All posts by alicenesselrode

An attempt at an utterly unbiased FAQ about the Brexit result

By James Mackle

Just about the only thing I have learned from the works of Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, once dubbed by the French as the ‘’Mr. Bean of Renaissance philosophy”, is that when a seismic event occurs, one must not descend into the binary depths of happiness or sadness. One must look past this and seek to understand.

I don’t think these words of advice would be particularly useful for David Cameron right now. After all, he understands fully well what went wrong. They will be even less comforting to the United Kingdom representatives in Brussels. They’ll be swelling the ranks of lobbyist positions to give up the insider information, in what is known as the revolving door policy in the corridors of Berlaymont. Only this time, for them, the door will stop revolving and jam to a deafening halt.

Nevertheless, a quick glance at the Facebook feed always makes the inner know-it-all of the journalist actually make use of his curiosity. While most of my entourage were pro-Remain and maybe even knew more about the effects of a Brexit than the average Brit, some of the cringe worthy posts ignore the domestic reasons for why we voted out.

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Why did we have this referendum in the first place?
Simply put, the party currently in power, the Conservative Party, has a Eurosceptic base. Because of three terms in opposition to Blairite Labour, this base was silent on the European issue that has historically divided their party, roughly among “moderates” (of which David Cameron is a member) and more radical elements of the Tory party. In 2010, for example, they agreed to shut up about Europe in order to form a coalition with the Europhiles called the Liberal Democrats.

In 2015, the Conservative Party put a referendum as one of their manifesto pledges. The moderates accepted this believing, as most people did, that another Lib Dem coalition would save them from implementing it. Instead, the Lib Dem vote vanished, the Labour opposition underperformed, but Cameron only had a 10-seat majority, enough for the fringe to demand the referendum.

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Is it all the Conservative’s fault then?
It usually is in the eyes of many a deluded folk. But the idea that the Tory party along with the far right has single-handedly voted the United Kingdom out is a fallacy. For a start, there is a sizeable chunk of Labour voters who voted out, as well as people who never voted before (turnout was higher than most elections). Add to that Wales, who have very few Tory Members of Parliament, voting in favor of leave, and that this is a one-man, one-vote system. Not constituency based.

Is it all Labour’s fault then?
This has been said by most of the Labour parliamentary members, the Conservative Party Remainers, and the LibDems, saying Labour, and in particularly Leader Jeremy Corbyn, didn’t do enough to change the mood amongst their voters in depressed former industrial zones that ultimately swung the referendum. Early polls actually suggest that the Labour vote on the issue changed little as to what was expected (something like 60-40 for Remain). Corbyn is just grossly unpopular with his colleagues off the back of a surprise victory for the radical leftist, who called himself a reluctant supporter of the EU during the campaign, and probably doesn’t care much for the EU as a whole. Most of the policies he was elected on would also be illegal under EU state aid law.

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Who is to blame then?
If you need someone to blame, you have to look geographically rather than the outdated party system, so probably provincial England. But in a 1-man, 1-vote system, the blame game is just not just ignorant but inadequate: the mentality of who or what are relative winners or losers in our society is precisely the mentality that makes the poorest in society vote out, despite absolute gains. Thus, many Scots voted in, to reaffirm their identity over some of the provincial Englanders who wanted to stick two fingers up to the London elite. These kind of reductionist proposals are what in turn feeds such a divisive, tribalistic campaign in a 1-man, 1 vote referendum. As Spinoza would say, do not look for someone to blame, dust yourself down and understand.

I see no reason to vote Out of Europe. Are the majority of Brits seeing something I am not?
No short-term, rational, cost-benefit economic or political analysis actually looked favorable to a Leave campaign. This sentence was what Remain effectively campaigned on. Remainers secretly told the political correspondents that the polls they had conducted showed that this was the only issue that could possibly get enough people out to vote Remain, rather than some glorified pro-EU stance. Cameron was not being negative when he campaigned against Brexit rather than for Bremain. He was just being realistic.

This is because of how widespread the British fear of any kind of federal Europe is. More precisely, the idea of a political superstate. It was voted for a free-trade agreement back in the 1970s. But the Brits have never been culturally and politically affiliated with the European Union; its flag, its anthem, or even its supposed values. Its state institutions and actions have always been viewed negatively, and comments from ex-Commission President José Manuel Barroso saying the EU was the first “Non-Imperial Empire” in an Orwellian example of Eurospeak, simply does not help.

While the immigration issue undoubtedly managed to push some (working-class) voters over the line into voting Leave, the vast majority of the Englanders who tend to be election-winners for political parties are small-c conservative-liberals who don’t like government the same way the Americans don’t and the French do. I reckon about 60-70% of those went eurosceptic after the Maastricht Treaty, which established the foundations for political union. Once Europe crossed this line, they were never going to support the European project in a referendum again.

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But there were no economic benefits for leaving, right? Britain is screwed.
In the short run, it seems like another recession is coming. A source in an economics consultancy department for the City of London told me he had seen nine scenarios for Brexit. Eight of them had Britain entering recession. The one that didn’t assume that a free-trade deal with the EU is similar to that of Norway’s, who negotiated theirs having not stuck two fingers up to the Commission. It also only made British households 80 pounds better off per week in the long run.

All the other scenarios make Britain worse off. Most of the others relate to uncertainty for investors both foreign and domestically. Subsequently, there is also the potential crash of the British housing market due to lower prices and interest rates fluctuating from very low to compensate for Brexit, to sky high because of uncertainty. The economist Steve Keen once proclaimed the British private credit bubble to be “The biggest Ponzi scheme on the planet”. Without stable interest rates and inflation, this should soon be put to the test.

In the long run, though, most accept the former fifth largest economy in the world (now taken over by France it seems) will survive, but worse off in absolute terms. Remember that voters, and people in general, think in relative terms though. One scenario is borderline apocalyptic, and it includes the breakup of the Union…

Does Scotland voting Remain mean they will call another referendum?
I believe voter fatigue, uncertainty over the Euro as a potential currency and the low price of oil mean that the Scots will wait two years for the renegotiation process to end before considering their options. Because the Scottish economy is still heavily reliant on England as an export destination, it does not want a shut border. If the Conservative leader negotiates a free-trade deal with the EU with favorable terms, then they may actually consider staying. If they ball it up and another right-wing Conservative government is still re-elected, then the Scots will vote out and apply for Union membership status.

Who will be this Conservative leader you speak of?
Boris Johnson is the obvious candidate, as he appears to have solely come out against the EU to try to lead his country after the referendum, having supported Cameron’s stance up until then. Unfortunately, he would be the most likely to be received as a populist, self-serving clown by the Commission and Council leaders in Europe.

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Theresa May, who voted Bremain but is eurosceptic (don’t ask me how that works), will undoubtedly be up there as a compromise candidate who could be better received in Brussels.
While the country may prefer a consensus candidate, ultimately the Tory membership decides, and their membership (not their voters) are likely to back Johnson.

What about Northern Ireland voting Remain? Could they opt to be united with Ireland?
Northern Ireland is a different political animal altogether due to its history and divided communities. Generally speaking the Nationalists (those who wish to unite with Ireland) had the most to lose from Brexit due to the closed border and cross-member-state co-operation, so they will have campaigned more for Remain along with some moderate Unionists, explaining the result. Nevertheless, the DUP, Ulster’s largest party and fiercely pro-Unionist, came out for Leave, and they have enough power to block Nationalist demands in the context of a consensus-based government between the two communities in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Feinn, the main nationalist actor, has called for a border poll, but they have had that stance for years and a major, divisive political event like this results in them calling for a border poll. They know that they would probably lose it due to the small Unionist majority, and jeopardize the now fragile peace process.

There is no way that this referendum is an indication of Northern Ireland’s leanings towards secession in the same way Scotland’s are.

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What will happen in the next General Election?
There is little chance Labour will win with Corbyn in power and Scotland being generally pissed off, so it will probably be to determine whether the Conservatives have a majority or minority government, the LibDems recover due to EU nostalgia, and whether UKIP or its natural successor becomes the first established right-wing populist party in the UK.

What will happen to the rest of Europe?
I have no idea, and the degree in European Studies has not helped in that regard. They are such a pluralistic, incoherent, irresponsible mess right now it’s hard to see what will emerge. Some have touted the UK’s departure as a stepping stone to deeper integration. This would require a major Treaty revision requiring consensus from 27 – not 15 as in Maastricht 1992 – Member-states. So they are stuck with their outdated Treaty and ad hoc legal modification designed by European Law students too clever for their own good (you know who you are).

Electoral forecasts show this is as much a failure of the Union as a failure of the UK to find its place within Europe. Spain will vote on Sunday substituting its centre-left pro-EU bore fest for the Eurocritical Podemos. If the PVV win in 2017 Dutch General Election, then there could be another referendum. They currently lead the polls but have a plurality, not a majority. France is fools gold for Eurosceptics: the Le Pen family and the national Front will always be too toxic for most voters. As for Germany, they cannot hold a referendum on an issue like this as it is constitutionally illegal to hold referenda after Hitler declared four to reaffirm his power in the 1930s.

So will everything be OK, like the UCMers say?
Interesting slogan for an academic environment, but not as ‘interesting’ as the media frenzy we are being led in. I was looking forward to writing about the end of a savage war in Columbia but instead, I write about Brexit. This is why Spinoza’s assertion is so true: ultimately, if you look enough, you will find dark in the light and light in the dark. To let emotion take over in times like this is not a matter of perspective, but of irrational choice.

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Urban realities in post-apartheid South Africa

By Hendrik Jaschob

A visitor’s first of impression of Cape Town is often bound up with its way from Cape Town International Airport towards the city centre. Driving along the N2 from the airport lets you pass massive informal settlements and townships with Cape Town’s Table Mountain in distant reach which potentially shocks a first visitor to the city that is inhabited by almost four million people. However, Cape Town has become one of the most visited places in the world. Recently, The Telegraph listed 22 reasons why Cape Town is the world’s best city, highlighting the city’s diversity and range of activities from hiking adventures, road trips and wine tasting to its historical significance during the struggle against the apartheid regime.  The Travel+Leisure magazine also ranked Cape Town as the 9th best city in the world in 2015. Especially for Germans, Cape Town has become a major destination to start a new life abroad, having big German communities in the city bowl. The city bowl is the cosmopolitan part of the city which is close to the lifestyle that Europeans or Americans know from home. Then, there are Sea Point and Camps Bay where properties and apartments are barely affordable for most South Africans and where you find a lot of internationals from anywhere in the world. Nonetheless, these parts of the city are mainly dominated by whites who have no relation to life realities behind the separating mountain.

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Cape Town’s Legacy

To understand Cape Town, it is important to grasp the country’s history of colonial separation which had been perfected by the apartheid regime. The Group Areas Act was implemented in 1950 and assigned racial groups (blacks, coloureds, whites) to specific residential and business areas in order to separate urban life. Although, aspiring black and coloured individuals have moved back to these mostly “white” areas since 1994, urban segregation is still very visible in Cape Town. The city behind Table Mountain spreads 40 or 50 kilometres towards False Bay in its racially assigned residential areas. Driving along the M9 and starting from Khayelitsha, which is the second-largest township in the country, towards Wynberg and Constantia, you pass by different worlds. The American writer Paul Theroux notes in his book The Last Train to Zona Verde that “the majority of black South Africans live in the lower depths, not in the picturesque hamlets or thatched huts on verdant hillsides. Three quarters of city-dwelling Africans live in the nastiest slums and squatter camps.” But what is the story behind the big informal settlements and townships such as Khayelitsha, Nyanga, Crossroads or Mfuleni? What do the people say?

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Distant Township Life

Samantha* says that a lot has changed since apartheid is over. She is in her 50’s and lives in Mfuleni which is a relatively new township which is 40 kilometres away from the actual city centre. She is engaged in urban farming and proudly shows her growing vegetables. She highlights the new opportunities to travel around the city which was not possible before. “The government even gives free tickets for weekend travel to pensioners”, she says with curiosity to get around the city. However, Samantha worriedly speaks about the barriers that still persist in the daily interaction with white people. “White South Africans still don’t like us black people”, she tells. It is an expression that also underlines the different life realities that are shaped in such a spatially divided city. Yet, there are more pressuring issues that have influenced township life in Cape Town since 1994. The South African author Rian Malan wrote in 1994 about the new influx of people in township communities from all over the country, as follows: “It was as if a distant dam had broken, allowing a mass of desperate and hopeful humanity to come flooding over the mountains and spread out across the Cape Flats”, which was caused by new travel opportunities, after the pass laws were abolished by the new government in 1994. He further notes that “within two years, the sand dunes had vanished under an enormous sea of shacks and shanties, as densely packed as a medieval city”. Today, South African cities have also become an attractive place for many immigrants from other African countries. This new influx has occasionally caused xenophobic violence over the last few years and therefore become another urging issue in urban South Africa.

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Growing Together

Michael*, who is a very committed person in his community, lives in Retreat which is rather known as a coloured dominated area in the Cape Flats. He hopes that the country can grow together, beyond the frustrating state of politics in the country. “The ANC** is currently ruining the country through all these corruptions issues and its inability to transform life of the socio-economically weakest in the country”, he says. Pointing at younger generations he states that “the future of this country lies in the younger generations that have the opportunity to go to school and grow together”. There is a certain kind of optimism in his voice with respect to the potential to lower barriers within the city, to create a new feeling of a mutual life in times of desegregation and to stir agency of Capetonians to contribute to change. The former leadership of the ANC around Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, or Ahmed Kathadra, that were crucial figures in the struggle again apartheid, was not wrong when they stated that the long walk of South Africans to freedom had just begun. This walk will continue.

*Names have been changed

**African National Congress

The ‘Oslo International Model United Nations Conference’ Experience

By Vincent Brenn

If you have never done a Model United Nations (MUNs) conference, you might ask yourself the question whether these MUN’s everyone is talking about can actually be fun to go to. Although, this will mean that you have to do extra work in your free time, where you would rather have a relaxing holiday or work for your actual courses that you have to do?

I have been in this case and actually asked myself this question. Nevertheless, I have signed myself up, in order to fill my CV with extracurricular activities (the motivation of probably most newbies). Knowing that most of the adults, who work in the political spectrum of the European Union, repeatedly recommend MUNs, I made my way to the application form on MyMUN.

Coming to the question to which location you should go to, I could only recommend a place far away from where you have already been. Oslo was a mixture of the MUN conference and exploring the city. Because it was Oslo, I wanted to take my time to see all the interesting history and culture beforehand. Luckily, there was another person who had the same idea of exploring Oslo before the conference. Traveling with someone you didn’t know turned out to be quite an experience, helpful in adapting to a new environment and getting out of your comfort zone (a bit like the gap year feeling for 5 days again).

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On the second evening, we went with the other students who came to Oslo to participate in the MUN conference. Since the price on alcohol is so immensely high everyone brought their alcohol from home, which led to funny nights at the apartment of other students from Maastricht. We went out to a bar at least once, however it turned out to be hyperinflationary expensive for everyone to have one beer.

Then, to come to the Conference itself, it was much more pompous than I expected it to be. There were numerous Committees, such as the African Union, Arctic Council and European Court of Justice. I represented the delegation of New Zealand in the United Nation Security Council, with about ten other delegates. Our chosen topic, the Yemeni crisis, created some very extensive discussion in the group of delegates. Especially the delegation of Russia, China and Egypt were very active in telling the other delegates what their opinion was about the crisis.

To conclude, I made a list of what has to be included in a successful MUN experience:

1) Find a conference at a location that you have never been
2) Travel with another person you don’t know or know very briefly
3) Take your time to see the city or new surrounding
4) Be very prepared before you go to your conferences
5) Don’t come in late or you have to dance in front of the everyone at the end
6) Be open to meet new people and make new contacts
7) Go to the socials or have a drink at a bar in the evenings
8) Come back home with a story to tell

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“History will not forgive us”

An Interview with the Israeli Ambassador to the Netherlands and the Head of the Palestinian Mission to the Netherlands

By Johannes Schroeten
The Diplomat is a liberal journal. Our aim is to promote peace and we can not deny that we believe in diplomacy, instead of conflict. Thus, it is hard for us to understand the ongoing violence in the Isreali-Palestinian conflict. Why are there no solutions? What are the obstacles to peace?

Who better to ask than the representatives of the respective governments. In an extraordinary chance, the Diplomat got the possibility to discuss the issue with H.E. Ambassador Haim Divon of Israel, and H.E. Dr. Nabil Abuznaid, Head of the Palestinian Mission.

The two ambassadors arrive in separate cars. Large sized models, manufactured by well-known German companies. Seeing both walking up to the building where the interview will take place, one thing comes first to mind: These two men look strikingly alike, both in their mid-50s, suits, glasses and the professional day-to-day routine, acquired from countless events like today’s. Indeed, from the distance, we could not tell them apart. An interesting observation, considering that these two men represent the strongest enemies since, perhaps, Germany and France in the 19th century.

After a few minutes for refreshment and settling, we are called into the room. One observation is evident from the start: Our interviewees are the least thrilled. Sitting side by side, they spread a sense of calmness. Staff and organisers seem to worry much more and are restless, re-scheduling and planning already the rest of the program. We, however, take seats across the table, facing now our two interview partners. A short introduction, and then we start.

The Diplomat: Thank you for having us! Let me start with a very general question: What effect will debates like today have on the ‘road to peace’?

The ambassadors look at each other. A short exchange à la “who starts” and Dr. Abuznaid begins.

Dr. Abuznaid: First, I think it is important for students to understand the conflict. Second, it is good to see us in a civilized and friendly way. Even though we have different views on this conflict. And third, to hear from people what they have to tell us and what advice they have to the Palestinians and the Israelis, since both of us in all these years of conflict didn’t find a solution, yet! So hopefully, this generation will help to bring us more together.

Ambassador Divon: First of all, I agree a hundred percent. Unfortunately, it won’t affect the decisions on the senior level. That is not the way it goes. With all due respect to what we are doing as ambassadors, these are decisions that take place at the level of President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanjahu. But, I think that many people feel that Israelis and Palestinians, whenever they see each other, they right away go into a fight. That’s not the case! Differences yes, there is violence, there are extremist ideas! But I believe that the majorities on both sides want to put the conflict behind them. For you, as a younger generation, living in Europe, it’s a bit difficult to understand. But we are both living in conflicts since the days we are born – and it’s not a picknick! We can not lose hope, but certainly you, the younger generation, you should not give up on any conflict. Keep pushing us to move in the right direction!

 

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The two ambassadors during the interview

 

The Diplomat: The international community’s attention has shifted towards other issues, such as the Iran Deal and especially the Syrian conflict. Does this maybe provide opportunity for a calm rapprochement, with absence of world attention?

Again, both struggle to figure out who starts.

Dr. Abuznaid: You want to go first? (Ambassador Hain shakes his head). Okay, then I keep going first.Maybe, we should look to the roots of the conflict. And many people say that maybe, the Israeli-Palastinian conflict in the region with blood shed for almost a hundred years, played a part to create a mentality to address the conflict. It is not healthy, it never created a healthy environment in the region. Even internationally! Today, Israel and Palastine should share a vision for security, as I told the ambassador a few minutes ago, we are together in this situation. There is a threat that could concern both of us. Violence and terror do not have borders. I agree on the issue that more attention is given to the other conflicts and we are ignored a little bit, because it is being said that there is more killing in Iraq and Yemen and Syria.  I think this is an issue where the Palastenian and Israeli situation should be handled in a peaceful manner, and the countries of the region should unite against a common threat, namely ISIS. So how does it come that we allow them to play with the Palastenian and Israeli conflict, although we say: ‘Don’t use this conflict for your own sake.’ Sometimes people think it is a just cause to fight Israelis and to use the Palastenian situation as a justification. So I think it’s a message for us and the Israelis really to try hard to finish all these problems and to unite against a common threat. So to come back to your question, it has taken some attention away, but also send a message to move forward, to end this conflict or otherwise both of us could be victims.

Abassador Divon: Yes, attention is diverted to a certain degree. But if you follow for example the discussion in the Dutch Parliament or in Brussels, you see that it is still there, although many times not in a way we Israelis like it. If you take for instance measures like labeling products coming from beyond the green line, we feel that this not the right approach. The question we ask ourselves is, by using punishing measures, do you bring two sides together? That is a question you should always ask before every step. There is a conflict, so what is the best way to get two parties to the table to negotiate? I don’t know what frustrates the Palestinians, but one thing that frustrates us is the labeling of products. This is a punishment. For what? For not sitting down, when we are ready to sit down? The approach we see in Europe is often counter productive. Again, as I said, it’s a pity that we are not able to advance a peace process. That is not up to us ambassadors, but the fact that we are sitting here, talking and respecting each other is elementary. Therefore, parliaments in the EU should ask themselves: ‘what are the best measures to press ahead’. And sometimes we feel that the measures taken against us are just creating bitter feelings, not just among the government but also among the people. The measures don’t really serve the purpose.
Although there are other conflicts which are much more grave than ours, terrible disasters and tragedies. Not that we have been friends with Syria, but all Israelis feel for the Syrian people, their suffering and the falling apart of the country. When it comes to us, I am not so sure that the approach of the international community and the UN is the right way. And this is something where we (He points to Dr. Abuznaid) do not agree, for instance. We do not agree with the steps taken by the Palestinian authorities take to get accepted in the international arena. We feel that they have to go through the negotiation process with us, as stated in the Oslo agreements. Going back to your question, yes there are other conflicts, but there is also a lot of effort to resolve our conflict, yet not in the right direction.

The Diplomat: Coming to the UN. Do you think they should get more involved in the conflict?

Dr. Abuznaid: Well, I think yes. The UN is an international organisation. We are members of the UN, the UN represent the international community, and if two countries are in conflict with each other, they should go to the United Nations. This is the representative of the world. We have an issue that we can not solve, so we say: ‘you are the international community, please give us the advice, the direction and the guidance on how we can achieve peace.’ And we should respect the international community’s decisions on our issues. We should accept them although they might not suit us. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, most of the resolutions are not implemented. So I agree, that the UN is the umbrella organisation of the international community, we should support it and we should respect its rules and regulations. They are trying to support and deal with issues on every level, education, health, environment etc. And Israelis and Palasetianans should be part of the international community, part of the civilized world and accept its recommendations and its guidance. It’s a plus for us to be members.

Ambassador Divon: My position is a bit different. Our record with the UN is not the most positive one. Look at the achievements of the UN, not only when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also other conflicts. The UN does not have the best record. And in particular, for many reasons, we are not pleased with the way the UN approaches this conflict. It does not mean that the UN should be out of it. We are very much disappointed with some of the decisions of the UN and the inability to move things ahead. I am not taking away the good intentions of the UN. But let’s try to think about where the UN was successful in solving a conflict. Their record is not so impressive. We would like to see that the players in negotiations are both influential and can be trusted. Trust is very important. By the way, if we look at Oslo, we were able to move ahead through direct negotiations. The negotiations for the peace agreements with both Egypt and Jordan were guided by the Americans. They have to take the lead in negotiations without excluding anyone from the table. But concerning the UN, we have our reservations. We let them be there, as one of the players, but certainly not the only one.

 

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The following panel debate was organized by Ambassador Lectures Series, UNSA and ELSA

 

The Diplomat: Let us come to a more personal question. Ambassadors are committed to find diplomatic solutions and promote peace. So… Isn’t it frustrating to see so much violence still going on?

Dr. Abuznaid: I think it’s not only being a diplomat, it’s also being an Israeli or Palestinian. Personally, the first thing I do in the morning is to look on my phone, and if there is no killing, on both sides, I am happy. But believe me, maybe half of the time there is killing. This is affecting us on the personal level. We are humans, we have children, we have a life. For Haim and me, both approaching retirement, we face the same question. What are we going to do? How will we continue our life? In the end, an ambassador is a human being as well. To be ambassador of Israel or Palestine is different from other areas, you have to be determined that you will continue to have the hope and the will to achieve peace. And I have no doubt that we will get there. But the question will be: Why did it take us all these years? History will not forgive us. Because we should have stopped the killing long ago. It is not a matter how many you killed from the other side, but also how you protect your people from being killed. It is really a challenge, it is difficult, so you need a commitment for peace to be a diplomat for Palestine or Israel.

Ambassador Divon: I agree with Nabil. I always ask myself, what my colleagues -and I will not mention names- do when they get up in the morning. What do they do? What’s on their desk? Living in the conflict and caring for our people and our country, and being patriots, we are in this conflict day in and day out. Wherever I go and at every event, there are always people asking me: ‘What is going on, what is happening, please explain.’ People expect answers, they want to know: ‘what is your explanation, what is your take on this.’ Even for this lecture, you would not invite ambassadors from the Philipines or China or Latin America. Because this conflict is very high on the agenda of political science, we are in the focus all the time. But it is not that I keep repeating mantras. I do not have to sit hear and rehearse government policies. We both can talk and come back to our respective governments and make suggestions, for example about possible involvement of the Dutch government which is respected by both sides. And the government did help, for example to implement scanners at the border between Gaza and Isreal in order to facilitate the movement of trucks. That was appreciated and meaningful for both sides. We visited the border crossing with the Dutch minister Koenders together, and we saw an interesting and good will of the Dutch government. That’s an example that both of us work on the conflict and try to create a platform. This is our contribution. Other than that, there is, of course, the hope that one day we will be able to put the conflict behind us for the sake of our people. No one enjoys living in a conflict. And maybe also as an example for others because there are so many terrible conflicts. Our rapprochement could be kind of the shining light in these dark days that we see in so many spots around the world.

The Diplomat: Thank you for the interview!

Being completely honest, we have to admit that we did not even manage to ask half of our prepared questions. Nonetheless, the extensive and open answers shed new light on our understanding of the conflict. Maybe it is indeed a question of small steps to approach each other. Grasping this issue as what it is, namely a territorial conflict between two different religious and ethnic groups, might make it easier to achieve a solution. To see the two ambassadors together, both being very compromising and calm, was a fundamentally different image than what we would expect. This is the misperception of the conflict that is healthy discussed around the world. The strong polarization that has taken over almost every political discourse in the world is not constructive at all. The guilt question, with a childish: ‘But they started it’ will not lead us anywhere. Thus, we entangle ourselves in immaterial discussions and lose sight of the real goal: to establish a sustainable solution between two fighting parties. Dr. Abuznaid said, with respect to his generation: “History will not forgive us!” For their generation, it is already too late to put this conflict aside and to commit to their responsibility for future generations. We should not make the same mistake!

If you want a good MUN – visit Scotland

 

By Paddy Bruell and Fiona O’Hara

By this point, the readers of this blog must have a basic understanding of what every MUN (Model United Nation) entails. Wild parties with crazy students, debating of the highest quality (usually) and the opportunity for students to experience an accurate simulation of political debates, where the topics are of global significance and importance. ScotMUN 2016 was all of these things and more. With the reception ceremony, the evening parties and the committees all having touches of the local Scottish and British culture, brought into the European and global context, ScotMUN was a unique, unparalleled and unforgettable experience.

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Set in the beautiful Scottish capital of Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh, it can be said that the MUN was a complete success. It began on Friday, the 4th of March with an opening ceremony in the prestigious Balmoral Hotel. After a welcome speech by the Secretary General, speeches were given by Aidan O’Niell QC (Queen’s Counsel, who has litigated before the CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) and the ECtHR (European Court of Human Rights) and Catherine Stihler, who is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Scottish Labour Party. In their speeches, both guests addressed the importance of events such as this MUN, as it encourages people to learn to resolve conflicts in a peaceful and diplomatic manner, rather than resorting to force, which has often been the case throughout history, with disastrous consequences. Furthermore, both speakers noted the value of MUNs in bringing people together and uniting them for a common cause. To conclude the first evening, all students were treated to a taste of the rich Scottish culture in the form of a ceilidh, a series of traditional dances. Whilst at the beginning the delegates seemed to be all arms and legs, this soon improved and actual dancing could take place.

The first morning of actual committee sessions began in the same way most MUN mornings seem to begin. Some up bright and early and on time, others…well not. Sleepy eyes, yawns and the occasional headache where the morning story. As the delegates split up into their committees and began proceedings, the press team, which we were both part of, was quick to cover the relevant stories. With the UNSC discussing Nigeria dealing with Boko Haram, UN Women talking about female suicide bombers, and the Crisis committee being faced with a post-apocalyptic future where mankind is struggling to survive, the press team did rather have its hands full.

What made ScotMUN 2016 unique however, was the addition of a second Crisis committee, in which delegates re-created the 2015 General Election of Great Britain, which secured David Cameron a second term as Prime Minister. Such an ambitious committee had never been created before and it was a new experience for all involved. Delegates had to take on the identity of a certain politician and were then organised into their respective parties. Once familiar with their fellow party members, delegates had to work together on an arduous two-day campaign to try and secure as many seats as possible in Parliament. Overseeing their efforts were the Crisis Co-ordinators, who evaluated their efforts and created scenarios that the political parties had to deal with. As the media plays an important role in real-life elections, three members of the Press Team were assigned to exclusively cover the General Election committee. Their role was to cover all of the Parties activities, assist the co-ordinators in creating problematic scenarios and of course stoking the fires of gossip. We can honestly say that the General Elections were an extremely successful committee and can only recommend it to any MUN. It does however, take brilliant and dedicated co-ordinators.

As the evening drew ever closer, the delegates were less focused on their work and more on the prospect of a great night out at one of Edinburgh’s most famous clubs, Cabaret Voltaire. By 9 the joint was heaving and with two Crisis Co-ordinators at the turntables making sure that the music was excellent, the party was a great success. Apparently too successful for some as it turned out…

The next morning, rumours circulated and were eventually confirmed by members of the press team in the form of pictures. Apparently, some delegates had not managed to find their beds after the club night and had instead resorted to falling asleep in the university student bar. Needless to say, these individuals were not present until late into the second day.

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The effect of late nights out

The second day of committee sessions continued where the first had left of. Whilst some committees had concluded with one of their two topics and were now moving on, some found this slightly more difficult and did not manage to even start debating the second issue in question. Other occurrences during the second day worth mentioning included the surprising election of Kim Jong-un as the next Secretary General of the United Nations, Emma Watson being kidnapped by terrorists in UN Women and Ed Miliband being elected as Prime Minister in the General Election committee. Staying true to the reputation of political journalism, we (the press team) could not ignore and fail to report on a certain incident that occurred at Oxford University involving Prime Minister David Cameron and a poor, innocent pig. It was unfortunate, however, that this lead to his downfall; although he was lucky that the Panama papers were not published a month earlier…

ScotMUN 2016 ended on Sunday the 6th of March with a closing ceremony for all delegates in the university lecture hall. Here, the Secretary General expressed his thanks to all delegates and his pride at how successful proceedings had been. Awards were also distributed, with the UM delegation raking up two (one of those being awarded to yours truly). ScotMUN taught us the ins and outs of working as press inside the United Nations, and exposed us to its highs and lows. From the United Kingdom declaring war on France in the Security Council (“Long Live the Empire!”) to various committees performing ceilidh dances to Uptown Funk to composing the perfect witty tweet to take down UKIP, the press team faced many exciting challenges that will prepare us for political journalism in the real world. But in all seriousness, we had an amazing time in Scotland and cannot wait to participate in the next MUN. Bring on EuroMUN!

 

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The Press team of ScotMUN 2016

 

Interview with a Sec Gen

By  Marta Ziosi

He loves theatre, he can rhyme, sing, he is Brazilian and he loves MUNs. Who are we talking about? Well, Raphael Dias, the Secretary General of EuroMUN!

As the days are getting longer and the sun spends more time over the sky of Maastricht, EuroMUN is almost upon us and Raphael is working hard with his team to make it all happen. The Diplomat thought about taking a sneak-peak behind the conference’s curtains to reveal the workings behind it and the ‘conductor’s’ hopes and thoughts.

In the spirit of our ‘sneak-peak’, we first wanted to know who was hiding behind the formalities of a Secretary General. The question came naturally,

Is there something we don’t know about you and maybe should?

“I am a huge theatre fan, especially musicals, which lead me to end up singing in my room a bit too much. My flatmates are probably buying ear plugs by now”

Singing is also a therapeutic exercise and it might be exactly what is needed after a day of managing and organizing. However, Raphael is not alone. On the contrary, he has an active team which constitutes the perfect example of a well-blended group of colleagues who bonded throughout the year to end up becoming close friends.

We know you have a team! What are you best known for in your team?

“Yes, I have a wonderful team! I believe people might know me for living in the office or always being open for a conversation. I try to be as open as possible, to get to know the people in my team”.

It is actually through the members of his team that we got to know Raphael’s love for rhymes and any sort of creative writing. Well, we could not help but putting his skills to a test.

Someone told me you are quite a poet! Could you rhyme is some lines to convince us to come to EuroMUN?

“Oh damn, the pressure is on! Ok, let me think…

People come from near and far,

To dress in suits and hit the bar,

To debate topics and finding policies,

To change the world on their personal stories

People come from here and there,

To be amazed by what we got,

Could you miss it? Just not!”

Raphael was clearly up for the challenge. This also allowed us to introduce the other main subject of the interview, the EuroMUN conference. If the poem did not convince all of our readers, the next question will give it a second shot.

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Now let us talk about EuroMUN! Tell us something we may not know about it.

“The special thing about EuroMUN 2016 is that we bring together and highlight all the most interesting parts of an MUN. Our committees are incredibly varied, in nature and topics, our socials are going to be epic, we have partner NGOs showing real life action and with an international crowd. WE got all the best things an MUN could provide, in ONE event”.

And it is this ONE event that unleashes its great potential through the relevance of his main theme ‘Breaking Barriers: Securing Global Diversity’.

Do you see the relevance of such a conference in the light of the current events?

“Definitely! For me, the root of most of the world’s problems today lies in intolerance and hatred. An MUN, and especially EuroMUN, is about building bridges and creating mutual understanding of different international cultures while studying and understanding world politics on a hands-on approach. I deeply believe that the next generation of leaders will have gone through MUNs and have had this experience under their belt, so hopefully these current events could be curbed”.

We could not agree more. In the light of the recent terror attacks in Brussels, the pressure on Europe and its youth to foster the understanding of the different cultures residing within it is vital for its diversity to be preserved in unity. However, as any respectable interview, some data ought to be introduced.

We would actually like to have some real life data. How many hours of sleep are lost be candidates each year on average? What do you think they spend them on?

“That is a funny question, because there is not one answer, since there is not one delegate. There are delegates who spend the night working on their resolutions and battling to pass it on the floor the next day, or delegates who take the free time to visit the city more or have a great time in the socials. And of course, there are delegates that do all of this, getting to know the city and their fellow delegates while working hard”

This perfectly describes the various nature and characters of the different delegates. However, there is something which grips Raphael’s attention even more.

“I realize I haven’t answered your question, but basically because I can’t. The “why” is what I like most. Why do we spend so much time debating and trying to approve a document that, in reality, will not come into effect? Is it because of possibly inflated egos? Is it because we are stubborn or passionate? I think the answer is that we get into the shoes of policy makers and live through the pressure of this field and can’t shake that addreanline off. It is a wonderfully addictive feeling, and it is why, personally, I love doing MUNs”.

This is the answer we were looking for! Not only Raphael discerns potential in the diversity represented by the candidates but he also sees the importance of defining future goals in a simulation which provides you with the thrill of reality.

But finally,

What are you most looking forward in euroMUN? and, what will be the first thing you do once it is over?

“I am just looking forward to see it all coming together and to see the delegates arriving. We have been working so hard for this for almost a year, that I can’t wait to see the final result. And the first thing I will do is take a deep breath, have a beer and go to sleep, since I will be completely drained”.

Yes, a beer and some sleep will be clearly deserved. The conference is approaching and will be taking place from the 4th until the 8th of May! Registrations will be open until this Sunday, the 17th of April, so make sure to get a spot. Raphael and his team will make sure that everything is ready to host a great event, but the task to bring EuroMUN to life is all yours.

And of course, the Diplomat will be reporting from the event, so make sure to check out our Blog of EuroMUN live!

Does money rule the world?

By Marie Peffenköver

If you just open your news app on your smartphone, look up the top 10 news of your country or open a newspaper and you just pick a random article – what will you see? Of course, the answer to this question depends on from which country you are and what type of newspaper you are looking at but you will certainly find something about the refugee crisis, the EU deal with Turkey, the nuclear summit in the USA right now or maybe even the Greek financial crisis (although the latter has silently disappeared from the popular awareness during the last months). And all of these news, no matter from which topic, they have one thing in common – it’s all about the money.

How to pay the accommodation and integration of the refugees? Will Greece need more support from the ESM (European Stability Mechanism)? “The US government spends about $500 million per year to fight terrorism” (The Guardian, 2016) and “Erdogan gets another 3 billion to stop refugees” (Spiegel, 2016) – the world’s most important commodity is once again the key issue of action and reaction. “What I would like to change about today’s society? That’s clear to me: no money that hampers social interaction”, says Tobi Rosswog, an activist of the German social movement “living utopia”. The project and action network which describes itself as “money free”, vegan, ecological and which stresses an attitude of solidarity tries to spread its core idea by offering workshops, giving lectures and creating spaces of participation where everyone who is interested in joining can do so.

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Tobi Rosswog, an activist of the movement “living Utopia” explained his utopia in an interview with the Diplomat

A world without money? Where you do not weigh whether you buy the expensive or the cheap chocolate bar? Without the “Big Business” standing behind the politicians telling them what to vote for and what not? How shall this be realized? “Of course, this is a huge contradiction with our capitalist society”, explains Tobi, “but we already made positive experiences with living utopia. People are keen to dare experiments. And if you don’t gauge everything and everyone using the monetary measure, but you share and you offer what you don’t need to someone who is in need, a society can develop a completely new dynamism.”
Building upon the idea that the overall abundance of goods enables such a “gift society”, the movement too stresses this socio-economic interaction as a way to improve the societal living-together. According to Tobi, “the capitalistic doctrine of constant growth is also in conflict with one of our most limited resources – time. We always want to get better, build higher, be faster and more modern. But this obstructs our view on the fact that we already have everything we need to live a comfortable life. We are just taught to never be satisfied.”
Fact check: Since quite some time, scientists have tried to determine the happiest country by using various criteria which suggest states such as Norway, Costa Rica or Puerto Rico as the world’s most happy country. Surprisingly, many studies and indices (e.g. Business Week) have ranked the small Asian state Bhutan to be the place where people are the happiest although it lingers on rank 126 out of 194 by states’ GDP per capita. Moreover, psychologists nowadays claim that money only satisfies you if you were already contended before while bills can just amplify who you already are.

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Yet, there are many impediments to be overcome to realize such a utopia. The biggest of them is human nature. I bet we all know these people who ask “Can I quickly borrow your pen?” and who give it back almost empty, people who free ride when writing group papers or people who looked at your lunch in primary school and just wanted to “try a little bit” – briefly, those who take the mile when offered an inch. How would a “gift society” make sure that such companions don’t exploit the entire group?

For Tobi, this problem is home-cooked as well: “We need to wonder ‘why are these people doing that?’ Apparently, they are not a 100 percent motivated as the costs exceed the benefits – a rational calculation. And this is exactly the way we are taught to think: ‘What’s in it for me?’ But if people help because they want to help – that is, because they like to get a smile or ‘thank you’ back without being offered something themselves – we can unleash an incredible efficacy.”

Central to the project living utopia is the decision to non-consumption; hence, to say “I already have enough; I don’t need this right now.” This is also related to the project’s emphasis on veganism and sustainability. The message: consumption and sustainability can be united – “but only if this happens radically sufficient”. “Excessive consumption is socially suggested”, Tobi points out. “Of course, we have basic needs but everything beyond has been created by society. If we do not keep this surplus for ourselves but if we share it and give it to someone, then something interesting happens: our goods become personalized. Thus, we establish a very close and personal relationship with everything we possess. This has a much greater value than things that we only bought to compensate for our sadness or frustration. Additionally, we become much more open to our fellows and mistrust and greed get significantly reduced. This is also a positive observation that we could make.”

Does money rule the world? Right now, it does. For some, it is desirable to keep it like this, whereas others envision a different world. Whether we believe this to be true one time or not is for everyone himself to decide. But for Tobi it is important that we abandon phrases such as “I can’t imagine!” or “This has never worked!”. “We have to dare the experiment”, he elaborates, “otherwise, nothing will ever change.”

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A silent brainstorming during a workshop of living utopia