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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Islamic Democracy -Implanting Values

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Hi everyone,

this week I would like to briefly talk about the Middle East and the issues we are facing there today.

As a society based on values of liberty, we tend to think of our system as the best system and we also have trouble understanding why others may not think so. People raised and educated in democratic systems usually share the unshakable belief of its superiority to all other systems. The point of this article is not to diminish or praise a certain way of life, but to point out the, maybe, unsurmountable obstacles in promoting our kind of democracy around the globe.

Human beings are extremely diverse and as such have multitude of roots. The democracy we know today has roots in the Ancient Greece. We sometimes call Greece the cradle of democracy. The world of the Middle East is, however, far more complex and despite taking on much of the Greek knowledge after the fall of the Roman Empire, not all of it was accepted as viable. Islam that probably is the most defining factor of the Middle East today is widely misinterpreted in the West and incredibly diverse within itself. For simplicity, I will mention only one example of such misinterpretation. The word “sharia” usually conjures very bad connotations in western minds, but it does not have to be so. Sharia is literally “the way of life”  and it is derived from Quran, life and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. The misinterpretation lies within ‘fiqh’ which is jurisprudence responsible for interpretation of sharia. While some brutal regimes interpret it in a truly awful manner, it is not fair to say that sharia itself is evil. For many, ideal sharia (way of life) is what we have in the West, but Middle Eastern politics often prefers other interpretations.

The fundamental concept of our democracy is the separation of the church and state. To modify it for our purposes we could say that no modern democracy can exist if faith of any kind is involved in the political process. For great many Muslims the idea that God should have no part in direction of the country is simply ridiculous and there is little value in such secular life without God. As much as we can see their mistake in thinking that, they see our mistake in thinking the very same thing. One of the reasons why the USA was so surprised that no new government emerged in Iraq after the old one was deposed is that the Iraqi people simply don’t value what we value and have had no previous experience with democracy as we see it.

The Arab spring has clearly shown us what happens when we try to plant our ideas of democracy onto such different roots. One outcome is a despotic faith-based regime that destroys anything that is not deemed worthy or we create a new dictator who is worse than the previous one as it happened in Egypt. You could point to the example of Tunisia, but there I would claim that ‘exception confirms the rule’ and the system there is still very shaky. We must face the fact that we simply have no idea what an Islamic democracy should look like and regrettably the people in the Middle East have a very little idea about it themselves. The outlook is very grim, but we are not entirely out of options. We must finally put an end to the Cold War politics of propping up unworthy regimes, just to prevent possible greater evil. We must ask why we support Saudi Arabia more than we support Jordan ? Is it money or oil ? Is it because the Saudis have more influence ? The Saudi regime stands on legs of Wahhabi clergy who are one of the most radical sects of Islam while the King of Jordan has actually gone to considerable lengths to unite the world of Islam as shown by the Amman Message project from 2006.

Just to show that the problem is not just in the Middle East, we should also remind ourselves of our ‘success’ in Asia. Our unilateral dissemination of democracy has resulted in very undemocratic regimes and dictators that exist to this day. One example for all would be South Korea. It was built on foundations of an anti-communist dictator with full US support and since then it has gone through number of military dictatorships and while they currently have a woman president (which certainly is an achievement) we should not forget that she is the daughter of Korea’s greatest 70s dictator and has previously used the secret services to prop up her election campaign among other very undemocratic practices.

It is time to stop sacrificing human rights and universal values for short-term gain. It is time to acknowledge that forcing our ‘righteous’ system on everybody else is not the right path. Just to be clear, this is not an advocacy of despotic dictatorships and ideologies or call for abandonment of the struggle for a fair world, but a call for greater co-operation with the actual people who have to live in the actual countries we meddle in in order to create the future that they want to live in, not the future we dream about. Kale is surely healthy, but you can’t force it down everyone’s throat.

Michael

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