Author: Daniela Zordova

The curious case of Ladislav Basternak

After spending a recent year in Italy and stopping in the UK on the way back, the long journey to Slovakia necessarily felt a bit anxious. Not only that there would be a lot of studying for the upcoming final state exam, together with all PhD applications and job/internship search; I have been also particularly curious about the state I will find my homeland in.

This summer, Slovakia has taken over the Presidency of the Council of the EU, and Slovak representatives have started to unusually frequently inflect the adjective ´democratic´ in relation to the country. As if there´s the need to convince domestic and foreign publics of the nature of the Central European state. I am always suspicious when statesmen suddenly come to stress and overemphasize a single issue. And I have had a nagging feeling that instead of comforting increasingly distrustful Slovak citizens, leading politicians have rather been reassuring themselves of persistently democratic character of the Slovak Republic. Or, they have been painstakingly trying to conceal a maturing bummer. It would be a shame if a large- scale scandal in the Slovakia´s domestic politics breaks out right during the Council Presidency. Such an instance would deal a major blow to the country´s prestige and could even lead to a fragmentation of coalition. The growing incidence of and frequency with which the collocation ´democratic- Slovakia´ appears in the media recently calls for further investigation.

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Brexit, Slovakia, and direct democracy

However unpleasant and undesired the British popular decision to leave is, the post-referendum analyses only confirm the long held EU-wide trends.

In the light of the decades of survey reports shelved in the EU archives, the outcome should not have caught anyone by surprise. The fact that it did, indicates the lack of attention to public opinion expressed by the means of surveys and polls. Local and national experience could have been similarly utilized to avoid repeating the common miscalculation in national strategies which do not address the faltering public interest in politics. The Union has been investing in Eurobarometer surveys for over four decades without actually delivering the message to national governments; and sadly, also without actively committing itself to solving identified problems. Worse, in line with the knowledge collected through polls, misinformed public involvement sprinkled with a pinch of frustration normally has catastrophic longer-term repercussions. The British referendum, power of Robert Fico´s faction stretching over the third consecutive term and penetration of the Slovakian decision-making structures by far-right neonazi party, all illustrate the dark side of neglect of public opinion and subsequent misinformed participation in major decisions.

If sufficient attention had been paid to polls, it would have been clear that on the European scale, most people feel insufficiently informed about what happens in the Union. Low EP election turnouts confirm the survey´s conclusion; lack of knowledge and information on processes and impact on an individual and the country results in one of the two possible scenarios. The first is a neutral attitude towards the Union and related lack of interest in participation due to the uncertainty regarding the individual´s role. The second scenario is the opposition to integration based on circumscribed or misrepresented information and the lack of more in-detail knowledge on internal functioning. The general trend then goes as follows: the more interested the one is in developments unfolding in politics, the more positive attitude towards the Union he harbours. The higher the education he acquired, the more supportive of the EU and further integration he is. This relates not only to better information regarding overall benefits the Union offers to its member states, but more specifically to a personal gain from skills in the larger market. Full-timers are generally more optimistic about the integration prospects. Further, the older the individual is, the less enthusiastic about the whole European project he is likely to be. Local and national political elites influence public opinion and the attitude towards the European Union tends to reflect the one held towards national government.

Finally, media should responsibly fill in the knowledge gap; however, the record of fulfilling the function is rather vague. 

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“I’m European, and the Leave campaign is wrong about EU”

Brexit and the art of deception : Why Jacob Rees-Mogg is wrong


 

The chances of the Great Britain leaving the European Union have never been as high as in the aftermath of the decision to hold a referendum. Preceding the involvement of public opinion in the issue, had been the great political power game of threatening the EU with the aim of extracting concessions on questions of British concern.

reesmogg_2781411bWith the D-day just behind the corner, campaigning activity is apparently gaining momentum. Particularly striking is Jacob Rees-Mogg´s speech on Brexit; much less for the theatrical glimpse of pain on his face when he speaks about the catastrophe of common policies and 1973 tragedy of British membership, than for the way the knowledge of procedures and overall functioning of the Union can be precisely twisted and manipulated to serve specific ends. People deserve to have a say in politics producing outputs with a direct impact on population, however, their decision should be well-informed and grounded on facts. The European Union is a complex entity characterized by even more composite structures and procedures; thus complicating the full understanding by citizens. Speeches should help fill in the knowledge gaps, however, deceptive and misleading quotes as the one delivered by Rt Hon Rees-Mogg only enhance masses´ misunderstanding about the Union. The repercussions for the final decision might be severe. Here’s why. 

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The future of nuclear security post-Obama: A report on the final Nuclear Security Summit

Absence of Iran and Russia & the Czech complacence.

Approaching the end of his presidential term, Barack Obama convened leaders from over 50 countries for the final Nuclear Security Summit. The March 31-April 1 Washington gathering marks the end of a high-level diplomatic process with roots stretching back to the 2009 Obama´s Prague Summit speech.  In light of contemporary narratives of terrorists´ willingness to hijack unguarded nuclear materials, or target nuclear sites, a wide participation of all vital players became a sine qua non of securing vulnerable substances. The absence of representatives from Russia and Iran casts doubts on the undertaking´s future success.

As a part of his 2009 Prague speech, President Obama articulated his concerns regarding nuclear proliferation and insufficient security of hitherto acquired materials. His address initiated a series of summits aimed at safeguarding existing nuclear supply, including the minimisation of the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU), participation in international organisations, and prevention and detection of illegal trafficking of materials indispensable for the weapon-creation. Recent stagnation and lack of improvement coupled with the 2016 non-participation of key actors in the endeavour not only highlight the flawed architecture of the process, but also contributed to the loss of momentum and might render the previous achievements futile.

Together administering the vast majority of the total global stock, involvement of Russia is an essence for any significant political breakthrough to be achieved. Its absence has been officially blamed on “shortage of mutual cooperation on agenda”; even though the rationale seems to lie in Russia’s desire to demonstrate the deadlock inevitably resulting from the failure to recognize the country´s rejuvenated position in the world.

Regardless of the genuine reason for Russia’s decision to boycott the summit, it will undoubtedly have repercussions capable of stalling, if not outright undermining the progress. Recent comeback of Russia to the leaders’ club and the use of other than hard-power instruments to manipulate system for own benefit manifests the position the country has asserted, as much as its ability to influence and steer the course of events. Similar empty chair crises had in the past served to teach a lesson of no bright prospects of advancement without the absentee.  While the U.S. administration speaks of the missed opportunity for Russia and slipping further into isolation, Obama must be well aware that chances for considerable change in nuclear security domain wane as his term slowly draws to the close, and Russia´s assistance would have enhanced future outlooks.

As Obama declared preceding the gathering, “…we’ll remain vigilant to ensure that Iran fulfils its commitments.” Not inviting Iran to the summit puts the fervor of commitment to the test.

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Analysis – Slovak Parliamentary Elections 2016: Hopes Raised, Hopes Dashed?

Yesterday, on March 5th, Slovakia held the long awaited parliamentary election. What was expected to be the decisive moment for the country´s future turned out to be something that can be, in a nutshell, summarised by the heading ´hopes raised, hopes dashed´. Aside from the little change that results, one attempt to steal the ballot box and sudden death of a pensioner, there had been multiple reported efforts to manipulate the process. In the end, even though hundreds of voters received the package of ballot papers coincidentally including more leading party´s copies at the expense of the one which scored the second place; the election has been pronounced valid and Robert Fico´s SMER (The Direction) is now searching for its coalition junior partner.

While my peers already researched on the possibilities to be granted a political asylum elsewhere- starting from the Zeman´s Czech Republic to Republic of Ghana; I am still contemplating and trying to analyse and understand the meaning and potential consequences of what has just happened and why. 

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Fug and Languor in Pre-election Slovakia

After a few weeks pause forced on me by an overly competent laptop servicemen, I can finally relate to Plato´s caveman at the moment of leaving the cave. Or to a person getting rid of a plaster. It is next to impossible to describe that state of disability when so much is happening in the world of politics and you can only helplessly and passively watch without commenting on it, though, maybe–try to imagine having your hands tied behind your back by a sinister PC doctor who does not explain or articulate prognoses. I have experimented and so I cordially do not recommend eating yourself through that frustration but anyway. Let´s recap on what happened meanwhile and on draft articles which I managed to trash as they seemed not to be relevant any longer.

Hunt on truth goes on and as a part of demonstrating the willingness to shut up any blithering journalist, an aspiring Italian PhD student researching on Egypt´s trade unions went to ride a metro in Cairo and … was found dead. Live from Italy, I can confirm that the country seems to be back to everyday life and the loss of Guilio Regeni´s life henceforth aggravates fellow students and reporters only.

The world opinion regarding immigration continues to clash and Austria sets asylum limits. Resentment goes viral, public opinion infected and passer-by, bearded hipsters are increasingly more often confused with Muslims.

Visegrad cooperation turns 25 and I feel slightly better that it is not only me who is getting old.

Pope visits Mexico, Ankara is shaken by the bus explosion, Zika spreads further, Apple encryption debate unfolds and the threat of Brexit remains to be the source of nightmares for many statesmen. Fighting in Syria as well as Trump are both far from coming to an end. Sex with animals remains banned in Germany.

Opinions and comments on these unfolding events mushroom faster than the situation on the ground manages to develop and so instead of adding to general confusion and ongoing debates, I will now take you to the Slovak Wonderland.

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Referendum on Human Dignity Déjà-vu

Being the new kid on the blo(g)ck essentially comes hand in hand with a nagging sense of responsibility to avoid an embarrassing failure at the very first try and so I better spent a full week contemplating and wondering about the topic for my premier entry. After victoriously fleeing from the post-exam Italy and halfway to completing the sleeping marathon, the world news solved the conundrum pretty much on my behalf. “Italy’s parliament starts long-awaited debate on gay civil partnerships.” (Reuters). Born in Slovakia and, I repeat, just flying back from Italy; and having published the very first article on Slovakia´s Same-Sex Referendum… I have been obviously somewhat fatalistic and paternalistic. Not talking about the MA thesis that should be written before anything else.

The first thing to notice- and simultaneously the difference of a significant resonance- is the way the referendum is framed.

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