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The Week in 1 Minute: Closed democracy opens to the world—world looks on askance - February 3 – 10 on openDemocracy

Sochi is the focus of inevitable attention. Vast billions have been poured into the Black Sea resort, including to supporters of Vladimir Putin, who personally promotes the Winter Olympics there as part of his project for masculinist, nationalist assertion—the embodiment of ‘traditional values’ against the universal norms promoted by that decadent western Europe, where ‘non-traditional’ sexual orientations are equally accepted. If he is cold-shouldered in Brussels and leading writers around the world protest, Putin remains unchallenged domestically. But across other Russian cities unemployment could prove his Achilles Heel in terms of re-election in 2018.

10 February 2014

Europe’s fault-line runs through Ukraine, as the stand-off continues between the authoritarian Viktor Yanukovych and his Europe-aligned opponents. It runs through Turkey too: many claim that Turkey is being “Putinised” and the same regime hostility to NGOs with “foreign” connections has been in evidence in a mass trial of trade unionists there.

Across the Mediterranean the opening that was the Arab Spring is succeeded by a closing down of democracy in Egypt. Journalists are commanded to side with the military-backed government but there is a stirring of editorial autonomy. Meanwhile, democracy in Thailand remains bitterly contested, with the street opposition boycotting elections and taking the view that the ‘right’ people must win.

Western Europe should not however get too smug. Europe remains closed to the destitute of the world. Even though Syria is reduced from corridor diplomacy to talk of humanitarian corridors, refugees can expect a cold reception in Bulgaria, for example. Europe is badly in need of a refoundational identity which can reset its moral compass, a challenge provocatively encapsulated by a Balkan smuggler of ideas.
 
Meanwhile an increasingly xenophobic UK government arrogates to itself the power to render stateless UK citizens it doesn’t like. And although it faces legal action against its deterrent immiseration of asylum-seekers, UK courts—now backed by the European Court of Human Rights—have not even been willing to stand up for expatriate torture victims in the Saudi dictatorship. Public reaction can however at least stop a court action against three Britons who took waste food from a supermarket bin, in a country where food banks proliferate.
 
It surely would have driven Pete Seeger to write a protest song.


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