6
Jun

The Decline of Europe

Written on June 6, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, Op Ed

right wing

It is undeniable that the right wing is ascendant in Europe. While leftist parties did well here and there in recent elections to the European Parliament, the story over recent years has been mainly about the right, symbolized most dramatically by the soaring popularity of Marine Le Pen’s National Front inFrance. But also in Denmark, Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Serbia, the one commonality is the dynamism of nationalist-style political movements. Right-wing parties in France and Denmark got a quarter of the vote in late May’s elections, while the right in Austria got a fifth. Meanwhile, the Jobbik party in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece have garnered headlines the world over for their flamboyant neo-fascist views and popularity among significant swathes of the voting public.

While these numbers may not be enough to propel right-wing parties into executive power, they are, nevertheless, numbers that would have been unthinkable several years ago. While traditionally anti-immigrant, these parties have lately become in many cases pro-Russian. It is not that they like Russia per se; rather, it is that they see a kindred spirit in Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is a reactionary and Revanchist nationalist, embittered by the power balance of the Post Cold War, who thinks in terms of ethnic nations instead of post-national states. Like Putin’s Russia, they are especially fearful of Muslims in their midst. Thus Putin has become an avatar to right-wingers from France to Greece.

What is behind this phenomenon?

Years and decades of immigration from Muslim North African countries and other parts of the developing world have seemingly threatened previously cohesive and mono-ethnic societies in Europe. Then there is the half-decadelong economic crisis within the European Union that has led to low or negative growth and indecently high levels of unemployment. And that, in turn, has led to very unpopular austerity measures. The combination of these social and economic stresses has gone a long way to delegitimize the European establishment so that someone like Putin, who challenges that establishment and what it stands for, immediately becomes a pole of attraction.

The European establishment in Brussels also represents something else that these right-wing parties oppose, and that goes relatively little remarked upon: In a word, it represents the old historical left. I don’t mean the hard, Communist left. I mean the soft, traditional left. For the post-national European Union, organized as it has been for decades around the principle of the social welfare state — in turn supported by high taxes and meager defense budgets — is a left-wing or left-of-center historical project if ever there was one, at least in the world view of the right.

Certainly, the bureaucratic elite in the European Union capital of Brussels inculcates the attitudes of the traditional left much more than that of the traditional right. Unsurprisingly, you will find many members of the 1960s student protest movement among the older Eurocrats. Ironically, it was high American defense budgets throughout the Cold War years that allowed for Europe’s security umbrella against the Soviet Union, leaving Europe financially free to devote itself to the kinds of expensive domestic programs normally associated with the left. And because the prolonged economic crisis on the Continent is undermining the reputation of the European Union, that of the left is also being subtly undermined. It is telling that while the political right is ascendant in Europe now, the left (with striking exceptions such as Greece, of course) appears somewhat moribund as a romantic force. At a time of social and economic stress, the left just doesn’t inspire as much as the right does.

The allure of the old Western European Communist parties that had once dominated headlines in the 1960s and 1970s at the apex of the Cold War is now a thing of the remote past. The Cold War, remember, was close in time to World War II; in fact, it was a veritable tailpiece of it. That was an age when the right was delegitimized because of what Hitler and Mussolini had so recently done. But with World War II disappearing from view, and while a staid and squishy political establishment currently struggles to find a path through the economic crisis, the right looms dynamically as the left once did. In a sense, the rise of the right in Europe indicates that the effect of the Long European War, from 1914 to 1989, is finally over. There is no longer a taboo against neo-fascism. This is the great danger.

Mitigating this danger will be globalization itself in the form of new communications technologies, from air travel to smartphones, that while empowering sub-state groups — united in some cases by ethnicity — also empower new and more complex forms of identity not rooted in geography. This can mean that the ethnic right-wing nationalism currently afoot in Europe will be only a diluted version of the kind that gripped the Continent in the 1930s.

On the other hand, an aging European population with near zero birthrates coupled with a continuation of immigration from the less developed world will continue to stoke the kind of fear that empowers nationalistic parties united by ethnicity. Making it worse will be the prolongation of the economic crisis. After all, the Eurocracy in Brussels, as well as politically embattled regimes in the various capitals, will find it hard to make the dynamic adjustments necessary to return Europe to robust growth. For the European masses, the sense of security — political, social and economic — has been weakening on all fronts. And in such a circumstance, the left appears to have fewer answers than the right because the left cannot make an appeal based on atavistic emotion.

The rise of ethnic nationalism in Europe in the 1930s led to interstate war. The rise of ethnic nationalism in the early 21st century will almost certainly not. Instead, we will first see the creeping emergence of microstates such as Scotland and Catalonia. For a united Europe, however economically moribund, with power partially transferred to Brussels from national capitals, allows sub-state identities based on particular geographies to flourish. Second, we might see a form of paralysis within states themselves, as nationalist reactions to truly multicultural immigrant societies help undermine elected governments. Undermined governments with low defense outlays, emerging from decades in which national militaries have been delegitimized, do not go to war with other undermined governments.

Moreover, the Russian threat to Central and Eastern Europe will eventually be assuaged by Russia’s own economic and social problems. Nor will Russia dominate energy markets in the future as it does now. This will give Moscow less leverage over Poland, the Baltic states and so on.

In sum, the rise of the right is part of a narrative about the decline of Europe and its place in the world as more demographically and economically vibrant societies in the Greater Indian Ocean and elsewhere continue their rise. Just as the European left has had no solutions to the current crisis, neither will the nationalistic right. Places in relative decline often make headlines. That is the case with Europe now.

Robert D. Kaplan is Chief Geopolitical Analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence firm, and author of Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific. Reprinted with the permission of Stratfor.

 

Published on 5 June in http://www.realclearworld.com

5
Jun

elections

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been re-elected in a landslide, officials said on Wednesday, capturing another seven-year term in the middle of a bloody three-year-old uprising against his rule that has devastated the country.

Syria‘s parliament speaker, Jihad Lahan, announced the final results from Tuesday’s election, saying Assad garnered 10,319,723 votes, or 88.7%. Laham said Assad’s two challengers, Hassan al-Nouri and Maher Hajjar, won 4.3% and 3.2% respectively. The supreme constitutional court put turnout at 73.42%.

After the results were released, Damascus erupted into a thunderous, rolling clap of celebratory gunfire that appeared to include heavy weaponry. On the streets of the capital, men cheered and whistled. Some broke into the familiar pro-Assad chant: “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Bashar!”

Assad’s victory was always a foregone conclusion, despite the presence of other candidates on the ballot for the first time in decades. Voting was held only in government-controlled areas, excluding huge tracks of northern and eastern Syria that are in rebel hands. The opposition and its western allies, including the United States, have denounced the election as a farce.

The win boosts Assad’s support base, and provides further evidence that he has no intention of relinquishing power.

For the first time in decades, there were multiple candidates on the ballot. In previous presidential elections, Assad and before him his father, Hafez Assad, were elected in single candidate referendums in which voters cast yes-no ballots.

The government has sought to present this vote as a democratic solution to Syria’s three-year conflict, although a win for Assad is certain to prolong the war. Much of northern and eastern Syria is in rebel hands, and those in the armed opposition show no signs of relenting in their fight to oust Assad.

The war, which activists say has killed more than 160,000 people, has left the international community deeply divided, with the US and its allies backing the revolt against Assad, who enjoys the support of Russia and Iran.

That division persisted in perceptions of Tuesday’s vote.

In Beirut, US secretary of state John Kerry sharply criticized the Syrian election, calling it “a great big zero.” He said it can’t be considered fair “because you can’t have an election where millions of your people don’t even have an ability to vote.”

“Nothing has changed from the day before the election and the day after. Nothing,” Kerry said during a one-day visit to the Lebanese capital. “The conflict is the same, the terror is the same, the killing is the same.”

The European Union joined the US in condemning the election, saying in a statement that “it cannot be considered as a genuinely democratic vote.”

In Damascus, meanwhile, a delegation led by the government’s chief international supporters said Syria’s first multi-candidate presidential election in over four decades was transparent and free, and would pave the way for “stability and national agreement.”

The delegation of officials from more than 30 countries, including legislators and dignitaries from Iran, Russia and Venezuela, toured polling stations on Tuesday. In a final statement read Wednesday by Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s committee on national security, the delegation blamed the US and its allies for “crimes committed against the Syrian people.”

Published on 4 June in http://www.theguardian.com

4
Jun

June 4th will mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square movement which shook China in the spring of 1989. Although there is no doubt that its relevance has been exaggerated outside of China, it is the largest protest which has occurred against the Communist Party of China during its reform period starting in the 1970s. This anniversary allows us to reflect upon this often misinterpreted event, while looking more broadly at some of the political changes in China which have followed.

What happened in 1989?

Between mid-April and the beginning of June in 1989, China experienced protests in cities all across the country as a result of government reforms which were being implemented. The epicenter of this movement took place in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, where protestors, mostly students, had been camped out for weeks in protest of corruption, decreasing quality of life, and prohibition of freedom of speech.

Outside of China, this movement tends to be represented as an effort to establish democracy in China. The Chinese government, on the other hand, condemned this movement as antirevolutionary, declaring it to have come mainly from outside the country. As a result, any form of discussion or commemoration is prohibited. However the reality is far more complex and diverse than these two contradictory views.

It wasn’t so much a planned uprising as a spontaneous revolution; heterogeneous and disorganized designed to reform the system of government not to replace it. Against a backdrop of economic slowdown, high inflation, and dismantling of public services and rampant corruption, Chinese students looked eagerly at the changes occurring in the Soviet Union and asked “Where is the Chinese Gorbachov?”

During the first weeks of the protest, the constructive attitude of the protestors clashed with the stubbornness of the authorities. This was highlighted in an editorial in the People´s Daily on April 26th and further through the martial law imposed on May 20th. This radicalized the student protestors. One of the most influential student protestors commented a few days before the violent suppression of the protestors that the student´s objective should be to provoke a massacre by the Chinese authorities, only then could they create the necessary support to overthrow the current regime.

The massacre finally occurred during the night of June 3rd and 4th when the leadership of the regime ordered the military to stop the revolution in Beijing. In the following days and weeks, arrests, trials and executions followed. And despite the predictions of many, there were no elements of a subsequent national uprising.

What actual impact did the movement from 1989 have?

In retrospect, it seemed to be described as a romantic or voluntary movement, perhaps too emotional, irrational and irresponsible. Chinese dissidents have established somewhat of a tragic interpretation to the events, which is especially relevant in the interpretation of Han Dongfang, one of the most active unionists during the time of the protests. Han described the movement as a fruit that was not yet mature:

“The people were so hungry that when they discovered the fruit, they stormed upon it and swallowed it whole. This produced a sharp pain in the stomach and a bitter taste in the mouth. Should they have eaten the fruit? You could say no, but they were so hungry….you can also say yes, however to eat something that was so green, was not wise.”

This is not to preclude that they should continue criticizing the brutal repression suffered, or to use the 1989 movement as a symbol in favor of the liberalization of Chinese politics. Ignorance and indifference are the most frequent reactions amongst the Chinese population when confronted with the task of recognizing the events from 25 years ago. One of the most startling observations is the apparent disconnect between modern university students in China and those who took up the protest 25 years ago. Throughout the 20th century, Chinese students have taken to the streets on numerous occasions to speak their voice. On the contrary, modern day Chinese students seem to be shockingly apolitical, and in regards to social unrest, seem to largely be of the opinion that their country does not need saving.

However, from an outside perspective, the bloody crackdown on the protests continues to be a lasting stain on China´s international image harming relations with other countries. Could it be safe to say that the actual influence of this tragedy is much greater at the international level than at the internal one within China?

 

 

What are the perspectives for political change in China?

One of the principle lessons that the Chinese authorities took away from the Tiananmen movement was that economic development was not sufficient to keep power. During the second half of the 1980s, Chinese leaders discovered through their own experience that no government has the recipe to guarantee a quick and uninterrupted economic growth. This made it that much more pertinent to seek out legitimate alternative sources from which they could consolidate their economic power. Nationalism has been one of their principle means of doing so.

In other words, it was not probable that there would be important political reforms in the short term, as there was not a significant demand neither inside nor outside of the regime. Even though they were quite critical of the regime, the majority of the Chinese population didn’t consider replacing them for another. As a result, we can say that the democratization of China is a theme much more thought about outside then inside their own borders.

What are the most probable scenarios?

Looking at the current situation it seems that only a profound economic or international crisis could provoke a short term end to the monopoly which the Communist Party of China holds over the political state. However if the Communist Party of China wishes to maintain an acceptable level of economic development as well as the territorial integrity of China, the safest bet is towards a process of progressive political liberalization. The Chinese authorities are well aware that society is dynamic and if you wish to remain in power, you should adapt to said changes. Another option which has been done in other Confucian societies such as Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, is that they implement a democratic regime in China. Along these lines, it is possible that within a few decades, a Chinese Nationalist Party could arrive to directly compete with the Communist Party of China within a unified China.

However, since we don’t have a crystal ball which allows us to see the future of China, we can only wait and see what future awaits the Chinese. In order for a more liberal and free China to emerge, two things will need to happen: on one hand Chinese authorities will have to accept the possibility that their society demands a regime change which does not guarantee the perpetuation of power of the Communist Party of China. On the other hand, the West may have to accept the reality that the Chinese society will want a system of governance different than our own.

Will we all be okay with that idea?

Mario Esteban is head researcher on the Asia-Pacific for the Real Institute Elcano and professor of East Asian studies at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid | @wizma9. He also teaches  a class on China in the IE Master in International Relations.

3
Jun

Spain’s King Juan Carlos to abdicate

Written on June 3, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, News

 

Juan Carlos coronation

After 39 years on the throne, King Juan Carlos of Spain will abdicate in favour of his son Crown Prince Felipe, the king said in a televised address on Monday.

Hours after the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, broke the news, the king explained his decision on Spanish television and radio. He highlighted his pride in the “transformation of Spain” and the “tremendous amount achieved by all” since the country’s transition into democracy.

“Today, when I look back, I cannot help but feel pride and gratitude towards all of you,” he said.

The decision to step down, he said, was made after his 76th birthday in January. His son Felipe, he assured Spaniards, “has the maturity, preparation, and sense of responsibility necessary to assume the title of head of state and open a new era of hope which combines the experience and momentum of a new generation.”

Once one of the world’s most popular monarchs, more recently Juan Carlos has been plagued by a series of scandals that have sent his popularity plummeting. A poll by El Mundo last year found that nearly two-thirds of Spaniards thought the king should abdicate.

In contrast, Prince Felipe, a former Olympic yachtsman, has come out relatively unscathed. Frequently photographed while taking their two daughters to school or at shopping malls, Felipe and his wife Letizia Ortiz – a former television news anchor -have cultivated an image of leading a relatively modest lifestyle.

Fluent in English, French and Catalan along with Spanish, Felipe studied for a year in Canada before undertaking three years of military training in Spain’s army, navy and air force academy. A law degree in Madrid soon followed, as well as a Masters in international relations at Georgetown University in Washington, DC

“His goal, his only goal, is to serve Spain. It has been deeply ingrained in him that he must be the country’s main servant,” his mother Queen Sofia once said.

The poll showing rising public support for Juan Carlos to abdicate was astunning reversal for a leader who in 2012, had earned the approval of almost 80% of Spaniards. Taking the throne just two days after the death of Franco in 1975, Juan Carlos won the respect of Spaniards by steering the country from dictatorship to democracy, including foiling a coup attempt in 1981.

But as Spain fell into financial crisis, the king’s standing sank. A particularly low point came when it was revealed that he had taken a luxurious trip to Botswana to hunt elephants, just weeks after telling a reporter that he was so distraught about the growing ranks of the unemployed that he was having trouble sleeping.

The royal family’s image was further tarnished by a long-runningcorruption investigation into the king’s daughter, Princess Cristina, and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin.

Many, particularly young Spaniards, began to see the king as part of Spain’s problems, drawing parallels between him and the economic and political powers that had driven the country into the economic crisis. While the king’s approval rating dropped steadily, that of his son Felipe remained stable at around 66%, leading many to suggest that the monarchy would be better off if the king abdicated.

In Monday’s announcement, Rajoy praised Juan Carlos, calling him a “tireless defender of our interests”. He added: “I’m convinced this is the best moment for change.”

Spain is now expected to change its constitution to make sure Felipe’s first-born daughter Leonor can succeed him.

The royal family has said its wants the change to ensure she is next in line to the throne in the event that Felipe’s wife gets pregnant again and gives birth to a boy, who would become monarch under the current constitution.

Analysts say that could open the door to political negotiations for additional proposed constitutional changes, including demands by the leading opposition Socialist Party to grant Catalonia more autonomy or special financial benefits to ease separatist feelings.

Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia, declared that the king’s abdication would not derail his plans to hold the vote asking Catalans whether they want to secede from Spain. “We have a date with our future on 9 November,” Mas told reporters after the king gave his speech.

Rajoy’s government must now pass a law creating a legal mechanism for Felipe’s assumption of power, which will then allow Juan Carlos to set a date for his formal abdication.

 

Published on 2 June in http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/02/spains-king-juan-carlos-to-abdicate

2
Jun

Brazil’s World Cup Is An Expensive, Exploitative Nightmare

Written on June 2, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Americas, Op Ed

The world’s “beautiful game” is about to stage its biggest tournament in the country that is its spiritual home. The realities on the ground in Brazil, however, are far different from how its ringmasters had envisioned. Stadiums haven’t been completed; roads and airports not built. Ten thousand visiting journalists may find themselves unable to make deadlines due to poor Internet and mobile service.

More ominously, there is a rising tide of discontent that threatens to turn the streets into war zones. History may well record the World Cup in Brazil as the tipping point where the costs meant the party just wasn’t worth it anymore. Nao Vai Ter Copa has become a national rallying cry. There Will Be No World Cup. People want bread, not circuses. It’s OK to love the game, but hate the event. The governing body of the game, FIFA, is not amused.

Events like World Cup and the Olympics have become obscenely expensive, with few trickle-down rewards to the citizens who bear the brunt of the costs for the benefit of the few. The people of South America’s largest country were promised the dawn of a new age of prosperity that these mega-events heralded. In a country where corruption is insidious, all-encompassing, and a virus that suffocates all semblance of progress, it is bricks, steel, and mortar that the people see, not new hospitals, schools, or public transport. Even then, Itaquerao stadium, as an example, won’t be ready in time for the opening kickoff in São Paulo on June 12. “Is this what we get for $11 billion?” the people are asking. It is a fair question.

A new type of democracy has sprung up as a result; a unity of thought and expression that is uniquely Brazilian. Citizen collectives with names like Direitos Urbanos (Urban Rights) and the Landless Workers Movement (MTST) were formed to create avenues of options for people who have had to make way for ordem e progresso—the national motto of Brazil inscribed on the flag. Order and Progress.

U.S. journalist Dave Zirin, in his recent book Brazil’s Dance With the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics and Brazil’s Fight for Democracy, says the three Ds—displacement, debt, and defense—are at the heart of the other Ds—such as discontent and disgust.

“The calls for protest aim to highlight the pain as well as show the world who is behind the curtain, pulling the strings,” he said. “There is a highly sophisticated plan that just as the government’s World Cup plans for Brazil are designed for international consumption, there is also an unprecedented global spotlight. The great journalist Eduardo Galeano once wrote, ‘There are visible and invisible dictators. The power structure of world football is monarchical. It’s the most secret kingdom in the world. Protesters aim to drag FIFA from the shadows and into the light. If they are successful, it will leave a legacy that will last longer than the spectacle itself.’”

During a congressional hearing by Brazil’s tourism and sports commission this year, former FIFA World Player of the Year and 1994 World Cup winner Romario, now a popular politician and member of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, was quoted as saying, “We can’t expect anything from FIFA, where we have a blackmailer called [General Secretary Jerome] Valcke and a corrupt thief and son-of-a-****h called [President Sepp] Blatter.” Read more…

 

Published on 30/05/2014 in http://www.thedailybeast.com

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