Category Archives: Politics

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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“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!

Evo and the End of the Pink Tide

Evo Morales is easily Bolivia’s most recognisable figure. As President of the multinational country, he has been at the forefront of the late Pink Tide (marea rosa) of Socialist governments in the region. The most (in)famous, depending on your politics, was undoubtedly the late Hugo Chavez. But Morales also attracted headlines for his slightly more nuanced, yet fierce opposition of the post-Cold War, American-dominated order. A position that has earned his ‘Movement towards Socialism’ party three landslide general election wins in a row.

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Yet Morales’ bubble burst last week when he lost a referendum on a constitution to allow him to stand for a fourth term. This despite arguably being the most popular and successful socialist leader in the region. The troubles for Latin American socialism don’t stop there: in Venezuela, Chavez’s successor Nicholas Maduro is facing a gaping economic vortex due to the low oil prices and let the majority in parliament slip to the opposition. Brazil’s leading Partido dos Trabalhadores is facing a corruption scandal. The ultimate scarecrow of ‘’post-neo-liberalism’’, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, was defeated in Argentina late last year.
The emergence of the Pink Tide has its roots in the reaction to perceived right-wing, and United States, dominance in the region. Several military coup d’états, facilitated by the fact that the military’s institutions were better run than the democratic ones, had struck a blow to Latin American democracy.
The most controversial academic reason was the perceived state of neo-colonialism in the region, exercised by the United States on grassroots industries. Indeed, it was the US’s policy on restricting coca plants in their latest battle on the ‘War on Drugs’ that lead to Morales’ rise to fame, as leader of the peasant union.
The idea of neo-colonialism has served as a basis for the revolutionary left since the fall of the Soviet Union. It basically consists of an ‘’update’’ on classical Marxism to our more globalised production system: Instead of bourgeois classes being internal to a state, they express themselves through the states themselves on a global stage. The result is that the USA ‘’owns’’ a huge amount of the factors of production in South America, and therefore reaps most of the rewards from any profit vis-à-vis international trade. In Bolivia though, the US’s intervention was peculiar: it consisted of restricting the production of coca as part of the ‘War on Drugs’. One such producer of the coca industry: Evo Morales.
Bolivia had been subject to some 187 coup d’états after the Second World War before Morales emerged as its democratically elected leader. For many, mostly native Indian Bolivians, Morales’ victory represented not just an opposition to the American meddling in the region, but a genuine democratic renewal after years of oligarchic dictators, the most brutal of which was General Banzer, whose achievements include a US-sponsored plot to turn Bolivia into a ‘White Flight’ country for some of the most extreme Apartheid South Africans in the 1980s, and personally overseeing the torture of his political opponents.
Morales’ victory was soon undermined by the richer eastern parts of Bolivia, who wanted to separate themselves from his government. Whilst Bolivia was on the brink of a civil war, Morales kicked out the US ambassador, accusing him of starting the conspiracy to overthrow the Socialist government.

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Of course, it seems a throwback to the bygone era of the Cold War: Socialist ruler vs Big Uncle Sam and his local, questionable allies. But the demise of the Communist block has made this conflict more and more about reviving an older political narrative: that of native Amer-indians vs white colonialist. In Bolivia, for example, the coca plant abolition, imposed by Banzer when he somehow managed to be the first dictator elected in the late nineties (soon to be followed by Hugo Chavez), was seen as a purely anti-Amerindian action. The neo-colonialism then was not just of an economic or political nature, but of an ethnocultural one.
This ultimately constitutes the first failure of Latin American socialism: its inability to unite the peoples of its country across ethnocultural fault lines, instead playing an equally divisive role as its opposition. Morales was supposed to be the exception rather than the rule. Around the mid-2000s, before he was elected, he famously adopted a more “European” name to his party and broke up with the more violent elements of the Amer-indian resistance, such as Felipe Quispe.

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The latter has labelled Morales’ policies, or Evonomics, as “neo-liberalism with an Indian face”, and there is some truth to that, looking at the results of similar economic policies in Venezuela. What you effectively have is, rather than a distribution of wealth across working class wages, a full round assault on the previous owners of capital in the region through state institutions. Venezuelan economics included price controls and maximum prices to ensure affordability of goods on such a wage. But the result is that the old oligarchs simply scaled back production to remain profitable. As one internet poster explained: “It’s almost trying to create a for-needs economy within the framework of profit maximisation, while normatively arguing for socialism, and that is bound to fail”.
The untimely death of Chavez exposed a deeper, yet all too familiar, breach in the ideological fulcrum of the Pink Tide: its emphasis on personality cults. It is hard to look beyond Evo in Bolivia or Lula in Brazil. But once chinks in the very human armour of these leaders are exposed, such as the latter Brazilian’s ongoing corruption case, it is difficult to endorse a movement that has relied so much on them. Morales’ attempt to extend his presidential term was rejected outright by a country all too familiar with the problem of personalist dictatorships.
The author is only ruthlessly critical of the Pink Tide in this regard, because he takes it so seriously: this was a genuine opportunity for an alternative system that could shift the disturbingly one-sided global political debate. But perhaps it is engrained in the South American psyche to always oppose a global status quo. Certainly the anti-‘yanki’ sentiment has shot up regardless of the left’s poll numbers tumbling down. Since the days of Bolivar, the man who provided Bolivia with its name and identity, the continent has always been struggling to achieve a certain measure of detachment from its brooding northern neighbour and old colonies. The conventional view, as well as those of the national leaders, is that the only way to achieve this sovereignty is an EU-style regional integration on an economic, then political level. But the only way such a ‘Bolivarian’ ideal would be a success is if they learn from the mistakes of the past, including that of the Pink Tide…

 

 

“Tchau, querida“

By Alice Nesselrode

Thousands of people in green, yellow and blue on the streets, holding banners that say ‘O Brazil é nao do PT’ (“Brazil is not of PT”) and shouting “Fora Dilma, fora PT” (“Out Dilma, Out PT”)- these images already went around the world almost two years ago in the protests before the FIFA world cup 2014, showing the dissatisfaction of the Brazilian people with the high corruption within their government and the governing ‘Partido dos Trabalhadores’ (PT; “Party of the Workers”).1426534645_626750_1426536494_noticia_normal

However, when the time for elections came in 2014, the majority of people (around 52%) still voted for Dilma Rousseff in the second round of elections, even though it was a head-to-head race with the candidate of the Social Democracy Party Aecio Neves- hence, Dilma started her second term as president. Ever since then, there have been smaller up heating and up roarings all throughout the country, but none of them were as extensive as the ones going on right now: In the past weeks, more and more discussions have arisen over former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a very close friend and the former mentor of current president Dilma. Federal judge Sérgio Moro shed some light on his involvement with the Petrobras-scandal, money laundering and corruption, leading to Lula being framed and put on trial.

On Wednesday, president Dilma Rousseff openly claimed that Lula would return to politics and become minister as head of the cabinet, giving him more immunity and making it harder to persecute him. In the evening of the same day, a phone call between Dilma and Lula was leaked and published by judge Moro which revealed a very interesting conversation: Dilma apparently told Lula she would help him “whatever it takes”. When finally finishing the call, Lula said: “Tchau querida” (“bye darling”)- a phrase that polarized and was turned around now in the protests. Brazilian protestors use the “tchau querida” now together with the “Fora Dilma”- to signalize their president to give up her position and finally resign. The request to turn Lula into a minister has been blocked by the judge and is still pending.

 

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Dilma Roussef and Lula da Silva after the won elections

 

Again, thousands of Brazilians took on the streets in the big cities such as Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and the capital Brasilia to demonstrate against corruption in the government after the content of the phone call was made public. However, the public opinion is split when it comes to the details. The majority of the people want Dilma gone and put an end to the rule of PT- yet, what comes after that? Ironically, what seems to be the main problem of Brazil was well described by Lula himself when he famously stated in 1998: “In Brazil, a poor man steals and goes to prison. Meanwhile, a rich man steals and becomes minister”.

Some Brazilians even opt for a return to the military government that was in charge in Brazil until 1985- a time epoch when the country was in chaos but led by strong leaders, by many described as a dictatorship. It is shocking to hear that people are eager to go back to such a regime system that goes against our understanding of democracy and equality, yet it very much depicts the inner quarrel of the Brazilian people and their actual helplessness. A political change is desperately needed, but who will take the position of Dilma?

This leads to another problem: Judge Moro, celebrated by many for framing Lula and Dilma, did not undertake any actions towards the political opposition of the TP- despite the suspicions against many other Brazilian politicians such as Aecio Neves for being involved in fraud and money laundering. In fact, there are barely any politicians that are not being suspected to have at least once been corrupted or have corrupted themselves. Also the ways Moro used to gather proper evidence for the framing of Lula are dubious: the phone call he published was a private one, he was not authorized in any way to have access to it.

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Judge Sérgio Moro

The fall of Dilma after the protests currently going on in Brazil is very probable, but the question of what comes after that remains unanswered. The country might slide into a huge chaos without one main leader, but it might also be the beginning of something big, of a positive movement going through the whole of the land of Samba and Havaianas. Moreover, what a success of protests will change in the heads of each single Brazilian remains to be seen. Fact is that the country is facing a big change that will fundamentally alter its whole structure. What the Brazilians will do with this change still stands in the dark.

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What’s wrong with Poland?

By Jakub Biernacki

If the European Union was able to materialise, in the context of this article, it would most likely take a form of Julius Caesar screaming “Et tu, Brute, contra me” to the personification of Poland standing in front of the dictator. Of course, these supranational Ides of March would certainly be a joint project of countries such as the United Kingdom, Greece etc. Yet, the betrayal of the former would be the most painful.

A point of order – the European Union is in crisis. Lack of confidence and public resilience, undermining of European solidarity, inflowing refugees, upcoming British referendum – all of these plagues determine a picture of nowadays Europe. Europe in desperate need of inspiration.

From that point of view, European politicians may go into rhapsodies over Polish economic growth or condemn Polish expansion on Western labor markets but they cannot argue with one  point – in some ways – Poland was that aforementioned inspiration. With its avoidance of financial crisis and extraordinary pro-European approach of its government, Poland was aspiring to be this talented offspring who plays the piano, wins golden medals on yachting races, studies at Harvard, with parents being so proud of him. That was Poland for the last couple of years – a top of the European class.

Yet, last year in October people decided to change it. With a surprising outcome of the elections Polish citizens not only replaced the Civic Platform, the party that ruled for eight consecutive years, but also gave the Law and Justice, the biggest opposition of that period, enough votes to form a majority government. With that division of votes and with president Andrzej Duda from Law and Justice, chosen for a five years term just a few months before, the formation gained, to quote Emperor Palpatine, “unlimited power”.

Of course, one may say that this is not the unlimited power if a party doesn’t have two-thirds of all seats and, therefore, cannot change a constitution.  Well, this is the point where the reality begins to look like a “House of Cards” script.

Poles.

It is naturally not the aim of this article to explain how in a few easy steps new leaders of Polish democracy were able to paralyse the Constitutional Tribunal – the institution responsible for resolving disputes on the constitutionality of the governmental activities and the enacted legislation. Trust me, things seem “slightly” odd when one day you learn about the principles of constitutional courts on Comparative Government course (law student here) and another day you turn on TV and watch your government showing a system-wide middle finger to all these principles.

It is not even the aim of this article to point out that the new government took over the public media and immediately fired the management and the most popular presenters who, however, had openly criticised the party when it was in opposition. I will not make further comments about the new Minister of National Defence who without hesitation calls a crash of the governmental aircraft and the death of Polish president in 2010 an assassination. Instead, the aim of this article is to answer the question that many Europeans ask themselves since the October’s elections – what is wrong with Poland?

“The right to vote should be considered sacred in our democracy”, said Charles B. Rangel. Although most of us may consider American worship of democracy as somewhat insane, none of us will argue with the fact that democracy  is a foundation of the Western civilisation in general. None of us will even argue that it would be fair to take away a voting right from a healthy and  sound participant of society whatever his beliefs are. Yet, when I realised that for some of the people their vote for a certain party is determined by its number on a ballot, I started wondering whether our  franchise right is indeed so sacred.

Poland is a country where members of the parliament proposed the introduction of circular ballots so that people do not vote for a person on top of the list. I live in a country where once my peers finally reach a page of their chosen party, they primarily search for a funny or famous last name to check. In my country, people complain about the EU officials who make decisions in Brussels but when it comes to elections, only one-fourth of us actually takes the trouble to cast a vote. It’s slightly better when we elect a president – a usual turnout of fifty percent. Yet I doubt whether this is a proper attendance for a nation with such a lot of blood spilt for its freedom.

After all, I want to believe that Poland is just a young democracy and we, as a nation, simply have to learn how to vote. Well, maybe next four years will be like this breakthrough and earthshattering lesson for Poland in terms of the voting habits.

Of course, the Law and Justice did not win by accident. They formed a majority government which means that people at least wanted them to rule.  For most of the Western politicians this  is a mystery – how is it possible that the government that brought Poland through the worldwide financial crisis with the astonishing, given the circumstances, GDP growth, with its Prime Minister voted the new President of the European Council, was rejected by the citizens?

There are two answers to this question. First of all, throughout these eight years, the pile of sins accumulated and the Civic Platform could not rely on the social credit that they had been given in the previous years. With numerous scandals in the last few years, they lost all of their marvellous PR and became just another party in the system.

However, they would not lose in suffering if it was not for the second factor – Poles themselves. It is no secret that our most irritating national flaw is complaining. And this is probably the same flaw that caused an about-turn in Polish politics. We always seek a better life, we aspire to the title of a Western European country and we want to have an adequate standard of living. The problem is that most of us want that standard right now. This is why so many people from Poland try their luck in the United Kingdom, Germany or in the Netherlands. And this is exactly the same reason why a few months ago half of us took those ballots, threw them into the boxes and changed Poland.

So, what is actually wrong with Poland? Why do we make decisions like that? I think that if we consider all of the arguments that I brought but also many others that I did not outline, there is one correct answer. Despite all of our national and historical experience, we are still learning how to be a well-functioning European democracy. We are certainly close but still a few steps behind.

The question remains – can Europe do anything about it? Probably yes. It certainly cannot overthrow a government that was chosen in democratic elections. Yet, there is an entity that could do that. It’s the Polish nation. Because, if history taught us something, it is that in the worst moments Poles can take matters into their own hands. As for the EU, it should be like the Eye of Sauron looking at the Mount Doom. We do not want any small hobbits to throw something into the mountain and destroy the whole land, do we? The next few years may be hard in terms of relations between Poland and the European Union but after all, what does not kill you makes you stronger.

“We do not exaggerate”

By Lize de Potter

Cologne. Known around the world for its magnificent Kölner Dom, famous for its iconic perfumes, equally renowned for its carnival festivities. And now, tragically adding mass gang assaults on women to that list, as the events of New Year’s Eve shocked the entire globe.

Anger quickly replaced the initial shock, rose across the continent, with politicians everywhere screaming wild “I-told-you-so’s” at the top of their right-winged lungs.  “I told you those Muslim refugees do not belong in our Western society. They regard women solely as objects of lust or sex slaves” and proclamations of the like.

Naturally, for reasons such as blatantly obvious over-generalization, statements such as the above are problematic and highly inaccurate, to say the least. Surely it would be foolish to overlook or belittle the identities and backgrounds of the assaulters. However, it would be equally ignorant to claim that the objectification of women is a phenomenon inherent to Muslim societies. On the contrary, it is just as much ingrained in our, depicted as progressive, Western world. Granted, on a scale gravely outweighed by the horrific events of the Cologne question, but in my eyes, not less meaningful or important.

For I have yet to meet a female who has not been victim to shamelessly inappropriate sexually tinted remarks. I say victim, for I also have yet to meet a female who felt flattered, or even indifferent, after being dog-whistled in the streets. Whether those streets are crowded or deserted, whether in parks or in bars, whether by strangers or by the creepy next-door neighbour. Ranging from “hey sexy” to the shameless groping of girls’ behinds. Anytime, any day. Objectification is fixed in our society, leaving girls and women across the continent feeling utterly disgusted, used even. And when complained about, women are more often than not characterized as exaggerating stick-in-the-muds, attention-seeking feminists.

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Although omnipresent, our society seems to like to ignore this Western variant of sexism, it seems to like to pretend it is not there. The majority of the mainstream media stays silent, but hungrily feeds on the details of the identities of the Cologne assaulters. Worse still, the majority of the women at the receiving end of inappropriate name-calling, simply keep their head down and hastily quicken their pace. Only to later go and jump on the band-wagon of judging other women to be dressed provocatively, to be “asking for it”.

This apparently socially accepted hypocrisy, it needs to be questioned, it needs to be challenged, it needs to be openly rejected.

Politicians, citizens, the strangers in the street or the creepy next-door neighbour, they most probably had no difficulties whatsoever condemning the events in Cologne. It was easy, and rightly so. Nevertheless, it is flat-out unjust that it takes events of such gravity to open Europe’s eyes, to trigger our society’s anger and indignation. Condemning daily sexism rooted in our Western civilisation should be equally easy. It should be uncomplicated, it should come naturally. For everyone in every society. Just as 1+1 equals 2, to both refugees and Europeans alike, sexism equals unacceptable, the fight against it equals a priority.

Because we do not exaggerate.

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An exposed nerve

By Johannes Schroeten

At first sight, it is a rather odd situation: a bunch of armed militia men occupying a federal building in a national park in Oregon. However, its significance should not be underestimated. The occupation is only one symptom of a new hysteria in the United States of America.

Flash-back to the 1990s, shortly after the breakdown of the Soviet empire. The United States seemed to be the all-encompassing and dominating force, the last true world-power. Its economy expanded and the rise of the digital age promised a technological superiority for years to come. In his acceptance speech, Bill Clinton called out the ‘renewing of  America’ in 1992. A break-through of democracy, capitalism and Western values in the world was only a matter of time. Or so it seemed. Flash-forward to today, and things look very different. What happened?

The American society was struck by two blows, triggering its current anxiety.

It all started with 9/11, the first foreign attack on American soil since Pearl Harbour. Suddenly, the US were no longer untouchable. In the aftermath, President Bush declared the ‘war on terror’ and a US-led coalition invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite an early victory, the military forces would stay, fight and die for more than a decade. The results were costs of more than 2 trillion dollars and a traumatised American society.

The second blow came in 2008.The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers let loose a chain of business failures, private insolvencies and rise in unemployment. Mortgages could no longer be repaid. The pictures of thousands of abandoned houses became the symbol for the failure of the American Dream. The economic devastation would discourage many Americans.

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Within a decade, two core elements of American collective identity, namely superiority in military and security terms as well as the perception to have the strongest economy in the world, were gravely shaken. Although the economy soon recovered and is now larger than ever, the notion of a society in which everyone can achieve anything with diligence could not be revived. Instead, a deep uncertainty spread. For many, this was a nightmare proving the American economy to be no longer the hegemon in the world economic system. Obama’s ‘Yes, we can!’, still so strongly embraced and shouted in 2008, yielded to a precarious ‘Maybe, we can’t.’.

Out of these quarrels, two fluxes emerged. On the one hand, those who want to transform the US into an ultra-modern society, in which everyone enjoys the same rights and no one feels oppressed or restricted in their way of life. Examples are the civil rights movements, feminists and LGBT activists which usually flourish in urban areas and especially within the academic environment of universities. These are modernists, often politically represented by democrats.

Despite encouraging debates about structural racism and bigotry in society, their strive for political correctness has taken on sometimes ludicrous or even radical features. Not seldom, the correct name for an ethnic group or social minority can change within days. Those who might offend someone in any way easily face a ‘shitstorm’ of collective shaming and can hardly defend themselves in the outpouring hysteria.

On the other hand, a new emphasis on ‘traditional’ American values has entered the social and political discourse in the US. It is an ultra-conservative movement which is strongly oriented towards traditional ‘Christian’ and ‘American’ values. Despite the modernists, they also hate a supposedly elitist political class, the notion of a supreme government or even state structures in general.

They advocate a Christian identity of society and desire a maximum of personal security, not just from criminals or foreigners, but also from their own government. Hence a strong opposition to any restrictions such as gun control legislation. While the present and the future seem to be rather grim, they glorify their own history, be it the constitution from which they derive major arguments or the American superiority of the 20th century. This group is often formed out of middle aged white people, which tend to have received a lower level of education, and used to form the working and middle class of the US. However, due to the digital revolution and the outsourcing of production, they tend to be the ‘losers’ of the huge changes of the past decade. Ultimately, they struggle to preserve the lifestyle their parents have acquired. Let’s call them traditionalist.

The Tea Party has managed to coin this traditionalist view into a political program. Through further encouragement of bias and hysteria, it made way for Ben Carson and Donald Trump who poured more oil into the already blazing fire. The demagogic claims of both presidential candidates have fostered resentments against everyone and everything the traditionalists already dislike. With impressive effectiveness, Trump and Carson have managed to rally the underprivileged white masses behind them. Even more strikingly is the fact that moderate conservatives, such as Jeb Bush, cannot manage to pose a significant Republican alternative to the Trumpian hysteria and simplicity.

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Without doubt, both the modernists and traditionalists have always existed and influenced the political culture in the US. In recent years, however, a major shift became prominent. The social gap between rich and poor, countryside and city, majority and minorities, has only widened. Partisanship increased, resulting in debates in which facts play a subordinated role. Ultimately, the cement which used to hold the American society together has lost its grip. The (foreseeable) decline of American global influence has shed light on domestic struggles which had remained in the shadows in the past decades. Increased numbers of unarmed African Americans being shot, a hunt both online and in real life on students who might not comply with the predominant standards of behaviour on university campuses and government officials who deny homosexual couples their right of marriage are all symptoms of a frenzy which is preventing a rational discourse.

The United States would not be what they are today if they could not handle such tensions. And contrary to European politics, the dominant political tone has always been more aggressive. Nonetheless, the new developments peaking with the Planned Parenthood shooting, the Oregon occupation or the Charleston Church shooting, signal a new American hysteria. From the outside, the US still seems to be an extraordinary power. From the inside, it could face profound and radical changes. Like an exposed nerve, the American society is sensitive to any incident which in return could trigger an unpredictable knee jerk reaction.