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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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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Europe 2.0. – The Path Forward

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Hi everyone,

so it is clear that we have been all quite shocked on Friday by Brexit. I certainly was. As an EU citizen I think the UK has chosen a very strange path for itself, but it is a strong country and it will surely do well. I only regret the opportunities lost for young Britons in the next few decades. Nevertheless, we Europeans should now focus on ourselves rather than Britain. As in an actual marriage, if your spouse asks for divorce, it is for the best if you start pursuing your interests instead of crying over the broken pot. It might be painful, but it should be you who walks away with grandma’s silver plates. As Chancellor Merkel has said we don’t need to be nasty about it. We just have to do it with what’s best for us in our minds.

The British trade policy will undoubtably be to turn towards the world and gain greater piece of the trade pie in China, India and the old colonies. That way the UK could get ahead of the EU and negotiate deals with Europe from the position of strength. We should not idly stand by. The UK might be the 5th largest economy, but the attractiveness of the EU’s common market is still far greater. We should immediately send people to all countries that the UK is interested in and negotiate better deals that the UK in order to limit their reach. It is in our interest to negotiate from the position of strength as well. As we all know, big dogs needn’t to bark.

Secondly, we must stand our ground and not give away anything for free during the EU-UK negotiations. The UK has gotten used to receiving special treatment and exceptions from EU laws. That practice must be ended in order to attract multi-national companies across the channel into France and Germany. Let’s not forget about the planned merge of Deutsche Börse and the London Stock Exchange (i have written an article about it before). According to the original deal it should merge and move to London, but the deal hasn’t been approved yet and this might be the right time to bring the trade over to Germany. Even better so if the UK loses its right to make exchanges in euro. We are certainly not talking about crippling your spouse during the divorce. We want her to be happy, but at the same time we should make sure our next spouse won’t get the same ideas or get jealous. Russia is masking its joy over the decision well right now, but they must be pretty excited. The UK has never been in favour of the EU sanctions on Russia and I am sure it won’t be that hard to ship Russian goods over to England, repackage it and ship it to the EU as UK export. That is one of the reasons to make trading with the UK a peg less interesting for potential investors. You might suggest that EU companies sell lots of goods to the UK and they will protest against tougher rules, but let’s not forget that many of the traditionally ‘British’ brands like Rolls Royce or Bentley haven’t been in British hands for a long time (p.s. if you are British I advise you not to start looking up real owners of your revered companies since I do not want to be responsible for your upcoming depression) and I am sure it won’t be hard for them to lobby out good deals in Westminster and Brussels.

Thirdly, we should support Scotland and Northern Ireland in their possible struggle for dissolution of the United Kingdom. I know that sounds particularly nasty, but if you think about it, not doing so can get us in trouble and makes sense politically. Northern Ireland has just managed to broker peace in conflict that has lasted hundreds of years. It has been an exceptionally difficult process and it hasn’t been so long since the time when the IRA (Irish Republican Army) was detonating bombs around the UK and Europe. If new borders have to be raised in Norther Ireland it can hardly end well. With the trouble we are facing in Greece and Italy right now I don’t think we can afford another conflict there. Independent Scotland and it’s oil would surely receive warm welcome in the EU and it would push England into a political corner, so why not.

As many have said already, there is no turning back if the UK actually leaves the EU. We should not be nasty about it, but we also must not be overly nice or we are risking the integrity of the Union. As time goes by, people change their minds and maybe if we set the conditions right now, then one day, when the English people have sufficiently played out their egos, they might realise  that they could play much more significant role within the Union if only they wanted it and if they decide to rejoin in the future, however improbable it seems now, we would have upper hand in  negotiating all conditions including applying the euro and having them join at their full potential.

Europe has just had an heart attack. It’s time to go on a strict diet, discipline ourselves and in the end … what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.

Michael

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Europe – Good neighbours in the same street

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Hi everyone,

the hottest issue on the plate this week (if you are European) has been the Brexit. I do not wish to speak so much about Brexit itself since the BBC is doing quite enough already, but I would rather look at Nigel Farage’s statement from one of his recent appearances. His vision for Europe is to be “good neighbours” living in the same street.

UK’s secession from the EU would be much bigger deal than it seems on the surface. Not so much for Britain itself (despite what you think Britain, we won’t leave our wives for you), but for the precedent it sets and ideological shock it could send through Europe. As we all know that the political spectre has been tilting towards the right wing lately throughout the world. Europe has seen the rise of far-right parties and sometimes even outright neofascist parties. That means our post-Soviet era fairytale has ended and divisions are starting to deepen. If the UK decides to leave the EU, I am sure Scotland will not stand by quietly. The Scots are mostly in favour of remaining and I think we can say with a degree of certainty that Brexit could wipe out the word “United” from United Kingdom. In addition to that, other countries like Sweden have started debating whether to go with EU or the UK in case Brexit really happens.

We do not have to think in such nightmarish terms here, but we should think about the fact that secession of states from larger unions rarely result in periods of prosperity and peace. Among examples of that we could name the dissolution of Yugoslavia and Soviet Union. These dissolutions were certainly not peaceful and resulted in conflicts that still burn today. I can almost hear you thinking “those were dissolutions, not secessions”. To that, I would like to point out the secession of southern states from the United States. The main issue there was a policy. Today the big deal is immigration, then it was slavery and that disagreement lead to a civil war we have all heard about.

Now back to the “good neighbours” story. No country in Europe has ever demonstrated any signs of being able to act as a “good neighbour”. When we couldn’t agree on a king, we went to war (e.g. 116 years of war between England and France). When we couldn’t agree religion, we went to war (e.g. Protestants vs Catholics in Thirty Years’ War). Most of our issues over independence of nations, trade and ideology were dealt with by means of war.

Today we tell ourselves that we are smarter, more educated and better than those before us. We have our clever cliches like “history repeats itself” and we feel superior to our ancestors, because we would never do such things, right ? The British Leave Campaign is claiming that it is fighting for British national sovereignty and independence. In its extremes it imagines Europe free of this nonsensical EU ‘project’.

Adolf Hitler could toy with Europe as he wished exactly because each country cared about its sovereignty more than about the prosperity of the whole. The Soviets took advantage of us exactly because of our inability to stand together and it seems like we are starting to forget about it. We have had wars over religion, statehoods and ideology. The issue of today is the fight over what it means to be European. The idea of war in Europe seems unimaginable, but imagine that the union is broken and some countries remain alone, isolated and poor. How long will it take before these countries take up arms or let others do it for them ? There are many right outside our borders who are waiting for just that.

Michael

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Defending the Norwegian System

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Hi everyone,

for a while Norway shocked the world by the state of its prison. To many of us Norwegian prisons look like a really comfortable spot for weekend outings where even people charged with murder get to handle knives and are jolly with the rest of the inmates (yes, the inmates seemed equally jolly, at least on camera).

Maybe it is some kind of innate human jealousy that we have had trouble understanding such system. The last place we want to send our criminals to is a place resembling a luxurious spa resort, right ?

On the other hand, the system seems to be working. There are fewer criminals returning to prison than in most countries. We should probably look at the context before we make our judgment. We could say that Norway with GDP per capita around 100’000 USD is a pretty rich country. We could also say that it is in quite a remote part of Europe and scarcely populated considering there are 5 million people spread at the rate of 14 people per square kilometre. It is probably safe to assume that if you have a small and super rich society you would expect low crime rates. Due to its location, the Norwegian society has been pretty homogenous too. The number of immigrants has risen considerably only in the past few years.

So is the efficiency of Norwegian prison system owed to the specific environment of the country and inapplicable elsewhere ? In the way it is set up now I believe it to be true. If you take it as it is and import it to places like the US it would be an unmitigated disaster, because other Western societies, US in particular, has much greater problems with racism and social inequality that surely has an effect on crime rates. I believe, however, there is a lesson to be learnt from Norway.

Contrary to many action movies, violence, terror and fear breed many more villains than Bruce Willis-type heroes. Instances like the Stanford prison experiment and the subsequent research of Dr. Zimbardo into human behaviour points to the idea that if terror and fear brings out the worst in people, why should we expect it to deliver good results when used as means of correction ?

Michael

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