Tag Archives: Germany

German General Elections: Europe – Quo vadis?

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By Julia Huentemann, 2nd year International Relations Undergraduate at King’s College London and Editorial Assistant at International Relations Today.

The Results

Last Sunday 24th September, the German citizens elected a new parliament – the Bundestag – and decided to let Angela Merkel serve another four years as German Chancellor. Starting her fourth consecutive term, she now equals the record of her predecessor Helmut Kohl. Even though nobody actually doubted that Merkel respectively the CDU would make it, the result is far behind optimistic expectations and means a weakened position for Merkel.

Having run in office as German Chancellor for twelve years and being the leader of Europe’s largest economy since 2005[1], experienced “Mutti” Merkel tends to be seen as the ultimate safe option for stability in Germany and Europe in turbulent times on the political stages at home and abroad. But Merkel’s popularity plummeted significantly in 2015 as a result to her controversial immigration policies and the result reveals that her public support is less broad than assumed.

Even though the CDU gathered most votes with about 33%, this result means a loss of almost 9% compared to the elections in 2013. It would be ignorant to talk about a victory and it forces Merkel to find new partners for the required majorities to build a government, since the present coalition partner SPD is not willing to function as such any longer. Facing extreme losses of votes itself the SPD understands its role in the opposition working on a profile that significantly differs from that of the CDU. Moreover, there is to notice a growing resistance towards Merkel from members of the CSU (CDU´s sister party) who have been claiming a maximum limit of migrants and blame Merkel for the bad outcome.

With the main centre parties CDU and SPD both enjoying considerably less popularity, the actual winner of the 2017 General Elections is clearly the hard right “Alternative for Germany” (AfD), the first nationalist party to win seats in the Bundestag after 1949. This development is alarming and reveals that nationalist and thus anti-European tendencies are also very popular in Germany, especially in Eastern Germany, which makes further European integration – as recently claimed by the French Premier Emmanuel Macron – more difficult.

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The political landscape in Germany

Led by Angela Merkel, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) is Germany’s main centre-right party and has been advertising its election campaign with the slogan “For a Germany where life is enjoyable”.  It is said to rather represent employers´ interests and its dealing with the recent Diesel affaire can be taken as an example for this claim. The Conservative Party is most likely the equivalent in GB. Despite having lost ca. 9 % compared to 2013, the CDU remains the strongest party with about 33 %. It needs to be considered that this result is the sum of CDU´s and CSU´s (her sister party) votes.

Its main competitor on the political landscape is the SPD (Social Democratic Party), Germany’s main centre-left party. According to its slogan “It is time for more justice: securing the future and strengthening Europe” the SPD is focusing on justice and equality in a strong Europe. It is said to rather represent the employees´ interests and can be seen as the pendant to the Labour Party in GB. Led by the former president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, whose candidature had sparked an initial rise in support that subsided shortly after, the party has experienced a severe defeat with only 20,5 % of the votes compared to about 25,5 % in 2013.

The third popular party with almost 13 % nationwide became the right, nationalist, Euro-sceptic AfD (Alternative for Germany). Having welcomed Brexit and Trump, the anti-immigration, anti-Islam party is now represented in 13 out of 16 state parliaments and in the Bundestag as the National Parliament. Ever since 2015 with the constant influx of migrants, resentment and fear towards Merkel’s welcoming migration policies had been rising, feeding into the AfD’s plan of attracting support. Having increased ca. 8 % in votes since 2013, AfD leading candidate Alexander Gauland claimes that the AfD is “going to reconquer our land and our people”[2]

There are three more parties represented in the new Bundestag having exceeded the threshold of 5 percent: The FDP (Liberal Democratic Party) enjoying a support of 10,7 % (+ 5,9 %) of the votes, The Green Party focusing on environmental issues with 8,9 % (+ 0,5 %) and the Left Party standing for anti-Capitalism and women´s rights with 9,2 % (+ 0,5 %).

In this new parliament the two main centre parties unite just about half of the votes while the other half is shared in almost equal parts by four smaller parties. This distribution of seats is unprecedented in the German Bundestag and means a challenge to find a governing majority.

The Reasons

Of course, this is mere speculation, but taking into account the findings of political research AfD´s performance can be understood as a kind of protest against the establishment and especially against the “GroKo” (Great Coalition) which obviously has been experienced as a political standstill. Only a minority of those who vote for AfD are actually convinced of its program, but rather wanted to demonstrate resistance against current political practice. The fact that there hardly seems to be a significant difference between the program of the established parties also might have fostered the seduction to vote for the AfD. [3]

It is most likely that this result also reveals dissatisfaction with Merkel´s immigration policy. Obviously, politicians in office have failed to recognize public fears and worries and to take them seriously enough. I strongly believe that most of my German fellow citizens are willing to help refugees and welcome them as valuable members in our society, provided that they are willing to live according to our western democratic values and do not violate our laws. Unfortunately, some of them did and to the annoyance of the victims they mostly went unpunished. This is a policy hard to understand and a clampdown might have helped to avoid this development. I am confident that 13 % for the AfD is not an expression for anti-refugee or anti-European attitude but rather an expression for dissatisfaction about how politicians deal with the challenges coming across with refugee influx and European integration.

 The Consequences – for Germany and for Europe

Merkel needs to form a coalition and without the SPD the only realistic option is CDU/CSU with FDP and the Green Party. The CDU/CSU is also referred to as ‘black’, the FDP as ‘yellow’ and the Green apparently as ‘green’, which is why this combination is called the ‘Jamaica-Coalition’ relating to the Jamaican flag.

Even though there seems to be a general willingness to cooperate, content-related overlaps need to be identified and especially in terms of the European process this could become a matter of dispute. While the Green openly professes a strong Europe, the FDP is more reserved, especially when it comes to a shared fiscal policy. Inspired by the idea of negotiating the impossible (‘Fluch’ = ‘curse’), DIE ZEIT (a serious German weekly paper) titled as follows:

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It will be interesting to see, if, respectively how, the three of them will negotiate a compromise, because this will not only determine Germany´s but also Europe´s future.

Emmanuel Macron already expressed his worries that a coalition with the Liberal Party might cause problems for his plans concerning the European development. It is just smart and fair that he brings forward his claims before the coalition negotiations start, because they should be part of the negotiations.

And finally I don´t want to miss mentioning that the SPD as the leader of the opposition in Parliament inevitably stands for a pro-European course and will hopefully provide some positive impulses whatever the government brings forward. This could be one of the issues where the SPD could differentiate from the CDU/CSU in its next campaign. And as we have learnt from Macron: it is actually possible to win an election with pro-European claims against all odds.

Bibliography:

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/24/germanys-general-election-all-you-need-to-know.

[2] http://www.tagesschau.de/newsticker/liveblog-bundestagswahl-101.html#Reaktionen-bei-Union-und-SPD.

[3] http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/btw17/index.html.

 

 

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Helmut Kohl – Chancellor of German Unity

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By Julia Huentemann, a 1st year International Relations student at King’s College and Editorial Assistant at International Relations Today. 

Helmut Kohl – the Chancellor of the German Reunification and a pioneer for the European Unification – died Friday 16th June, 2017 at the age of 87.

Leaders from all over the world issued their grief about the loss of a great politician and a great European patriot in an official European ceremony in Strasbourg on 1 July 2017. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission and a close friend of Kohl, delivered an emotional and very personal speech recalling that neither the EU enlargement towards the East nor the introduction of the Euro would have been realized without Kohl. Bill Clinton, former US president, said ‘farewell my friend’ and stated that Kohl´s legacy is the chance to be part of something bigger than the personal career: the striving for a better world with mutual respect where no nation is dominated and no nation dominates others. The French president Emmanuel Macron praised Kohl´s merits concerning the German-French relation as a foundation for a united and peaceful Europe and called to appreciate and maintain these achievements. He remembered the legendary act of reconciliation with Francois Mitterand and Helmut Kohl holding hands at the graveyard of Verdun. Finally, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor who had dissociated from Kohl during his lifetime, addressed the audience full of praise about Kohl´s life achievement: when he entered office in 1982 Germany was divided, when he left office in 1998, Germany has been reunited and the European unification has been in great progress. Without Helmut Kohl millions of people, including herself, would not have had the chance to live a life in freedom and peace and this is why she bowed before him in gratitude and humility.

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Even though Kohl was not without controversy in Germany, undisputed tribute was paid to him for his unshakeable confidence in the German Reunification and the European Integration, his commitment and his political instinct for the feasible. He realized the unique opportunity for a German Reunification with the blessing of USSR´s Michail Gorbatschow and the Western nations and courageously took the chance before the historic timeframe closed again. Due to his integrity, his solid reliability and his political fairness he enjoyed the highest respect and strong confidence among the political leaders and therefore managed to overcome the concerns about a reunited Germany.

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Besides his belief in the German Reunification he had a vision of a united Europe which became the driving force for his acting. As a graduate in History he was well aware of Germany´s responsibility and his political goal was to contribute to a free and peaceful community of all European nations with a united Germany amidst it. According to Juncker he saw the euro as a means of ensuring peace in Europe and therefore fought for the introduction of the euro.

A ceremony in Strasbourg, at the heart of Europe and the border of Germany and France, is symbolic for Kohl´s political legacy. It is now up to us to maintain this legacy and to make Europe great (again). ;  )

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The Brexit: Is Europe stumbling toward the abyss?

 

Tomass Pildegovičs is a first-year International Relations student from Riga, Latvia.

*This is a modified version of the article, ‘The Brexit Dilemma: A Baltic Perspective’ By Tomass Pildegovičs, originally published by the Latvian Institute of International Affairs on January 20, 2016.

Source: http://liia.lv/en/blogs/the-brexit-dilemma-a-baltic-perspective/

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From the moment he secured a victory in parliamentary elections last May, Prime Minister David Cameron has been a vocal proponent of a referendum on the United Kingdom’s secession from the European Union, otherwise referred to as the “Brexit”. [1] After a thorny renegotiation process lasting many months, the upcoming British referendum has started to dominate the European political agenda. The reformed membership presented by Mr. Cameron has come under a great deal of scrutiny domestically, particularly in regard to promises of liberating UK business from “EU red tape and political interference” and reinforcing the position of those EU member states that are not part of the Eurozone. [2] Further demands expressed by the British Prime Minister included the strengthening of oversight by national parliaments, restrictions on subsidies, tax credits, and child benefits for EU migrants as well as an end to the assumption of “ever closer union.” [3] In fact, as part of the recent renegotiation process that finished in February, Mr. Cameron visited 18 European capitals, a modus operandi unmatched in activity by any of his predecessors in recent history. [4] With the date of the referendum getting ever closer, the public discussion of the issue has reached a fever pitch, with prominent political figures drumming up support for both camps. It is evident that when the people of the United Kingdom go to polling stations this June, they will be making a decision of tremendous magnitude, not only for the UK, but for all of Europe.

From an EU perspective, a Brexit would mark a fundamental challenge to the integrity and future prospects of the Union. In 2014, the United Kingdom accounted for 12.6% of the population and 16% of the GDP of the EU, the second most of any individual member state. [5] The UK has arguably the greatest political clout and military capacity of any EU member state, thus enabling the EU to play an active role in shaping the international political agenda. For most EU member states, the EU serves as an instrument for addressing the challenges posed by globalization and consolidating the advantageous position and relative affluence of Europe on the global stage. In the case of UK secession, the EU would lose a permanent member of the UN Security Council as well as one of the most influential actors in the IMF, the World Bank, the G8, the G20, the OECD, IEA, the UNFCC and the FSB. [6] Hence, the EU’s ability to influence the international political discourse would decline substantially, enabling actors such as the United States and Russia to exert a greater sway over European affairs. Moreover, a Brexit would directly contribute to a reduction of the gravitational pull exerted by the EU, which is particularly important in the context of its Eastern Partnership policy. It is critical that the EU retains one of the greatest advocates of an active effort to strengthen links with the eastern neighborhood, which includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Belarus. Should the UK leave, countries such as Ukraine and Moldova would be less incentivized and driven to proceed with the rigorous reform programs demanded by the EU. Therefore, UK secession would enable further Russian encroachment upon the nations of the eastern neighborhood.

Furthermore, there is a fundamental ideological divergence between the UK and the other leading EU stakeholders, most notably France and Germany. Whereas France and Germany continue to espouse a vision of a united greater Europe, the UK seeks to disentangle itself from a range of European commitments. For example, whilst Eastern European member states continue to demonstrate support for increased integration in the form of the Eurozone, British support for the Euro is at the paltry benchmark of 20%, with an overwhelming 70% against the idea of UK membership in a European economic and monetary union with a single currency. [8] Evidently, the UK and the continental member states have dissimilar if not different visions of what the EU should represent.

Nevertheless, a divergence in vision does not have to be irreconcilable to the point of divorce. From the French and German point of view, increased integration must remain a voluntary political enterprise, which cannot be imposed upon a member state. The EU must be pliant enough to be accommodating of different speeds at which member states pursue their Europeanization policy. Naturally, the historical and geopolitical context has galvanized certain member countries, most notably the Baltic States, to be more proactive on the matter, in order to consolidate an increasingly important position in the European fabric. Yet the historical distinctiveness of the United Kingdom must similarly be recognized, accepting its desire to maintain a distance on a range of issues that are politically negotiable. For example, the past decade has shown that it is not essential that all EU member states join the Eurozone, with countries such as Sweden, Poland and the UK experiencing economic growth while partaking in the integral mechanisms of the union. Also, there is clearly enough room for compromise on the issue of welfare benefits and tax credits for migrants. There are viable alternatives for easing the burden borne by the generous UK welfare system without violating fundamental EU principles. For example, current EU law already allows for differential treatment of unemployed migrants, as they do not contribute to the economy of the host nation via taxation. [9] The recent renegotiation process demonstrated great potential for cooperation between the parties. The most pressing of Mr. Cameron’s demands were accommodated, whilst maintaining a red line in regard to the very pillar of the EU- the freedom to work and live anywhere in the European Union. It would be politically dangerous if member states resorted to constructing barriers within the EU, and countries with fluid workforces, like Poland and the Baltic States, would be victimized the most. Although the skepticism and resentment of the British people has not fully dissipated despite Mr. Cameron’s deal, it is essential to the sustainability of the union that renegotiating UK membership does not include curbing basic freedoms granted by the EU. The abandonment of fundamental EU principles would foster political divisiveness and perhaps spawn referendums on secession in other member states.

In light of the altered security landscape in Eastern Europe, it is evident that the actor standing to benefit the most from a Brexit would be Russia. Reeling from the impact of economic sanctions of the West, Russia has suffered a considerable loss of stature internationally. Additional factors such as the dropping price of oil and the plummeting value of the Russian ruble present acute threats to the stranglehold that President Vladimir Putin has on political capital in Russia. Henceforth, a range of domestic and international issues has forced Mr. Putin’s hand and led to a costly gamble in Syria with the intent of regaining an international platform by force. However, another political instrument at Russia’s disposal is internal EU fragmentation, largely along north-south and east-west lines. The Kremlin has a number of allies in European politics, most notably far-right parties such as France’s National Front, Golden Dawn in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary, and Ataka in Bulgaria. [12] Each of these parties, in addition to benefiting from Russian funding and enjoying rising popularity, employ a vehement anti-EU rhetoric. There is already a significant level of friction within the EU; ergo, a Brexit would only further exacerbate the existing fault lines. While the European Union is not a military organization, it acts as a coalescent and unifying European framework. Hence, EU fragmentation would not bode well for the continent’s ability to withstand a major geopolitical crisis, such as Moscow’s continued violations of international law in Ukraine. In the current geopolitical context, a Brexit would be detrimental to the European security landscape.

Albeit not cataclysmic in itself, UK secession from the EU would establish a dangerous precedent, challenging the very principles and ideological foundation of the Union. Despite the adversity faced by the EU in the recent past, the promise of a united Europe has never been more important. It is a promise that the United Kingdom must continue to subscribe to because the future of Europe is at stake.

 

Sources

 

[1] “Cameron, Brexit and Russia”, The Moscow Times, May 11, 2015, http://carnegieeurope.eu/2015/05/11/cameron-brexit-and-russia/i8fe

 

[2] “Why, and how, Britain might leave the European Union”, The Economist, April 29, 2015, http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2015/04/economist-explains-29

 

[3] “EU referendum: What are David Cameron’s demands in the EU talks?”, The Independent, November 7, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eu-referendum-what-are-david-cameron-s-demands-in-the-eu-talks-a6725741.html

 

[4]David Cameron steps up European tour as EU negotiation deadline looms”, The Independent, January 6, 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-steps-up-european-tour-as-eu-negotiation-deadline-looms-a6799861.html

 

[5] Member States Factsheets, Eurostat, January 2015, http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/statistics/factsheets/pdf/eu_en.pdf

 

[6]BREXIT: the impact on the UK and the EU”, Global Counsel, June, 2015, http://www.globalcounsel.co.uk/system/files/publications/Global_Counsel_Impact_of_Brexit_June_2015.pdf

[7] Standard Eurobarometer 82, Survey conducted by TNS opinion & social at the request of the European Commission, Directorate-General for Communication, Autumn 2014,  http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb82/eb82_first_en.pdf

[8] Ibid.

 

[9] “Why David Cameron’s four year benefits cut for EU migrants won’t work”, The Independent, November 10, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/why-david-cameron-s-four-year-benefits-cut-for-eu-migrants-wont-work-a6729151.html

 

[10] ”What will become of them?”, The Economist, May 28, 2015,  http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21652356-even-if-britain-votes-leave-eu-its-european-migrants-may-stick-around-what-will-become

 

[11] “Latviešu skaits ārzemēs arvien pieaug”, Neatkarīgā, October 24, 2012, http://nra.lv/latvija/82075-latviesu-skaits-arzemes-arvien-pieaug.htm

 

[12] “Putin’s Western Allies”, Foreign Affairs, March 25, 2014, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russia-fsu/2014-03-25/putins-western-allies

 

[13] “Britain to station troops in Baltic region ‘to deter Russian aggression”, The Guardian, October 8, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/08/britain-station-troops-poland-latvia-lithuania-estonia-russian-aggression

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Ethics of Cologne

by Uygar Baspehlivan, a second-year BA International Relations student at King’s College London.

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Doesn’t it feel like everything that can go wrong in regards to the refugee crisis in Europe, actually happens in the worst way possible with attacks in Cologne on the headlines and Sweden closing its borders? It feels like Europe, concordant with Middle East is rapidly sliding towards this spiral of bad decisions and badly timed actions and conflicts. With no sign of improvement on the horizon, it seems like we need to accept the current inflow of refugees into Europe and analyse the implications of it for societies and refugees and their inevitable clash of cultures. Cologne attacks on New Year’s Eve was an unprecedented event as sexual assaults and sexist slurs are unfortunately still a frequent occasion in modern societies; however, the racial distinction of these assaulters challenged European societies to face their own morality. Were they ready to accept an entirely different culture and consequently, a new morality that might possibly fracture their internal order?

The reactions of high-profile Swedish and German politicians and public figures (countries that are deemed to be the beacon of European moralism), demonstrate the waning ethicality of Western governments and the introduction of a resurgent protectionist rhetoric in these countries. “These are so-called refugee youths, specifically from Afghanistan. Several of the gang were arrested for sexual molestation,” [1]one police memo said.” The interpellation of these assaulters as ‘refugee youths’ can be argued to showcase how the so-called beacons of morality fail to uphold a humanitarian position when the ethical order of their own communities are at stake. “The fact that the men responsible for the attacks were largely immigrants is also not a shock.[2]” said R.W. Dooley of the U.S. Today showing the inherent cultural backlash that the attacks generated. Looking at these New Year’s Eve assaults and the culture-focused rhetoric of the citizens of the host countries displays the clash of cultures that is blooming in European countries day by day. Integration of refugees into their newly-assumed societies has been a predominant topic of discussions in the policy centers of Europe.

The assumption and the prerequisite for asylum was the adaptation and integration of these refugees into their respective societies so that the internal cohesion of the states can remain intact regardless of the cultural heterogeneity. One can even argue that it was a de facto social contract. However cultural adaptation is not that easy. As a Turkish citizen, I can affirm that, unfortunately, sexism and rape culture are still quite common even in Turkey, a supposedly developed Muslim society. “In Turkey, according to a study, some commonly-expressed views on rape were given to individuals from various professions, who were asked to agree or disagree; results recorded that 33% of the police officers agreed that ‘some women deserve rape’, 66% of police officers, as well as nearly 50% of other professional groups except the psychologists about 18% and 27% of psychiatrists, suggested that ‘the physical appearance and behaviors of women tempt men to rape.’[3]It is a part of modernity that several Muslim societies couldn’t yet manage to surmount. The Cologne attacks, hence resulted in the culmination of the cultural tension that was an inevitable result of failed integration. “Police say 883 people have now filed criminal complaints over the events in Cologne, including 497 women alleging sexual assault.[4]”. The shock factor of these numbers certainly brought an urgent need to talk about this issue that the European societies forestalled for months. Under pressure, Angela Merkel and Stefan Löfven both had to respond to attacks one way or another and although they both chose to ignore the ethical background of the assaulters, this clash of cultures needs to be addressed. For me, there comes the significance of two dimensions of ethics and the inevitable tension between them. Looking at the refugee crisis, one can see that Western countries are faced with a tough choice which I shall address as “tension of ethics”. A choice has to be made between two dimensions of ethics; a country’s internal ethics, the domestic moral system that consists of enforcing civil law, ideas of right and wrong when living in a society, like theft, rape etc, and a country’s external ethics, the ethical measures that it has to uphold when it comes to international crises, wars, debates etc. such as the R2P or the UNHCR. The attacks of Cologne and similar problems of integration in Sweden point towards a conflict between these two ethicalities. How long can Sweden and Germany support the refugee inflow when the internal cohesion of their countries, be it the failed integration of the refugees or the rise of right-wing extremists, is at peril. Externally, both Sweden and Germany are known to be holding a certain ethical standard when it comes to international issues; they were the ones most enthusiastic when the refugee crisis became an immediate problem and they were the ones who strongly and persistently advocated for asylum rights in the EU and other international organizations. But as a society crumbles with mutual inadaptability of cultures, new policies need to be implemented; a choice of ethical dimensions. Introducing border controls was the first step of Germany and Sweden moving away from their externally oriented politics, and these attacks certainly will pave the way towards further internalization. Europeans are getting more and more intolerant to refugees and international politics is losing its ethicality for the sake of internal. A return to national interest emphasized by realists is at sight and it’s coming from the most unexpected countries, Germany and Sweden, that are known for their moral international posture. A question needs to be asked: will other countries choose their internal ethics when they face similar integration issues? If international humanitarian law is not enforced with more vigour, even those countries we trust the most will choose the path of the “selfish”, rather than the “selfless”. And so deeper engagement with the domestics of the refugee-taking states is essential to solve the problem that seems to be getting worse and worse each day.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/11/swedish-police-accused-cover-up-sex-attacks-refugees-festival

[2] http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2016/01/24/voices-cologne-struggles-rebound-mass-attacks/79179514/

[3] https://business.highbeam.com/435388/article-1G1-111635867/turkish-university-students-attitudes-toward-rape

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35348949

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