles contained the usual negative characterizations of Israel and Zionism. However, in one of the articles, the writer made the unusual accusation that the State of Israel's school system was an example of segregation, like that practiced in the American South back in the 1950's and 60's. I was surprised by this description of the Israeli education system. I have taught in several Israeli schools over the years and have never viewed them as being segregated. Certainly Israeli colleges and universities, the objects of the ASA ire, cannot be described as segregated either in terms of student body or faculty. But the question remains as to what is it about Israeli K-12 schools which would cause someone to think that they are segregated? The answer came to me on the last day of school just before the winter vacation./ppIn the Bedouin school where I teach, the semester came to an end and the winter vacation began about three weeks ago. On the last day of school a ceremony was held to give certificates of accomplishment to several students as well as celebrate the end of the semester. The assembly began with a ninth grade male student reading a selection from the Quran. This was followed by a young female student reciting with great feeling a poem that she had written about the Prophet. The entire ceremony was conducted in the Arabic language. It was there that I began to understand why the Israeli school system could look segregated to someone on the outside, even though it is not. In the Israeli case the misperception results from the State of Israel's attempt to abide by principles laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights./ppArticle 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights deals with education and has three parts. They read as follows:span/spanspan/span/ppstrongArticle 26./strong/ppemstrong/strongspan(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit./spanspannbsp;/spanspan/spanspan/spanspannbsp;/span/em/pulliemspan/span/em/liliemspan/spanspan/span/em/li/ulpemspan(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace./spanbr //em/pulliemspan(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children./spanspan/span/em/liliemspan/span/em/li/ulpspanThose who are familiar with education systems dealing with minority populations may notice the contradiction between the first two paragraphs and the third in the UDHR. Essentially what is one to do when parents do not want their children educated according to the curriculum designed for the majority population? In fact how does one design an educational system to meet the demands of modern society according to the UCHR when parents don't want their children educated at all? In the case of the Israeli school system, what is to be done when parents refuse to educate their children, limit their children's education or insist on what the content must or must not be? In the Bedouin school where I currently teach English, it is quite a challenge to get some of the parents to send their daughters to school. Some parents agree to send their daughters on condition that their daughters' faces are completely covered while in school or they won't let them attend. So, something that would be considered an unacceptable infringement of women's rights in some European states is permitted in our school as a compromise so that girls can be educated. These parents certainly would not allow their daughters, covered up or not, to attend a Jewish or mixed Jewish-Muslim school. Bedouin parents justifiably insist on the curriculum containing the study of the Quran, and that this study be conducted in the Arabic language. They also insist that the curriculum not contain any study of the Jewish or Christian bible. Hebrew is taught in the school but as a second language just as Arabic is taught as a second language in most of the other Israeli schools. Thus the Israeli schools are structured to meet the educational demands of the community of parents which they service. This is consistent with paragraph three of Article 26, but to an outsider it may look like a segregated school system. /span/ppspanThere is one other element which differentiates the educational situation in Israel and segregated education in the mid-twentiethnbsp;/spanspancentury American south. There is no law in Israel forbidding the education of Jews and Arabs together. In fact I have taught mixed classes in Israeli schools. This situation can be beneficial to all but not without costs. As one Arab mother whose children attended a non-Arab school and who lived in a Jewish neighborhood in Be'er Sheva told me, she was worried that her children were assimilating into Israeli society and forgetting their Arabic language and culture./span/ppI enjoyed my vacation from teaching school and spent my extra time working on my farm. I had my first pick of pineapples, which I picked, sorted and packed on my own. Unfortunately I developed a mild case of the flu so my wife insists that the rest of the season I use hired workers for the job./ppTowards the end of my vacation Ariel Sharon died. The papers were full of analyses, commentary and obituaries. The best that I read a href=http://www.algemeiner.com/2014/01/11/ariel-sharon-the-end-of-the-romance/appeared/a in an American Jewish newspaper called the Algemeiner.nbsp;spanI can't add much to the Algemeiner article. I met Sharon only once and that was at my home, about 36 years ago when he was Minister of Agriculture. It was his first important post as a politician and his reputation until then was based almost solely on his army career. Our village was among the first to grow tomatoes in hot houses for export to Europe. Most of the growing problems had been overcome but we were having a big problem with the Israeli bureaucracy when it came to managing the export of our produce. About a dozen of us drove up to Sharon's farm to complain, only to discover that he wasn't home. I wrote a note inviting him down to our village to discuss the problems and left it with someone there. A few hours later Sharon called and said that he would come down to meet with us the following Sunday, --two days away./span/ppOn Sunday morning he arrived with about a half dozen cars full of Ministry of Agriculture officials and one of his sons. My neighbors, the ministry officials and Sharon gathered in our living room, Sharon sat on the biggest chair that we owned and we discussed the various problems. What surprised me was how quickly he understood the problems and what he needed to do to fix them. And truth to tell, during his tenure as Minister of Agriculture things went quite well with government officialdom./ppThe winter vacation had come to an end but the day of Sharon's funeral coincided with the Prophet's birthday and my Bedouin school was closed. Therefore, unlike most other Jewish teachers in the country I had the day off and I was able to follow the events on TV. Sharon was buried on a hill, next to his second wife across the road from his farm house. I entertained the idea of attending the funeral but I decided not to go. Instead I will pay my respects in the spring when the hill is covered with the bright red wild flowers for which it is named./pdiv class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Israel /div /div /div

The politics of cheese and chocolate

jeu, 01/16/2014 - 12:00pm
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pimg style=float: right; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/ugVZXidtRV3reHt9U7BRn7UVHQTTdXlQAL_oRv4o5rc/mtime:1389883865/files/lithuanian%20cheese.jpg alt= width=160 /Just as Russians have been getting used to drinking excellent Georgian wine and mineral water again after a seven year embargo, their taste buds have been assaulted by new trade bans with neighbouring countries./p /div /div /div pUkrainian chocolates, Moldovan wine and Lithuanian dairy products are nbsp;just some of the food products banned by Russia in recent months, and now Russia’s New Year resolutions have included a ban on Estonian dairy and fish products as well./p pAccording to Russian officials, these products fail to meet relevant health and safety standards, despite having always been popular in Russia. Georgia’s famous Borjomi mineral water, for instance, has been valued in Russia for its health benefits (which evidently include curing hangovers) since Tsarist soldiers stumbled on upon its springs in the 1830s./p pBut the gourmets are fighting back. Irina Lagunina, managing editor of RFE/RL’s Russian service, can be seen in a a href=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpkI0NieshMvideo/a preparing a delicious meal using only ingredients that are, or have been in the past, bannednbsp; by Russia - Polish meat with Moldovan onions, Tajik dried fruits and Belarusian sour cream, to be accompanied by red Saperavi wine from Georgia or Moldovan Chardonnay, and rounded off with Ukrainian Roshen chocolates./ppiframe width=460 height=259 src=//www.youtube.com/embed/cpkI0NieshM frameborder=0 allowfullscreen/iframebr /span style=font-size: 10px; font-style: italic; line-height: 1.5;A meal made eniterly of products that are or were banned in Russia. Video from RFERL/span/p blockquotepGeorgia’s famous Borjomi mineral water has been valued in Russia for its ability to cure hangovers since Tsarist soldiers stumbled on upon its springs in the 1830s./p/blockquote h2Health and safety – or just politics?/h2 pAs many observers have pointed out, the bans have coincided with bumpier periods in each of these countries’ relations with Russia. The latest bans on Ukrainian and Moldovan products came a few months before the EU’s Eastern Partnership summit, where Kyiv was expected to sign, and Chisinau initial, an EU trade deal. Lithuania, which was preparing to host the summit, was next in turn. And just before the ban on Estonian goods was introduced, Estonia’s foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu was in Washington to discuss defence cooperation with his American counterpart (having recently backed the idea of a permanent US military presence in Estonia)./p pBehind these bans is a href=http://rospotrebnadzor.ru/newsRospotrebnadzor/a, Russia’s consumer protection agency. Over the years, the name of its long-serving head Gennady Onishchenko has become became synonymous with trade embargoes, although he is also known for offering bizarre pieces of advice to his countrymen. At one point, he called on Russians to follow a patriotic diet, avoiding all foreign foods. ‘We put our faith innbsp;the high level ofnbsp;consciousness andnbsp;food patriotism ofnbsp;our citizens, thenbsp;ones who have long abandoned thenbsp;use ofnbsp;such food innbsp;their diet,’ he declared in June 2013./p pWhen Onishchenko lost his job in October 2013, some observers thought that Russia would start abiding more closely by the requirements of the WTO, which it finally joined in 2012. But as the new ban on Estonian products shows, not much has changed since his deputy, Anna Popova, took charge./p h2The cost of a market lost/h2 pFor products where Russia accounts for a large share of exports, the bans have been costly. Two months into its wine ban, the Moldovan government calculated that it was costing the country $3.3 million per month. And the Lithuanian parliament’s European Affairs committee estimated that the ban on their dairy products was costing up to $4 million a day – exports to Russia accounted for up to 40 per cent of the revenue of its four largest producers./p pIn addition to day-to-day losses, a longer ban can lose a product its place on the Russian market. By the time Borjomi returned to Russia after seven years, it had been replaced on the shelves by domestic brands. Its chief executive said that the water would now have to be marketed as a luxury product, competing with French brands such as Evian and Perrier. /p blockquotepThe Freedom Cheese initiative has a website and a Twitter profile urging people to buy Lithuanian cheese, and an interactive map shows shops in Europe and the USA that sell it. /p/blockquote pBut Lithuania especially hasn’t been taking its ban lying down, and has been gathering international support after its Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius coined the hashtag a href=http://twitter.com/search?q=%23freedomcheese target=_blank#freedomcheese/a in response to a tweet by fervent Kremlin opponent and international editor of the Economist Edward Lucas. The a href=http://www.freedomcheese.com/Freedom Cheese/a initiative has a website and a Twitter profile urging people to ‘buy Lithuanian cheese and act against Russia's will to suppress states that encourage freedom, openness and integration’, and an a href=https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=205232556753017346526.0004e8c7aff15db060de2amp;msa=0amp;ie=UTF8amp;t=hamp;ll=46.740188,-43.86704amp;spn=25.409774,149.209096amp;source=embedinteractive map/a showing shops in Europe and the United States that sell Lithuanian cheese has received almost 11,000 views./ppimg src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/ugVZXidtRV3reHt9U7BRn7UVHQTTdXlQAL_oRv4o5rc/mtime:1389883865/files/lithuanian%20cheese.jpg alt= width=460 /span class=image-captionbr /Even Lithuanian cheese has become political; here Chancellor Merkel is being presented a basket of it by President Grybauskaite. Photo: R. 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w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=page number /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=endnote reference /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=endnote text /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=table of authorities /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=macro /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=toa heading /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Bullet /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Number /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List 2 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List 3 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List 4 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List 5 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Bullet 2 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Bullet 3 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Bullet 4 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Bullet 5 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Number 2 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Number 3 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Number 4 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Number 5 /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=10 QFormat=true Name=Title /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Closing /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Signature /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=1 SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Default Paragraph Font /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Body Text /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Body Text Indent /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Continue /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Continue 2 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Continue 3 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Continue 4 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=List Continue 5 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Message Header /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=11 QFormat=true Name=Subtitle /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Salutation /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true 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UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Simple 1 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Simple 2 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Simple 3 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Classic 1 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Classic 2 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Classic 3 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Classic 4 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Colorful 1 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Colorful 2 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Colorful 3 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Columns 1 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table 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w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Elegant /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Professional /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Subtle 1 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Subtle 2 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Web 1 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Web 2 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Web 3 /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Balloon Text /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=39 Name=Table Grid /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Table Theme /w w:LsdException Locked=false SemiHidden=true Name=Placeholder Text /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=1 QFormat=true Name=No Spacing /w w:LsdException Locked=false 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Locked=false Priority=72 Name=Colorful List Accent 6 /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=73 Name=Colorful Grid Accent 6 /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=19 QFormat=true Name=Subtle Emphasis /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=21 QFormat=true Name=Intense Emphasis /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=31 QFormat=true Name=Subtle Reference /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=32 QFormat=true Name=Intense Reference /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=33 QFormat=true Name=Book Title /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=37 SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true Name=Bibliography /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=39 SemiHidden=true UnhideWhenUsed=true QFormat=true Name=TOC Heading /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=41 Name=Plain Table 1 /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=42 Name=Plain Table 2 /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=43 Name=Plain Table 3 /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=44 Name=Plain Table 4 /w w:LsdException Locked=false 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Name=List Table 4 Accent 6 /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=50 Name=List Table 5 Dark Accent 6 /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=51 Name=List Table 6 Colorful Accent 6 /w w:LsdException Locked=false Priority=52 Name=List Table 7 Colorful Accent 6 /w /w:LatentStyles /xml![endif]--!--[if gte mso 10] mce:style! /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:Table Normal; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0cm; mso-para-margin-right:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:8.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0cm; line-height:107%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:Calibri,sans-serif; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-language:EN-US;} -- !--[endif] --span style=font-size: 11.0pt; line-height: 107%; font-family: amp;amp;amp; mso-ascii-theme-font: minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family: Calibri; mso-fareast-theme-font: minor-latin; mso-hansi-theme-font: minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family: amp;amp;amp; mso-bidi-theme-font: minor-bidi; mso-ansi-language: EN-GB; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA;/spanLithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė was also photographed presenting Angela Merkel with Džiugas, a well-known Lithuanian cheese, and the German Chancellor was quoted by the Lithuanian media saying that she supported Lithuania and liked its cheese. EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht meanwhile criticised Moscow’s restrictive measures towards Lithuanian products, and the EU warned Russia over the ban at a WTO meeting. /ppYet by the time I arrived in Vilnius for the Eastern Partnership summit on 28-29 November, the ban appeared to have receded from the news. One Lithuanian analyst that I spoke to went so far as to argue that it stems from rivalries within the Russian freight driving hierarchy. Linas emLinkevičius is however in no doubt that the ban was /empolitically motivated. ‘Everything was delicious and high quality’, he emtold me in Vilnius./em ‘[Lithuanian] dairy products are very popular in Russia, especially in the Kaliningrad region – and suddenly they were of inferior quality. And they provided no proof for that.’/p pnbsp;‘Interestingly, there was no information [from the Russian sideem./em We received all the information via websites and interviews, and had no response to our official documents or letters.’ How to avoid this in the future? ‘European unity,’ answered emLinkevičius/em, adding that he thought the EU had passed the test in this respect. /p blockquotepNow that the Ukrainian government has dropped the EU deal, Rospotrebnadzor says that Roshen chocolates will be available in Russia as soon as the supposed health issues are sorted out./p/blockquote pBans can of course also be revoked as political circumstances change. The return of Georgian wine and mineral water after seven years appeared to reflect warming relations between Tbilisi and Moscow after Bidzina Ivanishvili became prime minister. And now that the Ukrainian government has dropped the EU deal, Rospotrebnadzor says that Roshen chocolates will be available in Russia as soon as the supposed health issues are sorted out. During the last days of Lithuania’s EU presidency, it also announced that the ban on Lithuanian products would soon be lifted./p h2More bans to come?/h2 pRussia has been imposing trade bans for years, but the number of cases in 2013 suggests that it may be reaching for this weapon more often. It seems that as soon as there is some disagreement with one of its neighbours, Russia sends out its health and safety inspectors. The day after hooligans attacked the Russian Embassy in Warsaw on Polish Independence Day (11th November), the Polish news agency PAP reported that Russia was beginning checks on Polish meat, which it had previously banned in 2005-2007./p pWhen Georgia and Moldova initialled Association Agreements with the EU in November, there was particular concern about how Russia would respond. Both countries still need to sign the agreements, but after what happened with Ukraine, Brussels has decided to speed up the process and they should be signed by August 2014 at the latest. /ppimg src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/7sZryMkQXUEQLAFcqyWF4mebZkGidOTq2Nfu5Unm5FM/mtime:1389883843/files/chapman_pic.jpg alt= width=460 /span class=image-captionbr /Borjomi mineral water from Georgia was banned by Russia seven years ago for failing to meet relevant health and safety standards, despite the fact that it has been valued for its health benefits since the 1830s. Photo: A Chapman/span/p pDuring the Vilnius summit, I asked Poland’s foreign minister Radosław Sikorski if he wasn’t concerned about Russia banning food imports from additional countries – including Poland. ‘There are all sorts of trade disputes,’ he replied. ‘I believe that WTO rules and the existing [EU] Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia should be honoured, and countries have the right to take disputes to these bodies.’ /p pFaced with a similar question Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, recalled his trip to Vilnius in 1991, during Moscow’s economic blockade on Lithuania after it declared its independence after over four decades in the Soviet Union. ‘It was very cold and dark then,’ he told a group of European journalists in the Lithuanian capital. “But it didn’t change the course of history in any direction that was favourable to Russia.’/p pnbsp;‘I think we need to look at this somewhat more coherently,’ he continued. ‘It has become a disturbing pattern in Europe, the way Russia uses economic weapons against its neighbours.’/p pTrade bans are just one of the measures Russia uses to target disobedient states. Yet as international political specialist Judy Dempsey has argued in her Strategic Europe a href=http://carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/?fa=53489amp;reloadFlag=1blog/a, the bans ‘reveal desperation on the part of Moscow’ and could end up being counterproductive for Russia./p pMeanwhile, the trade bans are forcing countries to rethink where they send their products. This reorientation doesn’t happen overnight, as Lithuania’s dairy producers have discovered. But it can work in the longer term; by the time Russia allowed Borjomi back in, its chief executive was saying that Russia was no longer a priority as the company had expanded into more distant locations such as China and Japan. /p p‘It has become a disturbing pattern in Europe, the way Russia uses economic weapons against its neighbours.’ Carl Bildt, Swedish Foreign Minister/p pThe EU may be seeing a lot more Moldovan wine soon, too. When Moscow first banned it in 2006-2007, about 60% of Moldova’s wine was being exported to Russia; by the time it banned it again, in September 2013, this had decreased to 29%. The same month, the European Commission proposed to fully open the EU market to Moldovan wines, and Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting a winery on his trip to Moldova in December, announced US measures to promote Moldovan wine on the international market./p pMoscow’s trade bans are one of the prickly subjects EU leaders ought to broach at the next EU-Russia summit, on 28th January. nbsp;According to the head of the European Commission’s delegation to Russia, the agenda will include the EU and Russia’s ‘respective regional economic integration initiatives, common neighbourhood, trade questions and WTO commitments’. Still, the EU may find that Rospotrebnadzor will continue to decide which products are fit for Russians to consume./p pemnbsp;/em/pdiv class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Russia /div /div /div

Undocumented migrants: time to change the European discourse

jeu, 01/16/2014 - 8:51am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pMost undocumented migrants in Europe are not products of irregular entry and humanitarian crises such as that at Lampedusa are not unavoidable tragedies. As the EU starts work on a new programme on migration it must shift approach from control and surveillance./p /div /div /div pimg src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/a0osgFNNGRunUYfSO4WKrwZy3p7mJ1M6mFyFn37ygaI/mtime:1389877443/files/2495544558_040220d635.jpg alt=Migrants arriving at Lampedusa width=460 height=306 //pp class=image-captionDon't give us your huddled masses: migrants arriving at Lampedusa. Flickr / a href=http://www.flickr.com/photos/noborder/Noborder network/a. a href=http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en_GBSome rights reserved/a./ppspanTwo thousand and thirteen was another busy year for migration correspondents. While anxiety about the movement of EU citizens captured headlines as it drew to a close, the deaths of migrants at Europe’s external border remained one of the most broadly covered issues. But did the public shock, media coverage and political pledges of solidarity following the deaths at sea amount to a genuine determination to bring about change—or will the body count continue in 2014?/spanstrongnbsp;/strong/p pIn October, a boat carrying hundreds of migrants sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa, leaving more than 165 dead. This was not the first nor will it be the last migrant boat to sink in EU waters but the magnitude of what eventuated and its widespread coverage brought renewed criticism of the EU’s approach to border management and irregular migration. /p p‘A senseless tragedy,’ news correspondents assured viewers as reports of the deaths broke. Yet the term implies less causality and more misfortune then the well-documented record of corpses mounting at Europe’s border would indicate. /p pWhile for many news viewers and readers, the Lampedusa deaths provided a rare glimpse into the human suffering taking place at Europe’s borders, such cases are not new. Indeed, the European network a href=http://www.unitedagainstracism.org/pages/underframeFatalRealitiesFortressEurope.htmUNITED for Intercultural Action/a has documented the a href=http://www.unitedagainstracism.org/pdfs/listofdeaths.pdfdeaths of more than 17,000 migrants/a since 1993 as a result of Europe's immigration policies. /p pIn expressing their condolences to the Lampedusa bereaved, EU and national leaders were a href=http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25215691quick to offer EUROSUR as a watertight solution/a. This new European border-surveillance system would, they said, ensure greater co-operation among member states to protect migrants. The European Parliament, whose serious concerns over lack of accountability and transparency with regard to the border-control agency FRONTEX had led it reserve €10 million of its 2013 budget until a fundamental rights officernbsp; was put in place, was suddenly calling for emincreased/em funding for the EU’s highest funded operational agency. The a href=http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-13-849_en.htmEuropean Commission/a pledged that EUROSUR would help member states identify and track vessels at sea, thereby improving search-and-rescue operations./pp class=pullquote-rightthese instances exemplify the EU’s increasingly ill-informed, elitist approach to managing a phenomenon which the public fear, the media misunderstand and the politicians stigmatise/p pWith expected operational costs of €144 billion over the next six years, will EUROSUR really prevent loss of life? With the Mediterranean already amongst the most patrolled seas in the world and systematic reports of a href=http://picum.org/en/news/picum-news/42392/refused help/a and a href=http://www.proasyl.de/fileadmin/fm-dam/l_EU_Fluechtlingspolitik/pushed_back_web_01.pdfpush-backs/a by police, border agents and coastguards, many are skeptical. /p pAssistance to undocumented migrants, including for humanitarian needs, is criminalised in many member states./p pWhile the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano, lamented the a href=http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/03/lampedusa-boat-tragedy-italy-migrants'slaughter of innocents'/a, those who survived the Lampedusa shipwreck faced criminal trial in Italy on grounds of irregular entry. This was in accordance with the 2002 ‘Bossi-Fini’ law, advanced by the respective leaders of the nationalistic Northern League and ‘post-fascist’ National Alliance in Silvio Berlusconi’s secondnbsp;government. Legislation criminalising irregular entry and stay is common across the EU, resulting in frequent prosecutions of undocumented migrants and their defenders, in a href=http://www.gisti.org/France/a for example. But the case a href=http://www.corriere.it/cronache/13_ottobre_09/via-reato-immigrazione-clandestina-senato-approva-l-emendamento-m5s-fe96b7d2-310b-11e3-b3e3-02ebe4aec272.shtmlreopened the debate/a around the criminalisation of migrants in Italy and a petition to repeal the law, led by a href=http://www.repubblica.it/politica/2013/10/13/news/centomila_firme_per_abolire_la_bossi-fini-68484385/La Repubblica/a newspaper, gathered more than 100,000 signatures in four days. /p pUnfortunately, at EU level the debate on migration follows a cycle: br / 1. migrants die;br / 2. leaders mourn the dead, while imprisoning and prosecuting the survivors;br / 3. politicians affect disbelief that restrictive and control-based policies lead to death and suffering;br / 4. there are calls for more restrictive and control-based policies; br / 5. return to point 1. /p pIf only the deaths of 165 men, women and children which took place on October 3 could genuinely be called a ‘tragedy’. If only the a href=http://www.google.ie/url?sa=tamp;rct=jamp;q=amp;esrc=samp;source=webamp;cd=1amp;ved=0CC8QFjAAamp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.aljazeera.com%2Fnews%2Feurope%2F2013%2F11%2Flampedusa-boat-victims-raped-an-tortured-201311817482583908.htmlamp;ei=2M3PUvTODcal4AT4t4CoCAamp;usg=AFQjCNF1KN6B3TEpXAlESFR9kqmTf0b9eAamp;sig2=2w704BxIOur4zn917kWD6wamp;bvm=bv.59026428,d.bGEreported rape and torture in Libya of some nbsp;of those who died /awhile attempting the journey were indeed ‘unfortunate’—rather than the expected outcome of the externalisation of the EU’s borders through readmission agreements with third countries, which seek to shift responsibility towards migrants and prevent them at any cost from reaching EU territory./p pIf only the brutalisation in an Italian refugee camp of several survivors of that same boat, recorded on a href=http://rt.com/news/italy-migrants-lampedusa-video-432/grainy mobile-phone images/a, were ‘an accident’ and not symptomatic of the often mandatory, occasionally indefinite and systematically inhumane policy of imprisoning men, women and children just for being migrants. Rather than being contingent, these instances exemplify the EU’s increasingly ill-informed, elitist approach to managing a phenomenon which the public fear, the media misunderstand and the politicians stigmatise. /p h2Fair regular migration channels needed/h2 pIrregular migrants are often blamed for Europe’s economic ills. Yet while countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain have witnessed increased racists crimes and populist discourse a href=https://www.google.de/url?sa=tamp;rct=jamp;q=amp;esrc=samp;source=webamp;cd=1amp;cad=rjaamp;ved=0CDEQFjAAamp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.amnesty.org%2Fen%2Fnews%2Fgreece-alleged-racist-remarks-police-chief-must-be-investigated-2013-12-19amp;ei=YWW3UsPWB9Sn0wWmwIEoamp;usg=AFQjCNGnslGXhpdJC1Ls-sj8AaQ9LPi2Mwamp;sig2=XwYKkXQhdGB7UUA0k9kQowscapegoating migrants/a and calling for increased restriction of their rights, most of the undocumented in Europe do not enter irregularly. Instead, they experience difficulties in renewing their residence permit or complying with increasingly tight requirements for renewal. In many cases, migrants become irregular through exploitation by their employer or losing their status due to spouse-dependent visas. /p pThe EU-funded a href=http://cordis.europa.eu/publication/rcn/12080_en.html‘Clandestino’/a research initiative demonstrated that irregularity is largely the result of exploitation, misinformation and administrative delays, while irregular border-crossing is the least common pathway into irregularity. Providing an aggregate estimate of 1.9 to 3.8 million irregular migrants in the EU, the findings are a clear challenge to the well-versed narrative presented in the media and by politicians. /p pWhat is needed are better and fairer channels for third-country nationals to take up work in key sectors of the EU economy. That requires a new approach. /p h2After Stockholm /h2 pWhile for most of us, reflection and resolution is an annual process, the EU sets out its goals and objectives multi-annually. From Tampere to the Hague and, most recently, the Stockholm Programme, the EU’s justice-and-home-affairs frameworks outline priorities and actions for five years at a time. /p pThese have steadily moved away from the goal of near-equality for all residents in the EU, with a strong foundation in human rights, to the idea that rights belong to citizens alone—and that a ‘security’ approach to migration is needed to protect the fundamental rights of EU citizens. This is contradicted by evidence from the ground indicating that increased securitisation and discrimination against migrants has neither reinforced the freedom, security and well-being of EU citizens nor curbed irregular migration. /p pAs this is the year in which the Stockholm Programme (2010-2014) draws to a close, the a href=http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/what-is-new/public-consultation/2013/consulting_0027_en.htmEuropean Commission is undertaking an assessment of its approach/a, before moving to a new framework on migration and asylum. If this is to bring any amelioration, there must be recognition that migration is not a criminal activity and that policies which treat it as such are ineffective, inappropriate and dangerous. /p pPolitical statements of shock must give way to the realisation that exposing migrants to violence, exploitation and trafficking and deaths—and tearing families apart, through detention, deportation and restrictions on reunification—contradicts the founding principles and goals of the EU, as well as the obligations of member states to protect the rights of all people in their jurisdictions, regardless of administrative status. Media reports of ‘tragedies’ must be replaced by informed, analytical and non-biased coverage of migration.nbsp; /p pRepresenting more than 160 organisations working to defend the rights of undocumented migrants across Europe and other parts of the world, a href=http://www.picum.org/PICUM/a is fleshing out with its members a five-point plan for a new departure on EU migration policy. Working to challenge the misconception that undocumented migrants are ‘illegal’—and so criminalising the symptomatic effects of ill-thought-out migration policies rather than addressing the root causes of loss of status—PICUM seeks to shift EU policy and practice on migration to move towards a more humane, effective, cost-efficient and rights-based approach. /p pIn 2014 and beyond, the network is resolved to holding the EU accountable and ensuring it mends its ways. nbsp;nbsp;/ppnbsp;/pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/can-europe-make-it/sarah-wolff/beyond-lampedusa-from-globalisation-of-indifference-to-collective-mobBeyond Lampedusa: from the globalisation of indifference to collective mobilisation?/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/matthew-carr/trouble-with-fortress-europeThe trouble with Fortress Europe/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd EU /div /div /div div class=field field-topics div class=field-labelTopics:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd International politics /div /div /div div class=field field-rights div class=field-labelRights:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Creative Commons /div /div /div

Greece and the European elections: a preview

jeu, 01/16/2014 - 7:07am
div class=field field-summary div class=field-items div class=field-item odd pWhat is to happen in Greece in the forthcoming European elections, which, not without a certain irony of history, will take place while this country holds the EU presidency? emEuro elections landscape, 2014/em.strong/strong/p /div /div /div p class=image-captionimg src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/gsKs87x266n2iCjJIp01DYt3nfxB_du7sXZder9khO0/mtime:1389870726/files/1506353.jpg alt= width=460 height=308 /SYRIZA are predicting strong results in this May's Euro elections. Demotix/Giorgos Panagakis. Some rights reserved./ppWhat the architects of the European project had sought was the political and economic union of the member states in a common pursuit of the European citizens’ best interests. To participate, each country was required to be a stable democracy, have a functioning market economy capable of competition within the union (EU), and be prepared to accept the obligations of membership. /p pThere was a time when such a project seemed both appealing and workable. Not any longer. As the next elections for the European Parliament are set for May 2014, the European project looks old, unattractive, and, perhaps, unrealistic. It is plagued by three interrelated crises: A fiscal and economic crisis; a crisis of representation; and a crisis of liberal democracy itself. /p pThe economic crisis, firstly, has eroded the idea that the European project would be a one-way street to economic prosperity. According to data by the Eurostat, real per capita output across the EU is now below what it was in 2008. At the same time, a deep rift has developed in Europe about the best remedy for saving the euro. While most of the European North stands for austerity, strict rules on borrowing, and sanctions against non-compliant governments, Europe’s South calls for more active redistribution from richer to poorer members and fiscal stimuli, whether through cheaper borrowing or outright fiscal transfers. /p pThe representation crisis, secondly, is rendering dubious the time-honored practice of voters delegating decisions to their representatives in Brussels and Strasbourg. It is also the main cause of rising euro-scepticism. During the years of economic growth, the EU could afford to remain an elite venture in which mainstream politicians were expected to work in a dispassionate and gradual way towards a closer union. Once things started to go wrong in the economy, though, voters began to demand from their representatives more accountability, transparency, and efficiency. The crisis of liberal democracy, finally, is becoming evident with the proliferation across Europe of non-democratic (and, often, neo-fascist) parties, which for the first time in postwar history are now electorally significant, thus being able to further amplify their ideas on xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism. Although those parties will remain a small minority in the next European Parliament, they are currently strong and quite vocal in several EU countries (including Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, but also Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK) thus representing a toxic hazard./p pTaken together, these crises have eroded the EU’s guiding idea: that European citizens support the EU in return for economic prosperity and political democracy. To understand Europe’s current predicament, you have to look no further than its most troubled member, Greece. /p pGreece’s admission into the European Union signified the commitment of its leaders to enlargement and their ambition to extend the Union to the recently democratized South. That was in 1981, and, some initial quibbles apart, Greece set out determined on adhering to the European project. For many years thereafter, the Greeks experienced clear benefits from membership, not least in monetary terms. Few Greek citizens really believed that the EU was a bad idea. That picture is now being reversed, as the majority of Greeks discover that the EU is not after all such a good idea (see the diagram below). What has changed? As with many other countries in Europe, only far more severely, Greece has been hit by all three crises already mentioned./p pa href=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/GevxA165lsaJ-kTRDwdPwXtWka3jsoZChSDonrL0xUs/mtime:1389740537/files/graphpappas.pngimg src=http://dy1m18dp41gup.cloudfront.net/cdn/farfuture/KksFgomb4e6w6j6g5r26RZ-FZg_mhK1AFO678irmzfE/mtime:1389740547/files/graphpappasmini.png alt=Click to enlarge. width=460 height=350 //aspan class=image-captionClick to enlarge./span/p pAt the level of economy, first, the current financial and economic crisis has caused prolonged austerity, negative growth, and increasing unemployment, currently standing at a staggering 27 percent. Nor is the European Parliament a popular institution among Greeks; like elsewhere in Europe, it is seen as a self-serving guild tainted with greed, corruption, inefficiency, and backstage politics. When it comes to the Greeks’ faith in liberal democracy, the latest electoral results, and their aftermath, speak volumes./p pIn the twin national elections of 2012, Greece’s old party system collapsed as voters abandoned in droves the mainstream “government parties” of center-right ND and center-left PASOK, and turned to mostly newly emergent competitors to both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Among the new winners were SYRIZA, a formerly negligible force, which, because of its uncompromising anti-austerity stance, was elevated to major opposition party, and the thuggish Golden Dawn (GD) party, which scored about 7 percent of the vote. After that election, Greece became polarized between two (otherwise multifarious) groups of political forces depending on whether they stood for preserving the existing political system and Greece’s position in the EU (and the Eurozone) through painful, but also uncertain, reforms, or were for a root-and-branch change of the system, thus however jeopardizing Greece’s European future. /p pWhat, then, is to happen in Greece in the forthcoming European elections, which, not without a certain irony of history, will take place while this country holds the EU presidency? /p pMost certainly, the contest will be primarily about settling scores from the last national elections. The country is currently ruled by a coalition government of ND and PASOK, which attempts to implement unpopular austerity measures at a great cost to its public support. After a series of defections since 2012, the coalition government has seen its number of lawmakers decrease from 179 to only 153 in the 300-seat parliament. Recent polls, moreover, show that ND, the majority party, is falling behind SYRIZA, which intends to renegotiate or even tear up Greece’s bailout deal with its creditors. Meanwhile, the neo-Nazi GD has remained strong in the polls (recently at about 10 percent) despite the fact that its top brass have been jailed on charges of criminal activity after the murder of a left-wing rapper. /p pIf SYRIZA finishes first in the European Parliament elections, Alexis Tsipras, the party leader, has made it pretty clear that his party will not recognize the government’s mandate. The same will happen if SYRIZA obtains positive results in local elections across Greece, which coincide with the European ones. In either case, SYRIZA is almost certain to push for national elections to be held in 2014 hoping to win, and then cancel the bailout terms./p pWhatever the case, it is also certain that Greece’s pro-EU bloc of parties will suffer great losses. While ND is expected to win the same number of seats as SYRIZA, formerly formidable PASOK is going to see its strength in the European Parliament diminishing dramatically from its current seven seats to only one or two. The remaining seats will be distributed among such anti-EU parties as Golden Dawn, the Greek Communist Party, and the rightist populist Independent Greeks. It is doubtful whether the Democratic Left, a pro-EU moderate leftist party, or any other liberal force that may meantime emerge, will be able to obtain any seats at all. /p pOf course, high rates of electoral abstention will be a key factor, which is expected to determine negatively the strength of the mainstream pro-EU parties. But this is not a certainty. Although abstention has been constantly on the rise (voter turnout has declined from a high 78.6 percent in 1981 to only 52.6 percent in the European elections of 2009), the local elections combined with increased polarization may halt, or even slightly reverse, this trend. /p pWhat is going to happen to Europe if Greece’s anti-EU forces win over pro-EU ones? At first sight, not much – especially as Greece occupies a paltry 21 out of 751 seats in the European Parliament. Look at the bigger picture, though, and you will realize that the Greek vote is quite consequential for the EU project. /p pBecause of the enormity of its (economic emand/em political) crisis, Greece has become both exemplary and highly symbolic grounds for the big battle to be waged in May throughout Europe between pro-EU and anti-EU forces. As now seems more likely, the majority of the Greek representation in the European Parliament will form a miscellany of populist and non-democratic forces ready to throw into question the core principles of European integration as conceived by its early architects and pursued thereafter – political liberalism, open markets, an ever closer union. /p pThis is no small damage. For the simple reason that, with Greece serving as a clear marker of disenchantment with the EU project, others may be tempted to follow./pfieldset class=fieldgroup group-sideboxslegendSideboxes/legenddiv class=field field-related-stories div class=field-labelRelated stories:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd a href=/can-europe-make-it/patrice-de-beer/how-european-france-ahead-of-european-electionsHow European? France, ahead of the European elections/a /div div class=field-item even a href=/can-europe-make-it/jan-horn%C3%A1t/reflection-on-czech-euroscepticism-before-eu-electionsA reflection on Czech Euroscepticism before the EU elections/a /div div class=field-item odd a href=/can-europe-make-it/steffen-vogel/germany-sleepwalking-into-europeGermany: sleepwalking into Europe?/a /div /div /div /fieldset div class=field field-country div class=field-label Country or region:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Greece /div /div /div div class=field field-topics div class=field-labelTopics:nbsp;/div div class=field-items div class=field-item odd Civil society /div div class=field-item even Conflict /div div class=field-item odd Culture /div div class=field-item even Democracy and government /div div class=field-item odd International politics /div /div /div