Tag Archives: Media

The anatomy of TERROR

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By Diana Ecaterina Borcea, a first year War Studies Undergraduate at King’s College London and European Editor for International Relations Today.

 10:35pm Monday, May 22nd 2017. Massive explosion taking place at the Manchester Arena, shortly after the end of 20.000 people packed concert.

Two months earlier, on March 22nd, a 52-year-old British citizen drove a car into the pedestrians on the south side of the Westminster Bridge.

The timeline of the UK terrorist attacks started to count more and more incidents and deaths of the innocent since the beginning of the year, leading the detectives into the hunt for a terrorist network, especially after the Iraqi Islamic State’s responsibility claim over the bombing which happened earlier this week. However, the public proved itself to be increasingly confused in the attempt to contour a broader understanding of what the terrorists are looking for in their operations – or even better – what the real terror is meant to achieve.

Considering that UK has just been through the worst attack since 2007, the polarization of a pure anti-humanity agenda, successfully restored under the international spotlight since the beginning of the year proved once again, its underlying permanent influence over the global society, regardless of the geo-political targeting of the attacks. Therefore, what is actually primarily important to understand is the concept that describes best the perpetrators’ intentions in their offensive procedure, which essentially relies on the very definition of terror. They aim for publicity (which by its own means both attracting other individuals or groups on the side of the perpetrators and breaking the rational will of the targeted mass), they generally intend to deteriorate the image of a recognized government in the eyes of both the world and their own citizens, they inspire a super-wave of collective guilt amongst the individuals and ultimately, strive for a socio-political (and sometimes economic) paralysis of the targeted state-system, once the faith and the support of the masses are completely lost. From this point of view, UK’s constant response to the attacks can be theoretically interpreted as being antiterrorist, because it mainly relies on collective national security measures meant to keep sheltering the rights of the citizens and the rule of law. However, the increasing density of the attacks does raise some vital questions about the state’s protective capability, given the large numbers of casualties caused only since the beginning of this year. The more successful attacks, the lower the people’s faith in their own security and safety and implicitly, the lower the trust in the state’s protective ability. So what will happen next?

It is clear that unlike the Unites States, the British government does not see terrorism as warfare, nor does it look at it through the crime analogy. What UK has actually done so far is considering terrorism as being a matter of disease, which implies a cause-symptom treatment based on arrests and increased prevention through additional security measures. It is certainly important to note the achievements of this approach, as so far the danger of a social paralysis has been avoided and regardless of the extent of the destruction caused by the perpetrators of extreme violence, life went on. But how long will this last for?

A more relevant idea to bear in mind when dissociating terrorism is that due to the ever-changing nature of the phenomenon (including the targeting vision, the conduct of the operations, the tactics and devices used etc.), there is not and will never be a clear, comprising and universally valid definition for the case. This fact itself plays an important role in the broad understanding process of how and why the perpetrators act the way they do against the society. The psychological view of the attacker prototype does explain the individual’s perspective before and during the ‘pull of the trigger’, as it acknowledges the psychological map and processes taking place in human mind, which are, to a certain extent, quite similar to the ones of a soldier on the battlefield. It fails, however, to identify the vague transition between the ideological, religious, political, economic or personal motivation of an individual to carry out an act of extreme violence and the actual process of making it happen. In other words, there is no clear link between the theory and the practice of inducing terror. What is more, the group cohesion theory can barely justify the determination and outstanding operational focus of the terrorist groups and yet, it does not even reach the lone wolves’ case studies. Perhaps, this is one element that makes the latest London attacks stand out in the series of the recent attacks, because if the individuals acted on their own, one can hardly identify – not to mention understand – the mental realm of the terrorist. Thus, there is a general state of confusion between the target and the shooter. Unlike traditional warfare, the war on terror is not just asymmetrical from the grand strategic point of view, but it is also extremely irregular when it comes to the individual level of analysis.

Therefore, the thinner the correlation between the victim and the killer, the more endangered the conditions of life, regardless of the geographical zone discussed. What is certain, though, is that the continuation of the attacks against the human society has become in the past decades, an inherent matter of reality. Whether the hits similar to the one Britain took earlier this week will intensify or not, it is important to remember that terrorism is now a big part of the world we live in. The attackers are not prone to fundamental changes on any level of analysis, but what needs consideration is how (from the citizens to the states and to the international community) the society will ‘digest’ and cope with this traumatizing reality and the first step on this path is actually deciding whether the surviving mechanism of the world as we know it is actually that bulletproof against terror as we thought it was.

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Marine Le Pen and women’s rights: a personal opinion

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By Elise Lauriot Prevost, a second year Undergraduate studying International Relations at King’s College London.

Women’s rights have not been central in the French elections, as they are not in most elections. They never seem to be a priority even though women statistically represent 50% of the electorate. However, there is a chance that in two weeks a woman may become President. This woman is Marine Le Pen. Her opponent, Emmanuel Macron, a man, has pledged to do more about women’s rights than Le Pen. This is easily explained by looking at the party she represents, the Front National. Nonetheless, what is concerning is not only that woman’s rights are so absent from her program but more so how she frames her ‘slight’ concern.

A quick comparison of the two candidates programs on women’s rights shows us that:

  • Emmanuel Macron wants there to be parity in the candidates running for the legislative elections and in the directors of state agencies.
  • Marine Le Pen does not mention this.

 

  • When it comes to equal pay Macron would like to ‘name and shame’ companies that do not pay men and women the same and enforce by conducting regular checks.
  • Marine Le Pen does mention equal pay and does not give any concrete measures on how she would achieve this. Still she is against positive discrimination.

 

  • When it comes to women’s rights Emmanuel Macron would be stricter on ‘small infractions’ such as cat calling and other ‘antisocial behavior against women’ by imposing “on the spot” fines.
  • Marine Le Pen wants to defend women’s rights by fighting against Islamism which, for her, is the biggest threat against women’s fundamental rights. [1]

 

It is on this last point that I would like to focus on. This idea of Islamism and a repression of women rights has its roots in the colonization of North Africa by the French. The French quickly developed an obsession with veiling and unveiling woman which is obviously still the case with the recent ‘burkini’ scandal. Additionally, the 2005 ‘Loi contre les signes religieux ostensibles’ was passed as a matter of ‘laicité’ but would never have made it through had it not been for the campaign by French feminists that headscarves are just a sign of a Muslim woman’s oppression. Many authors have justifiably argued against this[2]. This removes a Muslims woman agency and her right to choose for herself. The headscarf also has a long history of being used as a form of rebellion against colonial authorities. Obviously, the headscarf does not equal fundamental Islam but for Marine Le Pen it seems to. By reducing Muslim women to their headscarves it completely removes their agency.

On top of this discourse with colonial and purely racist undertones there is another problem with what she is saying. As a French woman, I personally have never felt that Islamism was the biggest threat to my rights. Far from it. I feel that my reproductive rights are more threatened by the ‘family’ lobby (La Manif Pour Tous) in France which is mostly Catholic. I personally have been more put down, belittled and on the receiving end of lurid comments by white ‘French’ men than by the people Marine Le Pen blames, ‘immigrants’.  Obviously, I am generalizing here but my biggest concerns are everyday cat calling, being belittled by male peers and most importantly the fact that I still have to work twice as hard to get a job, an interview or even just to be taken seriously because I am a woman. And this has absolutely nothing to do with Islamism. What shocks me the most is that Marine Le Pen is arguably the most powerful woman in France today and to get there it must not have been easy.

I dislike her with every fiber of my being and would never excuse anything she says but, woman to woman, I am certain that she has felt the same sexual discrimination that I have. She has had to work twice as hard to get where she is, she has had to answer questions which a man never gets asked such as why have you put your career in front of your family? etc. I do not agree with her ideas but I am sure that she has been victim to as much and even more sexual harassment because of her prominent position. I am sure that people questioned her taking over from her father on the basis that she was a woman. With all this said I still struggle to understand why she does not take women’s rights more seriously. I am sure that she has had her rights questioned by way more non Islamic fundamentalists than Islamic fundamentalists. Women’s rights may not appeal to all her voters but she has tried to soften her image and distance herself from her father and party. How can a woman who has definitely experienced sexual harassment reduce it to Islamic Fundamentalism. You can be blinded by your ideas but work place harassment, belittlement is an everyday reality for woman and for her too.  How can you vote for someone who is so blinded by their racist and extremist ideology that they do not even take into account what affects them on a daily basis?

Bibliography:

[1] <http://www.rtl.fr/girls/identites/macron-le-pen-le-match-des-programmes-pour-les-droits-des-femmes-7788256778&gt;.

[2] Najmabadi, Afsaneh. “Gender and Secularism of Modernity: How Can a Muslim Woman Be French?” Feminist Studies 32, no. 2 (2006): 239.

 

 

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Is Romania finally making its first steps towards democracy?

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By Luca Patriniche, a first-year History undergraduate at King’s College London

The newly-appointed Social-Democratic (PSD, now in coalition with ALDE) government of Sorin Grindeanu approved an emergency ordinance (OUG13), during the night of 31 January 2017, which alters the Romanian penal code and reduces penalties for abuses of power. The order stipulated more lenient punishments for corruption. There was also an amnesty for those convicted of certain corruption offenses, which amounts essentially to the legalization of corruption. PSD proposed further measures that would ban protests deemed to be of “extremist nature” and free from jail those serving sentences of up to five years for offenses including abuse of power. All these measures would be a clear breach of democratic principles – they bear an uncanny resemblance to the new measures passed secretively in the night by the illiberal Law & Justice (PiS) government in Poland. Similarly to PiS, PSD’s first line of defense to criticism is their pro-social measures to ‘help the poor’, that are ‘the will of the people’.

The main beneficiary of PSD’s ordinance would have been the PSD president Liviu Dragnea. PSD won parliamentary elections in December 2016 with 46% of the vote, but President Klaus Iohannis (of the National Liberal Party, or PNL)’s anti-corruption drive since 2014 bars those with convictions from public office, thus preventing a Dragnea premiership. Dragnea has a suspended two-year sentence for vote-rigging and is being prosecuted in a separate case for abuse of power. The proposed changes would likely be made with the intention of making Dragnea prime minister. The changes would pardon and shorten the sentences of those convicted of corruption, including of many PSD politicians, and allow future abuses of power.

For a week after 31 January 2017, there was every night (in temperatures often below minus 10 degrees Celsius) between 300,000 and 600,000 people protesting in Romania (population of 20 million), making them the biggest protests since the Revolution of December 1989 against Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu. The protests have continued, albeit in much smaller numbers, as protestors want to ensure the Grindeanu government does not try to introduce a watered-down version of the ordinance after the proposals were withdrawn and Justice Minister Florin Iordache resigned. They call for the resignation of the entire Grindeanu cabinet. There were large protests outside Romania as well, in the Romanian diaspora of 4 million (compared to 20 million in Romania).

“Awaken, Romanian, from the deadly slumber into which the barbaric tyrants have sunk you!”[1] These opening lines of the Romanian national anthem, a song often sung at the protests for its message of liberty and patriotism, show the cynicism of the protestors and the mismatch between the reality of political, economic and social life in Romania and the optimism that followed the 1989 revolution. Corruption continues to pervade everyday life in Romania, and many are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, the country’s trajectory in the past 28 years and its prospects, particularly in relation to neighbouring countries that are perceived to have transitioned more successfully since 1989. The protests are in favour of well-functioning, transparent and accountable institutions.

Other popular slogans showed the same bitterness. Referring to the defensive way in which former Justice Minister Iordache avoided uncomfortable questions 24 times at a single press conference with “altă întrebare” (“another question”, in English), there were also cries of “altă întrebare, altu’ între bare” (“another question, another one behind bars”), calling for Iordache’s imprisonment. Protesters denounced the PSD as the “red plague” and declared that Ceaușescu was not, in fact, dead, but alive and simply disguised as Dragnea. References were also made to the 1990 ‘Golaniad’ protests against the transitional National Salvation Front (FSN) government of Ion Iliescu, during which the protestors often sang: “Better to be dead than a communist!” That 1990 protest called for the barring of former Communist Party (PCR) officials from public office; people have the grievance today that old members of the party, or those who formed advantageous connections pre-1989, are still privileged, or even that the style of governance today and lack of transparency and integrity resembles the old days.

Other popular slogans refer to the PSD’s late-night decree signings (“like thieves in the middle of the night”) or the anti-democratic nature of the decrees (“in a democracy, thieves stay in jail”) , but they all use the idea of this PSD government and many before them since 1989 having consistently stolen and blighted Romania’s chances to improve herself. Cynicism and bitterness reflect the national feeling about politics since 1989.

To understand this latest bout of anger at politics, one should consider the last year and a half in Romanian politics. The fire in the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest in October 2015 killed 64 people. Already lax safety regulations were said to have been avoided by way of a bribe to the local council, thus helping the fire to spread. Corruption had killed. This sparked a wave of anti-government protest, eventually resulting in the resignation of then prime minister Victor Ponta (PSD), himself facing allegations of tax evasion, money-laundering, plagiarism of his doctoral thesis, and of being involved in the suspicious ‘suicide’ of a prosecutor. The National Anti-Corruption Agency (DNA), under Laura Kövesi, continued Iohannises anti-corruption drive with renewed strength, arresting many politicians. After one year of technocratic government, the December 2016 parliamentary elections returned the PSD to power. The fact that a new party, the urgently-named Save Romania Union (USR) came third, being led by Nicușor Dan (an academic turned activist) and Clotilde Armand (a French businesswoman turned activist), shows the dire situation in Romanian politics. PSD then proposed Sevil Shaiddeh for prime minister, which President Iohannis vetoed on the grounds of her inexperience and thus vulnerability to being exploited by Dragnea, as well as because of her husband’s previous role as a minister for tropical and subtropical fruit in the Syrian Agriculture Ministry from 1988 to 2010, the government of Assad. This sparked a minor constitutional crisis which ended with the eventual formation of the Grindeanu government in January 2017, whose actions have provoked the recent protests.

he above does not answer the question but is essential to understanding the nature of the protests and having an idea of how successful protest can be. The fact that hundreds of thousands, a sizeable chunk of the Romanian population, turned out to protest peacefully, often in bitterly cold weather, shows great determination. The fact that the government soon backed down on its proposals and that Iordache resigned shows that protest can have a significant impact on policy. This would appear to be the first step towards true democracy and rule of law. The effectiveness of protest in causing political change depends on local conditions such as the flexibility of rulers and the determination, co-ordination, and mobilization of protesters. In Romania’s case, these factors in 2017 were, at least at face value, very much in favour of the protesters. However, the victory for the protesters is provisional; there is a long battle for them to safeguard Romanian democracy.

Romanians’ resilience is commendable given 28 years of underwhelming political development and proposed political changes that are clearly anti-democratic, and which endangers much-needed attempts by Iohannis and the DNA to fight the corruption that is endemic and damaging to the Romanian economy and society.

The protests inspired civic creativity. Considering again the protest slogans, one can see they show bitterness, but they also show humour and creativity; a hint of positivity, in other words. They show a unique Romanian style of protest. The protest has been common in Romania since 2012. Protesters are therefore energetic, enthusiastic and organized. Volunteers provide protesters with food and tea and keep peace amongst the protesters, so as to avoid attracting police responses. The streets can thus act as the main guardians of democracy if the politicians are not so keen to protect it. The Romanian culture of protest since 2012 has tended to be less conflict-based than elsewhere and it makes use of modernity. The protesting becomes humorous – funny custom-made posters were used. A good example of this is a play on a Coca-Cola advert: “Enjoying Coca-Cola since 1886” became the sarcastic “Enjoying corruption since 1989”. Video projections of Romanian flags onto buildings and huge puppets, particularly of Dragnea in a prisoner’s uniform, have also been used. These show cynicism but also creativity and satire – protest is not about displaying anger, but it is satire instead. The protesters show passion but are good-natured and fun. “Distracție plăcută!” (“Have a good time!”) was often wished to those going to the protests. The protests’ humour and good-naturedness are advantageous because it makes the protests less obviously ideological and less antagonizing and more an occasion for unity against a clear problem of corruption.

Protesters have made good use of technology. It helps their cause as well as it has helped to gain significant international attention for these protests. Social media can be used to further deride incompetent politicians. Social media enables a leaderless, inclusive and fairly spontaneous movement. The protests have also echoed modern tastes; many slogans and signs resembled Facebook messages or tweets. #rezist has become synonymous for the 2017 protests. Iohannis’s election in 2014 was aided by many sharing a “keep calm and vote Iohannis” photo and by making him the most “liked” European politician on Facebook.

Romanian protests have also managed to unite those fed up with corruption and poor governance, providing unity across different socioeconomic groups. A Facebook video of an elderly Bucharest street cleaner went viral, as she was shouting passionately at the young protesters to rise up and to be brave Romanians and take back their country after the politicians stole it. A desire for the rule of law unites these people who previously might have been politically detached by disillusionment. They have consolidated their unity in the last few years since it has been more or less the same demographic that has been protesting at each wave. As these people tend to be young, there is an element of being different from mainstream society, often associated with the older generations and the poor, rural population, particularly as these groups are seen as voting PSD and seen as having been paid by PSD to stage counter-protests in PSD’s favour.

he humor, unity, creativity and modernity of the protests may well be able to cause real political change, but that would require a real grassroots anti-corruption movement, similar perhaps to Beppe Grillo in Italy. Despite the undeniable Romanian energy for protest, there is no such movement with the level of impact that Grillo has. There are further problems; the protesters were not united on certain issues, such as how to engage the police, after a few incidents of hooliganism. PSD remains dominant in Romanian politics also, despite all the bad press for it.

The DNA and Iohannis are spearheading the anti-corruption drive, but they are not innocent either. Iohannis risks politicizing the protests by declaring himself explicitly on the side of the protesters against the Grindeanu government, and the DNA’s quick prosecutions suggest it benefits from a privileged but questionable network of information-sharing.

A reform of public services and government institutions is needed for there to be a truly democratic political class. This would mean local authorities, national and state institutions need reform, like the army, police or postal service. Local and national authorities must be created such that they are compatible with a competent and honest Western EU state. This would mean cutting through the networks of influence, nepotism, and corruption that make up Romanian ‘godfather capitalism’, which combines several elements. First, there is the renewed influence of the Orthodox Church (Romania is currently building the largest Orthodox cathedral in the world in Bucharest), arguably primitive, unwanted and unnecessary. Second, there is almost exclusively non-violent corruption (bribery) and incompetence among untrained politicians. Third, the lack of training of politicians, exacerbated by a poorly-paid political class in a country where voters and politicians alike are not so much ideological as simply looking to make some extra money where possible, leads to incompetent, incoherent government. This puts the political class in conflict with the justice system, but collusion between the two sides blocks the transition to a truly democratic political class.

The minimum gross monthly salary in Romania is 1450 lei (about 235 euros); the average gross monthly salary is 3130 lei (about 685 euros). A deputy in the lower house of parliament has a starting monthly salary of 5400 lei (about 1180 euros), not including perks. Perks include a certain immunity from prosecution, which is useful when the justice system would otherwise pursue corrupt politicians. People are left with little money after their living costs, so find it difficult to save. Thus many voters are tempted by PSD promises of higher salaries and pensions. The politicians are better off, but still poor by European standards, and given their position of power, are likely to abuse it and try to make extra money where possible. This problem affects all. The only political ideology becomes to make extra money where possible. Politicians have frequently migrated across the political spectrum to different parties, including between PSD (centre-left) and PNL (centre-right). The result of prioritizing personal profit itself is the outcome of a lack of funding and incentives, leading to incompetent, incoherent and dishonest politicians and political parties.

This is added to the social problems that entrench the old power networks. The Romanian diaspora numbers almost 4 million. The younger generation is tempted to leave but the old and the poor (many of them PSD voters) remain and continue to vote PSD, which as the largest party, attracts the networks of corruption and dishonesty. The other parties are not necessarily less corrupt, but PSD enjoys an unhealthy political dominance. The inter-generational rift does not help. Furthermore, the quality of the education system, apart from a few good schools, is declining. Like other public services, quality is stagnant because of lack of funding and incompetence. As many jobs are in the public sector, Romania also has many individuals dependent on those in power, which only further entrenches dishonesty.

Protests are undeniably effective in Romania in bringing about the short-term change of policy and politicians. OUG13 was cancelled and Iordache resigned. That brought some relief from endemic corruption and satisfied citizens’ dissatisfaction with corrupt politicians. The magnitude and ingenious methods of the protests consolidate the street’s role as a visible and influential actor in politics and politicized many. International attention on Romania, partly a result of Romanians’ use of technology to make others abroad elsewhere aware of the situation, would certainly have pressured the government to act as it did. However, there are many rifts in Romanian society, as shown by the mostly old people who were at the pro-PSD counter-protests, having been told Iohannis would cut their pensions. Deep reform is needed to stem corruption and entrenched networks of elitism and dishonesty. The political system would have to become more coherent and honest as well. There are also the very tricky demographic problems to solve. The population is ageing and declining, and the young and skilled go abroad, so the result is that it is very difficult to put more funding into services like education. Political parties like USR offer hope of a more honest future, but there is still a long way to go before such parties become large enough to have influence. If the current young and educated generation keep to their ideals of honesty, then that is encouraging for the future. However, this should not disguise the fact that deep reform is needed. The protest was able to cause political change, but without deep reform, the post-1989 situation of stagnant political development may well continue, in other words, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.[2] A large grassroots political movement for honesty, of which these protests are a small first step, would surely be a step towards that. The protesters’ determination alone won’t bring true democracy, but one has to wait to see whether their determination can develop into a serious political movement to challenge the status quo.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Romanian National Anthem, Desteapta-te, Romane!, (lyrics by Andrei Muresanu)

[2] Daltrey, Townshend, Won’t Get Fooled Again, 1971

 

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‘We can combat populism.’

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By Imogen Parker,a first year student at King’s College studying International Relations.

 Populism, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is a belief in the power of regular people, and in their right to have control over their government rather than a small group of political insiders or a wealthy elite.

David Cameron’s remarks on the need to “combat populism” have been met with outrage by media outlets, such as the Telegraph and Guardian. But ignoring his inflammatory language, was he so wrong? Populism, as it is manifested in today’s politics, is no more representative of the people’s will than the ‘political elite’ it aims to counteract. Populism carries the ability to be a force for good, and a force for evil. In its current form populism will not change the way that politics is enacted. Whilst ever populism is carried on a wave of misinformation and deceit it will only serve to change the face of the ‘elites’ who control nations. For example, Donald Trump has been a part of the ‘elite’ for decades, yet was elected on a populist, anti-elite surge.

The idea of populism is inherently good for politics, it encourages public engagement and involvement in the political process. However, populism needs democratising. On its current trajectory populism will allow opportunistic, self-obsessed individuals to capitalise on the misinformed, reactionary masses.

We can see populism triumphing across the world with the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, the election of Donald Trump, the ‘No’ vote to the referendum in Italy, and 2017 promises to provide us with more examples of populism at work with the imminent French and German elections. The problem isn’t in the outcomes of the aforementioned votes, but rather the manner in which victory was grasped. Political opportunists were more than happy to harness the power of the populist psych, manipulating the fears and concerns of the population to political advantage and propelling them to victory.

But is this not the way our politics operates? The answer is a simple yes. For decades politicians have manipulated voters, for example David Cameron promised to give households more ‘money in our pocket’ before the 2015 election through tax cuts if the Conservatives were re-elected. What is different in 2016, is that the effects of populism are often far more extreme than tax cuts. When people criticised Cameron for wanting to “combat populism”, they replaced ‘populism’ with ‘democracy’. Cameron was not trying to argue against democratically listening to the voice of the people, but instead arguing for the democratisation of populism. Populism needs to become more representative, less reactionary, and more informed.

The social media age gives rise to undemocratic populism. People gather most of their information from the unrestricted, ungoverned and, therefore, free internet. However, internet freedom is a myth. There are algorithms that tailor users’ preferences, this is harmless in advertising where the user only sees products that they are interested in. However, in the realm of politics, it is far more dangerous. Unbeknown to users, news preferences are also tailored. The internet makes it easy to get caught up in a web of similar minded users, fueling each other’s ideas with emotive posts, creating a strong, vocal, but blinkered, community. When these ideas are simplified and projected onto the national stage undemocratic populism is born.

Populism also expects immediate results without the appreciation that change takes time. Sudden, dramatic change is no better for a nation than remaining with the status quo. This urgency is a further by product of the social media age. Twenty-four-hour news channels, live videos, tweeting etc. allow news to be instantaneous. People who engage with this media, expect all aspects of life to be immediate – including politics. Yet one of the virtues of our political process is the time it allows for thought, analysis and scrutiny. It is not brash and reactionary. Undemocratic populism threatens this. People who don’t understand the complexity of the issues at hand, because their horizons have unknowingly been shortened due to the internet and opportunists, vote without consideration of the full impacts.

Without the democratisation of populism politics becomes fashion. The job of the politician becomes one of a showman, advertising their viewpoints to the internet-nation, grabbing attention with flashy gaffs and clever soundbites. The element of ‘celebrity’ becomes far more important than the traditional exercise of government. Whilst this style of politics is more engaging, it is not more informative, people trust that they comprehend the larger picture but the reality is far from that. Policies are broadcast with the aim of utilising emotion, creating a media storm that could generate a hashtag and have large impact in media circles, rather than advertising the depths of policy.

It cannot be denied that the populist movements that have won referenda and elections have a mandate. Populism has cleverly captured the electorate and the reward is a mandate to govern. However, it is not to say that the process by which the populists achieved a mandate was democratic, nor will it change the ‘elite establishment’, a factor that so many of the recent votes has boiled down to. The notion that Donald Trump or Nigel Farage are less ‘establishment’ and more representative of the average citizen is nonsense. They are a fundamental part of the establishment.

There will always been a separation between the people and the government, but that does not mean that the governments don’t govern for the people. However, true representation takes time. Politicians who are women, ethnic minorities or working class cannot be conjured out of thin air – their development takes time and changes have to occur. Westminster and Washington need to be more accessible, the stigma surrounding ‘sleazy’ politicians needs to disappear, and there needs to be more political education. Only through these means can the general will of the people be portrayed in politics, only then will populism be democratic rather than opportunistic

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TTIP, CETA & Co.: BOON OR BANE?

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By Julia Huentemann, a 1st Year International Relations Student and Editorial Assistant for International Relations Today.

Strasbourg. On 15th February, 2017 the European Parliament ratified the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada, best known by its acronym CETA. According to the EU Commission, this is supposed to be the most modern, advanced and progressive free trade agreement ever constructed, since it goes beyond just removing customs duties and takes people and the environment fully into account. By doing so, it will set a new global standard for future trade agreements.

“It will help to generate growth and jobs by boosting exports, lowering the cost of the inputs businesses need to make their products, offering greater choice for consumers, and upholding the EU’s strict standards for products.”[1] This is how both the European Union and the Canadian government are currently advertising CETA to the public. The underlying optimistic and innovative tone seems quite convincing and implies that the free trade agreement will mean a significant step forward for Canada and the EU.

In his speech, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked about better incomes for workers, entrepreneurs who will have access to new customers, consumers paying less at the checkout counter, manufacturers who can expand their global reach, and more predictability and transparency for the “engineering, architecture, and information technology” sectors. In short, he said “CETA is a framework for trade that works for everyone”[2], from the companies level all the way down to consumers.

If  CETA is obviously so beneficial, why is it so unpopular among the European public?

There are still many remaining skeptics who forecast that instead of soothing nationalism, the ratification of CETA will actually encourage populist movements across Europe, since the benefits of the trade agreement will disproportionately accrue to upper income earners, leaving working class people behind. If you do some research on the matter, you can easily encounter websites promoting a European-wide petition against CETA and TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), the pending trade deal between the US and the EU, which already caused a lot of unrest recently. Those websites refer to CETA and TTIP as “dirty deals”[3] and is presented as the cause to global poverty, inequality and injustice. But, what exactly sparked this upheaval about TTIP and what does this have to do with CETA?

TTIP negotiations began in February 2015 and, once information was leaked, the content was  considered somewhat alarming, especially with regard to TTIP’s ‘regulatory convergence’ agenda which will seek to bring EU standards on environment and food safety closer to those of the US. But US regulations are much less strict, with 70% of all processed foods sold in US supermarkets now containing genetically modified ingredients while the EU does not permit GM food. The same quality gap exists in the environmental standards as well. While the EU’s regulations are stricter towards producers, obliging them to prove a substance’s safety before using it; in the US quite the opposite is the rule: any substance can be used until it is proven unsafe. It does not come surprisingly that, once it was leaked, this information caused some doubts about the benefits of such a trade agreement.

However, what appears to be even more essential is the fact that the process of negotiations has been highly secretive, with nearly all information on negotiations coming from leaked documents or Freedom of Information requests. For the public, who has no say in whether the treaty goes through or not, this issue necessarily raises some questions about the democratic nature of the decision-making processes and thus of their governments’ self-conceptions.

Following TTIP, CETA now raises these same questions, as again the European citizens did not have much of a choice on whether to ratify this agreement or not. Decisions are being taken on behalf of the citizens without even asking or informing them on crucial matters. In the context of the current crises Europe is going through, this could encourage the lurking, constant rise of nationalist populists. Anxieties, be they irrational or not, about jobs being lost to Canada due to competitive advantage foster the dissent towards national governments as well as the EU and at the same time pose the risk of creating a framework for populists to rise.

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Only the future can tell whether CETA, TTIP & Co. mean a boon or bane for Europe, because a reliable prognosis seems impossible in our globalised and complex world. But irrespective of future economic effects, and even though such agreements are likely to have very beneficial spillover effects upon political relations, the controversial discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of CETA reveals one aspect very clearly, namely that the EU commission should pay more attention to the concerns of the European civil society when constructing future trade agreements. The fact that more than 3.5 Million people (almost 7% of the European population) have already signed the petition against CETA and TTIP undoubtedly sends a clear message to the EU Commission including all its member states, implying an urge to change policy direction.

 

Bibliography:

[1] European Commission. Trade; Policy; In focus: Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Retrieved 26th February, 2017 from <http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/ceta/&gt;.

[2] National Observer. Baloney Meter: Will free trade with the EU benefit everyone in Canada? Retrieved 26th February, 2017 from <http://www.nationalobserver.com/2017/02/23/news/baloney-meter-will-free-trade-eu-benefit-everyone-canada&gt;.

[3] War on Want; Fighting Global Inequality. What is CETA? Retrieved 27th Feubrary, 2917 from <http://www.waronwant.org/what-ceta&gt;.

The Independent. What is TTIP? And six reasons why the answer should scare you. Retrieved 27th Feburary, 2017 from <http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/what-is-ttip-and-six-reasons-why-the-answer-should-scare-you-9779688.html&gt;.

 

 

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Is Putin being ‘Trump-ed’ by the Media?

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By Gloria Trifonova, a first year War Studies student at King’s College London.

Vladimir Putin has been in power in Russia for over a decade now – from Prime Minister to President and back again, he has become a symbol for the post-communist Russian political system. Recently, he has been taken out of the spotlight as the media has found a new villain, Donald Trump, who took the world by storm by winning the US Presidential election in 2016. Has the media truly abandoned their beloved Russian scapegoat for everything that is wrong in international relations? 

Given that we now live in a world where executive orders and tweets provoke a similar outrage in the public, it seems Putin is only a side character in the new season of American Horror Story: The White House. We hear about him as if he is the irreverent best friend that is only there to push the development of the main character forward with snooty comments and late night phone calls we never get to hear.

 

While the media has been concerned whether Trump and Kanye had tea or coffee, Putin has been on the move. His recent visit to Hungary seems to have strengthened Russo-Hungarian relations and may result in Hungarian support for the lifting of EU sanctions imposed on Russia. Furthermore, with pro-Russian socialist electoral victories in Bulgaria and Moldova in 2016 it is likely that EU stability may be experiencing turmoil other than BREXIT. Moreover, Russia has managed to keep its relations with Turkey relatively stable thus far, despite a few hiccups along the way resulting in taking down of a Russian war plane in 2015 and a few Turkish soldiers dead by a Russian military jet air strike in 2017. The two historically antagonistic states have taken up a common campaign against ISIS and this is decreasing diplomatic pressures of the past.

 

Military cooperation in Syria has also helped better Russia’s relations with Iran and many independent media sources suggest that Putin is going to attempt to dissuade Trump from his hard stance on Iran, as Trump has recently threatened further sanctions and of course employed his supper villain catch-phrase “nothing is off the table” in regards to further action if Iran doesn’t stop testing missiles. It would be interesting to see Putin’s strategy regarding Iran, traditionally in opposition to key US allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, instead of theorizing about how the Russian leader will handle this delicate diplomatic issue, the mainstream media is concerned with the crisis of the day – why did Nordstrom drop Ivanka Trump’s line indeed?

Perhaps it is a positive development that Putin has been outshone in the media. For too long the West, which likes to presents itself as a beacon of democracy and human rights in the face of the “borderline fascist dictatorships” of the East, has exerted hypocrisy in criticizing his every move and the election of Donald Trump only reveals this further. The US, which for years has deemed Russia racist, homophobic and radical has elected a man, who is the poster child for all those terms. But this is not all about Trump. It seems the moral code the US has applied to Russia over the last decade evaporates when it comes to Saudi Arabia. Not once has the US condemned their oil donor, which enforces punishments for homosexuality ranging from imprisonment and fines to corporal and capital punishment. Furthermore, crimes based on racism occur just as often in the West, but the US, for example, seems to forget its own Trayvon Martins and Mike Browns, while patronizing Russia for being racist.

Also, it seems mainstream media in the West never truly grasped the position of Putin in Russian politics. The tendency to glorify leaders in Russia has deep historical roots. Modern Russia is a produce of both its Tsarist and communist past. In both cases, whether we speak of Ivan the Terrible or Stalin, a strong leader, whom the people believe in, seems to be an intrinsic part of keeping such a vast country together and Putin has ensured the resurgence of Russia in world order and this has secured him the support of the public. Culturally, Russians look for strength in their leader more than anything and Putin is a “killer” as Trump himself has referred to him.

Thus, maybe given that the spoon-feeding of propaganda by the mainstream media does not solve any problems; it only creates a smokescreen for the gullible Western public, who needs a moustache-twirling villain, it is time we start analyzing Putin’s agenda objectively. As he even said in his 2007 Munich speech – “Just like any war, the Cold War left us with live ammunition, figuratively speaking. I mean ideological stereotypes, double standards and other typical aspects of Cold War bloc thinking.” It is high time we let go of such thinking.

 

Bibliography

Donald Trump seeks a grand bargain with Vladimir Putin, The Economist, Feb. 11th 2017, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21716609-it-terrible-idea-donald-trump-seeks-grand-bargain-vladimir-putin 

Russian Foreign Ministry Following Putin’s Orders on Boosting Embassies Security, Sputnik News, Feb. 12th 2017, https://sputniknews.com/world/ 201702121050595855-russia-embassy-security-measures/

 

‘US-Iran tensions could be defused during Putin-Trump meeting’, Routers, Feb. 11th 2017, https://www.rt.com/op-edge/377079-iran-sanctions-trump-revolution/

 

The new power couple: Russia and Iran in the Middle East, European Council on Foreign Relations, Sep. 13th 2016, http://www.ecfr.eu/publications/ summary/iran_and_russia_middle_east_power_couple_7113

 

Putin Swaggers Into Hungary as Europe Wonders About U.S., New York Times, Feb. 2nd 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/02/world/europe/ vladimir-putin-hungary.html?_r=0

 

Pro-Russia presidential candidates tipped to win in Bulgaria and Moldova, The Guardian, Nov. 13th 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/ 13/pro-russia-presidential-candidates-tipped-to-win-in-bulgaria-and-moldova

 

‘Wars not diminishing’: How Putin’s iconic 2007 Munich speech sounds today, Reuters, Feb. 10th 2017, https://www.rt.com/news/376901-putin-munich-speech-2007/

 

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9 Key Questions about the Ukrainian Conflict Answered

by Adam Holub, a Czech second year student reading BA international Relations at The War Studies Department of King’s College London. Adam is also the Latin America Editor of IR Today, and the President of the War Studies Society. The interview is an English translation and was originally done in Czech.

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Petra Procházková is a Czech war reporter known for her coverage of conflicts in former countries of the Soviet Union and Afghanistan and currently is a correspondent of Lidové Noviny, one of the most established Czech newspapers. Her insight into conflicts taking place in this region is valuable for her unique personal experience of initially a Moscow correspondent and later a war correspondent from conflicts like the one in Chechnya. I tried to approach Petra with a few questions to which the answers would ideally break some illusions and confront any opinions based on insufficient research that I have heard repeatedly last year. A good friend of mine with whom I discussed these questions raised an objection that they have already been asked and answered elsewhere. Before the following lines provoke a similar reaction, allow me to clarify the purpose of this exercise. The reason I kindly asked Petra to answer these questions was because I felt like not enough attention is being paid by IR undergraduates to a conflict of such an international importance. I wanted the basic truths to be voiced in a short and compact interview consisting of nine questions. I believe that one of the reasons why this topic is so neglected by otherwise passionate young academics is because the diversity and dispersion of often contradicting pieces of information are confusing. After all, the conflict in Ukraine is a conflict in which an information warfare strategies are being fully employed. Finally, I am convinced that whatever the answers to similar questions that were posed in the past, Petra’s viewpoint is quite unique and interesting. I would like to thank my dear friend Matyáš Viktora, who reads Territorial Studies at the Charles University in Prague for consulting the questions with me.
You collect the news and observations in Ukraine. Does it seem to you that the Ukrainians see the rebels as an extended arm of Russia similarly to how it’s presented in the West? And how useful a source of information for a foreign journalist are the Ukrainian media in particular?

P: The rebels aren’t a homogenous mass that you could somehow label and characterise in a few words. There are people amongst them who suffer from nostalgia for the Soviet Union and more than to become a part of Russia they would prefer to return to the good old communist times. Their feelings are taken advantage of by calculating rebel leaders, who together with the propaganda spread by Russian media try to make these people believe that a horde of western Ukrainian fascist is racing on them, that Europe is ruled by a homosexual jewish lobby, and that the USA wants to use the crisis to destroy Russia. Then there a few people, who are waiting how this will and end do not care who will rule. There are also many Russian agents and officers, whose task is to make sure the conflict continues. They are joined by Russian volunteers, confused yet convinced about their truth. These are mercenaries who really believe they are fighting for social justice against the rotting Western world and against the European decadence. And some of them are keen to go kill for a salary. So, it’s a fair mix, which is skillfully manipulated by Moscow and used to serve its intentions.

The Ukrainian media is a motley of titles. The key to understanding the media area is to be well informed. It is the same as in the Czech Republic in that sense. The journalists enjoy maximum freedom, yet there are some downsides to it. It is necessary to know who owns each newspaper, TV channel or a radio station, which oligarch is paying the medium, and who are the friends of a given broadcaster. Then, it isn’t enough to read one title only. One needs to compare the information and search the internet for independent [news] projects, which for example arise now within individual Ukrainian cities. A group of people establishes a civic organisation and they begin publishing news on the internet or start a TV. When you are looking for news from their region, you have to confront the national media with the local, less wealthy but independent, sources. All in all, finding the truth, or that which resembles the truth as much as possible, is a hard and time consuming work. Who is lazy, reads one newspaper, and then thinks he knows everything, yet knows nothing.

Is it an accurate hypothesis that the intention of the Russians was to destabilise the situation in Ukraine in a way that would lead the country to development of a special status for the Eastern regions and thereby make it impossible for Ukraine to join supranational political structures such as the EU or NATO in the future?

P: Yes, that is very accurate. But curiously enough, there were other less global and say more human aspects that played a role in the annexation of Crimea and the instigation of the conflict in Donbas. For example, for Vladimir Putin the retake of Crimea is one of the greatest triumphs he has achieved during his reign. I do not refer to the long-term consequences of this insane action. I refer to the fact that Putin is currently enjoying his five minutes (or perhaps five years) of fame. Russia is an imperial power and as such it puts the values such as expansion, size of a country and the fear it creates in other countries above the values like freedom, prosperity and dignity of an individual. Putin faced ever greater economic problems in domestic politics. The Russian economy stagnated. Oil is for the Russian economy what a drug is for a drug addict – it suffers without it, writhes in spasms and in the end will die. There was nothing Putin did about this. Russians experienced a relative temporary prosperity thanks to the development on international markets that has now ended. This could have been foreseen. There is nothing easier than to convince one’s subjects that their troubles are not the fault of their ruler, but the result of the wrongdoing of their enemy – the Western Imperialism, which wants to destroy Russia, starve it to death and isolate, an enemy that does not understand the Russian soul and had already been planning to build military bases in Ukraine… The external enemy distracts from the domestic mess. Finally, there will be the elections in 2018. I think that Crimea can win them for Putin.

Can we refer to the debate about the revision of the Ukrainian constitution towards greater decentralization and say that the Russians have succeeded or are at least on the way to success?

P: They have been successful so far, but not because of the constitutional changes, rather because of the desperate state of the Ukrainian economy, devastated industry, thousands of casualties and the solidarity of the Western allies of Ukraine which wasn’t very clear-cut. It turns out that the West is not able to face an aggression if it’s as impudent as the Russian aggression. In any case, the integration of Ukraine into the European political structures and NATO would be very complicated now. Kiev really needs it but NATO doesn’t accept states that are currently at war, all the more so at war with Russia. From that point of view, Russia has halted the enlargement of NATO and the EU.

Can you imagine the secession of other parts of Ukraine as the result of the crisis?

P: I can. But the persistence of a latent conflict is the most probable result, in the same manner as in Abkhazia. Even more fitting is the comparison with Transnistria. Neither war nor peace. The country with such a region is being exhausted by the permanent state of affairs. Smuggling and other kinds of criminality thrive at the borders that haven’t been recognised by anyone. It’s a political and economic black hole and it is very hard for poor states like Moldova to live with her.

Some news suggest that a serious conflict between the Right Sector and the Ukrainian state forces is looming. What would be the impact of this extra dimension on the dynamics of the conflict? Could it weaken that propaganda which claims that Ukraine is ruled by fascists?

P: I think that the Right sector is portrayed as a larger threat than it really is. Yes, you will find fascists in Ukraine in the same way you find them in the Czech Republic or Germany, there are nationalists, fascists, radicals from both the left and right of the political spectrum. And these are trying to attract a lot of attention. However, at the same time I have met members of the local organisation of the Right Sector in Mariupol, who were friends with their jewish neighbours and fellow citizens, and racism was completely out of question. Then I went to see the volunteer Azov battalion, the members of which have the reputation of Nazis, and what I found were simply people that I wouldn’t vote for in a democratic election, but the likes of which can be found plenty in both the Czech and the European Parliament. They oppose gay marriage, they don’t like the gypsies and all the people of dark skin, but on the other hand fight against Russia together with people from the Caucasus. It is a matter of ignorance, lack of experience, lack of political culture and extreme views, yet only in exceptional cases do you find genuine racism and extreme nationalism.

Does the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have some kind of a role in the conflict?

P: If anything, it has a supportive role. It isn’t a leading force but it is supporting its citizens who are willing to defend the country, the faith, the traditions… I remember how the batyushki (Orthodox priests) sang prayers for nights, helped the injured and consoled the relatives of those that were killed during the Maidan. Yes, there the church told the people that she is with them. It says it now too and is definitely a bonding element in the Ukrainian society at times.

What role does the Ukrainian crisis play in the relationship of the Russian foreign and domestic policies? Is it possible, for example, to claim that a process of hardening of the regime and developing of totalitarianism in Russia is happening simultaneously with the crisis? How, if at all, can this be related?

P: What happened in Ukraine, the whole of the Maidan movement and the proeuropean upheaval of the collective Ukrainian thinking is a really terrifying spectacle for president Putin. He sees exactly what could happen in Russia if he loosens his grip. That’s why he rather tightens it. He can’t allow the opposition to follow the Ukrainian Maidan and bid him a similar farewell as the Ukrainians bade to Viktor Janukovych. And so Putin decided to prevent a Colour revolution in Russia through repressions, restriction of the freedom of speech and press, and a general oppression.

What can we expect from the Maidan leaders, who weren’t so successful in the parliamentary elections? And what about Vitaly Klitschko? What are they doing now?

P: Klitschko, for example, is the mayor of Kiev and I think he is content with it. Several activists from Maidan have moved to the eastern front. But some of them are slowly and quite unobtrusively getting places in the Civil Service, which is a positive development. These are usually people who are not burdened by the past regime and are backed by very active groups of citizens and thereby subjected to a functional civic check. An example is George Tuka, a leader of the Narodnyi Tyl civic initiative I did an interview with a few months back. George has sent his son to fight at the eastern front. He himself tried to supply the soldiers with anything he could get his hands on. Ranging from weapons, about which he didn’t like to talk much, to clothing, food and medicine. He has done an incredible amount of work. He risked his life and the lives of his closest friends and family. This man was recently appointed as the governor of the Luhansk Oblast which is partly occupied by the pro-Russian rebels but still formally subordinate to Kiev. Tuka is supposed to administer this troubled territory and try to get it back under control of the central government. The number of people from Maidan who are getting into positions from which they can realistically change something is increasing.

The conflict has weakened Ukraine economically and has already cost many lives. What has Ukraine gained from it though?

P: A revolution took place in the minds of Ukrainians in the last year. They gained great self confidence and further, they are no longer viewed in the world as some kind of slightly dumber Russians. They also understood they have to help themselves and that they have to manage their local business in their cities rather than wait for a command from Kiev. A civic society was born in Ukraine and now it’s all up to her. Ukraine has outrun Russia in this aspect by a 100 years.

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