Should history be rewritten in line with modern day views of human rights?

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All of history is an interpretation of chronology. Only the most simple of all chronologic charts provide us with an objective account of what happened. Any attempt at explanation of those facts is essentially changing them and that is part of our human nature in a way that accepting cold facts is not. Sometimes history is rewritten with evil intent and the other times it was simply necessary. History should not be rewritten, but it is simply impossible not to do so. In order to retain the stature of the great men of old, we give them a face-lift and forget about the details. People like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are the marble columns supporting our ideals and without their image; the house would crumble.

From the very dawn of time of the western civilization, we have not shied away from manipulating history for our purposes. The glorious verses of Homer and Hesiod were considered factual for quite some time and did the fictitious Aeschylus not complain that his opponent Euripides debauched the hearts of men by writing lousy characters in “The Frogs” by Aristophanes? The Poets wrote history precisely to serve reasons that they considered noble and they were not alone. In “The Republic”, Plato paints a picture of an ideal city where so-called bad stories displaying the vices of gods should be left out in order to build a perfect character in the city’s guardians. Those men laid the foundation of our civilization and it could be said that other civilizations might not have developed in the same way, but sadly there is enough evidence to say that they did.

Several millennia ago in China, it was a stroke of genius and a fatal self-inflicted wound when the Zhou dynasty usurped the mandate to rule from their predecessors and rewrote all of history in their image. They won the battle, but lost the war, because just a few hundred years later they were the ones to be written out of history. The power stemming from being in control of history, however, demonstrates itself even in less advanced societies. The Aboriginal tribes of Australia live with a profound connection with their land. They possess no literature of the kind we know and yet they live surrounded by the stories of their past, written in the landscape of their land and soul. We have been told very little about their past, because in their world such knowledge is reserved for the oldest and wisest and we are nothing but infants in their eyes. What they tell us is not what they tell themselves. In a way, they are writing their history for us the way they wish us to see it.

All regimes, cultures and peoples write, change and reshape their history. They have various reasons for doing so. Some were doing it to influence the actions of the men of the future. Others did it to justify their right to rule. We do it to hide the uncomfortable truth. Some of the great men were despicable slave-owners who never relinquished their vice, nevertheless, our house of virtue will not stand without their support, therefore we chose not to look too closely. How is that different from the Nazi book burnings, Soviet purges or even the work of the inquisition? Morality aside, it is not different at all. We should never rewrite our history, but we do it regardless.

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The Age of Trump: For Better or Worse

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Has anyone built a time machine yet? No? Well, then I guess we will just have to stop whining for once and deal with the now. Orange is the new reality. Some may still put faith in the US Constitution and the 25th Amendment that could rid us of the menace and others hope for swift impeachment stemming from the Russia probe. Neither is very likely to happen any time soon or ever, for that matter. To be honest, would the alternative really be that much better? Were Donald Trump to fall in a coma or impeached, the Vice President Pence would get a shot at his gay-bashing, Hawthornean Scarlet Letter-like utopia and unlike President Trump, President Pence would be more than capable of implementing his policies. It is time to stop crying havoc, acknowledge the reality and make the best of it. Although most people might not realize it, there are actually some areas where the Trump presidency is actually being helpful.

The first such issue is North Korea. Before the age of Trump we had had eight years of cautious Obama policies. That was akin to trying to tame the tiger with sugar. The Korean tiger, however, needs a lot more than that. It is now time for the stick, but we are faced with the problematic fact that North Koreans do not trust the United States anymore. Not since the Bush era when the US last reneged on their deals with them. Trump is right to realize that the stick must come from a different place and that place is China. China is the true addressee of the inflammatory speeches and erratic behavior strategy. The language used is the only language North Korea understands. They live off making threats and using them as leverage during the eventual talks, but keep in mind that nobody in South Korea worries about their neighbor. They see through the charade and so should we. China is the key to this treasure box and the Trump strategy is working, since, for the first time, we are seeing a real progress on their side.

The president has a way of stating the obvious in the most insulting manner we can imagine and that tends to obscure the grain of truth in it, but it is there nevertheless. On the European front his comments have had a tremendous positive impact. In particular, it was the comment about NATO being obsolete. Let’s face it. The way it is, it is obsolete. Europe is rich, powerful and we have been slipping, leaving our defense in the American hands. Is it not finally the time to band together and build a secure Europe, defended by Europeans and paid for by European money? Whether he meant it so or not, his infuriating comments have pushed European countries to do a better job at upholding their financial commitments to NATO and the good old idea of a European army has been raised from the dead. Hopefully, it will lead the European Commission, headed by President Junker at the moment, to focus on more ambitious issues than improving European Wi-Fi availability.

Domestically, President Trump is taking a lot of flak and rightfully so, but let’s also look at the silver lining of his actions. The efforts to destroy Obama care have made the proud nation to realize that healthcare is kind of important. Due to the failed Republican efforts we also know that 35% of Americans did not know that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same thing. They do know now and they happen to like it. Donald Trump has made it harder for the Republican Party to quietly do away with the basic human right that healthcare is. His blistering rhetoric has had an undeniable effect of uniting the people, even if they unite on the other side of the barricade.

The man is a veritable mirror to the society embodied. Every issue we have and every problem we chose not to talk about is alive within him. Love him or hate him, but take him seriously, because whining about the things we do not like has never helped us bring the world a better tomorrow. The age of Trump is the age of change and change hurts. Sure, we were quite content with the way things were, but the sad truth is that we got lazy and took our eyes off the ball. The usual result of me taking my eyes off the ball is getting hit with it right in the face and I am convinced that Trump is the ball in our faces. We may not like it and we may even curse at it, but, one way or another, we needed it.

A New Reality in the Land of Milk and Honey

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The status quo is dead and long live the new reality. The Czech republic has gone through elections again and it is now time to assess the result. I did expect an apocalypse either way, but as elections go, I ended up being surprised anyway. If central European politics is not your strong suit (I cannot blame you, really), I should probably catch you up on what has happened thus far.

The Czech republic has undergone nearly five years under an equally unholy and incompetent alliance between the Social-democrats and the Populists led by Andrej Babiš, the food tycoon and a millionaire who served as the finance minister until recently. The embarrassing results of the socialist-populist rule are probably best illustrated by the election performance of the Social-democrats. They have gone from nearly 20.45% and control over the position of the Prime Minister in the government in the previous elections to barely 7.27%. In addition, in the months leading up to the elections, Mr. Babiš, the leader and the embodiment of populism, has been under attack for a myriad of highly suspicious corruption affairs.

In this congenial, back-stabbing atmosphere, the Czech voters went to cast their votes and gave nearly 29.64% to the Populists. That is not surprising, but fortunately it is just short of the number needed for creating a stable, one-party government. The Populists will need to build a coalition, but unfortunately for them, their leader is widely despised among the other parties. I think it is quite telling when even the far right and the anarchist parties refuse to collaborate. Each of which have received 10.64% and 7.76% respectively (which is shocking in itself).

Mr. Babiš has very few options left, but his world is not entirely bleak. The crybaby he is, his best choice would be to complain about the unfairness of the other boys and girls at the playground until new elections may be declared. As my kind words may betray, I am in fact a member of the conservative ODS party that has had a surprisingly good result as well. In the past we made some mistakes and we rightfully lost the mandate, but after years of reflection and restructuring the Czech voters have finally decided that it is time for us to come back.

I would not imagine in my wildest dreams that the Conservative party would receive 11.32% and thus become the second strongest party in the parliament. As Mr. Babiš has professed, he would just love to join forces with the Conservatives and rule in a happy coalition, but such an abhorrent alliance is definitely out of the question from our point of view.

The path is clear. Mr. Babiš will not be able to compose a government in the 30 days allocated to him by the president. If that is the case, then the next in line for a shot at creating a government is the Conservative party, as the party with the second strongest result. It will be difficult, because a coalition with the far-right or the Communists is out of the question. That would leave a some kind of a broad coalition between the Conservatives, Anarchists, Christian-democrats and a few other small right-leaning parties.

The Populists have won this battle, but they may yet lose the war. The right should do its best to ostracize them out of ruling for the good of the nation. As the universal hatred of Mr. Babiš among all parties suggests, all actors are painfully aware of what horror would his rule be. That might just make the impossible possible and facilitate a broad and stable coalition. The future of the country is at stake. Mr. Babiš, you say you want a “better country”. Well, we want it too, but it is a country without you.

Populism and Human Rights

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Hi everyone,

this week I would like to look at an issue that is becoming increasingly important and yet it is often overlooked. We all know that populism has been given a new lease of life around the globe and we also know that there are abusers of human rigts as well, but what has not been particularly emphasized is the new trade-off between these two problems. For simplicity, I would like to point out three starkest examples of that happening right now.

Firstly, Donald Trump, probably the most infamous populist demagogue right now, has gained significant traction, even with those most recent gaffes. The Donald’s main idea ( I really cannot stop thinking about Donald the Duck whenever he is mentioned, the resemblance is striking) is establishing law & order (i’ll let this one go) by doing some pretty unorthodox things like establishing surveilance and bans on certain communities. He has also been advocating for waterbording and murders of famillies affiliated with terrorists.

Secondly, there is the great ‘Punisher’ of Philippines Rodrigo Duterte. President Duterte has sadly been recently elected into office and to his honor he has started doing what he promissed during the elections. More precisely he gave free rein to police to shoot all the criminals if they resist and enacted several other dubious policies. Needless to say that the body count has been quite high and the responsibility for these killings has been also claimed by vigilanties as well as the police.

Thirdly, we have Turkey (Not the sandwich) (I admit that is a horrible joke, but I just can’t help it ! Again). President Erdogan has been on a rampage ever since the attempted coup. Reportedly there have been purges of about 60’000 state employees, including teachers and judges as well as millitary officers. In the latest episodes of the Erdogan show he started haggling with Europe over the refugee agreements that have been so hard to negotiate in the first place.

All these men have something in common. They propagate the idea of public order and acting as strongmen. While on one hand, these policies could achieve their goals, it seems that none of it would be achieved without persecution and violating human right. Whether it is Trump’s waterboarding, Duterte’s shoot-to-kill policy or Edogan’s jailing journalists, there are some human and civil rights undeniably being trampled upon. The strongman’s argument is that you cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs. I have recently had a chance to talk to a Duterte’s supporter and he was no evil guy. He was an inteligent young man who was wery concerned with the state of corruption and raging drug wars in his country. In his lifetime he hasn’t seen the system working at anytime and he had a sincere hope that under Duterte’s strong words lies genuine concern for the country, just like the one he has. I, personally, understand that view and sincerely hope he is right, but my beef is with the fact that this supporter, just like supporters of the other two stars of this world sociopath show, believes that violating human and civil rights ‘a little’ is fine as long as you have the right goal in mind. They would prefer not having to do that, but they also believe it is the neccessary evil.

I, for once, completely reject that view. Violating human rights in any way is criminal, even if your ultimate goal is world peace. That same logic could be applied to war criminals after all. They oftern believe in what is the best for their country from their point of view and yet we hang all war criminals anyway. Even if Duterte’s policies are successful he should be facing international condemnation and criminal charges, because we should once and for all decide that the goals do not justify the means. Too many leaders on too many occasions in the past had our best interests in mind and yet it became a disaster. The mark of the 21st century should be that human rights are universal and untouchable and those who trample upon them should face the same charges as criminals do, because that is how we stop the history from repeating itself.

Unfortunatelly, many around the globe do not really see that point and bond themselves to people who violate human rights. The starkest example has been the disgusting behaviour of the European Union towards Turkey. For years we have been ignoring Erdogan’s excesses, because criticising him could damage our own interests. Also it seems that the US has even stronger stomach than Europe and that the Cold War politics of supporting whoever supports us is far from dead.

If we want to live in a peaceful world, we as standard-bearers of democracy, universal values and peace should not be flapping in the wind, but defend our principles and not trade them for our own benefits. At times like these I always think about what one captured terrorist told the CIA during his debriefing. Essentially he said that while we feel moraly superior, to the rest of the world we are the Empire and they are Luke and Han. No wonder that the US has been voted the biggest threat to the world peace just recently.

Michael

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U.S. Elections : The consequences and why should Europe and the World care

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The United States of America, supposedly one of the most powerful states in the world today, is undergoing a change in leadership this year and to great deal of ordinary people around the globe it doesn’t mean much. Especially in Europe where we tend to be blinded by our own current issues American politics can feel a world away. It may be that even the Americans themselves would have trouble understanding why should the world care or even dare to have an opinion on the matter. After all it is their own country and they can do as they please. Despite such assumption we should be interested and we should have an opinion since on so many occasions in the past it was the U.S. Administration that had the most profound effect on our lives.

 

The starkest example of what a political change can do to foreign policy was the period of late Clinton administration and the subsequent shift to George W. Bush administration and the Congress controlled by the Republican Party. Speaking broadly and as will be demonstrated on examples the Clinton administration could be characterized as preferring compromise. It was sometimes also called the “doctrine of enlargement”

 

[i] , which means “…based on the idea of expanding the community of market democracies around the world, embraced free trade, multilateral peacekeeping efforts and international alliances, and a commitment to intervene in world crisis situations when practical … and morally defendable.”[ii] On the other hand the post 9/11 situation forced George W. Bush to assume a role of rather a

Commander-in-chief than a president through taking on immense emergency powers and therefore it required employment of rather assertive foreign policy.

One of the clearest examples of how such shift it policy-making can destabilize the situation was the Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea. President Clinton stated in 1994 that through this agreement “North Korea has agreed to freeze its existing nuclear program and to accept international inspection of all existing facilities”[iii] Furthermore, North Korean regime agreed to switching to less dangerous light-water reactors in exchange for significant financial and political concessions from the United States. Unfortunately shortly after signing the treaty the power in the Congress switched to the Republican Party, which, over time, diminished its importance and did not uphold its part of the deal by reducing financial backing that was ratified by the treaty. In the end, North Korea withdrew from the Agreement Framework and in January 2003 also withdrew from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, during Bush administration, and kept escalating its nuclear program to the point it is today, when North Korea is claiming to have detonated an alleged hydrogen bomb.

Another, possibly even more important, apple of discord between Clinton and Bush administrations was the relation with Iran. For years under presidents Carter and Reagan the policy towards Iran could be considered as ambiguous. President Clinton inherited the past issues and enacted a policy of discouragement from terrorism, as it happened in 1996 after the attack on US barracks in Khobar in Saudi Arabia, where “The White House refrained from military retaliation but signalled that additional terrorism could lead to conflict”[iv] and policy of rapprochement of civilizations, as through the famed wrestling match in 1998, when official government-to-government contact was not possible due to Iran’s internal disunity. Despite a positive start Bush administration decided not to take the process further because it understood Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami’s “ lack of a sustained positive response”[v] as “evidence that he was either unable or unwilling to deliver.”[vi] The two governments were still trying to cooperate on issues concerning Afghanistan and Iraq, but Iran’s undeniable involvement in supporting terrorism was making the dialog significantly more complicated. From Iran’s point of view as a great blow to diplomatic relations came the State of the Union speech from 2002 where President Bush described Iran as one of the members of “Axis of Evil”. In spite of the setbacks and criticism the Bush administration did try to make a progress on the nuclear issue with Iran. The United States actively engaged in talks between Iran, International Atomic Energy Agency and several European countries (Germany, France, United Kingdom). The process eventually led to signing the Paris Agreement in 2004. Unfortunately even this effort proved vain when Iran disregarded the treaty in 2006 and resumed its nuclear program. Overall the Bush administration can be attributed with creating an international framework for dealing with support of terrorism and countries like Iran, but in the end made no real progress with pushing Iran to agreements.

The real issue that arose in indirect interactions of Clinton and Bush administrations was the war in Iraq. In aftermath of 9/11 attacks the political, diplomatic and public discourse in the United States was greatly overheated. It probably is understandable that the Bush administration felt like it needed to take a firm stance. Even more so when this administration and many people in it were connected to the previous republican administration led by George H.W. Bush, father of George W. Bush and legacy of Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991. Iraq, especially in the light of in the least inflated reports of Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, surely felt like an imminent threat. Saddam Hussein’s own track record involving aggression towards Iran, Kuwait and abysmal human rights record did not help. The United States invaded Iraq in 2003, but the question is whether it invaded in the right way or at least if it was the only way it could be done. If we assume for a moment that the war was inadvertent and necessary would the Clinton administration perform differently had it been in power? The leadership in Iran was more than willing to provide intelligence and cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition as it did in 2001 during operations in Afghanistan. “Let’s repeat the Afghanistan experience in Iraq”[vii] were the exact words of Iran’s President Khatami, but the proposal ended up being sidelined when the White House decided to singlehandedly (albeit leading the western coalition including UK’s Tony Blair) get rid of Iraq’s dictator. When considering the surrounding situation and common history of Iran and Iraq one must come across a thought that the subsequent occupation might have gone better if Iran and other neighbouring nations were allowed to actively participate. After all the two countries in majority adhere to Shia type of Islam and great deal of history. Looking back at Clinton’s politics of compromise and regional cooperation I must state a conviction that had his administration been in power the political vacuum and general state of disarray that currently controls the region could have been prevented or at least lessened.

To not think that changes in political views and discords between administrations apply only to the United States one must also briefly look at one of the prevalent issues within the European Union itself. As presented by The Economist in an article called “Stop the Music”[viii] European system of countries acting as presidents with each country reigning only 6 months has grown grossly impractical. When the Union had but just a few members the rotating presidency might have made sense, but currently it only contributes to the general confusion when countries use their terms to uproot each other policies as in the Spanish case (Spain allegedly caused delays in discussions on banking supervision to avoid exposing flaws in its own banking system)[ix]

 

After examining progress, setbacks and influences that the Clinton and Bush administrations underwent, a clear connection between “us” and “them” remains to be made. As the famous Edward Lorenz’s butterfly effect, the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings can change the weather on the other side of the world, the war in Iraq may still have a profound influence even on things so seemingly unrelated as possible toppling of Angela Merkel in Germany or the thoughts United Kingdom has had about exiting the European Union. The destabilization of Iraq has likely caused the destabilization of the whole region and subsequently ignited the wave of refugees fleeting from the region towards better pastures in Europe from not just war-related, but also economic reasons. In just few months this wave sparked ferocious debates about the very foundation of the Union and other systems like the Schengen system. In 2003 when reading the news about the inauguration of George W. Bush Angela Merkel surely did not think that it might be something that could threaten her own political existence. Not only the citizens of the United States of America, but we, the citizens of Europe, and the globe should care and have an opinion on who sits in the Oval Office, because it matters who is in charge.

[i]Bill Clinton: Foreign Affairs’, Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. [website] (Accessed 4 February 2016), http://millercenter.org/president/biography/clinton-foreign-affairs

[ii]Bill Clinton: Foreign Affairs’, Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia. [website] (Accessed 4 February 2016), http://millercenter.org/president/biography/clinton-foreign-affairs

[iii] William J. Clinton, ‘Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States’, Bk.2, 1994, p. 1795

[iv] Bruce O. Riedel, ‘The Clinton Administration’, The Iran Primer, United States Institute of Peace [website], http://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/clinton-administration (accessed 4 February 2016)

[v] Stephen J. Hadley, ‘The George W. Bush Administration’, The Iran Primer, United States Institute of Peace [website], http://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/george-w-bush-administration (accessed on 4 February 2016)

[vi] Stephen J. Hadley, ‘The George W. Bush Administration’, The Iran Primer, United States Institute of Peace [website], http://iranprimer.usip.org/resource/george-w-bush-administration (accessed on 4 February 2016)

[vii] ‘Iran and the West, The Man who Changed the World’, Part 3, [online video], 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Afv4-gd7Cjc (accessed on 4 February 2016)

[viii] ‘Stop the Music’, The Economist 9 January 2016, Available from http://www.economist.com [website] (accessed 4 February 2016)

[ix] ‘Stop the Music’, The Economist 9 January 2016, Available from http://www.economist.com [website], (accessed 4 February 2016)

 

A Coup ? Not today mate..

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Hi everyone,

in the light of recent developments in Turkey I would like to address the elephant in the room that nobody has probably noticed yet. While reading the posts on social media, as the coup in Turkey was happening, I noticed that some people seemed in favour of the coup on the grounds of disapproving the Turkish government.

I, myself, am not a a big Erdogan fan. The only time I would wave a flag with his face on it would be before pushing his car off a cliff, but we must clearly state what is right and what is wrong. The government of Turkey was democratically elected and while Erdogan’s practices are surely despicable he remains popular with the majority of Turks.

When the army attempts a coup against a fairly elected government we may do nothing else but denounce it. I found it difficult to find any case of such coup resulting in a better time for the people. Army coup always leads to the rule by military junta and we all know that the army and democracy are just the best buds, right ?

I assume that at this point you will claim such examples as the Portugese revolution of 1974, but we must realise that at that point the fascist Portugese government had nothing to do with fair elections.

On the other hand, we have many examples of coup going bad. Most visibly in Myanmar (Burma) and other countries in the region that have suffered under tyrannical rule of the army.

To conclude, a coup is rarely a good thing and when it is a good thing it is so only due to significant pre-existing criteria. We should finally learn from the past and realise than overthrowing democratically-elected governments is rarely the right move.

Michael

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Slovakia, the EU and the V4

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Hi everyone,

quite recently we have witnessed the change in presidency of the EU Council. As you know that is something that happens every six months and this time it is Slovakia led by Robert Fico that is taking over at the helm from the Dutch. While the usefulness of the system itself is debatable, let’s focus more on what we can expect to happen in the next six months.

First of all, we need to ask who is Rober Fico. Fico became the prime minister of Slovakia for the third time just this year, but these elections were quite different than in the past. His social-democratic party is accustomed to quite a comfortable majority, but this year it ended up losing it and had to create a coalition of four parties. The coalition is quite amusing since his leftist party is holding hands with three right-wing parties that are often characterised as near-fascist. In fact, the rise of nationalism and fascism has been worryingly swift in recent years in Slovakia. According to one poll up to 47% of Slovaks consider this coalition as ‘unacceptable’, so that’s probably the best recipe for stable government, right ? A preview to what is to come is probable the fact that almost immediately after Mr. Fico left for Brussels the Slovakian parliament erupted in unrest and tried to depose him and shocked the public with a good amount of foul language.

The second thing we must look at when thinking about the Slovak presidency is the presence of Visegrad Four (V4). Unlike the fantastic four, however, most people have no idea what it is. If you are one of those people you needn’t worry. It is much less cool than the fantastic four. The V4 is a group of four countries, namely Poland, the Czech republic, Slovakia and Hungary. It is a motley crew of post-communist countries that banded together in the 90s in order to coordinate their approach to the European Union. The institution survived the entry in 2004 and continues to have a strong presence in the region. Majority of the people in those four countries have no idea what the V4 is up to with exception of Slovakia. About 54% of Slovaks are said to know about it in contrast with only 17% of Poles saying the same. One could the assume that the V4 politics is close to Slovak hearts.

In his recent speech in the European Parliament, as well as at the official website,  Robert Fico has outlined core ideas for the next 6 months. The principles are : economically strong Europe, modern single market, sustainable migration and globally engaged Europe. He has also called for Europe with vision that does better job at explaining itself to regular citizens. In a nutshell, we could say that Fico intends to put forward serious reforms of the EU and while that is exactly what we need there is a catch. Robert Fico is known to be quite the eurosceptic and what he said abroad is slightly different from what he says at home. In a press statement on 1/7/2016 he strongly criticised the growing power of EU Commission, dominance of old powers like Germany and France as opposed to sidelining small countries like Slovakia and most poignantly refused current politics on migration. Many of his statements sound quite similar to ideas of Brexit campaigners and populists. The V4 is led by Poland this year and its program includes strong voice of V4 in the EU, V4 identity and visibility and regional regional security. When put together with the far-right nature of Hungarian leadership and the widely criticised undemocratic reforms in Poland it feels like there are things that Mr. Fico ‘forgot’ to mention in his speech to the EU Parliament.

It is difficult to say what opinions Mr. Fico really has and what he will be able to put forward. While I agree that a serious reform is needed and small countries need stronger voices I hope the Slovaks will make us into dancing partners rather than pins at a bowling alley.

Michael

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