Inter Press Service » Europe http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:41:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 OPINION: The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:20:34 +0000 Frederic Mousseau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138850

In this column, Frédéric Mousseau, Policy Director at the Oakland Institute, argues that the United States and the European Union are working hand in hand in a takeover of Ukrainian agriculture which – besides being a sign of Western governments’ involvement in the Ukraine conflict – is of dubious benefit for the country’s agriculture and farmers.

By Frederic Mousseau
OAKLAND, United States, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

At the same time as the United States, Canada and the European Union announced a set of new sanctions against Russia in mid-December last year, Ukraine received 350 million dollars in U.S. military aid, coming on top of a one billion dollar aid package approved by the U.S. Congress in March 2014. 

Western governments’ further involvement in the Ukraine conflict signals their confidence in the cabinet appointed by the new government earlier in December 2014. This new government is unique given that three of its most important ministries were granted to foreign-born individuals who received Ukrainian citizenship just hours before their appointment.

Frédéric Mousseau

Frédéric Mousseau

The Ministry of Finance went to Natalie Jaresko, a U.S.-born and educated businesswoman who has been working in Ukraine since the mid-1990s, overseeing a private equity fund established by the U.S. government to invest in the country. Jaresko is also the CEO of Horizon Capital, an investment firm that administers various Western investments in the country.

As unusual as it may seem, this appointment is consistent with what looks more like a takeover of the Ukrainian economy by Western interests. In two reports – The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculture and Walking on the West Side: The World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict – the Oakland Institute has documented this takeover, particularly in the agricultural sector.

A major factor in the crisis that led to deadly protests and eventually to president Viktor Yanukovych’s removal from office in February 2014 was his rejection of a European Union (EU) Association agreement aimed at expanding trade and integrating Ukraine with the
EU – an agreement that was tied to a 17 billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

After the president’s departure and the installation of a pro-Western government, the IMF initiated a reform programme that was a condition of its loan with the goal of increasing private investment in the country.“The manoeuvring for control over the country’s [Ukraine’s] agricultural system is a pivotal factor in the struggle that has been taking place over the last year in the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War”

The package of measures includes reforming the public provision of water and energy, and, more important, attempts to address what the World Bank identified as the “structural roots” of the current economic crisis in Ukraine, notably the high cost of doing business in the country.

The Ukrainian agricultural sector has been a prime target for foreign private investment and is logically seen by the IMF and World Bank as a priority sector for reform. Both institutions praise the new government’s readiness to follow their advice.

For example, the foreign-driven agricultural reform roadmap provided to Ukraine includes facilitating the acquisition of agricultural land, cutting food and plant regulations and controls, and reducing corporate taxes and custom duties.

The stakes around Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector – the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat – could not be higher. Ukraine is known for its ample fields of rich black soil, and the country boasts more than 32 million hectares of fertile, arable land – the equivalent of one-third of the entire arable land in the European Union.

The manoeuvring for control over the country’s agricultural system is a pivotal factor in the struggle that has been taking place over the last year in the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

The presence of foreign corporations in Ukrainian agriculture is growing quickly, with more than 1.6 million hectares signed over to foreign companies for agricultural purposes in recent years. While Monsanto, Cargill, and DuPont have been in Ukraine for quite some time, their investments in the country have grown significantly over the past few years.

Cargill is involved in the sale of pesticides, seeds and fertilisers and has recently expanded its agricultural investments to include grain storage, animal nutrition and a stake in UkrLandFarming, the largest agribusiness in the country.

Similarly, Monsanto has been in Ukraine for years but has doubled the size of its team over the last three years. In March 2014, just weeks after Yanukovych was deposed, the company invested 140 million dollars in building a new seed plant in Ukraine.

DuPont has also expanded its investments and announced in June 2013 that it too would be investing in a new seed plant in the country.

Western corporations have not just taken control of certain profitable agribusinesses and agricultural activities, they have now initiated a vertical integration of the agricultural sector and extended their grip on infrastructure and shipping.

For instance, Cargill now owns at least four grain elevators and two sunflower seed processing plants used for the production of sunflower oil. In December 2013, the company bought a “25% +1 share” in a grain terminal at the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk with a capacity of 3.5 million tons of grain per year. 

All aspects of Ukraine’s agricultural supply chain – from the production of seeds and other agricultural inputs to the actual shipment of commodities out of the country – are thus increasingly controlled by Western firms.

European institutions and the U.S. government have actively promoted this expansion. It started with the push for a change of government at a time when president Yanukovych was seen as pro-Russian interests. This was further pushed, starting in February 2014, through the promotion of a “pro-business” reform agenda, as described by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker when she met with Prime Minister Arsenly Yatsenyuk in October 2014.

The European Union and the United States are working hand in hand in the takeover of Ukrainian agriculture. Although Ukraine does not allow the production of genetically modified (GM) crops, the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, which ignited the conflict that ousted Yanukovych, includes a clause (Article 404) that commits both parties to cooperate to “extend the use of biotechnologies” within the country.

This clause is surprising given that most European consumers reject GM crops. However, it creates an opening to bring GM products into Europe, an opportunity sought after by large agro-seed companies such as Monsanto.

Opening up Ukraine to the cultivation of GM crops would go against the will of European citizens, and it is unclear how the change would benefit Ukrainians.

It is similarly unclear how Ukrainians will benefit from this wave of foreign investment in their agriculture, and what impact these investments will have on the seven million local farmers.

Once they eventually look away from the conflict in the Eastern “pro-Russian” part of the country, Ukrainians may wonder what remains of their country’s ability to control its food supply and manage the economy to their own benefit.

As for U.S. and European citizens, will they eventually awaken from the headlines and grand rhetoric about Russian aggression and human rights abuses and question their governments’ involvement in the Ukraine conflict? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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OPINION: Greece Gives EU the Chance to Rediscover Its Social Responsibilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility/#comments Sat, 24 Jan 2015 14:30:34 +0000 Marianna Fotaki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138804 Alexis Tsipras (centre), Syriza’s charismatic 40-year-old leader, has been campaigning under the banner “Hope is on its way.” Credit: Mirko Isaia/cc by 2.0

Alexis Tsipras (centre), Syriza’s charismatic 40-year-old leader, has been campaigning under the banner “Hope is on its way.” Credit: Mirko Isaia/cc by 2.0

By Marianna Fotaki
COVENTRY, England, Jan 24 2015 (IPS)

The European Union should not be afraid of the leftist opposition party Syriza winning the Greek election, but see it as a chance to rediscover its founding principle – the social dimension that created it and without which it cannot survive.

Greece’s entire economy accounts for three per cent of the euro zone’s output but its national debt totals €360 billion or 175 per cent of the country’s GDP and poses a continuous threat to its survival.

Courtesy of Marianna Fotaki

Courtesy of Marianna Fotaki

While the crippling debt cannot realistically be paid back in full, the troika of the EU, European Central Bank, and IMF insist that the drastic cuts in public spending must continue.

But if Syriza is successful – as the polls suggest – it promises to renegotiate the terms of the bailout and ask for substantial debt forgiveness, which could change the terms of the debate about the future of the European project.

It would also mean the important, but as yet, unaddressed question of who should bear the costs and risks of the monetary union within and between the euro zone countries is likely to become the centrepiece of such negotiations.

The immense social cost of the austerity policies demanded by the troika has put in question the political and social objectives of an ‘ever closer union’ proclaimed in the EU founding documents.The old poor and the rapidly growing new poor comprise significant sections of Greek society: 20 per cent of children live in poverty, while Greece’s unemployment rate has topped 20 per cent for four consecutive years now and reached almost 27 per cent in 2013.

Formally established through the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the European Economic Community between France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries tied closely the economies of erstwhile foes, rendering the possibility of another disastrous war unaffordable. Yet the ultimate goal of integration was to bring about ‘the constant improvements of the living and working conditions of their peoples’.

The European project has been exceptionally successful in achieving peaceful collaboration and prosperity by progressively extending these stated benefits to an increasing number of member countries, with the EU now being the world’s largest economy.

Since the economic crisis of 2007, however, GDP per capita and gross disposable household incomes have declined across the EU and have not yet returned to their pre-crisis levels in many countries. Unemployment is at record high levels, with Greece and Spain topping the numbers of long-term unemployed youth.

There are also deep inequalities within the euro zone. Strong economies that are major exporters have benefitted from free trade and the fixed exchange rate mechanism protecting their goods from price fluctuations, but the euro has hurt the least competitive economies by depriving them of a currency flexibility that could have been used to respond to the crisis.

Without substantial transfers between weaker and stronger economies, which accounts for only 1.13 per cent of the EU’s budget at present, there is no effective mechanism for risk sharing among the member states and for addressing the consequences of the crisis in the euro zone.

But the EU was founded on the premise of solidarity and not as a free trade zone only. Economic growth was regarded as a means for achieving desirable political and social goals through the process of painstaking institution building.

With 500 million citizens and a combined GDP of €12.9 trillion in 2012 shared among its 27 members the EU is better placed than ever to live up to its founding principles. The member states that benefitted from the common currency should lead in offering meaningful support rather than decimating their weaker members in a time of crisis by forcing austerity measures upon them.

This is not denying the responsibility for reckless borrowing resting with the successive Greek governments and their supporters. However, the logic of a collective punishment of the most vulnerable groups of the population must be rejected.

The old poor and the rapidly growing new poor comprise significant sections of Greek society: 20 per cent of children live in poverty, while Greece’s unemployment rate has topped 20 per cent for four consecutive years now and reached almost 27 per cent in 2013.

With youth unemployment above 50 per cent, many well-educated people have left the country. There is no access to free health care and the weak social safety net from before the crisis has all but disappeared. The dramatic welfare retrenchment combined with unemployment has led to austerity induced suicides and people searching for food in garbage cans in cities.

A continued commitment to the policies that have produced such outcomes in the name of increasing the EU’s competitiveness challenges the terms of the European Union’s founding principles. The creditors often rationalise this using a rhetoric that assumes tax-evading unproductive Greeks brought this predicament upon themselves – they are seen as the undeserving members of the euro zone.

Such reasoning creates an unhealthy political climate that gives rise to extremist nationalist movements in the EU such as the Greek criminal Golden Dawn party, which gained almost 10 per cent of votes in the last European Parliament elections.

Explaining the euro zone debt crisis as a morality tale is both deleterious and untrue. The problematic nature of such moralistic logic must be challenged: one cannot easily justify on ethical grounds forcing the working poor to bail out a banking system from which many wealthy people benefit, or transferring the consequences of reckless lending by commercial outlets to the public.

Nor can one explain the acquiescence of creditors to the machinations of the nepotistic self-serving corrupt elites dominating the state over the last 40 years that got Greece into the euro zone on false data and continue to rule it. As I have argued, the bailout money was given to the very people who are largely responsible for the crisis, while the general population of Greece is being made to suffer.

Greece’s voters are determined to stop the ruling classes from continuing their nefarious policies that have brought the country to the brink of catastrophe, but in the coming elections their real concern will be opposing the sacrifice of the futures of an entire generation.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Obama-Congress Iran Sanctions Battle Goes Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 01:25:57 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138790 President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

While it’s anyone’s guess whether a final deal will be reached over Iran’s nuclear programme this year, a number of key international actors have forcefully weighed in on calls from within the U.S. congress to impose more sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

President Barack Obama reiterated his threat to veto new Iran-related sanctions bills while talks are in progress during his State of the Union (SOTU) address this week.There’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said Jan. 20 in his second to last SOTU. “New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails—alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear programme again.”

The administration’s call to “give diplomacy with Iran a chance” was echoed a day later by key members of the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China plus Germany), which is negotiating with Iran over its nuclear programme, through an op-ed in the Washington Post.

“…[I]ntroducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture,” wrote Laurent Fabius (France), Philip Hammond (U.K.), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Germany) and Federica Mogherini (EU) on Jan. 21.

“New sanctions at this moment might also fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions so effective so far,” they continued. “Rather than strengthening our negotiating position, new sanctions legislation at this point would set us back.”

Last week, during a joint press conference with Obama at the White House, the U.K.’s Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he had contacted members of the U.S. Senate to urge against more sanctions on Iran at this time.

“[Y]es, I have contacted a couple of senators this morning and I may speak to one or two more this afternoon,” he told reporters on Jan. 16.

“[I]t’s the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions or further threat of sanctions at this point won’t actually help to bring the talks to a successful conclusion and they could fracture the international unity that there’s been, which has been so valuable in presenting a united front to Iran,” said Cameron.

In what has been widely perceived by analysts as a rebuff to Obama’s Iran policy, reports surfaced the day after Obama’s SOTU that the House of Representatives Speaker John A. Boehner had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who has made no secret of his opposition to Obama’s approach to Iran—to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 11.

Netanyahu accepted the invitation, but changed the date to Mar. 3, when he would be visiting Washington for a conference hosted by the prominent Israel lobby group, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The invite, which was not coordinated with the White House, clearly surprised the Obama administration, which said it would not be receiving the Israeli prime minister while he is in town, citing a policy against receiving foreign leaders close to election dates (the Israeli election will be in March).

While Netanyahu has long recommended hard-line positions on what a final deal over nuclear program should entail—including “non-starters” such as zero-percent uranium enrichment on Iranian soil—he cannot be faulted for accepting the speaker’s invitation, according to the U.S.’s former ambassador to NATO, Robert E. Hunter, who told IPS: “If there is fault, it lies with the Speaker of the House.”

“If the Netanyahu visit, with its underscoring of the political potency of the Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill, is successful in ensuring veto-proof support in the Senate for overriding the threatened Obama veto of sanctions legislation, that would saddle Boehner and company with shared responsibility not only for the possible collapse of the nuclear talks…but also for the increased chances of war with Iran,” he said.

But there’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle—authored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Bob Menendez, and another by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker—will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

With the support of the Democratic leadership in Congress, the administration has so far successfully prevented the Kirk-Menendez bill from coming to the floor since it was introduced in 2013.

A growing number of current and former high-level officials have also voiced opposition to more sanctions at this time.

“Israeli intelligence has told the U.S. that rolling out new sanctions against Iran would amount to ‘throwing a grenade’ into the negotiations process,” Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News on Jan. 21.

“Why would we want to be the catalyst for the collapse of negotiations before we really know whether there is something we can get out of them?” asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week after opposing new sanctions during a forum in Winnipeg, Canada.

“We believe that new sanctions are not needed at this time,” the Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen told the Wall Street Journal this week.

“To the contrary, new sanctions at this time, even with a delayed trigger, are more likely to undermine, rather than enhance, the chances of achieving a comprehensive agreement,” he said.

While the battle isn’t over yet, in the wake of Obama’s veto threat and Boehner’s invitation to Bibi, even some of the Democratic co-sponsors of the original Kirk-Menendez bill appear to be moving in the White House’s direction.

“I’m considering very seriously the very cogent points that [Obama’s] made in favour of delaying any congressional action,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told Politico.

“I’m talking to colleagues on both sides of the aisle. And I think they are thinking, and rethinking, their positions in light of the points that the president and his team are making to us,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Banks, Inequality and Citizenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:27:17 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138778

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that alarming figures on what has gone wrong in global society are being met with inaction. Citing data from Oxfam’s recent report on global wealth, he says that the rich are becoming richer – and the poor poorer – in a society where finance is no longer at the service of the economy or citizens.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

Every day we receive striking data on major issues which should create tumult and action, but life goes on as if those data had nothing to do with people’s lives.

A good example concerns climate change. We know well that we are running out of time. It is nothing less than our planet that is at stake … but a few large energy companies are able to get away with their practices surrounded by the deafening silence of humankind.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Another example comes from the world of finance. Since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2009, banks have paid the staggering amount of 178 billion dollars in fines – U.S. banks have paid 115 billion, while European banks 63 billion. But, as analyst Sital Patel of Market Watch writes, these fines are now seen as a cost of doing business. In fact, no banker has yet been incriminated in a personal capacity.

Now we have other astonishing data from Oxfam – if nothing is done, in two years’ time the richest one percent of the world´s population will have a greater share of its wealth than the remaining 99 percent.

The richest are becoming richer at an unprecedented rate, and the poorest poorer. In just one year, the one percent went from possessing 44 percent of the world´s wealth to 48 percent last year. In 2016, therefore, it is estimated that this one percent will possess more than all the other 99 percent combined.

The top 89 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by 600 billion dollars in the last four years – a rise of five percent and equal to the combined budgets of 11 countries of the world with a population of 2.3 billion people.

In 2010, that figure was owned by 388 billionaires, and this striking and rapid concentration of wealth has, of course, a global impact. The so-called middle class is shrinking fast and in a number of countries youth unemployment stands at 40 percent, meaning that the destiny of today’s young people is clearly much worse than that of their parents.“In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production”

It will probably take some time before those figures become part of general awareness but it is a safe bet that they will not lead to any action, as with climate change. U.S. President Barack Obama is the only leader who has announced a tax increase on the rich, although he stands little chance of succeeding with his Republican-dominated Congress.

In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production. But up to a point: 34 percent of today’s billionaires inherited all or part of their wealth, and – interestingly – “inheritance tax is the most avoidable of levies”, as James Moore noted Jan. 20 in The Independent.

The “father of modern times”, late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, saw it clearly when he said that the rich produce richness, the poor produce poverty. So let the rich pay less taxes.

Well, in a just-released report, the U.S. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy notes that in 2015 the poorest one-fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in taxes, the middle one-fifth 9.4 percent, and the top one percent just 5.4 percent.

Now, 20 percent of the richest billionaires are linked to the financial sector and it is worth recalling that this sector has grown more than the real economy, and has regulations only at national level. At global level, finance is the only activity which has international body of some kind of governance, as do labour, trade and communications, to name just a few.

Finance is no longer at the service of the economy and citizens. It has its own life. Financial transactions are now worth 40 trillion dollars a day, compared with the world’s economic output of one trillion.

At national level, there are now attempts half-hearted attempts to regulate finance. But let us look what is happening in United States. The new bland regulation is the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly known as the Dodd-Frank, and it does not go as far as restoring the division between deposit banks, which was where citizens put their money and which could not be used for speculation, and investments banks, which speculate … and how!

This separation was abolished during the U.S. presidency of Bill Clinton, and is considered the end of banks at the service of the real economy. In any case, the lobbyists on Wall Street are intent on having the Dodd-Frank chipped away at, little by little.

There is some schizophrenia when we look at the relations between capital and politics. The U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated any limit to contributions from companies to political elections, declaring that the companies have the same rights as individuals. Of course, there are not many individuals who can shell out the same figures as a company, unless you’re one of the 89 billionaires!

Meanwhile, banks are not only responsible for the corruption of the political system, and for the illegal activities which have earned them billions of dollars, they are also responsible for funding only big investors, and leaving everybody else out from easy credit. The efforts of the Chairman of the European Central Bank,  Mario Draghi, to have banks give credit to small companies and individuals has gone largely nowhere.

But a new and imaginative initiative comes from the very stern Dutch bankers. All 90,000 bankers in the Netherlands are now required to take an oath: “I swear that I will endeavour to maintain and promote confidence in the financial sector. So help me God”.

This is not so much oriented towards the customer, and it is very self-serving; and it brings God in as the regulator of the Dutch banking system. Perhaps the Dutch bankers have been paying heed to the words of Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein who said at the time of the financial crisis in 2009 that bankers were “doing God’s work”.

Well God will have to be actively involved. All the three biggest Dutch banks – Rabobank, ABN Amro and ING Groep – have been involved in scandals that have hurt consumers, or were nationalised during the financial crisis, costing taxpayers more than 140 billion dollars. In one case, Rabobank was fined one billion dollars.

New York’s Wall Street and London’s City are said to be open to the idea of introducing a similar oath.

It is probably only that kind of Higher Power which could turn the tide in this world of growing inequality and lack of ethics. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

The author can be contacted at utopie@ips.org

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OPINION: After the Terrorist Attacks in Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-after-the-terrorist-attacks-in-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-after-the-terrorist-attacks-in-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-after-the-terrorist-attacks-in-paris/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 15:43:24 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138734

Johan Galtung is Professor of Peace Studies and Rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University, and the author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including '50 Years – 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives' published by TRANSCEND University Press. In this column, he looks behind the Western concept of “freedom of expression” and argues that “there is no argument against humour and satire as such, but there is against verbal violence”.

By Johan Galtung
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 2015 (IPS)

What happened in Paris on Jan. 7 – known all over the world – is totally unacceptable and inexcusable.

As inexcusable as 9/11, the coming Western attack and the Islamist retaliation, wherever. As inexcusable as the Western coups and mega-violence on Muslim lands since Iran 1953, massacring people as endowed with personality and identity as the French cartoonists.

But to the West they are not even statistics, they are “military secrets”.

However, the unacceptable is not unexplainable.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

In this tragic saga of West-Islam violence, the way out is to identify the conflict and search for solutions. I wonder how many now pontificating on Paris – a city so deep in our hearts – have taken the trouble to sit down with someone identified with Al Qaeda, and simply ask: “What does the world look like where you would like to live?”

I always get the same answer: “A world where Islam is not trampled upon but respected.”

“Trampled upon” sounds physically violent – but there are two types of direct violence intended to harm, to hurt: physical violence with arm-arms-armies; and verbal violence with words, with symbols, with, for example, cartoons.

The naiveté in blaming the secret police for not having uncovered the brothers on time is crying to the heavens. What happened to Charlie Hebdo was as predictable as the reaction to the 2005 cartoon in Jyllands-Posten, whose cultural editor thought he should save Danish media from the self-censorship he had found in Soviet journalists.

But one thing is political criticism of and in the former USSR, quite another is existential stabbing right in the heart of the basis of existence.“There are two types of direct violence intended to harm, to hurt: physical violence with arm-arms-armies; and verbal violence with words, with symbols, with, for example, cartoons”

Undermine the spiritual existence of others – as Charlie Hebdo did all over the spiritual world – but there may be reactions to that verbal violence. Some of the others deeply hurt by Charlie Hebdo and its cultural autism, sitting in some office and sending poisoned arrows anywhere, may celebrate the atrocity – but inside themselves, not publicly.

The West has one presumably killing argument in favour of verbal violence for spiritual killing: freedom of expression – a wonderful freedom, deeply appreciated by those who have something to express.

And very easily undermined, not by censorship by self or some Other, but by freedom of non-impression, the freedom not to be impressed: let expression happen, let them talk and write, but do not listen and read, make them non-persons. Nevertheless, a major achievement of, by and for the West more than elsewhere.

How simple life would be if that freedom were the only norm governing expression! Say or write anything about others as if they were stones, inanimate objects, unimpressed by oral and written expression. But human beings are not.

Of course, the targets of verbal violence can opt for the freedom of non-impression, shutting themselves off from the perpetrators, neither reading nor listening. Do we really want that, a
society now polarised by cartoons – into those who laugh and enjoy, and those who are hurt, suffering deeply?

We do not, and that is why there are others value, other norms, in the land of expression: consideration, decency, respect for life. We have libel laws asking not only “is it true?” but “is it relevant?” to cut out nastiness in, for example, political “debate”.

We rule out hate speech, propaganda for torture, genocide, war, child pornography. Some people unable to argue about issues insult persons instead; that is why they are often – perhaps not often enough – called to order: stick to the issue!

Many, unable to understand or argue with converts to Islam in France, overstep norms of decency instead.

Islam retaliated, and in Paris overstepped its own rule about doing so mercifully. No Muslim can retaliate with spiritual killing of Judaism-Christianity because both are believed to be the “incomplete message”. Bodies were killed in return for spiritual killing instead.

Incidentally, there is somebody else doing the same: the United States, very attentive to critical words as indicative not only of somebody being anti-American, but even a threat to America, to be eliminated. Could “freedom of expression” also be a tool to lure, smoke them out into the open, make them available for killing by snipers?

How should the Islamic side have handled the issue? The way they tried, and to some extent managed, in Denmark: through dialogue. They should have invited the Charlies to private and public dialogue, explaining their side of the cartoon issue, appealing to a common core of humanity in us all.

There is no argument against humour and satire as such, but there is against verbal violence hitting, hurting, harming others.

The Islamic side should also control better its own recourse to self-defence by violence: only legitimate if declared by appropriate Muslim authority. That the West fails to do so – just look at the enormities of violence unleashed upon Islam since 1953 – is no excuse for Islam to sink down to Western governmental levels, using democracy as a blanket cheque for war.

The two sides have millions, maybe billions, of common people who can easily agree that the key problem is violence by extremist governments and others. The task is to let such voices come forward with concrete ideas. Like the next Charlie online, hiring a Muslim consultant to draw a border between freedom and inconsideration?

This could have saved many lives, in Paris and where the West retaliates. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Cuban Diplomacy Looks Towards Both Brussels and Washingtonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/cuban-diplomacy-looks-towards-both-brussels-and-washington/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 20:24:42 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138723 Several Cuban dissidents released at the start of the year, standing in front of other opponents of the Cuban government, including Bertha Soler (second to the right, in the second row), the leader of the organisation Ladies in White. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Several Cuban dissidents released at the start of the year, standing in front of other opponents of the Cuban government, including Bertha Soler (second to the right, in the second row), the leader of the organisation Ladies in White. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jan 19 2015 (IPS)

Cuba has decided to move ahead in its talks with the European Union towards an agreement on cooperation parallel to the negotiations aimed at normalising relations with the United States after more than half a century of hostility.

As everyone’s attention is focused on the start of talks this week to restore diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States, Brussels and Havana scheduled for Mar. 4-5 the third round of negotiations launched in late April 2014 in the Cuban capital.

“We first thought we had slipped down a bit on the list of priorities; now the message is that no, the Cuban state wants to keep a balance between the two processes, which is good news for us,” the EU ambassador in Havana, Herman Portocarero, told IPS.

Delegations from Cuba and the United States will meet Jan. 21-22 in Havana, in the first meeting since the two governments announced Dec. 17 that diplomatic relations would be reestablished, and since sweeping new measures to ease trade and travel between the two countries were presented by Washington on Jan. 15.

In a process that got underway in 2008, Cuba and the EU finally held their first round of talks Apr. 29-30 for a future bilateral accord on political dialogue and cooperation which, according to Portocarero, should define aspects like the role of civil society and the main issues involving long-term cooperation.

Cuba is the only Latin American country that lacks a cooperation agreement with the EU.

A second meeting was held in August in Brussels, and on Jan. 8-9 the Cuban and EU delegations were to sit down together for the third time. But in early December the meeting was postponed by the Cuban authorities, with no new date scheduled, apparently solely due to a busy agenda.

After a year during which Cuba strengthened its relations with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean and with traditional allies like China and Russia, and which ended with the historic announcement of a thaw with Washington, Havana will now be in a different position in its negotiations with Brussels.

The main aim of Cuban diplomacy in this case is to push for more trade, but above all for an increase in capital inflows under the new law on foreign investment.

The European bloc is currently Cuba’s second trading partner after Venezuela, whose economic difficulties raise doubts about what will happen to its wide-ranging trade ties with this Caribbean island nation. In 2013, according to the latest available figures, Cuba’s imports from Europe totalled 2.12 billion dollars and exports amounted to 971 million dollars.

According to analysts, the government of Raúl Castro hopes that a stable relationship under a framework accord like the one sought with the 28-member European bloc will lead to increased trade, but also to the diversification of economic and trade ties given the possibility that the normalisation of relations with the United States will lead to the lifting of the half-century U.S. embargo.

Portocarero believes Cuba’s new relationship with its northern neighbour will accelerate all of the processes. “If the Cuban authorities want to maintain a balance so that not everything is monopolised through the United States, then they have to give us the attention we deserve,” he said.

Brussels is observing with concern that some of the measures announced by the United States favour its financial sector, while Europe’s remains subject to enormous fines because of the extra-territorial reach of the Helms Burton Act, which in 2006 codified Washington’s sanctions against Cuba, and can only be repealed by the U.S. Congress.

“It is an imbalance that we have to put on the table with our friends in the United States,” Portocarero said in an interview with IPS. “It is not acceptable for us to continue to be subject to sanctions and huge fines against Europe’s financial sector, while restrictions are removed in the case of the U.S.”

The EU, for its part, hopes for faster changes in Cuba. “My message has always been: move faster while you are in control, so as to better defend the good things that should be preserved,” the ambassador said. In his view, moves should also be made to make Cuba’s foreign investment law more attractive.

The EU delegation building in Havana. The Cuban government will restart talks towards a bilateral agreement on cooperation in March. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

The EU delegation building in Havana. The Cuban government will restart talks towards a bilateral agreement on cooperation in March. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

“Foreign investment is competitive and special zones [like Cuba’s Mariel special economic development zone] are everywhere. At this point, 30 percent of the foreign capital invested in Cuba comes from the European Union,” he said.

Cuba has indicated that to ensure the normal growth of its economy, it needs some 2.5 billion dollars a year in investment.

The Mariel special economic development zone, which covers 465 square km 45 km west of Havana, has a modern port terminal built with investment from Brazil, and areas for a broad range of productive activities open to foreign investment.

The questions of foreign trade and cooperation made up the working agenda in the first and second round of talks, although no final documents have yet been produced. Human rights, civil society and good governance are to be discussed in the third round in March, although they are also crosscutting issues that arise in other areas.

These are touchy subjects for the Cuban government, which does not accept being internationally judged regarding them, while they are concerns raised by both Brussels and Washington.

Castro has stated that he is willing to engage in respectful, reciprocal dialogue on the discrepancies, including “any issue” regarding Cuba, but also the United States.

Over 50 inmates considered political prisoners by the U.S. government were released in Cuba in the first few days of January. Spokespersons for the Obama administration clarified that human rights would continue to be a focus of discussion in the talks on migration and the normalisation of ties with Havana.

The Cuban delegation in the talks will be headed by the director general of the foreign ministry’s United States division, Josefina Vidal. On Wednesday Jan. 21 a meeting is to be held to assess the progress of the migration accords and the measures taken by both sides to tackle undocumented migration and smuggling of migrants, among other issues.

In the two-day meeting, the U.S. delegation will be led by U.S acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Edward Alex Lee. The 1994 and 1995 migration accords are reviewed every six months, in meetings that rotate between Cuba and the United States.

Steps towards opening embassies in the two countries will be discussed at the first meeting on reestablishing diplomatic ties between the two countries, on Jan. 22.

Bilateral issues will be addressed later that day, including cooperation in areas of mutual interest. The U.S. representatives in these two meetings will be led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Press Looks at Future After “Charlie”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/press-looks-at-future-after-charlie/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-looks-at-future-after-charlie http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/press-looks-at-future-after-charlie/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 17:33:52 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138664 By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

In the wake of last week’s attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead, a heated battle of opinion is being waged in France and several other countries on the issue of freedom of expression and the rights of both media and the public.

On one side are those who say that freedom of expression is an inherent human right and a pillar of democracy, and on the other are representatives of a range of views, including the belief that liberty comes with responsibility for all sectors of society.

“I’m worried when one talks about our being in a state of war,” said John Ralston Saul, the president of the writers group PEN International, who participated in a conference here Jan. 14 on “Journalism after Charlie”, organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“The war against fundamentalists isn’t going to work,” he said, arguing that education about freedom of expression has to start at a young age so that people know that “you have to have a thick skin” to live in a democracy.“Ignorance is the biggest weapon of mass destruction, and if ignorance is the problem, then education is the answer” – Nasser David Khalili, Iranian-born scholar and philanthropist

PEN International, which promotes literature, freedom of expression and speaks out for “writers silenced in their own countries”, has strongly condemned the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, but the organisation is also worried about how politicians are reacting in the aftermath.

It called on governments to “implement their commitments to free expression and to desist from further curtailing free expression through the expansion of surveillance.”

In the Jan. 7 assault, two hooded gunmen gained access to the offices of Charlie Hebdo during an editorial meeting and opened fire, killing cartoonists, other media workers, a visitor and two policemen. The attackers were in turn killed by police two days later, after a huge manhunt in the French capital, where related attacks took place Jan. 8 and 9.

In the other acts, a gunman killed a young female police officer and later held hostages at a kosher supermarket, where police said he murdered four people before he was killed by the security forces.

Charlie Hebdo had been under threat since 2006 when it republished controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad originally published in 2005, and in 2011 its offices were firebombed after an edition that some groups considered offensive and inflammatory.

Several critics accused the magazine of Islamophobia and racism, while the cartoonists defended their right to lampoon subjects that included religious leaders and politicians.

Before the attacks, the magazine’s circulation had been in decline, with readers apparently turned off by the crudeness of the drawings, but the publication is now being given wide moral and financial backing.

More than three million people of different ethnicities and faiths marched in Paris and other cities last Sunday in support of freedom of expression, including some 40 world leaders who joined French government representatives.

Among those marching, however, were officials from many countries active in “restricting freedom of expression”, according to PEN International and other groups. “This includes murders, violence and imprisoned writers on PEN’s Case List. These leaders, when at home, are part of administrations which are serious offenders,” said the organisation.

Saul told IPS that in the last 14 years, PEN International has noted a “shrinking in freedom of expression” in Western countries, “not only of writers and journalists but of citizens”. He said that the main problem for the organisation was impunity.

While everyone condemned the Charlie Hebdo attacks, some participants at the UNESCO conference argued that the media need to act more responsibly, especially as regards the portrayal of minority or marginalised communities.

As the debates took place, the latest edition of the magazine was being distributed, with another cover portraying Muhammad, this time holding a placard saying “Je Suis Charlie” and with the caption “All is forgiven”.

“The media must mediate and refrain from the promoting of stereotypes,” said French senator Bariza Khiari, in a segment of the conference debate titled “Intercultural Dialogue and Fragmented Societies”.

She said that most adherents of Islam were “quietly Muslim”, keeping their religion to themselves while respecting the secular values of the countries where they live. “But we have to recognise the existence and importance of religion as long as religion does not dictate the law,” she argued.

Khiari told IPS that the radicalisation of some French youth was taking place because of their hardships in France and the humiliation they faced on a daily basis. These include Islamophobia, joblessness and stops by the police.

The senator said she hoped that young people as well as the media would reflect on what had happened and draw some lessons that would result in positive advances in the future.

Annick Girardin, the French Secretary of State for Development and Francophonie, said that democracy meant that all newspapers of whatever belief or political learning could publish in France and that people have access to legal avenues. But she acknowledged that there was a failure of integration of everyone into society.

Regarding the protection of journalists, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova told IPS that “now was the time” for the United Nations and particularly UNESCO “not just to reaffirm our commitment to freedom of expression” but to consider other initiatives.

“Something that is probably not so well known to the general public is that we are constantly in contact with governments where these cases (attacks on journalists) have happened in order to remind them of their responsibilities and asking for information on the follow-up measures, and I would say that even if they are not spectacular, we’ve still seen more and more governments who are taking this seriously.”

Alongside journalists and cartoonists, the UNESCO conference included Jewish, Muslim and Christian representatives who called on the state to do more to educate young people about the co-existence of secular and religious values and ways to live together in increasingly diverse societies.

“Ignorance is the biggest weapon of mass destruction, and if ignorance is the problem, then education is the answer,” said Nasser David Khalili, an Iranian-born scholar and philanthropist who lives in London.

One topic overlooked however was the less discernible attacks on journalists, in the form of press conglomeration, cuts in income and a general lack of commitment to quality journalism.

“Freedom of expression has no meaning when you can’t find a job and when media is controlled by big groups,” said a former journalist who left the conference early.

Edited by Phil Harris

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U.N. Field Operations Deadlier Every Yearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 03:56:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138631 United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

The widespread field operations of the United Nations – primarily in conflict zones in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – continue to be some of the world’s deadliest.

The hazards are so predictable that the United Nations – and its agencies – subtly encourage staffers to write their last will before leaving home.

And working for the United Nations proved especially deadly in 2014 as its personnel “continued to be subject to deliberate attacks and exposed to hazardous environments”, according to the Staff Union’s Standing Committee for the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service.“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” - Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union

Asked if the United Nations was doing enough to protect its staff in these overseas operations, Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union, told IPS:  “This is a tricky question, because in principle the responsibility for the protection belongs primarily to the host country, i.e., the country where the staff member is working/living”.

“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” she asked.

At least, 61 United Nations and associated personnel were killed in 2014, including 33 peacekeepers, 16 civilians, nine contractors and three consultants, compared to 58 in 2013, including 33 peacekeepers and 25 civilians and associated personnel.

In 2012, 37 U.N. personnel, including 20 civilians and 17 peacekeepers, two of them police officers, were killed in the line of duty.

According to the Staff Union Standing Committee, the incident with the most casualties took place in Northern Mali, where nine peacekeepers were killed last October when their convoy was
ambushed.

Northern Mali was the most deadly place for U.N. personnel: 28 peacekeepers were killed there between June and October. And Gaza was the most deadly place for civilian personnel, with 11 killed in
July and August.

The killings, some of them described as “deliberate”, took place in Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali, Cambodia, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, North Darfur, Central African Republic and Gaza.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed serious concern over the continued killings of U.N. staffers in field operations.

“I am appalled by the number of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers who have been deliberately targeted in the past year, while they were trying to help people in crisis,” he said, at a memorial ceremony last week to honour fallen staff members.

In the past year, he said, U.N. staff members were killed while relaxing over dinner in a restaurant in Kabul while two colleagues were targeted after getting off a plane in Somalia.

Speaking at the same ceremony, Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions, said: “We are asked to work in some of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places.”

He said the work is fulfilling and “we do it willingly.”  “But all we ask in return is that the Organisation do its best to protect us, look after our families, and hold those who attack us, including governments, responsible for their actions.”

In a statement released Tuesday, the Staff Union Standing Committee said South Sudan was the country with the highest number of national staff members detained or abducted.

In May, there were allegations that members of South Sudan’s security forces assaulted and illegally detained two staff members in separate incidents in Juba.

In August, South Sudan’s National Security Service detained two national staff.  And in October, eight armed men wearing plain clothes seized a World Food Programme staff member who was waiting in line for a flight from Malakal airport and drove him to an unknown location.

Scores of United Nations staff and associated personnel were also subject
to hostage-taking, kidnapping and abductions, the statement said.

The worst incidents took place in the Golan Heights, where 44 Fijian peacekeepers were detained by armed opposition elements between 28 August and 11 September last year.

Meanwhile, U.N. personnel were abducted in Yemen, the Sudan’s Darfur region, Pakistan and in South Sudan.

An international contractor from India working for the U.N Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was released on 12 June after 94 days of captivity.

Asked about “hazard pay” for staffers in overseas operations, Tavora-Jainchill told IPS staff members do get hazard/danger pay depending on conditions of the individual duty station.

She said, “Each duty station is a unique duty station and receives unique consideration for hazard/danger pay, so your question cannot be answered in a general manner.”

United Nations staff members participate in a Pension Fund and there are provisions in that pension related to their death and the payment of pension/indemnities to their survivors, she added.

Asked about the will, she said: “That question is very interesting because I also heard that and some time ago asked someone from the U.N. Administration if it was really the case.”

The response was that those staff members are asked to consider “putting their business and paperwork in order”.

“My understanding from the answer is that the paperwork might include a will, she added.”

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European Citizens Call for Increased Aid to Developing Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/european-citizens-call-for-increased-aid-to-developing-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=european-citizens-call-for-increased-aid-to-developing-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/european-citizens-call-for-increased-aid-to-developing-world/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 19:12:56 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138607 In Tapoa, Burkina Faso, a region bordering Niger, the European Commission's humanitarian aid department (ECHO) funds the NGO ACF to provide health and nutrition care as well as food assistance including cash transfers for the poorest families. Credit: © EC/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie/cc by 2.0

In Tapoa, Burkina Faso, a region bordering Niger, the European Commission's humanitarian aid department (ECHO) funds the NGO ACF to provide health and nutrition care as well as food assistance including cash transfers for the poorest families. Credit: © EC/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

An overwhelming majority of citizens in the 28-member European Union (EU) – which has been hamstrung by a spreading economic recession, a fall in oil prices and a decline of its common currency, the Euro – has expressed strong support for development cooperation and increased aid to developing nations.

A new Eurobarometer survey to mark the beginning of the ‘European Year for Development,’released Monday, shows a significant increase in the number of people in favour of increasing international development aid."The European Year will give us the chance to build on this and inform citizens of the challenges and events that lie ahead during this key year for development." -- Commissioner Neven Mimica

The survey reveals that most Europeans continue to “feel very positively about development and cooperation”.

Additionally, the survey also indicates that 67 percent of respondents across Europe think development aid should be increased – a higher percentage than in recent years, despite the current economic situation in Europe.

And 85 percent believe it is important to help people in developing countries.

“Almost half of respondents would personally be prepared to pay more for groceries or products from those countries, and nearly two thirds say tackling poverty in developing countries should be a main priority for the EU.”

Presenting the results of the survey, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica said, “I feel very encouraged to see that, despite economic uncertainty across the EU, our citizens continue to show great support for a strong European role in development.

“The European Year will give us the chance to build on this and inform citizens of the challenges and events that lie ahead during this key year for development, helping us to engage in a debate with them,” he added.

Jens Martens, director of the Bonn-based Global Policy Forum-Europe, told IPS the Eurobarometer demonstrates that the overwhelming majority of EU citizens support global solidarity and strengthened international cooperation.

“This is good news. Now, EU governments must follow their citizens,” he said.

EU positions in the U.N.’s upcoming post-2015 development agenda and Financing for Development (FfD) negotiations will become the litmus test for their global solidarity, said Martens, who is also a member of the Coordinating Committee of Social Watch, a global network of several hundred non-governmental organisations (NGOs) campaigning for poverty eradication and social justice.

EU governments must translate the increased citizens support for development now into an increase of offical development assistance (ODA), but also in fair trade and investment rules and strengthened international tax cooperation under the umbrella of the United Nations, he declared.

According to the latest available statistics, only five countries – Norway (1.07 percent), Sweden (1.02), Luxembourg (1.00), Denmark (0.85), United Kingdom (0.72) and the Netherlands (0.67) – have reached the longstanding target of 0.7 of gross national income as ODA to the world’s poorer nations.

In an interview with IPS last November, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon singled out the importance of the upcoming International Conference on FfD in Ethiopia next July.

He said the ICFD will be “one of the most important conferences in shaping the U.N.’s 17 proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs)” which will be approved at a summit meeting of world leaders next September.

Ban cautioned world leaders of the urgent need for “a robust financial mechanism” to implement the SDGs – and such a mechanism, he said, should be put in place long before the adoption of these goals.

“It is difficult to depend on public funding alone,” he told IPS, stressing the need for financing from multiple sources – including public, private, domestic and international.

Speaking of financing for development, Ban said ODA, from the rich to the poor, is “is necessary but not sufficient.”

Meanwhile, the economic recession is taking place amidst the growing millions living in hunger (over 800 million), jobless (more than 200 million), water-starved (over 750 million) and in extreme poverty (more than one billion), according to the United Nations.

In a statement released Monday, the European Commission provided some of the results of the Eurobarometer on development: At 67 percent, the share of Europeans who agree on a significant increase in development aid has increased by six percentage points since 2013, and a level this high was last seen in 2010.

One in two Europeans sees a role for individuals in tackling poverty in developing countries (50 percent).

A third of EU citizens are personally active in tackling poverty (34 percent), mainly through giving money to charitable organisations (29 percent).

Most Europeans believe that Europe itself also benefits from giving aid to others: 69 percent say that tackling poverty in developing countries also has a positive influence on EU citizens.

Around three-quarters think it is in the EU’s interest (78 percent) and contributes to a more peaceful and equitable world (74 percent).

For Europeans, volunteering is the most effective way of helping to reduce poverty in developing countries (75 percent). But a large majority also believe that official aid from governments (66 percent) and donating to organisations (63 percent) have an impact.

The European Commission says 2015 promises to be “hugely significant for development, with a vast array of stakeholders involved in crucial decision-making in development, environmental and climate policies”.

2015 is the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the year in which the ongoing global post-2015 debate will converge into a single framework for poverty eradication and sustainable development.

2015 is also the year that a new international climate agreement will be decided in Paris.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: The Paris Killings – A Fatal Trap for Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 18:35:46 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138602

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the wave of indignation aroused by last week’s terrorist attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo runs the risk of playing into the hands of radical Muslims and unleashing a deadly worldwide confrontation.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

It is sad to see how a continent that was one cradle of civilisation is running blindly into a trap, the trap of a holy war with Islam – and that six Muslim terrorists were sufficient to bring that about.

It is time to get out of the comprehensible “We are All Charlie Hebdo” wave, to look into facts, and to understand that we are playing into the hands of a few extremists, and equating ourselves with them. The radicalisation of the conflict between the West and Islam is going to carry with it terrible consequences

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The first fact is that Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with 1.6 billion practitioners, that Muslims are the majority in 49 countries of the world and that they account for 23 percent of humankind. Of these 1.6 billion, only 317 million are Arabs. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) live in the Asia-Pacific region; in fact, more Muslims live in India and Pakistan (344 million combined). Indonesia alone has 209 million.

A Pew Research Center report on the Muslim world also inform us that it is in South Asia that Muslims are more radical in terms of observance and views. In that region, those in favour of severe corporal punishment for criminals are 81 percent, compared with 57 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, while those in favour of executing those who leave Islam are 76 percent in South Asia, compared with 56 percent in the Middle East.

Therefore, it is obvious that it is the history of the Middle East which brings the specificity of the Arabs to the conflict with the West. And here are the main four reasons.“We are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms … instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation”

First, all the Arab countries are artificial creations. In May 1916, Monsieur François Georges-Picot for France and Sir Mark Sykes for Britain met and agreed on a secret treaty, with the support of the Russian Empire and the Italian Kingdom, on how to carve up the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

Thus the Arab countries of today were born as the result of a division by France and Britain with no consideration for ethnic and religious realities or for history. A few of those countries, like Egypt, had an historical identity, but countries like Iraq, Arabia Saudi, Jordan, or even the Arab Emirates, lacked even that. It is worth remembering that the Kurdish issue of 30 million people divided among four countries was created by European powers.

As a consequence, the second reason. The colonial powers installed kings and sheiks in the countries that they created. To run these artificial countries, strong hands were required. So, from the very beginning, there was a total lack of participation of the people, with a political system which was totally out of sync with the process of democracy which was happening in Europe. With European blessing, these countries were frozen in feudal times.

As for the third reason, the European powers never made any investment in industrial development, or real development. The exploitation of petrol was in the hands of foreign companies and only after the end of the Second World War, and the ensuing process of decolonisation, did oil revenues really come into local hands.

When the colonial powers left, the Arab countries had no modern political system, no modern infrastructure, no local management.

Finally, the fourth reason, which is closer to our days. In states which did not provide education and health for their citizens, Muslim piety took on the task of providing what the state was not providing. So large networks of religious schools and hospital were created and, when elections were finally permitted, these became the basis for legitimacy and the vote for Muslim parties.

This is why, just taking the example of two important countries, Islamist parties won in Egypt and Algeria, and how with the acquiescence of the West, military coups were the only resort to stopping them.

This compression of so many decades into a few lines is of course superficial and leaves out many other issues. But this brutally abridged historical process is useful for understanding how anger and frustration is now all over the Middle East, and how this leads to the attraction to the Islamic State (IS) in poor sectors.

We should not forget that this historical background, even if remote for young people, is kept alive by Israel’s domination of the Palestinian people. The blind support of the West, especially of the United States, for Israel is seen by Arabs as a permanent humiliation, and Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements clearly eliminates the possibility of a viable Palestinian State.

The July-August bombing of Gaza, with just some noises of protest from the West but no real action, is for the Arab world clear proof that the intention is to keep Arabs down and seek alliances only with corrupt and delegitimised rulers who should be swept away. And the continuous Western intervention in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the drones bombing everywhere, are widely perceived among the 1.6 billion that the West is historically engaged in keeping Islam down, as the Pew report noted.

We should also remember that Islam has several internal divisions, of which the Sunni-Shiite divide is just the largest. But while in the Arab region at least 40 percent of Sunni do not recognise a Shiite as a fellow Muslim, outside the region this tends to disappear, In Indonesia only 26 percent identify themselves as Sunni, with 56 percent identifying themselves as “just Muslim”.

In the Arab world, only in Iraq and Lebanon, where the two communities lived side by side, does a large majority of Sunni recognise Shiites as fellow Muslims. The fact that Shiites, who account for just 13 percent of Muslims, are the large majority in Iran, and the Sunni the large majority in Saudi Arabia explains the ongoing internal conflict in the region, which is being stirred by the two respective leaders.

Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, then run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (1966–2006), successfully deployed a policy of polarisation in Iraq, continuing attacks on Shiites and provoking an ethnic cleansing of one million Sunnis from Baghdad. Now IS, the radical caliphate which is challenging the entire Arab world besides the West, is able to attract many Sunnis from Iraq which had suffered so many Shiite reprisals, that they sought the umbrella of the very group that had deliberately provoked the Shiites.

The fact it is that every day hundreds of Arabs die because of the internal conflict, a fate that does not affect the much larger Muslim community.

Now, all terrorist attacks in the West that have happened in Ottawa, in London, and now in Paris, have the same profile: a young man from the country in question, not someone from the Arab region, who was not at all religious during his teenage years, someone who somehow drifted, did not find a job, and was a loner. In nearly all cases, someone who had already had something to do with the judicial system.

Only in the last few years had he become converted to Islam and accepted the calls from IS for killing infidels. He felt that with this he would find a justification to his life, he would become a martyr, a somebody in another world, removed from a life in which there was no real bright future.

The reaction to all this has been a campaign in the West against Islam. The latest number of the New Yorker published a strong article defining Islam not as a religion but as an ideology. In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing and anti-immigrant Lega Nord has publicly condemned the Pope for engaging Islam in dialogue, and conservative Italian pundit Giuliano Ferrara declared on TV that ”we are in a Holy War”.

The overall European (and U.S.) reaction has been to denounce the Paris killings as the result of a “deadly ideology”, as President François Hollande called it.

It is certainly a sign of the anti-Muslim tide that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was obliged to take a position against the recent marches in Dresden (Muslim population 2 percent), organised by the populist movement Pegida (the German acronym for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”). The marches were basically directed against the 200,000 asylum seekers, most of them from Iraq and Syria, whose primary intention, according to Pegida, was not to escape war.

Studies from all over Europe show that the immense majority of immigrants have successfully integrated with their host economies. United Nations studies also show that Europe, with its demographic decline, requires at least 20 million immigrants by 2050 if it wants to remain viable in welfare practices, and competitive in the world. Yet, what are we getting everywhere?

Xenophobic, right-wing parties in every country of Europe, able to make the Swedish government resign, conditioning the governments of United Kingdom, Denmark and Nederland, and looking poised to win the next elections in France.

It should be added that, while what happened in Paris was of course a heinous crime, and while expression of any opinion is essential for democracy, very few have ever seen Charlie Hebdo and its level of provocation. Especially because in 2008, as Tariq Ramadan pointed out in The Guardian of Jan. 10, Charlie Hebdo fired a cartoonist who had joke about a Jewish link to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son.

Charlie Hebdo was a voice defending the superiority of France and its cultural supremacy in the world, and had a small readership, which it obtained by selling provocation – exactly the opposite of the view of a world based on respect and cooperation among different cultures and religions.

So now we are all Charlie, as everybody is saying. But to radicalise the clash between the two largest religions of the world is not a minor affair. We should fight terrorism, be it Muslim or not (let us not forget that a Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, who wanted to keep his country free of Muslim penetration, killed 91 of his co-citizens).

But we are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms.

The fact that European right-wing parties will reap the benefit of this radicalisation goes down very well for the radical Muslims. They dream of a world fight, in which they will make Islam – and not just any Islam, but their interpretation of Sunnism – the sole religion. Instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation.

And, apart from September 11 in New York, the losses of life have been miniscule compared with what is going on in the Arab world, where just in one country – Syria – 50,000 people lost their lives last year.

How can we so blindly fall into the trap without realising that we are creating a terrible clash all over the world? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Attack on French Magazine a “Black Day” for Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/attack-on-french-magazine-a-black-day-for-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=attack-on-french-magazine-a-black-day-for-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/attack-on-french-magazine-a-black-day-for-press-freedom/#comments Thu, 08 Jan 2015 00:57:08 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138557 Drawing for peace - a signature cartoon by Plantu

Drawing for peace - a signature cartoon by Plantu

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jan 8 2015 (IPS)

“They are cowards who react to satire by going for their Kalashnikovs.” That was how renowned French cartoonist Plantu described the killers of 10 media workers and two policemen in Paris Wednesday.

One of the murdered journalists, cartoonist Bernard Verlhac who went by the pen name of Tignous, was a member of Cartooning for Peace, the organisation that Plantu founded with former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2006, following the protests sparked by the controversial Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.

Tignous worked for Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine that the murderers targeted.

According to police and eyewitness reports, two hooded gunmen entered the premises of the magazine and opened fire in the late morning. After they fled the scene, in a car driven by a third participant, 12 people were confirmed dead and at least 11 injured, some critically.“Cartoonists – Christian, Muslim, Jewish cartoonists – are scandalised and angry. And to express ourselves, we take up a marker and we draw” – Plantu, co-founder of Cartooning for Peace

Video footage, filmed from neighbouring buildings, showed the attackers killing an injured policeman as he lay in the road. On Wednesday night, the police presence in France’s capital city was huge as security officials tried to track down the attackers who reportedly had been identified.

French President François Hollande said in a public address that the killers would be brought to justice and “severely punished” for their actions. Appealing for unity, he said the attack was an assault on national ideals and freedoms, including freedom of expression.

Meanwhile, many French residents took to social media to express solidarity with the magazine’s staff, posting images with the words “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie), and thousands gathered on the historic Place de la Republique in Paris, and in several other cities in France.

The magazine had been a target for several years, since it published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. In 2011, assailants firebombed its offices in the city’s 11th district, and its cartoons have been considered offensive by various groups over the past two years. Its cover this week featured the controversial French writer Michel Houellebecq, whose newly published novel “Soumission” portrays a future France living under an Islamic regime.

But condemnation of the murders came from all sides of the religious and political spectrum on Wednesday. The French Muslim Council said the “barbaric action” was also an attack “against democracy and the freedom of the press,” while the Protestant Federation of France expressed “revulsion” and said the “hateful” acts could have no justification in any religion.

Irina Bokova, the director-general of Paris-based UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, said she was “horrified” by the attack. “This is more than a personal tragedy,” she stated.  “It is an attack on the media and freedom of expression.  The world community cannot allow extremists to silence the free flow of opinions and ideas.  We must work together to bring the perpetrators to justice and stand together for a free and independent press.”

Rights group Amnesty International said the attack was a “black day” for freedom of expression and a free press, while the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) called the assault a “barbaric act of violence against journalists and media freedom.”

EFJ president Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard stressed that journalists today face a greater range of dangers and threats than ever before.

Last year, 118 journalists and media workers died for doing their jobs, according to the EFJ and other organisations, bringing the total to more than 700 deaths over the past decade.

On Nov. 2, the United Nations marked the first international Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The organisation said that the majority of the killings “were deliberate murders committed in connection with journalists’ denunciation of crime and corruption.”

Charlie Hebdo’s recent cartoons had poked fun at the head of IS, or the Islamic State, and had even seemed to forecast an attack, saying that fighters had until the end of January to “present their wishes” – a reference to the French tradition of government ministers presenting their “voeux” to the press each new year.

From around the world, condemnation of the acts and condolences for the victims’ families were transmitted to France by heads of state and foreign ministers. But perhaps the most profound messages came from colleagues in the media world – cartoonists.

Plantu said that Cartooning for Peace, where staffers worked late into the evening, had received thousands of messages and drawings.

“We are angry,” he said on French television. “Cartoonists – Christian, Muslim, Jewish cartoonists – are scandalised and angry. And to express ourselves, we take up a marker and we draw.”

He said that Cartooning for Peace had been created for the very purpose of creating bridges between people, religions and regions and that cartoonists’ work was “stronger” than the “barbaric acts” committed by the “cowards” on Wednesday.

Plantu told IPS at a conference last year in the southern French city of Montpellier that the work of the non-profit organisation was important in promoting dialogue, understanding and mutual respect by using cartoons as a universal language.

At that conference, one of the featured participants was Tignous, who showed himself to be funny in both speech and drawing. As he and a journalist got lost trying to make it to the conference centre, he cracked jokes about his legs being too short to jump fences, but he ended up being the one to find the right direction.

Later at the conference, he produced cartoons that had the audience laughing out loud. For him, and other cartoonists, the work was about freedom to poke fun at extremists and political hypocrites.

At the creation of Cartooning for Peace, the founders said the initiative was meant to highlight the notion that cartoonist’s influence comes with a “responsibility to encourage debate rather than inflame passions, to educate rather than divide.”

According to commentators, Charlie Hebdo may have inflamed passions with its satire, but the killings on Wednesday seemed an attempt to end all debate, and to foster further division in France, where the extreme-right National Front party has been rising in popularity.

“The targeted assassinations were staged in order to establish terror and muzzle journalists, cartoonists but also every citizen,” Cartooning for Peace said in a statement. It added that the attackers would not have the last word because “art and freedom will be stronger than any intolerance.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Quo Vadis? Post-Benghazi Libyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-quo-vadis-post-benghazi-libya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-quo-vadis-post-benghazi-libya http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-quo-vadis-post-benghazi-libya/#comments Sun, 04 Jan 2015 17:38:16 +0000 Christopher Occhicone http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138501

Christopher Occhicone is a New York-based U.S. photojournalist who recently returned from Libya.

By Christopher Occhicone
NEW YORK, Jan 4 2015 (IPS)

A concerted disinformation campaign is being conducted to manufacture consent for military action against the government in Tripoli and the town of Misrata, which has been at the forefront of toppling the despotic Gaddafi dictatorship.

It is ironic that the very same people who called in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) led airstrikes on satellite phones in 2011 are now being labeled as dangerous ‘Islamist militants’.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

chris o 300It looks like Western policymakers and legislators in the U.S. and Europe, and the United Nations may all be misinformed, which in turn could unleash catastrophic consequences for the people of Libya.  Undoubtedly a protracted civil war in Libya will swell the numbers of refugees fleeing to Europe manifold.

Impact of Benghazi

To understand the difference between fact and fiction, I spent several days interviewing senior members of the government of Libya and Fajr Libya known in English as Libya Dawn (LD).  My main subject on the side of the government was Mustafa Noah, director of the Intelligence Service of Libya.

What was very clear throughout the interview is that both Noah and his supporters in the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn are very much pro-U.S. and pro-NATO who they say are “the saviors of Libya”.The Libya story in 2015 is about disinformation, lies and a power-grab in motion clandestinely supported by the Egyptians and their Saudi and Emirati counterparts.

They are genuinely upset at the murder of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and his three colleagues in Benghazi.  Ambassador Stevens is considered “an honourary Libyan who loved the country and its peoples” and who was “above all, a guest whose murder is sacrilege”.

Noah said that the “perpetrators have been paying a heavy price for their crime that is being slowly but surely being exacted upon them”.  He stated categorically for the record that “extremist Takfiri Islamists are clearly rejected by Libya Dawn and the government in Tripoli”.

In my four-hour interview, Noah made it clear that he was happy to talk about any issue, but did not want to be the focus or want it to appear as though he may be vying for power. This was something he came back to later on in the recorded conversation.

In fact, he spoke little about himself and his role despite several attempts to steer the conversation in that direction.

The major point Mustafa Noah made is that the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn (as it stands now) is/are in the process of trying to set up an inclusive government for all Libyans.  His opinion is that opponents – specifically retired Libyan General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar – were “concerned about consolidating their own personal power base”.

There is mounting evidence that Hafter’s power-grab is being carried out with support of Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al Sisi and his Saudi and Emirati backers. For example: the MiG-21 bombing runs from across the border, which are tantamount to a war crime for unprovoked and undeclared bombing of a neighbouring country.

And the recent purchase of six Sukhoi Su-30 warplanes delivered to Tobruk by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military (i.e. paid for allegedly by Egypt with funds that most probably originated from the Arab Gulf).

Mustafa Noah seemed genuine insofar as he always had a humble, well-composed, and thoughtful approach to any subject discussed.

He never framed anything in terms of his own accomplishments or involvement but in terms of the people and the revolution for change, stability and prosperity for all Libyans.

Noah was genuinely upset at the thought that someone-like Haftar, who is “working for his narrow personal interests and self-aggrandizement”, could be successful in building a personal power base without regard for the people.

He said Haftar was “using the divisive methods he learned from his time as a crony in the Gaddafi dictatorship”.  Noah found the “thought of a ‘strong man’ coming to power particularly offensive and abhorrent in light of recent history in Libya”.

Mustafa Noah clearly has put a lot of trust in the ability of Libya Dawn, however he is not blindly committed to them.  When I read a list of different militias, brigades, groups that composed Libya Dawn and asked about the character of specific militias, he painted them as all equally for the revolution and composed of good people.

Noah said any group that was not focused on the spirit of the revolution (i.e. anti-corruption, against arbitrary political violence, etc.) would not be a part of the future of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Libya.

His main focus is the Libyan people, creating better institutions, employment opportunities, social services, education, health services, etc.

Mustafa Noah talked about an “inclusive future” for Libya.  He described the “old system of tribalism and manipulation by Gaddafi” and how the “mentality has to change in order for the country to progress”.  Regarding inclusivity in the future, Noah said that they are “open to people from the Gaddafi regime returning to public life once stability is created”.

In fact, Mustafa Noah’s senior advisor on Anti-Terrorism Operations, who joined the conversation halfway through, was in the Gaddafi regime for 37 years.  For Mustafa Noah, the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn, “there is a place for people from the Gaddafi regime who could prove they were not stealing from the Libyan people or … involved in atrocities against the people”.

Quo vadis Libya 2015?

What I discerned from my recent visit to Tripoli and Misrata is that the power-grab spearheaded by Haftar has more to do with Libya’s oil and gas resources, which are coveted by their neighbours, rather than the red herring of ‘Islamist militants in Tripoli and Misrata’ that is being trumpeted in the news media.

The Libya story in 2015 is about disinformation, lies and a power-grab in motion clandestinely supported by the Egyptians and their Saudi and Emirati counterparts.  What will the U.S. and the Europeans do?

Will they play along in the new ‘Great Game’ or stop another Syria-like imbroglio unfolding where extremist Takfiri militant organisations like the Islamist State (ISIS or ISIL) can feed off and emerge to threaten peace and stability in the Mediterranean and beyond?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Syrian Refugees Between Containers and Tents in Turkeyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/syrians-refugees-between-containers-and-tents-in-turkey/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrians-refugees-between-containers-and-tents-in-turkey http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/syrians-refugees-between-containers-and-tents-in-turkey/#comments Sun, 04 Jan 2015 15:31:33 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138495 The Harran camp for Syrian refugees was one of the last to be built by the Turkish government in 2012 and is considered the most modern, with a capacity for lodging 14,000 people in 2,000 containers. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The Harran camp for Syrian refugees was one of the last to be built by the Turkish government in 2012 and is considered the most modern, with a capacity for lodging 14,000 people in 2,000 containers. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
HARRAN and NIZIP, Turkey, Jan 4 2015 (IPS)

“We ran as if we were ants fleeing out of the nest. I moved to three different cities in Syria to try to be away from the conflict, but there was no safe place left in my country so we decided to move out.”

For Professor Helit – who was describing what he called the indiscriminate bombing of cities and burning of civilian houses by the Syrian regime under President Bashar al-Assad when he fled his country two years ago – this “moving out” meant taking refuge across the border in Turkey in one of the so-called “accommodation camps” provided by the Turkish government.

Helit and his 10 children – five daughters and five sons – fled on December 31, 2012, hitch-hiked a lift in a truck to the border with Turkey, and then made their way to the refugee camp in Harran, 20 kilometres from the Syrian border.The Syrians refugees living in Harran have tried to reproduce the lifestyle they had in their homeland, but every family has a sad story to tell – many have lost relatives in the conflict and others still have members in the battlefields fighting the regime

The camp in Harran was one of the last camps to be built by the Turkish government in 2012 and is considered the most modern, with a capacity for lodging 14,000 people in 2,000 containers.

For more than thirty years Helit had been the headmaster of a school in Syria before the outbreak of the armed conflict in Syria in March 2011. He now runs the camp school for 4,700 Syrian children of all ages.

Harran is divided into small neighbourhood-like communities with names such as Peace, Brotherhood and Fraternity, alluding to universal values. Seen from outside, the camp seems like a prison, but the gates of the Harran camp are always open so that families can leave and visit shopping centres nearby.

The Syrians refugees living in Harran have tried to reproduce the lifestyle they had in their homeland, but every family has a sad story to tell – many have lost relatives in the conflict and others still have members in the battlefields fighting the regime.

Professor Helit showed IPS the classrooms and common areas frequented by Syrian students aged between 13 and 16, the walls decorated with paintings by the students which, he said, are an “expression of their feelings and pain.”

“We will never stop fighting for our independence,” he added. “We will resist until the end.”

Stories like that of Professor Helit can be found everywhere in refugee communities along the border, although not all have the “luxury” of container housing.

Syrian children going to school on a cold morning in the tent refugee camp in Nizip, Turkey, near the border with Syria. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Syrian children going to school on a cold morning in the tent refugee camp in Nizip, Turkey, near the border with Syria. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

In most camps, like the one in Nizip in the province of Gaziantep – an important industrial city in eastern Turkey – families of up to eight people live in tents.

Nizip lodges 10,700 Arabic Syrians, mostly from Aleppo and Idlib – both towns which were targeted by the al-Nusra Front, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda.

But the Nizip camp is also the setting for an interesting initiative in which its residents are being given the chance of electing their own neighbourhood community representatives. This pioneering initiative is now in its second year.

“This was the first time I ever voted. I don’t understand much about how it works but in Syria there was only one candidate and didn’t matter if we voted or not because the result was already defined”, Mustafa Kerkuz, a 57-year-old Syrian refugee from Aleppo, told IPS.

According to Demir Celal, assistant director of the Nizip camp, this is the first time that Syrians have able to vote freely. “We aim to teach them what a free election looks like,” he said.

The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey now stands at two million, according to Veysel Dalmaz, head of the Prime Ministry’s General Coordination for Syrian Asylum Seekers, who warns that the country has nearly reached full capacity for humanitarian assistance even though Turkey has “an open door-policy in which no one coming from Syria is refused and we do not even discriminate which side they are on.”

So far, the Turkish government has allocated more than five billion dollars to humanitarian aid through the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority of Turkey (AFAD).

According to Dalmaz, there has never in history been a case of mass migration from one country to another in such a short period of time as the migration from Syria to Turkey, and “there is no country that has managed to absorb so many people in so little time.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Ruble’s Rout Breeds Uncertainty for Central Asian Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/rubles-rout-breeds-uncertainty-for-central-asian-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rubles-rout-breeds-uncertainty-for-central-asian-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/rubles-rout-breeds-uncertainty-for-central-asian-migrants/#comments Fri, 26 Dec 2014 16:05:43 +0000 EurasiaNet Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138428 Migrant workers ride in a bus through northern Kazakhstan in May 2014 on their way to find employment in Russia. As the value of the Russian ruble continues to fall, labour migrants from Central Asia say they are less inclined to work in Russia. Credit: Konstantin Salomatin

Migrant workers ride in a bus through northern Kazakhstan in May 2014 on their way to find employment in Russia. As the value of the Russian ruble continues to fall, labour migrants from Central Asia say they are less inclined to work in Russia. Credit: Konstantin Salomatin

By EurasiaNet Correspondents
TASHKENT, Dec 26 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Sardor Abdullayev, a construction worker from eastern Uzbekistan, had planned to go to Russia next spring to join relatives working construction sites in the Volga River city of Samara. But now, he says, “I am better off staying at home and driving a taxi.”

As the value of the Russian ruble plummets and Russia’s economy tumbles into recession, millions of Central Asian migrants have seen their real wages dwindle. On top of that, Russian authorities are introducing new, expensive regulations for foreigners who wish to work legally in the country.The return of tens of thousands of labour migrants and the prospect of them joining the vast pool of the already unemployed is making some officials nervous.

Some Uzbek migrants in Russia now say they are contemplating a return home. Such an influx of returnees could have uncertain ramifications for their impoverished country.

According to Russia’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, there are about three million Uzbek labour migrants in Russia, the most from any Central Asian country. Others estimate the number of Uzbeks could be twice that.

Unofficial estimates put their remittances in 2013 at the value of roughly a quarter of Uzbekistan’s GDP. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are even more dependent on labour migrants, with remittances contributing the equivalent of 30 percent and roughly 50 percent to their economies, respectively.

Data from Russia’s Central Bank shows that the funds Uzbeks send home dipped nine percent year-on-year during the third quarter of 2014. Analysts predict the fall will continue. The Russian business daily Kommersant estimates that remittances fell 35 percent month-on-month in October alone.

That was before the ruble, which has steadily fallen since Russian troops seized Crimea in February, nosedived earlier in December. Thanks to Western sanctions, the low price of oil, and systemic weaknesses in Vladimir Putin’s style of crony capitalism, the currency has lost roughly 50 percent against the dollar this year. Most migrants convert their rubles into dollars to send home.

“My salary was 18,000 rubles a month, which several months ago would be equivalent to 500 dollars. Now, it is less than 300 dollars,” Sherzod, a 29-year-old from the Ferghana Valley who was working at a shop in Samara, told EurasiaNet.org.

Sherzod returned home in November and he is not planning to go back to Russia. “The salary is too low.”

It is not only falling wages that labour migrants must consider. Starting on Jan. 1, Russia will require labour migrants to pass tests on Russian language, history and legislation basics, as well as undergo a medical examination and buy health insurance (the entire package will cost migrants up to 30,000 rubles (currently about 500 dollars), by some accounts).

The Moscow city government is also more than tripling the fee for work permits, from 1,200 rubles monthly to 4,000 rubles (currently 64 dollars).

Citizens of countries that are members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which will come into force on Jan. 1, will not be affected by the new regulations. That adds an incentive – some might say pressure – for migrant-feeder countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to join. (Kyrgyzstan is hoping to join in early 2015).

Sherzod, the Uzbek labourer, says that faced with falling real incomes, many Uzbeks working in Russia find themselves in a quandary. Thousands are eager to return home. But many simply do not have funds to buy a return ticket. Others worry about being seen in their native villages as failures.

Russian media outlets have quoted a migrant community leader who projected new requirements for guest workers, along with the falling ruble, will prompt up to 25 percent of migrants to leave Russia in the coming months.

With fewer dollars entering Uzbekistan, the Uzbek sum has fallen 15 percent against the greenback on the black market, according to several Ferghana-based shop owners interviewed by EurasiaNet.org. (The tightly managed official exchange rate has declined about 11 percent against the dollar this year. To help support it, from Jan. 1 fruit and vegetable exporters will be required to sell 25 percent of their hard currency earnings to the state at the official rate, Interfax news agency reported Dec. 18).

Despite the economic fallout from Russia, Uzbek leaders remain open to doing business with the Kremlin. During a visit to Tashkent on Dec. 10, Putin wrote off most of Uzbekistan’s 890-million-dollar debt. That deal paved the way for new loans from Moscow. It is unclear what Uzbek leader Islam Karimov promised in return.

Uzbek authorities and well-connected businessmen claim they are prepared to manage the economic fallout, and the large number of returning migrants.

“We have numerous [state-sponsored] urban regeneration construction projects across the country. One can say that the whole of Uzbekistan is a massive construction site. So if migrants return, many of them will find work,” Nazirjan, a former government official who how heads a private construction company in the Ferghana Valley, told EurasiaNet.org on condition his surname not appear in print.

On Dec. 15, President Karimov signed a decree that increased state employees’ salaries by 10 percent. Still, the return of tens of thousands of labour migrants and the prospect of them joining the vast pool of the already unemployed is making some officials nervous.

“The SNB [former KGB] has instructed local authorities and mahalla [neighbourhood] committees to create lists of labour migrants who are returning from Russia. The arrival of migrants usually increases the crime rate, and local authorities have also been instructed to be more vigilant,” a secondary school teacher in the Ferghana Valley told EurasiaNet.org.

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Diversity and Inclusion for Empowering ‘People of Color’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/diversity-and-inclusion-for-empowering-people-of-color/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=diversity-and-inclusion-for-empowering-people-of-color http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/diversity-and-inclusion-for-empowering-people-of-color/#comments Tue, 23 Dec 2014 23:23:03 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138391 Young inclusion leaders participating in a workshop session to discuss the setting up of a diversity and inclusion network for future leaders from among Germany’s ‘people of color’, Berlin 2014. Credit: Ina Meling/Integration Commissioner Büro Tempelhof-Schöneberg

Young inclusion leaders participating in a workshop session to discuss the setting up of a diversity and inclusion network for future leaders from among Germany’s ‘people of color’, Berlin 2014. Credit: Ina Meling/Integration Commissioner Büro Tempelhof-Schöneberg

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Dec 23 2014 (IPS)

A unique initiative – the Network Inclusion Leaders (NILE) project – has just held its second workshop here to set up a diversity and inclusion network for future leaders from among Germany’s ‘people of color’, or persons from different ‘non-white’ cultural backgrounds.

The event was held from Dec. 9 to 13in Berlin’s Rathaus Schöneberg, where John F. Kennedy delivered his iconic “Ich bin ein Berliner” freedom and solidarity speech to 400,000 West Berliners in 1963.

The workshop brought together 15 talented game changers aged between 18 and 28 from Afro-German, Turkish, Kurdish, Latin American and German-Asian backgrounds, selected from across the country to engage with illustrious key speakers from Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom in sessions designed to discuss instruments for promoting anti-racism, diversity and migrant-friendly agendas."Democracy needs strong, well-networked minorities. When you look around Germany, from parliament to media, public and private sectors, well it's still pretty white, there's a lot of work to be done" – Gabriele Gün Tank, Commissioner for Integration in Berlin Tempelhof-Schöneberg and co-founder of Network Inclusion Leaders (NILE)

The speakers  included Simon Woolley, Director of Operation Black Vote (UK), Mekonnen Mesghena, Director of Migration and Diversity at Berlin’s Heinrich-Böll Foundation, Kwesi Aikins, Policy Officer at the Centre for Migration and Social Affairs, Nuran Yigit, expert in anti-discrimination and board member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Migration Council, Terri Givens, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a specialist in the politics of race, and Professor Kurt Barling, a BBC special correspondent.

NILE is the brainchild of two alumni of the 2013 German Marshall Fund’s (GMF) Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network (TILN) – 35-year-old Gabriele Gün Tank, Commissioner for Integration in Berlin Tempelhof-Schöneberg, and 28-year-old researcher and social activist Daniel Gyamerah, head of Each One Teach One (EATO), a black literature and media project in Berlin.

“Democracy needs strong, well-networked minorities. When you look around Germany, from parliament to media, public and private sectors, well it’s still pretty white, there’s a lot of work to be done,” Tank told a GMF alumni reception.

NILE was set up through collaboration with NGOs, top institutions including federal ministries and assistance from the influential Heinrich-Böll Foundation which is affiliated with the Green Party, the U.S. embassy and the Eberhard-Schultz-Stiftung (Foundation for Human Rights and Participation).  

“We are moving forward with inclusive governance, inclusion best practices and empowerment training,” said Tank.  “This is of critical importance if we are to bridge the migration gap for a fairer, social and political representation of minorities at all levels.”

Engaging young Muslims within a climate of hostility

Mersiha Hadziabdic, aged 25, said that she joined the NILE initiative confident that networking and coalition building plays a crucial role in steering change relevant to her generation.

Born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, she came to Berlin as a three-year-old refugee when her family fled the Prijedor massacre, one of the worse war crimes along with the Srebrenica genocide perpetrated by the Serbian political and military leadership’s ethnic-cleansing drive, which killed 14,000 civilians.

“My background means a lot to me, and for this reason I am involved with the Bosnian community in Berlin, my home town,” she told IPS.

Wearing a headscarf in Berlin, Mersiha is often mistaken for a Turkish woman, with its attendant stereotypes of submissiveness and low expectations.

But, like 25-year-old Soufeina Hamed, a Tunisian-born graduate in intercultural psychology from the University of Osnabrück, who is active in Zahnräder Netzwerker, an incubator for Muslim social entrepreneurship, Mersiha is an internet savvy and project team member of JUMA (Young Active and Muslim), which offers management, rhetoric and media skills training to young German Muslims.

”I see myself as part and process of this vibrant, committed and capable Muslim youth which has something important to contribute and wants to be involved in the conversation,” she said.

Just like Ozan Keskinkilic, an MA student in international relations from a Turkish-Arab background who is active in the Muslim-Jewish Conference (MJC) for peaceful inter-religious dialogue, she noted that this conversation involves engaging in a climate of anti-migrant and refugee hostility.

That hostility is currently finding expression in populist rallies, such as the Dresden march on Dec. 8, where 15,000 anti-immigrant protesters, mostly from PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West), marched to the former 1989 freedom rallying cry of “Wir Sind das Volk” (We are the People).

Young, talented and ambitious, Mersiha, Soufeina and Ozan are part of Germany’s four million Muslims residents and citizens, about five percent of the country’s population, of whom 45 percent have German citizenship.

According to the Verfassungsschutz, Germany’s intelligence agency, approximately 250,000 Muslims live in Berlin, 73 percent of whom are of Turkish background and one-third of whom have German citizenship. They belong to that population sector whose qualifications and skills are raising inclusion and access expectations which demand more level playing fields.

Creating a critical mass for change

The NILE initiative aims to channel personal issues relating to emotional damage inflicted by racism, discrimination or the traumas of fleeing from conflict zones into a process of empowerment towards common, personal and professional goals.

Empowerment and leadership tools are taught as means of engaging with the world as it is, gaining an understanding that ‘persons of color’ are neither powerless nor invisible.

Kurt Barling, who has carved a role of influence for himself by exposing stories which shape communities but too often remain hidden by a majority oblivious to the perspectives of others, had a clear mentoring message:

Group photo of participants in the Network Inclusion Leaders (NILE) 2014 workshop held in Berlin's Rathaus Schöneberg, where John F. Kennedy delivered his iconic “Ich bin ein Berliner” freedom and solidarity speech to 400,000 West Berliners in 1963. Credit: Francesca Dziadek/IPS

Group photo of participants in the Network Inclusion Leaders (NILE) 2014 workshop held in Berlin’s Rathaus Schöneberg, where John F. Kennedy delivered his iconic “Ich bin ein Berliner” freedom and solidarity speech to 400,000 West Berliners in 1963. Credit: Ina Meling/Integration Commissioner Büro Tempelhof-Schöneberg

“Take control, shape your narratives with the new digital space available and build trust relationships with the authorities to change how the media frames and reflects our communities and our issues.”

Participants learned to be part of a critical mass for change, a “majority complex”, to build strategic coalitions to reduce marginalisation, reframe the migration debate as a socio-economic asset, and challenge discrimination and racism with the tools provided by human rights instruments such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a monitoring body of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

“Freedom of speech definitely stops at racial slander and incitement,” explained Kwesi Aikins, “and you can challenge that in the courts. Even human rights education is a human right.”

“Martin Luther King did not just have a dream, he had a plan,” said Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote (UK). Woolley was invited by NILE to explain to the young participants how they can take advantage of the torch handed to them all the way back from the civil rights movement, including harnessing their own electoral muscle because the black vote counts. “The bottom line,” he said, “is that power talks to power”.

NILE workshop participants agreed that the challenge facing young leaders is to find their role within the constraints of conflicting choices on offer between blending, assertiveness and the tiring fight for a fair share.

Maria-Jose Munoz a native of Bolivia, whose research interests focus on the Madera river energy complex on the Bolivia-Brazil border, knows she has an uphill struggle ahead of her – emerging in a white, male-dominated energy policy field.

Wrapping up her experience at NILE, she said: “We are all just looking for belonging and a way to engage in a personal and public dialogue, building bridges between our often conflicting identities.”

“As minority communities, we often find a blocked path towards common goals. NILE helped me understand that I can be strong and that, by coalescing with others, I can tear down these walls.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Reflections on Corruption and Political Regeneration in Spainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-reflections-on-corruption-and-political-regeneration-in-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-reflections-on-corruption-and-political-regeneration-in-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-reflections-on-corruption-and-political-regeneration-in-spain/#comments Mon, 22 Dec 2014 08:42:59 +0000 guillermo-medina http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138368

In this column, journalist Guillermo Medina, a former editor of the newspaper ‘Ya’ and former deputy for Spain’s Union of the Democratic Centre, argues that Spaniards are now making the connection between political corruption and social crisis but the country’s traditional parties are failing to come with adequate counter-measures, fuelling the ranks of those who are turning to Podemos (“We Can”), the movement and political party proposing radical change.

By Guillermo Medina
MADRID, Dec 22 2014 (IPS)

Political and institutional corruption has become the main concern of Spanish citizens after unemployment and the dramatic social consequences of the economic crisis, according to opinion polls.

The systemic nature of corruption – recognised by most analysts but denied by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the right-wing People’s Party (PP) – is coinciding exasperatingly with the impoverishment of most of society and the enrichment of a few of its members, leading to a rejection of current politics and institutions that verges on social rebellion.

In the 2011 municipal elections, 39 percent of candidates under investigation for corruption throughout Spain were re-elected, according to a report by the Politico analytical group. Some notoriously corrupt officials even claimed that the “favourable judgment of the electorate” was a kind of absolution.“The systemic nature of corruption is coinciding exasperatingly with the impoverishment of most of society and the enrichment of a few of its members, leading to a rejection of current politics and institutions that verges on social rebellion”

But indifference towards corruption was transformed into intolerance when the crisis arrived and scandals began to emerge.

In October 2004, a poll by the Centre for Sociological Research (CIS) found that only 0.6 percent of respondents mentioned corruption among their main concerns; by October 2014, according to the same source, 42.3 percent were naming it as their second-highest concern.

Citizens have now made a direct connection between corruption and the crisis, profligacy, unemployment, impoverishment, inequality and a political style. Irritated and provoked by their observation of the obscene ostentation and impunity of the corrupt, many have reached the conclusion that it will not be possible to eradicate corruption without profound change.

In the view of many Spanish citizens, corruption has its origins in a model of party politics that reduces democracy to a mere mechanism for deciding – every four years – which party will occupy the seats of power, with no substantial change for the people.

The meteoric rise of Podemos (“We Can”), the movement and political party proposing radical change, is therefore not surprising. Founded in January this year, Podemos secured 25 percent of voter intentions in a survey published on Dec. 7 by the newspaper ‘El País’.

Due to deficiencies in the electoral law and certain flaws in their original make-up, the other parties have thwarted the wishes of the electorate and have created a crisis of representation.

Frequently, lax laws, long criminal proceedings, short statutes of limitations and the most varied tricks of judicial ingenuity conspire to grant impunity to conduct that is harmful to the common interest and causes public scandals.

No wonder Carlos Lesmes, president of the General Council of the Judiciary, said recently: “We have a criminal system devised to penalise the petty thief, but not the large fraudster; it does not work in cases such as we are seeing now, in which there is so much corruption.”

People today are aware of the relationship between politics and corruption. One of the most pernicious effects of this omnipresent phenomenon is that it monopolises and conditions political debate, weakening institutions like Congress and the government itself, which should be focusing their attention on solving the country’s crucial problems.

Politics are deadlocked. Accords have become unviable because the country is divided by two contrary and reactive forces, between those who are enraged at the “caste” and are seeking a radical alternative, and those who are frightened by what they rightly consider to be a threat to their interests and prioritise attacking their rivals, while trying to convince us that they are fighting corruption.

At this point, the corruption and disrepute of the political class has resulted not only in the growth of Podemos, but is perceived as a curse even by the business community, which sees it as a hindrance to economic recovery.

A survey among the 500 participants at the recent National Congress of Family Business awarded only 1.08 out of 9 points to the political situation. Last year the result was 1.66 out of 9.

Democracy does not create corrupt people, but corrupt people end up corrupting democracy, and then corruption becomes a structural, systemic problem. Multiple abscesses turn into gangrene and after that, ending corruption means cleansing the entire system.

Fighting corruption is only possible in the broader context of political and institutional regeneration. So it seems to those who demand regeneration, and because they feel that the established parties are lacking in political will, they state their intention to vote for Podemos.

The anti-corruption measures proposed so far by the government are uninspiring and lack depth because they do not make the necessary connection between corruption and political regeneration. The opposition Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) goes further than the PP although its proposals are also inadequate and somewhat vague.

It is impossible to fight corruption effectively without reforming the bipartisan model, introducing internal democracy and carrying out a thorough reform of the system of justice to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, as judges and magistrates are demanding.

Political corruption goes hand-in-hand with the exercise of power, whether in Andalusia (PSOE), Catalonia (Convergence and Union), Valencia (PP) or Spain as a whole (PP). Therefore the existence of regulatory institutions, a real separation of powers, and free and independent media are essential for combating it.

Even if it is accepted that ending poverty and unemployment is more important than regeneration, I do not see how the former can be achieved without the latter.

The idea that the economic crisis has generated a political crisis is widespread, but the reverse is equally true, so we are up against the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg.

For a time, the Spanish government has tried to face the economic crisis, leaving aside the political crisis, with dire consequences. Unfortunately the Prime Minister does not take this view and believes instead that the long-heralded economic recovery will be the panacea for all ills. The results are clear for all to see. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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What the U.S. Should Learn from Russia’s Collapsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-the-u-s-should-learn-from-russias-collapse/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 12:35:18 +0000 Miriam Pemberton http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138354 Oil pumps in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin/World Bank

Oil pumps in southern Russia. Photo: Gennadiy Kolodkin/World Bank

By Miriam Pemberton
WASHINGTON, Dec 20 2014 (IPS)

After months of whispered warnings, Russia’s economic troubles made global headlines when its currency collapsed halfway through December. Amid the tumbling price of oil, the ruble has fallen to record lows, bringing the country to its most serious economic crisis since the late 1990s.

Topping most lists of reasons for the collapse is Russia’s failure to diversify its economy. At least some of the flaws in its strategy of putting all those eggs in that one oil-and-gas basket are now in full view.Moscow’s failure to move beyond economic structures dominated by first military production, and now by fossil fuels, can serve as a cautionary tale and call to action.

Once upon a time, Russia did actually try some diversification — back before the oil and gas “solution” came to seem like such a good idea. It was during those tumultuous years when history was pushing the Soviet Union into its grave. Central planners began scrambling to convert portions of the vast state enterprise of military production — the enterprise that had so bankrupted the empire — to produce the consumer goods that Soviet citizens had long gone without.

One day the managers of a Soviet tank plant, for example, received a directive to convert their production lines to produce shoes. The timetable was: do it today. They didn’t succeed.

Economic development experts agree that the time to diversify is not after an economic shock, but before it. Scrambling is no way to manage a transition to new economic activity. Since the bloodless end to the Cold War was foreseen by almost nobody, significant planning for an economic transition in advance wasn’t really in the cards.

But now, in the United States at least, it is. Currently the country is in the first stage of a modest defence downsizing. We’re about a third of the way through the 10-year framework of defence cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Assuming Congress doesn’t scale back this plan or even dismantle it altogether, the resulting downsizing will still be the shallowest in U.S. history. It’s a downsizing of the post-9/11 surge, during which Pentagon spending nearly doubled. So the cuts will still leave a U.S. military budget higher, adjusting for inflation, than it was during nearly every year of the Cold War — back when we had an actual adversary, the aforementioned Soviet Union, that was trying to match us dollar for military dollar.

Now, no such adversary exists. Thinking of China? Not even close: The United States spends about six times as much on its military as Beijing.

Even so, the U.S. defence industry’s modest contraction is being felt in communities across the country. By the end of the 10-year cuts, many more communities will be affected. This is the time for those communities that are dependent on Pentagon contracts to work on strategies to reduce this vulnerability. To get ahead of the curve.

There is actually Pentagon money available for this purpose. Its Office of Economic Adjustment exists to give planning grants and technical assistance to communities recognising the need to diversify.

As we in the United States struggle to understand what’s going on in Russia and how to respond to it, at least one thing is clear: Moscow’s failure to move beyond economic structures dominated by first military production, and now by fossil fuels, can serve as a cautionary tale and call to action.

Diversified economies are stronger. They take time and planning. Wait to diversify until the bottom falls out of your existing economic base, and your chances for a smooth transition decline precipitously. Turning an economy based on making tanks into one that makes shoes can’t be done in a day.

This story originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Uzbekistan Gears Up to Vote for Rubberstamp Parliamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/uzbekistan-gears-up-to-vote-for-rubberstamp-parliament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uzbekistan-gears-up-to-vote-for-rubberstamp-parliament http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/uzbekistan-gears-up-to-vote-for-rubberstamp-parliament/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 15:02:14 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138344 The chairman of a Tashkent polling station opens a curtain to a voting booth during the Uzbek presidential election of December 2007. Uzbekistan’s Dec. 21 parliamentary elections feature only four staunchly pro-regime parties to fill the 150-seat lower house, or the Legislative Chamber. No opposition parties are permitted to legally exist in Uzbekistan, and independent candidates are barred from standing. Credit: OSCE

The chairman of a Tashkent polling station opens a curtain to a voting booth during the Uzbek presidential election of December 2007. Uzbekistan’s Dec. 21 parliamentary elections feature only four staunchly pro-regime parties to fill the 150-seat lower house, or the Legislative Chamber. No opposition parties are permitted to legally exist in Uzbekistan, and independent candidates are barred from standing. Credit: OSCE

By Joanna Lillis
TASHKENT, Dec 19 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Uzbekistan’s parliamentary elections on Dec. 21 will offer voters a choice, but no hope for change.

Only four staunchly pro-regime parties – the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, as well as the National Revival and the Justice parties – can field candidates for the elections to fill the 150-seat lower house, or the Legislative Chamber.“People have gotten used to all these elections as something staged, and they don’t really care what the outcome will be, because most people think it will all be the way the authorities want it to be." -- A Tashkent-based businessman

They will be joined by representatives of the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan, which has a “green” quota of 15 seats reserved under electoral law.

No opposition parties are permitted to legally exist in Uzbekistan, and independent candidates are barred from standing.

“The state of political freedoms [in Uzbekistan] is non-existent,” Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, told EurasiaNet.org. “Genuinely independent voices have not been allowed to register and participate in this election, as in all previous ones.”

HRW and other watchdog groups routinely rank Uzbekistan as among the most repressive states on earth. That reputation is not stopping strongman President Islam Karimov from touting this election as evidence that Uzbekistan – which he has led for over two decades, brooking no opposition to his iron rule – is on the path to democracy.

Uzbekistan is “building an independent democratic state” and “creating a civil society” that prioritises “human interests, rights, and freedoms and the supremacy of the law,” he claimed in his Constitution Day speech earlier in December.

Critics say Karimov is merely attempting to add a democratic veneer to a dictatorial system. Thousands of political prisoners are languishing in jail, the media is muzzled, and most civil society activists are “either in prison or in exile,” said Nadejda Atayeva, a France-based human rights campaigner exiled from Uzbekistan.

“The Uzbek government is doing all it can to portray this election as legitimate, without actually making it legitimate – without making the election free and fair,” Swerdlow says, adding that Tashkent is harnessing the vote “as an act of consolidation and public mobilisation around the regime.”

Observers expect a high turnout. “Uzbekistan has never had free and fair elections, but the government will ensure that the turnout is sufficiently high,” Alexander Melikishvili, a Washington-based analyst at the IHS Country Risk think-tank, told EurasiaNet.org.

“The government will organise voting drives among public sector employees, and local administrations will compel people to vote through the community (mahalla) councils.”

Voters in Uzbekistan readily acknowledge that mahallas – state-sponsored residents’ councils that control local affairs – rely on coercive measures to get out the vote.

“Mahalla committees will be going round the houses asking people to go to vote,” one Tashkent-based businessman told EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity. “That’s exactly what happened last time there were parliamentary elections.”

The public will dutifully turn up at polling booths to avoid reprisals, he added, but will cast their votes without enthusiasm. “People have gotten used to all these elections as something staged, and they don’t really care what the outcome will be, because most people think it will all be the way the authorities want it to be,” he said.

In practical terms, the parliamentary elections mean little for day-to-day affairs in Uzbekistan. As David Dalton, an Uzbekistan analyst at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, points out, “Voting to parliament is heavily controlled, and the real levers of power are anyway located elsewhere.”

International observers will be in Uzbekistan on election day, but the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, or ODIHR, the election-monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will field only a limited mission, partly due to what it describes as “the limited nature of the competition” in the election.

ODIHR has never deemed conditions conducive to sending a full observation mission to Uzbekistan, or judged an election in the Central Asian nation to be free and fair.

Meanwhile, Karimov has been on what Swerdlow describes as a “media blitz” in an attempt to legitimise “an electoral process that’s genuine in form, but not in substance.”

That may be designed to help bolster the legitimacy of another, far more important vote next year: a presidential election due in the spring, in which Karimov has not stated if he will stand, although he has hinted he will.

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specialises in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Russian Arms Producers Move Ahead of Western Rivalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 18:36:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138293 The Tupolev Tu-is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. Credit: Dmitry Terekhov/cc by 2.0

The Tupolev Tu-is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. Credit: Dmitry Terekhov/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

The world’s top 100 arms producing companies racked up 402 billion dollars in weapons sales and military services in 2013, according to the latest figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

But this was a decrease of about 2.0 percent over the previous year, and the third consecutive year of decline in total arms sales by these defence contractors.

Still, Russian companies increased their sales by about 20 percent in 2013 compared with U.S. and Western arms manufacturers.

Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, said “the remarkable increases” in Russian companies arms sales in both 2012 and 2013 are in large part due to uninterrupted investments in military procurement by the Russian government during the 2000s.

“These investments are explicitly intended to modernise national production capabilities and weapons in order to bring them on par with major U.S. and Western European arms producers’ capabilities and technologies,” he added.

But these gains, however, were registered long before the Russian intervention in Ukraine and Crimea last February.

With economic and military sanctions imposed by the United States and Western Europe against Moscow this year, there is a possibility that Russian arms sales, particularly exports, may suffer when new figures are released for 2014.

Asked about a potential decline, Wezeman told IPS “it is almost impossible to make predictions.”

The sanctions will not have a great effect on the short term, but the Russian industry may feel them if the sanctions stay in place for some years, he added.

According to SIPRI figures, Western Europe offered a more mixed picture, with French companies increasing their sales, while sales by British companies remained stable, and sales by Italian and Spanish arms-producing companies continuing to decline.

The share of global arms sales for companies outside North America and Western Europe has been increasing since 2005, says Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

The Russian company with the largest increase in sales in 2103 is Tactical Missiles Corporation, with a growth of 118 per cent, followed by Almaz-Antey (34 per cent) and United Aircraft Corporation (20 per cent), according to SIPRI.

Almaz-Anteys arms sales in 2013 make it the 12th-largest arms producer (excluding China) and bring it closer to the top 10, which has been exclusively populated by arms producers from the United States or Western Europe since the end of the Cold War.

The year 2013 also saw the introduction of a 10th Russian arms company, communication and electronics manufacturer Sozvezdie, to the SIPRI list of top 100.

Wezeman told IPS Russia has for some years realised it is technologically behind in many aspects of weaponry and that it will need foreign input to develop new generations of weapons.

It has been looking for Western companies to partner with in the development of new generations of weapons and key components, he noted. Russia has been negotiating with European companies on cooperation in wheeled armoured vehicles, jet engines and avionics.

“The sanctions have killed those talks and that leaves Russia in the position it was before – not having all the technology and not having the funds or the expertise to develop it all on its own,” Wezeman said.

He said sanctions have also put pressure on production and development of Russian weapons for export.

Some of the most advanced Russian export weapons (e.g. Su-30 combat aircraft) rely on Western components and the sanctions seem to also ban such components – but only if they are part of new agreements, since the European Union sanctions ban sales under agreements reached after the sanctions were agreed.

Wezeman also said Russian officials have complained for years that arms factories are outdated with worn-out production equipment. A major plan has been announced to modernise the factories, but Russia just doesn’t have the technology to do it on its own, he added.

“It needs input from more developed Western countries, but that is largely out of the question, with sanctions and the whole changed Western relations with Russia,” he noted.

Asked if Russian arms sales will be affected by sanctions, Wezeman said in the short term Russia’s exports are unlikely to take a hit.

Probably the first exports that could suffer would be helicopters and trainer aircraft using Ukrainian-produced engines, he predicted.

Ukraine seems to have stopped all arms deliveries to Russia, including components such as engines for Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters and Yak-130 trainer/combat aircraft (officially it has, but it is a bit uncertain if that embargo is 100 percent or if it excludes such components used in weapons that are meant to be exported from Russia), he said.

With India and China defying U.S. and Western sanctions, Russia now finds it even more important to look for partners in large markets in Asia, including joint technology agreements in the development of new weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Europe Has Lost Its Compasshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-europe-has-lost-its-compass/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-europe-has-lost-its-compass http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-europe-has-lost-its-compass/#comments Sat, 13 Dec 2014 09:43:46 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138263

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that, with the fall of the Swedish government orchestrated by the far-right and centre-right opposition, a symbol of civic-mindedness and democracy in Europe has fallen, and the grip of an irrational fear of immigrants tightens as Europe’s politicians seek a scapegoat.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 13 2014 (IPS)

The Swedish Social Democrat government, which took office only two months ago, has just resigned. The far-right anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats sided with the four-party centre-right opposition alliance, and new elections will be held in March next year.

In Europe, Sweden has been the symbol of civic-mindedness and democracy – the place where those escaping dictatorship and hunger could find refuge; the country without corruption, where social justice was a national value.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

However, in just a short period, the Sweden Democrat xenophobic party, which wants to close the country to foreigners and is now the third-largest party in parliament, was able to topple the government on Dec. 3.

Similar parties exist in the other Nordic countries – Finland, Norway and Denmark – where they have been similarly able to take a decisive role in national politics. The myth of northern Europe, the modern and progressive Nordic Europe, has vanished.

A few days later, in Dresden (the Florence of Germany) in Saxony, thousands of demonstrators marched to the cry ”Wir sind das Volk” [“We are the people”] – the same battle cry used in protests against the Communist regime in then East Germany 25 years ago, only this time the protest was against immigrants.

A previously unknown activist, 41-year-old Lutz Bachmann, has set up the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, and in seven weeks has been able to rally thousands of people. The local paper, the Sachsische Zeitung, has reported that Bachman has several criminal convictions for burglary, dealing with cocaine and driving without a licence or while drunk.“The fact that without immigrants Europe would grind to a halt and be unable to compete internationally is not matter for a campaign that appeals to politicians. On the contrary, they are flying the flag of defending Europe from a dangerous influx of immigrants”

Such details were irrelevant to the demonstrators. They “miss their country”, demand “protection of the Homeland” and applaud Bachmann’s call for a “clean and pure Germany”.

In Saxony, foreign immigrants account for only two percent of the population, and only a small fraction of those are Muslim. But the announcement that facilities would be opened for some 2,000 refugees from Syria, was the trigger in this town of 530.000 inhabitants. In the last state legislative elections, a new populist party, the Alternative for Germany, took almost 10 percent of the vote.

A similar irrational fear is gripping many European countries.

Italy, for example, now has two major parties (the Northern League and the Five Star Movement), which together account for around 35 percent of the vote, with xenophobic tones, and another major party, Forza Italia (literally Forward Italy) led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is flirting with an anti-European policy. The three more or less openly advocate withdrawal from the Euro.

At the same time, in 2013, only 514.308 children were born (including those of immigrants), 20.000 less than the year before. Between 2001 and 2011, according to ISTAT, the national statistical institute, the number of families formed by one person increased by 41.3 percent, while those with children fell by five percent. Of those with children, 47.5 percent had one child, 41.9 percent two and only 10.6 percent three or more.

If, as is conventionally held, the demographic replacement rate is 2.1, this means that the Italian population, like everywhere in Europe, is on a steep decline.

Of course, having child today is not an easy choice. To put it simply: in 2009, Italy had a budget of 2.5 billion euro for social interventions and, four years later, only one-third of that; in 2009, Italy’s Family Policies Fund stood at 186.5 million euro and is now less than 21 million. No wonder then that 60 percent of the population lives in fear of becoming poor.

The number of NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) rose from 1.8 million in 2007 to 2.5 million in 2013. And while Italy’s young people are being humiliated, its senior citizens are being mistreated – 41.3 percent of pensions are less than 1,000 euro per month.

By the way, 83,000 Italians expatriated in 2013, and the number of young people with a university degree that went to the United Kingdom, for example, was just over 3,000 – but in the same year, 44,000 foreigners also left Italy and while Italy received nearly 355,000 immigrants in 2011, two years later the number was just 280,000. And yet the campaign of xenophobia in Italy has it that there is a dramatic increase in immigrants.

This social decline is happening at different speeds and in different proportions all over Europe. In Germany, the core country, 25 percent of the population fall into the so-called “Hartz IV” category – under the Hartz Committee reform of the German labour market introduced by then Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder – and have to survive on the bare minimum of benefits.

This social decline is being accompanied by an unprecedented increase in social inequality. Two French economists, François Bourguignon and Christian Morrisson, published a study In 2002 on inequality among world citizens, starting from the 19th century, using the Gini index of inequality (where absolute equality = 0). In 1820, the index stood at 50, had risen to 60 in 1910, 64 in 1950, 66 in 1992 and 70 ten years later.

Today the ratio between a minimum wage and a top salary is very simple – the small guy must work 80 years to earn what the big guy earns in a year!

According to a number of sociologists, ‘catching up’ (or the so-called ‘demonstration effect’), is one underlying reason for corruption. It is no accident that the south of Europe has much more corruption than the north (but the Protestant Ethic must also play a role).

In just a few months, the former prime minister of Portugal, José Socrates, has been jailed, former president Nicolas Sarkozy has returned to politics in France to try to escape several accusations and Spaniards are riveted by the revelation of giant webs of corruption that the government is now trying to stymie by changing the judge in charge of the prosecution.

Meanwhile, Romans have awakened to find out that a criminal organisation has been controlling the town council and the administration, and this coming on the heels of a similar discovery in Milan, where individuals who had been already convicted of corruption got back into business and did more of the same in the public works for next year’s Expo.

It is no wonder that, as in every crisis, in a climate fear and uncertainty, there is a need for a scapegoat. The fact that without immigrants Europe would grind to a halt and be unable to compete internationally is not matter for a campaign that appeals to politicians. On the contrary, they are flying the flag of defending Europe from a dangerous influx of immigrants.

This all shows that Europe has lost its compass – and there is nothing on the horizon indicating that it can be recovered soon.

Who is going to provide an answer to Europe’s anguish when those in power escape from reality and look for scapegoats? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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