Category: European Politics (Page 1 of 4)

Add Barcelona to the ever growing list of Euro cities facing insurgency

The tide of ISIS’s terrorism in Europe broke on January 7, 2015 at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket. That attack heralded the start of waves of ISIS directed or inspired attacks that have washed over Europe in the years since. On Thursday, August 17, 2017, terror came to Barcelona. We’ve seen this before. A van rammed into crowds on the busiest street in the city, Las Ramblas at 5 pm. It drove through the crowds, apparently swerving and weaving for maximum impact. The driver of the van is responsible for the deaths of 14 people, and of wounding over 100, 14 of whom are in a critical condition. The driver fled the scene on foot and is, at the time of writing, still at large.

Five suspects were then shot dead in Cambrils, a coastal town 75 miles from Barcelona. The working assumption is that they’re part of the same network as the driver. Meanwhile, early on Thursday morning, there was an explosion at a house in Alcanar Platja, where another member of the network blew himself up with his own bomb.

Islamic State has claimed the attack, saying “Terror is filling the crusaders’ hearts in the Land of Andalusia.” Whether they’re really responsible for this, whether they had some sort of control or role as a guiding hand is not yet known. Time will tell, but the effect is the same even if the attackers were only inspired; another vehicular missile driven by a jihadist mowing down innocent bystanders, guilty of heresy in the eyes of those who murdered them.

We can expect many more of these. Britain has 23,000 suspected jihadists. Belgium has 18,884. France has between 1517,000. Germany has 24,400. Spain has 1000. This totals around 82-84,677 potential jihadists in 5 European countries. While we must not give in to fear-mongering and the temptation to paint with too broad a brush when describing diverse communities, we cannot pretend that these numbers represent anything other than a jihadist insurgency in the heart of Europe. This has destroyed the state’s monopoly over the use of military force, which as Max Weber argued, is the crucial element that gives the state legitimacy.

These vehicle attacks are now a trend in Europe that have become worryingly frequent. Instead of the tragedy of the commons, we now have the tragedy of the common place. ISIS is not the first to call for trucks and other forms of vehicular terrorism; Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular, in their magazine Inspire, gave detailed instructions on how to carry out a vehicular attack. Dabiq, ISIS’s now defunct English language magazine, also gave instructions on vehicular terrorism. Advice included attaching spikes or shards of glass to the front of trucks that were of a certain height and weight in order that they would have maximum physical and psychological impact. From 2010 to 2014, there were attempted car and truck attacks that were either small scale or foiled in the attempt. Nice 2016 saw the first mass casualty attack with over 80 dead. There was then the Berlin Christmas market attack in 2016, and then there have been 6 Islamist attacks using vehicles and one far-right attack so far this year in Europe.

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Israel, Eastern Europe And An Alliance Of Nationalists

The Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised eyebrows last week by meeting, among other leaders from Central and Eastern Europe, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Orban has been accused of stoking anti-semitism yet pledged to Netanyahu that he would protect the Hungarian Jewish minority.

Raised eyebrows shot higher when Netanyahu was recorded saying to the Hungarian, Polish, Czech and Slovakian leaders that EU policy was “crazy”. “I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive,” he suggested, “Or if it wants to shrivel and disappear.”

There was an element of realpolitik in the wily Netanyahu’s comments. It is simply untrue that European survival depends, as he went on to claim, on its stance on Israel. But exploiting the resentment that nationalist Central and Eastern European leaders feel towards the cosmopolitan supranationalists of Western Europe makes sense. He can link their desire for sovereignty to his struggle against opposition to and criticisms of Israel.

Still, it is interesting how much these nations have in common. 

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Poland, Trump, and Hungary: This is what illiberal democracy looks like

The election of Trump, the Law and Politics Party winning a majority in Poland in 2015, and Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary; what they all have in common is not merely a right-wing bend, but a contempt for liberal democracy. So goes the narrative, which has been particularly on display since Trump’s speech in Poland, that “illiberal democracy” is threatening the underpinnings of democracy in the Western world and beyond.

Some of the more conservative-minded would say this argument is the resentment of the losers. Trump, Szydlo, and Orbán won their elections fair and square. Why should they be dismissed just because you disagree with them? “If a democracy now needs to be a tool for spreading liberalism, conservatives are by definition, not democratic,” Sumantra Maitra wrote for Quillette.

Here is the thing: the problem isn’t simply with policy preferences but with the normative structures of democracy itself. These governments are taking actions to solidify their own power, not just to advance ideological interests of the people, but to advance the personal and party-based interests of the leaders or the ruling parties in ways that strike at the legal and moral underpinnings of democracy and rule of law.

A few examples will illustrate what exactly is meant by illiberal democracy. In Poland, the ruling party is trying to enact a measure that would give them control over the composition of the judiciary. As reported by Politico Europe:

Poland’s parliament, under the leadership of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, passed a law dissolving an independent body responsible for the nomination of judges. At the same time, PiS submitted a draft law that would force the entire Supreme Court into retirement and give the country’s justice minister the ability to decide which judges can stay in their current roles.

Currently, Poland’s federal judges are appointed by a professional panel of lawyer. The Law and Justice party attacked the judges as leftists—the party chairman called the judiciary a “stronghold of post-communists”—and it is easy to see how a panel made up of lawyers could be attacked as “elitist” and biased to be more favorable towards political liberalism than the public, due to expected leanings within the field. Perhaps there is a case to be made for having judges appointed by the president, prime minister, parliament, or some combination thereof, as is done in places like the United States and South Korea. Although there are problems with the system in the U.S., which has resulted in the politicization of judicial appointments, there is a case to be made for some level of political accountability in the process.

The problem is that the manner by which Law and Justice is planning to implement this program appears meant to give their party control over the composition of the court

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Call it what it is, an invasion

A recent important essay by Dr Cheryl Benard cannot come at a more appropriate time. She writes for The National Interest in a must read essay, where she highlights something so obvious that it barely needs any debate. Europe is undergoing a categorical invasion, in the form of unarmed, military aged men, looking to destroy the society from within. A few highlights from this essay:

If there’s one thing you need to read, it is this essay.

Dr Benard is no right wing nutty Islamophobe. She’s married to an Afghan American diplomat, Dr Zalmay Khalilzad, and has a stellar record of working with refugees for over a decade, and producing scholarship on the concept of Honour in Islam.

Unfortunately, I have been saying this for quite a while.

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La République En Marche?

Can Macron make France a leader of the liberal world order?

The victory of Emmanuel Macron for French president and his party’s majority in parliament was perceived by many as the foundation of a new bulwark against the rise of the far-right both in Europe and around the world. After Hillary Clinton’s disappointing loss to Donald Trump in the United States’ presidential elections, it seems ill-advised to hope for any sort of truly liberal (or, apparently, coherent) leadership from the United States in the near future. The truly worrying support for Marine Le Pen’s candidacy throughout France and, indeed, Europe was enough to have many, including myself, watching the French elections with an interest usually reserved for an Australia-New Zealand Rugby World Cup final.

When the news broke that Macron’s party, En Marche, had (beyond most projections) won an actual parliamentary majority, giving him the requisite power to start making the changes to French labour law that he had been promising throughout his campaign, many political commentators were quite sincerely taken aback. Macron is young, liberal, English-speaking pro-business and pro-European Union. He is about as far as it is possible to get from either of the mainstream French parties, and in a different solar system entirely than that of his rival Marine Le Pen of Front National, the French extreme right.

However, the parliamentary majority that seemed such an impressive victory for Macron and En Marche did come under fire considering the remarkable rate of abstention from voting across France; over half of the country did not vote. Despite that crushing statistic, however, Macron has taken that majority and run, moving quickly to change laws and making a considerable impression both at home in France and overseas.

He moved quickly to secure meetings with foreign leaders and dignitaries, making generally favourable impressions. However, it would be premature to heave the sigh of relief that worldwide observers must be tempted to do.

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Trump Warsaw speech confuses more than clarifies

Donald Trump came home from his first G20 meeting as president with U.S. policy towards Russia, Syria, and Europe in the same state of confusion as when he left. On issues from election interference, Syria’s ongoing civil war, and defense of its allies, the administration made contradictory statements and lacked credibility.

Start with his big Warsaw speech the day before the G20 started: He spoke of values threatened by terrorism, violence, and tyranny, but he didn’t define those values or the threats. Since his first foreign trip, he has been vague as to what he thinks constitutes terrorism. In Saudi Arabia, a country that is funding militants and spreading Wahhabism, he called for nations of the world to “drive out the terrorists and extremists.” As one might have expected, he took the opportunity in Warsaw to emphasize the fact that he made a speech in Saudi Arabia.

But who was he referring to when he said “drive out the terrorists?” Are the groups fighting to overthrow Assad terrorists? Clearly some of them are affiliated with terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, and even those that are not are engaging in anti-government violence to achieve political goals, which falls under the definition of terrorism. Yet Trump has appeared to have good chemistry with the Saudis, bragging (and vasty exaggerating) about the prospect of selling them millions of dollars of weapons. He even appeared to side with Saudi Arabia in its geopolitical conflict with Qatar, before he even knew what was happening. (Read Blatt and Maitra’s piece on the Qatar situation in The National Interest.)

It wasn’t but three paragraphs later that Trump’s call for states to stop supporting terrorism ran up against the reality of Syria. He said, “We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes — including Syria and Iran.” By implication, this policy would help the militants and terrorists fighting in Syria; without Russia’s support, the Syrian regime would be much weaker.

The call for Russia to stop supporting Iran and the labeling of Iran as a “hostile regime” also plays into Saudi Arabia’s goal for domination of the Middle East. Rather than opposing terrorism, Trump is simply buying the Saudi framing of “terrorism” as an excuse to push Saudi self-interest—even at the expense of U.S. interests.

This follows months of confused policy from the Trump administration on Syria. As Bombs + Dollars has documented, the Trump administration has vacillated between withdrawing American opposition to Assad and calling for Assad’s overthrow. In the span of one week in April, the White House went from saying U.S. policy was not focused on getting Assad out to calling for Assad’s ouster and then bombing an airfield.

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Was Trump’s Warsaw speech really that controversial?

Donald Trump made his first major foreign speech on Thursday, July 6, at the memorial to the Warsaw Uprising in Warsaw, Poland. He was surprisingly clear, coherent, and projected conviction and belief in the words he uttered.

I don’t agree with Trump on everything and believe that his personal conduct leaves much to be desired and does not give due respect and reverence to the office he holds. However, the reaction to this speech was disproportionate to what was actually said and reveals the ulterior motives of those making the point.

After the usual diplomatic flim-flam thanking the Polish dignitaries and saying how much he loved to be in Poland, a country placed at the centre of the European continent and witness to some of its defining historical moments, trials and tribulations, he got down to his speech. It was a long one, and the transcript is available here.

Trump, however, gave a realistic picture of the threats facing the Western world today. He talked about a variety of geopolitical security issues, from radical Islamist terrorism, to cybersecurity issues, to a commitment to Article 5 of NATO, to Russian meddling in the Ukraine.

Of course, because he didn’t spout the same platitudes about ‘hope and change’ and say everything would be fine if we just hold hands and sing ‘Imagine’, his speech led to the predictable circles in the media to weep and wail about how dark it was, how lacking in hope, how deprived of optimistic visions of the future.

They proclaimed that he had regressed to his ‘American Carnage’ rhetoric seen in his inauguration speech. Sorry, the world isn’t a pretty place and there are people who would be quite happy to see the West enfeebled, in retreat and in eventual ruin. Facing up to that, with a degree of honest realism, is now beyond the pale. Maybe that’s why we’re in such bad shape.

After this, Trump really plunged into the heart of his message. And of course, the commentary classes went crazy. The New Republic and Vox.com called it an ‘alt-right’ speech based in xenophobic nativism speckled with a dusting of white grievance. (Compare Trump’s speech with that of Kennedy in 1961)

Eric Foner of Columbia University on BBC’s Newsnight repeated the idea that Trump was espousing white nationalism and alt-right xenophobic nativism. According to him, saying that Europe and the West are based on Judeo-Christian values is basically evidence of white pride.

I’m sure those who also subscribe to Judeo-Christian values who aren’t white, like Coptic, Syriac and other Middle Eastern Christians and Israeli Jews are thrilled at this incredibly solipsistic and narcissistic display of privilege on the part of some well-to-do academic. 

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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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PODCAST: Let no one say Politics is boring…

Tweets that didn't age well.

Tweets that didn’t age well.

 

What a week, and it is not even Thursday!

I have written about politics since 2008, covered US, NZ, Indian, Fiji, and British elections, fair to say, I haven’t covered a week like this, as a columnist. And the week is not even over yet.

British politics just officially out Game of Throned, Game of Thrones.

CmM3S0KWIAAaDsDTo sum it up, Boris is out of Tory leadership as he realised, that he got outplayed by Michael Gove. For all his Roman scholarship, he never saw that coming. So, he is now dodging the bullet, putting himself in a kingmaker position, wait for Theresa May or Gove to come for his support, positioning himself for the ultimate leverage, and wait for the next person to clean up the mess. Boris lives to fight another day.

Michael Gove and Theresa May in, Labour is turmoil, and Brexit a fact, as Cameron wants India, China and US to replace EU investment and partnerships with UK.

And it’s not over yet! Listen to me here…and watch this space for more to come!

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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