Belgium cached version 09/02/2019 08:24:59 en The lessons of the World Cup for our victim culture <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If these rebels hadn’t somehow found the courage to strike out in bold, new and, frankly, dangerous directions, we would all be the poorer for it.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kylian Mbappe at the Elysee Presidential Palace, July 16, 2018, Paris. Blondet Eliot/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>That we are living in an age of victim culture is well-exemplified by an article recently published by the CBC suggesting that minorities “feel apprehensive about heading into the wild because they don’t see themselves represented in the outdoor media and industry.” The underlying premise is that a paucity of representations of members of these groups constructs the outdoors as a kind of “unsafe space” of which people from these communities ask, according to the African-American author of a book called The Adventure Gap, James Mills, “‘Do I belong here? And if somebody believes that I don’t belong here, will they do something to harm me?’”</p> <p>Now, evidence provided in the article is scant, relying mainly on anecdotes. I could easily provide many to the contrary. But, surely, even if the evidence did support the claim, the important question is to what extent does the article not simply reproduce a certain Catch-22 rather than pointing beyond it. </p> <p>The paradox is the following: There are no people who look like me engaging in activity X, so I don’t feel comfortable engaging in that activity. Because I don’t feel comfortable engaging in activity X, there will be no people who look like me engaging in that activity. What journalism such as this fails to address is how people from marginalized communities, historically, were able to take chances and strike out in new directions and, occasionally, placed themselves in real danger, but also experienced real satisfactions from breaking through barriers (real or perceived) preventing them from participating in certain activities or fields. Such a possibility seems to be ruled out by this kind of writing.</p> <h2><strong>“Victim culture”</strong></h2> <p>By “victim culture” I mean a constellation of assumptions, values and norms that suggest oppressed groups need to be sheltered in particular ways from prejudice, bias or worse. This has already been an increasingly common refrain in many institutions of higher education, although, happily, it’s one that doesn’t particularly resonate at my own, at least not yet. </p> <p>Such a refrain holds that students require protection from dangerously “triggering” literature or art works, where “safe spaces” need to be constructed exclusively for female or minority students where they won’t have to interact with menacing white men. And where students are increasingly shielded from having to actually make arguments in response to perspectives they may disagree with. Victim culture is a form of infantilization as feminist cultural critic Laura Kipnis has argued.</p> <p>This kind of rhetoric has spilled over into the public sphere. Not too long ago, for example, trans activists demanded that certain books be taken off the shelves of the now-defunct Vancouver Women’s Library because they made the space “unsafe.” A local bookstore that had the temerity to supply the VWL with books was threatened with a city-wide boycott. This was far from the worst of it.</p> <p>As the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre argued, rather than being determined by a pre-given essence, we first exist in the world and then decide what sort of person to become. While there are clearly social and historical limits to such freedom, Sartre was on to something important. We are human to the extent that we take up freedom as kind of a project.&nbsp;<span class="mag-quote-center">We are human to the extent that we take up freedom as kind of a project.&nbsp;</span></p> <h2><strong>The heir of Camus</strong></h2> <p>Before their estrangement, Sartre was close to writer Albert Camus. Camus contended that human existence was “absurd,” that it entailed a Sisyphean search&nbsp;for order in a disordered world. The only defensible response was a perpetual act of rebellion at this condition.&nbsp;Significantly, Camus, one time the goalkeeper for the University of Algiers, famously stated that, “What I know most surely about morality and the duty of man, I owe to football.” As a keeper he was the quintessential outsider.</p> <p>While it’s possible to point to any number of courageous acts of rebellion from Spartacus, to Rosa Parks to “Tank Man” in Tiananmen Square to Pussy Riot, in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup football might just hold some further moral lessons for us today. A French squad boasting some 18 players of African descent beat a feisty Croatia 4-2. One of their goals was scored by teenage sensation of Algerian-Cameroonian descent Kylian Mbappé.</p> <p>Mbappé is the heir of Camus. While Trump hailed the victory shortly after the game’s conclusion, he was oblivious of its irony coming only a couple of days after his statement that “immigration was destroying the fabric of European culture.” The chant resonating on the Avenue Camps-Élysées was equalité, fraternité and Mbappé!</p> <h2><strong>England, remarkable case</strong></h2> <p>France isn’t the only side to prominently feature immigrants in its squad, the same is true of teams like top-ranked Germany and semifinalists Belgium and England. England is an especially remarkable case insofar as, historically, its game has been particularly riven by virulent post-colonial racism and exclusion. It’s easy to think that black players — the so-called Windrush generation arriving in the UK from the Caribbean between 1948-1971 — have always dominated the English Premier League, but this is simply not the case. Only a short four decades ago did players like Laurie Cunningham, Viv Anderson and John Barnes break into the game against massive odds.</p> <p>The brutalities of football and race, I know intimately and first-hand. I first visited London in 1973 to meet my grandfather who had been expelled from Idi Amin’s Uganda and now lay dying. I recall quite vividly watching the FA Cup Final on the telly (Sunderland beat Leeds United 1-0), but also the fearful tones in which my relatives spoke of the very dangers posed to Asians around football stadiums. They lived close to the storied Wembley Stadium, the site of England’s first and only World Cup victory some seven years earlier.</p> <p>Despite my family’s emphatic warning, I fell in love with the beautiful game and would return less than a decade later on trials for Aberdeen and Leicester City Football Club. There certainly was no one who looked like me in British football, but I was oblivious. When I entered the dressing room I felt like a “brother from another planet;” Scotland great Gordon Strachan asked me point blank, “What are you doing here?” On the pitch I was targeted with racial epithets and intimidation and I recall vividly the way a Leicester City coach kept referring to me in training as “Abdullah.” I nearly didn’t survive the journey by night train from Aberdeen with a mob of “Paki-bashing” Arsenal supporters.</p> <h2><strong>Heroes and rebels</strong></h2> <p>Despite the racism of the early 1970s, black players persisted in England as elsewhere and the genuinely anti-racist effects of their heroic strides can hardly be overstated. When the racists of the English Defence League or the French Front National today seek to hold up their national team as the model of ethno-nationalist virtue they come up against what is for them embarrassing multicultural, civic representation of their respective nations.</p> <p>Black players endured brutal fouls from other players on the pitch, as well as verbal and other forms of abuse from the fans in the stands, and made names for themselves playing for the national team and, perhaps more importantly, opening doors for generations of players that followed in their footsteps. What if these players, in keeping with “victim culture,” had said to themselves: “I don’t see anyone out on the pitch like me, it’s not a ‘safe space,’ so I won’t play?” If these rebels hadn’t somehow found the courage to strike out in bold, new and, frankly, dangerous directions, the football world and, more importantly, anti-racist struggles around the globe would be all the poorer for it.</p><p><em>This article was <a href="">originally published </a>in the Vancouver Sun on July 27, 2018.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/samir-gandesha/in-defense-of-free-speech"> In defense of free speech </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/samir-gandesha/is-symbolic-politics-impediment-to-economic-equality">Is symbolic politics an impediment to economic equality?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/samir-gandesha/understanding-right-and-left-populisms">Understanding right and left populisms </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> <div class="field-item even"> England </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Germany </div> <div class="field-item even"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Belgium Germany England France Samir Gandesha Thu, 02 Aug 2018 08:51:49 +0000 Samir Gandesha 119098 at At the roots of the nationalism of the rich <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If we take the cases of Catalonia, Flanders and northern Italy, the formation of the nationalism of the rich generally coincided with periods of prolonged fiscal strain.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Antwerp. Flickr/ Fred Romero. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>In recent years many commentators have pointed out the rise of separatist parties in much of Europe. This is clear in Catalonia where, after having organised an unrecognised independence referendum in October last year, pro-independence forces have again won a majority of seats in the regional Parliament at the December 2017 elections. </p> <p>But this phenomenon is not limited to Catalonia. In Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) has been in power for the last decade and in September 2014 managed to organise an independence referendum. Although the Unionist side won that vote, the possibility of an ‘indyref2’ has been revived by Brexit and, while a wait and see attitude concerning the result of the negotiations with the EU seems so far to prevail, it remains an option on the table. </p> <p>In Belgium, the most voted for party at the last two elections (2010 and 2014) has been the Flemish nationalist <em>Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie </em>(New Flemish Alliance), which officially strives for the independence of Flanders and currently leads the federal coalition in government in Brussels. </p> <p>Finally, last October, two northern Italian regions, Veneto and Lombardy, held constitutional referenda calling for more regional autonomy, especially with regard to fiscal revenues, that obtained massive popular support. </p> <p>For a long time, there has been a certain tendency within and without academia to consider minority nationalism as a backward force thriving in less developed contexts and doomed to disappear in complex, economically advanced and highly educated societies. Yet, the examples just mentioned above contradict this persistent assumption. They not only show that minority nationalism has lingered on and even grown in post-industrial countries, but, when looking at western Europe at large, it has even tended to be stronger in relatively rich regions.</p> <p>When looking at the discourse of nationalist forces in places such as Catalonia, Flanders and northern Italy one finds an important common discursive element, i.e. the idea that the community they claim to represent contributes too much to the system of national solidarity of the parent state. In other words, they lament a condition of ‘excessive solidarity’ imposed by the central state that leaves contributory regions worse off. </p> <p>They therefore call for fiscal autonomy and/or independence as ways to improve the welfare of the local population. I refer to this phenomenon as the ‘nationalism of the rich’, i.e. a type of nationalist discourse that seeks to end the economic 'exploitation' suffered by a group of people represented as a wealthy nation and supposedly carried out by the populations of poorer regions and/or by inefficient state administrations.&nbsp;</p> <p>Such ‘nationalism of the rich’ is a relative novelty in the history of nationalism, tracing back to the period between the late 1970s and late 1980s. When looking at the formation of nations and states in western european authors such as Charles Tilly and Stein Rokkan have pointed out the tendency of core regions capable of combining economic and military power to expand their reach to adjacent areas and form a strong territorial nation-state. Tilly refers to this process as the success of a ‘capitalised coercion’ strategy best embodied by France and England (and the role played respectively by the Ile-de-France and the London area in their formation), but also applicable to a certain extent to Portugal (and the dominance of Lisbon), the Dutch Republic (and the primacy of Holland) and Italy (where Piedmont, the engine of unification, was both economically and militarily dominant). </p> <p>Such a claim is confirmed by a brief look at minority nationalism in the Austro-Hungarian Empire where political and economic power was concentrated in the area around Vienna. Some might argue that Czech nationalism went along with formidable economic development in the region, but before the First World War per capita income in the Austro-German lands was still 25% higher than in the Czech areas. </p> <h2><strong>Exceptions to the rule</strong></h2> <p>Two exceptions to this rule can however be found and they consist of the early nationalist movements in Catalonia and the Basque Country. In the nineteenth century, the industrial take-off of these two areas coupled with the presence of territorial identities that slowly converted into modern national ones ensured that the political power of Castile became increasingly disconnected from economic primacy. </p> <p>Yet, the claims of the then nationalist movements in those two regions did not concern national solidarity and contributions to the common purse – except for episodic protests such as the <em>tancaiment des caixes </em>in Catalonia in 1898-99 – but rather trade tariffs. </p> <p>The difference is key because while contemporary Catalan nationalism portrays the Spanish state as a heavy weight saddling the region’s welfare and productivity, back then mainstream Catalan nationalism called for the protection of that very state against foreign competition. &nbsp;</p> <p>As mentioned above, the propaganda of these parties gives exceptional attention to the quality and sustainability of the welfare state. Such attention is key to understanding the origin of the nationalism of the rich. The welfare state is a relatively recent invention. Although tracing back to innovations introduced already during the interwar years, most modern European welfare states were built in the post-Second World War period, notably in the 25-30 years following the conflict. During this time, automatic systems of redistribution between rich and poor citizens of the same state of unprecedented magnitude were set in place. </p> <p>Where there were major economic imbalances between territorial areas of a given country, such automatic redistribution generated territorial fiscal flows offering the possibility of contestation in the regions where they were collected. However, this potential for contestation was not exploited politically until the late 1970s, because the 30 years between 1945 and 1975, which not accidentally are known as the Glorious Thirties, were years of extraordinary economic growth. </p> <p>After the first oil crisis, however, the engine of European growth slowed down considerably and what Paul Pierson has called the ‘age of permanent austerity’ began. This meant that, while the growth rates realised during the Glorious Thirties afforded a fiscal dividend that allowed states to multiply services without substantially increasing taxation, the lower rates of the following years forced them to substantially augment the fiscal burden weighing on citizens. In such a context, the automatic territorial fiscal flows mentioned above, which until then had remained ‘invisible’ and ‘uncontested’, suddenly became problematic. &nbsp;</p> <p>If we take the cases of Catalonia, Flanders and northern Italy, the formation of the nationalism of the rich generally coincided with periods of prolonged fiscal strain. In Belgium the territorial transfers between Flanders and Wallonia began being contested between the late 1970s and the mid-1980s, at a time when the country was going through what was probably the most severe fiscal crisis in its entire history. </p> <p>In northern Italy and Catalonia, claims about the illegitimacy of territorial fiscal flows began appearing in mainstream politics towards the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, once Spain and Italy had recorded the quickest and second-quickest pace of growth in public spending among advanced economies. </p> <p>In Spain this translated into the highest growth in tax revenues (as a percentage of GDP) among western European countries in the 1980s, while Italy topped the European ranking in the 1990s and, at the same time, recorded the third-highest debt/GDP ratio among advanced economies in the early part of that decade (Belgium was number one in the list).</p> <h2><strong>Not a sufficient explanation </strong></h2> <p>However, in the last quarter of the twentieth century, fiscal strain has been a condition common to several European countries, without for this reason leading to fiscal contestation along sub-state national lines in all of them. For this reason, the economic explanation outlined above is not sufficient and must be accompanied by identity considerations. As shown by several studies on welfare deservingness, sharing a common identity plays a key role in justifying economic solidarity. </p> <p>The welfare state was conceived of as a nation-building tool through a process of internal bonding by means of external bounding. In many European countries, the opening up of social security to foreign residents has led to contestation along the lines of a ‘welfare chauvinism’ nowadays often voiced by populist and radical right parties. </p> <p>For similar reasons, the presence of a cultural/national cleavage within a specific state can undermine the legitimacy of territorial flows between different areas of that state, particularly in net contributor regions. </p> <p>This is what has generally happened in the areas mentioned above. However, given the presence of strong dual identities (equally national and regional) in those territories, nationalist parties there have called for more fiscal autonomy or independence (hence less solidarity with the rest of the parent state), not only on the basis of identity considerations, but also (and rather) on grounds of efficiency, i.e. arguing that the resources transferred from richer to poorer areas have been mismanaged. </p> <h2><strong>Cultural determinism</strong></h2> <p>Some of these parties, notably right-wing ones such as the Flemish <em>Vlaams Belang </em>and <em>Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie</em>, as well as the Northern Italian <em>Lega Nord</em>, have also formulated a cultural-determinist argument about the socio-economic development of different areas of their parent state. </p> <p>In other words, they have claimed that if Wallonia or Southern Italy are poorer than Flanders and northern Italy this is because cultural values of entrepreneurship and work ethic are weaker there, which means that state solidarity is not true solidarity and poorer areas take advantage of territorial transfers. </p> <p>Such a narrative is very effective at rejecting solidarity on the basis of widely held principles of meritocracy and deservingness as it suggests, more or less explicitly, that if poorer regions are poor it is their own fault.</p> <p>Several opinion polls in different European countries show that employment and welfare concerns are usually at the top of citizens’ priorities, while issues relating to state reform are generally ranked farther down. The advantage of the nationalism of the rich is that it portrays more autonomy or independence as a means to increase the resources available to improve welfare and stimulate the economy to the advantage of the regional population. It therefore allows nationalist parties there to expand their appeal beyond hard-core nationalist supporters and to tap into a more moderate and pragmatic electorate. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/j-lia-monta/catalonia-cry-for-understanding-and-recognition">Catalonia: a cry for understanding and recognition</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/alina-mungiu-pippidi/why-catalonia-does-not-deserve-to-be-independent">Why Catalonia does not deserve to be independent</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/emma-avil-s/intercommunication-past-and-future">Intercommunication in Barcelona, past and future</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item even"> Spain </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Italy </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Italy Spain Belgium Emmanuel Dalle Mulle Tue, 13 Mar 2018 13:48:40 +0000 Emmanuel Dalle Mulle 116642 at The lobbies of glyphosate: a danger to the health of Europeans and of their democracy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The court summons these citizens received for a few splashes of paint on the facade of this powerful lobby’s headquarters illustrates the increasing criminalization of protest in Belgium. <em><strong><a href="">Francais</a></strong></em>, <a href=""><em style="color: #333333; font-family: Helvetica, Arial, 'Liberation Sans', FreeSans, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-variant-caps: normal; font-weight: normal; letter-spacing: normal; orphans: auto; text-align: start; text-indent: 0px; text-transform: none; white-space: normal; widows: auto; word-spacing: 0px; -webkit-text-size-adjust: auto; -webkit-text-stroke-width: 0px;"><strong><span style="color: #0061bf; text-decoration: none;">Español</span></strong></em>.</a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href=""><img alt="open Movements" src="//" width="460px" /></a><br /><b>The <i><a href="">openMovements</a></i> series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.</b></p><p><b> </b></p><p><b><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>EZLN - Ensemble Zoologique de Libération de la Nature, November 9, 2017, Brussels. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></b>On November 9, nine citizens were summoned before a Brussels tribunal for a peaceful action to denounce the European lobbies of the agro-chemical sector and their overweening influence in the EU negotiations on the ban on glyphosate, a carcinogenic pesticide notably commercialized by Monsanto.&nbsp;The <a href=";mefibs-form-search-block-sort_by=score&amp;mefibs-form-search-block-sort_order=DESC&amp;;mefibs-form-search-block-mefibs_block_id=search_block">report by the NGO “Corporate Europe Observatory”</a> shows that these lobbies of the agro-chemical sector have been particularly active in the debates during the last 6 months. </p><p>A bunch of Belgian activists decided to face down the powerful lobbies through symbolic non-violent actions. Their affinity group was named the "Zoological Assemblage for the Liberation of Nature", better known by its French acronym "EZLN" in a clear reference to the Mexican Indigenous rebel “Zapatista Army for National Liberation” that has the same acronym in Spanish (“Ejercito Zapatista de Liberación Nacional”). While the context and the causes are much different, the Belgian EZLN activists have been inspired by the Mexican rebels. They borrow the poetic language of their communiqués, as well as their determination in the struggle from below against those in power, building from below “a world in which many worlds fit”. </p> <p>On March 9, 70 activists held a <a href="">hilarious action</a> denouncing the power of these lobbies. They entered the corridors of the European Crop Protection Association’ headquarter in Brussels, disguised as animals with the ecological slogan "We are the nature that defends itself".&nbsp;This 5-minute tour of the building left some straw, stickers and some red water paint on the windows, but nothing was broken. Eight months later, nine of these activists faced trial in the main tribunal of Brussels. </p> <p>The action of March 9 was part of various smaller actions by the EZLN to place the blame squarely on commercial lobbies and transnational corporations for major damage to nature. Similar affinity groups are active in Brussels and across Belgium against advertising billboards and against repressive Belgian policies against refugees and migrants. Overnight between November 6 and 7, they replaced 2100 advertisements in public spaces with posters denouncing an oppressive migration policy and calling on citizens to wake up to these unfair policies. </p> <p>The court summons these citizens received for a few splashes of paint on the facade of this powerful lobby’s headquarters illustrates the increasing criminalization of protest and symbolic direct action in Belgium. Similar trials are under way against "voluntary mowers" of GMO cereal fields and for the hijacking of one advertising screen. </p> <p>Intellectuals and numerous environmental and citizens’ associations have publicly supported the EZLN and legitimized this action by pointing to the consensus among independent scientists on the threat posed by glyphosate to the health of the European citizens. Beyond individual citizens’ health, the health of European democracy is also at stake in a battle against one of its main enemies: the lobbies.</p> <h2>Lobby capital</h2><p> As headquarter of the European Commission, Brussels has become the world capital of lobbies.&nbsp;It houses more lobbies than Washington and its rules are far more permissive than the regulations of lobbies in the US. The anti-lobby NGO “Corporate Europe Observatory” publishes a <a href="">“Lobby Planet”</a> guide of Brussels that is at least as informative as its famous model the “Lonely Planet”. </p> <p>So far, Belgian citizens and policy makers have barely reacted to this situation. The direct action by the Brussels’ EZLN and the subsequent trial have eventually attracted some attention to this issue. They raise major questions for our democracy: In what kind of society or political regime do we live, when whistleblowers on their toes face trial for non-violent action to denounce the power of lobbies? Is it reprehensible to point at the lobbies or is it a citizen's duty to draw the attention of policy makers to the threat they have posed to our democracy?</p><p>The history of social movements teaches us that symbolic and non-violent action has been a particularly effective mode of action to denounce unfair political or social conjunctures.&nbsp;Such "disruptive acts" aim at breaking the political routine, sparking debates, triggering the population to act on a major issue that is little debated in society and asking policy makers to position themselves in front of this problem in order to progressively adjust the&nbsp;balance of views and set up new regulations. </p> <h2>Changing hearts and minds</h2><p> On December 1, 1955 on a bus in Alabama, an Afro-American student refused to cede her seat to a white man, as the law ordered at this time.&nbsp;Her action sparked a huge debate and boosted the civic rights movement that eventually led to the racial segregation laws in the United States.&nbsp;Who would condemn Rosa Parks today?&nbsp;Her action was clearly illegal but her statue now sits at in the heart of the US Capitol in Washington.</p> <p>Pointing at the power of lobbies in the European Union, the EZLN plays a key role in our democracy. They are part of this "alert system equipped with antennae highly sensitive to the problems of society" that Jürgen Habermas placed at the heart of the democratic public space. John Keane explains that the monitoring of policy makers is even more central to contemporary democratic regime than fair elections.</p> <p>Such symbolic actions are efficient when they are combined with solid reports and analyses by civil society experts, researchers and journalists. The EZLN aims at broadly disseminating a range of reports available on lobbying and lobbies at the heart of the EU. In the last couple of years, dozens of articles, books and reports have unveiled scandals connected to the influence of lobbies on a wide range of issues. Together, they show that, rather than marginal dysfunctions, lobbies are often at the core of political systems, both at the EU and at the national levels. In their bestseller “<a href="">Lobbykratie</a>”, journalists Uwe Ritzer and Markus Balser show how German policies are built under constant monitoring and pressure by the industrial sector. They notably document that, on various occasions, the proximity between industrial lobbies and political power has led to some noticeably sudden adjustments by Angela Merkel during negotiations at the European Council.</p> <p>Has the European Union become a "lobbycracy"?<i> </i>The threat of lobbies against democracy is certainly exacerbated by the rising concentration of wealth in the hands of a few in a world where the turnover of some transnational companies is higher than the GDP of entire countries. The power of lobbies is not inevitable. Policymakers have the ability to regain the power they left to the lobbyists. However, they won’t impose new regulations on lobbies without citizens’ mobilization and an awareness of the issue among public opinion. The hilarious actions by the EZLN (in its Brussels version), invite all of us not to remain passive in one of the most fundamental battles to defend democracy in the 21st century.</p><p><b><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Animal parade. EZLN. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></b></p><p><b> </b></p><div style="background-color: #f9f3ff; width: 100%; float: right; border-top: solid 3px #DAC2EA;" class="partnership-in-article-banner-infobox"><b> <div style="margin-bottom: 8px; padding: 14px;" class="partnership-in-article-banner-infobox-inner"><span style="font-size: 1.2em; margin-bottom: 8px;"><b>How to cite:</b></span><br />Pleyers G.(2017) The lobbies of glyphosate: a danger to the health of Europeans and of their democracy, Open Democracy / ISA RC-47: Open Movements, 18 November.</div><a href=""><img style="width: 460px;" src="//" /></a> </b></div><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>WeMove.EU is giving evidence against glyphosate at the European Parliament as a result of 1.3 million Europeans signing the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) against glyphosate in under six months. <a href="">Live hearing at 3pm CET </a>on Monday, November 20, 2017.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href=""><img src="//" /></a></p><p>More from the <a href="">openMovements</a> partnership.</p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Science </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Belgium Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Economics International politics Science openmovements Geoffrey Pleyers Sat, 18 Nov 2017 17:23:07 +0000 Geoffrey Pleyers 114745 at Brussels works: disorder as a political instrument? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Brussels is shaken by a major corruption scandal, manifesting a perverse entanglement of politics, power and self-enrichment. Here, the concept of ‘disorder as a political instrument’ is highly applicable. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Resigning Mayor of Brussels, Yvan Mayeur, hosting Sadiq Khan at City Hall in the Grand-Place in Brussels in March, 2017. Stefan Rousseau/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In recent weeks, Brussels – and Belgian – politics have been shaken by a <a href="">corruption scandal</a>. In early June, it emerged that the Brussels mayor, Yvan Mayeur, had set up a financial reward system for himself and a close political ally to run for years, through which each of them collected around <a href="">112,000 euro</a>s for meetings that never took&nbsp; place. The most striking part was that this reward structure was set up within ‘ <a href="">Samu social</a>’, an agency that takes care of the homeless. In other words: this financial reward system was based on funds destined for the homeless. This was not the first time an event of this kind has occurred: the French-speaking socialist party (PS), all-powerful for decades in French-speaking Belgium and Brussels, allowed a series of such structures to be set up, resulting in a similar range of scandals. </p> <p>Belgium has always had a complicated political structure – six parliaments and governments – in order to balance the power of the various regional and linguistic communities (Dutch- and French-speaking, and a small German-speaking community). Brussels is at the heart of these complexities: it is the only place in Belgium where French- and Dutch-speaking communities live together, governed by a maze of various political institutions. It is ruled by a parliament and government, 19 autonomous borough assemblies, six different police zones and 33 public housing companies. Quite a number of these institutions – such as the 19 borough assemblies within the Brussels capital – are primarily the result of a struggle for power and influence between political actors. Together, the Brussels region has 166 ministers, mayors and city councillors, which is more than Berlin (71) and Paris (42) combined.</p> <p>The underlying raison d’être for this situation is the Belgium ‘pacification’ model, which thrives on consensus between the various cultural and political communities in Belgium. So, why were the above corruption scandals able to happen in this model?</p> <p>Interestingly enough, in explaining the underlying dynamics, it is particularly useful to look at a range of conceptual tools introduced into Africanist literature in the late nineties. More particularly<em>, </em>Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz’s book ‘<a href=";redir_esc=y">Africa works’</a>, in which they describe ‘disorder as a political instrument‘. The book, which caused a major stir in African studies, explained how disorder is not to the disadvantage of African political leaders, but actually provides them with a whole range of benefits: it allows them to further entrench their political support networks through the accumulation and redistribution of resources. In this way, disorder ‘works’ for African leaders: these ‘big men’ are able to bind their constituency on the basis of how they redistribute resources to them – a phenomenon which Jean-Francois Bayart in the same period characterised as the ‘politics of the belly’.&nbsp; </p> <p>The book was part of a rather heated debate in academia, the main criticism being the essentialising nature of the book, and its lack of empirically grounded, nuanced understanding. Interestingly enough, greater empirical understanding of these dynamics is not only to be found in sub-Saharan African politics, but also in Brussels: these insights provide an excellent framework for understanding politics in Belgium’s capital. </p> <p>Crucial in this is Brussels’ sheer complexity of institutions and resources, not only for politicians, but also for everyday life. As an example, while many homeless persons sleep near the Brussels north station, it depends on which bench they sleep to determine the borough and service that should help them. (The photo blog ‘<a href="">Belgian solutions’</a> perfectly demonstrates the absurdity of what results.)</p> <p>This complexity and fragmentation creates an almost textbook case study of Chabal and Daloz’ politics of disorder. To rule public services in Brussels, a whole range of agencies, non-profits and positions have been created. This structure is very clear for insiders – the political parties in power – as it allows a whole range of positions to be distributed: around<a href=""> 200 agencies with around 1,400 positions</a>, which for outsiders are extremely opaque and difficult to control. </p> <p>This offers a range of political and financial opportunities: it is both an excellent patronage opportunity (i.e. it allows the distribution of jobs for political allies), and a source of self-enrichment. For example, it emerged that the chairperson of the Samusocial (the organisation which supports homeless persons) was allowed a yearly salary of <a href="">204,000 euro</a>s, a salary almost as high as the Belgian prime minister. Moreover, <a href="">family members of top officials</a> were given jobs in this organisation. </p><p>After the eruption of the scandal, a <a href="">range of other</a> non-profits entered the limelight, with similar dynamics at stake. In other words, this politics of disorder has a clear neopatrimonial system at its heart: power gives access to a range of resources, allowing for a variety of patronage networks to function. As another illustration, mayors’ of the borough assemblies are nicknamed ‘barons’ – the Brussels translation of ‘big men’ – for the way they conduct politics: autonomously on their fiefdom, and to a large extent unresponsively to demands for reform. Again, the patronage system allows them to do so: numerous people profit from this wider patronage system, as they are dependent on these ‘big men’ for a variety of issues, such as access to social housing, or jobs.</p> <p>This fragmentation and complexity means that all political actors are focusing exclusively on their own territory, which is often very small – such as in the case of the barons’ / big men’s 19 borough assemblies. In doing so, more global and widespread problems such as mobility, social housing and security are much more difficult to tackle. This became particularly clear after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, when the Brussels’ police was internationally criticised for their failure to notice the preparation of these attacks. </p><p>The division of Brussels into 6 police zones was seen as a <a href="">major reason for this malfunctioning</a>&nbsp; (something which had been raised before i<a href="">nternally</a> ). While the Flemish political parties in the Brussels parliament unanimously proposed unifying the police force (similar to e.g. London), the French-speaking parties unanimously rejected the proposal. The fraction leader of the French-speaking Christian democrats called the proposal an <a href=";">instrumentalisation of the victims of the Paris attacks for communitarian politics</a>. In other words, communitarian identity politics plays an important role in Brussels politics. This phenomenon, referred to in Africa as the ‘retraditionalisation’ of politics (i.e. the re-emergence of ethnic identities in politics), makes any reform very difficult in Brussels. </p> <p>The final remaining question is: what happens with this system, once a ‘big man’ is forced out? As indicated above, the mayor of the city of Brussels had to resign after this scandal. In their ‘politics of disorder’, Chabal and Daloz argue that regime change does not mean a change of system: the new ‘big man’ simply continues to use his power to accumulate wealth and to deliver to his constituents. Also in Brussels, the system seems not to have changed: Brussels’ newly elected mayor – Philip Close – is known as the ‘cumul’ champion in Brussels, i.e. the politician combing the most seats possible in a wide range of public, private and para-public institutions.</p><p>His other nickname ‘Mr Showbizz’, illustrates how he <a href="">uses public means to compete in the private market</a> of organising concerts and other cultural events. A judicial body recently judged this as a <a href="">conflict of interest</a>. Although he announced to let go of some of these positions, it <a href="">turned out he did not declare all of these posts.</a> &nbsp;</p><p>Moreover, instead of offering clear apologies to the population for the former mayor’s corruption scandal, much effort was put in honouring his work.&nbsp; At the same time, the new mayor announced to <a href="">cut 40% of the existing positions and 20% of the various institution</a>s, all of which were sources of patronage. Would it be possible to change both the Big Man, and the system on which it functions?</p><p>-</p><p><em><em><a href="">Originally published</a> as</em> “Want to understand Belgium’s complicated politics and scandals? Let’s look at Africa." <em>The Monkey Cage, 10 July 2017</em></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/paul-magnette/huge-victory-for-belgiums-ceta-opponents-paul-magnettes-speech">A huge victory for Belgium&#039;s CETA opponents: Paul Magnette&#039;s speech</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/anya-topolski/from-sorrow-to-shame-of-belgium">From the sorrow to the shame of Belgium</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? EU Belgium Democracy and government Economics International politics Kristof Titeca Mon, 10 Jul 2017 14:40:09 +0000 Kristof Titeca 111988 at A huge victory for Belgium's CETA opponents: Paul Magnette's speech <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">A patched deal allows CETA to pass to the next stage. But Belgium gained important concessions. We translate the historic parliamentary speech by the Minister-president of Wallonia in Namur on October 14, 2016.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><iframe src="" frameborder="0" height="315" width="460"></iframe></p><p><i>As the world gets used to the idea of&nbsp;a Trump presidency in the US and all the implications for minorities, women, values, fact-based policy and the basic tenets of an open and just society, Wallonia’s rearguard action on the EU’s trade deal with Canada may feel like old news. But the temporary blocking of the EU’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada now becomes more, not less significant. It is a transatlantic confirmation that open trade, shared values and similar social and environmental standards can be maintained despite elements of rejectionism on both sides. President Elect Trump and former UKIP leader Farage would claim that the new fault line is between citizens and the establishment. But this is not the full picture. </i></p><p><i> </i></p><p><i>As the case of Wallonia illustrates, it is now the very idea of ‘openness’ that is a critical battleground. For the adoption and signing of CETA on 30 October the 28 member states in the Council needed to all give their signatures. Belgium could only do so with the approval from their regional and community entities. The Flemish agreed. Wallonia, followed by two others, rejected the deal (<a href="">again</a>). Yes, CETA promises to connect roughly 535 million citizens, and has been held up by 4.5 million Francophone Belgians. But that dissenting minority is roughly the size of the population of the Republic of Ireland and more populous than eight EU member states. Across France, Germany, and elsewhere, a much higher number of citizens protested against the deal. </i></p><p><i> </i></p><p><i>Paul Magnette, the Minister-President of Wallonia, was not using populist rhetoric or fact-free propaganda to whip up support from a disgruntled majority through a referendum. He was expressing a democratic mandate and constitutional duty to represent his constituents. Read his speech below. Some analysts are right that the core problem here sounds like the populist war cry of ‘take back control’. But they are wrong to suggest this is not based on real and relevant issues.</i> <a href="">Read more here.</a></p><p class="normal">" Thank-you Mr President. My dear colleagues, this is an extremely important moment for our parliament and for Wallonia. Here, the debate is not simply over a trade agreement between the European Union and Canada. Here, the debate is about the entire philosophy of commercial exchanges and the manner in which they will be constructed over the next ten, fifteen, twenty, or even thirty years. </p> <p class="normal">It just so happens that it is <a href="">the CETA agreement</a> which has brought this to light, but the discussion we’re having – beyond our friendship with Canada – is a discussion of principle at its heart, a deeply political discussion, and in some ways even a philosophical discussion about what trade actually is and how it should be managed. It is because of this, that this debate bears such great significance. </p> <p class="normal">I will begin as Mr Geulette did, by paying homage from the bottom of my heart, to the quality of the debates we have held in this parliament on this subject. There are only a few other parliaments which lead such rich debates as ours has been. Yesterday, I spoke with the Irish minister for international trade who told me that her parliament is facing many of the difficulties that we are facing, and that the Irish parliament is also having a strong debate on the subject. There has also been a very detailed debate in the lower chamber of the Austrian parliament - I have spoken many times with the Austrian chancellor and he has told me the same thing: the more we debate, the more we analyse, the more effectively parliaments can ask questions of themselves. <span class="mag-quote-center">‘The more we debate, the more we analyse, the more effectively parliaments can ask questions of themselves.’ </span></p> <p class="normal">And if there is a debate here in Wallonia... If there is reluctance here in Wallonia, it is not because we are more narrow-minded than the rest. It is not because we find pleasure in being a tiny Gallic village, and it is not because we dream of autarky. It is simply because there are two particularities to this region which are not often found elsewhere in Europe. </p> <p class="normal">The first particularity is that Wallonia has always been a land of strong democracy. We have union organisations, we have mutual associations, and we have extremely active, dynamic, vigilant and mobilised associations across all the sectors. </p> <p class="normal">These organisations have studied this text with much rigour: they have consulted the best experts and have taken many opinions into account, and have in fact nourished our own work. We cannot ignore such democratic vitality within our own population <i>– </i>we simply cannot ignore this<i>&nbsp; </i>– under the pretext of the risk of being isolated. We cannot isolate ourselves from our own population, from our own citizens, during this period at the beginning of the 21st century when democracy is already in deep crisis. To ignore our population would be worse than being diplomatically isolated; we must preserve this link at all costs. This is in fact the most important element of the debate. (clapping)</p> <p class="normal">Secondly <b><i>– </i></b>as Koen Laenarts, professor of European law<b><i> </i></b>and the President of the European Court of Justice reminded us<b><i> </i></b>– we are one of the very few regions in Europe that has in its constitution the same privilege in terms of international rights as the national parliament. We have the entitlement – or rather the power – to sign (and therefore also not to sign) a treaty: we have the power to ratify (and therefore also not to ratify) a treaty. </p> <p class="normal">Clearly, this gives our debate a huge significance. We would not have this panel of cameras who have come from all the four corners of Europe to be with us today if we didn't have this privilege. No one would care about Wallonia if the life of Wallonia was not decisive. And so, from this point of view, we have a major political responsibility - and the art of politics is to know how to use this responsibility. </p> <p>For us to conclude <b><i>–</i></b><i> </i>as<i> </i><a href="">Mme Defrang-Firket</a> does – that yes, we have a formidable power, we have a civil society which is mobilised which is great thing, but what is it for? What is the use?… For us to blindly sign and ratify would be to ignore all the work we have done. It would call into question our own constitutional competence, and it would call into question our own democratic vitality. What is the use of a parliament if it must sign and ratify regardless? <span class="mag-quote-center">What is the use of a parliament if it must sign and ratify regardless?</span></p> <p class="normal">Conversely, to say that all this is nonsense and that there is no point in discussing it, would not only be to confirm our total isolation, but would also represent a refusal to use the power we have in its full capacity. Of course we should use this power in its capacity. We must use it to obtain something, not just to shout, no. Not just to say: we don't agree, we don't agree, we don't agree, we don't agree - In saying that we don’t agree we must also say what we want, and we must use the relations of forces which we have built in order to obtain concessions in line with our aspirations and in line with the aspirations of our population. This is politics. This is what we are doing, right now, and it is difficult! But despite everything we must follow through with this exercise.</p><h2><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="// Shot 2016-11-29 at 17.15.50.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// Shot 2016-11-29 at 17.15.50.png" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><b>Ridding ourselves of caricature</b></h2> <p class="normal">Of course, we are not against trade, of course we are not against Canada. If we could rid ourselves of these caricatures and if we could avoid these simplifications, we would not only gain a lot of time, but we would also make a lot of progress in the quality of relations with our European partners and with our Canadian partners. Of course the Canadians are our friends. Of course we regret that this legal discussion – this discussion of principles – comes as a result of a treaty with Canada (which is certainly one of the countries closest to us in the world), and as a result of a treaty which is certainly, effectively, one of the most advanced in the world of today. But it is not because our friends are our friends – and it is not because this treaty is less bad than others – that we should renounce our democratic responsibilities and obligations. </p> <p class="normal">We are an important trade partner of Canada – last year we saw excellent trade with Canada which exceeded €115m, even without the CETA agreement. This is the proof that we trade very well with Canada and that we are not in the business of closing ourselves off, as some people might see it.</p> <p class="normal">I just came back from Japan where, in effect, I spent three days defending our businesses there, trying to help them to export more and trying to attract foreign investors to our country. And I do not have two lines of argument. I am convinced that Wallonia should be an open Wallonia and I am convinced that Wallonia should export and should attract foreign investment. In order to do this I know that we need a legal framework, but once again, this does not mean that we should accept everything or that we must therefore deny ourselves the power that we have in order to have a real critical examination. This would not be taking everything into consideration. <span class="mag-quote-center">I am convinced that Wallonia should be an open Wallonia and …that Wallonia should export and should attract foreign investment.</span></p> <p class="normal">We are not against trade and we are not against Canada. And I would also say that it is great, Madame Defrang-Firket, that because the Canadians are our friends, we can allow ourselves to tell them that we disagree with a number of things. </p> <p class="normal">I do not like the fact that the conversation is suddenly sliding towards the kinds of threats that we have seen over the last few days... Be careful, there will be consequences… Be careful, there will be retaliations… etc. I do not like this at all. I find that it is undignified, and undemocratic. Furthermore, I do not like the fact that the conversation is slowly descending to insults. I hope, precisely because we are friends, that between ourselves we can avoid the borderline insulting threats and remarks, and that we can speak to each other frankly, in complete sincerity and reciprocal understanding. When we have a friend who is in difficulty, we listen to them, we try to understand their difficulties, and we try to find a way of overcoming these difficulties together. This works in bilateral diplomacy just as well as in daily life, and this is the message that we would like to spread. <span class="mag-quote-center">When we have a friend who is in difficulty, we listen to them, we try to understand their difficulties.</span></p> <h2 class="normal"><b>The nature of the agreement</b></h2> <p class="normal">Our difficulties are well known: our difficulties are primarily with the form of the agreement. There is a real problem with the manner in which we are negotiating this trade treaty. There is a real problem. And the people who still do not understand this fact are re-creating the bilateral trade crisis which concluded 15 years ago. </p> <p class="normal">In 2001, remember, the <a href="">WTO</a> (OMC) told us that they were opening the debt cycles, to a new great cycle of multilateral, terrific and open liberalisation. They told us that they were running open and honest negotiations. But in effect they prepared a small room in the corner where the NGO’s could pretend to be informed, and from time to time they would go and check up on them, offer them some water or coffee, but would never give them any solid information, and of course no debate. <span class="mag-quote-center">This is unacceptable. And this will never become acceptable.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="// Shot 2016-11-29 at 17.14.24.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// Shot 2016-11-29 at 17.14.24.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>This is unacceptable. And this will never become acceptable.<b><i> </i></b>This is why after 15 years, we are having bilateral discussions today – precisely because the multilateral process is no longer working and because Europe is trying to re-establish its relations with its closest partners (Canada, Japan, tomorrow the US) and to do this on different foundations (by including social and environmental norms and rules in these relations, rules that respect the rights of man and cultural exemptions), foundations which are much stronger and more solid than those found in the treaties of multilateral liberalisation. </p> <p class="normal">And it is because of this, that we must (if we are indeed progressive, and if we are open to the world, and if we want Europe to continue to play a role on the world scene) defend the idea of bilateral treaties which fix raised norms and standards.</p> <p class="normal">I am not saying, Mr Geulette<b><i>, </i></b>that we should throw the treaty in the bin… Throw the treaty in the bin and then what? Nothing! And then, we would still have exactly what we have today, which is multinationals, with sales revenues sometimes larger than some of the member-states, who think that they can fix the law, multinationals who resort to private jurisdiction, or to threats. The threat of the withdrawal of investment, the threat of withdrawal, the threat of retaliation – this is the real world of today. </p> <p class="normal">And it is precisely this that we want to avoid, and to escape, by enacting socio-economic and environmental rules on a global level regarding the relations between states, which preserve those agreements we have been able to build amongst our states, decade after decade, and only after lengthy social struggles. Social rights did not just simply appear at once and environmental norms did not simply appear out of thin air: they are the result of social mobilisation over a long period of time which was translated into legislation at specific, culminating moments. <span class="mag-quote-center">Social rights did not just simply appear at once and environmental norms did not simply appear out of thin air.</span></p> <p class="normal">And of course it is exactly the same on the international level. If tomorrow we want there to be real social norms; if we want the conventions of the <a href="">International Labour Organisation</a> (OIT) to be applicable, respected, and restrictive; if we want there to be solid rules regarding human rights and sustainable development, work is necessary to obtain a treaty which fixes the standards high enough that they become the European norm. This is the key issue of the CETA agreement – the fundamental issue at stake – and it is because of this that we must say no, in order that we may negotiate further. Not no in order to scupper everything – to kick the anthill – but no in order to create a relation of forces which allows us to obtain more social standards, more environmental standards, more clauses concerning the respect of public services, forces which will allow us to say, tomorrow, that this is the European standard! </p> <p class="normal">And when the EU opens negotiations with Japan, with the US, or with whoever else, discussions will be based on these standards. This is the fundamental issue and this is why the debates today are so strong. (clapping)... </p> <h2 class="normal"><b>Ancient tools</b></h2> <p class="normal">But clearly, such a negotiation cannot be upheld using the usual methods. We cannot do something new with ancient tools. As Albert Einstein said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”. So it is the manner in which we carry out trade negotiations which must change. <span class="mag-quote-center">So it is the manner in which we carry out trade negotiations which must change.</span></p> <p class="normal"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="// Shot 2016-11-29 at 17.12.02.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// Shot 2016-11-29 at 17.12.02.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>In Emmanual Kant’s <i>Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch</i>, he said, I quote: “All actions that affect the rights of others are unjust if their maxim is not consistent with publicness.” This has become a fundamental principle of international law. In other words, what we don't need to hide, we shouldn't hide. If we have nothing to hide in these trade agreements – if the CETA is actually good for small and medium-sized businesses, if it is good for farmers, if it is good for public services, and if it is good for growth – then why must it be negotiated in secret, why is it not strong enough to be discussed before the citizens? </p> <p class="normal">There is a fundamental contradiction in the method here. It has been applied since the beginning. And it is not, Madame Defrang, that we have been asleep for 10 years : a mandate was given in 2009, a mandate of about 20 pages which fixes the benchmarks and the framework. Between 2009 and 2015, the commission was negotiating<b><i> </i></b>in the name of the EU – which is its duty – but gave virtually no information on the progress of these negotiations. And then we get to 2015 saying : ‘Hello, there you go, it’s finished. And the 20 pages have become 1600 pages. And now we are asking you to say Amen’.</p> <p class="normal">But no, it is precisely this which is unacceptable, and it is precisely because we can no longer accept this way of carrying out trade negotiations that – as from Sept 2015 – from when the texts were made available to us, we sounded the alarm. I will not read you the interminable list that we have had for over a year now, but I remember that it was on September 18, 2015 that I indicated to the Quebecian minister of international relations that these were the difficulties we were having with the CETA. I remember also that it was a few days later, October 2, 2015 (over a year ago) that I returned to the office of<b><i> </i></b>Mme Malmström – the European Commissioner for Trade – in order to explain very clearly that these were the difficulties we had with this treaty. For the whole year we have not stopped contacting our European partners – the Commission, Canada – but this has led to almost nothing.</p> <p class="normal">The first Belgian<b><i> </i></b>coordination meeting took place on July 6, 2016. Between October and July – 10 months – nothing happened. And then all of a sudden in July 2016, they started to say: these Wallonians seem determined, these Wallonians seem to know what they want, and they seem to be in it until the end, so we’re going to have to start talking with them.</p> <p class="normal">A few days later, I called the Prime Minister of Quebec, Mr Couillard, saying to him: I understand that it is difficult to renegotiate everything, but you must understand that we have some fundamental benchmarks in a resolution and we would like to be able to talk on the basis of these hallmarks within a legal framework yet to be defined. It could be a protocol, it could be an additional convention, it could be an interpretative declaration – but it must be legally binding. <span class="mag-quote-center">At this moment, he told me ‘why not, it could be a good idea?’</span></p> <p class="normal">At this moment, he told me ‘why not, it could be a good idea?’. But nothing followed. and we had to wait. At the end of September I repeated all this to the special envoy of Mr Trudeau – Mr Pettigrew – and to the ambassadors, but had to wait until October 4 for them to give me an oral account of the first elements of what was to be the contents page of an eventual interpretative declaration.&nbsp; October 4. They told me: yes we are already late, but please try to agree for October 11, October 18 at the very latest, which is the date of the Coreper meeting (between the Commission and Wallonia).</p> <p class="normal">And what has been given to us? What has been presented to us, only in speech? Tiny additions! Additions which came on October 6 and 7 in an unfinished version, and which we are still receiving bit by bit every day. Every day I receive a tiny bit more of the interpretative declaration and every day they say: ‘oh is this not enough? Here, have another little piece, you would do well to settle for that’. </p> <p class="normal">But this method is not okay. I will repeat it, I will say it again, I told Mr Hollande the same yesterday evening, I told Jean-Claude Junker the same yesterday evening. I have said the same thing to everyone who has had the kindness and the courtesy to call me to ask about the situation in Wallonia: we really want to discuss, but we want to talk over a table, with transparency and with respect for democratic rules. </p> <p class="normal">We want to be able to say that we Wallonians have these markers that we must absolutely find in a treaty, and it is only with such a negotiation (and it is only if our European and Canadian partners can recognise the depth of our concerns) that we will be able to say that yes, this is a treaty that is going to fix high standards. This is a treaty worth defending. But as it is, I have still had no response. </p> <p class="normal">This morning, once again, I rang the federal minister for foreign affairs, Didier Reynders, to explain this situation to him. I felt that he was interested, and I hope therefore that we will be able to advance in this direction, and this is my fundamental desire. But for that to take place a real desire to change the method is needed, even if this is at the end of the road. Better late than never. </p> <p class="normal">We regions with difficulties are less isolated than we think. Of course no one will speak first. It is always the same game. We always say to ourselves that whoever speaks first will be blamed and criticised, they will suffer the retaliations, they will be put under pressure. And many are waiting, saying: ‘Look, the Walloons are going to speak first, which means we will not do the same because the whole process will be paralysed’ – these are petty games and it's always the same. I can tell you about a great number of bilateral conversations that I’ve had where the reluctance of at least four or five member states and of the European Commission has been very, very clear. Reticence with regard to this treaty in its current state is not confined to internal Belgian politicking or to the Walloons. </p> <p class="normal">And if the situation is such, then we should be sitting around a table, with clarity, with transparency, to discuss and to see whether our legitimate demands can be met…. </p> <p class="normal">In saying that we have difficulties with the Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism (ISDS) – it's possible that it is still in there – we are not the only ones. Read last night’s judgement of the German constitution. It says: yes Germany could sign, but not this arbitration mechanism, and whatever happens it cannot do it with any enthusiasm, not even provisionally. The body of the German constitution carries a lot of weight in Europe, and so it is suggesting that it is not only the Walloons who have a problem with this mechanism. It is citing exactly the same reservations, about the risk of rampant privatisation, and about justice, as the criticisms which we are putting forward and that many of you have put forward in your motions. </p> <h2 class="normal"><b>Seeking the right words</b></h2> <p class="normal">When we say that the interpretative declaration is full of good intentions, it is true – the political message expressed in it on human rights, on cultural exception, on environmental protection, on the ILO conventions, on workers rights, on the capacity to regulate, on the principle of precaution, (and more, but I’ll stop because there are new pages every day), all these elements are elements which are heading in the right direction, which are realising what our aspirations were. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="// Shot 2016-11-29 at 17.13.27.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// Shot 2016-11-29 at 17.13.27.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>But as it stands today, this interpretative declaration is not enough: it does not give us enough guarantees. The problem is not… whether we need a different interpretative declaration or juridical instrument. The question is over how we should word the observations which will have the same force as our treaty obligations. And this is also what I said to everyone who phoned me: if you accept that we are reopening the discussion, that we are asking that in its wording we reformulate a certain number of remarks which are in the interpretative declaration, and that we are suggesting a few new formulations – I am convinced that many other European states would support us because they are also interested in having more precise clauses in there in terms of the protection of public services, and the protection, for example, of workers’ rights too. This is the message that we must push through. </p><p class="normal">Politically, therefore, it is no easy feat. Clearly it is not easy. Whatever we do we will be taking a risk – the risk either of isolating ourselves from the population, because they might well say: don't take us for more important than we are, accept the treaty whatever it might be, it's not so bad, forget about the little imperfections. I believe that would do nothing but reinforce an already very deep posture of defiance within the political class, and that it would do nothing but reinforce their even more deep defiance in regard to international negotiations and trade negotiations. <span class="mag-quote-center">Forget about tomorrow. This, to me, does not seem to be a position of political responsibility.</span></p> <p class="normal">Conversely, we could say to ourselves: say no, period, that's it. And then we could let off some fireworks and rejoice at having sunk the ship. But what about tomorrow? Forget about tomorrow. This, to me, does not seem to be a position of political responsibility.</p> <p class="normal">Alternatively, we could say no, but explain why we are saying no, and explain the conditions on which we would accept the reopening of negotiations. This has always been the proposition, and this remains the proposition. And so, what I would say to all those questioning our position is what I have said before and what I have confirmed for the federal minister of foreign affairs just now:</p> <p class="normal">Today, the parliament of Wallonia re-examined the interpretative declaration. New documents arrived today, will arrive tomorrow no doubt, and maybe even on Monday. And we will continue to examine them. Because it is this seriousness, this rigour in analysis which gives credibility to our approach. </p> <p class="normal">But today, our analysis leads us to believe that this does not give us a sufficient guarantee. So as I promised formally before you, I will not give the plans the go ahead to the federal government and Belgium will not sign the CETA agreement on October 18.</p> <p class="normal">I do not see this as a burial. I do not see this as a veto without qualification. I see this as a demand to reopen negotiations in order that the legitimate desires of an organised and transparent civil society – one that has expressed itself with considerable force – may be heard by the leaders of Europe. </p> <p class="normal">And then we might be able to contribute, together, not only to the prosperity of the other, but also to the reconstruction of political confidence between citizens and their elected representatives. Thank you for your attention."</p><p class="normal"><i>Thanks go to Asher Korner for the translation from the French.</i></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/neil-campbell/wallonia-ceta-and-meaning-of-openness">Wallonia, CETA and the meaning of &#039;openness&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rachel-tansey/not-going-gentle-into-night-on-climate-trade-brexit-and-trump">Not going gentle into the night: on climate, trade, Brexit and Trump</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Belgium Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality Ideas International politics Paul Magnette Tue, 29 Nov 2016 17:04:30 +0000 Paul Magnette 107159 at Wallonia, CETA and the meaning of 'openness' <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>For those who believe that open societies are worth protecting and promoting in Europe and beyond, there is a lesson and a warning from the Walloons.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protesters against CETA. Gregorio Borgia/PAimages. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>As the world gets used to the idea of&nbsp;a Trump presidency in the US and all the implications for minorities, women, values, fact-based policy and the basic tenets of an open and just society, Wallonia’s rearguard action on the EU’s trade deal with Canada feels like old news. The CETA agreement could be seen as the last gasp of liberal internationalism or a superficial act of trade diplomacy between partners who have yet to wake up to the reality of ‘reasoned protectionism’.</p> <p>Rather, CETA now becomes more, not less significant. It is a transatlantic confirmation that open trade, shared values and similar social and environmental standards can be maintained despite elements of rejectionism on both sides. It is also useful to note how close the EU came to scoring an own goal.</p> <p>Two populist tidal waves – Brexit and Trump – will preoccupy much of Europe and North America, and beyond, over the coming years. In the face of such enormous geopolitical shifts, what can the defiant stand of a minority of Belgians tell us about anything? The devil is in the details. &nbsp;</p> <p>First, those characterizing the temporary blocking of the EU’s Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada as another populist coup are simplifying a complex reality into one catch-all phenomenon – anti-globalization – that does not help anyone.</p> <p>Second, there is general consensus that the old fault line of left versus right is outdated. From <em>The Economist</em> to former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, all agree on what <a href="">Tony Blair highlighted almost a decade ago</a>, that the modern choice, rather than between left and right, is between open or closed societies. President Elect Trump and former UKIP leader Farage would now claim that the new fault line is between citizens and the establishment. This is not the full picture. As the case of Wallonia illustrates, it is now the very idea of ‘openness’ that is a critical battleground.</p> <p>A closer look at the dynamics of CETA negotiations shows why. CETA has <a href="">mixed</a> agreement status because it covers <a href="">policy areas</a> which are under member state and EU control. For the adoption and signing of CETA on 30 October the 28 member states in the Council needed to all give their signatures. Belgium could only do so with the approval from their regional and community entities. </p><p>The Flemish agreed. Wallonia, followed by two others, rejected the deal (<a href="">again</a>). Paul Magnette, the Minister-President of Wallonia, was not using populist rhetoric or fact-free propaganda to whip up support from a disgruntled majority through a referendum. He was expressing a democratic mandate and constitutional duty to represent his constituents. In an unfortunate illustration of the divide between elites and citizens, those constituents have since been branded as <a href="">anti-globalizers and a "micro-region" ruled by communists</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, CETA promises to connect roughly 535 million citizens, and has been held up by 4.5 million Francophone Belgians. But that dissenting minority is roughly the size of the population of the Republic of Ireland and more populous than eight EU member states. Across France, Germany, and elsewhere, a much higher number of citizens protested against the deal. Some analysts are right that the core problem here sounds like the populist war cry of ‘take back control’. But they are wrong to suggest this is not based on real and relevant issues.</p> <p>At the core of the argument against CETA is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism, or ISDS. It will enable companies to take countries to court for changing their laws, <a href="">as they often do</a> under existing investment agreements. Initially, ISDS was an issue within the US version of CETA, the Trans-Atlantic Investment and Partnership agreement (TTIP). </p><p>The European Commission initiated a consultation on ISDS in TTIP (but not on CETA) after mass mobilization against the mechanism. After the consultation closed, the Commission then announced that CETA would go ahead – with its ISDS clause intact. </p><p>This potential miss-step was temporarily fixed by asking the Canadians to accept a reformed version of ISDS, the new Investment Court System (ICS), in their agreement. But the reform of ISDS into ICS was too little, too late. The Commission did not recognize that re-bottling as ICS was not enough to satisfy those that challenged the whole concept of investor-state settlement that gave multinationals undue influence over ‘sovereign’ policy decisions. &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>In the <a href="">report</a> on the consultation, the Commission noted that out of 150,000 submissions, there was wide spread opposition to ISDS in 145,000 “collective submissions”, and that in those submissions the ISDS mechanism is perceived “as a threat to democracy and public finance or to public policies” and “as unnecessary between the EU and the US, in view of the perceived strength of the respective judicial systems.” </p><p>In the Commission’s own account, these views are shared “by most of the trade unions”, a “majority of NGOs”, and many other organisations, including “consumer organisations.” The report then notes that in contrast “a large majority of business associations and the majority of large companies strongly support investment protection and ISDS in TTIP” – that is to say a large majority of the replies from 60 companies, 15 consultancy firms, 66 trade associations, and 7 law firms. </p><p>The report claims that all submissions were “taken into account as valid contributions”, but the insinuation, made more explicit in private, was that collective submissions were less valid than those that were clearly individual to an organization or person. By maintaining a version of ISDS, the Commission gave notice that the majority of 148 submissions trumped the collective submissions of 145,000.&nbsp;</p> <p>As Magnette went to great lengths to <a href=";xtcr=28">explain</a>, those that are anti-CETA are not against the benefits of trade, they are against deals done behind closed doors that will benefit executives, lawyers and multinationals but not workers or consumers. It is a principled argument but it is also based on fact. If you were one of the 145,000 who went to a platform to respond to the consultation, the idea of ‘openness’ – represented here by an open trade deal and an open consultation – has been captured by a closed establishment.&nbsp;</p> <p>This explains why the nominally positive suffix of ‘open’ is questionable if it remains abstract, or selective, or if the benefits of ‘openness’ are only received by others. If it becomes associated only with someone else, the establishment, or some incarnation of ‘the other’, then it can be seen as a threat or a tool of exploitation. </p><p>This is dangerous territory, where populisms flourish. If the very idea of ‘open’ is captured and used to categorize critics against certain policies as ‘closed’, it becomes a deliberate demonization of dissent, a tool of a perceived elite establishment to reject concerns that go against their consensus.</p> <p>For those who believe that open societies are worth protecting and promoting in Europe and beyond, there is a lesson and a warning from the Walloons: first, we have to be much better at qualifying what we mean by ‘open’; and then we have to clarify who benefits. Open trade, open borders, open data, open government are not enough in themselves. These elements of openness are tools towards goals, not goals in themselves. If their objectives are not clear, then they are open for populist manipulation, dissent and popular rejection.&nbsp;</p> <p>The scope of what ‘openness’ entails – from an independent media, to access to medicines, to public registers for shell companies; from access to legal aid, to participatory democracy, to the inclusion of minorities – reveal its strength: plurality. But each strand, each tool and each objective cannot be taken for granted. </p><p>Openness needs to be better defined and more broadly championed. Rather than generalizing on the intentions of 3.5 million Walloons, and labelling them as anti-globalizers, we should thank them for reminding us that principles and pragmatism are not mutually exclusive.&nbsp;</p> <p>CETA was a lucky escape for the EU. The exasperation of the Canadian leadership, the final Belgian stand on the court mechanism, the scramble towards a concession that allows each EU member state to decide whether they will accept the ICS, could all have been avoided. The Commission’s consultation should have acted as a bellwether rather than an anomaly. Participatory policymaking cannot work if the mechanisms for participation fail, or worse, the messages delivered are ignored.&nbsp;</p> <p>An ‘open’ trade deal with Canada almost didn’t happen because those that were its champions were unable to defend their assumptions about who would benefit. There are still a few hurdles to cross. The European Parliament needs to give its consent and then ratification is still required by each member state. But the irony is that CETA, so controversial two short weeks ago, may end up being less significant as a trade agreement and more as a transatlantic lifeline for openness that stands against the tide.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ournhs/jan-savage-gay-lee/brexit-or-no-brexit-so-called-trade-deals-still-threaten-our-nhs">Brexit or no Brexit - so-called &#039;trade&#039; deals still threaten our NHS</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/paul-magnette/huge-victory-for-belgiums-ceta-opponents-paul-magnettes-speech">A huge victory for Belgium&#039;s CETA opponents: Paul Magnette&#039;s speech</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/rachel-tansey/not-going-gentle-into-night-on-climate-trade-brexit-and-trump">Not going gentle into the night: on climate, trade, Brexit and Trump</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Belgium Neil Campbell Tue, 22 Nov 2016 14:45:31 +0000 Neil Campbell 107013 at 'By talking to one another, we can learn to respect one another' <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Anja Van den Durpel is Head of Integration Services at the City of Ghent, tasked with helping integration and soothing community tensions in the diverse Belgian city. Here's how she does it.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href=""><img src="//" alt="wfd" width="460px" /></a></p> <p><iframe width="460" height="300" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <p>Anja Van den Durpel is Head of Integration Services at the City of Ghent in Belgium. At the World Forum for Democracy 2016, she spoke to us about her philosophy of integration, and how simply getting different ethnic groups in Belgium to talk to one another can help assuage tensions and improve relations between communities.</p> <div class="partnership-in-article-banner-infobox" style="background-color: #f9f3ff; width: 100%; float: right; border-top: solid 3px #DAC2EA;"> <div class="partnership-in-article-banner-infobox-inner" style="margin-bottom: 8px; padding: 14px;"><span style="font-size: 1.2em; margin-bottom: 8px;">openDemocracy is at this year's World Forum for Democracy, exploring the relationship between education and democracy with a youth newsroom. <a href="">More here</a>.</span></div></div><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/wfd/sachin-joshi/if-poor-child-cannot-come-to-education-then-education-must-go-to-him">&quot;If a poor child cannot come to the education, then education must go to him.&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/wfd/saja-shami-nora-bateson/colonisation-of-knowledge-interview-with-nora-bateson">The colonisation of knowledge: an interview with Nora Bateson </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/kathleen-van-de-kerckhove/solidarity-in-ghent">Refugee solidarity: the view from Ghent</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Belgium Education for democracy World Forum for Democracy 2016 Anja Van den Durpel Fri, 18 Nov 2016 10:55:39 +0000 Anja Van den Durpel 106921 at "We don’t have a refugee crisis. We have a housing crisis." <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>With national and European governments in gridlock, the cities themselves have decided to bypass the state level altogether and forge ahead with some very innovative solutions to the crises facing Europe today.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Eurocities Social Affairs forum panel. From l-r: Lefteris Papagiannakis, vice-mayor of Athens; Belinda Pyke, director for migration and mobility, European Commission; Kees Diepeveen, deputy mayor of Utrecht; Ritva Viljanen, deputy mayor of Helsinki; Thomas Fabian, deputy mayor of Leipzig.</span></span></span></p><p>The migrant camp at Calais has been dismantled. In its place, local authorities are planning to install a theme park. The French government seems to have looked at the camp and asked itself: ‘what can be done about these people? - rapidly finding the answer ‘make them go away’. </p><p>The 1500 unaccompanied children stranded without care or basic shelter stand in grim testimony to &nbsp;the fact that, if one wants to respond to the crisis with some basic degree of humanity, that’s probably not the right question to be asking. Luckily,&nbsp;some city municipalities and local governments are beginning to ask not ‘what do we do about the migrants?’ but the more concrete question ‘where will they live?’</p><p>It’s a problem incomparable in scale. And with more arriving every day, there’s little time for the drawn-out processes of consultation and experiment that usually form the backbone of municipal policy-making. So, cities are increasingly gathering together to 'share best practice' - finding out how they’re tackling the crisis, learning from one another’s successes and mistakes.</p><p> At a recent conference run by <a href="">Eurocities</a>, delegations from 50 cities gathered in Athens to talk about just how to meet the challenge presented by the millions of people who have arrived at their gates since the start of the crisis. The practical demands of managing this influx mean that, at a city level, questions on integration often collapse not into questions of cultural difference or liberal ‘tolerance’, but into the basic practical questions of how to get thousands of new arrivals housed, fed and educated alongside the rest of the population.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Cities are where some sort of normal life can begin again</p><p>They are, largely, the ones to whom responsibility falls for housing those who make it into europe, and who either don’t end up in refugee camps, or after a notoriously long and complex bureaucratic process, eventually make it out. This is for the simple reason that cities are where more of the migrants are headed. </p><p>It’s monumentally misguided to cast the refugee crisis in terms of mass migration as guided by ‘pull factors’; it should probably, at this stage go without saying that the overwhelming majority of migrants were not enticed through snow and across perilous water by the promise of a rosy European dream, but driven out by an overlapping series of crises; war, economic hardship and environmental degradation. </p><p>But motivated, once they do arrive, to secure a better life for themselves and their families, many migrants head for Europe’s bustling metropolitan hubs. And for good reason. Cities tend to be more culturally diverse than rural or smaller urban areas, and account for greater chunks of national GDP. You’re more likely to find jobs, educational opportunities, healthcare, and cultural life. You have greater access to support from pre-existing support organisations and older migrant communities. Cities are where some sort of normal life can begin again.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A football pitch and some houses at Eleonas refugee camp in Athens.</span></span></span></p><h2>A house is not a home</h2><p>At Eleonas camp on the outskirts of Athens, some of the residents echoed this pattern. One man from Syria is aiming to get to Berlin, where he’s told there will be doctors who can help his eight year old niece walk again. A young man from Afghanistan tells me he wants to get to Copenhagen or Stockholm, because like him, they speak English there. But common to all of them is the desire to make it out of the camps, and find a permanent home.</p><p>This challenge is one of the greatest facing the cities of Europe. From the conversations at the conference, one thing becomes abundantly clear. Though in scale, this crisis might be unprecedented, in character it is familiar territory for those trying navigate the hurdles of how to provide a vast number of people with adequate housing, in a situation where affordable, livable housing is already hard to come by. </p><p>Many cities across europe have housing crises caused by a heady cocktail of property speculation, industry deregulation, and a dearth of social housing that predates by decades this recent influx of new arrivals. According to a recent report by Housing Europe, "There are not enough affordable homes available in most European countries to meet the increasing demand."</p><p>It seems that the arrival of thousands of migrants would be less of a problem were cities not already struggling to house residents. As Mayor of Leipzig Thomas Fabian put it: "I don’t like to use the term refugee crisis. We don’t have a refugee crisis. We have a housing crisis."</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Refugees and Eurocities participants chatting at Eleonas camp, Athens.</span></span></span></p><p>The economy in Munich is booming, reports Martin Kunschak, of the city’s housing and migration department. But as the economy grows, so does the demand for housing, which is far outstripped by the number of new homes being built.</p><p>As available permanent dwellings are few and far between, multiple migrant families are crammed into small flats. "Where there are homes, they are in areas of the city with no jobs. Or they are run down, and no one wants to live there." This problem became so acute that refugees were housed in converted rooms in the former Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. </p><p>In Berlin, seized by a similar dearth of available housing, thousands of refugees are housed in cramped conditions in Tempelhof airport. The sheer volume of people passing through Vienna in search of that famously warm Teutonic welcome left many migrants in squalid conditions, waiting in train stations: and though the city has now placed many of its more than 22,000 new migrants into privately rented accommodation, this costly option only puts further pressure on an already-strained housing market.</p><p>These are just the problems that Eurocities meetings are intended to tackle. Vienna is building apartments and converting empty buildings into habitable accomodation - but faced with practical hurdles, the city representatives are keen to learn from the experiences of others. </p><p>Discussion delves deep in the nitty-gritty of housing policy: what works, what doesn’t. How to ease potential tensions between refugees and local populations. How to convert commercial space into residential space. How to ensure that families with similar needs are housed together. That communalised kitchen facilities are labour-intensive to run, and unpopular with many of the residents. That it’s important to provide dedicated facilities for single women and mothers with young children, and, increasingly, for LGBTQ asylum seekers.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The difficulty is convincing them that they will have to stay here</p><p>On the one hand, long history of housing crises throughout Europe means that cities already have a wealth of knowledge to rely upon, gathered from years of research into the problems of precarious housing. Having conducted extensive social research for the Ghent City Hall, Anja van Durpel points out that this refugee crisis is less of a state of exception than we sometimes assume. "Homelessness is not new. Migration is not new." The problem, she explains, is simply volume. The migrant crisis tests the integrity of our usual responses - loading more and more weight onto them to see if they hold. </p><p>And sometimes they do. In Amsterdam, local government worked with housing associations formed to tackle the city’s problems of rising rent and homelessness. This partnership has resulted in 1000 extra homes being made available of additional homes, to be provided to students and precariously housed Amsterdamers, as well as those with refugee status. As Housing Europe pointed out, these actions relied upon “experience gained in the Starting Block Riekerhaven, a project by De Key housing corporation and the municipality.” These houses are, for the moment, temporary - but there are plans to turn these into permanent communities.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>From l-r: Laia Ortiz, deputy mayor of Barcelona; Georgios Kaminis, mayor of Athens; Thomas Jezequel, Eurocities.</span></span></span></p><h2>Cities working together transnationally....the future of Europe?</h2><p>More often though, governments struggle to meet the desperate volume of demand. Across the continent, town halls, school gymnasiums and empty office buildings were rapidly turned over to provide temporary shelter; but the the transition to long-term, stable housing has proved much more fraught with difficulties. </p><p>For some municipalities - such as Athens&nbsp; - the city has been building up and building over pre-existing migrant camps, first thrown together as an emergency patch and stitch solution, and now rapidly becoming more permanent. At Eleonas, once a military training facility, they are laying down lights, installing washing facilities, and bringing in mobile homes. This effort comes after national and international outcry at the conditions in camps such as Idomeni, which one senior Greek minister compared to a Nazi concentration camp. </p><p>This might not be such welcome news for the migrants living there - they have no wish to stay in the camp, or indeed, in Greece at all. But drawn-out asylum process and the rapid securitisation of Europe’s internal borders has left many stranded in their countries of arrival - mainly Greece and Italy. Lefteris Papagiannakis, Athens’ deputy mayor for migration and refugee issues, explains that "the difficulty is convincing them that they will have to stay here".</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Participants at the Eurocities Social Affairs Forum, Athens.</span></span></span></p><p>Wracked by rising rents and homelessness, these cities of arrival already have their own disenfranchised and precariously-housed populaces. And when resources seem to run scarce, it’s not surprising that Malthusian thinking kicks in, and people begin to ask why refugees are being housed before them. </p><p>This, as Herbert Bartik from Vienna explains, plays nicely into the hands of the far right. Whereas these policymakers might be determined to talk about the importance of “social mix”, and to locals in the programmes they provide for refugees and migrants, for many others the provision of social housing represents a failure of governments to ‘look after their own’. </p><p>A gift to nativist thinkers, then. For them, the funding dedicated to housing refugees creams off what little social provisions are left after years of cutbacks to social safety nets. It does not seem to make much of a difference that the housing provided usually consists - at best - of small, overcrowded apartments in dog-ends of the city.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The city government of Gdansk voted to welcome refugees, and 83% of its population see migration as a positive</p><p>Nor does it matter that social provisions for refugees are usually funded by different income streams than those used . Whereas regular social housing is largely funded by national and regional governments, cities are reliant on the European Union to provide dedicated Asylum and Migration Integration Funding (AMIF).</p><h2>Integration through social housing?</h2><p>Where the housing seems to be working well, this is less of a problem. Piotr Olech from Gdansk Social Development department insists that, in his city, the far right’s bark is far worse than its bite. The tiny - if loud - demonstrations are more likely to annoy local motorists than spark any sentiment of slighted nativism. </p><p>In Barcelona, where the city mayor Ada Colau got her political start in radical left housing activism, refugee accommodation plans are drawn up in consultation with the local residents. But one Eurocities delegate from Brno, recounted that she has been repeatedly threatened by the far right group for daring to express solidarity with refugees. </p><p>Thus, the housing crisis forces policy makers to steer between the raging horns of a raging problem of social discontent: how does one meet the immediate needs of refugees, whilst trying not to provide the far right with more yarn to spin a story of local populations left behind?</p><p>The solution to this problem is the same perennially proposed as a fix for the housing crisis writ large - and a solution at the forefront of people’s minds at Eurocities: build more social housing. For some governments, the acuteness of the refugee crisis seems to have thrown the urgency of the housing crisis into ever-sharper relief. German housing minister Barbara Hendricks called for the construction of 350,000 new dwellings a year, so that refugees could be housed without ‘depriving’ low-income German households of affordable accomodation. </p><p>Moreover, many city governments have publically stressed the need to avoid ‘ghettoisation’, where refugees are forced into segregated, forgotten areas of the city. This can only be done by building affordable homes in more affluent areas, and attempting to integrate refugee housing with wider social programmes to tackle precarious, unaffordable housing for everyone. </p><p>But that, as ever, is easier said than done. Where national governments double-down on austerity-driven cutbacks to social housing, where they rely on a booming property market to bolster fragile levels of growth, many city governments simply cannot afford to commit the vast housing projects needed to tackle this problem. </p><p>Moreover, the policy agendas of governments at national level seem to be drifting further away from those adopted by the cities at the front lines of the crisis. The city government of Gdansk voted to welcome refugees, and 83% of its population see migration as a positive. However, this doesn’t hold at a national level. The ruling PiS (Law and Justice) party is being dragged further to the right by the growing coalitions of far-right nationalist groups; the party leader recently claiming that refugees bring with them "all sorts of parasites and protozoa". In this political climate, it’s unthinkable that the national government would commit funds to housing refugees.&nbsp;</p><p>Even if cities were better funded in their building efforts, europaforum’s Herbert Bartik pointed out that massive social housing programmes may well contravene recent EU competition regulation, by distorting the housing market. That the housing market may be in need of distortion is besides the point. There is, he says, a contradiction here in EU policy. This problem is only exacerbated when European Central funding, intended to provide for the immediate needs of migrants, is doled out not to cities directly, but to national governments. These governments have reportedly proved slow, reluctant or indifferent when it comes to channelling this funding to local organisations. </p><p>At the conference, Belinda Pyke of the EU commission invited city representatives to consult her on how best to lobby national governments for funding. This suggestion was rebuffed by a member of the Barcelona mayoral office: "Don’t tell me to lobby our national governments," he said. "We have tried. It doesn’t work." </p><p>So they are forced to rely on their own resources, recruiting housing groups, third-sector organisations, charities and the private sector in a patchwork solution that tried to circumvent both EU bureaucracy and national indifferent. These programs lay bare the fact that meeting the challenge of housing Europe’s new migrants will be intimately bound up with a solution to the housing crisis. And where national governments have failed, cities may prove a testing ground for policy that promises a way forward.</p><p><em>All photos are by Eleanor Penny and Alex Sakalis and can be reproduced under creative commons license.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/manuela-zechner-bue-r%C3%BCbner-hansen-francesco-salvini/more-than-refuge-welcome">More than a refuge, a welcome </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/mediterranean-journeys-in-hope/susanne-asche-cameron-thibos/when-refugees-appear-we-take-them-to-art">When refugees appear, we take them to the art museum</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Greece </div> <div class="field-item even"> Austria </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Germany </div> <div class="field-item even"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Netherlands </div> <div class="field-item even"> Poland </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Poland Netherlands Belgium Germany Austria Greece Housing Rights Eleanor Penny Sat, 05 Nov 2016 20:41:21 +0000 Eleanor Penny 106489 at Populism, nationalism and transnationalism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>An interview with Benjamin de Cleen, Assistant Professor at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, on nationalism vs populism in Europe, the Flemish far-right and the limits of the&nbsp;<em>cordon sanitaire</em>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The youth wing of Vlaams Belang on a retreat. Wikimedia. Public domain.</span></span></span></p><p>Many researchers and commentators of populist politics tend to confuse populism with nationalism. This confusion makes the study of populism in the European context particularly difficult.</p> <p>Benjamin De Cleen, assistant professor at the VUB Communication Studies Department, argues that in order to understand the Populist Radical Right we have to start from a clear conceptual distinction between populism and nationalism. The articulation of populism and nationalism is contingent but not necessary.</p> <p>In this interview Benjamin De Cleen and Antonis Galanopoulos discuss the rise of a Populist Radical Right in Europe, they try to draw useful conclusions from the Belgian case and, finally, they examine the possibility of a trans-national populism.</p> <p><em><strong>How do you understand the notion of populism? Do you perceive populism as ideology, political style or discourse?</strong></em></p> <p>The term I like to use the most is “political logic”, a term that comes from the discourse theoretical tradition associated with Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe and the Essex school. More so than the notion of discourse, the term ‘political logic’ highlights the structure of populist politics. </p><p>Populism is a particular way of formulating demands in the name of ‘the people’ and a particular way of constructing “the people”. Populism revolves around the powerless-powerful dimension, a vertical dimension - the down versus the up - where the populists claim to represent ‘the people’ against the current elite that does not represent them.</p> <p>This definition is not so far from the more minimalist ideological definitions formulated by Mudde, Rovira Kaltwasser and others. But I think that ideology is not the most helpful term. The notion of logic stresses more that populism is a way of formulating demands, rather than a set of demands. The term ideology suggests beliefs, which underestimates the crucial strategic dimension of populism. </p><p>The notion of ideology also makes it difficult to account for the sometimes temporary dimension of populism that follows from this strategic character. Ideology seems to suggest that if a party is populist, it will be populist forever, which I don’t think is necessary. </p><p>Populism is about the creation of a chain of equivalence of identities and demands against the current elite. That means that this chain of equivalence can also partly fall apart, that it can change, and that a party or movement can stop being populist. </p> <p><em><strong>In your research you distinguish clearly between populism and nationalism. Many researchers of right-wing populism tend to confuse them. Why is it important to distinguish them?</strong></em></p> <p>This distinction is important for a number of reasons. First of all, if you look at populisms they are not all nationalist, and if you look at nationalists they are not all populists. But, secondly, even if all populisms would be nationalist and all nationalisms populist, we would still be able to better understand these populist nationalisms and nationalist populisms if we start from a clear conceptual distinction between populism and nationalism.</p> <p>My theoretical work on this distinction was inspired by an empirical analysis of populist radical right discourse in Belgium. Looking at the Vlaams Belang it became clear that populism and nationalism were two different building blocks that function according to different logics and that play different roles in populist radical right rhetoric.</p><p class="mag-quote-center"><em>The VB is therefore definitely a party that you can’t understand with the term populism alone</em></p><p>I think we can understand the architecture of populist radical right rhetoric better by first trying to distinguish what are the main building blocks of that architecture, and then look at how these building blocks are combined. I tried to come up with discourse-theoretical definitions of populism and nationalism that are abstract enough to cover all potential forms of populism and nationalism, but also precise enough to grasp the specificity of both populism and nationalism. </p><p>I think it helps to stress populism’s vertical dimension: populist politics construct ‘the people’ by opposing it to ‘the elite’ and claim to represent ‘the people’. Nationalism is not built around this vertical dimension, but around a horizontal dimension: nationalist politics construct and claim to represent the nation, which is discursively constructed by distinguishing between those who are ‘in’ and those who are ‘out’ of the nation.&nbsp;</p> <p>This distinction between populism and nationalism helps to understand how populism and nationalism are articulated in different kinds of politics. The question becomes how these down/up and in/out constructions of ‘the people’ and ‘the nation’ are related.</p><p> Populist radical right parties for example accuse ‘the elite’ of betraying ‘the people’ – which is a sub-category of the nation and does not include ‘ordinary’ people of foreign descent – by favouring the interests of migrants above those of the so-called ‘own people’.</p> <p><em><strong>Can you give us a brief historical background of the populist radical right in Belgium? </strong></em></p> <p>There is not really a Belgian radical right, so let me focus on the Flemish radical right, about which I know more, and which has been far more successful than its Francophone Belgian counterpart. </p> <p>The radical right in Flanders is the heir of a radical right-wing Flemish nationalist tradition. This has its roots in the nineteenth century Flemish Movement, but the radical nationalist right-wing Flemish nationalism only really came into being in the early twentieth century and would go on to collaborate with Nazi Germany. After World War Two, the Flemish nationalist radical right lived on in civil society groups and also in the more moderate Flemish nationalist Volksunie (People’s Union).&nbsp;</p> <p>The radicals in this party broke away from the Volksunie and together with civil society players founded two radical right Flemish nationalist parties that took part in the 1978 elections in a cartel called Vlaams Blok (Flemish Bloc). This became the name of a joint party, and that party became the Vlaams Belang in 2004, after a conviction for racism.</p> <p>The VB was, and still is, mainly a radical Flemish nationalist party. An independent Flemish state remains the core demand of the party. From the beginning, however, a rejection of immigration was also part of its politics. This demand for an independent Flanders and the rejection of immigration are both part of the party’s radical and ethnic nationalism. </p><p>Throughout the VB’s history the “foreigner’ issue” became more and more prominent, and it was very important for their electoral success. Much more important than their separatist demands, which did not and does not attract large groups of the population.</p> <p>The VB is therefore definitely a party that you can’t understand with the term populism alone. You would miss the nationalist essence of it. However, populism did become very important to the party. When it was founded it wasn’t a populist party but an elitist and authoritarian party with very little electoral appeal. </p><p>Slowly, the VB developed into a populist party, inspired by the Front National. The VB started to criticize its political opponents as elite, and that then evolved to its populist claim to speak for ‘the people’. This became a very important element of the party’s rhetoric. But the very ideological core of it is a radical and ethnic nationalism, which I think holds true for most populist radical right parties. </p><p>This becomes visible in the fact that the radical right’s populist appeal to the ordinary people mainly – but not only - revolves around how ordinary people are threatened by migrants (their jobs, their neighborhoods, etc.) and how ‘the politically correct elite’ does not do anything about it or only makes it worse.&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact that nationalism is the ideological core and populism a way of formulating demands is also why, following Cas Mudde, I call these parties populist radical right. This term stresses that the populist radical right is a specific kind of radical right. There are radical right parties and movements that are not populists. </p><p>Some of them are really fringe groups that have nothing to do with an appeal to the ordinary people. Populist radical right also stresses that the radical right component and especially radical nationalism is more core to its politics than populism. But the term also explicitly includes the notion of populism to stress its importance.</p> <p><em><strong>The rise of the populist radical right is an almost European trend nowadays. Do you think that there is an important connection with the ongoing economic crisis?</strong></em></p> <p>There are of course links between economic conjuncture and the success of certain forms of politics, both left and right. But we should not reduce populist radical right electoral successes to a matter of economic crisis. In a way, we would perhaps like this to be the case because it would give us a more morally acceptable explanation for why people vote for the radical right. Of course, economic crises can increase the appeal of radical right parties. </p><p>But I don’t think that this is the core of the problem. This would mean that only people who are low on the economic ladder would vote for them. This is not true. It would mean that only people who are competing with migrants for jobs would vote for them. Absolutely not true. The Belgian case is actually a counter example. The VB’s electoral results went down during the economic crisis. They were on their peak, when things were still going very well economically. It continued to grow from the late 1980s until the mid-2000s, with a peak in 2004-2005, after which a downfall set in. Recently, the party has been going up in the polls, but it is still far removed from its earlier appeal.&nbsp;</p> <p>The economically determinist explanation also severely underestimates the agency of political parties. If electoral results were simply a consequence of economic conjuncture, we might as well stop studying political discourse. It wouldn’t matter that populist radical right political parties interpellate people as members of ‘the nation’ who are threatened by foreigners, or as members of ‘the ordinary people’ who are not represented by ‘the elite’.</p> <p><em><strong>Populism is depicted in mainstream discourse as inherently negative. Is populism per se an enemy of democracy?</strong></em></p> <p>I don’t believe that populism is inherently a threat to democracy. One of the reasons why populism is considered problematic for democracy is because it is supposedly anti-pluralist. I am not sure that this is entirely true. If you treat populism as an ideology that revolves around a homogeneous ‘people’ (that is opposed to ‘the elite’), then you have to conclude this. </p><p>But these analysts tend to forget how the construction of ‘the people’ implies the construction of a chain of equivalence of identities and demands. The formation of a chain of equivalence does not mean that differences between the different elements of that chain disappear. So a populist politics does not have to eradicate the differences between the different groups and demands that are grouped under ‘the people’.</p> <p>This idea that populism is inherently negative has a lot to do with the confusion between populism and nationalism. Usually, it is the ethnic nationalist dimension of especially right wing populist politics that leads to this homogenization of ‘the people’. The people, in this case, are one homogeneous group with one identity. That certainly is problematic, but ethnic nationalism is to blame, not populism.</p> <p>So, I don’t think that populism is necessarily a threat to democratic pluralism. It can be, of course. The moment that the particularity of the different components of the chain of equivalence becomes invisible or starts to be ignored, or is no longer being respected, then you are entering into a problematic situation. So, populism is potentially problematic but not necessarily.</p> <p><em><strong>European media tend to put under the same label of the “populist leader”, politicians like Le Pen and Orban on the one hand and Tsipras and Iglesias on the other hand. Is this a correct and more importantly a politically useful practice?</strong></em></p> <p>To certain people and groups it is obviously politically useful. It is politically useful if you want to delegitimize the Left, by putting it into one bag with the radical right. Is it analytically correct? I don’t think so. Are they all populists? Yes, they are. But it is misleading to put all of them under the simple category ‘populist’. The question is “if we have only one term to label these politicians, should that one term be populist?”. Then the answer is no. </p><p>The label for Orban would perhaps better be authoritarian; the main label for Le Pen should be radical right. Populism is not enough to characterize Tsipras and Iglesias either. You can’t understand any political project solely with the notion of populism. And to do so is misleading because it suggests deep similarities between very different political projects whilst (more or less deliberately) ignoring the profound differences between them. </p><p>The main question should always be what kind of society political projects are trying to build. And populism does not say anything about that. You can use populism to send migrants back to their supposed home country, or you can use it to create a socio-economically more just society. Delegitimizing such very different projects by using the same label of ‘populism’ is unfair at least.&nbsp;</p> <p><em><strong>You have written a series of papers regarding the relation of populism and art, focusing mainly on the 0110 concerts in Belgium. Do you think that popular culture, popular music and other kinds of arts have a role to play in the battle against populist radical right?</strong></em></p> <p>My doctoral research focused on the discursive struggle between the radical right and its opponents, and I looked at three cases in which art and popular culture played a central role: concerts against the VB, the conflictual relation between the Flemish theatre and the VB, and the struggle between the VB and more moderate Flemish nationalists for the Flemish National Songfest.</p><p>I selected these cases mainly because they were relevant cases to understand VB rhetoric and the resistance to the VB, rather than because I believe that art or popular culture is what will stop the radical right. </p><p>I do believe artists of all kinds have a role to play in the struggle against the radical right because they are an important part of civil society and because artists are people that have the channels, the imagination, the creativity and the cultural capital to say things in an attractive way. But it would be very naïve to believe that artists will stop the radical right.</p><p><em class="mag-quote-center">Populism is a very strong weapon in the hands of the radical right</em></p> <p>In my research I noticed that in terms of ideology, the struggle between the VB and artists revolved mainly around nationalism and racism. But populism played a central role as well because one of the VB’s main strategies for countering artists’ criticism of the VB is to label them as part of ‘the elite’. </p><p>What was remarkable about the 2006 0110 (1 October) concerts against the VB is that the artists who performed in those concerts included a number of artists and singers who were not the typical alternative left-leaning artists, but that they were popular artists; ‘popular’ in the sense of representing the culture of the ordinary people. That was quite a remarkable moment because it made it difficult for the radical right to criticize those concerts. </p><p>It’s easy for the VB to criticize theatre makers who make an anti radical right theatre piece. In fact, the criticism of the ‘cultural elite’ only reinforces their populist identification as the voice of the ordinary people. The 0110 concerts were a bit different. It was a moment in which the VB’s claim on the ordinary was contested. </p><p>And the party had some trouble in how to deal with this. It strongly criticized the concerts, but the popular character of the artists performing at the concerts and the mainstream media attention that came with it, made it difficult for them to discredit the concerts in their typically populist manner.&nbsp;</p> <p><em><strong>Populist radical right politicians tend to be very effective in countering criticism. How we can deal with them in a communicative level?</strong></em></p> <p>The populism of the radical right is very clever. Populism allows them to counter any kind of criticism as a matter of ‘the elite’ going against ‘the party of the people’. Whoever says something against the radical right is part of the elite. </p><p>This is very tricky, because this means that when a politician, but also a civil society organization, a theatre director, an actor, a singer or an intellectual says something it is just the elite talking badly about the ordinary people and the party that represents them. </p><p>This is very difficult to deal with. Populism is a very strong weapon in the hands of the radical right. This is also why those 0110 concerts were so interesting, because they were less easily dismissed in a populist manner.</p> <p>The problem, in Flanders and also elsewhere I believe, has been the degree of acceptance of the radical right’s claim that it represents ordinary people. This is a point made by others as well, such as Aurélien Mondon. If you start from the belief that the radical right represents the ordinary people, then the only way to beat the radical right is to move your politics in a radical right direction.</p> <p>One of the reasons why it has been so difficult to counter the radical right is that the responses to the radical right have been exactly that: <em>responses</em> to the radical right. That is, they accept the questions raised by the radical right. If you accept the terms of the debate set by the radical right, if you accept their problem definition, you are going to have a very hard time beating them. And even if you would beat the party, you would have still lost in ideological terms.&nbsp; </p><p>For a progressive politics this is a disaster. Unfortunately, social democratic and centrist parties in Europe have responded to the radical right to quite some extent by taking over the problem definitions of the radical right, rather than by formulating a true alternative.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong><em>What is the role of mass media in the rise of populist radical right?</em>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>It is a question that often returns. And it’s an important question. But there is no clear answer to it. Do media support the radical right political parties directly? Usually the answer is: not really – but there have been cases. In fact, many media have often also strongly criticized the radical right. Beyond direct support, some research looks at issue ownership and suggests that media’s focus on the issues associated with the radical right – crime, migration, etc – has benefited the radical right. </p><p>To some extent media can be blamed for this, but it is also a matter of what other political parties are talking about. And this of course brings us to the question of <em>how</em> we discuss societal issues, or rather, perhaps, how we politicize certain phenomena and events, and turn them into societal and political issues. </p><p>Here we come back to the question of problem definitions. For example, if we discuss the refugee crisis mainly in terms of threats to Europe – as a crisis caused by refugees - then of course that is going to create opportunities for radical right parties.&nbsp;</p> <p>Obviously the media play a role in the rise of populist radical right parties, but certainly they are not the only reason for that. It’s much more complicated than that, and we should be careful to avoid this kind of media determinism. The VB, for example, started to attain high election scores long before the party was normalized in the media. </p><p>In a way, it is their continued presence in the center of the political debate that slowly (and only partly) normalized them. It is not as if they were normalized by the media and then they started to gain votes. It was more of a reciprocal process. It is too simple to blame media for the success of the radical right. </p><p>Again, it would be a convenient and reassuring explanation for the rise of the radical right. It would be reassuring – in a way - if people were just indoctrinated by the media. It is less reassuring to think that a part of the electorate has very problematic sentiments and beliefs, or that progressive political projects in most European countries do not manage to attract large groups of voters, even in times of economic crisis.</p> <p><em><strong>What is your opinion about the cordon sanitaire? Is this a really effective strategy against populist radical right? Is there a risk to strengthen their image as anti-establishment parties?</strong></em></p> <p>The answer to both questions is yes. Sometimes people said “let’s put them into the government so everyone can see that they are like the other parties and then their appeal as outsider will disappear”. </p><p>But the damage you can do while you are in government is huge. It is important to keep this kind of parties out of governments, I believe. But almost unavoidably, this also risks strengthening their underdog appeal.</p><p><em class="mag-quote-center">Social democratic and centrist parties in Europe have responded to the radical right to quite some extent by taking over the problem definitions of the radical right</em></p><p>More importantly, keeping out people or parties is not the same as keeping out ideas. To some extent the fact that the VB was kept out of government, the fact that the party was behind the cordon sanitaire, actually helped their ideas to become mainstream. If you put one party, some people behind the cordon sanitaire, you risk implying that everyone who is not behind that cordon is acceptable, whatever they say. </p><p>So, it is important to keep radical right parties out, but it is more important to keep their ideas out of the mainstream, and this hasn’t happened in Belgium and many other European countries. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong><em>In the post-democratic context of our era, in which many issues and decisions have been removed from the public arena</em>, <em>how can the people be heard? Is trans-national populism a possible solution?</em></strong></p> <p>Nowadays, decisions are to a significant extent made partly by European institutions, partly by non-elected political bodies, and partly by actors that have nothing to do with democratic politics, big companies etc. The Greek referendum was quite an important moment, because it showed that a people expressing a clear “No” has very little impact on what happens afterwards. Clearly there is a problem there. The question is what can we do about this? </p> <p>There is a lot of debate about whether the left should focus on the nation because the nation is the only place where the people still have something to say. The DiEM25 movement of Varoufakis, for example, has raised this kind of questions. Giving up national sovereignty wouldn’t be so smart for the left at this moment. </p><p>In terms of public debate and democratic representation things are still very much based around the nation state. But decision making has been partly taken out of that level. We have to think how we deal with that evolution, what it means for progressive politics.</p> <p>In thinking of whether there is a potential for a transnational progressive movement one of the obvious questions is: “is there a potential for a transnational populist movement?” If you look at populist politics, they are often explicitly nationalist – the populist radical right for example. But even those that are not, almost always operate in a nation-state context. </p> <p>So, is a transnational populism possible? Theoretically the answer is clearly yes. The only thing you need is a transnational people versus transnational elite, and the claim to represent that transnational people. But in reality such a transnational populist politics is not so easy. </p><p>It is not so easy because of how important nations are in our world, especially in terms of democratic representation and public arenas. Where do you represent this trans-national people, and where do you exercise the power of that people? And also, which transnational media and communication channels allow you to construct that transnational people? </p> <p>For this reason, a network of nationally organised populisms seems more obvious than a truly transnational populism. We could make an analytical distinction here between <em>inter</em>-national populism and<em> trans</em>-national populism. Inter-national populism is a sort of linkage between nationally organised populist movements. A truly transnational populism would construct an actually transnational people against a trans-national elite, where ‘the people’ extends across national borders. </p> <p>The DiEM25 movement is interesting from this perspective. On the one hand it clearly has transnational ambitions and opposes a transnational elite. But on the other hand it speaks about the “peoples” of Europe, in plural, and not of one “people”. The question is whether you can go beyond such an inter-national populism, and whether that would be politically wise. </p><p>Theoretically it’s certainly possible to have a truly transnational populism, but the question is how such a transnational populism would relate to the still strongly nationalist organization of our societies in terms of democratic representation as well as, for many people, identity.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/cas-mudde/populism-in-europe-primer">Populism in Europe: a primer</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/grahame-thompson/populism-biggest-winner-from-uk-referendum">Brexit and the rise of populism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Belgium Antonis Galanopoulos Benjamin de Cleen Populism: what is it? Tue, 25 Oct 2016 15:11:33 +0000 Benjamin de Cleen and Antonis Galanopoulos 106233 at From the sorrow to the shame of Belgium <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The legalisation of this 'newcomer’s statement' is an undeniable step on the slippery slope in the dehumanisation of Europe’s ‘new Jews’. Alarm bells should be ringing.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Homeless man, hands on head, in Brussels, April 2, 2016 as Belgian police and soldiers arrest protesters far-left and far-right breaking ban on demonstrations. Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>On Friday April 1, 2016, the Belgium federal government approved the ‘nieuwkomersverklaring’ (newcomers statement), a legal document that all new non-European arrivals to Belgium will have to sign if they wish to remain here for longer than 3 months. </p> <p>Sadly, this is no April Fool’s Day joke, but the shame of Belgium. Those who refuse to sign this offensive legal document filled with implicit racism and sexism are not welcome to stay. Details of those who refuse and their eventual deportations are not discussed and yet the legalisation of this possibility should be the cause for <a href="">great sorrow</a>, not only in Belgium but throughout Europe. </p> <p>What is disturbing is the lack of protest – partially due to the convenient timing of this legislation in the aftermath of the Brussels attacks and the heightened security measures (<a href="">which permitted neo-Nazis to gather publically at a memorial gathering in late March and refused a similar gathering of those in solidarity with foreigners and refugees</a>). </p> <p>The explicit and unproblematized connection between assimilation and the right to residence, or what Arendt characterised as the basis of all rights, the right-to-have-rights, is a first in Europe. </p> <h2><strong>What a welcome to them from us!</strong></h2> <p>As the text is now only available in Dutch and French, let me summarise its main points for an international audience. What is expected of those wishing to remain in Belgium is a ‘reasonable effort’ to integrate. </p> <p>The language of integration is here described as a one-way top-downer power-infused process – let us be frank – this is a heavy-handed demand for assimilation. There is no mention of the responsibility of those fortunate enough to live here to welcome the other, to offer hospitality let alone to reflect on or consider the impossibility and undesirability of such ‘integration’. </p> <p>The text begins with a very problematic and un-nuanced account of culture and an explicit polarisation of us and them. “Newcomers, such as you, have been welcomed here for many years and come from countries with very different cultural backgrounds … The inhabitants of Belgium are attached to certain rights, duties, freedoms and values … to which you – and all your children must comply.” &nbsp;What a warm and hospital way to say welcome to Belgium! </p> <p>The document continues by listing these rights, duties, freedoms and values. First the token nod to universal and European human rights, the importance of law, and democratic principles. </p> <p>Without denying the importance of all three political institutions, they are here presented as eternally fixed, uncontested concepts and most importantly as beyond criticism – the irony of course being that part of our supposed freedom is the freedom to question all such political institutions and principles. </p> <p>However – in this document drafted by a renowned ‘moral philosopher’ – our freedoms are four-fold. First is the freedom of expression, which is qualified by reference to the impermissibility of the incitement to violence (implicitly making a link to the recent attacks). Second, the freedom of association which fails to mention how all Muslims and refugees are being framed as associated with the recent rise in violence throughout Europe. Third, the freedom of worship – ironic coming from a supposedly secular state that this would be such an essential freedom – but of course it is qualified with the claim that it is possible not to be religious, the implication being that integration requires giving up your problematic Muslim identity. And the fourth, freedom of sexual orientation and gender equality. This should of course come as no surprise as this document was first drafted in the aftermaths of the ‘Cologne affair’ and as such contains within it the responses we have now come to expect as normal from our right-wing politicians – a rhetoric replete with the framing of all foreign men as sexist and violent.</p> <p>After listing these four essential freedoms, each one is turned into an affirmative statement that begins with “I understand and accept …”. It is also in this section that the document’s implicit sexism and racism becomes nauseating. The drafters took this tragic moment in Belgian history to reaffirm the prejudiced ‘us/them’ frame that will only sow more hate and violence. Highlights from this part of the document make clear who is being targeted and why. In Belgium forced marriages are not permitted. Boys and girls have a right to be educated.&nbsp; Terrorism, and not turning to the police with a complete list of possible suspects, is a punishable offence. And to top it off, this document is being used to remind us of linguistic and neo-liberal policies. Learn the language and most importantly never become a financial ‘burden’ for the state … oh and yes while you are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet, find the free time to follow an ‘integration course’ which is time consuming and thoroughly insulting to your humanity (e.g. you are taught the correct way to use public bathroom facilities). </p> <h2><strong>A first step on Arendt’s slippery slope</strong></h2> <p>In addition to the morally offensive content of this newcomer’s statement, it is politically problematic. It sanctions and institutionalises, by means of its legal status, a first step in the dehumanisation of the other. </p> <p>While never explicit, it targets Muslims who according to the Flemish premier <a href="">must ‘Westernize’</a>. This dehumanisation, which Europe cannot pretend does not have the potential to lead to genocide, is a dangerous slippery slope. In order to better understand this shadowy process, Hannah Arendt, a political theorist, tries to distinguish distinct steps in this process in her analysis of the dehumanisation of the ‘enemies of the Nazi state’ (e.g. Jews, Roma, homosexuals etc). </p> <p>In <em>Origins of Totalitarianism</em>, she describes the first step as political-legal in its slow process of destruction, often by means of micro-changes that are each easily overlooked as too minor to be worth protesting, which enables the other to be seen as no longer part of the political community, and the enshrining of this other-ing by means of the legal system. </p> <p>This newcomer’s document, which cannot be detached from the increase in Islamophobia in our current political community, is a concrete example of this first step. This first step as Arendt traces it, is one that is very much connected to rhetoric and linguistic modifications, such as those analysed in detail by Viktor Klemperer in his <em>Lingua Tertii Imperii</em>. </p> <p>Legal codifications are a form of speech acts that create reality. By not challenging this document, both in terms of content and form, we are permitting the basic fabric of our societies to be destroyed. What <em>potentially</em> follows are two further levels of dehumanisation – moral and individual. ‘The killing of man’s [<em>sic</em>] individuality, of the uniqueness . . . creates a horror that vastly overshadows the outrage of the juridical-political person and the despair of the moral person’ (OT 454). </p> <p>The legalisation of this newcomer’s statement is an undeniable step on the slippery slope in the dehumanisation of Europe’s ‘new Jews’. Alarm bells should be ringing; indifference is not an acceptable response. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/ilya-afanasyev/where-will-we-end-up-terrorism-islamophobia-and-logic-of-fascism">Where will we end up? Terrorism, Islamophobia and the logic of fascism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/tamas-dezso-ziegler/in-defence-of-today-s-anti-fascist-protesters">In defence of today’s anti-fascist protesters</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/plan-canal-in-brussels-belgium-vs-molenbeek">Plan Canal in Brussels: Belgium vs Molenbeek</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/lucas-melga-o/other-of-others-am-i-risk-and-alterity-in-brussels-attacks"> The other of the others am I: risk and alterity in the Brussels attacks </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/ben-hayes/bleeding-heart-liberals-and-war-on-terror">Bleeding heart liberals and the war on terror </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? EU Belgium Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Anya Topolski Thu, 28 Apr 2016 13:59:11 +0000 Anya Topolski 101713 at Bleeding heart liberals and the war on terror <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Demonisation is used by the right to prevent the left actually opposing the war on terror with more than platitudes; criminalisation is used by the state against those against its crimes. </p> </div> </div> </div> <h2><span class="image-caption"><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="Brussels central train station after the attacks, March 2016. " title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Brussels central train station after the attacks, March 2016. Wikicommons/Romaine. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span></span></span><strong><span></span></strong></h2> <p>After Brussels, there are wider faultlines. On one side, those of us who seek to understand political violence in the round. Terrorism on the streets of Europe as blowback from 14 disastrous years of war on terror; ISIS the bastard child of our misadventure in Iraq (the &gt; 700,000 dead, the installation of a sectarian government and the <a href="">incubation of the Islamic State in US-run prisons</a>) and the multilateral meddling in the Syrian uprising and the ‘war on terror’ launched by the Assad regime.</p> <p>On the other, the armchair ‘terrorologists’, ‘radicalisation’ experts and cheerleaders for a new war on “Islamic extremism”. They acknowledge that the war on terror has been a disaster, but cannot countenance the idea that our liberal, enlightened societies bear any responsibility whatsoever for the actions of those Europeans who have joined the ranks of ISIS. This can only be down to something entirely alien and external to European culture: “Islamism”. To suggest anything else is at best disingenuous, at worst an “apology for terror”: </p> <p><em>“As must have happened with the defenders of Stalin years ago who could see only the injustice of the capitalist powers while willfully blind to the gulag and the purges, it seems that the very love of our fellow human beings and rage at the sight of suffering that drives us to become progressives in the first place have thoroughly deserted these one-sided cynics”.</em></p> <p>This is how my friend and erstwhile colleague Leigh Phillips <a href="">reacted</a> to the Brussels attacks, calling on the Left to the abandon the “sneering” and “clucking” about chickens coming to roost, ditch the “apologetics”, and support the demand that “Isis be annihilated”. If we really want to understand the atrocities in Maalbeek and Zaventem, he suggests, we need to go back to the opening of the Grand Mosque in Brussels nearly 40 years ago. Seriously dude, what happened?</p> <h2><strong>I’m not racist but…</strong></h2> <p>Everyone knows the war on terror has been an unmitigated disaster; even Tony Blair admits this (well, <a href="">almost</a>). But for all the bleating about ‘new approaches’, the <a href="">militarist and Islamophobic mindset</a> of the old one prevails. </p> <p>Phillips’ prescription is typical: “to stop these horrors, we must cut off funding to ISIS” – a rehash of the post-9/11 orthodoxy that “<a href="">stopping terrorism starts with stopping the money</a>” (it doesn’t, or at least it hasn’t worked, despite turning the global financial system into a surveillance apparatus) – and shift our focus to “extremist political Islam”. Hence his call for a new BDS-style campaign against Saudi Arabia and Turkey, coupled with support for the Kurds in their secular, progressive and militarily successful campaign against Islamic State. The trouble with this ostensibly appealing proposal is less its hopeless simplicity, but the thinking behind it. For it is a logical fallacy to demand an end to the war on terror with one breath, and the annihilation of ISIS with the next. </p> <p>Of course progressives should oppose ISIS; there’s nothing whatsoever racist about that, or indeed wishing them a particularly nasty demise. But we should be under no illusion whatsoever as to the implications of calling for their extermination. Not only is this a (renewed) mandate for slaughter and repression, invariably of combatants and innocents alike, it is exactly <a href="">what ISIS wants</a>: to ratchet up the ‘clash of civilisations’, and to feed the Islamophobia that has swept through the west and fuelled the rise of the Far Right. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">They somehow miss the blindingly obvious correlation between racist attacks, and the relentless messaging, not least their own, that terrorists are made in the Mosque.</span></p> <p>While commentators like Phillips caution that the failure of the war on terror is playing into the hands of Alternative für Deutschland and Donald Trump, they somehow miss the blindingly obvious correlation between the racist attacks perpetrated by their supporters, and the relentless messaging, not least their own, that terrorists are made in the Mosque. </p> <p>Just as some of our fellow citizens departed for the “Islamic State” <a href="">because they believe in its utopian and apocalyptic vision</a> of an alternative society in the making (though as agencies like Europol and the FBI now acknowledge, the disgusting realities of that alternative has diminished recruitment), so the racists confronting <a href="">“towel heads”</a> on the streets of Croydon and the fascists <a href="">rampaging through Brussels</a> are channelling their own “rage at the sight of suffering”. </p> <h2><strong>“Apologetics” and the left</strong></h2> <p>There is also a crucial synergy between Phillips and co.’s demonisation of “apologists” and the criminalisation of ‘apologia’ under the war on terror (see also “public provocation”, “indirect incitement”, “insulting the state”, “disseminating terrorist propaganda”, “glorification” and all the other terror-speech statutes). </p> <p>Demonisation is used by the right to prevent the left actually opposing the war on terror with anything more than platitudes; criminalisation is used by the state against those who speak out against its crimes, or in favour of struggles for self-determination. </p> <p>So when people of the left here in Britain, like <a href="">Jeremy Corbyn</a> and others who founded Stop the War, or the National Unions of <a href="">Students</a> or <a href="">Teachers</a>, stand together with Muslim organisations to actually oppose the war on terror, they’re slandered with the same preposterous tropes: “terrorist sympathiser”, “apologist”, “collusion”. </p> <p>Meanwhile, it is <a href="">Kurds</a> and Turks who know better than most about the crimes of ‘apologia’. And here more than anywhere, the fundamental flaws in liberal explanations for political violence are exposed. For while Leigh Phillips and I both profess support for the Kurds’ struggle for self-determination and the Peshmerga’s heroic resistance to ISIS, I can’t help wondering how he feels about the PKK and other Kurdish militant groups use of suicide bombers. </p> <p>Like the one dispatched to Ankara on 13 March this year, killing 37 people and injuring at least 125 more, in retaliation, <a href="">it was claimed</a>, for the bombs dropped on Kurds in the border town of Cizre by Turkish air forces. Does our unqualified support for the Kurds make us “apologists for terror”, or are we to suggest that these particularly spine-tingling acts of political violence are somehow qualitatively different when they’re done in the name of something other than Islam? </p> <p>The fact is that we simply cannot begin to account for the agency of secular suicide bombers with a cause in one location, when all we can offer-up is brainwashing by Salafist preachers in another. Nor, let’s be honest, is it “sneering” or “clucking” to suggest that the innocents who died in Ankara that day <a href="">were indeed</a>, however tragically, reaping the whirlwind of the relentless repression of the Kurds by the Turkish state.<span class="print-no mag-quote-left"> The scary thing is not what might have been, but what we’ve already become. </span></p> <p>Since we’re here, let’s take this thought exercise a step further, and imagine for a moment that the ‘coalition of the willing’ had exacted its revenge for 9/11 not on secular Iraq, but greater Kurdistan. Is it really so hard to imagine that a tiny minority of Europe’s 1.5 million or so Kurds might be moved – either independently, or via some medieval sect that <a href="">emerged from being ‘bombed back to the stone ages’</a> – to return the slaughter of the powerless to the seats of power? Would our countries now be full of experts on ‘the trouble with Kurdish culture’, railing against something called ‘Kurdism’, or would we instead be blaming the Kurds’ own Islamic faith? Can we imagine ‘reformed’ members of the PKK writing government ‘counter-extremism’ policies and running <a href="">compulsory ‘de-radicalisation’ programmes</a> for kids, like something inspired by A Clockwork Orange? The scary thing is not what might have been, but what we’ve already become. </p> <h2><strong>Beyond liberal posturing </strong></h2> <p>Just as the war on terror was a gift to al Qaeda, the new war on “extremist political Islam” is a gift to the “Islamic State”, which clearly isn’t going to be “annihilated” anytime soon. We need to <a href="">understand that</a>. Just as we need to understand – even if we accept the hypothesis that the Saudi and Turkish regimes bear some extra special responsibility for the disaster playing out in Iraq and Syria (music to the ears of war criminals like Assad and Blair) – that there is more than one war going on, with many complex historical dimensions, legitimate claims and grievances, and multiple external influences. </p> <p>Just look at Syria, where no less than 97 armed factions signed the recent ceasefire agreement (and others did not). There are scores more in Iraq, not to mention Libya and the Horn of Africa. Lots of these groups fight under the banner of Islam, including some who are fighting each other. In the absence of functioning states and economies, poverty is as much a driver of people to the arms of these groups. It is the purest of folly to suggest – on the back of received wisdom about “Salafism” and “Wahhabism” or anything else – that some of these groups should be selected for “annihilation”, while others are chosen as our “frenemies” in pursuit of those ends.</p> <p>If we genuinely want to channel the “rage at the sight of suffering that drives us to become progressives” into an alternative to the war on terror, we’re going to have to abandon the militarized identity politics, suppress the Islamophobia, and stop treating the world like a giant game of risk.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/alessio-colonnelli/short-skirts-and-short-tempers-italys-media-and-islamophobia">Short skirts and short tempers: Italy&#039;s media and Islamophobia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/paul-rogers/wests-shadow-war">The west&#039;s shadow war </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/paul-rogers/after-brussels-isiss-strategy">After Brussels, ISIS&#039;s strategy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? UK France EU Belgium Ben Hayes Sun, 03 Apr 2016 18:31:20 +0000 Ben Hayes 101058 at The other of the others am I: risk and alterity in the Brussels attacks <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>An excess of security may not only increase paranoia, but can also make the ‘otherness’ much harder.&nbsp; <strong><em><a href="">Português</a>,</em></strong><em> <a href=""><strong>Nederlands, </strong></a></em><a href=""><em><strong>Español</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="Entrance of Maelbeek/Maalbeek metro station after March 2016 Brussels attacks." title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Entrance of Maelbeek/Maalbeek metro station after March 2016 Brussels attacks. Wikicommons/Zinneke. Some rights reserved</span></span></span>I am a Brazilian scholar who’s been living in Brussels for almost four years. My experience on March 22 is likely to be similar to that of many other Brussels inhabitants. I received the news about the first blast at the airport early in the morning. Minutes later I learned about the bomb in Maelbeek, a metro station close to where I live and part of a line that I use regularly. </p> <p>My first reaction was of shock and worry about the possibility of someone close to me being amongst the victims. Through social networks, mainly Facebook and Whatsapp, I managed to contact my closest friends and relatives, which was comforting. Throughout the day I received many messages from friends and family in Brazil, but also from many acquaintances whom I hadn’t heard from in a long time. </p> <p>They were all worried about my and my partner’s safety. It goes without saying that these signs of solidarity, concern and affection were touching. On the other hand, I was impressed by their reactions because it made me realise that the risk of becoming a victim of an attack seemed much higher to outsiders. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">One life amongst "us" has more value than 81 lives of the "others" and that seems perfectly normal.</span></p> <p>Some simple statistics may help explain my point. So far 32 deaths have been counted in the attacks. The Brussels Region (only residents, excluding the thousands of people who commute to the capital daily) has about 1,140,000 inhabitants. This means that the probability of having been a victim of the attack is about one in 36,000, or 2.8 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. My city in Brazil, Goiânia (a city of a comparable size) had a homicide rate of 43 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015. If we assume that this will be the only terrorist attack in Brussels this year and that the homicide rate in Goiania in 2016 will remain the same, we can say that the chances of a resident of my beloved hometown being murdered are fifteen times higher than those of a Brussels resident dying in a terrorist attack. By which I obviously don’t mean to imply that the fear and media impact caused by homicides and terrorist attacks are directly comparable.</p> <p>Also, I don’t want to say that we should compare lives the way we compare apples. I made this mistake myself after the attacks in Paris last November. Despite having lived there for 3 years and feeling a strong connection with the city of light, I felt outraged by the selective media coverage of the attack, both traditional and social.&nbsp;</p> <p>Much attention was given to the death toll from the attack but hardly a word was uttered about other terrorist attacks that took place that same year in Mali and Kenya for example. Many of you might even be asking yourselves: which attacks? Kenya? We can also mention another example as recent as last week to highlight the same selectivity. More than 30 people were killed by a bomb explosion in one of the main shopping streets in Istanbul and the attack received not even one tenth of the media attention given to the Brussels incident. As the geographer Milton Santos claimed in his book <em>The space of the citizen</em>: "Each man is valued according to where he is." </p> <p>In general, however human we are, we feel the loss of our loved ones far deeper than the death of a stranger. There are several possible reasons for the fact that we care more about the lives of those we regard as "ours" than those we label as the "others", but I won’t go into that discussion in this text. Nevertheless I am reminded of the classic 80s film <em>Commando</em>. The film tells the story of retired Colonel John Matrix, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose daughter Jenny is kidnapped by a former companion, to force him to commit a political crime in the fictional country Valverde. The protagonist goes on a saga in search of his daughter and doesn’t spare anyone who crosses his path. He kills a total of 81 people (according to the calculations of the site <a href="">Movie Body Counts</a>). At no point during the film do we, the spectators, ask ourselves whether such a massacre is acceptable. When Jenny is finally rescued, we feel relief and we think it was worth the carnage. One life amongst "us" has more value than 81 lives of the "others" and that seems perfectly normal. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">This conflict between "us" and the "others" is clearly visible in recent terrorist attacks. It is also partially the cause of the problem.</span></p> <p>This dialectical relationship of otherness, this conflict between "us" and the "others", is clearly visible in the recent terrorist attacks, including those on Tuesday in Brussels. It is also partially the cause of the problem.&nbsp; Most of the terrorists are much more European than I am. They are Belgian, French, British, born in Europe, but who have never been fully integrated into the category of "us, the Europeans". They are the "others", the Arabs, Africans, the Muslims - and will apparently always be. On the other hand, to them we are the “others” and our lives have the same value as those of the 81 people killed by Colonel Matrix. As the author Clarice Lispector wrote in her book <em>Not to forget</em>: "My greatest experience would be to be the other of the others. And that the other of the others would be me."</p> <h2><strong>The dialectics of otherness as it plays out</strong></h2> <p>It is very likely that some reactions of the Belgian and European authorities will only reinforce the disparity and distance between "us" and "them", by for instance increasing border controls and police checks on young people in neighbourhoods with a strong presence of Arabs and Muslims (such as Molenbeek and Schaerbeek). There may also be an intensification of urban securitization like, for example, security checks already at the entrance of airports. It is indeed remarkable that a bottle of shampoo of more than 100 ml is confiscated at the security checkpoint, but that terrorists manage to easily enter the departures with three suitcases full of explosives. The barrier would have to be moved then, as already the case in Tel-Aviv, to the entrance of the airport. Long waiting lines outside the airport would be the result with people being exposed to new terrorist attacks. The solution? To move the border control even further. Where will it end? <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">It is therefore necessary to avoid hasty measures and show caution in the analyses.</span></p> <p>The analogy with the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 in the US is obvious. After the shooting, some US schools decided to install metal detectors at their entrances. In addition to creating long queues and normalizing suspicion and surveillance, this measure exposed students to new risks, as they had to spend more time waiting outside school grounds. It did not take long for principals to realize that such devices were inefficient and that they created new problems. It is therefore necessary to avoid hasty measures and show caution in the analyses, so attacks like the ones in Brussels do not result in xenophobic measures or measures which reinforce fear and paranoia. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">May the reactions to the Brussels tragedy contribute to the removal of barriers rather than strengthening them.</span></p> <p>According to the philosopher Ortega y Gasset, in his book <em>Meditation on the technique</em>, "human life and everything in it is a constant and absolute risk." The acknowledgement that life entails risks should not be understood here as a discouraging, frustrating or paralysing message. On the contrary, we must accept that there are limits to the rationalization and securitization of life, but that, in spite of these risks, life is worth living, and whether we like it or not, that those risks are inherent to human existence. Moreover, an excess of security may not only increase paranoia, but can also make the ‘otherness’ much harder. More distrust and prejudice will only increase the distance between the "others" and "us". May the reactions to the Brussels tragedy contribute to the removal of barriers rather than strengthening them.</p> <p><em>This text was originally published in Portuguese on the blog Brasil Debate ( and published in a Dutch translation in the journal De Wereld Morgen. </em>(<a href=""></a>).</p> <p><em>Translated from Portuguese by Hanneke Vanhellemont and Lucas Melgaço.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/paul-rogers/after-brussels-isiss-strategy">After Brussels, ISIS&#039;s strategy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item even"> Brazil </div> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> <div class="field-item even"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Internet </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? United States EU Brazil Belgium Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government International politics Internet Lucas Melgaço Sat, 26 Mar 2016 12:45:11 +0000 Lucas Melgaço 100895 at Iraq and Syria didn’t create ISIS - we did <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>After the Paris attacks, ISIS&nbsp;became yesterday’s story, as if the&nbsp;terrorist movement had disappeared into far lands not able to affect our lives any more.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="Maalbeek/Maelbeek station, 2012." title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Maalbeek/Maelbeek station, 2012. Wikicommons/ stalebg. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>With the recent capture of Salah Abdeslam, thought to be the only surviving member of the terror commandos of the Paris massacre, the western media has again focused on the threat of terrorist attack in western capitals by so-called Islamic State, ISIS. </p> <p>This morning’s tragic events in Brussels airport and metro shocked the world and created a heightened sense of insecurity, in a similar way to the effects of last year’s Charlie Hebdo terror attack in January and later Paris attacks in November by&nbsp;ISIS. But then, after Paris attacks, the focus of media shifted hastily elsewhere and&nbsp;ISIS&nbsp;became yesterday’s story, as if the&nbsp;terrorist movement had ceased to exist or disappeared into far lands not able to affect our lives any more.</p> <p>In reality,&nbsp;ISIS&nbsp;has never stopped killing people brutally in large numbers since the slaughter in Paris in November last year.&nbsp; It has kept murdering innocent civilians in large numbers, but not in Europe. Just last month in late February, two&nbsp;ISIS suicide bombers blew themselves up in an outdoor mobile phone market in Sadr&nbsp;City, Iraq, killing 73 people and injuring more than 100. On the same day, hundreds of&nbsp;ISIS&nbsp;fighters coordinated a massive attack in Abu&nbsp;Ghraib, on the western outskirts of Baghdad. This was just one day’s news in Iraq.&nbsp; Almost every day in Iraq, Libya and Syria there are terrorist attacks, suicide bombs, and tens, if not hundreds, of civilians murdered, around-the-clock. Almost certainly many more are being murdered right now, as we’re watching the news from Brussels airport in fear.&nbsp; </p> <p>Our part of the world, the western world scarcely notices many of these bloody events because they seem to be part of the natural&nbsp;order in those faraway, and somewhat exotic, lands - Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. There is a disconnect in western minds between the wars in the Middle East and North Africa and terrorist attacks in western capitals. Apart from the psychological help one gets from feeling that many of those scary events are happening in far-off places, safely removed from us, to separate the two is also very much in the interests of&nbsp;western political leaders. Because in this way, they stop their public from recognising that miscalculated and extremely disastrous policies of the US government and its allies in Europe contributed to creating the conditions for the rise of&nbsp;terrorist gangs like ISIS&nbsp;to which Salah Abdeslam belonged.</p> <p>Fabrice Balanche, a leading French expert on Syria who now works for the <em>Washington Institute for&nbsp;Near East Policy</em>, <a href="">says in an interview</a> with <em>Carnegie Endowment for International Peace</em> in January 2015:</p> <p>‘In 2011–2012, we suffered a type of intellectual McCarthyism on the Syrian question: if you said that Assad was not about to fall within&nbsp;three months, you would be suspected of being paid by the Syrian regime. And with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs having taken up&nbsp;the cause of the Syrian opposition, it would have been in bad taste to contradict its communiqués…. By taking up the cause of the Syrian and Libyan opposition and destroying the Syrian and Libyan states, France and Britain opened the&nbsp;door to&nbsp;ISIS and should share in the blame for the rise of&nbsp;ISIS&nbsp;and terrorism in Europe.’ </p> <p>Even some American military leaders now openly express their views that recent terrorist violence in the west is an understandable and predictable response to all the violence and mismanaged interventions delivered by our governments in the Middle East during the last two decades.&nbsp; ‘The Iraq War may turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in American history.&nbsp; In a mere 18 months we went from unprecedented levels of support after being one of the most hated countries…’, <a href="">said Lt. General William Odom</a>, former National Security Agency Director.</p> <p>To acknowledge this in no way justifies what happened in Paris in 2015 and Brussels today. Terrorist attacks against civilians are, without any doubt, crimes against humanity whenever and wherever they happen.&nbsp; At the same time, to pretend that western actions since the early 1990s in the Middle East have nothing to do with the current problem of terrorist attacks against western targets is to disregard the obvious and bury our heads in the sand.&nbsp; The emergence of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State or al-Qaeda is an unfortunate but predictable result of decades-long western military interference in the Middle East, which has caused the death of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Afghanis, Iraqis, Syrians and Libyans.&nbsp; The west now faces a Frankenstein’s monster, as the violence of IS is increasingly threatening not only the Middle East but Europe’s internal security.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item even"> France </div> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> <div class="field-item even"> United States </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Iraq </div> <div class="field-item even"> Syria </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Libya </div> <div class="field-item even"> Yemen </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Yemen Libya Syria Iraq United States EU France Belgium Bulent Gokay Tue, 22 Mar 2016 17:41:27 +0000 Bulent Gokay 100811 at Manifesto for civil liberties <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The origins of the manifesto, its elaboration and dissemination, followed by a brief history of the struggle for civil liberties in Europe and the main threats to those freedoms.&nbsp;<span style="color: #0b5394; font-family: arial, helvetica, sans-serif; -webkit-border-horizontal-spacing: 2px; -webkit-border-vertical-spacing: 2px; line-height: normal; font-size: x-small;"><strong><em><a style="color: #1155cc;" href="">Español</a></em></strong></span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="451" height="368" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Voltaire at his desk with a pen in his hand. Engraving by Baquoy, ca. 1795. Wikicommons/ Public domain.</span></span></span>When a month ago the <a href="">‘Manifesto for Civil Liberties in Spain and Europe’</a> was launched in Madrid, it followed the shift from shock to outrage over the ‘<a href="">case of the puppeteers</a>’: the High Court had ordered the incarceration of two puppeteers for performing a play in which the police plant a banner with the text “Alka-ETA” to incriminate a social activist. </p> <p>What the play set out to denounce became a sordid reality: the puppeteers standing accused of inciting terrorism hours after the staging of their play, thereby becoming the main protagonists in a national theatre performance, with media outlets acting out as the puppets of conservative power and its vulgar, yet sophisticated, ruse of political pressure for electoral interest. </p> <p>At stake was the democratic right to freedom of expression. Internationally, the <a href="">refugee</a> crisis was already evident, even though we had so far paid scant attention to the problem communicated through the images circulating on our screens: the Idomeni refugee camp on the border between Greece and Macedonia becoming a quagmire in which tens of thousands of people were waiting to continue their journey to other countries within the European Union.</p> <h2><strong>Elaboration and dissemination of the manifesto</strong></h2> <p>The manifesto for civil liberties was thus born out of a concern for the increasing restriction of rights fundamental to any democratic life, namely civil rights. The manifesto calls for their defence as an essential precondition for democracy and focuses on the multi-level crisis which engulfs Europe today. <a href="">Austerity</a> has not led to the promised recovery of economic growth, and stagnation manifests itself in increasing inequality and the concentration of wealth in the hands of the very few. The manifesto states: </p> <p>“in the face of the growing unrest of citizens, many EU countries have openly opted for repressive policies. This can be seen in the reduction of institutional tolerance towards protest, in the repeated construction of the figure of the ‘enemy’ and the centrality of the ‘war on terror’ as a substitute for the legitimate principle of the right to security”. </p> <p>And this attitude directly affects both the management of the refugee crisis and the exercise of rights by European citizens. </p> <h2><strong>The signatories</strong></h2> <p>Dozens of activists, academics and elected officials, led by the American philosopher Noam Chomsky, the Italian writer Toni Negri, the founder of New Left Review, Tariq Ali, and feminist thinker Silvia Federici signed the manifesto, which has amassed approximately 2,500 signatures in the first week of its release.</p> <p>The manifesto is another sign of the times in which we live in the way in so far as it was produced as a collaborative initiative promoted by a group of people from different backgrounds, people affiliated to a greater or lesser extent with different social movements and activist groups, of different ages and sensibilities.</p> <p>The contact between these activists took place in the streets, in social movements and public debates. They were perfect strangers just a few years ago. In the course of a couple of meetings, two meals with long after-lunch talks in a couple of taverns in the city centre, ‘collective intelligence’ was put at the service of our common preoccupations; the group was organised and coordinated in a simple and rational way.</p> <p>The knowledge and capabilities of each – depending on their personal interests and experience – were shared and valued in common and gradually turned into the essential pieces of the machinery that produced the manifesto and its web platform. What is more interesting is that this was an open and collective learning process through which the group had the opportunity to observe first-hand the way the manifesto developed, was diffused, and was introduced to its signatories and its readers. In a practical way it became possible to monitor the virtues and defects of our relationships through social networks and the media, the new possibilities for online activism and public debate as well as the challenges and difficulties.</p> <h2><strong>Clicktivism?</strong></h2> <p>Some commentators are unconvinced that this new activism through the Internet &nbsp;is capable of changing anything, limited as it may be to <em>sofactivism</em> and <a href=""><em>clicktivism</em></a>. Some speak of a “digital swarm” that has no common soul and cannot become a single voice, or about the compulsive and even naive use that does not allow a thoughtful debate on complex realities or the chance to raise awareness. The socio-economic context may provoke defensive reactions that sometimes lead to more fear and hostility replacing openness to dialogue. Social cohesion is weakened and replaced by large social networks that are merely superficial.</p> <p>Other commentators suggest that there is still interest in public issues and that digital media allow new creative forms of activism, organising and communicating, that work in synergy with an increase in popular participation in demonstrations, the gathering of signatures off-line and a critical attitude towards politicians, the financial sector and the capitalist economy. For example, many people received information through their digital networks regarding the murder of <a href="">Berta Cáceres</a> and signed online <a href="">petitions</a> to end violence or heard the call for <a href="">demonstrations</a>.</p> <p>Without falling into a techno-utopian vision and without forgetting the traditional media and the streets, we need to critically analyse media technologies and take advantage of the communicative and participatory possibilities offered by the digital revolution.</p> <p>Besides being one of the causes of the <a href="">new political cycle</a> that has opened up new spaces for politics and closed down others, the 15-M movement has implemented ways of relating in the city that had been weakened through successive years of economic growth, when it was not yet clear how illusory the safety and welfare of the middle class were. </p> <p>We have witnessed the development of these connections in which inter- (generational, racial, national...) dialogue may lead not only to the salvation of civil rights, but to deepening their practical applications in the context of the crisis of the current democratic model. Perhaps it is time to dare to have a serious dialogue.</p> <p>As we move forward, the past history and present day of Europe can be understood, not so much as a linear progression, but as a set of processes involving forces and counterpowers that either promote or hinder the progress of social rights and civil liberties. The present times demand a plural alliance of all democratic forces that are conscious of our past and preoccupied about the future of Europe, the planet and humanity.</p> <h2><strong>A short history of the struggle for civil liberties in Europe</strong></h2> <p>It is time to reaffirm our human dignity, with the memory of the past as a guide for the present and for the exercise of freedom in building a future where people and nature come first. We can learn from the historical processes that have improved the protection of civil liberties in Europe and better understand the counterforces that have limited them.</p> <p>Historical memory is useful to remember the positive results of <a href="">intercultural exchange</a> against chauvinism and fanaticism or that solidarity improves societies in the face of fear and hatred. </p> <p>The advance of freedom and gender equality in our societies would benefit from greater knowledge and understanding of the history of the <a href="">witch-hunt,</a> without forgetting, for example, the courage displayed by <a href="">Porete</a> in her defence of freedom of thought and expression. This develops in us a greater appreciation for the historical processes that have shaped us and fosters a <a href="">sense of common humanity</a>. </p> <p>The hypocrisy of our democracies betraying their own principles is reminiscent of the double standard of Calvin when he began to act against the principle of freedom of conscience to which he had dedicated himself. His discourse could not hide the <a href="">crime</a> perpetrated against Servetus. <a href="">Castellio spelled out</a> the obvious and was punished for it: “When I reflect on what a heretic really is, I can find no other criterion than that we are all heretics in the eyes of those who do not share our views”. </p> <p><a href="">Bruno’s words</a> can be useful to remember the power of freedom of expression and truth against repression: “Perchance you who pronounce my sentence are in greater fear than I who receive it”. The disregard for evidence and the primacy of power remains in force, but already Galileo had said, “and yet it moves”. </p> <p>Classical liberalism and the Enlightenment taught us that “no-one can compel me to be happy in accordance with his conception of the welfare of others, for each may seek his happiness in whatever way he sees fit, so long as he does not infringe upon the freedom of others”, in the words of <a href="">Kant</a>. We learned that we learn to be free by living in freedom and that freedom of thought is the basis of an emancipatory use of freedom of expression. We also learned about the value of geographical mobility. </p> <p><a href="">Voltaire</a> told us that the idea of freedom of expression lies in defending it for opinions which we disagree with. The French Revolution established academic freedom as a fundamental principle of public education that would be a key axis in the dissemination of knowledge oriented to the development of humanity, liberty, equality and fraternity. </p> <p>But Bonaparte arrived and guided the country’s modernisation and education under state control for the benefit of the political and economic elites. In opposition to this model, Humboldt promoted a national public education system based on the principle of academic freedom and cooperation. But soon after, Fichte favoured a state education system based on Prussian patriotism, linked to the creation of an authoritarian and nationalist nation-state. Absolutist governments cracked down on Enlightenment groups, accusing them of being “Demagogues”.</p> <p>During industrialisation, a government of the intellectual aristocracy was prompted in the service of a minority of proprietors. The working class opposed this project by developing the view that the emancipation of workers and of humanity can only be realised through collective solidarity and equality: I am free because we are free.</p> <p>In Spain, Krausists and the Second Republic put academic freedom and free speech at the centre of a cultural programme for social change. But these projects were aborted by fascism. At the University of Salamanca, legionnaire Millán-Astray interrupted Rector Unamuno by exclaiming “die all intellectuals and long live death.” Unamuno’s axiom – “<a href="">you will win but you will not convince</a>” – should today become, ‘we will convince and we will win’; a democratisation of culture connected with a democratisation of political and economic systems.</p> <p>The memory of the horrors of fascism and the post-war social consensus allowed greater legal, political, cultural and economic protection of rights and freedoms in the golden age of European democracies. In the United States, the civil rights movement promoted the democratisation of society and respect for cultural diversity. However, economic and political elites soon reacted in the 1970s with projects to counter the “democratic surge” of the 60s, as stated by the <a href=""><em>Trilateral Commission</em></a>. If the problem was an “excess of democracy… needed instead is a greater degree of moderation in democracy”, establishing “desirable limits” through tighter economic and ideological control of cultural institutions. The programmes of massive surveillance and the cases of Assange, Snowden and Manning provide contemporary examples of the limits to freedom of information on a global level. </p> <h2><strong>Threats to civil liberties in Europe</strong></h2> <p><a href="">Today</a>, flaunting cruel indifference, Europe abandons the African and Middle Eastern populations to their fate – and sometimes to their death in the Mediterranean. The lack of solidarity with populations who are fleeing atrocities originated in imperial adventures (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya) or sponsored by sinister allies such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates and by the European arms industry itself, is a demonstration of hypocrisy and cruelty we thought would happen never again. As if this were not enough, gestures of solidarity with the victims are punished, as has been seen in the case of the Sevillian firefighters <a href="">arrested</a> and tried in Athens, accused of people trafficking while they were supporting the refugees.</p> <p><a href="">Women and girls</a> carry the greater risks of suffering violence in the European refugee and migrant crisis. At the same time, <a href=";rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=1&amp;ved=0ahUKEwiDivXOpLvLAhXIfhoKHZqmBvoQFggfMAA&amp;;;v6s=2&amp;v6t=11542&amp;usg=AFQjCNFZRpvq6xqd5S2AzK93c2EFlYyCXw&amp;bvm=bv.116636494,d.d24&amp;cad=rja">austerity policies undermine women’s rights</a> and increase the threat of gender violence.</p> <h2><strong>France a laboratory</strong></h2> <p>In Europe, a regression towards increasingly authoritarian regimes has become apparent. France itself, once a space for the conquest of freedoms and rights, has become a laboratory of a new militarist and repressive model. In response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the first movement of the (Social Democratic!) government was the activation of the <a href=""><em>Vigipirate</em></a><em> </em>system, designed in 1978 and whose ultimate refinement dates from 2015. </p> <p>The terrorist attacks of November 13 (Bataclan, etc.) led Hollande to claim that it was “an act of war of the Islamic State”, although it is public knowledge that the attackers were born in Belgium and Paris. In terms of foreign policy, France acted violently, bombarding Raqqa (Syria), where the Islamic State was held to have its bases, brushing aside the criticism that <a href="">civilians</a> were being killed. ‘Put out the fire with gasoline’ seems to have been the slogan of Hollande’s government. Domestically, the government responded by declaring its <a href="">State of Emergency:</a> closing schools and universities, the general suspension of rights and guarantees, the deployment of the army in the streets and harsh border controls.</p> <p><a href="">Belgium</a> has acted in the same way after discovering that several of the terrorists were from its territory: it suspended New Year’s Eve celebrations and, for several days, Brussels remained paralyzed by repressive action that included the suspension of rights and guarantees. How distant seem those times when States responded to the threat of declared enemies by trying to reassure their societies. They have completely reversed that logic, adopting what Naomi Klein has called <a href="">“The Shock Doctrine”</a>: there is nothing more effective for the implementation of policies oriented to subtract economic, social and political rights from its population than keeping it terrorised by external threats, thereby appearing as the putative guarantor of the survival of <em>our way of life</em>.</p> <h2><strong>Spain a spearhead</strong></h2> <p>Spain is no stranger to this strategy of increasing the restriction on rights and freedoms. In fact it has been spearheading this trend. After the state of mobilisation and self-organisation initiated by the 15M-movement, and continued by the <em>Mareas</em> (Tides), platforms and social movements, the Establishment tried to restore consensus to address what they call the second Transition (it is worth remembering the assertion “the second time as farce”). </p> <p>Behind this scenery of redundant theatricality, the escalation of repression continues: the enactment of the <a href="">Gag Law</a> that includes penal classifications more characteristic of a narrow-minded dictatorship than a democracy, the four-year prison sentence for Alfonso Fernández Ortega –‘<a href="">Alfon</a>’– without substantiated evidence, the pending trials of many activists who participated in different demonstrations (the Marches of Dignity, squats, etc.), the prosecution of <a href="">Raúl Capín</a>, a photographer whose ‘crime’ is to have registered the constant police arbitrariness in the street, and the threat to the right to strike that became apparent in the trial of the ‘<a href=""><em>Airbus</em> 8</a>’ workers. </p> <p>Among the latest victims of this storm are the two puppeteers who dared at the carnival of Tetuán to dramatize an argument that challenged the repressive actions of the State. Appealing to a well-known strategy, they are accused of “exalting the terrorism of ETA and Al-Qaeda”.</p> <p>Democracy in Europe is also being restricted by media concentration and manipulation and by the growing <a href="">marketisation of the university</a> system. In response, social mobilisation has begun, for example, to carry out campaigns for <a href="">media reform</a> or in <a href="">defence of the public university</a> in the UK. </p> <p>The 15-M and the Occupy movement are attempts to put into practice the principle that, in the current historical moment, organisation and citizen participation are necessary to reverse the direction taken by governments and build a democracy that ensures the freedom of citizens to meet their own basic needs, and one that protects the exercise of the rights of all. A new cycle of collective struggle at a European level is awaiting us.</p> <h2><strong>Support the Manifesto</strong></h2> <p>The Manifesto for Civil Liberties in Spain and Europe is a collective response to increasing social inequality, the violation of human and social rights and setbacks in fundamental freedoms. It exists because we believe that only together we can build a Europe of the citizens that is democratic and protects the rights of all. You can read and support the manifesto here: <a href=""></a></p> <p>You can also visit us at <a href=""></a> and <a href=""></a> </p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> <div class="field-item even"> Spain </div> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> <div class="field-item even"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Syria Belgium France Spain EU Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Ideas International politics Joan Pedro-Carañana Lorenzo Pascasio Alberto Azcárate Tue, 22 Mar 2016 14:08:00 +0000 Alberto Azcárate, Lorenzo Pascasio and Joan Pedro-Carañana 100796 at Plan Canal in Brussels: Belgium vs Molenbeek <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Belgian government has unveiled a multi-million euro plan t<span style="line-height: 1.5;">o combat radical extremism in 'Molenbeekistan'. But does it ignore Islam altogether?</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Molenbeek, Belgium, and its canal. Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock. All Rights Reserved."><img src="//" alt="Molenbeek, Belgium, and its canal. Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock. All Rights Reserved." title="Molenbeek, Belgium, and its canal. Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock. All Rights Reserved." width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Molenbeek, Belgium, and its canal. Kiev.Victor/Shutterstock. All Rights Reserved.</span></span></span>The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have sent a shockwave through Belgium. As the links between the Paris attackers and Belgium became evident, the commune of Molenbeek, one of Belgium’s most impoverished suburbs (also heavily populated by people of an ethnic background) became the focus of the world’s media attention. Subsequently, Molenbeek soon gained notoriety as Europe’s terrorist capital: <a href="">the Molenbeekistan</a>.</span></p><h2>Cleansing 'Molenbeekistan'</h2><p><span>Echoing Nicolas Sarkozy’s statement that France’s citées (housing projects) had to be </span><a href="">“cleansed with a Kärcher”</a><span> after the 2005 riots, Belgium’s Minister of Interior, Jan Jambon, a member of the nationalist Flemish party (NVA), similarly, vowed to “clean up” Molenbeek. Two months after the attacks, Minister Jambon presented his “plan canal” (in reference to Molenbeek’s canal).</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>The plan aims at increasing the police presence in the <a href="">area by a thousand agents</a> before 2019. The Belgian government also vowed to invest millions of euros for the police and justice system to take action against "radicalisation, violent extremism and terrorism in the canal zone”. This means measures going from investment in new surveillance technologies to increased control over “places of worship” (and in this case of course one has to understand “Islamic places of worship”).</span></p><h2>Saudi sponsors</h2><p class="MsoNormal"><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="The Great Mosque of Brussels, which was part funded by Saudi Arabia. William Murphy/Flickr. Some Rights Reserved."><img src="//" alt="The Great Mosque of Brussels, which was part funded by Saudi Arabia. William Murphy/Flickr. Some Rights Reserved." title="The Great Mosque of Brussels, which was part funded by Saudi Arabia. William Murphy/Flickr. Some Rights Reserved." class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Great Mosque of Brussels, which was part funded by Saudi Arabia. William Murphy/Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.</span></span></span>However, the Belgian government knows that repression is not enough. The next step of the plan against radicalisation: </span><span>€</span><span>3.3 million to finance the salary of <a href="">80 new imams</a> who will preach an “integrated Islam”. After decades of tolerance and turning a blind eye towards the importation of Wahhabism <a href="">through Saudi sponsored mosques</a>, Belgium decided that it is time to start regulating and controlling what is being preached in Belgian mosques. Ironically, Belgium has turned to the strategy of states such as Saudi Arabia or Iran: repression on the one hand and the control and moulding of religious doctrine on the other.</span><span></span></p><h2>Contempt or neutrality?</h2><p class="MsoNormal"><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="President Obama visits the National Mosque of Malaysia in 2014. U.S. Department of State/Flickr. Some Rights Reserved."><img src="//" alt="President Obama visits the National Mosque of Malaysia in 2014. U.S. Department of State/Flickr. Some Rights Reserved." title="President Obama visits the National Mosque of Malaysia in 2014. U.S. Department of State/Flickr. Some Rights Reserved." class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>President Obama visits the National Mosque of Malaysia in 2014. U.S. Department of State/Flickr. Some Rights Reserved.</span></span></span>There is no doubt that increasing the control over potential terrorists is needed. Yet it is materially impossible to control every potential “lone wolf” 24/7. There is no doubt either that <a href="">the laissez-faire style of Belgium</a> and other European states towards Wahabism needed to end. Yet how can the state legitimately try to influence what is being preached in mosques when there is such <a href="">an attitude of contempt towards Islam</a> in general in Belgian society and politicians preach an intolerant form of “neutrality” in the public sphere (basically a Belgian version of France’s laïcité)?</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>What about recognising Islamic identity as part of a broad, multicultural European identity? When the hijab wearing member of the socialist party in Molenbeek, Farida Tahar, confronted the “liberal” Richard Miller <a href="">about “extremist secularism” on Belgian television</a>, she mentioned Canada as an example to inspire Belgium’s multicultural reality. Indeed, she was right to mention the gap between Europe’s attitude towards difference and countries such as Canada, the US or even New Zealand.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>It is worth mentioning an anecdote which reveals the gap between the two set of mentalities. When Barak Obama <a href="">visited a mosque in the US</a> at the beginning of the month, he appeared confidently in front of the cameras surrounded by women wearing headscarves. When the Prince of Belgium recently visited Molenbeek, headscarves suddenly disappeared from Molenbeek (while they are usually visible at every street corner in the commune) on the state TV channel news’ coverage.</span></p><h2>Recognising Islam</h2><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Police patrol the streets of Brussels, Belgium. CRM / Shutterstock. All Rights Reserved."><img src="//" alt="Police patrol the streets of Brussels, Belgium. CRM / Shutterstock. All Rights Reserved." title="Police patrol the streets of Brussels, Belgium. CRM / Shutterstock. All Rights Reserved." class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Police patrol the streets of Brussels, Belgium. CRM / Shutterstock. All Rights Reserved.</span></span></span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>This is what the plan canal misses altogether: recognition. Islam is not recognized in Belgium, it is tolerated. When it is recognised, it is a bracketed, almost erased, form of Islam: the good Muslim who shares sweets at the end of the fasting month and eats couscous with his neighbours but hides his five daily prayers in his house, far away from Belgian’s public sphere. It is not the lady who complains because wearing a head scarf is a symptom of unemployment for her. It is not the teenager who asks for a space to pray at school.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Islam would, maybe, be the antithesis of European’s liberal and democratic values. &nbsp;But who is to say it is? Is it the role of politicians to define who Muslims are or should be? Is it the role of Saudi sponsored Imams to control the identity of European Muslims? <a href="">Europe’s current struggle</a> against radicalisation is a struggle against democracy: it defines and divides Muslims but at no point does it give the opportunity to Muslims to express themselves in their identity and to make their own choices.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>If Islam is really this perverted faith incompatible with the values of justice, freedom of speech and rationality then it should not be tolerated. It has no place in Europe nor anywhere else. If, however, Islam is not only compatible with, but even embodies at least some of these ideals, then the actual tolerance tainted with contempt and repression attitude of European authorities is not only unjust and in contradiction with “our” (who is the we?) values but it actually fuels the feelings of disrespect which political theorists such as Axel Honneth have described as the main motivational factors behind <a href="">struggles for recognition</a>. The current struggle for recognition in Europe has taken an agonistic turn. It is time to give it a democratic turn.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Belgium Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality International politics Nicolas Pirsoul Fri, 26 Feb 2016 23:23:17 +0000 Nicolas Pirsoul 100131 at Democracy and belonging <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In 2006, a conversation before a large audience in Rotterdam on the role that Muslims should play in European societies took place, between Dyab Abou Jahjah, then president of the Arab European League with its Antwerp headquarters, and Tariq Ramadan. openDemocracy’s Editor was there. Archive.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="Tariq Ramadan, 2009. " title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tariq Ramadan, 2009. Wikicommons/Joshua Sherurcij. some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Zakaria Hamidi is surprised at how many ‘Dutch people’ have come along to the first of a series of public debates in Rotterdam organised by the newly-launched New Horizon – a platform for discussion with a special focus on Islam in the Netherlands. The Mayor of Rotterdam has given a paternalistic blessing to the proceedings, with a few sincerely felt words urging Muslims and non-Muslims alike to take responsibility for their city. After 9/11, the Mayor had responded to the call for improving ‘social cohesion in the cities’ by initiating an annual Day of Dialogue, designed to bring citizens from different cultural backgrounds together around tables set up throughout the city, to discuss concrete challenges faced by their communities as well as Rotterdam as a whole. No subject was taboo: the main idea was the idea of inclusion. After a while, Zakaria and his colleagues had the feeling that it was always the same people who came and talked. State-funded Muslim organisations invited them to participate in discussions of ‘Islam and homosexuality’ or ‘Islam and wife-beating’, but there seemed little space to discuss European identity, the space that secular society gives to religion, or Iraq. Zakaria and his friends decided that they would like to organise their own debates.</p> <p>Over 800 of us are packed in serried rows into the big Aula conference hall in Erasmus University on a Friday night, mid January, waiting for the arrival of what the young lady in the Chair describes as ‘two men who have dedicated a lot of time, energy and heart to analysing the problems of disharmony between Muslims and non-Muslims, beginning with Belgium and France, but always aiming for European solutions – solutions for the world at large.’ It has taken Zakaria a year to bring his speakers together, and 200 people have already had to be turned away. What everybody there knows but she doesn’t mention is that Dyab Abou Jahjah, president of the Arab European League (AEL) with headquarters in Antwerp, founder of the fledgling Muslim Democratic Party in Belgium and promoter of a militant form of Arab European identity, and Tariq Ramadan, Swiss-born professor of philosophy, and author of numerous books including <em>To be a European Muslim</em> and in 2004, <em>Western Muslims &amp; the Future of Islam</em>, are two of the most charismatic and controversial figures to emerge from the Muslim community in Europe, just in time to leap into the post-9/11 spotlight. </p> <p>Both men have a considerable following, and on the surface seem to disagree about almost everything. Dyab Abou Jahjah, born in the Lebanon, has been called the Belgian Malcolm X, while Tariq Ramadan, as he will remind us tonight, is often described as ‘the preacher of the banlieues’. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">Dyab Abou Jahjah, born in the Lebanon, has been called the Belgian Malcolm X, while Tariq Ramadan, as he will remind us tonight, is often described as ‘the preacher of the banlieues’.</span> Abou Jahjah sees his comrades as members of a pan-Arab nation or diaspora who also happen to be European citizens; while Ramadan’s message begins and ends in his Islamic principles. So our Chair’s pious-sounding concluding remark that, ‘Maybe by the end of the night, we will find out that both men would however like to join forces… in helping Muslims to freedom and peace’ does little to dent the hopes of those who came wanting to hear a good row.</p> <h2><strong>Face to face</strong></h2> <p>The speakers have been invited to lay out their wares by addressing brief questions with a right of reply after each, starting with: is being a Muslim compatible with living in Europe – can Islam fit in? </p> <p>Tariq Ramadan is first up with&nbsp; a series of linked arguments which he makes systematically, as you might expect from a philosopher. First thesis: Islam is not a world which you find yourself inside or outside. It is a universal religion based on a set of principles. Therefore, you do not have to decide whether it has to be subsumed within your European culture, or the other way around. The constitutions and legal frameworks of the European countries are based on two essential principles in this regard, freedom of worship, freedom of conscience. No-one is going to tell a Muslim living in Holland, ‘You have to drink alcohol; you cannot fast during Ramadan’. So, he concludes his first point, ‘I can be fully Muslim and fully European.’&nbsp; His second point comes from within the Islamic tradition. Not only, as Muslims, do you have to respect the legal framework in which you live, but you must do this in the name of Islam – since it is said within that tradition, ‘you must respect the contract.’ A deeper understanding of your religion precisely obliges you to be a deeply committed ‘true and transparent citizen’ in the country in which you live. It is not against Islam or as an exception to the norm practised in majority Islamic countries, that you are a committed European citizen: quite the reverse. </p> <p>His third premise, he points out to his audience, concerns a new development. Many of them were born here to immigrant parents; some are converts, but many Muslims have been living in parts of Europe for decades, if not centuries. They are Europeans, and what we are now seeing is the emergence of European Islam as a cultural reality – not one but many cultures: ‘You know why? Go to France and you will see that you are not very French ( laughter). You are Dutch – and some of you here are Muslim Dutch. So we have many cultures and it is not a problem. The universality of Islam does not exist in order to standardise the culture: it asks us to accept, in the name of your universal principles, the diversity of cultures. I am European by culture, Muslim by religion, Swiss by nationality, Egyptian by memory, and universalist in my principles! <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">"I am European by culture, Muslim by religion, Swiss by nationality, Egyptian by memory, and universalist in my principles!"</span> (much laughter) - and if you want to box me in, I will jump out of that box, and say, ‘OK! I have multiple boxes!’</p> <p>Ramadan, it turns out, is just warming up. The main point he wishes to make concerns the way in which you as a Muslim ought to fit into your European context. The worst mistake that you could make, he urges, is to be obsessed with your minority status as Muslims. There is no such thing as minority or second class citizenship in Europe. For Ramadan, the victim mentality he sees as holding back the maturing Muslim community in Europe must be jettisoned alongside ‘minority status’. ‘If someone refuses me a job because my face looks like an Arab face, I can give up, saying, “OK -&nbsp; He doesn’t like Islam!” or I can say, “There are laws in this country, and I will act against all forms of discrimination or Islamophobia because racism is a danger to our society and to our future. So by exposing your malpractice, I am helping to improve this society for everybody.” ’ </p> <p>Politicians, he continues to enthusiastic applause, must also learn this lesson: the politicians who neglect the community in between elections, and then come offering support for the building of a mosque at the last moment - they are using religion to get votes rather than treating the citizen as he or she deserves; and the other politicians, like the French MP who described the young French rioters to him as ‘those immigrants’, and when pushed, denied that they were ‘genuinely French’.&nbsp; ‘What then is a genuine Frenchman?’ Ramadan had asked him – ‘a white Frenchman?’ He has little time for&nbsp; politicians and analysts who seem determined to centre their analysis around ‘Islam, integration and identity’, let alone those who turn fears of Islam to short-term electoral advantage, when the real issues are those of social and economic deprivation, racism and ghettoisation. While both have been taking pot-shots at each other, neither the British nor the French approach, he says, is adequate to the challenge. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">While both have been taking pot-shots at each other, neither the British nor the French approach, he says, is adequate to the challenge.</span></p> <p>Waving aside all talk of ‘integration’ as the latest fashionable distraction from the real issues, and an insult to people who have been living in these countries for four or five generations or more – he concludes by urging Muslims in the audience to believe that they are ‘at home’ and to act in such a way as to make a contribution to their societies. For this also he has a particular definition in line with his argument. The best contribution you could make is to help your society live up to its own ideals – ‘let us be citizens in this society – not only Muslim citizens, but Christians, Jews, citizens, Arabs, all together, striving for more social justice, and to get rid of our mental, intellectual, cultural and religious ghettoes – all together. This is a challenge for all of us.’ </p> <p>Dyab Abou Jahjah now rises to say that he agrees with ‘80% of what he has just heard’, adding amicably that nobody will be surprised if he proceeds to concentrate on the areas in which he disagrees. His main point is a reformulation of the opening question. Since we are indeed all European citizens with critical capacities, ‘Why do people take it forgranted that we should look at the Netherlands, France and Belgium as places where we should just fit in? When we see that they do not live up to their own constitutions, or EU or international conventions on human rights – shouldn’t we be changing them? My question is, is Europe as it stands today, compatible with democracy?’ <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">"My question is, is Europe as it stands today, compatible with democracy?" </span></p><p>Ofcourse, he continues, the minute you put it this way, some people are going to accuse you of an activism which is in bad faith, and an incitement to hostility. But since they are always urging you to take up your responsibilities, why is society so blind to the course of action any truly committed citizen might take? The answer, Dyab Abou Jahjah believes, is because Muslims in these societies are ethnically in a numerical minority; they are a minority as immigrants or the children of immigrants; and, even if you discount these aspects, due to the inequalities, exclusion and discrimination they suffer, they are in a minority of citizens who really criticise the democratic credentials of European countries, and want to see profound change, ‘People who believe that a democracy cannot really be a democracy if it relies on a certain concentration of power and capital, and an international agenda focused on imperialism, colonialism and on being the lacquey of the United States of America.’ </p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="Dyab Abou Jahjah. 2008." title="" width="450" height="299" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dyab Abou Jahjah. 2008. Wikicommons/Hans Soete. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Once again, there is enthusiastic applause, as Abou Jahjah concludes that what follows from this is that everyone has a choice. Whether you are a Dutch Muslim of Moroccan or Turkish descent, a Swiss philosopher with Egyptian roots, or an Arab from Lebanon living in Antwerp,&nbsp; you have a stark choice between forgetting the forms of oppression and expoitation which brought you or your family to Europe in the first place, or aligning yourself with the oppressed and standing up for their rights as well as your own by espousing a radical democrat programme, like the one that the AEL advocates – a new 20-point vision-statement, addressed to the ‘Arab diaspora and the Arab world’, which Abou Jahjah urges the audience to visit on the AEL website. This is not a question of some kind of nostalgia for your origins, or divided loyalty, it is matter of knowing where you stand on key issues of power in the world. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">"This is not a question of some kind of nostalgia for your origins, or divided loyalty, it is matter of knowing where you stand on key issues of power in the world." </span></p> <p>From this perspective, Tariq Ramadan’s encouragement to Muslims to ‘feel at home’ is ‘creeping assimilation’. The comment about ‘Egypt being a memory’ has particularly grated with Abou Jahjah, as he explains afterwards, ‘The Third world is as real a presence today as Europe is, and it will be tomorrow: it will be oppressed tomorrow and pushed into dictatorship and violence and all that follows from that. You can tell me that you don’t need to be Egyptian to struggle on behalf of the Egyptian people and their rights, and I agree with you. But if you are, you have even more motivation. You don’t say, “I bailed out of there, but as a European of course I will look afresh at your grievances!” If they had democracy at least equal to what we enjoy here, maybe, fair enough! But when the Third world is what it is today – is that honourable?’ </p> <p>The passionate debate that follows these opening provocations has some interesting twists and turns. Ramadan is completely opposed to Islamic schools where these simply add to your segregation from society: Abou Jahjah sees this as a question of political tactics, and regards the recourse to such schools as understandable where mainstream education is dysfunctional and the state forbids girls to wear the hijab. Moreover he welcomes the fierce Dutch debate on this issue prompted by the call amongst others of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken Dutch MP who has renounced Islam and all its works -&nbsp; even though he disagrees with everything she says and personally ‘wishes she would shut up’ –&nbsp; a sentiment which provokes another well-humoured round of applause. </p> <p>Ramadan thinks that Islamic political parties are the very worst way to organise one’s-self: Abou Jahjah has founded such a party. Abou Jahjah, coming from Belgium, where 60% of young, urban ‘Moroccan immigrants’ are unemployed, urges European governments to use affirmative action where relevant qualifications exist, to ensure equal access to the labour market. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">No, he argued, what he wanted was a real anti-discrimination policy, not another ‘scheme’.</span> He points to the success of a Dutch law which obliged companies to prove that they were active in attracting ethnic minority employees. ‘Moroccan unemployment had doubled&nbsp; to 40% in the last two years, once this legislation was withdrawn’, he said. Ramadan saw this as the thin edge of a very undesirable wedge. For him, the example is the United States, where affirmative action, while it provides jobs for the few, has allowed the many to remain jobless and sidelined with such arguments as, ‘Look at Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice coming from a minority – you should be grateful.’ No, he argued, what he wanted was a real anti-discrimination policy, not another ‘scheme’.&nbsp;</p><p>At one point, frustrated with the difficulty of putting clear, blue water between his strategies and those of his co-speaker, Abou Jahjah, who has been building a branch of the AEL in France for a while now, implies that ‘the preacher’s’ response to the French rioters is confined to lecturing them on their ‘responsibilities’. He for one would like to put it on the record that he saluted, not their violence – ‘they are using a form of direct action which is traditionally French and perfectly proportionate to the provocation they have suffered’ – but their resistance. It is a rhetorical gesture and it certainly turns up the heat. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="Tariq Ramadan, 2010. " title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tariq Ramadan, 2010. Flickr/Srizki. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Ramadan is adamant that his practical, grass roots credentials are as solid as Abou Jahjah’s, and accuses him in turn of whipping up emotional support through protest because he too is ‘a politician’, willing to deploy the populist and publicist methods that Ramadan abjures. The following Monday, Abou Jahjah has invited anyone in the audience to join in a street protest at the decision by <em>Readers’ Digest</em> to make their ‘best European’ award to Ayaan Hirsi Ali for her defence of Muslim women. ‘How can they do that, when she has single-handedly set back the cause of Muslim women ?’ he asks with an air of incredulity that meets with support from many in the audience who appear to agree on the dubious nature of the accolade. This is typical of the ‘reactive’ way Abou Jahjah ‘works’, as Ramadan describes it to me back in London, ‘He goes from one crisis to the other, and where you have clashes, he will build support. But can that be effective in the long-run? When I&nbsp; ask him what he has to propose to those French youngsters apart from saluting them, he has no answer. <em>I </em>don’t just want to resist, <em>I </em>want to build. I don’t want to say, “I want my rights” – I want to be able to say, ‘Let us improve our society together.” ’ <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">‘<em>I </em>don’t just want to resist, <em>I </em>want to build. I don’t want to say, “I want my rights” – I want to be able to say, ‘Let us improve our society together.” ’ </span></p> <p>Back in the Aula, both men have that uncanny knack of knowing how to needle each other. Ramadan’s accusation of ‘emotionality’ touches a raw nerve in Abou Jahjah, who ‘gets enough of that thrown at him back in Antwerp!’ As far as he is concerned, ‘If his strategy is that nobody should be racist, that everyone should give everyone else a hug and then we’ll go home – isn’t <em>that</em> emotionality?’: those French youngsters have done far better for their cause than they would have done listening to Ramadan on ‘how a good Muslim should behave!’ Ramadan accuses Abou Jahjah of ‘disrespect’, and the audience begins to settle into something like the carnival atmosphere of a Wimbledon final.</p> <p>Some of them have been trying to work out what these differences amount to for themselves. A man at the back pipes up to the effect that it is a question of their respective constituences: Abou Jahjah speaks for ‘angry immigrants who feel socially excluded, while Ramadan’s supporters want to canalise their anger into a more positive channel’. A woman suggests that they look to the civil rights movement of the USA. Here was a similar, dual and complementary approach, for, ‘It was when they got afraid of Malcolm X that they started talking to Martin Luther King. Couldn’t that work for these two strategies?’ Sympathies seem pretty well divided: or perhaps it would be more exact to say that many in the audience do not want to have to choose. Nevertheless in the end, it is the initially more propitiatory Ramadan who best articulates the divide. The main focus of his criticism, which he returns to again and again, is that the AEL’s combative, identity-based politics can only aid and abett European society in treating Muslims as a minority apart.</p> <h2><strong>After-reckoning</strong></h2> <p>Two years ago, the professor was looking forward to his new, double tenured job for life at the University of Notre Dame. Suddenly in August 2004, his US visa was revoked for ‘national security’ reasons, with no explanation. Encouraged to reapply by Colin Powell in the State Department, he still heard nothing, and finally put an end to what he saw as humiliating uncertainty for himself and his family by resigning from this post in December of that year. We met in London a few days after Professor Ramadan, with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Association of University professors, PEN America Center, and the American Academy of Religion, filed a federal lawsuit against the US Government, determined to clear his name. </p> <p>What Ramadan wants to talk about, however, is a rebuff on a much more potentially devastating scale - the dangerous emergence of an ‘ideology of fear’ in Europe and elsewhere, no longer espoused by the far right alone, ‘My main concern is with those others who normalise their discourse and offer as common parlance an ideology that plays exactly the same role as one based on ideas, except that it is devoid of ideas or rationality and built out of emotions: a binary vision of Us and Them, virtual walls between us, Bush saying that he is the only one who can protect people against terrorism, Muslims feeling targeted. So we all feel ourselves to be victims and this throws us apart. We cannot build bridges or come together, or resist the primacy of a specific, dominant economy – because we are totally divided in the socio-political field. This is against a broader background of the everyday reality of racism, discrimination, ghettoisation.’</p> <p>Against this dangerous tendency, he sees another trajectory, one tantalisingly close in a Europe where large Muslim populations in Britain, France and Germany at least are reaching the stage where they feel ‘at home’. They have been through a lengthy and difficult integration process, beginning with acclimatising themselves to a new culture, environment, history, social mores and language. They have accepted a new legal framework, and begun to be socially integrated as active citizens.&nbsp; But there is a last stage, which he calls the ‘integration of intimacy’, when they are ready to make a commitment and to give something back to their societies, ‘This can be a virtuous circle, this stage. When you give something, you are not asked, “Where do you come from?”‘ Young as he is, Tariq Ramadan has been preparing for this moment for many years. Fifteen years ago he began his work of convincing Muslim leaders that it was necessary to return to the scriptural sources and begin a&nbsp; European reformation of their own, ‘This is exclusively a challenge to us. We still have this victim mentality which blames “the Other”, and which thinks of ourselves as minorities who need protection, rather than as people who can stand up actively for themselves in our societies. But things have been moving very fast on this front in the last few years, and we are coming forward with new answers and new perceptions.’ </p> <p>For the last five years, he has been building a think tank, the European Muslim Network, which brings together leaders of their communities, men and women who see themselves as Europeans thinking about a European future that in no way contradicts their Muslim faith, from eighteen countries, including Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Turkey, Holland, ‘And it works very well, They are spreading these ideas of citizenship which we share.’At the same time, he has been talking frankly to government, about the need to encourage&nbsp; a ‘critical belonging’ in their Muslim communities. And now, no doubt due to the Madrid bombing, French riots and July 7 attacks in London, they are listening to him: an invitation onto the Task Force set up in the wake of the latter by the British Government, is only one of numerous invitations he has received. </p> <p>What he says to those governments&nbsp; as he goes around advocating a national movement of independent local initiatives both for Muslims and with others, runs something like this: ‘ You cannot decide for the people who their leaders are. You cannot just send in Muslim scholars and intellectual road-shows to preach to the converted: you need mediators more in touch with the local realities. And the way you deal with them is really important. The old colonial way – ‘take us to your leaders so that we can work out how to deal with you’ - is the wrong way. Mediators have to be working credibly from within trying to help people, and Government too has to be sincere in its agenda. It has to ask itself: “Do we just want people to follow someone who is following us? Or are we willing to facilitate a process towards autonomy?” It is only if they choose the latter that those mediators will have any credibility.’ That is usually the sticking point: because ‘governments like control’. </p> <p>If they make the right choice, there are two golden rules to follow: the first is not to impose the type of discourse Muslims should be engaged in. Rather, facilitate these communities in what they want to do. In some areas there simply needs to be mutual recognition that there is a common interest in spreading a better understanding of who you are and where you live. In others, politicians tend to ‘Islamicise’ problems&nbsp; rather than face up to deep socio-economic challenges. It is very difficult sometimes, since many of the people who experience these problems are under social pressures and are all too ready to essentialise their experience – that is the kind of background they come from. But we need an altogether more deconstructive approach which can distinguish the different challenges here whilst recognising that they are also related in quite specific ways.’ So that is rule number one: trust the Muslims – it is their responsibility to be able to say, ‘Look, this is not a religious problem: this is a social problem’ - and let them do the job independently.</p> <p>Rule number two is that governments have to accept criticism, ‘Tony Blair is wrong to say there is no link between what happened in Iraq and what has happened in Britain. Ethically, there may be no cause and effect: but politically, there is a link. We should be able to listen to mediators who in turn are empowered to be critical.’ Ramadan’s point here is that being critical of your own society is precisely a good sign of European-style ‘belonging’. The problem, as he sees it, is that far too few non-Muslim European citizens are willing to accept that their Muslim counterparts have the same right, ‘All of a sudden you get a great deal of mistrust and muttering about double loyalties. This is my experience in France. You can only open your mouth to say what is wrong in our communities. If every time a mediator voices a criticism, we start muttering about loyalty tests and whatever else, their credibility will be destroyed. They will be useless.’ This is where the ideology of fear makes its ominous reappearance, ‘In this sphere of citizenship, we are beginning to hear today some of the allegations hurled at the Jews in the 1930 in Europe, who were also accused of “double-talk, double loyalty, fifth column”. They also were told, “you are not with us, you are in between”.’</p> <p>Enter Abou Jahjah and his diaspora. Let’s not exaggerate the contest between the two men, since both regard their encounter as a clarifying exercise in its own right, and are willing to engage in further discussions. But nothing could be further removed from Ramadan’s gargantuan efforts to move the debate on than what he sees as Abou Jahjah’s stance: ‘I can understand that people think of themselves as part of an Arab diaspora. But he is constructing something self-protective out of this diasporic connection, saying that you are not at home, and that you must resist an oppression. He is nurturing that sentiment, which you can sense feeds into another victim mentality. I am totally opposed to this idea that you are not really here, but that you are part of something which is somewhere else.’ Feeding so easily into the ‘fifth column’ fantasy, ‘That would be the worst kind of mistake!’</p> <p>But perhaps in concentrating on diaspora rather than citizenship, Ramadan is neglecting some of the AEL’s strengths. In the same two years, whatever the provocation, the AEL has demonstrated a resilient commitment to democracy and citizenship as its bottom line. Two years ago, the organisation survived a challenge from its then strong Islamist wing. This resulted in a new vision statement rejecting any kind of theocratic state, which prompted a walk-out by the Islamist wing. Now Islam remains part of the symbolic and cultural identity of many AEL members, but this in itself has no theological or political repercussions. The AEL clearly declares itself a multi-confessional campaign for democracy, containing Christian Arabs, those who are Jewish or of no faith. It continues its energetic fight against Islamophobia, but this is from a democratic and an anti-racist, but not a theological vantage-point. </p> <p>The same programme developes its definition of democracy in what Abou Jahjah describes as a ‘radical leftwing’ direction, as the ‘prevention of any and every kind of concentration of power’. The AEL has been looking for new allies who share their critique of the conventional nostrums of liberal democracy. Again, this is no mere defensive stance. It is clear that such open-ended discussions have a highly motivating and enlivening impact on the lives of the young men and women who rush around in Abou Jahjah’s company. Take, for example, his insistence that ideological oppression can be as oppressive as material oppression, ‘Look at theocratic authoritarianism in Islam, where an exclusive group takes to itself the power to issue fatwas over and above society. This concentration of knowledge is as antipathetic to a healthy democracy as any concentration of capital.’ At the very least, it is an interesting reformulation of people power. </p> <p>Moroever, the sheer cheek and political humour of Abou Jahjah’s stance is hard to reconcile with any ‘victim mentality’. Placed in the context of the highly charged stand-off between the minority immigrant population and the majority in Antwerp, let alone the far right – Abou Jahjah’s fondness for bringing issues out in the open and ‘challenging the boundaries of society’, his talent for media moments and soundbites, and his pride in his movement, have a bravura all their own.&nbsp; </p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="Dyab Abou Jahjah and race equality organisation, Movement X, November 2014" title="" width="460" height="255" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dyab Abou Jahjah and race equality organisation, Movement X, November 2014. Youtube.</span></span></span>In Abou Jahjah’s estimation, however, the Flemish far right is moving from strength to strength, ‘The banning of Vlaams Bloc only allowed them to start up a new party with more clubbable members, called Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest). You hear more and more voices coming from the Liberal Party who say, we can no longer sustain this <em>cordon sanitaire</em> against any cooperation with the Vlaams Belang. A well-known former member who has been arguing this for years, Hugo Corveliers, has formed a new party,VLOTT, that may join Vlaams Belang in a list-cartel for the next elections in October. In short, their persecution has not held them back. Pragmatically, it has helped them.’ </p> <p>This is one reason for his commitment to ‘absolute freedom of speech’. The far right, he believes, have been protected from themselves by laws banning hate speech, ‘Of course, I don’t believe people should call for violence or defame others: there are normal legal frameworks for all that. But when it comes to political opinions and artistic or literary expressions, I don’t believe they should be silenced. Especially in the arts, you really need to be able to give expression to extreme views that challenge what is acceptable.’ He has been honing a version of Voltaire’s dictum for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, ‘I may not like what you say, and might rather that you shut up! – but I will fight for your right to say it’.</p> <p>He may call for mandatory affirmative action from Government, but all Abou Jahjah’s instincts tend towards the longer term development of an empowered and aware citizenship: ‘Had banning the Vlaams Bloc led to their dissolution, it would have been a bad idea, because they would have been destroyed, not by being totally unmasked in front of a population that will choose democracy rather than racism, but because the Establishment quoshed it. That’s not how I want to combat racism. I want to destroy racists through the mobilisation of anti-racist forces, through grass roots activism, so that they are so marginalised that they can say whatever they want – but, like the Klu Klux Klan today in the United States – people will laugh at them.’ </p> <p>But what chance is there of such a mobilisation? The local context has its inevitably narrowing effect. The AEL collaborated with a far left party in the last elections in Belgium and will probably do so again this year, despite the fact that many of the latter’s regular voters balked at standing on the same ticket as Muslims and Arabs. This week, we have glimpsed just how rapidly options can narrow worldwide, when a handful of European media men decided to tweak Muslim ‘victim mentality’ by the tail. Check the AEL website today, and you will find its ‘free speech’ channelled into a return series of offensive cartoons. The satire is unerringly directed at the strange negation at the heart of the justification given, for example, by the editor of <em>Die Welt</em> when he claimed on behalf of Europe that ‘It is at the core of our culture that the most sacred things can be subject to criticism, laughter and satire.’ It reads, ‘After the lectures that Arabs and Muslims have received from Europeans on freedom of speech and on tolerance, and after many European newspapers republished the Danish cartoons… the AEL has decided to enter the cartoon business and to use our right of artistic expression. Just like the newspapers in Europe claim that they only want to defend freedom of speech and do not desire to stigmatise Muslims, we also stress that our cartoons are not meant as an offence to anybody and ought not to be taken as a statement against any group, community or historical fact. But if the time has come to break down all taboos, we certainly don’t want to be left behind.’ But in the end, this is not much more than an ultimately dead-end provocation. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">Muslim fundamentalist infiltration can be a problem and is a problem in Europe today. But the scale of that phenomenon is as yet very marginal. This is not reality today. Not yet.</span></p> <p>Dyab Abou Jahjah is as aware as Tariq Ramadan of what might happen if the politics of fear and the ‘victim mentality’ spiral out of control. He takes the same people to task, and for very similar reasons, ‘I am not naïve of course. Muslim fundamentalist infiltration can be a problem and is a problem in Europe today. But the scale of that phenomenon is as yet very marginal. This is not reality today. Not yet. And I hope it will never become a reality. The far right and those who echo them are actually encouraging such a scenario as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. They divert attention from the real issues, which if they were addressed, could create the basis for a more cohesive society with greater levels of solidarity between the various ethnicities in Europe. If they distract people from that task for long enough, then Muslim fundamentalism in Europe could become more of a problem. But the problems we have here in Europe today are not security problems: they are socio-economic, cultural, sometimes religious, sociological problems in general.’</p> <p class="mag-quote-right">‘But the problems we have here in Europe today are not security problems: they are socio-economic, cultural, sometimes religious, sociological problems in general.’</p> <p>Both men have a window of opportunity to help bring about the social transformation that they see as necessary, but is the task really any easier for Tariq Ramadan than his more confrontational Belgian counterpart? ‘Fifteen years ago’, Ramadan told me, ‘I spent my time speaking to Muslim reformers who were in agreement about how we should deal with our Islamic texts. Today, I hear some of those same reformers speaking just like me, about the need to be fully European and fully Muslim at the same time. But we are no longer on the same wavelength, because we disagree about our context. They wish to be modern, and they confuse this with adaptation to the current structure of domination. But to confirm the nature of power as you find it is not reform at all. Some of these Muslim leaders are really going to be on the right: they will join social liberal parties. For the first time, I can see this happening on the ground, and it presents us with a very deep challenge.’ </p> <p>So we come full circle to a persistent sense of just how much, albeit in very different ways, these two men have in common. Despite the theatricals and the sparring, both speakers want to see an end to Muslim ‘victim mentality’; both are urging people instead to be active in solving their own problems; both urge and promote active citizenship – not crude notions of nationality or mechanistic ideas of ‘integration’ -&nbsp; in countries where there is increasing disillusionment with electoral politics, particularly amongst young people; and both agree that being loyal to your country as a citizen entails being critical when that country is wrong. </p> <p>This may be part of the answer to Zakaria’s question about his first debate: why were so many ‘Dutch people’ there? I can only guess. But speaking as a member of a weary electorate in Britain, where the political class is gearing itself up to offer ‘new localism’ as a cautious concession to political renewal, this was one of those rare evenings, thanks to Tariq Ramadan and Dyab Abou Jahjah, when politics suddenly seemed to matter a lot, to us all.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-europe_islam/article_2006.jsp">A bridge across fear: an interview with Tariq Ramadan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/faith-europe_islam/article_1996.jsp">Reinventing Islam in Europe: a profile of Tariq Ramadan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/faith-europe_islam/article_1908.jsp">Everyone is afraid: the world according to Abou Jahjah</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> <div class="field-item even"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? EU UK Belgium France Rosemary Bechler Thu, 19 Nov 2015 23:45:36 +0000 Rosemary Bechler 97809 at Blame games <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The perpetrators of the attacks on the London Underground in 2005 were also born and raised in Britain. So much for the British-French dichotomy.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="Standoff between police and rioters, Croydon, London, 2011. " title="" width="460" height="252" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Standoff between police and rioters, Croydon, London, 2011. Wikicommons/ Raymond Yau. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>As the soul searching sets in after the Paris attacks, pundits will zoom in on France’s policies towards immigrants and minorities. But a look into history cautions against hasty blame games.</p> <p>As <a href=";action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;clickSource=story-heading&amp;module=span-ab-top-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news">more details are emerging</a> about the perpetrators of the Paris attacks, much of the discussion in the coming weeks will unavoidably focus on the alleged shortcomings of integrating immigrants and minorities into European societies. Similarly to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo earlier this year, it turns out that some, or even most, of the terrorists were born and raised in Europe. </p> <p>This realization should forbid simplistic confounding of Syrian refugees and terrorism; of the kind found in <a href="">Niall Ferguson’s demagogic analogy</a> between contemporary Europe and the fall of the Roman Empire allegedly overrun by “barbarians.” Yet the perpetrators’ European upbringing does urge a closer look at the social situation in France’s infamous <em>banlieues</em> once more.</p> <p>Public debate in France, but especially outside of France, is prone to searching for national particularities that can help explain why the <em>grande nation</em> appears more vulnerable to Islamist terrorism than its neighbors. A first obvious answer, which perhaps goes without saying and is hence discussed only rarely, is France’s greater military engagement in Syria—rendering the danger a little less acute in, say, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. But since this says nothing about the origin of the terrorists, questions persist as to the role and treatment of ethnic or religious minorities in European societies.</p> <p>The blood had barely dried on the Paris’s streets before German journalists began to ask whoever appeared near a microphone why France had ‘failed’ in its policies towards ‘integrating immigrants’, implying that this failure was the chief culprit for radicalizing young French Muslims. </p> <p>The British media’s variant of the same reflex typically points to France’s long-cherished ‘republican model’. According to this reading, the unwillingness of the French to admit the importance of ethnicity and race, alongside their secularism and their assimilationist desires, has exacerbated tensions in the suburbs, effectively by brushing under them under the carpet. </p> <p>Prohibiting the collection of ethnic statistics, <a href="">this argument holds</a>, covers up real problems and, by disallowing ethnic identity politics, hinders the emergence of moderate community leaders, whose absence then leaves the field open for radicals. The implicit contrast here is with Britain’s ‘model’ of multiculturalism, which assorts people into boxes that allegedly channel minority politics in a more benign fashion. This British-French dichotomy already informed the British reading of Paris’s suburban unrest in 2005 and will now doubtless reappear.</p> <p>Although intelligent observers <a href="">do not fail to note</a> that London had its own riots in 2011 and that the perpetrators of the attacks on the London Underground in 2005 were also born and raised in Britain, for some reason this insight does not lead them to reformulate their stance. Instead they persist in seeing a direct link between these alleged ‘models’ and countries’ vulnerability to homegrown terrorism. Yet a look across boundaries and into the past, reveals the tenuous nature of this causal relationship.</p> <p>If one looks at <a href="">the numbers</a> of jihadist fighters that each European country had sent to Syria and Iraq by December 2014, then the per-capita list was led by Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden. The <a href=";contentCollection=Europe&amp;module=RelatedCoverage&amp;region=Marginalia&amp;pgtype=article">Belgian connection</a> in particular is emerging clearly in the recent Paris attacks. Yet, no one would point to the extraordinary ‘failure’ of a supposedly typical Belgian, Danish, or Swedish ‘model’ of immigrant integration. It seems strange to single out France as having a specifically ‘French problem’—apart from its more assertive military role abroad.</p> <p>It is also worth noting that, until not so long ago, much of the European left cheered French republicanism for being less exclusionary towards minorities than other ‘models’. In the early twentieth century, African Americans celebrated an alleged absence of racism in France. As late as the 1990s, French citizenship conferred on the basis of place of birth was contrasted favorably with Germany’s exclusionary practices, which still treated third-generation immigrants as eternal ‘foreigners’. So, if anything, the explanatory burden must account for when, how, and why a ‘model’ once hailed for being conducive to swift ‘integration’ supposedly turned into a vehicle for exclusion and marginalization.</p><p> Concentrating on alleged overarching national ‘models’ as an explanation for homegrown Islamist terrorism is misleading. This is not to exonerate malign, misconceived, or simply ineffective government policies towards minority incorporation. They surely are part of the story. But focusing on a specific French ‘model’ of assimilationist republicanism which allegedly helped breed homegrown Islamist terrorism is to miss the much wider European and global context for Friday’s attacks</p><p><span>If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking </span><strong>Can Europe Make it?</strong><span> on </span><a href="">Facebook</a><span> and following us on Twitter </span><a href="">@oD_Europe</a></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/opensecurity/jeffrey-stevenson-murer/toxic-images-or-imaging-other-0">Toxic images or imaging the other</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/opensecurity/joel-white/return-of-state-to-parisian-banlieue">The return of the state to the Parisian banlieue</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/paul-thomas-ted-cantle/prevent-and-antiextremism-education">Prevent and anti-extremism education</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/opensecurity/robert-lambert/time-to-end-exceptional-security-policies-targeting-muslims-they-dont-wo">Time to end exceptional security policies targeting Muslims: they don&#039;t work</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/democracy-europe_islam/belonging_3317.jsp">Democracy, Islam and the politics of belonging</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item even"> Denmark </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Sweden </div> <div class="field-item even"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Syria Sweden Denmark Belgium UK France Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government International politics Michael Goebel Thu, 19 Nov 2015 00:09:03 +0000 Michael Goebel 97770 at A tragédia interminável do dia de Colombo <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <P>A celebração do Dia de Cristóvão Colombo não e aceitável. A colonização trouxe consigo uma imensa tragédia que há que começar a recordar. <EM><A href="" target=_blank><STRONG>E</strong></a><STRONG><A href="" target=_blank>nglish</a>. <A href="" target=_blank>Español.</a> </strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <P>O dia 12 de outubro celebra-se na maior parte dos Estados Unidos como o Dia de Colombo, embora não em todo o lado. Na Califórnia, no Oregon, no Nevada e no Havaí não é feriado, enquanto que noutros estados a data foi mantida, mas celebra-se alternativamente o dia do “americano indígena”, termo que aparentemente ignora a ironia que supõem celebrar os habitantes indígenas em tão notório dia. Tão irónico como a actitude daqueles Alemães que mantêm a celebração anual do Putsch da Cervejaria de Munich no dia do Yom Kippur. Isto será para muitos um exagero: Hitler foi obviamente o epítome da maldade, como poderia alguém não denominado Genghis ou Atila ser comparado com ele? Certamente não Cristóvão Colombo, que se parece mais com o avô de alguém que com um genocida. Ainda sem lançar alguém em fornos ou administrar-lhes Zyklon-B, Cristóvão Colombo carrega a responsabilidade pelas mortes de entre 15 e 100 milhões de pessoas [1] e a responsabilidad pela ruína completa de multiplas civiliza<SPAN class="j-title-breadcrumb">ções</span>, desde o Alasca à Terra do Fogo. </p> <P><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="// A.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" height="260" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <P>A maior parte dos relatos dos exploradores europeus tende a referir-se em primeiro lugar a abundantes planícies, com muitas cidades, densamente povoadas e à agricultura. Quando Hernan Cortés invadiu o México, o Império Asteca governava um território no qual viviam aproximadamente 6 milhões de pessoas,só ligeiramente inferior à população da Espanha de então. Durante a marcha, Bernal Diaz del Castillo escreveu: </p> <P>“Quando vimos tantas cidades e aldeias construídas sobre a agua ou grandes cidades sobre terra seca ficámos assombrados e dissemos para nós mesmos que pareciam encantamentos…” [2]</p> <P>Quando os espanhóis finalmente chegaram à capital asteca, encontraram em Tenochtitlán uma cidade-ilha com canais que rivalizavam com os de Veneza, e maior do que qualquer cidade europeia excetuando Paris e Constantinopla. Em 1539, Hernando de Soto procurou emular a bravura de Cortés e conquistar o seu próprio império americano. Guiou 600 conquistadores num percurso de quatro anos pelo que hoje é conhecido como o sudeste dos Estados Unidos, desde a Flórida à Carolina do Norte, passando pelo Tennessee, o Arkansas e o Texas. Foi capaz de realizar este feito assombroso não pelos seus dotes logísticos excepcionais, mas porque a terra estava “muito bem povoada com grandes cidades” que lhe permitiram roubar tudo o que precisava para alimentar e abrigar os seus homens durante o percurso. </p> <P>Existe alguma verdade na versão ofrecida da América como uma terra de vasta planícies habitadas somente por caçadores e coletores quando os ingleses chegaram, 70 anos antes da expedição de Soto. Mas quando Soto chegou, esses habitantes já não existiam. Muitos tinham morrido de doenças trazidas da Europa; muito mais morreram pela fome inevitável devido à falta de cultivos e desta forma uma complexa civilização caiu. Uma expedição francesa na zona do Rio de Mississippi em 1682 conduzida por Sieur de la Salle encontrou poucos indígenas nas zonas ocupadas pelos espanhóis e anteriormente densamente povoadas. Os Coosa, os Caddo, os Cahokian, os Plaquemine: as pessoas, as suas cidades e os seus monumentos foram todos varridos do mapa numa grande maré da doença. Este tipo de desastres eram de sobra conhecidos pelos Europeus; as epidemias foram em parte responsáveis pela crise do Império Romano no século III, pelo colapso parcial do império romano oriental e o império Sassânida no século VII e pelo colapso da civilização medieval antes do século XIII. Mas as populações europeias nunca foram tão mortalmente afetadas por uma tamanha variedade de pragas e doenças como as que os exploradores Ibéricos e conquistadores trouxeram com eles para as Américas. </p> <P>Crescendo nos anos 70 e nos anos 80, a minha exposição à história americana foi decididamente superficial. A narrativa que me foi explicada era extraordinariamente simples e linear: Cristóvão Colombo descobriu a América, o tempo passou, e os colonos ingleses começaram a povoar as regiões costeiras da Virginia e Massachusetts. A lição consistia: em mil quatrocentos e noventa e dois, Cristóvão Colombo dirigiu-se em direção ao oceano azul”, estas são as duas únicas ideias que a maior parte de Americanos adultos se lembrarão. O resto dos nossos módulos de história não foram muito mais além: houve algumas guerras índias, maioritariamente enquadradas dentro da luta entre a América Britânica e o Canadá Francês, da maior parte das quais saímos vitoriosos. Centrando-nos na Revolução Americana, onde a história dos indígenas americanos se torna em pouco mais que uma nota ao fim de página, o Rasto de Lágrimas foi “mau”; a liquidação de Sioux também, e o massacres das nações comanches e apaches também foram maus, mas menos importantes aos olhos de Hollywood. </p> <P>Não estou a atacar o sistema de educação americano; não há nação neste mundo que explique aos seus jovens impressionáveis que a sua história se baseia na liquidação e escravização de outra civilização. Creio que que os belgas não explicam às suas crianças o que os representantes do rei Leopoldo fizeram no Congo, nem os holandeses nas suas escolas elementares dão demasiados detalhes sobre como exatamente as Índias holandesas foram subjugadas e governadas. Os alemães certamente ensinam as suas crianças sobre a Segunda Guerra mundial – porque perderam e estiveram sobre ocupação durante 50 anos – mas o povo japonês, que também perdeu a guerra, mas esteve sob ocupação durante menos de 10 anos, ainda nega grande parte da sua culpa na mesma. Posso garantir que os espanhóis não ensinam às suas crianças sobre as suas várias atrocidades, porque as minhas crianças vão à escola lá e, definitivamente, não faz parte do plano de estudos. </p> <P>É inteiramente compreensível que cada nação se tente retratar da melhor forma possível, especialmente aos olhos das suas crianças. Nenhum país que se despreze a sim mesmo durará muito tempo. Além disso, o princípio fundador do estado-nação moderno é a mitologia romântica: “romântica” porque se centra numa epopeia com heróis claros e vilões, “mitologia” em quanto que não reflete exatamente o que se passou na sua história. Cada estado-nação moderno tem um mito romântico fundacional: simplesmente não o reconhecemos como tal porque faz parte do nosso ADN. Pensemos no mito britânico de Rei Artur que uniu todos os povos da ilha da Grã-Bretanha frente às invasões bárbaras[3], ou dos franceses com os seus “Nous ancétres les Galois. ” [4]. Nós os americanos temos os nossos mitos estabelecidos em figuras como George Washington, um moderno Cincinnatus, Thomas Jefferson com a sus declaração de valores, o engenhoso Benjamin Franklin e os Minute Men que saiam em grupo para lutar pelo pais e casa. Todos estes mitos tem a sua parte de verdade, mas estão tão perto da realidade como qualquer produção fidedigna de Hollywood. </p> <P>Compreensível, mas mesmo assim lamentável. Há boas razões porque queremos encorajar um espírito patriótico nas nossas crianças, mas há melhores motivos para ser honestos em relação à nossa história: principalmente para evitar repeti-la. Ninguém defende que as crianças alemãs não devam estar justificavelmente orgulhosas das suas grandes realizações culturais, científicas e literárias; mas, sentir-se-ia alguém na Europa confortável se as escolas alemãs começassem a encobrir o Terceiro Reich e os seus crimes? Isto é precisamente o que acontece na América com a Guerra civil, e na Europa com o seu legado Imperialista. Explicar às crianças os horrores da escravidão e como foi diretamente responsável pela guerra mais sangrenta na nossa história não supõe odiar a América; e poderia ajudá-los a entender melhor o contexto cultural no qual vivem os afro-americanos hoje em dia. Evitar este debate só leva a uma perpetuação de atitudes de superioridade racial e nacional em evidência hoje em dia. </p> <P>Esta ignorância deliberada continua a infectar as nossas sociedades e supõe um pesado preço a pagar nos dias de hoje. Estas ricas culturas perderam-se, em alguns casos tendo sido destruídas propositadamente e substituídas por uma narrativa simplificada que oscila entre o "nobre selvagem" e o "bruto selvagem". Nenhum extremo pode caracterizá-los, sendo ditas tentativas infantis, tendo sido usado muitas vezes em perseguição de objetivos políticos modernos que pouco tem que ver com o que realmente se passou. Muitas destas narrativas usaram-se para justificar o poder contínuo de uma casta política e económica, exclusivamente composta por descendentes de europeus. Reescrevendo a história, estas elites evitaram com sucesso qualquer redistribuição do poder em favor dos descendentes dos habitantes originais do continente. Reescrevendo a história, os europeus evitaram com sucesso qualquer discussão de reparações a pagar pelos séculos da pilhagem de dois continentes usados como combustível para perpetuar a hegemonia do capitalismo e do imperialismo no Velho Mundo.</p> <P>O legado de Cristóvão Colombo continua a atormentar-nos de outras formas. A América do Sul e a América do Norte tem, em média, os índices de homicídio mais altos no mundo, sendo 2.5 vezes superior à média global e mais de 5 vezes superior à média da Europa.</p> <P>A pobreza não é a explicação, uma vez que os Estados Unidos têm um índice de homicídios que é duas vezes superior à média europeia; enquanto que países com um rendimento médio, como o Brasil e a Argentina são lugares claramente mais perigosos que países com um similar nível de rendimentos na Europa, por exemplo Portugal ou a Polônia. Entretanto, há nações pobres na Ásia e a África que têm índices muito mais baixas de mortes violentas do que os seus equivalentes latino-americanos. </p> <P>Leis de porte de armas permissivas também não explicam esta realidade, uma vez que muitas ilhas das Caraíbas são territórios ultra marinhos que dependem de estados europeus e partilham as mesmas leis de porte de armas, com indicies de violência muitas vezes mais alto que o da metrópole. As Ilhas Virgens britânicas,as Ilhas Caimão, as Bermudas e Montserrat todos são muito mais mortais do que o Reino Unido; tal como a Martinica, Saint Pierre e a Guiné Francesa são muito mais violentas do que a França.</p> <P>Somente existe uma vítima do colonialismo Europeu que sofreu mais que as Américas, e esta vítima é a África. E dentro de África, as áreas onde o comércio de escravo Atlántico foi o mais ativo são aquelas onde a violência permanece mais endêmica junto com as áreas da África do Sul que os europeus tentaram colonizar através expulsão forçosa das tribos nativas.</p> <P><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="// B.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" height="260" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <P>O denominador comum é a escravidão. Os países onde a escravidão prevaleceu e onde os escravos superaram uma proporção significante da população tendem a ter indicies significativamente mais altos da violência do que aqueles onde a escravidão não foi significante. E esta violência não se distribui de igual forma: concentrasse desproporcionalmente nos descendentes daqueles escravos [5]. Nos Estados Unidos, os afro-americanos são as maiores vítimas de homicídio com um índice surpreendente de 19.4 por 100,000 da população, quase 8 vezes mais alto do que índice de brancos não-hispânicos, cujos 2.5 por 100,000 está perto do índice da Bélgica ou da Finlândia. É alguma surpresa por tanto que o controlo de armas seja uma questão tão politizada nos Estados Unidos? Os eleitores brancos têm uma impressão muito diferente da escala da violência com armas do fogo daquela que tem os eleitores pretos e hispânicos. É quase como estivéssemos a falar de três países diferentes.</p> <P><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="// C.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <P>O Brasil tem indicies de mortes violentas que correspondem aos de uma pequena guerra, que aflige desproporcionalmente os pobres, os residentes pretos das favelas. Desde 2001, aproximadamente uns 45,000 brasileiros por ano foram vítimas de homicídio e mais de dois terços deles são negros. Isto não quer dizer que os brancos não são vitimas de violência; mas que enquanto que o indice de homicídios relativo aos brancos caiu em 23% num período superior a 10 anos, o índice de homicídio relativo ais cidadãos pretos aumentou em 3.5% no mesmo período. Mais chocante é o fato que entre 15% a 20% das mortes nos dois maiores estados do Brasil, São Paulo e Rio de Janeiro, foram causados pela polícia. Mais de 11,200 vítimas foram mortas pela polícia durante a década 2002-2012, enquanto que em 2014 o total aumentou em 3,000 civis [6]. A escala da violência racial endêmica faz com que Ferguson se pareça a uma mera discussão numa reunião do “Rotary Club”. </p> <P><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="// D.png" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <P>Quase todas as ilhas das Caraíbas – as famosas Ilhas do Açúcar – tem um problema semelhante com os indices de violência e homicídios Uma das exceções principais é o Haiti, onde uma revolta de escravo eliminou por completo a aristocracia fazendeira. É a nação mais pobre no hemisfério ocidental devido à mutilação deliberada da sua economia depois da revolução haitiana pela Europa e os Estados Unidos, mas sendo o seu índice de homicídios metade do mesmo índice no seu vizinho mais rico, a República Dominicana, com quem compartilha a ilha de Hispaniola.</p> <P>Uma grande população preta é um fator chave, mas também o é uma grande população indígena, como fator secundário. Não deve ser um choque que as três nações do Cone Sul (Argentina, Uruguai y Chile) com uma proporção mais pequena de habitantes pretos e indígenas – são as três nações latino-americanas com os índices de homicídios mais baixos. As nações latino-americanas com populações indígenas maiores tem índices de homicídio intermédios entre os mais “dominantes” estados Europeus e os antigos estados escravos. O México, o maior país de língua espanhola do mundo, historicamente não tinha quase escravidão africana: a população indígena foi bastante grande até há aparição das doenças epidêmicas, uma conquista brutal e uma guerra guerrilheira devastadora que durou cerca 40 anos [7], apesar de ainda terem sobrevivido bastantes indígenas que foram abandonados nas minas de prata de Zacatecas. Os índices de homicídio no México eram ainda mais altos antes que a competição de cartéis de droga rivais se transformasse na guerra contra as drogas que existe hoje. Antes da erupção da matança relacionada com o narcotráfico, a violência era endêmica nos estados com concentrações mais altas de povos indígenas: Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, Guerrero e Yucatán.</p> <P><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="// E.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="299" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p> <P>Não é surpreendente. A escravidão colonial só foi possível devido a um sistema da violência institucional justificado pela implementação da superioridade racial. O aparato legal, policial e militar do estado assegurou que uma pequena minoria de europeus pudesse dominar e explorar tantos indígenas africanos como americanos. A violência é inerente e exuberante num sistema caracterizado pelo tratamento brutal a que foram sujeitos os trabalhadores, sem libertardes e sometidos a um particular sistema de poder. Nem a emancipação supôs necessariamente a modificação da situação. Ao estar o poder político e económico concentrado nas mãos de uma minoria ou elite étnica, a violência estatal encarregousse de manter dita concentração no lugar. É precisamente o modelo que observamos nestes países. Um modelo imposto pela conquista e pelo colonialismo europeu. </p> <P>Não sou um grande fã de reparações, sobretudo porque as mesma seriam incrivelmente altas. De facto, como sería possivel compensar ou reparar a destruição de mil civilizações? E as mesmas não são realistas, por isso quase melhor que nos concentremos em temas práticos. A questão mais urgente deve ser reconhecer a realidade histórica e não sacrifica-la por mitos. Não se trata de atribuir culpas; mas haverá pouca esperança de alterar atitudes e acabar com o racismo se os ossos dos assassinados são enterrados ignobilmente em fossas comuns. Os judeus dizem, justamente, sobre o Holocausto ou Shoah, “nunca esqueceremos”; mas o mesmo não se aplica aqueles genocídios perpetrados contra populações indígenas e pretas tanto em África como nas Américas. O primeiro passo consiste em lembrarmo-nos e reconhecer os crimes cometidos. </p> <P>E podemos deixar de celebrar o Dia de Colombo, seja qual for a o nome ou aparente significado que seja atribuído a dito dia. </p> <P><STRONG>Fontes e notas</strong></p> <P>[1] O número total de habitantes aborígenes das Américas em 1491 é discutível. Não tenho intenção de assumir uma posição sobre este tema, nem creio que precise de o fazer: as estatísticas conservadoras apontam 15 milhões de mortos, uma cifra já de por si abominável. </p> <P>[2] Bernal Díaz del Castillo, “A conquista da Nova Espanha”</p> <P>[3] Há indubitavelmente factos reais na lenda do Rei Artur, mas esta pessoa não foi certamente não rei e não unificou as Ilhas Britânicas, uma vez que a maioria de Gales e a Escócia permaneceu independente até aos tempos romanos. A migração de Ângulos, Saxônios, Jutas, Frisos e outros povos germânicos para a Grã-Bretanha veio não só através de invasões, mas como uma corrente constante de pessoas que não sempre implicaram a conquista.</p> <P>[4] “Os nossos antepassados, os Gauleses”. Há sangue indubitavelmente gaulês em muitas partes da Europa uma vez que este povo Celta foi um dos mais prolíficos e comuns na Europa e se estendeu até a Anatólia, mas como povo foram repelidos para os confins do continente. A França moderna estabeleceu-se a partir dos Franci, tribo germânica que conquistou a maioria da França do Norte durante o quarto e quinto século</p> <P>[5]Nate, Silver, ““<A href="" target="_blank">Black Americans Are Killed At 12 Times The Rate Of People In Other Developed Countries</a>,” FiveThirtyEight, 18 June 2015</p> <P>[6] Jaime A. Alves, “<A href="" target="_blank">Police Terror in Brazil</a>”, OpenDemocracy, 10 de outubro de 2015</p> <P>[7] Guerra Chichimeca, que durou desde 1550 até 1590</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Brazil </div> <div class="field-item even"> Argentina </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Chile </div> <div class="field-item even"> Uruguay </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Mexico </div> <div class="field-item even"> Spain </div> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> <div class="field-item even"> Portugal </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item even"> France </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Germany </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> DemocraciaAbierta Germany France Belgium Portugal United States Spain Mexico Uruguay Chile Argentina Brazil Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Ideas International politics north america mexico latin america europe Africa Fernando Betancor Thu, 15 Oct 2015 19:05:04 +0000 Fernando Betancor 96885 at Heysel: 30 years on <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A reflection on the thirtieth anniversary of the Heysel Stadium disaster - one of football's worst tragedies.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="257" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Heysel Stadium - shortly before the tragedy occurred. Flickr/youtubers watch. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em>The following foreword is taken from the book</em><em>&nbsp;</em><a href="">Heysel, the Truth</a><em>&nbsp;</em><em>by Francesco Caremani. We are publishing it here in honour of the thirtieth anniversary of this great tragedy.&nbsp;</em></p><p>There is no other book about the events at the Heysel stadium on 29 May 1985 more relevant than this one. Even the title -<em>Heysel, the truth -</em>&nbsp;about a tragedy foretold suggests that in terms of prevention we are never ahead. What happened was avoidable. It could have been avoided. It should have been avoided. And already 30 years have passed.</p> <p>Francesco Caremani chose to return to this tragedy delivered from the belly of Juventus-Liverpool on 29 May 1985. A great and noble idea. He asked me what I wanted to write in my foreword, if I wanted to edit it for the updated edition of this book. I decided to leave it exactly as it was. Not because I was lazy, but simply because I don’t regard it as being “out of date”. I adjusted a few things, edited a few details. </p><p>The book was published in 2003. On 2 February 2010 we remembered, silently, the third anniversary of the killing of Filippo Raciti, a police officer who died at the Soccer Stadium in Catania while the local team was playing against the Palermo football club. The violence was worthy of an arena, with soccer providing the platform, and sometimes the aim. Italy is the country of slogans (“Zero tolerance”), of turnstiles, of supporters’ ID cards, and supporters with cards. And it’s we, Italians, when we refer to Mario Balotelli, who claim that blacks cannot be Italian, we are the ones who profess that “Opti Poba has come to Italy otherwise he would be still eating bananas” (statement of the new elected head of the Italian Football federation Carlo Tavecchio). It is because of us that Ciro Esposito died in agony after an atrocious shooting. We are those, we are always those.</p> <p>I quoted facts and statements pertaining what happened after the Heysel and following the first edition of this book, <em>The Truth</em>. Everything passes, yet everything stays the same. Aside from the updates, edited by the author, remains the drama of a slaughter that has taught us very little, as we are still attached to the seventeenth-century English thinker Thomas Hobbes’ idea of the <em>homo homini lupus</em>. We dare not lower the guard. “The Italian stadiums are in the hands of the <em>Ultrà</em>”, ring the words and music by Fabio Capello. He stated and repeated that <em>after</em>, not <em>before</em> the disaster. Into the hands of the <em>Ultrà</em> and, I would suggest, of the <em>Ultrà</em> journalists and of the TV shows, that are often more fanatical than the new barbarians.</p> <p>Heysel remains an immense wound that jolts our memories, and has scarred our conscience, not only in Italy, but among all those who are perfectly aware that they were involved in something untoward. By returning to this space and time, we hope to spurn the indecent temptation of allowing bygones to be bygones. Thirty years and thirty-nine deaths later.</p> <p>***</p> <p>I am obliged to admit to being a <em>Juventino</em>. I got married to Liliana to the strains of <em>You’ll never walk alone</em>, the anthem of the Liverpool football club, the English club closest to my heart. The truth is that it was like that before the Heysel and it still is so.</p> <p>I was there too, that day. At that time, I was working for the daily <em>La Gazzetta dello Sport</em>, and I had contributed to a celebrative special insert to be published only if Juventus were to win. For obvious reasons the special edition was stillborn. I remember that it was a hot day, and suddenly, in one section of the stadium to my left, there was a hell unfolding. The price of that hell was the death of thirty-nine people, and they are the reason for a book, for this book. An uncomfortable read, I hasten to add.</p> <p>And a one-sided one. But on the side of good and of right.</p> <p>Francesco Caremani dug through tears, autopsies and post-mortems, showing how and why we had to add another layer of pain and indignation to the hurt and outrage already perpetrated in the carnage. All of this within a lethargic bureaucracy surrounded by disengaged sports institutions wriggling irresponsibly from the tragedy.</p> <p>That was 29 May 1985. The Heysel has been razed to the ground since, rebuilt and renamed King Baudouin, and no trace has remained of the notorious block Z, the fatal and lethal trap. Nonetheless, the Heysel and its gulag will live forever. On that evening, merely an ounce of organizational efficiency would have helped to avoid the massacre. The Belgian authorities and the UEFA lacked emergency measures and the fury of the hooligans did the rest.</p> <p>The heartbreaking irony is that the Brussels disaster was more useful for the English than it was for us, more to the advantage of the aggressors than those targeted, of more benefit to the perpetrators than the victims. Every time an accident occurs, there is a lot of talk about the “English model” and its laws: harsh, strict, prompt. On the contrary we, the Italians, have understood very little. And here we are, consuming our own stomachs while we wait for a decree, and then an amendment, a decree, and then an amendment, always at the receiving end of a system.</p> <p>Otello Lorentini is the actual narrator in this story, not me. Otello lost his son Roberto at the Heysel, and may be regarded as a sort of Virgil who accompanied the author in the underworld both during and after the tragedy. Lorentini was head and founder of the former <em>Associazione fra le famiglie delle vittime di Bruxelles</em> (Association for the families of Brussels victims). He transformed his pain into incredible, positive healing strength. He challenged everyone, and knocked at every door to prevent these unfortunate people from having to “die a second time”.</p> <p>It was not easy and it took time. In the end though, he gained something. His relentless dismantling of the facts was met with embarrassment, defensiveness, and reticence. If I had been Giampiero Boniperti, I would have hidden that bloody cup away and returned it to the tournament managers. That match was played in order to prevent further mayhem, fights and even more losses. It was won by a non-existent penalty, which was considered an acceptable outcome in this macabre chaos on a world stage. </p><p>It is as impossible to forget the exultations, as it is impossible not to stigmatize them; of course, it is easy too to point fingers. Nevertheless the awkwardness of this protocol had an appeasing purpose (“when the acrobat falls, the clowns enter the ring”). In terms of the soccer almanacs Michel Platini’s career ended on the day of his retirement, on 17 May 1987. But in reality it ended that night, under those eleven meters and that sense of guilt.</p> <p>Memory is something which needs to be trained, exercised. These pages serve the function of a gym where these horrific memories are being relived and we recall this appalling behaviour – something Italians prefer to sidestep in their lethargy. Apart from the compensation, and other measures taken (whether it is much or little) we don’t have to surrender to the ennui. The Heysel disaster is something that lies heavily on all of us. And we will never be able to downplay it; it would not be right. Thirty nine people died because of a soccer match; because of poor ticket allocation, drunkenness, lack of public order. Sooner or later, destiny’s bell tolls for all of us, but when it tolls deafeningly inside a stadium, there is no other option but to rebel.</p> <p>The alternative is to document it, as Francesco has done. Without rancour, with no fear or ulterior motives, he has called a spade a spade. What happened at the Heysel was a tragedy. The hope is always that the blood and cries will help to prevent such catastrophes in the future. There is a proverb in Italian which reads: “Time is a gentleman”; if we want Time to be a gentleman, we need men and institutions to act in the same way.</p> <p>I invite you to read these pages: you won’t discover any new horrors. But you will learn how hard it was to light a candle of justice. Only a candle…not a chandelier.</p><p><em><span>If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking </span><em><strong>Can Europe Make it?</strong></em><span> on </span><a href="">Facebook</a><span> and following us on Twitter </span><a href="">@oD_Europe</a></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/pascal-boniface-benjamin-grizbec/football-and-its-role-in-unifying-european-publi">Football and its role in unifying the European public space</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/isotta-rossoni/football-italian-synecdoche">Football: an Italian synecdoche?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Italy </div> <div class="field-item even"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? UK Belgium Italy Roberto Beccantini Joining the dots on football in Europe Wed, 27 May 2015 19:42:44 +0000 Roberto Beccantini 93146 at Belgian jihadists in Syria: alienation, consumption, power <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Politicians are flexing their muscles and alienated youngsters are defiantly posting their Syrian ‘adventures’ online, but in the meantime the rule of law is being eroded without much notice. &nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Demotix/Yasmin Al Tellawy. Some rights reserved"><img src="//" alt="Isis fighters" title="Demotix/Yasmin Al Tellawy. Some rights reserved" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Demotix/Yasmin Al Tellawy. Some rights reserved</span></span></span></p><p>In October 2014, the largest ever prosecution of terrorists in Belgian history began. Members of a Salafi-Islamist affiliation called Sharia4Belgium and a set of 'Syria Fighters' are currently on trial - some in absentia. Concurrently, the new Belgian Minister of Interior and member of the conservative and separatist ‘New Flemish Alliance’ party, indicated that Belgium would also be moving in the direction of stripping such people of their citizenship, as mooted in other EU countries. Politicians are flexing their muscles and alienated youngsters are defiantly posting their Syrian ‘adventures’ online, but in the meantime the rule of law is being eroded without much notice. &nbsp;</p><h2><span>Society of spectacle</span></h2> <p>Those who take the time to look beyond the many clichés of political spectacle surrounding these ‘Syria Fighters’ often see troubled youngsters yearning for attention and personal significance. Through social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram they appear especially keen on arousing a non-Syrian public. Despite their provocative slogans and grotesque militant appearances, these alleged fighters appear less ideologically and politically grounded than is often presumed. This is apparent from their discussions and performances when they <em>themselves </em>speak out through various (alternative) media channels, where it is plain to see their societal alienation, permeated by complex individual emotions and/or social frustrations.</p> <h2><span>Belgians in Syria: spring 2012</span></h2> <p>The presence of Belgian nationals in Syria first came to the general public’s attention in the spring of 2012. Today, nationals of many other EU member states, as well as western states further afield (US, Canada, Australia), are also implicated in this migratory dynamic. Estimates made by the EU’s Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, amount to around 2,000 EU nationals amongst a total of anything between 5,000 and 17,000 ‘foreign fighters’ on site, but it is likely that overall numbers are higher. These numbers remain in flux mainly due to the fact that many such agents also return home (often disillusioned), while others’ presence is only disclosed to authorities and family members if they have died in Syria. It is important to note however that not all those who leave the EU for Syria go there to fight, or even to fight the Assad-regime. Reports have signalled that a small number have joined pro-regime forces, while European Kurds recently left to join a variety of Kurdish forces, in light of the siege of Kobane. Another misconception is that all who leave were raised in domestic Muslim households. It has become clear that next to such national minority groups of different ethnicities (Moroccan, Turkish, Pakistani, Somali) across the EU, a great deal of ‘converts’ from lower-strata segments of the population are also involved. </p> <p>So, the trend cannot simply be reduced to the intrinsic inclinations of specific ethno-religious minorities, or to a particular national minority of one single EU member state, or even to an exclusively male trend (although it is male-dominated, women are involved too).</p><h2><span>‘Our boys’ in Syria?</span></h2> <p>At present, every EU member state has developed its own jargon to refer to this phenomenon of conflict-induced, outward mobility in what is a growing set of isolated national debates: ‘Syria-fighters’ in Belgium, ‘Syria-warriors’ in Scandinavia, and ‘foreign fighters’ or ‘jihadists’ in the UK, for instance. Young women that have left for Syria are in parallel being called ‘sex-jihadists’ or ‘Syria-brides’ by various EU media outlets. </p><p>This type of vocabulary has by now acquired normative status and is rarely interrogated. It is often assumed that such an established lexicon merely refers to ‘Islamic radicalisation’. Those who dare to refer to ‘our boys’ in Syria are destined to end up in an endless and often aggressive debate that is predominantly based on popular sentiment. Although the judicial identity of the relevant agents is often deliberately ignored, a great deal of elements in their own discourses undoubtedly refer back to the context of departure rather than to events in Syria. It is, generally speaking, not only difficult to speak of a homogenous group, there is more at play than Middle Eastern conflict, ‘foreign’ ideology, or ‘exogenous’ religion. For many, exile to Syria appears to represent a search for identity, respect, partnership, quick-fix fame, and personal significance. Others clearly hope to digest personal traumas or rectify a history of (often petty) crime through such an extraordinary relocation. Yet others appear plainly motivated by a banal sort of adventurism as a convenient exit for an uninspiring existence in their country of origin.</p> <p>While some Belgian critics have correlated Belgium’s overrepresentation among the EU’s affected/sender countries with its infamous practices of structural segregation, discrimination, and marginalisation of its main minority groups (Moroccans, Turks), the country’s complementary socio-psychological features are often left out of the equation. </p><p>Not only is Belgium one of the world’s most affluent countries, situated in the industrial and logistical heart of the EU, but this advanced capitalist model is also home to one of the largest number of professional burn-outs and suicide rates in the 28-member EU bloc. It is therefore interesting to point out that the overwhelming bulk of those leaving for Syria either held residence in the northern Flemish region or the Brussels capital region; the most productive areas of the country. The same can be said about the EU overall: the overwhelming majority of agents involved had been resident in western Europe, with France, the UK, Belgium, Germany, and The Netherlands respectively topping the list. This does not imply that those involved all held jobs – while EU aggregates are once again diverse, significantly, only a minority of these Belgians held steady, long-term occupations – but rather they were residents in the fast-paced context of advanced market societies. &nbsp;</p> <h2><span>Masculine image building</span></h2> <p>When asserting their self-acclaimed and highly mediated roles as so-called jihadists, the portrayal of their newly acquired lives on site appears full of conservative stereotypes surrounding potent masculinity: adventure, lawlessness, weapons, cars, villas, wealth, and women. In short: testosterone, adrenaline, sex and power. These are all features that might not have been exerted or attained as easily in the country of origin – some barriers surely due to stigma. </p><p>And despite their pious appearances as Salafi-Islamists, many of these agents do consciously enact a profane type of image building on tech-savvy social media platforms. Dominant masculinities, along with the greatest possible accumulation of power and wealth, are still structural commodities of interest that permeate and drive most western societies, exemplified in a Freudian manner by the huge blockbuster success of movies like the <em>Wolf of Wall Street</em> – but does the interest arise from disgust, indignation or latent veneration? - that remains the question. Jordan Belfort, as impersonated by Leonardo DiCaprio, today travels the world to lecture youngsters on how easy it is to get rich, gaining in real life further iconic status as a white male in an anxious, post-crisis climate. </p><p>Frantz Fanon’s psychoanalytic work on colonized mindsets described how the oppressed often enviously desire to change position with the oppressor in search of possession, symbolic comfort and status, and out of sheer primordial lust – ‘to sleep in his bed with his wife’. Not only do many Belgians pose with rifles in Syria to post on their Facebook profiles, as if it were all an egocentric game, but some explicitly brag that in Syria, <em>they</em> are the police. Others boast about the fact that they have cars, (abandoned) villa complexes with swimming pools, and Syrian women - or ‘Yazidi slaves’ - at their disposal.</p> <p>It is on this note that one could claim that the jihadists also pay effective tribute to contemporary consumer society, comfortably appropriating a delineated ‘jihadi personality’ that is today not only shallowly marketed as a counter-product amongst the wretched of the urban space, but that furthermore operates socio-psychologically as the antagonist of a Wall Street descendant of WASP-ish masculinity and supremacy, which many of them yearn for but cannot attain. This ‘jihadi’ binary ultimately mirrors the same characteristics as that of the <em>Wolf of Wall Street.</em> </p><p>Along such parameters, they are primarily seen as challenging their own imaginations of ‘the West’, out of a private desire to <em>participate</em> in the same hierarchic frenzy, rather than out of social concern for the entire constellation of structured oppression. This type of dramatic performance provides more insight into this alarming social phenomenon than when trying to exhaustively answer the urgent question of ‘why are they going?’ </p><p>So, can the subaltern speak? Yes, but they can also scream out violently, or migrate as a symbolic way of communicating. They have effectively carved out a mediated space of importance for themselves, but their acts need not be read as emancipatory. On the contrary, and far more important than making a moral judgment, is that their symbolic performances are <em>de facto</em> decoded and not merely described as the unique epitome of ‘irrational radicalism’ arising out of intellectual neglect and bourgeois disdain.</p> <h2><span>Contemporary counter-culture and escapism</span></h2> <p>Despite the dominant belief that relevant members of Sharia4Belgium and the ‘Syria Fighters’ (the principal defendants of the terrorism trial in Belgium) simply embody a spill-over from the Middle East to Europe, many of those involved appear motivated by divergent lived experiences in their country of origin; some specifically referring to the ban on headscarves on the municipal level when slandering the Belgian population from abroad. The contextual point of departure - whether amplified best by structural factors like unemployment and racism, or through a domestic or personal drama of any sort - must therefore certainly play a role in any sociological analysis of their agency.</p> <p>We are reminded of such underlying realities by the simple fact that many take part in the creation of YouTube videos in Syria – a country in complete disintegration - that convey the ritual burning of passports, accompanied by slogans like ‘We are honored that we have nothing more to do with you’. </p><p>Such hyper-media is clearly manufactured to arouse the emotions of a non-Syrian public. Contemporary appropriations of neo-conservative Salafi-Islamism appear to function as a front for an adolescent counter-culture in Belgium and the EU, while the abstract delusion of ‘jihad’ towards Syria seems to operate as an opportunist kind of escapism. In this sense, it is probably no coincidence that Denis Cuspert, a German national and former rapper who has continued to stir debate in Germany due to his relocation to Syria continues to associate himself with oppressed blackness – the videos he partakes in often featuring pictures of Malcolm X, for instance. </p><p>The suspicion that his various roles are probably connected to lived experiences in Germany is confirmed by his adoption of ‘Abu Talha al-Almani’ as his current <em>nom de guerre</em> , where the selected<em> </em>Arabic<em> </em>adjective of ‘al-Almani’ revealingly refers to his German roots in terms of self-identification in Syria. We can now ask whether physical mobility towards a war-torn Syria represents in such cases a sign of defeatism in the face of subtle but structural oppression in the place of departure. Has the potential for an anti-racist struggle amongst minority groups in the EU collapsed into reactionary conservatism? Due to the media-hype that continues to feast on them, we can easily forget about the daily suffering of the ordinary Syrian people, along with the phenomenon’s unfounded backlash on hyper-diverse Muslim minorities across the EU, inflicted by its more established populations.</p> <h2><strong>Lost in geopolitical translation</strong></h2> <p>We could claim that the ideological and political shallowness that regularly emanates from many of these Syria-bound migrants is quite exemplary of the post-ideological and post-political society in which they grew up. Moreover, bearing in mind how fixated they often remain on their images back in Belgium, and how often they actively communicate back to Belgium in order to rectify what is said/written about them, we might question whether they have in fact departed from what constitutes home, and also whether they are aware of what they are getting themselves into in Syria. </p><p>It is no surprise that some Belgian researchers, who have been in direct contact with such ‘fighters’, have insinuated that it is often “not clear who they are fighting against”.[1] While many Belgian agents like Jejoen Bontinck or Brian De Mulder claim that they have immersed themselves easily into local Syrian society, and quickly acquired Arab language skills, a deeper gaze into many subaltern accounts of such EU ‘jihadists’ indicates that many of them are in no position to claim such easygoing ‘Muslim transnationalism’. They are, or were very likely operating outside any really embedded social reality on the ground – reductionist imaginations along the lines of Samuel Huntington’s <em>Clash of Civilizations </em>thus remain redundant.</p> <p>The fact that alienated youngsters of Muslim minority groups in Belgium, as well as those who seek to convert to Islam <em>both </em>often end up adopting Salafist strands of Islamic practices, urges one to reflect upon the supply-side concerning religious recreation in Belgium. </p><p>For several decades, the Belgian government has given extra-regional states and commercial allies like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates a free hand to regulate the religious landscape in Belgium. Given enormous budgets for ‘cultural diplomacy’ which the latter have invested across post-industrial western capitals, it should not come as a surprise that many youngsters have left for Syria specifically, rather than Bahrain, Libya, or Egypt – and that their narratives are rife with sectarian – i.e. anti-Shia – rhetoric. </p><p>Some Gulf monarchies might today hold a degree of mobilizing soft power among a disillusioned people in the EU. Moreover, it also needs to be pointed out that in the earliest stages of outward migration of EU nationals to Syria, many EU governments did not seem to greatly care. Hiding behind a discourse of liberal state-speke, the rationale was that not much could be done without infringing upon civil liberties like freedom of movement. Feigning a strong uninterest was convenient then, as the phenomenon was primarily endemic to lower-strata minorities, while there was no public talk yet of neo-conservative Islamist organizations on site (ISIS, Al-Nusra). </p><p>Moreover, the Assad regime remained a prime geopolitical antagonist, affiliated to Iran and Russia in the EU’s immediate vicinity. The fact that militarily inexperienced men and women from the EU’s post-industrial fringes head to, and <em>stay </em>in, Syria is probably also related to the cash and weapons flows that have been pouring into this Levantine country. In what seemed an orchestrated diplomatic spat, US Vice President, Joe Biden, reprimanded the UAE in early October 2014 for their financial support to neo-conservative Islamist rebel groups on site. It thus appears that many EU youngsters, often quite young, have ended up in what Louise Arbour, the head of the <em>International Crisis Group</em>, has dubbed <a href=" an-epicentre-in-syria-says-envoy-1.1696423">“a regional war with an epicenter in Syria”</a>.</p> <h2><span>Punish ‘them’!</span></h2> <p><span>The Anglo-Saxon political class is systematically declaring that those who leave for Syria had better stay there. Moreover, the executive branch of power is increasingly stripping such agents of their citizenship while still there, in clear defiance of the rule of law. This does not only lead to statelessness, in contravention of European Human Rights legislation to which EU member states like the UK are signatories and thus accountable, but also depletes the <em>de facto</em> possibility for affected agents to appeal in a court of law.</span></p> <p>People structure and make sense of the outside world through the application of language as a system. However, language is also an expression of power relations, where emotionally charged terms assert and reinforce a set of social hierarchies that are constantly negotiated – not least through the application of physical power or violence. </p><p>Given that many Belgian activists locally ventilate feelings that appear related to the reasons for their departure, we are urged to reflect on terms such as ‘Syria Fighter’, ‘foreign fighter’, or ‘jihadist’, which refer to extra-national topographies in combination with the enactment of violence or a ‘foreign’ ideology. The way societies have tried to categorize these citizens’ agency deliberately dissociates their agency from the domestic society that is allegedly peaceful and democratic, and which could not possibly be responsible for breeding such ‘barbaric behavior’.</p> <p>But it appears that gradually a sub-group of citizens is being engineered. In the UK this occurs on the basis of controversial terrorism legislation and ‘confidential’ procedures, adopted in the post-9/11 and 7/7 era upon which very little judicial or democratic supervision remains. More so, the actual use of such legislation seems to have exponentially risen ever since this specific phenomenon of outward migration toward Syria commenced.</p><p> In mid-November, David Cameron even announced the introduction of yet a new counter-terrorism bill. Similarly, in Australia, the government of Tony Abbott is trying to get parliament to vote on a bill that would lower the judicial requirements for physical and virtual search warrants, while advocating that national security agencies are granted the power to cancel citizenship where it is deemed ‘appropriate’. Local human rights activists are worried, claiming that such Orwellian practices symbolize the gradual erosion of the civil liberties of the population and that they could even be read as an assault on the basic judicial logics that underpin certain legal systems – i.e. the presumption of innocence until <em>proven</em> otherwise.</p> <p>Belgian examples of such conservative political announcements are legion. Members of the Flemish conservative and separatist <em>New Flemish Alliance</em> party – the largest political force in the Flemish federal region – often capitalize on ‘Syria Fighters’ to inculcate fear and press for more public resources to be directed towards policing forces. </p><p>The chairman of this party, and current mayor of the city of Antwerp, Bart De Wever, also utilises ‘them’ as a binary 'Other' to advocate for the investment of millions of euros in increased camera surveillance in his city. By metaphorically comparing ‘them’ to the image of threatening dogs – ‘they are biting the hand that used to feed them’ – he conveniently downplays legitimate public debates surrounding matters of privacy regarding his grand security plans. With reference to punitive measures taken by other countries, his party members in parliament have over the past few years consistently advocated looking into the possibility of stripping ‘them’ of their citizenship.</p> <p>The presumption across the board that a constitutional entitlement like the institution of citizenship is up for <em>ad hoc</em> negotiation is striking. It is precisely such symbolic pretensions that threaten the democratic basis of our societies. The latter is rarely pointed out in the panicky spectacle that surrounds these alleged Jihadists. Moreover, not only does it appear that policing forces are today exempt from public budget cuts in times of ‘inevitable’ austerity measures, but this too seems to correlate with an executive power that is keen on coopting judicial competences, in contravention of the rule of law. The fear that is instigated by European nationals’ involvement in the Syrian crisis seems to have heralded this <em>particular</em> cluster of effects in many western societies in this age of security.</p> <h2><strong>Alternating myths and oppression</strong></h2> <p>Asserting that those who leave for Syria are somehow representative of the Belgian Muslim minority amounts to an ideological myth that has been fabricated and sustained in the past few years not only for the benefit of the political agendas of established political parties, but also to accord with an ardent form of locally entrenched racism. </p><p>It is only through this very operation of divisive propaganda that we can rationalize the ongoing and even disproportionate attention that is ascribed to such proto-organizations as Sharia4Belgium and the ‘Syria Fighters’: they function as a catalyst for right-wing sentiment, blaming one branch of monotheism for the nation’s discomfort. </p><p>Minority groups are increasingly taking the brunt of the negative renderings of the financial and institutional crises in the EU, and for the ensuing popular discomfort in the wake of its accelerated market-integration and liberalization process. It should not come as a surprise that the <em>European Network Against Racism</em>’s latest reports indicate that racism has effectively taken on the form of Islamophobia in many parts of the EU.</p> <p>Despite the fact that many of the activists involved from Belgium and the EU reproduce rather western stereotypes about both political Islam and the Middle East, they appear nevertheless capable of instilling fear and awe within the societies they grew up in. This rather powerful ability to generate a disproportional mix of fear and attention amongst the population and ruling classes of the country of origin is probably the existential and emotional fuel that drives many of them. It must be doubted whether a similar show of power politics could be projected onto a Syrian public, who would undoubtedly have more on their minds than the psychological concerns of disgruntled Belgians. &nbsp;</p> <p>It is an exaggeration and a reduction to interpret these Belgian activists as the local embodiments of an international network that efficiently recruits fighters for ISIS or Al-Nusra. It is much more complex than that. Today it is easy to attain radical ideas that deviate from established norms through individual surfing online. For those who are in <em>need</em> of such aggressive paradigms, a plentiful supply is on offer. Especially for those without a domestic or social network that could help channel personal expressions of alienation or social frustrations. Hence, technological globalization and the socio-psychological context of these departures need to be taken into consideration when trying to make sense of this conflict-induced dynamic.</p> <p>While contemporary media headlines herald the advent of ISIS to places like the Sinai Peninsula or Libya, a look at the structural or recent histories of these topographies ( their marginalization and recent warfare) would be more likely to disclose an unrelated set of disgruntled people who have found a way to capture attention for their divergent plights, together with a mode of behaviour guaranteed to instill fear at their capabilities and their methods. </p><p>To the delight of neo-conservative commentators and Middle East ‘specialists’ in the west, along with its military industries, after Al-Qaeda, ISIS now appears to function as the new franchise signifier that is conveniently floating around without any substantiated content in the world of politics. In the particular case of the EU, one needs to come to terms with the inconvenient truth that when an alarming dynamic is over-represented among different ethnic minority groups in different member states, one is bound to be confronted with the societal expression of intricate, underlying power dynamics that signal the need for top-down intervention and redress. There is no natural correlation between a black complexion and gang culture or crime, yet black people are still over-represented in US prisons. </p><p>In the light of this migratory dynamic, it is time for the EU to embark on a serious discussion regarding the inclusion of minorities, away from merely framing it as an ‘Islamic’ issue, and towards addressing the nexus of exclusion, exploitation, and oppression.</p> <h2><span>Urban pluralism</span></h2> <p>Instead of focusing on marginal associations like Sharia4Belgium, we need to highlight the fact that today, apart from hate preachers of every order – including those cognitively closer to ‘home’, like Norwegian national, Anders Behring Breivik – a great deal of pluralism is at hand in the creative urban spaces that will continue to dominate the twenty first century. Let us not elevate the peripheral phenomena to the standing of noteworthy protagonists. The same could be said of what is all too easily referred to as IS in the disintegrated territories of both Syria and Iraq. It should not come as a surprise that such reactionary groups emerge in a context of utter existential insecurity. More importantly, to reduce the political settlements of the Middle East to such mischief – blinded by a neo-colonial gaze that feigns intrinsic superiority - one is bound to forget about the massive popular emancipations that preceded this phenomenon so recently. Rather than being conservative in nature, the Arab Spring paid homage first and foremost to a humane outcry in defiance at both the political authoritarianism and structural underdevelopment that have plagued the region for decades; an expression of dignity.</p> <h2><strong>The rule of law</strong></h2> <p>The Belgian judiciary will play its role, certainly, in cases in which nationals are involved in dehumanizing and degrading criminal practices in Syria. However, instead of needlessly politicizing these actors any further, it is worth emphasising that their impact is confined to the <em>individual</em> actions of a numerically small number of primarily Belgian <em>citizens</em>.</p> <p>Not only does the alleged danger that emanates from this small group require attention, but also the way in which a society, its institutions, and its branches of power deal with such a dynamic. If we continue to merely focus on punitive mechanisms, whilst concurrently eroding the institution of citizenship, then democratic forms of coexistence will end up being challenged once more in continental Europe. </p><p>It is time to venture into a public discussion that investigates the solid inclusion of a set of preventative and curative measures in the highly resonant policy dialectics surrounding this phenomenon. Here, a comparative analysis of governance across the EU should foster such a dialogue in itself, and additionally provide the inspiration to conceive of longer-term policies. </p><p>Countries like Germany and Sweden, which have extensive experience with neo-Nazi deradicalization campaigns, have, for instance, started formatting these programmes onto the current focus groups. More instruments like these need to be developed and applied, that is, if we hope to see fewer Belgian and EU citizens turn up in tomorrow’s conflicts. Belgium’s political class and its disdainful bourgeois are slowly starting to come to terms with the fact that the orchestrated (and even sexist) dubbing of its nationals with the impressionistic and legally degrading markers of ‘Syria Fighters’ or ‘Sex-jihadists’ will not resolve this matter. Citizens<em> </em>do often return to their<em> </em>country of origin.</p> <p>In the meantime male and female Belgian and EU citizens - not ‘Jihadists’, ‘Syria Fighters’, or ‘Syria Brides’ - continue to die abroad, in what appears to be ultimately a poignant search for meaning, self-identification, and personal significance. It is a worrisome phenomenon that should urge us to rethink the ways in which we seek to inspire future generations. It is a challenge, but let us go beyond fear and polarisation.</p> <p><span>[1] Stockmans, P. &amp; Alde’meh, M., ‘Vlaamse Jongen Wordt Jihadstrijder’, </span><em>Knack (Print Media)</em><span>, No. 12, published between March 19-25, 2014, p. 30.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/olivier-roy-nicholas-truong/attractions-of-jihadism-and-generational-nihilism-str">The attractions of jihadism, and a generational nihilism stretching far beyond the Muslim sphere</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mahmud-el-shafey/isis-twitterati-and-online-jihad">The ISIS twitterati and the online jihad</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/linah-alsaafin/objectifying-female-fighters">Objectifying female fighters</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? EU Belgium Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality Ideas International politics Meteoric rise of the Islamic State Jaafar Alloul Thu, 27 Nov 2014 16:54:43 +0000 Jaafar Alloul 88216 at Lea's story: my days as a mad girl <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p style="margin-bottom: 20px;">In immaculate clinics people are segregated, held down, drugged, often with no other purpose than to control them and get them out of the way.&nbsp;Content warning: eating disorders, self harm, medical abuse.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// hospital Injection.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="How did anger at the world lead to two years in psychiatric hospitals? Drawing by Lea."><img src="// hospital Injection.jpg" alt="How did anger at the world lead to two years in psychiatric hospitals? Drawing by Lea." title="How did anger at the world lead to two years in psychiatric hospitals? Drawing by Lea." width="460" height="380" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>How did anger at the world lead to two years in psychiatric hospitals? Drawing by Lea.</span></span></span></p><p>My name is Lea. I won’t give you my surname. Not that I am ashamed of what I am about to say. No, the issue is simply that I have recently graduated, and I am looking for a job. My whole life lies ahead of me, waiting to be built. I fear that my testimony floating around somewhere on the web might scare them away. That my words will provoke too many uncomfortable thoughts. That doors will remain closed.&nbsp;</p><p>When I was 13, I stopped eating. That is how it started. Or perhaps it started a few weeks before that, during those gloomy November days when the meaning of life slipped from my mind.</p><p>Before my obsession with calories, my tireless fight against gravity, before I started cutting myself, before even suicidal thoughts, came indignation and disgust with the world’s injustice and violence. I was living in Brussels and came from a privileged background. The hypocrisy and cruelty of this society hit me, almost overnight. </p><p>My still immature 13-year-old mind could not reconcile images of war and famine on television with the affluence I was living in, could not take this ultimate game of chance that randomly determines where you are born. To children, even the most basic laws of nature are open to question.&nbsp;</p><p>In a way, self-starvation brought me closer to the hungry; cutting made me a part of the war-wounded. What else could I do at 13 to deal with a world that had lost all its magic?&nbsp;</p><p>I became what one calls anorexic. I started cutting back on breakfast, then lunch, then dinner. Simultaneously, I started flirting dangerously with the idea of suicide. But the idea seemed too frightening. Slow death by starvation was more approachable. However, when self-hatred became too strong, I had to hurt myself a little more. I started cutting my forearms.</p><p>Once I had lost too much weight and my life was in danger, I stopped going to school and was hospitalized. At first, I was sent to a general hospital where there was no suitable ward. After a few days of checking whether the shock of hospitalization would suffice to make me eat, they forcibly intubated me. I still remember the moment. Three nurses came into my room, immobilised me and shoved this tube into my nose, telling me to swallow when I felt it in my throat. Nobody asked, nobody explained.</p><p>After two weeks, I was transferred to the psychiatric ward of a children’s hospital, called Unit 69. The kindness and patience of some nurses slowly convinced me to open up my armour and step into the world again. I was still being fed by tube. But when I told them I felt I could perhaps eat again, and asked them to withdraw the tube first, they trusted me. As I would learn later, trust is something extremely rare in psychiatry.</p><p>I ate.</p><p>Despite my initial resistance, little by little I began conforming to life in a psychiatric department. I adopted the long-rejected label of anorexia. Ate the required portions in the required time. Swallowed the drugs they placed in my hand. Handed over government of my life. While I was putting on weight, I turned into a typical psychiatric patient, with her apathy, symptoms and crises.</p><p><img src="// hospital poem.jpg" alt="Poem by Lea." width="460" /></p><p class="blockquote-new">Translation:<br />We’re going to give you an injection<br />To show you how stupid we are<br />To show you it is not a good thing<br />To be mad around here<br />We’re going to give you an injection<br />It will help you to recover<br />For it to take a little longer<br />That’s what you want anyway<br />We’re going to give you an injection<br />It’s funnier than by mouth<br />To hear you scream is so jovial<br />Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt<br />We’re leaving you now, sleep tight<br />And don’t forget that as of tomorrow<br />It will start over and over again</p><p>I’m not sure how to explain this shift, but I think I just behaved as expected of me. I resumed cutting, exploring new areas of my body to mutilate. I smashed all the glass objects in my room to cut myself with. I became violent with staff members trying to stop me.</p><p>And their answer… their answer was as violent. One day, two men from the hospital security staff were called to immobilize me, and I had my first injection. I was then strapped to my bed, with ties around my wrists, my waist and my ankles. The powerful drug that I had in my blood for the first time that day is one that makes your body very heavy, impossible to move, but does not make you sleep: your mind continues to race. I know no words to explain the horrible feeling that it causes.&nbsp;</p><p>Once I had reached an acceptable weight, I was discharged from hospital. I had sat in front of psychiatrists and answered their questions about my family and possible childhood traumas. I had not told anybody about the world’s cruelty and injustice. That was not what was expected of me.&nbsp;</p><p>I left the hospital, but nothing had changed. When the new school year started and it became obvious that I could no longer escape the reality I had done everything to reject, it took just a few cuts on my forearms to take me back to where I had just come from.&nbsp;</p><p>After a few months, it was decided that I should be transferred to a long-term residential care centre for adolescents with mental issues. Believe me, it was a horrid place. Teenagers were parked in this centre, and kept busy with activities such as sports, music, handy-crafts – without omitting, of course, cooking and cleaning. We were not looked after, just sedated with drugs.</p><p>There was no therapy. There was no one to talk to when you felt bad, when you felt like doing something bad. I started harming myself very seriously. As the centre was part of a general hospital right next to it, I was taken to the hospital’s emergency room every time I was losing enough blood to suggest that I needed stitches.</p><p>There was no attention or protection either. I used to come and go with razor blades in my pockets. And that snowy February day when they inadvertently left me on my own with the bottle of narcoleptic drugs they were giving me, I swallowed the whole bottle. When I woke up the next day with a drip in my arm, I had the distinct feeling that I would never smile again.</p><p>Later that month, I guess I went too far. In a narcoleptic fog, trying to escape from the staff member who was trying to snatch my blades out of my bloodied hands, I opened the door to the balcony and climbed onto the guardrail. After I had calmed down, I was somehow taken to the hospital’s emergency room. It was clear that I was going to be punished. They put me in the isolation room, a small and narrow room just big enough for a mattress on the floor, with white cushioned walls and a door with a little window and no handle. They gave me an injection so strong that I have no recollection of the next 48 hours, and locked the door behind them.</p><p>I woke up strapped to a bed, alone in a room, and it felt like night-time. I had no idea where I was. I called, and finally a nurse came and released me. When I asked where I was, he gave me the name of a hospital, which meant nothing to me. I felt terribly sleepy, and I guess I just went back to sleep.</p><p>I am unable to tell you much about my stay in this psychiatric hospital for adults. I spent most of the days and nights sleeping, and the high doses of drugs I was on erased the memory of what I did the rest of the time. I just remember the feeling of being in a hostile place but lacking the energy to protect myself and resist.&nbsp;</p><p>When my state improved, I went back to the residential care centre. Back to hell. To the centre’s staff, my return evoked no good memories. Our relationship was one of distrust and fear, a power struggle. I was growing more and more rebellious and their answer was more and more threats. They were quick at making me understand who was in command. They increased drug doses, and, if I raised my voice to protest, they would threaten to send me to the emergency room on the basis that I was having a crisis.</p><p>The emergency room became my second home. I used to spend most of my evenings there to have stitches on my arms. Afterwards, an injection was quasi ritual. Although most of the time, I had calmed myself down, it was clear that I was not to get away with it so easily. The injection was there to crush me.</p><p>I remember the violence and the feeling of no longer being a person.</p><p>I remember one emergency doctor who stitched my arms back with no anaesthesia. I begged him but he would not answer, would not even look at me in the eye. The pain was excruciating.</p><p>I remember being drugged and strapped to a bed in a neon-lit room at night. I called out, asked if they could please switch off the lights so I could get some sleep. But the nurses walking down the corridor pretended not to hear me.</p><p>I remember doctors devoid of any hint of compassion, treating me as a threat, as an enemy to be subdued; they were pretending to look at me but actually avoiding my eyes, looking through me as if I were a spook rather than a human being.</p><p>Eventually, it all came to an end. I knew deep down that this was wrong, that I was entitled to better treatment. At some point, even my parents couldn’t ignore that the medical response was inappropriate. When, after a new argument about drug doses, they supported me. I went back home.&nbsp;</p><p>Life didn’t get easier immediately. After nearly two years in psychiatric hospitals, getting used to the real world was a herculean task. During the first few months, I would not go out of the house. But I was determined to get better, and being off drugs made it easier to gather the strength and willpower needed for my recovery.</p><p>It took several years to recover completely, for the gap between myself and other people to close. I completed school, went to university and studied human rights. The very indignation at the world’s injustice that overwhelmed me when I was 13 has now turned into a positive energy. The sense of helplessness that led me to hurt myself, for lack of ability to relieve others’ suffering, gave way to determination and the hope to make things change.</p><p>This is the story of my days as a mad girl. I decided to tell you about it because I know that few of psychiatry’s victims have been as resilient. Few are able to testify and denounce.&nbsp;</p><p>Abuses do not only occur in the run-down psychiatric hospitals of poor countries. In the West’s immaculate clinics as well, people are segregated, held down, drugged, often with no other purpose than to control them and get them out of the way. Like elsewhere in the world, psychiatric patients are not truly looked after, but rather parked in hospitals and put to sleep.</p><p>I was just angry at society’s hypocrisy and cruelty. I was just rebellious. I was just a child growing up. How did that turn into two years in psychiatric hospitals? Something, somewhere, must have gone wrong.</p><p>My critique of society was answered with the very violence and injustice I was denouncing. I was not mad. I do not even believe I was ill. But that is the label that is stuck onto those who jeopardize order. The medical paradigm is an easy way to discard different ways of thinking, of being. And of course, it works. </p><p>Psychiatry psychiatrized me. A few weeks in there and I was behaving according to the madman’s cliché.</p><p>I do not claim to have a ready-made solution. When I think back, it seems to me that rather than seeing a psychologist, I should have talked to a philosopher. I am quite sure that working towards change will help me to live.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-richmond/politics-as-therapy-they-want-us-to-be-just-sick-enough-not-to-fight">Politics as therapy: they want us to be just sick enough not to fight back</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/aisha-mirza/to-survive-bipolar-disorder-i-needed-people-who-didnt-love-me">To survive bipolar disorder, I needed people who didn&#039;t love me</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/georgia-colesriley/on-beauty-special-k-adverts-body-dysmorphic-disorder-and-lupita-ny">On beauty: Special K adverts, body dysmorphic disorder, and Lupita Nyong&#039;o</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/peter-j-whitehouse-daniel-george/what%E2%80%99s-normal-politics-of-psychiatric-labeling">What’s normal? The politics of psychiatric labeling</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 3.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Belgium Transforming Ourselves Transforming Politics Transforming Society Lea The politics of mental health Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:14:46 +0000 Lea 87333 at A federal House of Cards: the Belgian political landscape following the 2014 regional and federal elections <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How was the new Belgian government formed? And how long will it survive for?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Flickr/Matn. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><h2>The Belgian House of Cards</h2><p>On 11 October, 139 days after the federal election, the new Belgian federal government took office. This right-wing government, nicknamed “the Swedish coalition” in reference to the parties’ colours (blue for both liberal parties; yellow for the Flemish nationalist party) and ideology (the Swedish cross representing the Flemish Christian democrats), is led by liberal francophone Charles Michel, 38, who became the youngest Belgian Prime Minister for 174 years. </p> <p>This government presents a series of interesting features. Firstly, it only includes one francophone party (the liberal <em>Mouvement Réformateur</em>, MR) compared to three Flemish parties (the liberal <em>Open Vlaamse Liberalen en Democraten</em>, Open VLD; the Christian democratic <em>Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams</em>, CD&amp;V; and the nationalist <em>Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie</em>, N-VA). As such, francophone parties are largely underrepresented at the federal level. </p> <p>Secondly, it is one of the most right-wing coalition governments ever formed in contemporary Belgium, excluding both Flemish and francophone socialist parties and the francophone Christian Democratic Party (<em>Centre démocrate Humaniste</em>, CdH), even though the latter was initially invited to be part of the coalition. </p> <p>Thirdly, it is the first time <a href="">a Euro-critical (or even Eurosceptic) party, N-VA</a>, is included in a coalition government at the federal level. </p> <p>Finally, since taking office, the Michel government had to face major criticisms, dealing with a series of unpopular measures presented in the coalition government as well as the shady past of some N-VA cabinet members. This article explores the context in which the new government has been formed, and highlights the challenges it will have to face in the near future.</p> <h2><strong>From 589 days without a government to political stability</strong></h2> <p>In recent years, Belgium faced major political and institutional crises, which led the country to spend <a href="">589 days without a government between June 2010 and December 2011</a>. Following the 2010 general election, which saw N-VA becoming the largest party in the Chamber of Representatives, a potential coalition government seemed impossible to draw. After a long series of negotiations between Flemish and francophone parties, a compromise was then found to have a sixth state reform. </p><p>Besides a transfer of competences from the federal level to the communities and regions, the most important aspect of this state reform was the decision to <a href="">split the electoral and judicial arrondissement of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde</a>, as demanded by most Flemish parties. The francophone Socialist Party (<em>Parti Socialiste</em>, PS) Leader, Elio Di Rupo, was then sworn as Prime Minister and a traditional tripartite coalition (consisting of all Christian democratic, liberal and socialist parties) took office on 6 December 2011. </p> <h2><strong>The 2014 triple election and the electoral campaign(s)</strong></h2> <p>On 25 May 2014, three elections took place in Belgium, to elect representatives at the federal, regional and European levels. The two largest political parties, N-VA and PS, led aggressive campaigns against each other. Whilst the 2010 election campaign mostly focused on institutional issues, the 2014 campaign was influenced by <a href="">the so-called N-VA and PS models</a>. In an attempt to convince the francophone electorate not to vote for PS, N-VA Party Leader Bart De Wever even released a <a href="">video</a> on YouTube where he asks francophone voters to give him “the benefit of the doubt”. As such, it seemed that both parties would not be able to rule together as part of a coalition government.&nbsp; </p> <p>At the federal level, the <a href=";L=0">election results</a> favoured the N-VA right-wing model. On the one hand, N-VA gained 6 additional seats in the Chamber of Representatives (33 compared to 27 in 2010). On the other, PS lost 3 seats (23 compared to 26 in 2010), even though it remained the second largest party in Parliament. All other mainstream parties, besides the francophone Green Party (-2 seats), made substantial gains or remained stable, with Flemish far-right party <em>Vlaams Belang</em> becoming marginal (3 seats, -9 compared to 2010). </p> <p>At the regional level, the situation was rather similar. In Flanders, N-VA was the incontestable winner with 43 seats (+27 compared to 2009), followed by CD&amp;V (27 seats, -4) and Open VLD (19 seats, -4). In Wallonia, PS (30 seats, +1) remained the largest party, but MR (25 seats, +6) made the largest gains while cdH (13 seats) remained stable). In Brussels, PS also remained ahead (21 seats, stable), followed by MR (18, -12) which suffered from the break of its former alliance with the regionalist-liberal party <em>Fédéralistes Démocrates Francophones</em> (FDF; 12 seats). cdH gained 9 seats (-2), becoming the fourth largest party in Brussels. </p> <h2><strong>Negotiations: strategies at the regional and federal levels</strong></h2> <p>Once the election results announced, Bart De Wever – the leader of N-VA - claimed victory, and was then appointed by Philippe, King of the Belgians, as “informateur” in order to find a suitable coalition to form a federal government. Unlike in 2010, negotiations to form a federal government were coupled with negotiations at the regional level. And that is where things got interesting. </p><p>Ten days following the elections, and while De Wever was holding consultations with all major parties, the PS leadership quickly started talks to form regional governments in Wallonia and Brussels. It was announced that coalition talks with cdH in Wallonia, and both cdH and FDF in Brussels, will be underway. This came as a surprise to many observers and other political parties, as it was widely expected that federal negotiations would take place beforehand. The following day, N-VA and CD&amp;V reacted by officially starting negotiations in order to form a Flemish government. </p> <p>The goal of PS was clear: by making cdH its main partner at the regional level, the party wanted to isolate MR on the francophone side. When, on 24 June, De Wever send a note to cdH in order to form a potential coalition together with N-VA, CD&amp;V and MR (thus excluding Open VLD and both socialist parties), <a href="">Party Leader Benoît Lutgen left the table of negotiations</a> on the grounds that there is a lack of trust between the parties. </p><p>As a consequence, Bart De Wever was relieved of his duties as “informateur”. Future PM Charles Michel succeeded him, after being appointed by King Philippe on 27 June. It quickly became apparent that in order for the coalition to have the require majority in the Chamber of Representatives without socialist parties, the only alternative was to include Open VLD in what subsequently became “the Swedish coalition”. On 22 July, Open VLD was also included to join the Flemish regional coalition government, as this was one of their conditions to join the Swedish coalition. </p> <p>As such, it appears that regional strategies have played an important role in shaping the future federal coalition, which took office on 11 October after three months of intense negotiations. The institutional divide between North and South did not prevail as it did in 2010: instead, two socio-economic models, defended by N-VA and PS, confronted each other and served as basis to form the federal coalition government.</p> <h2><strong>Will the Michel government survive?</strong></h2> <p>In only two weeks, the Michel government faced major criticisms from political opposition, trade unions and citizen groups. Two main criticisms were raised. First, the 207-page coalition programme includes a series of unpopular measures, such as the plan to raise the pension age from 65 to 67 in 2030. As a result of these measures, Marc Goblet, the secretary general of the ABVV/FGTB trade union, <a href="">has talked of a “permanent guerrilla campaign” against the government</a>. A demonstration is planned on 6 November in Brussels, followed by a series of regional strikes, followed by <a href="">a general strike will take place on 15 December</a>. </p> <p>Whilst social dialogue constitutes one of the key features of Belgian politics, the Michel government seems to break with this tradition. Second, two N-VA coalition members, Jan Jambon (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior) and Theo Francken (Secretary of State for Asylum, Migration and Administrative Simplification) have been criticized for their declarations on collaboration with the Germans during World War II (<a href="">for Jambon</a>), for their close ties with former collaborationist Bob Maes and for some older homophobic and xenophobic statements (<a href="">for Francken</a>). The political opposition and immediately called for their resignation. Both cabinet members subsequently apologised, and PM Michel declared <a href=";n=3154&amp;ckc=1">he will not tolerate such situation in the future</a>. </p> <p>In terms of political strategy, N-VA will do whatever it takes for the coalition to survive until the next election, in order to appear as a mainstream party capable of ruling at the national level. In addition, it is likely to see N-VA push for a seventh state reform in the context of the next federal election in 2018, in order to implement <a href="">their confederal vision of Belgium</a>.</p> <p>In summary, the Michel government will face tough times throughout the end of the year. Nevertheless, <a href="">an opinion poll released on 12 October</a> (before the Jambon and Francken “scandals”) highlighted the fact that 47 per cent of Belgians trust Michel as Prime Minister, which is 2 per cent more than Di Rupo when he took office in December 2011. </p><p>With the series of unpopular measures announced in the coalition agreement as well as the series of strikes planned throughout November and December, it is likely to see this figure decline in the short run, especially on the francophone side. The government will also have to face a strong (and mostly united) political opposition in the Chamber of Representatives. Finally, with MR now being isolated on the francophone side, one might wonder whether the francophone “unity” might be affected in the long run, in case a community conflict arises again.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/hugh-lovatt/postworld-cup-glow-for-belgium">A post-World Cup glow for Belgium?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Belgium Benjamin Leruth Wed, 29 Oct 2014 12:51:05 +0000 Benjamin Leruth 87256 at The Burqa ban and its vigilante proponents <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A Belgian civil servant is in trouble for injuring a Qatari princess by ripping off her veil in public. What is it about the "burqa ban" that inspires such vigilante justice?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protest against the burqa ban in Belgium. Wikimedia. Public domain.</span></span></span></p><p>“Chief of Protocol rips off face veil of Qatari princess.”</p><p>Thus ran the rather cryptic headlines of&nbsp;<a href="">Belgian</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="">international</a>&nbsp;newspapers recently. The papers reported that the Brussels public prosecutor had launched an investigation into an incident in which a senior civil servant, specialised in protocol, had forcibly removed the face veil of a woman who turned out to be a Qatari princess (<em>Sheikhah</em>) visiting the Belgian capital.</p><p>The incident took place near Brussels’ famous&nbsp;<em>Grand Place</em>, where the veiled woman had asked for directions. In response, the off-duty civil servant reportedly answered that he refused to talk to anyone whose face he could not see. When no response seemed forthcoming, he tore the woman’s niqab off her face. The woman was injured in the process, by her earrings being ripped out.</p><p>Both the man and the woman filed charges with the police. The woman did so on the grounds of assault, while the man’s complaint was based on the fact that the woman wore a face veil, which is prohibited by Belgium’s ‘<a href="">burqa ban</a>’, enacted in 2011.</p><h2><strong>Private justice</strong></h2><p>While wearing a face veil in public is indeed banned in Belgium, this kind of unauthorised private enforcement is, of course, unacceptable. The man could have refused to help the woman and he could even have reported her to the police, but ripping off her veil went several bridges too far.</p><p>Importantly, the case is not an isolated incident. It is striking how the burqa ban, much more than other prohibitions, seems to elicit or even encourage this sort of vigilantism.</p><p>The countless Belgians riding around without lights can safely assume that they will not suddenly be kicked off their bicycles. Likewise, urinating in public does not generally, if ever, lead to the culprit being tackled.</p><p>When it comes to the burqa ban however, this situation is quite different, even though the ban is a mere ‘infraction’ (the least serious class of offenses in Belgian criminal law). For a significant number of people the ban seems to amount to a justificatory background for taking the law quite literally into their own hands.</p><h2><strong>Empirical research</strong>&nbsp;</h2><p><a href="">Empirical research</a>&nbsp;that I conducted with colleagues of the Human Rights Centre of the University of Ghent revealed that the introduction of the burqa ban led to increased aggression and violence.</p><p>The public indignation over niqabs and burqas, that was already present prior to the introduction of the ban, has been enhanced and ‘legitimised’ by the ban, making people feel entitled to exact their own ‘justice’.</p><p>This occurs not only in Belgium. It can also be witnessed in France, the only other European country with a national burqa ban. An&nbsp;<a href="">increasing number</a>&nbsp;of similar cases have taken place there, several of which made the news.</p><p>One of these cases led to the&nbsp;<a href="">conviction</a>&nbsp;of the offender in March 2013. The culprit, who had ripped off a woman’s veil as she was strolling in a fairground, had explicitly motivated his actions by referring to the ban on face-covering clothing, arguing that he was simply upholding the law. The public prosecutor rejected that ‘defence’ in no uncertain terms: “The woman was a victim of aggravated assault, and ordinary citizens are not authorised to enforce the law. Otherwise we no longer live in a state governed by the rule of law”.</p><h2><strong>Offence and the law</strong></h2><p>One could of course argue that these vigilante problems with the face veil would cease to occur if everyone in Belgium and France would simply comply with the ban. While I am not advocating civil disobedience, this argument does disregard the main reason for the bans’ introduction.</p><p>That reason was that women wearing face veils undermined the concept of living together in a society (‘<em>le vivre ensemble’</em>): veiled women were presumed averse to communication and unwilling to participate in societal dynamics. It is important to add that this was also the&nbsp;<em>only</em>&nbsp;goal that survived the scrutiny of the French ban by the&nbsp;<a href="">European Court of Human Rights</a>&nbsp;(other considerations for justifying the ban, i.e. security and women’s rights, were rejected).</p><p>However, what we see in practice is that it is often not the niqab-wearing women that refuse communication and participation. Instead, it is the societal majority that does so, due to the moral offence face veils tend to cause. Even if such offence may be understandable, it is increasingly crossing over into violence since the introduction of the ban.</p><p>This begs the question whether Belgium and France, in enacting and upholding their burqa bans, are not engaging in blaming the victim. Should the State not protect unpopular and persecuted minorities, rather than reinforcing negative sentiments towards them?</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? North-Africa West-Asia Belgium Jogchum Vrielink Mon, 15 Sep 2014 18:04:13 +0000 Jogchum Vrielink 85998 at A post-World Cup glow for Belgium? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The success of the Belgian national team at the 2014 World Cup has briefly united Flemish and Walloon speakers, but will this have any effect on the country's increasingly fractious identity politics?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="400" height="272" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_large" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Belgian national football team. Flickr/Eric Drost. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em>"Pour tous les Belges qui ont suivis ce match, il y avait moyen de faire quelque chose, fait chier!" </em></p><p>The&nbsp;<a href="">comments</a>&nbsp;by Daniel Van Buyten, Belgium’s number 15, sum up the country’s feelings pretty well after suffering a 1-0 defeat against Argentina on Saturday in the World Cup quarter-finals. But there is nonetheless a real sense that the Red Devils have achieved something that will reverberate far beyond Brasilia’s Estádio Nacional. </p><p>The national team has exceeded expectations and sky rocketed through the international rankings into the top ten teams from an all-time low of sixty-sixth in 2009. Not only has this restored Belgian's flagging footballing credentials, but with such a young team the experience gained over the last five games will put them in an excellent position ahead of Euro 2016.</p><p>More importantly though, Belgians have rallied around their team in colourful and often&nbsp;<a href="">very loud</a>&nbsp;displays of national unity, something that seems to have been lacking over the last years. In a county polarised between a French speaking south and a Flemish speaking north Belgium's World Cup success has gone a long way toward healing Belgium’s linguistic divisions. </p><p>In the most obvious sign of national unity, Belgian flags have in many places replaced the flags on Flanders and Wallonia – two of Belgium’s three regions. This was even the case in Antwerp, a bastion of Flemish nationalism. On a personal level, football has transcended linguistic divisions and brought Flemish and French speakers together around a common cause. &nbsp;</p><p>Belgian politicians were quick to join the football frenzy, but with Flemish and Francophone political parties once again&nbsp;<a href="">deadlocked</a>&nbsp;over the formation of a federal government it remains to be seen whether Belgium's success on the field will have any real impact on the country's contentious political scene. </p><p>But a resurgent Belgian identity will challenge the separatist agenda espoused by the Flemish N-VA's which has been&nbsp;<a href="">pushing</a>&nbsp;for Flemish autonomy. Given the N-VA’s victory in regional elections in May and the important role it will likely play in a forthcoming federal government Belgium’s football success has come at a critical juncture.</p><p>The N-VA's leader Bart de Wever is all too aware of this, and party officials have been doing their best to&nbsp;<a href="">downplay</a>&nbsp;Belgium World Cup success. Incredibly, authorities in Antwerp – which is controlled by the N-VA – even sought to&nbsp;<a href="">counter</a>&nbsp;the spread of Belgian flags on the pretext that many of those displayed the “Jupiler” logo, a Wallonian beer. In the end though, the federal police refused to carry out the order.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Ultimately it would be too much to hope that the Red Devils alone can turn back the rising tide of Flemish nationalism, let alone solve Belgium's regional issues which include deep socio-economic disparities between North and South. But at the very least Marc Wilmots and his players have reminded Belgians what it feels like to be a united nation. </p><p>One can only hope that the chant of "tous ensemble!" adopted by football supporters will become a slogan for Belgium's political class.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/isotta-rossoni/football-italian-synecdoche">Football: an Italian synecdoche?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/edin-dedovic/bosnian-national-football-team-case-study-in-post-conflict-instituti">The Bosnian national football team: a case study in post-conflict institution building</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Belgium Hugh Lovatt Joining the dots on football in Europe Tue, 08 Jul 2014 16:13:08 +0000 Hugh Lovatt 84318 at The neo-Athenian revival: citizen participation in the twenty-first century <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Looking back at the year 2013, one small, symbolic event stands out as a clear demonstration of a slow, quiet trend over the last decade, which one could call a 'New French Revolution.'</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="BodyA"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="wikimedia commons/The prophet. Some rights reserved." title="" width="460" height="379" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>wikimedia commons/The prophet. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p class="BodyA">A recent <em>Economist</em> article “<a href="">What’s Gone Wrong with Democracy</a>” is chock-full of photographs of discontent from places in revolution—Ukraine, Greece, Egypt—and statistics and figures showing abysmal election participation and government approval rates in the west: the US, the UK, Italy and France. It mentions in passing some efforts at reform in Finland and California, but it misses a subtle change in citizen perception of experts and politicians. This change corresponds with a revival of an ancient definition of democracy.</p> <p class="BodyA">Looking back at the year 2013, one small, symbolic event stands out as a clear demonstration of a slow, quiet trend over the last decade, which one could call a 'New French Revolution.' Meeting in Parliament’s “hémicycle” chamber, the 17th Wallonia-Brussels Youth Parliament passed an unprecedented (mock) reform decree that would, among other things, turn the Belgian Chamber of Representatives into a Citizens’ Assembly selected by lot. The second paragraph (translated) of the decree explains why these 17-26 year olds think that elections should be mostly eliminated:</p> <p class="BodyA">“After more than two hundred years of the representative parliamentary system, one thing is clear: this system which is supposed to derive its legitimacy from the consent of voters appears to create a structural, insidious monopolization of power by a class of professional politicians… &nbsp;On the one hand, it is virtually impossible for most people to stand for election and, on the other hand, it is difficult to really know the qualities and intentions of the candidates without knowing them personally.”</p> <p class="BodyA">Other reforms in the 'decree' are strict term limits for the Citizens’ Assembly and the Assembly of the Wise (Senate), two two-year terms and two four-year terms respectively. Furthermore, nominations to the Senate must first be approved by a simple majority of the randomly selected Citizens’ Assembly. Their recommendations, then, go beyond making government more representative to breaking the separation between governors and the governed. With such short term limits, they argue, there would no longer be a class of politicians distinct from the citizenry. The original text (in French) of the decree can be found <a href="">here</a>. A partial translation <a href="">here</a>.</p> <p class="BodyA">One might assume the impressionable youth were under the spell of the charismatic, immensely popular Étienne Chouard, a long-time advocate of democracy through the use of lots and referenda. After all, this high school teacher-turned-net-activist’s blog has attracted over 4.2 million visitors, while his TEDx and YouTube videos add tens of thousands more.</p> <p class="BodyA">Or one might think the Belgian Youth Parliament was showing solidarity with populist MP Laurent Louis, who just weeks before (January, 2013) in a video address also made an unprecedented declaration. He dissolved the party he had created two years earlier and called on Parliament to do the same with all parties! This, he said, would leave room for a new 'Citizens’ Parliament' elected by lot. His measure was actually put to a vote, and, not surprisingly, defeated. See a video of his declaration <a href="">here</a>.</p> <p class="BodyA">Or, one might guess, they were echoing Flemish best-selling author-turned-democracy-advocate David Van Reybrouck, whose 2013 book <em>Against Elections</em> (Tegen Verkiezingen) quickly became a hit. It likewise urged Belgium to go beyond representative democracy and to eliminate elections in favor of “loting” - Dutch for sortition or selection by lot.</p> <p class="BodyA">One would be mistaken on all three counts. The New French Revolution expressed by the Belgian youth, who “call into question the very legitimacy of representative government,” was accidentally kindled many years earlier by a soft-spoken political theorist named Bernard Manin, a Frenchman teaching in New York. His 1997 <em>Principles of Representative Government </em>begins in part:</p> <p class="BodyA">“Current usage distinguishes between “representative” and “direct” democracy, making them varieties of one type of government. However what today we call representative democracy has its origins in a system of institutions…in no way initially perceived as a form of democracy or of government by the people.”</p> <p class="BodyA">He argues, based on contemporary documents (such as the Federalist Papers), that the American, French, and English eighteenth century architects of our political institutions did not have the <em>demos</em>, the people, in mind except as something to be feared or controlled. Government for them should lead with the 'betters' elected by the masses. According to their notions of psychology, the poor, the commoners, uneducated, non-privileged, were not fit to make important decisions, due to their presumed tendency to be overcome by passions and narrow, even mean, interests.</p> <p class="BodyA">Democracy to eighteenth century political thinkers meant instability. It was not until the time of Andrew Jackson in America, and later still in Europe, that the word “democracy” achieved positive connotations among the political class, and then no longer as “rule by the people,” but “rule by elites on behalf of the people,” i.e., “representative democracy.” Manin contrasted this with the centuries-long practices in some Italian Renaissance cities, Rome, and Athens. In so doing, he made public what was once only the talk of lawyers and political philosophers.</p> <p class="BodyA">In fact, Manin was only dissecting a corpse drawn and quartered thirty years earlier by a Berkeley political philosopher. In her 1967, <em>The Concept of Representation</em>, Hanna Pitkin distinguished four meanings of the word 'represent' as used by laypeople and politicians alike. To represent someone could mean simply to 'be like' her in characteristics, perhaps race, class, beliefs. It could mean to defend someone’s interests as a lawyer 'represents' a client. Furthermore, it could mean to act as her agent on specific instructions, say, like a cab driver transporting a client. Lastly, to represent could mean to act like a parent to a child, act on the child’s behalf – but often against his wishes. Because we use the word 'represent' to mean one or another or several of these ideas at once, the word itself is often of little use. Although she did not end the book by proscribing its use, few political scientists would touch it again until the time of Manin.</p> <p class="BodyA">But we don’t need a Berkeley 'hippy' or a suave Parisian to tell us how to read our American constitution! A text search of the Federalist Papers (the closest we have to a blueprint of American government) retrieves exactly fourteen instances of the word 'democracy'. All fourteen refer to it as something to be avoided, like mob rule. James Madison thought, like his English, American, or French contemporaries, that the masses were prone to passions, narrow interests, and short-sightedness. Ironically, that is what most Americans think of Congress today. <a href="">A December 2013 Harris Poll</a> (like an <a href="">October AP Poll</a>) measured Congress’s approval rating at five percent.</p> <p class="BodyA">No worries, the story returns to France. The scene was set in 2005 during the public debate over the European Constitution Referendum that first brought Étienne Chouard international fame. A high school economics and IT teacher, he posted an analysis of the proposed constitution (the Rome Treaty meant to further integrate the EU) showing that it was both anti-democratic and 'neoliberal' in tendency. He also criticized the French political class for ever putting it to a referendum, and then proceeded to further dismantle representative democracy itself as 'not at all democratic'.&nbsp;<a href="">His blog</a> blew up, rendering him an overnight public figure for the 'no' vote and an instant net-celebrity.</p> <p class="BodyA">Oddly enough, Chouard became a darling of both the left and the far right. His criticism of French politicians as an out-of-touch elite, unaccountable to the public, together with his call for 'real' democracy also made him immensely popular with youth. Recently, his fans sparked viral Facebook groups, literally calling themselves 'nice viruses' (gentils virus) after a comment he once made at the end of a talk. He urged citizens to become "nice viruses" for "true democracy.” The democracy he advocates is one closer to the Athenian model, with a large role for selection by lot and referenda.</p> <p class="BodyA">But all of this, however interesting, would not merit the title 'New French Revolution' if it were not for the work of two more French political theorists at two of America’s most well-regarded political science departments. Their two books in 2013 can be seen as the culmination of the critique of representative government inadvertently begun by Bernard Manin in the mid 1990s.</p> <p class="BodyA">My recent <a href="">op-ed for Truthout</a>&nbsp;mentioned Helene Landemore’s <em>Democratic Reason: Politics, Collective Intelligence, and the Rule of the Many</em>, which argued that democracy is the best form of government because it is the most 'intelligent'. A sub-argument of the book asserts that elections are not the best way to pick a large, diverse group. It tables the questions of legitimacy and fairness and focuses on the statistical aspects of a political system that make it more likely to make better decisions based on complete and unbiased information. It admittedly sets aside the issue of corruption and misrule.</p> <p class="BodyA">These issues were picked up by Jon Elster’s <em>Securities Against Misrule: Juries, Assemblies, Elections</em> about the mechanisms designers of political institutions have at their disposal to prevent corruption, selfishness, or imprudence by rulers. Considered by many to be the living grandfather of contemporary democratic theory, Elster is no radical. His book is endorsed by no less a conservative than Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit. Although Norwegian by birth, having written his dissertation at the Sorbonne and taught at the College de France, he is intellectually a French transplant to New York. As the title suggests, he treats various topics beyond elections, and on the cover is a <em>Kleroterion</em>, the stone column used by Athenians to select jurors and councilors by lot.</p> <p class="BodyA">In an article for Aeon Magazine, “<a href="">The Lottocracy: Elections are flawed and can't be redeemed</a>,” American philosopher Alexander Guerrero outlines a system of direct participation that he feels would be more in-line with the idea of democracy itself. He favours the use of lotteries to overcome the inherent unfairness and flaws of elections. Such a system of direct democracy, he argues, would be more ethical and more effective at fostering genuine deliberation and collective action.</p> <p class="BodyA">But these contemporary intellectuals have predecessors dating to the 1980s. One of the first critiques of representative government, Australian philosopher John Burnheim’s<em> Is Democracy Possible? The Alternative to Electoral Politics </em>(1985) opens much like the Belgian Youth Parliament decree:</p> <blockquote><p class="Quotation">Democracy does not exist in practice. At best we have what the ancients would have called elected oligarchies with strong monarchical elements.</p></blockquote> <p class="BodyA">In it, Burnheim proposes what he calls “demarchy” (after Hayek) based on ad-hoc, issue-specific, statistically representative policy juries. He represents the libertarian side of neo-Athenian thought, because the central premise of his book is that overlapping policy juries would do away with a need for a central authority at all, shrinking or eliminating the state itself.</p> <p class="BodyA">In a more 'new-agey' vein, Tom Atlee proposes similar reforms in his 2003 <em>The Tao of Democracy</em>. Through the extensive use of small but diverse “citizen deliberative councils” he believes society can tap into “collective wisdom” otherwise distorted by electoral politics. On experts, he quotes Francis Moore Lappé in saying that they should be put, “on tap to the citizenry rather than on top of them.” Furthermore, he favours a “sense of the magic” in the politic, a sort of consciousness version of Hannah Arendt’s political thought.</p> <p class="BodyA">The <a href="">New Democracy Foundation</a> is a non-profit supported by academics and politicians in Australia that aims to reform modern government itself. It operates from the premise that if adversarial party politics could be put to one side, people are willing to participate in government to solve social problems. Many of the reforms it advocates include the use of “minipublics,” such as citizens’ parliaments and citizen juries, first proposed by these activists and intellectuals.</p> <p class="BodyA">What all these neo-Athenians—in Belgium, France, the US, the UK, Australia—have in common is breaking the mould of the political right and left. In thinking, experimenting with, or advocating more direct or 'deep democracy', they go beyond the right’s fear that the poor will 'soak the rich' or the left’s fear that the many will oppress minorities or quash individual rights. </p><p class="BodyA">They believe that ancient democracy can be tried again and that it can succeed in mass society, either because they see elections as useless in themselves or that something beyond 'aggregation' of preferences can happen in groups of ordinary citizens deliberating directly without the constraints and distortions of parties and elections.</p> <p class="BodyA">I have left out the names of many who have taken part in this revolution: political scientists like James Fishkin, Peter Stone, Oliver Dowlen, Brian Martin, Keith Sutherland, John McCormick; and activists like Ernest Callenbach, Tom Atlee, Rosa Zubizarreta, and others. But in honor of Bernard Manin and the bright youth in Wallonia, let’s just call it the New French Revolution.</p> <p class="BodyA">The neo-Athenian revival behind this new New French Revolution—less colourful and dramatic yet perhaps just as far-reaching as the first—seems to fit the twenty-first century’s crowd-sourced, do-it-ourselves mentality rather well. It envisions a 'we the people' directly collaborating and deciding rather than allowing others to decide on their behalf. It notices inherent flaws in elections beyond the influence of money and it sees a way out. But what do we know about the future?</p><p class="BodyA"><em>[Many of these ideas appeared Jan 20, 2014 on <a href="">Truthout</a>.]</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/thorvaldur-gylfason/iceland-direct-democracy-in-action">Iceland: direct democracy in action</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ahto-lobjakas/charter-12-estonias-stab-at-direct-democracy">Charter 12: Estonia&#039;s stab at direct democracy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item even"> France </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? France Belgium Ahmed R Teleb Wed, 02 Apr 2014 15:13:44 +0000 Ahmed R Teleb 80988 at The radicalisation of Flemish nationalism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The polarising strategy of the Flemish movement’s biggest political party places next year’s “mother of all elections” in Belgium on a knife-edge.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><img src="" alt="" width="460" height="358" />N-VA leader and Mayor of Antwerp, Bart De Wever. Wikimedia commons. Some rights reserved.</p><p>A markedly conciliatory note was struck by New Flemish Alliance leader Bart De Wever on the day his N-VA party won a shock 30% of votes in the Belgian elections of 13 June 2010. </p> <p>After the result came in that night, the iconic leader cautioned an indomitable crowd of victorious N-VA militants that the monster score meant that &ldquo;70% of Flemish people didn&rsquo;t vote for us today,&rdquo; prompting brief, ironic jeers from gathered activists.</p> <p>In a measured victory address, De Wever spoke of the need to build bridges with rival parties in an implicit admission that N-VA&rsquo;s historic mission &ndash; Flemish independence &ndash; was still some way off. </p> <h2><strong>Untameable </strong></h2> <p>Undeterred, party militants followed De Wever&rsquo;s speech with a rowdy beer-hall rendition of <em>De Vlaamse Leeuw</em>, an anthem that vows that the Flemish Lion will never be tamed &ldquo;as long as the lion can claw, as long as he has teeth.&rdquo;</p> <p>Little did the crowd know that fate had in store 541 days of gruelling negotiations to form a federal Belgian government. </p> <p>N-VA would emerge empty-handed in spite of its overwhelming relative majority, condemned to railing against current Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo&rsquo;s socialist-led government from the side-lines of national opposition.</p> <p>After stewing for several years, N-VA has emerged with a more radical platform and a clear electoral strategy to polarise the electoral landscape. </p> <p>This time the strategy is not necessarily about winning as many votes as it can. It&rsquo;s about winning power.</p> <h2><strong>Radicalisation</strong></h2> <p>The N-VA leadership has over the past weeks nailed its radical colours to the mast. The rightward shift was long in the making and is now fully set in stone as campaigns get underway for the &ldquo;Super Sunday&rdquo; regional, federal and European elections that all take place 25 May next year.</p> <p>New electoral texts and a media blitz have committed N-VA to a policy cocktail with two ingredients: first, a far-reaching and detailed plan for confederalism &ndash; a one-time hit to rapidly dismantle the Belgian state &ndash; and second, the subjection of the economy to neoliberal shock therapy.</p> <p>The final push by party leaders to impose the rightward shift was executed in the face of some limited confusion, a high-profile defection and a partly bungled communications strategy. </p> <p>But by getting the process over with now, N-VA will emerge as one of the most clearly profiled parties in what is hyped as Belgium&rsquo;s &ldquo;mother of all elections&rdquo; next year. </p> <h2><strong>A double U-turn</strong></h2> <p>The N-VA leadership has imposed its will. The party is campaigning for a national government of economic repair with leaders - if not all followers &ndash; fully signed up to neoliberal economic policies. Neoliberalism shares top billing with a platform for confederalism &ndash; radical pro-Flemish constitutional reform &ndash; which appeals to core supporters.</p> <p>N-VA bigwig Siegfried Bracke let the cat out of the bag this summer. In a widely reported U-turn, he confidently claimed the party now believed repairing the country&rsquo;s economy with tax cuts was more important than confederalism. </p> <p>Bracke was immediately forced into an apology for infuriating the party&rsquo;s pro-Flemish wing and for revealing high-level leadership strategy to the first journalist who would listen. </p> <p>He was back on television the next day with a different, party-approved message - subsequently set in stone &ndash; this time saying confederalism and economic recovery were two sides of the same coin. </p> <p>The course was thus set and N-VA is steering this dual message all the way to next year&rsquo;s elections. </p> <h2><strong>Mouthpiece for business</strong></h2> <p>Bart De Wever has long sung the praises of Germany&rsquo;s low-wage economy &ndash; &ldquo;Europe&rsquo;s locomotive&rdquo; &ndash; and has painted doomsday scenarios if Belgium fails to implement EU-endorsed austerity reforms. </p> <p>His commitment to neoliberalism has long been evident. Back in 2010, De Wever reportedly described the Flemish employers&rsquo; federation as &ldquo;my boss.&rdquo;</p> <p>This observation was echoed last month when long-standing N-VA lieutenant Nick Mouton defected. In a <em>tour de force</em> resignation statement, he accused the party leadership of turning N-VA into &ldquo;a mouthpiece for business leaders&rdquo; and of adopting a &ldquo;harsh, neoliberal course.&rdquo; </p> <p>By that point, De Wever and other leaders had already shaken off overtly collectivist impulses based on a shared Flemish identity and language. </p> <p>N-VA rhetoric now focuses on Flemish people who &ldquo;work, save and run businesses,&rdquo; a mantra repeated over and over to justify tax-breaks for big business and high-income earners while pressing wages and benefits for the rest. </p> <h2><strong>The centre cannot hold</strong></h2> <p>N-VA&rsquo;s biggest electoral trump card is pitting De Wever against Di Rupo in what will be the clearest head-to-head showdown in recent Belgian history. </p> <p>Di Rupo, a francophone socialist committed to defending Belgium&rsquo;s welfare state, is an ideal counter-pole for a radicalising N-VA. </p> <p>The two main Flemish centre-right parties &ndash; the Christian Democrats of CD&amp;V and the liberal Open VLD &ndash; were last week forced to react to N-VA&rsquo;s far-reaching plans for confederalism and neoliberalism. </p> <p>In order to protect their identities, Open VLD and CD&amp;V ruled out co-operation with N-VA on constitutional reform after the election. </p> <p>They warned that attempts to impose confederalism were bound to plunge the country into chaos and blockage. Instead, the parties argued, the next federal government should focus on fixing the economy. </p> <p>This plays directly into the hands of the polarising strategists at N-VA. There is no real threat on economic policy as Open VLD and CD&amp;V are broadly singing from the same neoliberal hymn sheet. </p> <p>At the same time, the rejection of confederalism by liberals and Christian Democrats is a major blow to those parties&rsquo; pro-Flemish credentials, boosting N-VA&rsquo;s profile as the sole democratic force advocating radical constitutional reform in the name of Flanders. </p> <p>The N-VA machine has in previous elections emptied the CD&amp;V and Open VLD of Flemish-minded voters and it is now coming back for more.</p> <p>For its part, N-VA has already said that governing with Flemish parties that are not committed to confederalism is unthinkable. So when negotiations start in May, something will have to give. </p> <h2><strong>Flemish block</strong></h2> <p>N-VA strategically aims to become <em>incontournable</em> at the federal negotiating table next year. To get there, the party has to force an outcome that makes it impossible for other negotiating parties to get around N-VA as a coalition partner.</p> <p>If the share of the N-VA and the extreme-right Vlaams Belang comes in at over half there is a de facto Flemish-minded &ldquo;blocking majority.&rdquo; </p> <p>Inviting Vlaams Belang, a post-fascist party with a core 10% of voters, to govern is unthinkable as it is subject to Europe&rsquo;s original and longest-running <em>cordon sanitaire</em>. </p> <p>This means establishment parties will choose N-VA rather than quarantined Vlaams Belang if either party is needed for a majority.</p> <h2><strong>Cordon rouge? </strong></h2> <p>In a potentially fateful historical irony, N-VA ambitions may get inadvertent help from the extreme left. Workers party PVDA is gaining in the polls on an all-out socialist programme that advocates nationalisation of banks and heavy industry. </p> <p>If PVDA comes in from the left-wing fringes and gains federal seats, it will almost certainly be subjected to a second cordon sanitaire. This would reduce the number of seats required for a Flemish-minded blocking majority.</p> <p>De Wever became mayor of Antwerp in 2012 thanks to exactly that type of double cordon. PVDA&rsquo;s four seats and five for Vlaams Belang tipped the balance and made N-VA <em>incontournable</em> in the governing council of Belgium&rsquo;s second city. </p> <h2><strong>Riding the polls </strong></h2> <p>Opinion poll support for N-VA surged as high as 40% after the current government was sworn in. This was a clear sign of Flemish frustration at the way their votes were ignored by the formation of Di Rupo&rsquo;s coalition. </p> <p>N-VA ratings subsequently stayed between 35% and 40% for nearly two years but recently dipped to just below 28%.</p> <p>The dip reflects the ebbing away of the anger felt at Di Rupo&rsquo;s formation. But there is no inherent reason that those voters cannot be angered once more into joining the De Wever camp.</p> <p>This means N-VA&rsquo;s prospects for getting its coveted <em>incontournable</em> status may well come down to a few electoral percentage points on Super Sunday.</p> <h2><strong>Burying Halloween ghosts</strong></h2> <p>N-VA launched their detailed policy paper on confederalism just before Halloween. </p> <p>The radical plan involves splitting Belgium into two autonomous member states that only co-operate in policy areas where they have both agreed to do so. </p> <p>Under the plans, residents of Brussels will see their region demoted into a no-man&rsquo;s enclave where each individual chooses whether, administratively speaking, they are Flemish or Walloon.</p> <p>Predictably, the party&rsquo;s confederal creature has drawn a storm of criticism, especially in Brussels, which is noticeably asserting its own cultural identity by distancing itself from the two linguistic communities.</p> <p>But spelling out the painful realities of confederalism at this early stage is a clear-sighted move by N-VA strategists.</p> <p>Laying radical cards on the table at Halloween ensures confederalism will be old news at N-VA&rsquo;s election congress in January. Flemish-minded voters will undoubtedly remember it. Others will be distracted by the N-VA electoral machine and media hype around the official unveiling of Bart De Wever as prime-ministerial candidate early next year. </p> <h2><strong>A fearful symmetry</strong></h2> <p>N-VA&rsquo;s economic policies would abolish tax brackets for top income earners and further erode taxes on business profits. This is a dangerous platform when Belgium&rsquo;s main economic problem is that the country has become a fiscal paradise for big business and those wealthy enough not to work. </p> <p>In a fearful symmetry, the top 10% of Belgium&rsquo;s population owns more than 50% of total national wealth, while the bottom 50% owns only 10%. </p> <p>There are an estimated 220.000 super-rich households in Belgium and the number is growing. It includes high-profile and low-profile tax exiles from France and the Netherlands. </p> <p>More damaging still, running big businesses in Belgium is in some sectors degenerating into a race for who can obtain the biggest fiscal gifts from politicians and who can get away with the most aggressive downsizing. It is becoming business practice to obtain the former by threatening the latter.</p> <p>The top 1.000 companies with the largest profits in Belgium last year paid a pitiful 6.17% in taxes. In that same year, those same thriving companies sacked roughly 20.000 employees.</p> <h2><strong>Trick or treat</strong></h2> <p>In a stunning display of economic illiteracy, N-VA wants the Belgian state to issue a guarantee to financial markets that national debt will at some pre-defined point be reduced to zero.</p> <p>N-VA has been forced into this position by party dogmatists who realise all too well that national debt at federal level is an obstacle to the ultimate aim of splitting the country in two. </p> <p>The direct reason for Belgium&rsquo;s current debt problem is the &euro;25bn financial bail-out of which only 1% has been repaid. Nasty surprises still lurk in the battered balance sheets of bailed-out banks. </p> <p>The central bank has warned that rescued financial group Dexia is a ticking time bomb that would add a crippling &euro;125bn to government debt if it explodes. The financial crisis as a whole has already cost Belgium an estimated &euro;100bn. </p> <p>A renewed determination to cut taxes in these circumstances is a radical adventure. N-VA wants to recoup the money lost through tax giveaways by freezing public spending. </p> <p>It is also poised to scrap Belgium&rsquo;s unique wage-indexation system that is specifically designed to guarantee no worker is left behind in national wage negotiations. </p> <p>The country&rsquo;s biggest long-term challenge, youth unemployment, is downplayed in N-VA literature as a problem for Brussels and Wallonia.</p> <p>What is being proposed is an accelerated redistribution of wealth and opportunity away from ordinary people to big business and those wealthy enough not to work. It comes at a dangerous time to unleash such an experiment.</p> <p>N-VA neoliberal-confederal concoction isn&rsquo;t about treating voters. It&rsquo;s about tricking them.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/cas-mudde/flemish-nationalism-new-landscape">Flemish nationalism: a new landscape</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/opensecurity/benjamin-de-cleen/security-and-radical-right-in-flanders">Security and the radical right in Flanders</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Belgium Will Wachtmeister Tributaries of the right Thu, 14 Nov 2013 11:48:22 +0000 Will Wachtmeister 76944 at Are smaller avenues of collective self-determination emerging out of the crisis? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Is national citizenship still a valid organizational factor in the context of the crisis? A radical re-thinking of political citizenship, based on smaller entities such as Catalonia, Scotland or Flanders, may emerge as a reaction to growing imbalances.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span><span><img src="" alt="A Scottish National Party poster. Demotix/Ken Jack. All rights reserved." width="460" height="298" /></span><span class="image-caption">A Scottish National Party poster. Demotix/Ken Jack. All rights reserved.</span></span></p><p><span>During the last decade strong signs of disaffection towards traditional forms of citizenship based on exclusive rights and obligations&nbsp;related to a national political community have emerged.&nbsp;The provocative point that this essay intends to make is based on one intuition by social philosopher Peter Wagner: that the financial crisis may lead to &ldquo;a radical recasting of collective self-determination in different spatial terms than the nation state&rdquo;.</span></p> <p>The role of civil society movements, in this context, is crucial. All the movements borne out of the crisis have supported some forms of evolution of citizenship beyond the borders of the state; but their ultimate objective has varied greatly. Few of these movements have supported the idea of larger avenues of self-determination, for instance at the European level; while most of the&nbsp;major civil society actors who have emerged in the last few months have engaged in a fierce defence of smaller territorial communities. </p> <p>This aspect represents a very fundamental way in which&nbsp;the financial crisis has impacted on civil society. The question is: why do most of the movements support smaller, rather than larger, spatial avenues for the determination of citizenship rights?</p> <p>In general, the reconstitution of avenues of collective self-determination on a larger (namely, European) level has been advocated mainly by those policy-makers who believe that the only answer to the crisis is more Europe. Some argue that the present context represents a unique possibility for a post-national European Union to emerge.&nbsp;This debate has brought back in the idea of&nbsp;a fully political union, which was postponed at Maastricht, revived after the failure of the Nice Treaty and closed with the failure of the Convention.&nbsp;A fully political Union would indeed&nbsp;go much further than its economic dimension and would be based on&nbsp;a much broader scope. </p> <p>These characteristics would, in turn, contribute to&nbsp;give European citizenship its full meaning and scope by taking into account the new prospects opened up by article 11 of the treaty on the European Union for citizens&rsquo; participation in the democratic life of the European Union. Eventually, European citizenship, which at the moment merely confers upon all European citizens an additional set of rights, could even replace national citizenship. Every move in this direction represents a reconstitution of collective determination into a larger avenue than the one currently in place: national citizenship.</p> <p>Indeed, a&nbsp;crisis period is a very fruitful one for bringing about these dramatic kinds of reform. At&nbsp;the same time, strong limits to the Europeanization&nbsp;of national citizenship are still present. So far, the debate has focused mainly on the political problem of compromise and willingness to pursue such a project.&nbsp;The establishment of a fully political Union would obviously require&nbsp;a very strong commitment to unity and solidarity by all the European leaders. This does not seem to be the case at the moment. </p> <p>However, there is another problem that could be even more important: the Europeanization of the national citizenship cannot last without the citizens' support. Although few people have focused on this aspect of the issue, an exclusively top-down construction is very likely to result in a dramatic failure, as has already happened with the project for a Constitution for Europe.</p> <p>Interestingly, very few of the civil society movements that have emerged in the last few months have embraced the ideal of a full Europeanization of the national citizenship. On the contrary, the crisis has accelerated calls in the opposite direction, which is civil society movements calling for a radical recasting of collective self-determination in smaller spatial terms than the nation state.</p> <p>In general, the crisis has brought about a dramatic loss of confidence in traditional democratic representation. This helped those nationalist parties that could turn disaffection into hate: the National Front in France and Golden Dawn in Greece, for instance. These developments also led to the defeat of incumbents and mainstream political parties. In separatist regions, instead, the same disaffection has favored parties advocating independence.&nbsp;In Catalonia, Scotland, South Tyrol, the Basque Country, Flanders, and many other regions, massive rallies advocating the self-defence of regional identity have flourished over the last few months. </p> <p>These movements have gained unprecedented media attention. They have also created broad networks involving not only political parties, but also other civil society actors who are active on the territory. Just to mention one example, at the pro-Catalan independence march that took place in Barcelona on 11 September 2012, hundreds of organizations, municipalities and institutions from all over Catalonia booked buses to bring people to the event. This involved formal organizations, NGOs, political parties, but also informal groups such as clubs of bikers and marathon runners. Generally, civil society support for the defence of smaller avenues of self-determination has been very broad.</p> <p>Arguably, it is easier to mobilize support for such a cause in places like Catalonia, Scotland, or Flanders, than in other places. Many of these regions never really lost their distinct identity. Here, the possibility of secession has always lingered below the surface. But only now, perhaps for the first time in recent history, independence is seen as a realistic possibility by several people in these regions. </p> <p>The reason why so many people are participating in these protests is connected with the impact and the opportunities created by the economic crisis.&nbsp;European citizens in general are shaken, skeptical and angry, and in the regions with a strong identity these sentiments are exacerbated. Civil society actors, led by political parties, have found a new way to approach independence through the economy. All these movements have in fact been cast as a very explicit form of resistance against the crisis, and also against the policies put in place both at the European and at the national level.&nbsp;The message conveyed by&nbsp;most of the&nbsp;major civil society actors engaged in the cause is that smaller nations could fully benefit from their natural strengths: flexibility, speed of decision-making, and the ability to clearly define national interests and strategies.</p> <p>At the same time, it would be misleading to cast the economic crisis as the only reason for these developments. Heather Grabbe, the Brussels director for the Open Society Institute, puts it very clearly: &ldquo;the key variable for separatism is less a matter of money than of historical grievance and language. [&hellip;] While economics plays a role, in the end people vote with their hearts.&rdquo; Similarly, the defence of small avenues of self-determination is not only about the economy. Civil society actors in Catalonia, Scotland, Flanders and many other regions with a strong identity are supporting innovative&nbsp;forms of social inclusion and democratic control. </p> <p>These measures, that involve specific policy arrangements in matters such as residency, immigration, and social subsidies, are rather different from those put in place by the respective national governments. Arrangements of this kind challenge the assumption of many scholars, who were convinced that &ldquo;national citizenship is losing ground to a more universal model of membership, anchored in deterritorialized notions of persons' rights&rdquo; (Yasemin Soysal). These movements are advocating a very strong territorial form of citizenship anchored in the local community and opposed to the national idea of citizenship that is currently in place. Such a citizenship would be first and foremost territorial in its scope.</p> <p>It is still difficult to imagine an independent Scotland, Flanders or Catalonia; whether we will actually ever see these countries secede from their kin-states is doubtful. But what matters is that civil society in these contexts has exposed the&nbsp;waning sense of solidarity throughout Europe and the emergence of a deeper crisis that revolves around democratic citizenship.&nbsp;These developments&nbsp;confirm Peter Wagner&rsquo;s intuition of&nbsp;a radical recasting of collective self-determination in spatial terms different from that of the nation state. They also show that such a recasting has gone in the direction of smaller, rather than larger avenues. This is a lesson for many policy-makers and political actors in Europe.&nbsp;An approach that focuses on democratic control rather than on economic benefits exclusively is crucial to understanding these forms of resistance to the current financial crisis.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/pol-bargu%C3%A9s/rise-of-catalonia-unravelling-debate-on-catalan-independence-0">The rise of Catalonia: unravelling the debate on Catalan independence</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/pere-vilanova/catalonia-case-for-glocal-rethink">Catalonia: the case for glocal rethink</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item even"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? EU Belgium UK Spain Civil society Culture Democracy and government Ideas europe Lorenzo Piccoli Europe 2.0 Tue, 29 Jan 2013 10:35:22 +0000 Lorenzo Piccoli 70555 at The constitutionality of the Belgian burqa ban <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>On 6 December 2012, the Belgian Constitutional Court held that the 2011 so-called “burqa ban” does not violate the Belgian Constitution.&nbsp;A boundary is crossed when rights of individuals are simply sacrificed to majority sentiments; a boundary which should be protected by institutions such as the Court.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="" alt="A protest against the ban in Brussels. Flickr/Mkhalili. Some rights reserved." width="460" /><span class="image-caption">A protest against the ban in Brussels. Flickr/Mkhalili. Some rights reserved.</span></p><p>Following France, Belgium was the second European country to introduce a general prohibition on covering one&rsquo;s face in public, or &ldquo;burqa ban&rdquo;. The Act of 1 June 2011 renders it an offence to publicly &ldquo;cover or conceal one's face in whole or in part, so that one is unrecognisable&rdquo;. Exceptions are limited to &ldquo;legal provisions&rdquo;, &ldquo;labour regulations&rdquo;, and &ldquo;local ordinances regarding festivities&rdquo;, which impose or allow for face covering.</p> <p>The Act was intended to guarantee public safety. Other stated purposes include considerations of a societal nature, including &ldquo;promoting &lsquo;living together&rsquo;&rdquo;, with an emphasis on communication and recognisability, and protecting women&rsquo;s rights.</p> <p>Several appeals were filed with the&nbsp;<a href="">Belgian Constitutional Court</a>. Applicants argued that the prohibition violated several rights and principles, including the principle of legality, the freedom of religion, and the right to non-discrimination. Save for one minor proviso, the Court&nbsp;<a href="">rejected</a>&nbsp;all these arguments.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <h3>Principle of legality</h3> <p>Applicants argued that the scope of application of the law is unpredictable and potentially boundless, while there are only limited exceptions. This would render it impossible for citizens to ascertain whether their behaviour is in compliance with the law. This is all the more problematic, since intent is not required: mere negligence is sufficient to be punishable. All of this was claimed to violate the principle of legality, which requires laws to be clear, ascertainable and sufficiently precise.</p> <p>The Court finds that this principle has not been breached. Concepts such as &ldquo;recognisability&rdquo;, &ldquo;covered in part&rdquo; and &ldquo;places accessible to the public&rdquo; are all deemed sufficiently clear to allow a citizen to determine their scope. Any remaining margin of appreciation for the judge does not pose problems of legality.</p> <p>These general statements by the Court however in no way clarify the reach of the burqa ban, and they certainly do not limit the prohibition in any way. As such, it will have to be assumed that all types of partial concealment of one&rsquo;s face, which impede &ldquo;recognisability&rdquo;, regardless of intent, are forbidden in Belgium. It follows that somebody who wears a scarf and a winter hat to protect himself from the cold is punishable. The same goes for cyclists wearing dust masks, human mascots at sports events, veiled brides, and Boy Scout leaders who disguise themselves during a game.</p> <h3>Safety</h3> <p>The Court devotes most of its attention to the alleged violation of applicants&rsquo; freedom of religion. The Court finds that the stated purposes of the law are all legitimate, and that the ban also meets the proportionality standard.</p> <p>The Court accepts, for instance, that the legislator has good reason to fear that facial covering may indeed harm public safety. In doing so, the Court acknowledges that in Belgium, thus far, the Islamic full-veil has not in fact given rise to any actual safety issues yet. However, the Court reasons that it does not follow from the fact that there are no problems (yet), that the legislator should not be allowed to act. The latter is allowed to &lsquo;anticipate&rsquo;.</p> <p>The American author Philip K. Dick described in his dystopian short story &ldquo;<a href=""><em>The Minority Report</em></a>&rdquo; (written in 1956 and adapted into a&nbsp;<a href="">feature film</a>&nbsp;in 2002) how, in a future totalitarian society, clairvoyants (&lsquo;precogs&rsquo;) were able to predict crimes. Potential criminals were pre-emptively apprehended, until it turned out that not all potential criminals would in reality commit crimes. The difference between the 1956 fiction and present-day Belgian reality is that the antidemocratic measures in the fictional short story were at least effective in improving public safety.&nbsp;</p> <p>Prior to the introduction of the burqa ban, Belgian legislation already allowed for identity checks to be performed by the police. It is hard to see why this would be deemed insufficient from a public safety perspective. Moreover, most types of face covering pose no security risk whatsoever. And it seems rather unrealistic to assume that those who intend to rob a bank would refrain from doing so out of fear of committing the additional infraction of wearing a mask in public.</p> <h3><strong>&lsquo;Living together&rsquo;</strong></h3> <p>The Court also considers the promotion of &lsquo;living together&rsquo; (&lsquo;<em>le vivre ensemble</em>&rsquo;) to constitute a legitimate aim. In this context, the Belgian legislator referenced the French philosopher&nbsp;<a href="">Emmanuel Levinas</a>&nbsp;who according to the legislator has stated that &ldquo;our humanity is expressed through our face&rdquo;. The legislator moreover declared that a person of whom only the eyes are visible would be &ldquo;unable to participate in democratic dynamics&rdquo;.</p> <p>It is remarkable, to say the least, that the Belgian Constitutional Court would accept that a violation of the freedom of religion would&nbsp;<em>de facto&nbsp;</em>be justified by a violation of the right to privacy. Freedom of religion is, after all, restricted in order to pursue an invasion of people&rsquo;s privacy, as the State wishes to force people to communicate with each other when in public, with the State deciding how such communication should take place in order to be valuable or &lsquo;democratic&rsquo;. Would it not be more respectful of democratic values to leave it up to individual citizens to determine whether and when they want contact with their fellow citizens in the streets? Even if one were to consider it a legitimate purpose to promote such contacts, criminal punishment does not seem a fitting means to do so.&nbsp;</p> <h3><strong>Women&rsquo;s rights</strong></h3> <p>The Constitutional Court also finds in favour of the legislator&rsquo;s concerns about gender equality in justifying the burqa ban. Following the legislator, the Court makes a distinction between women who are forced to wear a face-veil and women who do this of their own free will.</p> <p>The Court indicates that, in the hypothesis that women are&nbsp;<em>forced</em>&nbsp;to wear the full-veil, the legislator may assume that the &ldquo;fundamental values of a democratic society&rdquo; oppose such coercion, and justify a ban. In doing so, the Constitutional Court disregards the fact that the law punishes not those who are&nbsp;<em>exerting</em>&nbsp;the coercion, but those who are the&nbsp;<em>victims</em>&nbsp;of such coercion. The Court responds to this objection with a mere reference to article 71 of the Belgian Criminal Code, which excludes criminal liability in cases of&nbsp;<em>force majeure</em>&nbsp;or coercion. Not only does this contradict the Court&rsquo;s preceding statement that punishing the wearer is legitimate even if coercion is involved, but the Court also fails to take into consideration that a woman who is repressed to such an extent that she may be coerced into wearing a full-veil, is highly unlikely to invoke this defence, in view of the social sanctions this would entail.</p> <p>The Constitutional Court accepts that gender equality also justifies a ban if wearing the full-veil is instead a &ldquo;well-considered choice by the woman&rdquo;. The reasons why the Court allows for this are twofold. To begin with, the Court points out that the requirement to wear such clothing is limited to&nbsp;<em>women</em>, and additionally the full-veil serves to deprive its wearers &ldquo;of a fundamental element of their individuality&rdquo;. The Court thus accepts that the legislator can or even should &lsquo;emancipate&rsquo; women against their own well-considered and informed opinion. This despite the fact that all available empirical research (carried out in Denmark,&nbsp;<a href="">France</a>, the&nbsp;<a href="">Netherlands</a>&nbsp;and also in&nbsp;<a href="">Belgium</a>) shows that the women who are affected by the ban experience the full-veil not as something that&nbsp;<em>deprives</em>&nbsp;them of their individuality, but instead as a means to&nbsp;<em>express</em>&nbsp;their individuality.</p> <p>This may seem counterintuitive to many of us, but &ndash; as pointed out by the German philosopher&nbsp;<a href="">Andrea Roedig</a>&nbsp;&ndash; by the same token that the full-veil can be interpreted (and prohibited) as a symbol of oppression, the crucifix could, viewed by an uninformed outsider, be taken as a sign of veneration of torture and inhumane treatment.</p> <h3><strong>Rule of law</strong></h3> <p>The only restriction the Constitutional Court imposed is that the &lsquo;burqa ban&rsquo; may not apply in &ldquo;places of worship&rdquo;, as this would unduly restrict the freedom of religion. A similar reservation was made by the French&nbsp;<a href="">Constitutional Council</a><em>&nbsp;</em>(<em>Conseil Constitutionnel</em>) in respect of the French ban. Government interference in religious matters has gone far indeed when it has become necessary to point out that there should still be a right to cover one&rsquo;s face in a place of worship.</p> <p>All in all, the decision of the Belgian Constitutional Court seems regrettable. Fundamental rights ultimately exist to protect minorities, unpopular minorities in particular, against the tyranny of the majority. A boundary is crossed when rights of individuals are simply sacrificed to majority sentiments; a boundary which should be protected by institutions such as the Court. In other matters, the Constitutional Court has not hesitated to fulfil this role. In the case of the burqa ban, however, these boundaries seem to have evaporated, making for the constitutional equivalent of a Schengen area.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/jogchum-vrielink-and-eva-brems/belgium-bans-burqa">Belgium bans &#039;burqa&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/markha-valenta/pornography-of-equality">The pornography of equality </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/nikolaj-nielsen/migrants-in-brussels-%E2%80%93-against-odds">Migrants in Brussels – against the odds</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/valeria-costa-kostritsky/france-and-veil-%E2%80%93-dark-side-of-law">France and the veil – the dark side of the law </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/zainab-magdy/undressing-um-ahmad-egyptian-women-between-bikini-and-burquaa">Undressing Um Ahmad: Egyptian women between the bikini and the burquaa&#039;</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Belgium Civil society Culture Democracy and government Equality europe Jogchum Vrielink Jelle Flo Tributaries of the right Mon, 14 Jan 2013 14:18:41 +0000 Jelle Flo and Jogchum Vrielink 70120 at Will Catalonia secede? <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The independentist inclinations of Catalonia, Scotland or Flanders define a dominant political zeitgeist in Europe – the dismantling of large territorial units. And this is why they will ultimately succeed.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="" alt="During a pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona this September. Demotix/Patrick Muzart-Lupinacci. All rights reserved." width="460" height="315" /><span class="image-caption">During a pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona this September. Demotix/Patrick Muzart-Lupinacci. All rights reserved.</span></p><p>Writing almost 100 years ago, an advocate for Yugoslav unity asserted that the &ldquo;creation of a Yugoslav nation is for us the logical conclusion to a long historical process, which leads inevitably to the unification of groups related by blood.&rdquo; Bearing in mind the unification of the modern Italian and German states (in 1861 and 1871 respectively), it must have indeed seemed &ldquo;inevitable&rdquo; to this author that the various South Slavs would amalgamate into a single nation despite their three different religions, multiple dialects and varied histories.&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the late 1980s a similarly positioned observer might well have claimed the opposite; large amalgamations, either ones based on ideology like the USSR, or on the union of &ldquo;groups related by blood&rdquo; (Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and now perhaps Spain, and Great Britain) would seem &ldquo;inevitably&rdquo; on the path to fissioning into smaller units.&nbsp;Perhaps there is no universal law governing tendencies to fusion or fission, but rather a context, which makes one or the other outcome more likely. In the case of nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe, the context favored amalgamation, whereas now the opposite appears true.&nbsp;Why?</p> <p>State formation is an elite led political process, so in order to understand what drives state fission or fusion, it makes sense to consider elite attitudes. One law that does seem generally applicable is that for a politician or a political group, sovereign control over a smaller amount of territory or people is preferable to sharing power over a larger group (call it the big fish in a small pond rule). For politicians, then, fission is preferable to fusion. However, there have traditionally been strong limiting factors in the realms of security and economics on the viability of small units. First and foremost, political units potentially need to defend themselves militarily from their neighbors; second, in the pre-contemporary world, an internal economy of a certain size was necessary to allow individual states to create economies of scale and fend off the potential economic protectionism of their neighbors. Finally, insofar as European states had imperial ambitions, larger size was required to generate the manpower to realize them. Taken together, these elements created, by accident rather than design, a balance between the desires of elites to run their own show and their need to join with others to achieve safety in numbers or realize larger scale ambitions.</p> <p>What we see in Europe today, however, is a changed ecosystem, which produces different incentives and results. Most important, metaphorically speaking, predators have been removed from the ecosystem.&nbsp;It is no longer necessary for a European state to worry about defending itself from the potential depredations of its neighbors because these neighbors have abandoned the desire to engage in warfare among themselves. As for extra-European threats, they are to be handled by supra-national NATO. Furthermore, insofar as the Eurozone functions as a supra-national economy, there is no longer any need for a European state to have a large internal economy. If it can find a niche within the larger Eurozone, it is protected from the kinds of economic warfare that once plagued smaller states (unfair tariff regimes, inability to access markets and so forth). Finally, the EU has also enshrined a process of decentralization, which has given local elites both more experience in handling their own affairs than they had in more centralized nation states and more of a conviction that they do not need the politicians in the center.</p> <p>While each of these tendencies is a good thing in principle, taken altogether they have produced a perfect storm for separatist movements. With no fear of attack by predators, economic or military, and solid experience in political and administrative activity, sub-national elites recognize that there is currently very little in the way of a brake on their desire, which was always present but was earlier by necessity suppressed, to run their own sovereign show. Why, from the perspective of a well-educated and politically ambitious leader from Catalonia, or Scotland, or Flanders, should I be the deputy prime minister of Spain, Great Britain, or Belgium, when I can be the Prime Minister of my own country? Why not get to drive around in that limousine with the flags on the front, get my photo op with Barack Obama, lead the Olympic delegation, speak at the UN, and so forth? In any case, &ldquo;my people&rdquo; (it is easier to define &ldquo;my people&rdquo; in Europe if they speak a distinctive language since language and nationhood have historically been linked there, but, as the Scots are proving, even a separate language is not required as long as one has some logical organizing unit to point to) are already, in many respects, governed by us. Why not just make it official?</p> <p>In times of economic crisis, these issues are likely to surface ever more strongly, not because normal Catalans are more inclined to separatism than they were before, but because financial cooptation, the one last glue holding potentially separatist regions to the center, disappears. As long as the nation state government had sufficient resources to co-opt at least some local politicians, their desire to be big fish could be tamped down. In the absence of such resources, it surfaces with a vengeance. Despite their frequently expressed desires to do everything possible to prevent separatist movements from seceding, European nation states do not have many options at their disposal. Neither Spain, nor Great Britain, nor Belgium will send out the army to prevent secession. And given that the EU, for all its lack of desire to continually add new members, would be hard pressed to turn away an independent Catalonia, or Scotland, or Flanders should their populations vote clearly for national sovereignty, it seems likely that for now fission will continue. Catalonia and Scotland will secede, Belgium will break up.</p> <p>So, can we expect to see independent Basquia, S&uuml;dtirol, Friulia, and Istria down the road? Probably not, because at some point the context will change, making it again too dangerous or difficult for local elites to achieve their inherent desires for sovereignty. What the trigger for that might be and when it will appear is hard to say. But for now, it is probably not a good idea to invest heavily in printed copies of current European political maps.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ana-stanic/catalunya-and-spain-more-than-time-for-dialogue">Catalunya and Spain: more than time for dialogue</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/jordi-vaquer/separatism-in-times-of-crisis-in-spain-search-for-future">Separatism in times of crisis in Spain: the search for a future</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/joan-subirats/catalonia-and-spain">Catalonia and Spain</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/pere-vilanova/catalonia-spain-deadlock">Catalonia-Spain: Deadlock</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/patrice-de-beer/homage-to-catalonia-revisited">Homage to Catalonia (revisited)</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/fred-halliday/barcelona-catalonia-real-thing">Barcelona i Catalunya: the real thing </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Spain </div> <div class="field-item even"> Scotland </div> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> <div class="field-item even"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? EU Belgium France Scotland Spain Civil society Culture Democracy and government Economics Ideas International politics Andrew Wachtel Tue, 06 Nov 2012 08:17:34 +0000 Andrew Wachtel 69105 at How small countries can save the European project: the rise of the habitat-nation <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The European project is failing. It is time to consider a new theoretical model beyond the nation-state: smaller, localized communities, "habitat-nations", are the building blocks for a revitalized and democractic pan-European project.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="" alt="Laura Mintegi, leader of EH Bildu, the Basque separatist party that won big in this Sunday&#039;s regional parliamentary elections. Demotix/Manu Lozano. All rights reserved. " width="460" height="307" /><span class="image-caption">Laura Mintegi, leader of EH Bildu, the Basque separatist party that won big in this Sunday's regional parliamentary elections. Demotix/Manu Lozano. All rights reserved.</span></p><p>Once again, history is humming a tune of change. Not many are yet listening to this different song, too busy with old hopes and with the deafening clash of power and wills on Europe&rsquo;s political stage. Markets buzz with excitement every time a new bailout is announced, while bureaucrats hurry like diligent ants to work on the next victim's bones. The euro crisis seems to be all that matters now. Let Europe regain its financial stability and all will be well, so the politicians calmly say, as if they knew where they were going. All will be like it used to be, Europeans repeat to themselves, anxious about their savings as well as their debts. But as always, history does not quite follow the path that everyone thinks it will and has planned for.</p> <p>Back in 1989, when Europe seemed permanently divided into two antagonistic blocks and the borders of East and West appeared immutable, everyone was looking ahead to more of the same. However, change was already imperceptibly paving the way for a new world, albeit made of the same old and battered planks but nonetheless building distinctly new structures. What started as a muted hum, an&nbsp;almost inaudible rumour in the cold Eastern air, became a clamour sweeping across the continent that rocked the foundations of a Europe grown used to walls, bipolar summits and ballistic missiles. In the midst of walls collapsing and people celebrating in the streets, a new Eastern Europe was born. Borders were redrawn, political communities reunited, and the rusted structures that had been erected to last until the end of history crumbled and vanished like dust.</p> <p>Since the collapse of the Soviet empire, sixteen new European states have been created and many others have regained their freedom and independence. While most of these states emerged relatively peacefully, people are still very much haunted by the violent breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Now that all the fighting is over, however, there is little doubt that the whole region, divided into smaller and more cohesive states, is much more prosperous, more democratic and more stable than it ever was under Soviet rule. If it were not for the dead and the displaced, which perhaps might have been avoided if the international community had intervened more firmly and earlier, the remapping of Eastern Europe would be an unqualified success story.</p> <p>More than two decades later, the humming of history can be heard once again across the continent, but this time it is western Europe that is undergoing change. The financial crisis has set the stage for the much-needed liquidation of existing states built on the <a href="">Westphalian mode</a>l. The inhabitants of <a href="">Scotland</a>, <a href="">Catalonia</a>, <a href="">the Basque country</a>, <a href="">Flanders</a>, Venice, Lombardy, even Bavaria, aspire to live in a free and meaningful political community of their own. Just like Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia or the Czech Republic, these small nations of western Europe, too long suppressed under the ideology of the nation-state and the overwhelming structures of competing large states, are demanding their rightful place in a brand new and different Europe. In spite of the inevitable doomsayers and fear mongers, the dissolution of the large states of Europe is not a drama to be dreaded but a momentous event to be celebrated as the inevitable evolution of the pan-European and democratic project.</p> <p>Excluding the area of direct Russian influence, Europe is currently divided into two very different blocks. Seven large states with an average of 50 million inhabitants comprise 50% of the territory and 70% of the total population of the continent. The remaining 50% of the territory and 30% of the population correspond to more than thirty small countries with an average population of 5 million inhabitants. This situation is seriously hampering the normal development of the <a href="">European Union</a> as the interstate institutions of governance are built on clearly asymmetrical political units. The <a href="">current euro crisis</a> is only the latest example of the inability of the pan-European institutions to solve the most elemental problems of a commonwealth. Everyone knows that Europe urgently needs a common fiscal policy in order to complement and stabilise its monetary union. But the power struggles between the large states are permanently deferring much-needed solutions, leading instead to unstable and partial compromises. Germany distrusts Italy and Spain; France fears Germany; meanwhile, the United Kingdom attempts to manage everything from a safe distance. It is just a variation on the geopolitical games that have driven our continent to disaster on so many occasions since the <a href="">Treaty of Westphalia</a>. As long as the large states remain in command of the European project, there will be no solution to Europe&rsquo;s woes.</p> <p>I argue in my book, <em><a href=";camp=1634&amp;creative=19450&amp;creativeASIN=0957419104&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=opendemocra0e-21">Habitat: The Ecopolitical Nation</a></em>, that it is only by rebalancing the different units that make up the Union that Europe&rsquo;s problems can be solved. The small European states could be combined into larger states following the Westphalian logic, but such an option, even if it were desirable, is clearly not feasible in practice. The only real solution is to break up the present large states into smaller, more cohesive and efficient political communities. If we truly want to pursue the project of building a united, stable and democratic continent, it is necessary to initiate the transition towards a new Europe of small nations, eliminating once and for all the concentration of power in the larger states. Rather than regionalising Europe, the aim should be to renationalise it. Such a project would not, however, be under the <a href="">ideology of nationalism</a> and the old model of the nation-state. Rather, it would be on the basis of ecologically and socially meaningful political communities, founded on the sustainability of cohabitation and on participatory democratic institutions. Such a process will never originate from within the existing European institutions, much less from the large states themselves. Neither will it emerge in the small nations that already have a state of their own and lack, therefore, clear incentives to promote sweeping changes, even though they would certainly benefit from supporting the rebalancing of the geopolitical map of Europe. It is only the small nations that are still integrated into the large Western states for a variety of historical and political circumstances that will be able to initiate the process that ends up transforming the old Europe of nation-states into this new Europe of what I call habitat-nations.</p> <p>All Europeans should endorse the independence of the small western nations, such as Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders or the Basque country, with the capacity to rapidly evolve into cohesive and dynamic political communities. Support should not only come from the small sovereign countries or nations that aspire to independence, but even from the large states from which they would like to separate. It is not a question of dividing territory, but of creating new, more inclusive and democratic political communities. Despite their role in the process of modernisation, large states are no longer able to offer a framework of cohabitation and prosperity, much less of solidarity. While the small nations of Europe advance towards wellbeing and social justice, the large states founder like old Diplodocuses in the swamps of globalisation, hardly able to sustain themselves with their trappings of power. It is difficult to understand why any European would want to live today within the borders of a large state when it is so obvious that a community of free inhabitants can only evolve in the context of a small nation. Even those who hold fast to the dreams of a universal democratic community or to the idea of a single great European state should realise that a politically unified Europe will never be a democratic Europe. At best, it will be an extended regime of rights and duties, built on the idea of a European citizenry that is as fictitious as the bridges depicted on the euro notes. The only framework that allows for a sufficient level of political participation is the ecologically and socially meaningful community, the habitat-nation. And only a Europe of habitat-nations, integrated in a balanced and equitable confederation, may be able to fulfill the aspirations of those Europeans who dream of a more united and democratic continent.</p><p>The collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states was not expected, even if, in hindsight, it seemed almost inevitable. People tend to forget that change happens precisely when everyone is looking somewhere else. We might be experiencing, without yet fully realising it, another fundamental historical transformation. If one is attentive enough, the humming of history can be distinctly heard in the streets of Barcelona and Glasgow, in the coffee houses of Bruges and in the narrow lanes of Venice. The song is still faint, but new voices are joining in every day. Soon it will be so loud and clear that no one, not even the guardians of the old Westphalian orthodoxy, will be able to ignore it. A new and better western Europe is asking to be born.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/giulia-dessi/icelandic-constitutional-experiment">The Icelandic constitutional experiment</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/david-krivanek/calling-for-democracy-from-behind-closed-doors">Calling for democracy from behind closed doors</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/tamsin-murray-leach/re-imagining-europe-re-imagining-democracy">Re-imagining Europe: re-imagining democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/kwinten-lambrecht/eu-talking-only-to-brussels-bubble-inhabitants-not-citizens">EU talking only to &#039;Brussels Bubble&#039; inhabitants, not citizens</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> <div class="field-item even"> Spain </div> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> <div class="field-item even"> Scotland </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item even"> Italy </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Italy Belgium Scotland France Spain EU Civil society Democracy and government Economics Ideas International politics europe Ignasi Ribó Europe 2.0 Tue, 06 Nov 2012 08:14:40 +0000 Ignasi Ribó 68887 at Flemish nationalism: a new landscape <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The results of Belgium's local elections has brought victory in the northern Flanders region to the conservative and nationalist but democratic New Flemish Alliance. This represents the transformation of Flemish nationalism, says Cas Mudde.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Insofar as the international press took any interest in Belgium's&nbsp;local elections on 14 October 2012, the story&nbsp;it&nbsp;found there&nbsp;was about the rise of separatism. The <em>Washington Post</em>&nbsp;got in early with a <a href=" ">headline</a> the previous day:&nbsp;"As EU basks in Peace Prize glory, separatists from Belgium to Spain are on the march" (nationalists tend never to be "on the rise" but ever&nbsp;"on the march"). And like virtually all other media, the <em>Huffington Post</em> <a href=" ">summarised</a> the local elections as follows: "Big separatist gains in local Belgian elections." </p> <p>But rather than the <em>rise</em> of Flemish nationalism, the local elections were about the <em>transformation</em> of Flemish nationalism.</p> <p><strong>The breakthrough</strong></p> <p>As is usual in Belgian local elections, the prime media focus was Antwerp, the main city of the Dutch-speaking <a href="">northern</a> part of the country (Flanders), and the second biggest port in Europe. It is here that Bart De Wever, the leader of the Flemish nationalist party the New Flemish Alliance (<a href="">N-VA</a>), was contesting the elections and hoping to <a href="">become</a> the city’s first elected non-socialist mayor in postwar history. </p> <p>In the past decade De Wever, who was raised in a strong Flemish nationalist family, has taken <a href="">Flanders</a>, and Belgium, by storm. He became the N-VA leader in 2004, three years after the party had been founded as the successor of the People’s Union (VU), the major Flemish nationalist party of the postwar period. The VU, haunted by internal strife for decades, had moved to the left in the 1970s, which led to a split from the radical right, which formed the Flemish Bloc (later Flemish Interest, VB). The residual VU remained internally divided between democratic (but conservative) nationalists and progressive regionalists. In 2001 the former split off, under <a href="">Geert Bourgeois</a>, and founded the N-VA; the latter continued as SPIRIT, which later dissolved into the social-democratic SP.a.</p> <p>The N-VA failed miserably in the 2003 federal elections, with only Bourgeois getting a seat in the lower chamber (the party got no representative at all in the senate). The party then needed an electoral alliance with the Christian Democratic <a href="">CD&amp;V</a> to survive the 2004 elections. At this point, De Wever takes over the party from Bourgeois and develops it into (in his own words) "a Flemish people’s party". Combining an explicit and proud conservative nationalism with a modern and omnipresent media appearance, De Wever <a href="">became</a> the newest flavour in Belgian media and politics - which had lost most of their main characters in the late 1990s.</p> <p>Now, in the 14 October <a href="">elections</a>, De Wever has neared his lifetime ambition of becoming the mayor of "his" city. The N-VA won 38% of the vote, decimating the City List of the social-democratic SP.a and the Christian Democratic CD&amp;V (28.6%), but most importantly the populist radical-right VB, which collapsed from 33.5% to 10.2%. While coalition negotiations will not be easy, there is little doubt that De Wever will be the next mayor of Antwerp, most probably in coalition with the City List. </p> <p>But what does this all mean for Antwerp, Flanders, and Belgium? </p> <p><strong>The new landscape</strong></p> <p>Where the city of Antwerp is concerned, this election was not about the <a href="">success</a> of Flemish nationalism, but about the end of the VB and two-bloc polarisation. The populist radical-right VB had dominated Antwerp politics since its breakthrough in 1988, when it got 17.7% of the vote. In response to this "black Sunday", as the election day would forever be known (even though many other black Sundays would follow), the other political <a href="">parties</a> established a <em>cordon sanitaire</em>: an agreement not to establish any political coalition with the VB. The cordon has held to this day, despite a little glitch at the beginning. With the VB gradually increasing its electorate to over 30%, and becoming the&nbsp;biggest party in the city, the <em>cordon sanitaire </em>transformed Antwerp politics from multiparty to two-party, i.e. the "democratic party" against the VB. </p> <p>In the 2006 local elections, social-democratic mayor Patrick Janssens ran a successful campaign as the (only) "democratic candidate" against the "anti-democratic" VB. While the other coalition parties ran independently, many of their voters chose Janssens in an attempt to "take the city back from the VB". Although the VB actually increased its score, from 33.0% to 33.5%, it lost the title of the largest party of Antwerp to the SP.a of Janssens, which gained 35.5%. The media unanimously declared the Antwerp elections as a defeat of the VB and within weeks the party itself bought into the narrative. In the following years the VB slowly but steadily disintegrated. Long-simmering personal struggles came to the fore and prominent members either left voluntarily (e.g. former chairman Franck Vanhecke) or were kicked out (e.g. former Brussels police chief Bart Debie). The VB, the party with the longest winning streak in recent Belgian history, has been losing elections ever since.</p> <p>With the VB no longer a major threat, Janssens' two-party strategy lost its appeal and De Wever saw his chance to <a href="">realise</a> his boyhood dream. Moreover, as the elections were no longer about the VB and its issues, the N-VA no longer ran the risk of being accused of being "VB-lite". This notwithstanding, the election campaign was unexpectedly harsh, particularly given that De Wever’s party had been a member of the city coalition under Janssens since 2006. Finally, though, <a href="">Antwerp politics</a> has returned to a multiparty system.</p> <p>But despite the massive changes in seats, the Antwerp elections do not show so much change in terms of broader ideology. The SP.a-CD&amp;V City List lost, but mostly the voters who deserted them were those who had only supported Janssens to fight back against the VB. In addition, the SP.a provided most of the new electorate of the radical left PvdA+, the real surprise winner with 8.0% of the vote (+6.1%). The N-VA got most of its new voters from the VB, which lost a staggering 23.3%. The statistics suggest that the rise of "Flemish nationalism" (represented in dogmatic form by the VB) is rather minimal - since the N-VA <a href="">result</a> in 2012 is just 4% higher than the VB result in 2006. In fact, in 2006 the N-VA and VB together won roughly 44.6% (although the N-VA was then in cartel with CD&amp;V), while the total score of the two in 2012 is 47.9%.</p> <p>This is not to say that Antwerp politics will not change. Most importantly, the N-VA is not confronted with a <em>cordon sanitaire</em> as the VB was, and it will thus be able to <a href="">govern</a> the city (albeit in coalition with non-separatists). Moreover, the party will be able to draw upon support from the Flemish government, in which the N-VA is a major player. Together, these levels will further frustrate <a href="">collaboration</a> with the federal government, in which Dutch- and French-speaking parties govern in parity, but without the N-VA.</p> <p>To reaffirm, the local elections in Flanders were less about the rise of Flemish nationalism than the transformation of Flemish nationalism. The VB is not dead yet, as VB chairman <a href="">Bruno Valkeniers</a> declared with a degree of pathos as the results came in; but the party is (for the moment) no longer relevant in Flemish politics. This also means that Flemish nationalism is now squarely back in the conservative, but liberal-democratic, camp. Paradoxically, this makes it actually more threatening to the Belgian state. Because while radical-right Flemish nationalism could be contained by a <em>cordon sanitaire</em>, conservative Flemish nationalism cannot. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Cas Mudde, <a href=";camp=1634&amp;creative=19450&amp;creativeASIN=0521616328&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=opendemocra0e-21"><span><span><em>Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe</em></span></span></a> (Cambridge University Press, 2007)</p> <p><em><a href="">Flanders News</a></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Cas Mudde is an assistant professor in the department of international affairs of the University of Georgia.&nbsp;Among his books is <em><a href=";camp=1634&amp;creative=19450&amp;creativeASIN=0521616328&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=opendemocra0e-21"><span><span>Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe</span></span></a></em> (Cambridge University Press, 2007)</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/cas-mudde/dutch-elections-european-consequences">Dutch elections, European consequences</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/cas-mudde/america%E2%80%99s-new-revolutionaries">America’s new revolutionaries</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/cas-mudde/norway%E2%80%99s-democratic-example">Norway’s democratic example</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/cas-mudde/wisconsins-sikh-massacre-real-danger">Wisconsin&#039;s Sikh massacre: the real danger</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/cas-mudde/norways-atrocity-story-of-non-impact">Norway&#039;s atrocity: a story of non-impact</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/cas-mudde/europe-from-crisis-to-opportunity">Europe: from crisis to opportunity </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/cas-mudde/europes-crisis-and-radical-right">Europe&#039;s crisis and the radical right </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/cas-mudde/european-integration-after-fall">European integration: after the fall</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/cas-mudde/norway%E2%80%99s-catastrophe-democracy-beyond-fear">Norway’s catastrophe: democracy beyond fear </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/cas-mudde/geert-wilders-and-dutch-democracy">Geert Wilders and Dutch democracy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Belgium Democracy and government International politics democracy & power europe Cas Mudde Tributaries of the right The challenge of the ballot box 2012 Reinventing the left Mon, 15 Oct 2012 14:10:27 +0000 Cas Mudde 68870 at The pornography of equality <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The silence of our politicians on women’s security in public spaces is in striking contrast to their tremendous responsiveness to the sight of brown men insulting white women. The real problem is that in western society women’s equality and women’s pornographization have gone hand-in-hand.<em></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p>When Betty Friedan wrote <a href=""><em>The Feminine Mystique</em></a> in 1963, &ldquo;the problem that has no name&rdquo; was the problem of college-educated housewives sitting at home <a href="">being bored to death</a>.&nbsp; Today, the &ldquo;problem that has no name&rdquo; is more widespread, more alluring and more aggressive. Its most insidious aspect is how close it comes to the licit ways in which women are used to lure, seduce, persuade and sweetly tease those who see them. To buy more. And more. Promising to make us sexy and our eyes glaze in pleasure. In the commercials saturating our public spaces. The <a href="">bestselling novel</a> now <a href="">rising high</a> on <a href="">sadomasochistic frisson</a>. <a href="">The film</a> crossing and uncrossing its legs.&nbsp;</p> <p>We like to think that these are <a href="">metaphors</a>. That the impossibly <a href="">beautiful things</a> calling out to us, seductively and low-voiced &ndash; to be them, to desire them, to touch and possess that thing they have, their hot sexiness on the edge or pure life itself &ndash; don&rsquo;t literally mean it. &nbsp;Or do mean it, but then only in order to sell us sandwiches and Victoria&rsquo;s secrets. Or as a bit of diversion from boredom. And yet, the constant presence of their siren-calls wherever we look, day in and day out doing their best to arouse in us some amalgam of desire to be, to possess, to have what they have, is striking.&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course there is a steady stream of documentaries, manifestos and <a href="">little squeaks of protest</a> against this state of affairs. They include everyone from Christian grandparents to radical feminists to immigrant imams affronted in their moral sensibilities. But we studiously ignore them. They come and go without changing a thing. Rather like the tide.&nbsp;</p> <p>But now something has happened that for a moment has made our societies&rsquo; traffic in women&rsquo;s sexual assets a possible problem. A young woman filmed some men who acted as if women on the street are the women in our commercials.</p> <p><img src="" alt="" width="460" /></p><p><em>Poster for Sofie Peeters' documentary <a href="">Femme de la rue</a></em></p> <p>Sophie Peeters is walking down the street in <a href="">a recent documentary</a>, her <a href="">final thesis project</a> at the Brussels Film Academy. Sometimes she is filmed from behind and sometimes <a href="">she herself films through a pen camera</a> tucked into her shirt or dress. There is a microphone nestled in her bag. As she walks, anonymous men speak to her. One after another after another. A man tells her that she arouses him. Another man calls her a whore. Groups of men laugh. Someone shouts out that she has a sexy butt. Men&rsquo;s eyes track her. What&rsquo;s her price?, they ask. Does she want a drink? Does she want lunch? If not, attraction and negotiation turn to anger: sharp, rough, snapping &ndash; bitch! whore!</p> <p>We almost never see the men&rsquo;s faces directly: when they face the camera, Sophie has blurred their features. What is not hidden is their skin, the colour of <em>cafe-au-lait</em>, their black hair, their North African accents. They contrast with Sophie&rsquo;s white skin, honey brown hair, Flemish-accented French.</p> <p>When Sophie reaches her front door, enters it and locks out the street, it is a relief. But of course, she will have to go back out sometime. And then the gauntlet will start all over again. Oh, la, la! I want to put my prick in your cunt! Bitch! Whore!</p> <p><img src="" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p>These scenes deeply affront our sense of what is decent. Particularly vicious are the pitiless laughter that reduces Sophie into nothing more than her legs, vagina, and ass and the refusal to believe Sophie does not want these men&rsquo;s attention, them clinging to her like a dirty tissue. The fury when she continues to reject them. The constancy of the humiliation. Until finally it is clear that here, in this street, Sophie is little more than a walking blow-up doll: a receptacle for any and all libidinous effusions the men launch at her.</p> <p>The effect of the film has been electric. Overnight our politicians in Belgium and the Netherlands have become fervent feminists: speaking up, vilifying this behavior, proposing laws left and right to make public sexual harassment a crime. This may not be tolerated! Women are men&rsquo;s equals! Women must be treated with respect!&nbsp;</p> <p>Who could disagree? Must not this despicable behaviour be brought to an end? And yet, if there&rsquo;s one thing more despicable than someone calling a woman a whore in public, it is a politician pimping off the occasion for his (or her) own benefit. The politicians could not care less about women&rsquo;s equality as such. If they did, they would have acted much earlier.&nbsp;</p> <p>Just a little over a month ago, for example, Gallup released the results of interviews with more than 181,000 people in 143 countries, polling men&rsquo;s and women&rsquo;s feelings of safety when walking alone at night where they live. The striking outcome of this poll has been to reveal that the biggest gap between men&rsquo;s and women&rsquo;s feeling of safety is in <a href="">the richer countries of the west</a>. The gap between men and women in countries like France, America, Sweden and Belgium comes in at between 24 and 27%. &nbsp;In the Netherlands (from where I write) the gap is 22% and in the UK it is 20%. By contrast, the countries where women feel most safe in the world are far outside the rich, democratic west: including Ghana, Georgia, Bangladesh, Rwanda, China, Niger, and Indonesia, with gender differences from only 1 to 8%. In a few countries, women even feel safer than men: Syria (+4% in 2011, before the war), Sri Lanka, Burundi and Angola.&nbsp;</p> <p>Where were our heroic politicians when these figures came out? Why were they not calling these conditions in the west a travesty of justice? Why did they not feel deep shame that countries poorer, many much more religious, some even totalitarian, offer women so much more safety and comfort in public spaces? Is it not the overwhelming mantra of so many of our politicians these days that western democracy offers women the most advanced equality in the world and that immigrants from the Third World must learn to treat women as we do? How many would dare to say, as they ought to, that when it comes to public space, we must create environments as safe for women as they are in Ghana, in Bangladesh, in China?</p> <p><em><img src="" alt="" width="460" /></em></p><p>The silence of our politicians on western women&rsquo;s security in general stands in shrill contrast to their tremendous responsiveness at the sight of brown men insulting white women. Here they see a chance to &ldquo;do something.&rdquo; The problem is that what they propose &ldquo;doing&rdquo; &ndash; passing laws to prohibit sexual innuendo, proposals and insults in public spaces &ndash; has no possibility of succeeding. Such laws have little chance of being more than publicity stunts because <a href="">public sexual talk</a> is a symptom and not the problem. The real problem is not rude brown men but that our societies both love and abhor sexual women.&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the great ironies of our age is that women&rsquo;s formal legal equality has arrived to coincide with women&rsquo;s public pornographization. Becoming full legal subjects has not meant an erosion of women&rsquo;s objectification, but an explosion of it. Women&rsquo;s public sexiness is said to demonstrate their emancipation from repression and inequality. Even as sexy women are the oil that lubricates planetary consumption. Capital without women has no legs to stand on. Or to open. Yet no woman wants to be a whore.</p> <p>One of the reasons that women in western public space feel so much less safe than men is, quite simply, because they are less safe. From childhood onward, they are subject to a flow of harassment, so regular that it comes to seem not even remarkable. After the release of Sofie Peeters&rsquo; documentary, a Dutch newspaper, wanting to get an idea of how common her experience was, called for women to send in accounts of unwanted public sexual attention in public spaces. Within two days, the paper received more than 500 stories, with a constant stream of stories continuing for days after. In France, an (apparent) man&rsquo;s assertion on Twitter that this experience of Sophie&rsquo;s was exceptional, sparked an outraged flood of accounts. In America, <a href="">a photographer&rsquo;s description</a> of how a man came up behind her as she stood on the street and in a split-second slipped his finger under her skirt and into her vagina, went viral within days.&nbsp;</p> <p>I myself could tell of the man who chased me in a car when I was twelve, after asking if I wanted to watch him pee; or the high school teacher who hugged me too tight while telling me he had a girl &ldquo;just like me&rdquo; waiting for him at home; or the man who approached me on the street as I was painting a building and started asking about my panties, their colour, their tightness, before stroking himself under my ladder, right there for everyone to see, while I tried to gage if he would go on to attack me. Almost all of us have <a href="">dozens of these stories</a>, &nbsp;<a href="">so many</a> that what makes them remarkable is not their uniqueness, but rather our ongoing shame, acceptance of their inevitability and disinclination to make these part of our discussions with each other. Much less to consider what we might do.</p> <p>This is precisely the achievement of Peeters&rsquo; film. The documentation of her harassment in her neighborhood, while gripping and unsettling, is in fact less than a quarter of her film. The rest is all conversation: with other women &ndash; British, Flemish, Amazigh, Middle Eastern &ndash; who share the same experiences; with young immigrant guys hanging out; with older immigrant men sitting on a terrace; and finally, with a young man &ndash; Mourade &ndash; who used to be just like the guys who harass Sofie. In sharp contrast to the politicians who respond to her film by proposing instant laws, Peeters is interested in finding out why these men do this. The reasons themselves are not remarkable: boredom, entertainment, desire for easy sex, assertions of masculinity and so forth. The most confronting element of her conversations with these men is the realization that they have little if any interest in whether or not she wants their attention. It&rsquo;s not about her. It&rsquo;s about the men&rsquo;s desires and their relation with each other: showing off, passing the time, playing, or &ndash; if the woman is accompanied by a man &ndash; showing respect. Peeters is shocked by their easy sexism.</p> <p>The turning point in the film, however, only comes two-thirds of the way through, with Sophie&rsquo;s conversation with Mourade. Then, quite suddenly, she sees her own society in a different light. As Mourade sees it, the harassment happens through the (literally) unspeakable frustrations created by the intense sexual repression in the homes of young immigrant men while living in a hyper-sexualized society. While at home there is no way to talk about their emerging sexuality &ndash; its flows, intensities, meanings; even as in the spaces all around them they are bombarded with intensely arousing images of near-naked women. Their comments to women are a reflection of their response to the sexual images all around them.</p> <p>Now Sofie begins to look around her and the camera sees what before it missed: the oversized posters of women pouting their lips, spreading their legs, luring passers-by with their sex here and there and there. For the first time, she sees the sexism of her own culture, as it aids and abets the sexism of other cultures: &ldquo;Macho culture. It was a word which I actually had never applied to my own culture.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>Crucially, as Sofie shifts perspective here to take in what she sees more critically all around her, there are two things that are missing. In contrast to the scenes inside Sophie&rsquo;s living room where she talks with other women, she never enter the homes of immigrant men. (Not necessarily because Sofie does not know such young men: two years ago Sofie made <a href="">another documentary</a> about a young black rapper, &ldquo;Jeffrey&rdquo;, who is part of a larger rap scene that includes many young brown men.) We never come to know what these men&rsquo;s homes look like, and how women and men relate inside them. At the same time, the film is very much about Sophie&rsquo;s experience and, most of all, her attempt to come to a decision about how to respond. The film gives Sofie the space to speak as herself that she lacks when she is on the street, being harassed, turned into walking sexual parts and silenced. In this way, the film is - albeit from a distance - in dialogue with the men who harass her, despite their own uninterest in dialogue, and even as it bypasses their response.&nbsp;</p> <p>At the same time and secondly, even as the film in the final section shows the images of women that saturate our public spaces, what it neglects to show are the images of young brown men that just as profusely pepper our public domain. Images of politicians shouting with fury that they are street-terrorists who must be ruthlessly hunted down, punished or ejected from society. The litany of public insults to which they treated on a daily basis. The mass media fascination with immigrant criminality and disinterest in immigrant success. And so on.&nbsp;</p> <p>Here in the Netherlands, one of most popular neologisms of the last decade has been &ldquo;cunt-Moroccan&rdquo; [kutmarokkaan], which shot into the public domain after a politician from the Labour Party was accidentally filmed using it. &ldquo;Cunt&rdquo; in general is one of the most common Dutch insults, especially when combined in highly flexible ways with whatever it being insulted, from the weather (kutweer) to female superficiality (huppelkut = skipping cunt) to life in general (het leven is kut). So here the incorporation of Moroccans into Dutch society is proceeding not only by way of higher education (which those of Moroccan descent are getting in increasing numbers) but also by way of insult. This is not just any insult, but a very particular one, that puts Moroccans in the same category (dirty cunt) as whores. Every European country is of course sprouting different insults for their immigrants, but the underlying tone of aversion and disgust &nbsp;- often tied to histories of disgust with women&rsquo;s sexuality - is consistent. Much like the vicious tone of the men who spit out &ldquo;whore&rdquo; and &ldquo;bitch&rdquo; at Sophie when she rejects them. They spit on her as they are spat upon.&nbsp;</p> <p>When we consider the responses of journalists and politicians to Sofie&rsquo;s film, it is striking how few if any comment on these elements of the film. The vast majority home in on the very first section and its images of brown men harassing a white woman. The much more radical elements of the film &ndash; its conscious emphasis on dialogue across lines of difference and its implication of western culture in the sexism Sofie experiences &ndash; these are neglected. In this way, the media and political response essentially repeats the patriarchal standpoint of the young men interviewed in the film: Sofie&rsquo;s own explicit concerns are once again irrelevant.</p> <p>The implication of this is clear: as societies, we are much more concerned with disciplining brown men in the name of women than we are in actually listening to what women have to say.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> <div class="field-item even"> Belgium </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Netherlands </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> 50.50 Can Europe make it? Netherlands Belgium EU Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality Ideas International politics Pathways of Women's Empowerment 50.50 newsletter women's movements gender feminism Markha Valenta Thu, 23 Aug 2012 08:21:42 +0000 Markha Valenta 67673 at Security and the radical right in Flanders <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Security has been a major theme in the rhetoric of the&nbsp;Vlaams Block/Belang&nbsp;since the late 1980s. Their combination of strong anti-immigrant statements and simplistic proposals has been appropriated by mainstream parties in Belgium.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>‘Security’ is a major theme of the rhetoric of the populist radical right in Flanders, the Dutch speaking North of Belgium and arguably played a role in its success, which by far exceeds that of the extreme right in the French-speaking South of the country. The <em>Vlaams Blok</em> (VB - Flemish Bloc) was founded after the split of the more radical wing of the already nationalist <em>Volksunie</em> (People’s Union) in the late 1970s. It was renamed <em>Vlaams Belang</em> (Flemish Interest) after having been found guilty of racism in 2004, and then became one of the most successful populist radical right parties in Europe, experiencing its zenith between the late 1980s and the mid 2000s. </p> <p> ‘Security’ has been an important signifier in the rhetoric of VB since the late 1980s. The party presented itself as the defender of the Flemish people’s security from a range of threats, including crimes against private property, drug use, and terrorism. Most crucially, the party has consistently connected ‘insecurity’ to the presence of people of foreign descent. VB's electoral upsurge in the early 1990s was due to a large extent to the party’s emphasis on the ‘migrant problem’. This unspecified category includes ‘illegal’ immigrants (labelled ‘illegals’), refugees, migrants without the Belgian nationality as well as Belgian nationals of migrant origin and their offspring. Clearly, everyone living in the Flemish territory who does not belong to what VB considers to be ‘the Flemish people’ are thus singled out for opprobrium. In the following two decades, the party insisted that the presence of people of foreign descent was the cause of an increasing sense of ‘insecurity’. </p> <p> Since people are organically tied to ‘their’ people, culture, and homeland, so the argument goes, when they migrate and settle in a country with a different culture to their own, they are ‘uprooted’. This uprootedness, according to VB, leads migrants to anomie and to sociocultural and socioeconomic disintegration, thus to crime. Slogans such as “Less foreigners, more security” and “Stop immigrants, safe city” show how VB constructs this direct causal link between the presence of foreigners and crime. </p> <p> The solution offered by VB is quite simple: fewer aliens and more law and order. VB used to demand that all foreigners be sent 'home'. The slogan ‘Hand in hand back to their own country’, usually combined with the picture of an airplane lifting off, gives an idea of the party’s viewpoints as well as of its ways of dealing with antiracist criticism – the slogan being a parody of the antiracist 'Hand in Hand' campaigns of the early 1990s. Later, the party took a somewhat milder approach , demanding the total ‘assimilation’ of people of foreign descent into what it considers to be Flemish culture. However, the party programme still includes a zero-immigration policy, the deportation of criminal migrants and the withdrawal of their Belgian nationality if they happen to have it. It also supports a decisively repressive stance against irregular migrants and undocumented refugees. In April 2012, VB launched an ‘Illegality Hotline’, asking people to report cases of‘abuse’ of social security, of crime, of undeclared work, etc. The information gathered in this fashion is to serve as the basis for a document criticising existing immigration policies. </p> <p> VB’s anti-foreigner rhetoric has always been focused on migrants from Islamic countries, mainly Moroccans and Turks &nbsp;- two major migrant groups in Belgium. Like other populist radical right parties, VB’s rhetoric has increasingly shifted towards a form of ‘cultural racism’ stressing the cultural incompatibility of people from different ethnic backgrounds. Islam is unsurprisingly singled out as one of the main factors for such a clash. Especially since 9/11 the defence of ‘European’ values and identity against Islam has come to occupy a key role in VB's rhetoric. Having depicted in vivid colours the threat of ‘Islamisation’, the party is able to present itself as the defender of the Flemish people and of Europe against it. This has led to rather far-flung claims that the populist radical right is best suited to defend democracy, gender equality and even lesbian and gay rights against the intolerance of Muslims. This is quite a leap from the party’s earlier ultra-conservative takes on electoral democracy, women’s rights, and homosexuality – all arguably still present in its core values. By summing up reality in a simple slogan, ‘Freedom or Islam?’, illiberal VB thus manages to position itself as the defender of freedom.</p> <p> Like many populist parties, VB presents itself as the only true alternative against the too soft political mainstream ‘pampering’ migrants and failing to take the threat of ‘Islamisation‘ seriously. They are the only party really telling the whole truth. For example, VB published in 2005 a book called <em>The foolish taboo</em>&nbsp;using existing scientific research in an attempt to expose the connection between ethnicity and criminal behaviour. This fuelled the party's populist self-identification as representing the view of ordinary people who really know what it is to live in areas where they are faced with crime and other negative effects deriving from the presence of migrant communities, against a distant ‘political elite’ accused of turning a blind eye to these real problems. </p> <p> VB's electoral strength has been one of the factors explaining the move to the right of other parties in matters related to ‘multiculturalism’. As they increasingly align themselves with what is now a dominant discourse declaring it a 'failure', mainstream parties find their immigration policies of the last decades increasingly criticised for being too soft and for attracting immigrants. The Flemish populist radical right can applaud itself for having been the one and only party to have always said things as they are.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Benjamin de Cleen is a Ph.D. candidate at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, where he examines<span><span>&nbsp;the populist radical right and culture in Flanders.</span></span></em></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> openSecurity openSecurity Belgium Conflict Democracy and government Security and the Far Right in Europe Benjamin de Cleen Tributaries of the right Beyond enemy images: politics and the Other Security in Europe Tue, 03 Jul 2012 06:24:28 +0000 Benjamin de Cleen 66772 at Belgium bans 'burqa' <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium’s law banning the face-veil and other forms of face covering is badly drafted, unnecessary, and counter-productive </div> </div> </div> <p>After France, Belgium is the second European country to introduce a general prohibition on face-covering headgear in public life. A so-called ‘burqa ban’. The Act will enter into force on July 23.</p> <p>Many Belgian municipalities had already banned the wearing of face-veils locally – before this general prohibition was introduced. This caused discussions to arise around the legality of such prohibitions, since a court had decided in January 2011 that fining a woman for wearing a niqab amounted to a violation of her religious freedom. It was after this ruling that support for a general ban gained momentum.</p> <p>The new federal Act, amending the Belgian Criminal Code, renders it an offence to publicly “cover or conceal one’s face in whole or in part, so that one is unrecognisable”. Exceptions are limited to “legal provisions” and “labour regulations” that explicitly impose or allow face covering in public, and to “local ordinances regarding festivities”. The ban has three main goals: safeguarding public safety; promoting ‘living together’ (‘<em>le vivre-ensemble’</em>), with an emphasis on communication and recognition; and the protection of women’s rights.</p> <p>Just like the local bans, however, the general prohibition is problematic. Its scope is extremely broad, whilst exceptions are very limited. A strict application would therefore lead to bizarre consequences, especially since intent is not required: negligence suffices. Such examples of what the Act would prohibit include: wrapping oneself up warmly in a scarf and cap in winter; wearing dust masks against smog on a bicycle; scouts leaders being disguised while supervising children’s games; mascots at sports events; and even wearing bandages after an accident or plastic surgery.</p> <p>It is doubtful whether the ban’s aims can legitimate the restriction on religious liberty that it entails. Face covering is only a safety risk in specific circumstances - a general prohibition seems unnecessary and disproportionate. As for the goal of ‘living together’, the question is whether or not it is a matter of individual freedom to decide to have face to face contact with other people in the streets. This all leads to more questions, such as whether the Belgian government is planning on introducing bans on people walking around with iPods, or any other behavior that renders one &nbsp;less susceptible to communication and interaction in public.</p> <p>And finally, women’s rights. A distinction can be made between women wearing a face veil out of choice and those doing so because they are being forced. For the former, a prohibition does not contribute to their rights, but instead <em>limits</em> their autonomy and choice. For women that are coerced to wear a face veil, on the other hand, it would not seem pertinent to combat such oppression by means of fining or imprisoning them. In fact, the chances are that the ban actually compounds the isolation these women suffer from, by preventing them from being allowed out of their homes at all.</p> <p>Belgium’s ‘burqa ban’ raises fundamental legal questions. It is possible that it will not withstand constitutional scrutiny. Even aside from tensions with higher legislation, criminalisation should have been avoided for practical reasons. The estimated number of women wearing a face-veil in Belgium ranges between 200 and 270. In most cases it concerns a temporary phenomenon: many women wear the niqab only during a certain period in their lives. As long these facts remain as they are, emancipatory measures are preferable to repression. Especially since prosecution runs the risk of fostering resentment and radicalisation.<em>&nbsp;</em></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> </div> </div> Belgium Equality Democracy and government Civil society Jogchum Vrielink and Eva Brems Thu, 21 Jul 2011 14:36:14 +0000 Jogchum Vrielink and Eva Brems 60504 at Belgium: blame the chubby nationalist <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The creation of a new Belgian government seems as unlikely as the Red Devils ever winning the World Cup. Bart de Wever, leader of the nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), receives much of the blame, but representatives from all political parties across the language frontier are unable to bridge the ever wider gap between north and south </div> </div> </div> <p>On the evening of Sunday 13 June 2010, Bart de Wever was dressed the way he always dresses: dark grey suit, white shirt, no tie, his hair parted like a catholic schoolboy’s – an image much accentuated by his round, butterball figure – as he entered a teaming, flag-waving crowd in a conference hall somewhere in Brussels, Belgium, to the thumping of I Got A Feeling (That Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night) by the Black Eyed Peas.</p> <p>It was election night and De Wever had won. His New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), a conservative-nationalist party that believes Flanders should be an independent state within a federated Europe, was about to become the biggest in the country as final results were coming in. Three years earlier, the party was deemed hardly viable. “Nil volentibus arduum,” De Wever announced after climbing the podium, arms raised in the air. “Nothing is impossible, if you really want to.”</p> <p>Nothing, except perhaps for forming a new government. Or they must not really want to. For after one whole year of fierce negotiations – a <a href=""> Guinness World Record</a> – it seems impossible that they ever will.</p> <p>De Wever is an easy target. Aside from <a href=";hl=en&amp;client=safari&amp;rls=en&amp;prmd=ivnsol&amp;tbm=isch&amp;tbo=u&amp;source=univ&amp;sa=X&amp;ei=tX32TaexGMXKhAep_pjOBg&amp;ved=0CDIQsAQ&amp;biw=1473&amp;bih=944">his looks </a>(he once admitted to having the appearance of a dead fish), his politics are less than fashionable. He’s a separatist. No romantic <a href=""> Braveheart</a> fighting forces of oppression, but, in the eyes of his opponents, the selfish leader of a rich majority turning its back on the rest of the country. He is socially conservative and economically neoliberal. And, most importantly, he’s a nationalist. Flemish nationalism has always had a whiff of the nasty kind. It collaborated with the German occupation. Many a Flemish nationalist went to fight at the Eastern Front.</p> <p>But contrary to what some might have you believe, De Wever is no nazi. Nor is he similar to today’s xenophobic populists like Le Pen, Wilders or Dewinter, the leader of the neo-fascist Flemish Interest, whose ancestor, Flemish Block, has been barred and convicted of <a href=""> racism</a>. He is an “inclusive nationalist,” as he calls it, who believes that “every individual can become a member of our community, on the condition that they respect a number of basic rules of our democracy and community values.”</p> <p>One of those values is the use of their language, a variety of Dutch, whose historical emancipation from francophone rule has been long and laborious. Still today, francophone <a href=""> Belgians </a>, including federal ministers, hardly speak any Flemish. The government negotiations are being held in French.</p> <p>De Wever is no Mel Gibson but he does seem to consider himself something of a freedom fighter. He taxied his party into the European Free Alliance, a political group of parties in Europe – mostly left-progressive – for the self-determination of stateless peoples such as the Republican Left of Catalonia or the Scottish National Party. Its current chairman is a member of the N-VA.</p> <p>Yet independence, De Wever is ever eager to emphasize, is not his immediate objective. He believes in evolution, he says, not revolution. He is after a next, big step in the constant devolution of power that is the history of Belgium. Its structures are outdated, he says, and don’t correspond anymore to the reality of two separate democracies, each with its own specific problems, preferences, politics and public opinion. He likes to quote EU Commissioner Karel de Gucht, of the Flemish liberals, who supposedly has said that <a href=""> “Belgium is in fact a permanent diplomatic conference.” </a></p> <p>The Flemish demand more autonomy, the francophones resist. It has been that way since 1830, when Belgium was created as a unitary, francophone state. Normally, they would push and pull until some sort of reform package was agreed upon that both sides could live with. Until this time.</p> <p>The francophones have had enough. They used to fear a loss of power; today they fear a loss of money. They wallow in outrage at the preposterous proposals on the table. What is to them a far-reaching state reform is to the Flemish a drop in the ocean. The differences are simply <a href=""> too big</a>.</p> <p>It is easy to blame De Wever, the chubby nationalist. The francophones <a href=""> unanimously do</a>. Some Flemish do as well. But it is also wrong. The divide is as broad as it is wide. Socialists, liberals and christian-democrats alike find themselves diametrically opposed to their political counterparts when it comes to state reform. De Wever only forces them to calibrate.</p> <p>An agreement is as likely as Belgium winning the World Cup. If anything, it fosters frustration among the Flemish and reaffirms the assertion of De Wever that Belgium doesn’t work anymore. The only alternative are new elections. Those, according to a recent poll from across the language frontier, would have the <a href=""> same results</a>. De Wever would even gain a few points. In that case, he’d better choose his victory speech more wisely.</p> <p><strong><br /></strong></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Belgium </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Belgium Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality Ideas International politics europe Philip Ebels Tributaries of the right Mon, 13 Jun 2011 14:31:02 +0000 Philip Ebels 59961 at