Monthly Archives: December 2016

Murky Romanian Politics: Dragnea’s Political Games

Andrei Popoviciu is a Romanian, International Relations student at King’s College London. He is the Social Media Editor of International Relations Today.

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Liviu Dragnea, head PSD

On the 11th of December, the Romanian people had their say in the parliamentary elections. The Social Democrat Party (PSD) won the elections with a staggering 45% which gave it majority in parliament and the chance to propose a new Prime Minister. Though a party with perspectives of the left, PSD campaigned on a conservative, nationalistic, and pro-Christian Orthodox platform. Even though the party is extremely popular throughout the Romanian electorate, it has a bad reputation because of the people who were a part of it. The party focuses on manipulation, propaganda and dispersing fake news through media outlets which are known to be politically inclined towards the Social Democrats or even owned by them. Political promises and electoral bribe are common practices which characterise the way PSD operates. What is alarming is the fact that a large number of PSD members have been found guilty of corruption, financial crime or money laundering all while occupying high ranked positions in the state administration.

With PSD winning the elections, Liviu Dragnea, the head of the party was supposed to take the lead of the government and become Prime Minister. However, since he was found guilty of electoral fraud and was given 2 years of suspended sentence, he could not be nominated for the position according to the constitution. This created distress in the media as the party’s wish to propose a convicted felon for one of the most important political positions in Romania was frowned upon even by members of the PSD. Nevertheless, Dragnea was not even banned from politics and is still hugely popular within the PSD-core. Way back, he was a public official in Teleorman county, the county with the highest unemployment rate in Romania, and is called the “Teleorman Baron” due to his high profile and the numerous accusations of corruption he got while serving in the county administration.

Furthermore, Romania has a small intake of EU funds, not because they’re not available, but because PSD will not approve any projects unless those favoured by them get their pockets filled. Due to anti-corruption work by the National Anticorruption Directorate, this has become increasingly difficult. Hopefully, we’ll have no more massive IT projects that swallowed huge amount of EU money only to be useless and no more fake pharma companies that not only sucked dry the national health system, but put countless of patients in danger, just for corrupted officials to launder more money. This has been a direct result of corrupt high ranked officials using European funds to fund money laundering projects and initiatives.

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Liviu Dragnea and Sevil Shhaideh shaking hands at the Ministry of Development

Thus, in light of Dragnea’s predicament, he proposed Sevil Shhaideh as a candidate for the PM position. But who is Sevil Shhaideh? Part of PSD, she worked as a minister in the Ponta government, together with Dragnea, whom she’s known for 15 years. They worked in the Ministry of Regional Development where they developed a close friendship. Part of the fuss about her nomination was regarding the fact that Mrs Shhaideh is part of the Tatar minority in Romania. A bit ironic as the PSD electorate seemed to dismiss the option of a Tatar woman running the government, not because her political colour or entanglements with corrupted and convicted individuals, but because her religion and gender. She is close to another PSD strongman, Nicusor Constantinescu, a corrupted public official of Constanta county who is now serving a 15-year sentence for corruption. Nicusor Constantinescu and Liviu Dragnea were both witnesses at Shhaideh’s marriage in 2011 to Akram Shhaideh, an agricultural businessman and specialist from Syria.

Her marriage to the Syrian businessman made the investigative journalists from Rise Project curious about his background. Her husband worked as counsellor for agriculture in the Romanian government and is highly educated in the agricultural domain. Nonetheless, the journalists at Rise found out that Akram Shhaideh, a supporter of Bashar Al-Assad, has been involved in the Syrian crisis. On his personal Facebook page he shared a series of messages and supportive statements for the Assad regime and praised Hezbollah, calling it” a fighter in a holy war”. In 2012, he said that the Syrian civil war is propaganda and that nothing is in fact happening there as Bashar Al-Assad has everything under control. What is scary is that everything was shared on his personal social media accounts and made public by Shhaideh himself. The thought of what he might secretly be involved in is daunting to say the least. However, from everything Rise Project gathered you can contour an image of the type of person Mrs Shhaideh is married to.

Furthermore, besides the fact that Mrs Shhaideh is believed to be a puppet manipulated by Dragnea, it was argued that her only role would be to keep Dragnea’s seat warm until they can alter the constitution and make Dragnea PM. A proxy PM which could have played an important piece in Liviu Dragnea’s lustful political game for the leadership position.

Sergiu Miscoiu, a Romanian political science professor, told Reuters: “Dragnea has nominated a loyal person … it will be a government controlled by Dragnea.”

Ironically, Romania would have contributed to the UN Sustainable Development goals as the first country in Europe to have a Muslim woman as PM. An excellent card played by Dragnea to display faux progressiveness in his party and empowerment of women in Romania when it was just a piece of a complex political game played in his quest for power. It would have been a genius move if Romania was more liberal and open minded, but most of the PSD electorate now regrets voting for PSD in this election because of the unusual nomination of a Muslim woman as PM. This is mainly due to lack of education and the nationalistic drives most of the PSD electorate has been found to have.

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Liviu Dragnea and Sorin Grindeanu the second PM proposal

Consequently, Klaus Iohannis rejected the proposal as he did not see Sevil Shhaideh fit to be PM. As per usual, Dragnea was not content at all and declared that Iohannis’ decision to turn down the proposal can spark a “political crisis”. What is clear is that they will not go down quietly. Hence, Dragnea is now trying to suspend Iohannis following his decision not to appoint Sevil Shhaideh as PM. Nonetheless, PSD is in line with another proposal – Sorin Grindeanu – former Minister of Communications in the former government.

At the moment, he is the president of the County Council in Timisoara county and seems to be more fit and have more experience than Sevil Shhaideh. Certain sources say that he was at the top of the list for the PM proposal before Mrs Shhaideh, but he declined the offer. However, the current political situation might have forced his hand into acceptance. Another argument is that Iohannis had a political strategy to turn down the first proposal so that PSD will have to come up with a better and safer option for the position. With the future of Romanian politics so far bleak, we will now have to wait and see if Klaus Iohannis will accept the second proposal. Either way, Grindeanu is still seen as one of Dragnea’s string-puppets.

Sources

http://www.politico.eu/article/romania-progressives-muslim-pm-shhaideh/

http://www.riseproject.ro/sotul-si-dictatorul-sirian/

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/21/world/europe/sevil-shhaideh-romania-prime-minister.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/romania-first-muslim-woman-prime-minister-sevil-shhaideh-tartar-social-democratic-party-psd-a7490006.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/brexit-eu-europe-romania-elections-liviu-dragnea-centre-left-social-democracy-hope-a7459501.html

http://adevarul.ro/news/politica/video-exclusiv-declaratiile-sotului-sevil-shhaideh-despre-conflictul-sirian-2012-nimic-nu-seintampla-siria-1_585c67935ab6550cb8ae9bfe/index.html#

http://www.digi24.ro/stiri/actualitate/politica/cine-este-sevil-shhaideh-propunerea-de-prim-ministru-636309

http://debanat.ro/2016/12/grindeanu-spun-de-jumatate-de-an-nu-vreau-sa-fiu-ministru_181254.html

http://m.zf.ro/eveniment/informaticianul-sorin-grindeanu-fost-ministru-al-comunicatiilor-propunerea-psd-pentru-premier-dragnea-din-pacate-nu-cred-ca-vom-mai-avea-cum-un-guvern-pana-la-finalul-anului-16042299

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Remembering Fidel Castro

Sofia Lesmes is a 1st year international relations and history student at King’s College London.

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October 25, 2012. I check my school email to get a notification from the principal: “as rumors continue to circulate on Fidel Castro’s health, I would like to inform you of our school’s plan” meaning that if Castro’s death was announced while school was not in session, it would be cancelled the next day. If school was going on, parents would be allowed to take children home if they wished. As anxiety mounted on this cloudy day, uncertainty loomed in my freshman World History class- as the smallest minority in my old high school was non-Cubans.

With Cubans accounting for 57% of the Latin American population in Miami and 34% (Miami-Dade County 2011) of the total population, it is safe to say that the city’s energy is at the mercy of the Cuban people. There was perhaps no stronger evidence than November 25, 2016 to support this claim. The streets filled with joyous celebration for days on end as the majority of Cuban exiles celebrated not the death of an individual, but a symbolic end. Fidel Castro was responsible for the death, exile, and separation of countless families in Cuba. Born and raised in Miami, Fidel Castro is a taboo name for me, even if I am not Cuban, I know everything he has done and why he is called “the father of modern Miami”. If it would not be for Fidel Castro, I probably wouldn’t know half the people I do because they would likely still be in their home country. Forced to flee, or rather swim and float in makeshift rafts for 90 miles, I am used to hearing stories of how people were saved by the “wet-foot dry-foot policy” and were able to start a new life away from an oppressive system that denied political freedom.

The death of Fidel Castro was met with mixed reaction across the world. “Hasta siempre Comandante” was met with equal amounts of “this is Cuba’s Berlin Wall moment”. However, all of his regime’s glorified political moves and socialist policies mean nothing with his countless human rights violations and disregard for his own people. “The progress on economic, social, and cultural rights was never matched in terms of respect for civil and political rights” (Human Rights Watch 2016). One look at the previously vibrant and moved Havana and all that remains is the crumbled infrastructure of pre-Revolution. For the past 55 years, freedom of expression has basically been unheard of on the island. Anyone who spoke out against Fidel Castro was unquestionably thrown in prison at the very least. Over the past half-century there have been 10,794 deaths by execution and 78,000 have died trying to flee the country (Jeff Goertzen 2016). “For my great-grandmother, who you arrested 12 times for her anti-revolutionary actions and vandalized her house weekly in the search for a hidden weapons cache. For my great Uncle, who you executed for arresting a drunken government official and forced his mother and two sisters to clean up his bloody remains from the execution wall”. People who, like 18 year old David Gonzalez, have never been to their own country, know enough about its history because their daily lives are affected by Castro’s regime.

Personally, I will remember him as someone who put politics and power before his own people. One of the most celebrated cultures of Latin America suppressed by a power hungry extremist. Fidel Castro was one of the leaders of the Cuban revolution against the U.S. backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, but for the Cuban people, the aftermath of this revolution brought about nothing except more pain and suffering. There is the fact that many inhabitants of Cuba support Castro’s regime, and the opinion that only capitalists and/or right wing supporters denounce Fidel Castro because there is little to no free market economy. Or that exiles from Cuba were affluent and only represent those who would not have benefited from socialist policies, unlike its present citizens. However, the question of Castro’s legacy lies in his repressive methods to bring about his goals for the country. So, on November 25th I asked myself, if the eyes of the world were on the largest Cuban community outside of Cuba, shouldn’t that say something? People should look to Cubans who can voice their opinion for a bleak opinion on the Castros’ impact. My hope is that history will do the same.

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Aleppo and Military Intervention: Could it have been done?

William Reynolds is a 2nd year undergraduate studying War Studies in the department of War Studies. From a British Armed Forces background, William follows the military capabilities of the West and the security issues in the Middle East with great interest, placing special emphasis on COIN and the experiences of individuals on the ground. William as worked as a Research Fellow for Dr Whetham in the Centre of Military Ethics and is a spammer of many articles on the King’s Middle East and North Africa Forum (MENA). 

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As the dust settles and the conflict draws to a close, there are those who wonder if the West did not do enough to prevent the actions that occurred within the war torn city of Aleppo. Indeed, social media is awash with calls for intervention and #SaveAleppo hashtags by, somewhat ironically, the very same people who expressed outrage when the RoE (Rules of Engagement) were extended for the RAF into Syria. Whilst the UN has placed sole responsibility for any civilian deaths on the shoulders of the SAA (Syrian Arab Army), Russia and allies in the field, the inaction of the West could easily be construed as a facilitator of possible crimes in the future. I will not be focusing too heavily on diplomatic means, as it is in this writers mind that such means have been tried and failed when it comes to Syria.

The Capability:

There are practically only two methods that the West could have employed to intervene in Syria; a UN mandated peacekeeping force or a coalition built force based around one of the three main power projectors in the region (the USA, France and the UK). Any action within Syria would almost certainly require a sizeable force on par with what was deployed with UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force) in Bosnia. Furthermore, any ground intervention would have to be supported by a sizeable air contingent and would therefore necessitate the involvement of the USA as only they have the amount of airframes required to provide effective coverage over Aleppo and the necessary corridors of resupply (be it by air or land).

The second method would simply be a coalition led force, again involving the USA, to act within the region. This second option would have the advantage of being immune from UN handling of the situation, which arguably hamstrung UNPROFOR in Bosnia so much it proved detrimental to operations (as mentioned by Rupert Smith in Utility of Force), and have a unified structure under a NATO led system (similar to ISAF). As with all military operations, the fewer links in the chain of command that you can have the faster and smoother actions on the ground will be.

There is here the assumption that intervention would greatly enhance the risk of military conflict with Assad. Indeed, the legality of intervening in a civil war against a sovereign nation throws up some questions that need to be answered if any military action were to occur. Furthermore, one cannot help but think that the rebels would simply use the ‘thin blue line’ of peacekeepers in the same way as the Croatians did in Yugoslavia. As a shield to protect themselves from the actions of Assad until they regroup, reorganise and counter attack. In which case, would we not be directly involving ourselves in the outcome of the civil war?

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Map of Coalition Air Strikes – Focus of Capabilities to the North

Comparing to Srebrenica:

However, whilst the capability is there to deploy forces in an intervention role, one has to ask is it practical? Many have compared Aleppo to Srebrenica, often quoting the adage of ‘never again’ that was used at the time. There are multiple flaws in this comparison, indeed in comparing the two wars entirely. The Yugoslav wars were indeed a civil war, but divided along ethnic (in the cultural sense) lines. It was not simply Yugoslav versus Yugoslav, rather Croat against Serb and with Bosnia stuck in the middle. It was essentially states under a federal system, with their own histories, culture and religious communities, entirely unlike Syria. A rather haphazard comparison would be to say It would be like a civil war in the United Kingdom, but with the actors being the states that made up the union; Scotland, Wales, England and N. Ireland (sorry Cornwall, your time will come).

If we were to intervene in Syria, one would have to identify sides to place themselves between. Easier in Yugoslavia, almost impossible in Syria. The rebels have so many factions they might as well be conducting a civil war within the war they are prosecuting. Say what you wish about Assad’s regime, but at least you can identify a united front and act accordingly.

Furthermore, we must not forget that there were peacekeepers in Srebrenica in 1995. Much like Aleppo, the city was in a state of siege and despite the blue helmet presence, the Serbs refused to demilitarise around the city. Fewer convoys got through and eventually an evacuation ordered simply to avoid genocide via starvation. Even with UN support, the city fell and the massacre occurred. One should not judge the Dutch peacekeepers too harshly, their RoE was too constrained which led to them being unable to affect any change in their situation. Indeed, coupled with limited air support, the peacekeepers had no option but to leave.

If this happened in Srebrenica, where the West had air superiority and the capability to supply via air, what would be so different with Aleppo, where the Russians and Syrians control the skies?

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A thin blue line of Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica

The Political Will:

One must not discount the domestic issues that are faced by Western leaders when it comes to military intervention. Both Afghanistan and the 2nd Gulf War have left large scars on the societies of both the US and UK. Both the population and the military are exhausted from two protracted counter insurgency wars in the middle east, and the prospect of involving ourselves in another would amount to political suicide for the PM and President of the US. President Obama was elected with a mandate to pull US troops out of Afghanistan (for better or worse) and indeed, in 2013 David Cameron brought to the House of Commons a motion to allow military action against Assad if chemical weapons were deployed. Whilst legally he did not actually require a vote on this matter, the need for a mandate, and therefore multiple bodies to share in the blame if the action went ploin shaped, was paramount. He promptly lost the vote and Britain’s capability to intervene was severely hampered. Furthermore, one cannot forget the outcry that was caused by the notion of increasing the area of operations of RAF strikes against ISIS into Syria. If such commotion was caused by the prospect of committing violence against ISIS, one cannot image what action against Assad would entail.

An intervention would further the narrative of the West involving itself in Middle Eastern affairs. The concept of ‘white men with guns’ is prevalent in the psyche of many and again it seems to be those who protested the invasion of Iraq (and the attempted democratisation of the state) who are calling for intervention against Assad and his government. Is this not hypocritical?

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War Exhaustion has infected both the public and the military in the UK

Russia:

The elephant (or bear quite possibly) in the room is of course Russia’s involvement in the conflict. Arguably, the West has only itself to blame for being outmanoeuvred by the Russians in this regard. Obama had the opportunity to stake his claim in the Syrian conflict with the ‘red-line’ speech in 2012. However, when chemical weapons were deployed and US military might failed to materialise, not only did Obama lose his foot in the door but all credibility of US intervention was lost and arguably gave the green light for Putin to involve himself without threat of US involvement. Much like in the days of imperialism, Russia filled the void that had been left by the US and now that they are entirely entrenched in the area the West cannot intervene in the conflict without the threat of escalating the situation with Russia. Russian warplanes and advisers operate regularly in Syria and the fog of war could quite easily result in a military action between the US and Russia by accident.

So as to whether the West could have done something about Aleppo the answer is not clear. Multiple opportunities were present in the past, but the appetite for military intervention was just not there. As for whether it’s practical, a war with Syria would be winnable by the West, but the deployment of an intervention force deep into Syrian territory to block further violence would be a logistical nightmare and would greatly enhance the risk of conflict elsewhere with Russia. Practical politics, or realpolitik, always leaves a bitter taste in the Western liberal system. But sometimes the practicality of ones actions simply cannot afford to accommodate the morality of the situation, despite how right and good it may be.

 

References:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23892783 – 2013 UK vote on Syrian intervention

https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/12/02/analysis-sharp-fall-support-air-strikes-syria/ – Current YouGov opinion polls on airstrikes

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/08/20/world/meast/syria-unrest/ – Obama’s ‘Red-Line’ speech

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srebrenica_massacre#Early_1995:_the_situation_in_the_Srebrenica_.22safe_area.22_deteriorates – Basic Facts on Srebrenica

http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/past/unprof_b.htm – UNPROFOR

http://web.stanford.edu/class/e297a/United%20Nations%20Peacekeeping%20Operations.pdf – UN Peacekeeping Operations

Smith, Rupert (2006), The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World, (London: Penguin Books)

http://syria.mil.ru/en/index/syria.htm – Numerous updates on Russian Operations in Syria from the Russian Federation Ministry of Defence

https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/daesh/about – UK actions against ISIS

https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmdfence/106/106.pdf – House of Commons Defence Committee: UK military operations in Syria and Iraq

Pictures:

https://gscott123.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/bomb_1803897c.jpg

http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/file/show//Images/Balkan%20Transitional%20Justice/Places/dutch.peacekeepers.potocari.resized.jpg

http://static1.businessinsider.com/image/545e664b69beddee0cb4df46-1200-1715/rtr4cq0q%20(1).jpg

 

 

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