openDemocracy en An inevitable division: the politics and consequences of the Labour split <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s the changing nature of class and capital that’s caused this split – and should shape the Left’s response to it. But discussing class meaningfully is the last media taboo.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="BodyA"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// and co.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// and co.jpg" 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'>Image: The Labour MPs who announced their resignation from the party yesterday. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Images, all rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p class="BodyA">This week’s split of several MPs from the Parliamentary Labour Party comes as no surprise at all. It’s been clear since the moment of Corbyn’s election as leader that a section of the most right-wing and/or most ambitious MPs would simply never be able to reconcile themselves either to his leadership or to a Labour Party composed mainly of his supporters. This is probably a large section: about a third of the current PLP would be a reasonable estimate. </p> <p class="BodyA">This isn’t just because of the political differences between them. It definitely isn’t because Corbyn is an anti-semite, or indifferent to antisemitism. It has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the leadership’s stance on Brexit. It has everything to do with the fact that that stance has not been dictated by the City of London and the CBI.</p> <h2>The politics of the Labour Right </h2> <p class="BodyA">It’s interesting to try to parse the precise political affiliates and character of the eight. The collection of MPs who have left might seem to come from notionally different strands of the Labour Right. Although he has <a href="">flirted with a Blue Labour, anti-immigration position</a> (as he has with many others), Chuka Umunna has had most success at convincing Blairite true believers that he is their natural leader: cosmopolitan, pro-business and rich. Mike Gapes, by contrast, belongs to that strand of the traditional, Gaitskellite Labour right that has never really got over its disappointment at the end of the cold war, and tries to compensate by hating pro-Palestinian campaigners and millennial Corbynites as much as they once hated the USSR. But they both nominated Blairite candidate Liz Kendall for the leadership: as did all of the eight apart from Chris Leslie.</p> <p class="BodyA">In fact what seems apparent is that the notional difference between an ‘old right’ tradition represented by the Labour First organisation and the Blairite faction represented by Progress has now almost entirely broken down. Since the moment of Corbyn’s leadership election the two networks have been acting entirely in concert in their efforts to prevent Momentum from gaining influence in constituency parties and to undermine Corbyn and his supporters at every available opportunity. There is no longer any clear or stable ideological difference between them, and it seems evident that the clearest way of understanding their position is in basic Marxist terms. They are the section of the party that is ultimately allied to the interests of capital. Some may advocate for social reform and for some measure of redistribution, some may dislike the nationalism and endemic snobbery of the Tories more than others; but they will all ruthlessly oppose any attempt to limit or oppose the power of capital and those who hold it. </p> <p class="BodyA">One reason for the erasure of difference between them is the changing composition of the British capitalist class itself. Going back to the 1940s, the old Labour Right was traditionally allied to industrial capital: manufacturers and the extraction industries. The Blairites have always been allied to the City and the Soho-based PR industry. But the long decline of British manufacturing, and the <a href="">financialisation of the whole economy</a>, has left a situation in which industrial capital is now an almost negligible fraction of that class. Today, in the UK, all capital is finance capital. So on the Labour Right, they’re all Blairites nowadays. A very similar process can be observed taking place in the centrist mainstream of US politics right now, as anti-Trump neocon Republicans and Clintonite, Third Way Democrats increasingly converge upon a common political agenda (this observation was made very persuasively by <a href="">Lyle Jeremy Rubin on the latest episode</a> of the Chapo Trap House podcast).</p> <p class="BodyA">Whatever their political lineage, most MPs and their supporters on the Labour Right are therefore not just reluctant to engage in any radical project of social transformation. They are deeply and implacably opposed to any such project. This isn’t to say that they are bad people. It’s a perfectly reasonable position for anyone to take, in the Britain of 2019, that there is simply no point making vain efforts to limit or oppose the awesome power of the City and the institutions that it represents. In the era of globalisation, of China’s rise and the Trump presidency, anyone could conclude that it can only be counterproductive to try to work against it. Many of us take a different view, believing that without severely limiting the power of capital, and soon, the planet itself is probably doomed. But a difference of view is what it is. It shouldn’t lead to moral condemnation.</p> <h2>Appalled and disgusted?</h2> <p class="BodyA">A good example of the latter is the model motion circulated earlier this week by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (a long-standing, small, Bennite factional organisation) for their supporters to take to their local party meetings. The motion begins with the line “This Constituency Labour Party is appalled and disgusted that seven MPs elected by Labour voters have rejected our party and crossed the floor to assist our opponents.”</p> <p class="BodyA">I regard myself as sharing almost all of the politics, objectives and analysis of CLPD. But this is unhelpful. Apart from anything else, it is disingenuous. We all know that the Blairites simply have a completely different conception of politics, of the useful function of the Labour Party, and of the kind of role they want to play, than do we on the Labour Left. No supporter of Corbyn or CLPD wants to have these people representing us in parliament. To claim that we are disgusted is to imply that somehow, we naively imagined that we were all on the same side. This is, at best, to admit to profound naivety and stupidity. At worst, it is simply dishonest. Why pretend? Why not just accept, calmly and clearly, that these perspectives simply cannot be contained within the same party, and wish the splitters all the best in pursuing their own agendas?</p> <p class="BodyA">By all means, we should be pointing out that the splitters, and the allies who have just joined them from the Tory Party, are clearly servants of a very particular set of class interests and a very narrow conception of what progressive politics looks like in the 21st century. But the language of outrage only makes us look like we don’t understand the situation. </p> <p class="BodyA"><a href="">As I’ve pointed out before</a> most of the Blairite MPs became Labour MPs on the basis of a particular implicit understanding of what that role entailed. According to this understanding, the purpose of a Labour MP is to try to persuade the richest and most powerful individuals, groups and institutions to make minor concessions to the interests of the disadvantaged, while persuading the latter to accept that these minor concessions are the best that they can hope for. That job description might well entail some occasional grandstanding when corporate institutions are engaged in particularly egregious forms of behaviour (such as making loans to very poor people at clearly exorbitant rates), or when the political right is engaged in explicit displays of racism or misogyny. But it doesn’t entail any actual attempt to change the underlying distributions of power in British society; and in fact it does necessarily, and structurally, entail extreme hostility towards anybody who proposes to do that. </p> <p class="BodyA">It is crucial to understand that what I’m describing here is not a moral or ethical disposition. It doesn’t make you a bad person to have taken up the role I’ve just described. It’s the simple logic of having a particular place in a system of social relationships, and being allied to a particular set of interests within it. </p> <h2><strong>The crisis of the political class</strong></h2> <p class="BodyA">In wider British society, the immediate political base for the centrist MPs is obviously wider than City millionaires; though not much wider. It is in fact very narrowly rooted in the managerial class: very senior managers in the public and voluntary sectors, a larger section of affluent, property-owning salaried employees in the private sector. Any anthropological investigation of a local Labour Party branch is likely to confirm this claim: it is precisely the people from this narrow demographic who are still the most enthusiastic about Blair, or Umunna, and the most vitriolic in their detestation of Corbynism. Of course there are many exceptions to this characterisation (there always are), but the general tendency is clear and unsurprising. The narrow professional political elite of journalists, lobbyists and politicians is, in a certain sense, the leading cadre of this wider managerial class; so it is natural that the latter look up to the former. </p> <p class="BodyA">Again: there’s nothing wrong or morally reprehensible about this. There’s nothing wrong with being a senior manager, with a vague commitment to an ideal of social mobility and a dislike of the Tories’ explicitly reactionary politics, who really admires Chuka Umunna. There’s nothing wrong with being that, and with violently disliking the people to your left, who probably wouldn’t do <em>that</em> much to limit your own wealth and immediate institutional power if they got into office, but who wouldn’t let you or people like you or the people you most admire run the country to quite the extent that you are used to. </p> <p class="BodyA">The problem is that in British public life (well, English public life in particular), there is a strong prohibition on ever acknowledging that there are such things as class differences and class interests. And no social group dislikes thinking in such terms more intensely than the professional and managerial classes (and this includes most journalists and political pundits). It is absolutely central to their specific view of the world that such vulgar realities never be acknowledged or discussed, and to assume that only Communists or violent right-wing populists could possibly want to break this liberal taboo. </p> <p class="BodyA">This is arguably quite different from the perspectives of actual full-blooded capitalists for example: who, when pressed, will often admit that their only aim in life is to make money and keep it, and that they really don’t give much of a damn about ideology, or about the question of who gets hurt. The political elite, along with its most enthusiastic followers in the managerial class, cannot make any such admission to others or to themselves, partly because their whole job is to come up with clever stories about the world and to mediate between the interests of different social groups. If they can’t present themselves as neutral, honest, professionals just trying to make the world a better place, then just what good are they for anything? (This is why the fantasy narratives of Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing, are such a key element of their culture: Sorkinism presents a universe in which political wonks, journalists and tv personnel are all just honest, hard-working professionals doing their best to make the world a better place, and doing a damned good job of it. Again, see Chapo Trap House’s several dedicated episodes for the best critique available of this phenomenon.)</p> <p class="BodyA">This is also the political elite who cannot acknowledge even to themselves that what is motivating their politics right now is a defence of a set of elite privileges. Which is why they need a narrative like the one about ‘Labour antisemitism’ in order to justify their actions to themselves and others. It would be very difficult indeed for any objective observer to concur with Joan Ryan's claim today that&nbsp;Tony Blair and all previous Labour leaders unstintingly "[stood] up to racism in all its forms", and that antisemitism "simply did not exist in the party before [Corbyn's] election as leader" (as Ryan should presumably know if she’s actually&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">spoken to Luciana Berger</a>). It would be clear to an objective observer that the right has been using the claims that Labour is "institutionally anti-semitic", and blind and inactive where issues do arise, in a cynical and shameless fashion to try to justify their implacable hostility to Corbyn.</p> <p class="BodyA">For months, campaigners on the Right insisted that the only way Corbyn could demonstrate his commitment to fighting antisemitism was by accepting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in full, despite the fact that even the original author of that definition had publicly disowned it as not fit for purpose, and Labour’s modification of it was a clear legal improvement. No sooner had the Labour NEC finally accepted the definition, then campaigners switched to claims that ‘complaints of antisemitism were not being properly investigated’, despite the evidence that complaints were now being investigated considerably more thoroughly than they were whilst the Right, under McNicol, retained control of the party bureaucracy.</p> <p class="BodyA">So it is important to understand why a certain section of the public are so willing to believe this narrative. The reason is that they are members of a particular social group that crystallised and came to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, as the traditional professional classes declined (having been subsumed into the public sector during the post-war years, then battered into resentful compliance along with the rest of that sector by Thatcher and her successors). It is this group - the professional political elite and their most loyal followers amongst the wider managerial class - that is now suffering a traumatic and disorienting existential crisis. </p> <p class="BodyA">Neither the professional elite nor the managerial class ever enjoyed much authentic legitimacy amongst the wider public. The broader public deferred to their new bosses for as long as they got the compensations offered by an ever-expanding consumer culture, enabled by cheap credit and Chinese imports. Since 2008, fewer and fewer members of that wider public have been offered the same compensations, and so the authority and legitimacy of the political / managerial class has been in terminal decline. Both Corbynism and the Brexit vote are symptoms and examples of the public finally refusing their authority. </p> <p class="BodyA">That is why Brexit represents such a traumatic existential crisis for these elites, and why they cannot separate it from Corbynism in their collective imagination. It is clearly absurd, in objective historical terms, to blame Corbyn for Brexit, or to keep demanding that he ‘come out’ against it when his doing so would make no difference at all to the parliamentary reality (there is no majority in the house of commons for a people’s vote). But the members of this declining, delegitimated social elite have experienced both Brexit and Corbynism as part of exactly the same process; the process by which the people that they have governed and managed for a generation have turned around and rejected their authority and their world-view. Embracing the idea that Labour is institutionally antisemitic and racist, and that Brexit is Corbyn’s fault, are understandable psychosocial responses to the experience of this historical trauma. (And again, Chapo Trap House’s excellent recent analysis of the way in which claims of antisemitism have been mobilised against the Left in the US is pertinent). Such a response allows the members and partisans of this elite to tell themselves that they are defenders of liberal values, so that they do not have to face up to the fact that, in opposing Corbyn, they are defending nothing but their own sectional privileges and those of their corporate liege lords. What these stories are not is rational, descriptive accounts of any kind of objective social reality, that can be reasoned with politically or morally.</p> <h2><strong>What do we do?</strong></h2> <p class="BodyA">For the Labour left, the political conclusions to be drawn from this analysis are stark, but important. As I’ve already suggested - we should not be responding to the behaviour of the centrists with simple moral indignation. Their entire project is to wrap up their defence of their own elite interests in a language of moral indignation – accusing the Left of racism, of being responsible for Brexit, of ‘bullying’ (ie expecting elected representatives to be accountable to members and constituents). But the more that we respond to them with our own language of outrage and betrayal, the more that we legitimate these fairy-tales, rather than exposing them for what they are. </p> <p class="BodyA">By the same token, it is crucial not to fall into the sentimental trap of imagining that if only we are nice enough to them, then we will be able to prevent the Right from doing everything in their power to prevent the success of Corbynism. The split was always going to happen, and the only thing we could truly do to stop it would be to let the neoliberal centrists have control of the party once again. <a href="">Tom Watson’s recent interventions</a> make this very clear. He calls movingly for a kinder and gentler approach to politics, expressing moral outrage over the horror of antisemitism. But what he wants is a shadow cabinet reshuffle to represent ‘the balance of opinion in the Parliamentary Labour Party’. Presumably he doesn’t want one that would actually represent the politics and views of the current membership: if it did, then it probably wouldn’t include Tom Watson. </p> <p class="BodyA">Either we’re going to give them what they want - full control of the party once again - or we’re not. And if we’re not, then they will do everything in their power to damage our cause. Because there can be no real doubt that this is the aim of the split, and that the long-term split is planned to come in waves rather than all at once, and this has been planned not because it is the most effective way to launch a new party, but because it will maximise the long-term damage to Corbyn’s Labour. </p> <p class="BodyA">This is a surprisingly unpopular view amongst mainstream Corbynites. The caricature of Corbynites is that they are all wild-eyed sectarians, hell-bent on deselecting every MP to the right of Chris Williamson. This isn’t true at all. Frankly, I think it isn’t true because many Corbyn supporters are actually rather naive about the political character of the Labour Right. They, like Corbyn himself, do not actually see the world in terms of Marxist (or Gramscian) political sociology; rather they see it in moral terms, as a conflict between decency and justice on the one hand, greed and militarism on the other. They know that the majority of even the most right-wing Labour MPs are not Bad People, and so they assume that sooner or later they will come round to supporting Corbyn, if only he shows willing to address their legitimate concerns on Brexit and antisemitism. </p> <p class="BodyA">This is just a categorical analytical mistake. Corbyn could convert to Judaism, apply for Israeli citizenship and call for a People’s Vote tomorrow: their attacks on him would not relent for one second unless he agreed to give up control of the party; or at least to commit to a policy agenda approved by Merrill Lynch. </p> <p class="BodyA">The view that there is no point trying to prevent the right from splitting is also unpopular because, for all of its radicalism and democratic potential, mainstream Corbynism remains a left-wing version of Labourism. Labourism is the ideology that assumes that the Labour Party and only the Labour Party must be the vehicle to bring socialism to the UK, and that the only route to that objective must lie through the securing of a parliamentary majority for Labour in the House of Commons. The problem now is that if there is a significant split in the party, then it will put Labour back in the position it seemed to be before the 2017 election: unable to realistically aspire to a parliamentary majority of its own, forced to face (if not to answer) uncomfortable questions about its possible future relationships with the SNP, the Greens, even the Liberal Democrats, in a complex ecology of parties, factions and tendencies. The Labourist imaginary abhors this vision. It wants to live in a world in which the Labour Party, alone, united under a relatively progressive leadership, can win a large parliamentary majority against a once clearly-defined opponent (the Tories), and implement a progressive programme. It wants, very very much, to live in 1945.</p> <p class="BodyA">The trouble is we don’t. We don’t live in 1945, and the ideological differences between the Blairites and the Corbynites are of a different existential order to the ones between Bevanites and Bevinites in the 1940s. They may have hated each other, they may have had entirely different attitudes to both capitalism and communism. But they didn’t represent social constituencies whose interests simply could not be reconciled even in the short term. The miners, the skilled engineers and even the manufacturers all stood to make immediate gains from the success of Labour’s programme, as did all their leaders. </p> <p class="BodyA">This is unlike the current situation in some key ways, although it is similar to it in others. Many of the managerial class in fact have a great deal to gain from a Corbyn victory, because their own children are suffering so badly from labour-market precarity and unaffordable housing (and this, as much as Brexit, is why so many of them voted Labour in 2017). But if they are going to achieve those gains, then they will have to make some significant concessions to groups lower down the social hierarchy. In the public sector, for example, senior managers may well have to accept some relative reduction in their salaries and some increase in the autonomy of those they manage. This potential loss puts them in an ambivalent position, potentially supportive of Corbyn’s agenda, but anxious about what it might cost them. But their symbolic leaders in the media and full-time political elite have absolutely nothing to gain, and can only lose, from the success of Corbynism. For this reason, they simply will not stop trying to do everything in their power to drive a wedge between their followers and the rest of the Labour Party. There’s no point pretending that they might.</p> <p class="BodyA">At the same time, there is no point pretending that in the volatile world of 21st century politics, the political divide between those inside the party and outside of it is the most important one that matters. There are members of every other party - even the Tories - who have more in common with Corbyn’s ideological agenda and more sympathy for his political programme than do those MPs who are reported to be considering joining the split. More importantly, there are members of every other party - even, indeed, the Tories - who are less clearly aligned with class interests that are inimical to Labour’s project.</p> <p class="BodyA">Political success is always about leading complex coalitions of interests. The Labourist fantasy is that all elements of such a coalition can always be contained inside the Labour Party. As the split deepens, it will become apparent that Labour’s remaining vote and support will not be enough on its own, or even after another period of considerable growth, to win the battles that Labour needs to win. </p> <p class="BodyA">Labour must seek to lead a coalition of progressive forces. All parts of that formula are important. It cannot keep pretending that all sections of the Labour Party are even potentially progressive in character. It cannot afford to ignore the existence of progressive forces outside of Labour or the need to make common cause with them. It must seek to lead that coalition. Nobody is suggesting that it submerge its identity or dilute its programme: that isn’t what leadership means. </p> <p>But Labour must also be alive to the specific political objective of the ‘Independent Group’. There is a clear international precedent for the path that they are taking, in trying to establish a centrist party that could only ever be small, only ever appeal to the managerial class, and never hope to command a mass base, while pursuing a pure neoliberal agenda. In Germany, the Free Democratic Party conforms to precisely this description, only ever winning around 10% of the vote. From this position, it has held the balance of power in almost every West German and German parliament since 1948.&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s always been logical that the legatees of the Third Way would eventually opt for this as their ideal political model. Labour, the traditional party of the organised working class, was always a strange and uncomfortable home for them in many ways. The problem for Labour is that if this group manage to establish this position for themselves, then they will pose a permanent obstacle to progressive government unless a very broad-based movement can be built to stop them. In 2016 and 2017 many of us hoped that the dream of Labour becoming a million-member party might be realised. There seems little chance of that now. Ultimately the social and political terrain of 21st century Britain is still too complex and too variegated for any one organisation to unite that many people. But we still need a million-member movement, if any chance of real progress is going to come onto the horizon. This is the movement that Labour must seek to lead, and must accept that it can never entirely contain.&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyA">If the Labour leadership really wanted to engage with the current situation meaningfully, this is what it would do. It would not retreat into ideological purism. It would not lift another finger to prevent the Blairites from leaving the party. It would convene a national conference, inviting Greens, social democrats, communists, socialists, liberals, Scottish and Welsh nationalists, trade unionists, NGOs and others to discuss the political and social crisis facing the country. The explicit aim of the conference would be to find an inclusive and effective road-map to take the country beyond neoliberalism. Those who share no such commitment need not be included. But everyone who shares it should, including those stalwart social democrats of the old Labour right who retain some authentic commitment to a political objective other than defeating Corbynism. This would be a meaningful way of neutralising the charge that Labour is not a broad church, and would help to isolate those elements who want to claim the mantle of diversity in order to sustain the neoliberal order. </p> <p class="BodyA">Is this exactly the right solution? I don’t know. Maybe there are many other possible answers. But I know that the question is the right one: how do we assemble all of the potential allies at our disposal, to build an alternative to neoliberal hegemony, without getting bogged down in pointless debates with those who only want to defend it? That’s the question that the party and the leadership must now answer, if the splitters – who want nothing more than to maintain neoliberal hegemony – are not to get their way.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> 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 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk UK Labour Brexit Jeremy Gilbert Wed, 20 Feb 2019 18:44:58 +0000 Jeremy Gilbert 121763 at Does Europe end in Derry? Peace is at stake <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“The UK seemingly leaving the Union, leaves neither Europe, nor History. It is time also for a new sensibility and a great refusal: we refuse to liquidate peace.”</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 lead " title="" width="460" height="314" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>People make their way across the Peace Bridge in Derry. Brian Lawless/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><blockquote><p>“Out of Ireland have we come. Great hatred, little room, </p><p>Maimed us at the start. I carry from my&nbsp;<em>mother's womb</em>. </p><p>A fanatic heart.” </p><p>Excerpt from&nbsp;<em>Remorse for intemperate Speech, </em>William Butler Yeats </p></blockquote><p>After waves of democratisation, waves of EU enlargement, we face now waves of Euroscepticism. Among the many arguments claiming to explain why the EU narrative is losing ground, the following deserves some comment: “peace”, for the EU’s founding fathers, the Robert Schuman generation, initially a convincing argument, is nowadays oversold.</p> <p>First, we may ask if peace is really automatically guaranteed by the EU framework. A closer look at the UK’s EU membership instructs us that the euphemistically called “troubles” — or, technically, “low intensity conflict” in Northern Ireland — significantly marked the 30 first years of its membership (taking the year 2005 as one among various possible benchmarks for the end of the Northern Ireland conflict). Until the 2016 Brexit referendum, peace was granted for some 10 years. But while walls were torn down in Berlin, 48 “interfaces” (“peace lines”, “peace walls”, etc.) were erected and 31 refurbished in Belfast between 2000 and 2017.</p> <p>Second, it’s obvious to everyone that the UK’s EU membership considerably softened the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. And this to such an extent, that it almost evaporated while the troubles gradually “disappeared”. Doubtless, EU membership contributed to this “peace by piece” process. Bizarre that many acknowledge this only now.</p> <p>Third, the “unforeseen” consequence of Brexit is a wake-up call for the U2 generation: how many joined in the singing “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (1983) or “Miss Sarajevo” (1995) but were looking the other way?! &nbsp;</p> <p>“Where Does Europe End?” was somehow a trendy question in the early 1990s. Sarajevo? Istanbul? were the tentative responses. We were all looking eastwards. Completely neglecting the fact the “western front” wasn’t quiet at all. Neither the IRA’s second ceasefire (1997), nor the Good Friday Agreement (1998) were by then on the horizon. But we were just looking away. Today, we won’t.</p> <h2><strong>Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater</strong></h2> <p>There are of course many issues at stake nowadays: the ups and downs of the EU, the lack of convergence and the unfinished economic union, clear signals of de-consolidation and de-democratisation, irreversible climate change, the emergence of a new world order and, last but not least, the fate of the United Kingdom indeed. But let’s not forget the issue here: peace in Northern Ireland.</p> <p>So, how to preserve peace?</p> <p>First, we have to change software and consider borders differently: not as an arbitrary line of demarcation that divides, drives out and excludes, but as a common territory that is a zone of exchanges. The border is viewed in this light as a relation to the “other”; a skin or an interface that, by virtue of its porosity, binds and emancipates.</p> <p>Typically, the Union’s cross-border cooperation model may virtually reunite the still divided Ulster province. The special EU Programs Body (SEUPB) that currently implements&nbsp;the EU’s PEACE IV (€ 270m) and INTERREG VA (€ 283m) programmes — of course threatened by Brexit — should be guaranteed and further developed. &nbsp;</p> <p>Second, Europe is made up of variety, the European Union being only one among various players. Europe is nowadays a complex multi-layered structure involving different types of partly overlapping integration and territorial cooperation schemes of varying depths and degrees of institutionalisation.&nbsp;Europe is thus already today a multilevel and multi-floor Europe with plurilateral governance and multispeed arrangements. &nbsp;</p> <p>While the national level is gaining ground and the EU marginalized, other actors such as the Council of Europe, the OSCE and UNECE could fill the gap with well-designed cross-border programmes in order to soften the border and support most effectively the key “Backstop” option.</p> <p>Third. Culture and art-oriented organisations, peace-building groups,&nbsp;grassroots anti-sectarian and anti-racist organisations, such as <em>Belfast Exposed</em>,&nbsp;<em>Compassionate City of Belfast</em>,&nbsp;<em>Belfast Interface Project </em>and<em> <em>Trademark Belfast</em> –&nbsp; </em>to name only a few, working on the interface between communities to develop positive relationships, must receive wind in the sails. Their effective contribution to come to term with legacies of the past, to develop respect for cultural difference and diversity will in the coming weeks play an absolutely key role.&nbsp;</p><p><em> </em></p><p>The UK seemingly leaving the Union, leaves neither Europe, nor History. It is time also for a new sensibility and a great refusal: we refuse to liquidate peace.</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"> Northern Ireland </div> <div class="field-item even"> UK </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"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </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 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? EU UK Northern Ireland Conflict Culture Democracy and government International politics Christophe Solioz Wed, 20 Feb 2019 11:57:50 +0000 Christophe Solioz 121757 at What dam collapses in Europe can tell Brazil <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The changes in environmental legalisation to hold the companies accountable is one of the lessons from the European disaster management policies that could inspire Latin American authorities. <strong><em><a href="">Español</a>.</em></strong></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'>Paraopeba muddy river on Sunday (27/1/2019), after the rupture of the Vale S.A. mining dam in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, Brazil. (Photo: Cadu Rolim/Fotoarena/Sipa USA). PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>What is the value of human life when it stands in a way of profit?</strong></p> <p class="p1">This is the alarming question that comes up when we draw a comparison in responses to the two recent dam collapses in Brazil - the 2015 Mariana disaster and the January collapse of the Brumadinho dam - with their counterparts in Europe, in particular the 1998 collapse of the Los Frailes dam in Aznalcollar, Spain and the 2010 failing of the Kolotovar dam in Hungary.</p> <p class="p1">News of the recent human and environmental catastrophe in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, where, according to the Ministry of Civil Defense, the collapse of an iron ore tailings dam killed at least 165 people with almost 160 people still missing, feels like being transported straight back to 2015. Described as “Brazil’s worst environmental disaster” the then collapse of the Mariana iron ore tailings dam, which killed 19 people, displaced 375 families and is located only about 120 km away from the sight of the recent disaster, evidently achieved little in terms of the urgent progress in environmental laws that would bring more control over Brazil’s huge mining industry and ensure the protection and dignity of human and natural life.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Like in the 2015 Mariana dam collapse, there is evidence showing that the Brazilian mining ore giant VALE knew of the frailty of its dams in both cases.</p> <p class="p1">Like in 2015, there is evidence showing that the Brazilian mining ore giant VALE knew of the frailty of its dams in both cases. In 2013 environmental agencies such as the Brazilian Instituto Prístino were already showing their concerns over the Mariana dam’s safety. And now, only a few days ago Reuters published an <a href="">exclusive</a> investigation of a report from October 2018 entitled ‘Geotechnical Risk Management Results’. Conducted by specialist engineers, the report classified the Burmadinho dam as “<em>two times more likely to fail than the maximum level of risk tolerated under internal guidelines</em>”. A point of further concern, as Reuters reveals, is that nine other dams out of the 57 examined were placed in “attention zone”.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">And like in 2015, little has been done to put VALE and the whole of Brazil’s mining industry under stricter control.</p> <p class="p1">Like in 2015, little has been done to put VALE and the whole of Brazil’s mining industry under stricter control. In fact, in both cases the company was just about to significantly expand its production right before the two accidents occurred, while accepting no responsibility for its personal role in causing the damage. In a <a href="">2012 ceremony</a> organised by an advocacy Public Eye and Greenpeace Switzerland, VALE was already awarded the distinction of being a corporation with the most “contempt for environmental and human rights” in the world. Constructions in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest, resettling families in Mozambique for the purposes of coal exploration, or the expelling of the indigenous Karonsi’e people in Indonesia for constructing a nickel mine, are just some of VALE’s exploits that justified the shameful award.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Indeed, most of the victims of Brumandinho’s collapse are Vale employees and their families who might receive some sort of compensation for the experienced damage, but in the Mariana case compensations were especially problematic as the victims mainly pertained to the indigenous communities living in the area, such as the Krenak tribe, which was significantly affected by the collapse of the dam.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><strong>Two European precedents</strong></p> <p class="p1"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// Shot 2019-02-19 at 11.48.29_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// Shot 2019-02-19 at 11.48.29_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="254" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Los Frailes mine, province of Seville, Spain. Photo: Ecologistas en Acción. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p class="p1">When the zinc, copper, lead and silver mining dam in Aznalcollar, Spain broke in April of 1998, a deluge of heavy metal spread across nine municipalities of Seville province, including Europe’s most important wetland reserve, the Doñana national park. The environmental consequences of the disaster were enormous: right after the dam’s collapse the entire aquatic life of the nearby Guadiamar river vanished and over 30 tons of dead fish were collected from the shores.</p> <p class="p1">After a significant investment of at least €300 million in decontamination travails, a decade later environmental scientists <a href="">declared</a> the soil surrounding Aznalcollar to have “recovered reasonably well”.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Only four months after this encouraging announcement, in October 2010, Europe witnessed another dam collapse. Near the city of Ajka in western Hungary, a collapse of a dyke in one out of the eleven waste reservoirs surrounding the Ajka aluminium plant caused a spillage of red and grey sludge - accumulated in over 50 years of aluminium production - into the area. Ten people were killed as a result of the disaster, several hundred injured and sixteen settlements affected.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// Shot 2019-02-19 at 11.49.04_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// Shot 2019-02-19 at 11.49.04_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="285" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The 'Red sludge' alumina plant accident, Hungary. Photo: Ministry of Public Administration and Justice. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p> <p class="p1">Immediately following the disaster, the Hungarian government passed a law that would allow the state to take control over companies responsible for environmental catastrophes. It imposed a thirteen-member board to supervise MAL Hungarian Aluminium, which lasted for almost a year. One of the results of this pressure was the company’s switch from wet to dry technology, a lot safer in terms of protecting the waste inside the dams and capable of preventing a potential collapse of dams on account of natural movements in the soil.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">What happened with the companies operating the dams, the Swedish multinational Boliden Apirsa in charge of Aznalcollar and Magyar Aluminium Zrt (MAL), which owned the Kolontar plant, after the accidents?&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">Although Boliden’s culpability for the collapsing of the mine in Aznalcollar could not be proven retroactively, the accident did lead to a reassessment on waste legislation and the need for greater control over waste management across Europe and Spain.</p><p class="p1">In both cases, the companies in charge of the mining production tried to exempt their culpability by claiming they received all the required permissions from the responsible state authorities. While the Spanish court adjudged that the main cause of the dam’s collapse was the ‘unpredictable defect’ in the structure of the dam, the proceedings in Hungary brought about a more hopeful resolution. The Hungarian court placed primary responsibility for the dam’s collapse to the structural fault of the tailing pond. However, it recognised that the negligence of MAL’s personnel held a secondary culpability as well. In fact, the state liquidated the company in 2013, placed it back into state ownership and arrested its executive director and a few other officials.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Although Boliden’s culpability for the collapsing of the mine in Aznalcollar could not be proven retroactively, the accident did lead to a reassessment on waste legislation and the need for greater control over waste management across Europe and Spain. Thus, in 2007 Spain passed a law on Environmental responsibility, which includes the responsibility of operators to prevent, avoid and repair environmental damage.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Following the Kolontar disaster, Hungary proposed the creation of a European Industrial Disaster Risk-Sharing facility. This co-funded initiative would provide immediate emergency relief in case of environmental disasters, as well as promote further research on ecological safety of mines and similar extraction industries.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="mag-quote-center">The Hungarian state liquidated the Aluminium producer MAL in 2013, placed it back into state ownership and arrested its executive director and a few other officials.</p><p class="p1">The two accidents, while not completely effective in terms of proving the shared responsibility of extraction industries for the damage, did result in significant changes to environmental legislation and our general thinking on the importance of ecological safety.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">What the two cases showed to be the most significant obstacle in demonstrating the role of big corporations in environmental disasters was the weakness in supervision of the governments that, in many cases, granted the companies with licenses based on insufficient assessments of potential risk analyses.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The problem here is primarily twofold. First of all, these companies bring a lot of profits to the states and the worry that money will continue to rule the game applies to the case of Brazil in particular.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Secondly, it shows the state of our environmental thinking especially in the political arena. On account of cuts into ecological organisations and their general budget deficits, environmental safety agencies are often lacking the money and personnel to actually conduct research that would predict potential risk scenarios that these dams pose to our environment. Not only are we in a dire need to provide more funding to environmental protection agencies, we also need a radical shift in our ecological thinking. If we want things to change&nbsp; - and at this point it is actually about the <em>need </em>to rather than the <em>want</em> to change - we need more ecological imagination, as Leslie Davenport writes in a recent <a href="">openDemocracy article</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">The changes in environmental legalisation as well as the attempts of both governments to hold the responsible companies accountable for the damage caused, are some of the lessons from the European disaster management that could inspire Latin American authorities in their actions.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">Furthermore, we have recently witnessed some hopeful developments especially important for countries like Brazil, abundant in natural resources and as such the greatest potential victim of industry profiteers.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">We have seen the power that social movements can have in special circumstances even when the enemy they are facing is unrestrained profits at all costs. Environmental catastrophes affect various different communities and touch upon a plethora of environmental and human rights challenges we are <em>still </em>presently facing. In Chile, for example, we are witnessing the formation of alliances spreading across different movements with indigenous activists pairing up with students and ecological movements pushing for a change. It is in this kind of solidarity that I believe the future of this resistance lies.&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="/transformation/jason-von-meding-djair-sergio-de-freitas-junior-and-ma-ra-irigaray/no-disaster-is-nat">No disaster is natural</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/leslie-davenport/strengthening-our-ecological-imagination">Strengthening our ecological imagination</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/democraciaabierta/manuela-ferraro/dam-burst-in-brazil-but-problems-cross-its-borders">A dam bursts in Brazil, but the problems cross its borders</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"> Brazil </div> <div class="field-item even"> Spain </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Hungary </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 4.0 </div> </div> </div> DemocraciaAbierta DemocraciaAbierta Hungary Spain Brazil Democracy and government Economics International politics Hana Srebotnjak Wed, 20 Feb 2019 10:29:03 +0000 Hana Srebotnjak 121753 at “To be disillusioned is naive”: Nataliya Gumenyuk on pre-election Ukraine <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Five years on from the height of EuroMaidan in Ukraine, we to talk to Nataliya Gumenyuk, head of Hromadske television channel, on democratisation and Donbas. <strong><em><a href="" target="_self">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" 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'>Nataliya Gumenyuk is an international journalist and head of Hromadske Ukrainian TV channel.</span></span></span>Natalia Gumenyuk is a leading voice both inside and outside Ukraine. A co-founder and currently head of <a href="">Hromadske</a>, a leading independent news channel, Gumenyuk has reported extensively on Maidan, Donbas and Crimea, as well as the Arab Spring. In November 2013, Gumenyuk&nbsp;wrote&nbsp;<a href="">"From a Euromaidan in Ukraine"</a>&nbsp;for openDemocracy, where she talks powerfully about the distinction between protest symbols and external points of view and the reality of protest on the ground.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Here, we talk to Gumenyuk about the main obstacles to democratisation in Ukraine — the war in Donbas, and silence about its consequences for Ukrainian society.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The 2014 Revolution of Dignity was not just a political turning point for Ukraine, but also a moment of emotional uplift. Do you think that the last five years have seen increasing disillusionment with its aftermath?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I don’t use the word “disillusionment” lightly. I was never disillusioned, because we went to the Maidan with the feeling that we knew things would happen differently after a period of time, differently than at the peak of the revolution, and that we had to be prepared for that.</p><p dir="ltr">To be disillusioned is naive. Even when I wrote a book about the events of the Arab Spring, I knew full well that the media would be initially enraptured by it, but would soon be talking about an “Arab Winter”. Five years after the Maidan, we can see that this is normal. People are at their best in extraordinary circumstances, and they showed their best qualities and aspirations at that time.</p><p dir="ltr">We need to accept that even selfish people can be unselfish for three months during a revolution. We spend all our time talking about what we didn’t succeed in achieving after Maidan. I’m not interested in talking about what went wrong: I’m interested in working out how to actually change the system. What can make that happen – a team that can infiltrate the system or the professionalism of an individual leader? There are strong individuals who have headed ministries and achieved their goals. But other activists have failed in similar circumstances.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"Even selfish people can be unselfish for three months during a revolution"</p><p dir="ltr">Ukraine’s post-Maidan history also needs to be seen in a global perspective. In Egypt, activists didn’t get involved in government and didn’t create a party. In Ukraine, some activists did go into government, but they also didn’t create their own party, and scattered themselves among a number of political forces.</p><p dir="ltr">Now we’re going to have an election and it’s clear that they need to unite, to become a single force. At the same time, we have always grumbled that we needed a two party system, two normal parties that aren’t based around individuals – right at a time when the whole world is going back to creating personal movements and parties are dying out, to be replaced by charismatic leaders. </p><p><strong>So, you feel that changes in Ukraine’s governmental system have taken place very fragmentarily. What has produced the best result? And where has change yet to take place?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The most important things that have failed to happen are the privatisation of large companies and the reform of the defence and law enforcement agencies. The sectors that involve large amounts of money are the hardest of all. This has nothing to do with people forgetting the ideals of the Maidan: they were demanding the resignation of the Minister for Internal Affairs even then.</p><p dir="ltr">When a country is under threat, it’s easier to use law enforcement to convince the population that security is more important than freedom – and stick to that one simple message. This is a painful story that has allowed some people not to introduce changes and others, the activists, not to press their advantage home.</p><p dir="ltr">What has succeeded is a change in the logic of the civil service machine: administrative reform that assumes that the loyalty of every Ukrainian official and bureaucrat is to the state and not a political movement or the party that is in power. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, but in general, from the Defence Ministry to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, you will always find a critical mass of people loyal to the state. Changes in the health service structure or, for example, competitive processes for the post of railway chief, are theoretically open to all. Tenders and government contracts have become genuinely transparent and officials are afraid to steal.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//мины_Луганская оласть_апрель_2017JPG_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//мины_Луганская оласть_апрель_2017JPG_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Lugansk landscape, 2017 year. Photo: Tatyana Goncharuk for oDR.</span></span></span>Another interesting thing is the reform of the state-owned Naftogaz, the equivalent of Russia’s Gazprom. This has been one of Ukraine’s most successful reforms and I think it was allowed to happen because it was a question of survival. There is, after all, a war going on. Ukraine depends on Russia for its energy, and if you don’t create a transparent system, which is essential where relations with Russia are concerned, you’ve already lost and thrown in the towel. Naftogaz makes deals with Gazprom – in other words, has direct relations with Russia. You either have them or you don’t – there’s no middle way.</p><p dir="ltr">Even oligarchs and governmental bodies at every level realise that energy is something that both the West and Ukraine need. So they pushed through this reform: they have independent management that includes experienced people from other countries, they have everything under control, it’s a normal company. This shows that, given the political will everything should, in principle, work. The logic makes sense.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>In this pre-election standoff, do you feel that any of the presidential candidates understands the importance of loyalty to the state, and not to a party?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">No. I wouldn’t say that they are doing the opposite, but we need to look at the latest popularity ratings. The candidates all have a very low level of support (10-15%) and none of them has a mission statement of any kind. Yulia Tymoshenko is the only one with some kind of written plan. Some of the stronger young politicians, those who have been heads of ministries and not just rank and file MPs, realise that their chances of the presidency are very slim, which means that they shouldn’t retreat into a hard opposition role, but slog for another five years and try again.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Are the ideals of the Maidan still relevant for candidates?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">They are absent from the candidates’ programmes, but then that is such a Holy Grail, of which you can always say that “this wasn’t what we stood for at Maidan”. The formula can always be vulgarised, but in general those ideals were just a benchmark, a final argument.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Let’s talk about the role of the media. How do you think their ways of working have changed since the Maidan; how has their structure changed, what has happened to them?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I can see two factors here. Ukraine has high quality independent media – but they have to operate in an oligarchic market in a country where there are dozens of national TV channels, all of them owned by politicians. Before the Maidan there were even more media outlets, all owned by oligarchs. But they all had the same editorial policy: they showed either Yanukovych propaganda or they just avoided political issues and made tabloid entertainment TV.</p><p dir="ltr">During Maidan, a window of pluralism opened. Live shows and debates appeared on TV; there were new faces and new subjects for discussion. And now, five years on, each oligarch has been plugging their agenda ever harder through their media groups. They flourish, they are numerous, they are still growing in number and among them are not just pro-presidential propagandists, but openly pro-Russian ones. Take, for example a project linked to former Yanukovych aides: in late November 2018 they opened a new, large TV channel called <a href="">“Nash”</a> [“Ours”]. They have the most expensive studio ever built in Ukraine. And you wonder who these people are – you don’t know them and have no idea how this scale is even possible.</p><p dir="ltr"><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'>A journalist’s view of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, 2015. (c) Sergei Chuzavkov / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Another, even bigger issue is the fact that we’ve moved from TV companies to whole media empires that pour enormous amounts of money into online platforms. This is a big problem for independent media: the internet used to be their territory, now they have to fight to get through to their audience.</p><p dir="ltr">Another obvious problem is polarisation of society: everyone sits in their own bubbles. We invent means of communication, think about going out into the regions and talking to people there, but you can’t get people to sit down at the same table. And this is not just a question of the war and Russian aggression. Public service broadcasters everywhere, not only in Ukraine, have lost their popularity: people don’t trust them and only switch on the one channel whose message they agree with.</p><p dir="ltr">You can talk about ideology, but when you are dealing with a war, conservative views will always prevail, and for a long time. This is the tragedy of Russian aggression after the Maidan. This is the revenge. It’s the only thing that can drag Ukraine backwards.</p><p dir="ltr">We at Hromadske also have to fight for our audience: it’s quite large for an independent channel, but much smaller than the oligarch-owned TV channels. And I realise that there are real reasons, connected with the flow of cash into digital technology: these media buy their traffic, artificially exaggerate their figures on YouTube – it’s all to do with money.</p><p dir="ltr">This can demotivate you: you’re making high-quality programmes and you know that no one’s going to tell you that they’re boring and uninteresting because both the format and visual imagery are good. And then you start to think: maybe people don’t actually want high quality news programmes? But we’re not downhearted. I genuinely believe that they are in urgent demand by a part of society.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What developments could you see happening for other independent media after the elections?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">The elections aren’t the main issue for me – I can’t see anything really changing afterwards. Things could become worse, or marginally better, but it will all be going in the same direction. I don’t see these elections being historic ones that will decide the fate of our country. Fortunately the time has passed when each election was a cause for concern. I realise that there is Opposition Bloc, which will take 15% of the vote, but I can’t see them taking power. The major issue facing Ukraine is Donbas.</p><p dir="ltr">Ukraine has to reform and move ahead, and it’s difficult for a democratic country to do so when it’s at war. Corruption is a huge problem, but a war is the main argument for clamping down on freedom and compromising on human rights issues. You can talk about ideology, but when you are dealing with a war, conservative views will always prevail, and for a long time. This is the tragedy of Russian aggression after the Maidan. This is the revenge. It’s the only thing that can drag Ukraine backwards.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The war is the same kind of trump card as “we didn’t stand on the Maidan for this”.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Of course. The war is seriously traumatising society because the conflicts and problems created in Crimea and Donbas will haunt future generations. A generation is growing up in Donbas for whom this conflict is the norm. Seven percent of the region’s land has been occupied – at first glance that doesn’t seem like much. Many people no longer remember how things were different before, how the European Football Championship came to Donetsk in 2012, and Donetsk was seen as a European city. I think it’s dishonest to develop a country and pretend that you’re not at war, that it’s all happening somewhere else.</p><p dir="ltr">I was worried that some kind of military issues or hate speech would arise during the presidential election campaign. This is always on the agenda in any country where there’s a war. But I have to admit that the politicians are acting with caution, they avoid putting forward proposals that could spark conflicts. We all realise that nothing will be decided in the course of this year, no one will even speak about it.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">"It’s dishonest to develop a country and pretend that you’re not at war, that it’s all happening somewhere else"</p><p>Even during the <a href="">month-long State of Emergency in Ukraine in December 2018</a>, the conversation didn’t change. For the first week, people in the regions didn’t know what to do and what it meant and they panicked. But the most obvious result was a restriction on male Russian citizens entering the country.</p><p dir="ltr">If someone terrible is elected, that will be the Ukrainian people’s choice, like it or lump it. I’ll accept it. Back in 2010, I had the distinct impression that it wasn’t us, the population that elected Yanukovych: the power dynamics and the resources pumped into the campaign suggested it was a seizure of power. But today, none of the political parties have that kind of money.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What role do the media play in the Donbas conflict, and how has the conflict affected the media in its turn?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Over the last few years, people have been forever asking me about fake news and propaganda. Take the <a href="">StopFake project</a>, for example: for five years they have been finding some subject to write about every day. There’s a massive volume of material, on a huge scale – it’s even incomparably greater than all the talk about Brexit in Britain. I think that Ukrainians have been sort of inoculated against it. There are people who claim that “Poroshenko organised the shooting at the Maidan”: you have to take it as read that some people will believe it.</p><p dir="ltr">The problem with the Russo-Ukrainian war isn’t, in the first instance ,about disinformation, but about the fact that people are actually fighting and dying there. I hate it when people look for the hand of the Kremlin when it isn’t there. But if we’re talking about the roots of the conflict, and look at the particularities of the war with Russia, it’s a question of military technology that can produce destruction on a mass scale. And the Ukrainian Army naturally employs it in return. If they are firing on you with “Grad” rocket launchers, you’ll return fire with them as well. This isn’t some kind of uprising where fighters have got hold of AK47s. The difference between this war and skirmishes in Palestine, for example, or ISIS operations, is that they haven’t had any of this technology. If you’ve been to the front, you’ll see that Donbas is on a different scale altogether.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Children's playground is used as a military checkpoint, Donetsk region, 2017. Photo: Tatyana Goncharuk for oDR.</span></span></span>This is both a good and a bad thing for Ukraine. Bad because of the number of dead: a single mortar shell can kill 10 people. But unlike the conflict in the Balkans, where the aggressors and their victims lived, and still live, on the next street, fighters in Donbas can’t see who they are killing.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">In all these years of war, the Donbas has seen very little hand-to-hand or close fighting, and, strangely enough, this is a good sign. About 10,000 people have died there, and 30,000 have been wounded (3,000 of them members of the Ukrainian army), and we have no idea of the number of casualties among the separatist forces. But seeing someone being killed is rare.</p><p dir="ltr">The forces on the Ukrainian side have all been artillery. They didn’t see the faces of the people they killed. And it was the same on the other side, and people know this. In other conflict situations, things can be very different. I’ve been reading about the Khmer Rouge, for example, and about a man who still lives a street away from someone who tortured him. Or in the Balkans, for example, neighbours were killing each other. That hasn’t been happening in Ukraine, there hasn’t been such close contact or personal animosity. There have been some situations of this kind, of course, but it has been a question of perhaps a few hundred dead, maximum. All the others were victims of mines or shelling; anonymous killings. It’s not blind hatred. Your commander orders you to fire a <a href="">Grad rocket</a>: you don’t take a knife and stab a specific person to death. People don’t talk much about this, but it is very important.</p><p dir="ltr">This conflict has also so far not involved aviation. Mariupol, for example, could be razed to the ground by a single bomb, and that’s warfare on a different level. And the military are well aware of this as well. You only have to remember what happened in Aleppo to realise what we have avoided and are so far still avoiding. There was, of course, the incident in November when Ukrainian Navy vessels were <a href="">fired on and captured</a> by the Russian FSB coastguard as they attempted to pass through the Kerch Strait on their way from the Black Sea to Mariupol. It was a telling moment, but it mainly affected the armed forces.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="// 2018-12-06 um 14.57.30_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// 2018-12-06 um 14.57.30_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="337" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Captain Volodymyr Lisovoy, one of <a href=>23 captured Ukrainian naval personnel</a> currently held in Moscow. Photo: Kommersant Photo Agency/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>The media’s role in fanning the flames of this incident and the conflict in general is difficult to pin down – there are always difficulties with contractual arrangements and red lines that are difficult to avoid crossing, to avoid suggestions of treachery or weakness.</p><p dir="ltr">I have a big problem with the oligarchic groups; I think they are bad for Ukraine. Their populism game and frequent lying do nothing to resolve the conflict, and Russia’s disinformation campaign is not just propaganda. It is a system for promoting a certain political line using the full might of the security services and with its entire arsenal, from the Foreign and Defence Ministries to private companies and the so-called government-supported NGOs working together in unison.</p><p dir="ltr">We at Hromadske have rejected opinion journalism. It may not be a popular decision, but we have chosen factual journalism, pure reportage. A war situation generally prompts a need for media to boost public morale, apportion blame and create myths. In such an emotional situation, even voicing an opinion can hit home and cause hurt. And at the same time there is very little information available and people don’t know for sure what’s happening, but they all have their own take on the situation. </p><p dir="ltr">Ask anyone, even a Minister, what’s going on and they don’t know, but they do have an opinion. Information is lacking and many of these opinions are based on outdated or incorrect information – on what was happening five years ago. In Donetsk, for example, there is no chaos. Shop-raiding stopped in October 2014, but people are living under a harsh regime, a military dictatorship. It’s horrific, but conditions are completely different from five years ago: people can be sentenced to corrective labour – drunkards, for example, have to plant lawns – and there is a curfew in operation. And when somebody in Kyiv describes the situation as though it was still April 2014, talking about chaos and plain clothes police with Kalashnikovs staggering along the streets, people stop listening to them. And this kind of thing can erode trust.</p><p dir="ltr">When I argue, I don’t see myself as rejecting someone else’s opinion: I’m simply relating facts and showing people that their arguments may be weak because they are based on outdated facts, whilst if we want to move forward and take decisions we need to know what is happening now, today.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&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="/od-russia/sergii-leshchenko/ukraine-is-being-handed-a-false-choice%20">Ahead of next year’s presidential elections, Ukraine is being handed a false choice </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tetiana-bezruk/liberal-democracy-hard-choice-for-ukraine">Liberal democracy: a hard choice for Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andreas-umland/kyiv-s-leadership-is-on-its-way-to-reinvent-ukraine-s-patronalistic-regime">Kyiv’s leadership is on its way to reinvent Ukraine’s patronalistic regime</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-lipman-serhiy-kudelia/ways-to-end-the-conflict-in-ukraines-donbas">Ways to end the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas: an interview with Serhiy Kudelia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kateryna-iakovlenko/disconnected-society-how-war-in-donbas-has-affected-ukraine">Disconnected society: how the war in the Donbas has affected Ukraine</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/igor-burdyga/where-now-for-ukraine-s-brave-new-journalism">Where now for Ukraine’s brave new journalism?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Nataliya Gumenyuk Editors of oDR Ukraine Wed, 20 Feb 2019 08:08:02 +0000 Editors of oDR and Nataliya Gumenyuk 121746 at Grain truck drivers in south Russia wage war on corruption <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A strike by Russian grain hauliers, demanding higher pay and an end to corruption, has gripped the south of the country. <strong><em><a href="" target="_self">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" width="460" height="325" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Truck driver in the parking lot for heavy trucks behind the Moscow ring road. Photo: Ilya Pitalev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>A widespread strike of grain hauliers in the south of Russia is gaining momentum. Their main grievance is low rates of pay for their work, but they are also protesting against the bribes they are forced to pay highway police. The protest started as a conflict between the drivers and the export companies that offered low rates for their deliveries. Unless they hugely overload their trucks (and thus break the law), drivers end up working at a loss.</p><p dir="ltr">This situation has created a domino effect, dragging several social, economic and legal issues into the equation. According to Gruzavtotrans organisation, there are now several thousand drivers involved in the strike&nbsp;– and it is affecting Russia’s Caucasus regions. The authorities, meanwhile, prefer to turn a blind eye.</p><p dir="ltr">The miserly rates paid by companies for the transport of their grain – 1.43 roubles (less than £0.02) a kilogramme – force drivers to overload their trucks in order to avoid making a loss. But driving overloaded vehicles is not only illegal (official fines are 150,000-500,000 roubles, or £1,770-£6,000), it is hazardous for all traffic on the roads, and creates prime conditions for corruption. Drivers often pay bribes to take excess loads through highway police checkpoints.</p><p dir="ltr">But they are so tired of this situation that they have organised a protest action, uniting nearly 5,000 people across Krasnodar and Stavropol provinces as well as Rostov, Voronezh, Kursk and Astrakhan. So far, they’ve halted the delivery of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of grain to ports and dragged corruption into the headlines.</p><h2>What constitutes overloading?</h2><p dir="ltr">To understand the current situation, it’s useful to know what constitutes an “overload” for grain trucks. A standard truck can transport 20-25 tonnes – but the drivers are paid by the kilogramme, and the low rate they are paid makes it not worth their while to move with that kind of load. So they raise the sides of their trucks and load 50, and sometimes even 70 tonnes: this makes their trip profitable, although it also creates a hazard for all other road users.</p><p dir="ltr">“Several times I’ve witnessed an overloaded truck breaking an axle or losing its wheels on the road,” Krasnodar car enthusiast Alexander Savin tells me. “And a breakdown like this immediately turns into a traffic accident affecting every vehicle nearby. Chunks of iron and shreds of tyres fly all over the place, the truck’s side panels open and the grain pours out onto the road. Other road users slam on their brakes and either slide into a ditch or collide with one another. People can be injured or even killed, and all because of overloading.”</p><p dir="ltr">Trucks carrying excess loads are also a hazard for road surfaces: in 2017, for example, the Krasnodar regional authorities were forced to pass a law limiting the movement of heavy goods vehicles on busy roads during the hot summer months – the sun-warmed asphalt was literally melting under their weight, producing troughs that required major repairs. The grain trucks were, of course, not the only culprits, but their contribution was considerable.</p><h2>War over a few kopecks</h2><p dir="ltr">The most flagrant legal irregularities begin when an overloaded grain truck approaches a Russian highway patrol checkpoint. Officially, it should be stopped and refused permission to travel further. But in practice, this is not what happens. Bribery is one of the main issues that the conflict between the truckers and the grain companies has brought to light.</p><p dir="ltr">“Unfortunately, the drivers know exactly how much they have to pay at each separate checkpoint to enable them to pass through unhindered,” Vladimir Matyagin, chair of the all-Russian Gruzavtotrans (“Goods Transport”) Association tells me.</p><p dir="ltr">“And the sums vary with the regions: the closer to the Black Sea ports, the larger the sum. In the Rostov region, for example, it is 3,000 roubles (£35) per truck, and even more in the Krasnodar region. So if you’re driving from Volgograd to Novosibirsk, for instance, the overall sum can reach 10,000 roubles (£118). And, believe it or not, this all has to be taken into account. Drivers end up in a ridiculous situation: on the one hand, they need to overload their vehicles to avoid making a loss – while on the other they have to bribe the Highway Patrol guys to turn a blind eye.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" 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'>Traffic police officer. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: InfoPro / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>The aim of the strike is to put an end to this system of payments. It’s basically a war on corruption: if the checkpoints refuse to let trucks with excessive loads through, the truckers will just not drive anywhere at the current low rates. And the companies will then have to raise the rates to an acceptable level. For the moment some truckers have, nonetheless, agreed to carry excess loads and are not taking part in the strike.</p><p dir="ltr">There are other reasons for this protest, too. “The action was triggered by an increase in the price of fuel,” Andrey Gruzdenko, one of the protests’ most active (and public) participants tells me. “The thing is that the overloading issue has been around for a long time, but it was always down to the individual driver. If he had an excess load, he would earn more, but he made some money even without one. Now diesel prices have rocketed and absorbed all the truckers’ profits. It’s completely impossible to avoid overloading: there would automatically be a loss on your trip.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Gruzavtotrans association didn’t initiate this protest, but is in contact with the drivers and helping them stick up for their rights. The current strike has no official leader or staff who would coordinate the actions of everyone involved in it. Truckers from different regions only have contact with one another via internet messaging, which they use to coordinate actions.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Gruzavtotrans’s Vladimir Matyagin, the association’s activists have even made a video, secretly shot at one of the Southern Federal District’s checkpoints, where you can see an inspector allowing an overloaded truck through on a stamped document received in return for cash. The video has been sent to law enforcement agencies, but they are yet, it seems, to receive a response.</p><p dir="ltr">“At the moment, the drivers want their rates to be raised by a very small amount,” says Alexander Tipikin of the Rostov branch of Gruzavtotrans. The present rate is 1.43 roubles per kilo. “The truckers would be satisfied with 1.75 roubles per kilo. So it’s a question of an extra 32 kopecks a kilo. There are currently 200 people on strike in one district of Rostov region alone, and their actions are blocking access to the ports for 90,000 tonnes of grain.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to the association, although there may only be 12,000 grain trucks registered in Russia’s Southern Federal District, up to 7,000 drivers, from various southern Russian regions may be involved in the strike. They aren’t organising open rallies or standing around holding placards: they just aren’t going to work. Indeed, people involved in the protest are afraid to talk to journalists and, with a few exceptions, try not to give their names. One obvious reason for this is a recent hike in fines for taking part in unsanctioned rallies: they can now reach 50,000 roubles (around £600) – a hard blow to middle-income families.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s paradoxical that the people who are holding the protest are, at the same time trying not to draw too much attention to themselves, for fear of punitive measures on the part of the authorities and the grain companies. The strike has been not only impromptu, but anonymous.</p><p dir="ltr">The activists talk about the need to create a proper grain hauliers trade union to protect their interests, but at the same time this strike began spontaneously and has no connection (at least at present) with the activities of the Organisation of Russian Truck Drivers (OPR), which was set up in 2017 after protests over the introduction of the<a href=""> “Platon” transport tax</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" 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'>The driver at the protest action of truckers opposing the Platon system in the parking lot of the Mega-Khimki Mall in the Moscow Region. Photo: Grigory Sysoev / RIA News. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“We know about this strike in southern Russia, but we aren’t taking part,” says <a href="">Mikhail Kurbatov</a>, a member of OPR’s coordinating council. “In the first place, we have very few activists in the Southern and North Caucasian Federal Districts, and the people involved in this strike don’t yet want to join OPR. In the second, our goals don’t really coincide with what the strikers are after. The OPR aims to resolve all issues using legal means. We try to have input into the legal regulation of goods transport, whereas strikers just want a higher rate for their work. Our aims are more global, theirs are more local.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Over the course of this season, about two million tonnes of grain have been unloaded at Krasnodar regional ports alone”, says Alexander Korbut, the vice-president of the Russian Grain Union. “And the striking truckers have now blocked the delivery of another 80-100 thousand tonnes. But this is a mere drop in the ocean – less than five percent of the overall grain harvest. The figures tell the tale of the protest – it might make inconvenient and unpleasant reading for certain grain trading companies, but it has no effect on the general picture.”</p><p dir="ltr">The situation is also affected by drivers who are not taking part in the strike and are continuing to work at the old rates, overloading their trucks while trying not to draw attention to themselves. They still represent a majority of truckers (around 60%, according to both Gruzavtotrans and the Russian Grain Union).</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, protesters visit strikebreakers at their homes and at grain terminals, persuading them to join the action. Some have agreed to join the strike; some haven’t. And like the strikers themselves, they are trying their hardest to avoid drawing attention to themselves – they are, after all having to break the law daily.</p><p dir="ltr">This strike is unlikely to end in victory for the truckers. It’s not just about the lack of solidarity, coordination or organising committee, but the low numbers. It appears that the grain export companies and Grain Union have not seen them as a serious risk, and are choosing to wait the situation out.</p><p dir="ltr">&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="/od-russia/ekaterina-fomina/russia-truck-driver-protest">“We have plenty of reasons to protest apart from Platon”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolai-ovchinnikov/voice-from-russias-truckers-protest">A voice from Russia&#039;s truckers&#039; protest</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/in-st-petersburg-long-distance-truck-drivers-are-holding-out-for-victory">In St Petersburg, long-distance truck drivers are holding out for victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/dagestan-s-truckers-are-out-to-fight-russia-s-predatory-state">Dagestan&#039;s long-distance truckers are fighting for their rights </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Alexander Pylayev Russia Wed, 20 Feb 2019 07:23:43 +0000 Alexander Pylayev 121744 at A family under attack: Iranian exiles and the economic sanctions <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p> The sanctions force Iranians to suspend their struggle against their abusive father, fearing that the interfering strangers would manipulate their demands and grievances.</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'>US Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Army Transport Logistics base in Warsaw, Poland on February 13, 2019 on the occasion of the Middle East summit which has as it's main focus Iran which is deemed as a threat to security in the region. Picture by Jaap Arriens/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><blockquote><p>If - god forbid - a war begins, then I, a man without country who has never claimed to make sacrifices for the people of Iran because I am not arrogant enough for saying that, a man who assumes no adjective but godless, will return to Iran to defend my motherland against my adopted mother [America]. </p></blockquote><p> Thus writes Mohsen Namjoo‬, one of the most renowned and influential artists in contemporary Iran, in his latest book, <a href="">Four Essays</a>. As he himself implies, there’s a contradiction in asserting that you are a man without country and claiming to defend the motherland should it comes under attack. But this is a contradiction many exiled Iranians experience these days </p> <p> Today there are thousands of Iranians living abroad who were writers and artists and journalists living and working in Iran, striving to improve upon the reality of their lives and their country. Then someone in the government decided that they had gone too far, that their activity posed a threat to “national security”, which is practically a euphemism for putting any challenge to the full dominance of the government in every aspect of life in Iran. Their books were censored, their meetings were raided, their concerts were canceled. They were prosecuted for non-violent political activities and many of them ended up in jail. Life became so hard they abandoned their country, their families, their loved ones. They scattered around the world and, like Namjoo, became men and women without country. </p> <p> Recently, as the nuclear deal saga unfolded, they saw how Iran, having fully complied by the terms of the deal, is being punished with brutal, unjustifiable sanctions. Like Namjoo, this gross injustice hits them in the stomach, urges them to go out of their ways to defend their country against bullies and intimidators, even though it is still run by the very people that ruined their lives. These exiled Iranians know full well that the Twitter trolls and other accounts that support the incumbents in Iran will take advantage of their position and interpret it as support for their masters, but at this point, as the country faces serious threats to its very fabric, those calculations seem out of place. &nbsp;</p> <p> Namjoo’s choice of words helps us resolve this seeming contradiction. He says that he is willing to defend Motherland (Maam-e Vatan‬) against his adopted mother (Maadar-e Nakhandeh). He could have chosen words without familial undertone. But this usage is telling, as the sanctions have driven the issue out of politics. This is now a family matter. The sanctions have targeted the very existence of the country, and the Iranians, even those immune to its economic effects, feel the impact in the most visceral, immediate fashion. Trump’s crudeness, his brazen disregard for human suffering, and the pathetic silence of US allies, only occasionally broken by lukewarm, winking reprimand, makes us, Iranian exiles, set aside the fact that the current rulers of Iran have forced us out of our home. ‬‬ </p> <p> In his seminal book <a href=";btkr=1">Imagined Communities</a>, Benedict Anderson talks to this sentiment: “It would, I think, make things easier if one treated it [Nationalism] as if it belonged with 'kinship' and 'religion', rather than with 'liberalism' or 'fascism'.” Nation is pure construction, something imagined into being. It is a fundamentally irrational concept. One never meets the vast majority of her fellow-compatriots and has no rationale to entangle her fate with theirs, yet so many have sacrificed their lives for this imagined commune, and will do so in the future. It is a visceral, emotional connection, much similar to what one feels towards her family members. It is a strong, irrational emotion, something like love or hate, or, as a stranger puts it to Mr. Ai in Ursula Le Guin’s <a href=";btkr=1"><em>Left Hand of Darkness</em></a>: “No, I don't mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear.”</p> <p> So let us recast this issue in familial terms: for many exiled Iranians the Iranian government has been an abusive, cruel father that tormented them so much they walked away from the family. Some started a new life and tried to forget the past, many stayed in touch and continued the struggle to fix the family. Now, for many of us these long years of harsh economic sanctions amount to watching a big bully beating up our abusive father. In this case, no matter how much you hate the father, when you see that scene you will run ahead to defend him. There’s a reason why people from fragile, embattled nations tend to be more sensitive about jokes or insults to their homeland, compared to those who experience no immediate threat to their countries. People from volatile parts of the world become protective of an ailing, battered parent, no matter how much they might despise them. Donald Trump’s success has to do with him convincing a sizeable portion of American voters that America is a weakened, fragile nation embattled by Muslims and Latinos, in urgent need of a strongman to protect it. </p> <p> The sanctions are interfering with a painful, yet overall strong family dynamic in Iran. The sanctions force Iranians to suspend their struggle against their abusive father, fearing that the interfering strangers would manipulate their demands and grievances. Moreover, the sanctions are damaging the economy to the extent that providing basic commodities has already become a challenge. As a result, people will be less involved in politics, in movements that pursue real, substantial change, for empty stomachs never prioritize politics. If the intention, as stated, is to stymie the government so that the nation would rise and take it down, that’s the worst strategy to fulfill it.</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="/north-africa-west-asia/erwin-van-veen/european-take-on-warsaw-s-anti-iran-show">A European take on Warsaw’s anti-Iran show </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/ehsan-abdoh-tabrizi/spectre-is-haunting-iran-curious-revival-of-monarchism">A spectre is haunting Iran: the curious revival of monarchism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mehrdad-khonsari/bullying-iran-will-not-work">Bullying Iran will not work</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/rahman-bouzari/iranian-pseudo-anti-imperialism">Iranian pseudo anti-imperialism </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/ahmad-mohammadpour/looking-from-within-is-nuclear-deal-big-deal-for-iranian-p">Looking from within: is the nuclear deal a big deal for the Iranian people?</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"> Iran </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"> Democracy and government </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 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia United States Iran Civil society Democracy and government Amir Ahmadi Arian Wed, 20 Feb 2019 07:00:01 +0000 Amir Ahmadi Arian 121693 at The imperatives of mutual recognition <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Without respect, confidence and esteem on all sides, polarisation in politics will be permanent.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="">Flickr/BRosen</a>. <a href="">CC BY-ND 2.0</a>.</p> <p>In Donald Trump’s recent State of the Union speech to Congress he called for unity whilst simultaneously trashing the Democrats on everything from border walls to Russian intervention in American elections. Something similar is happening on this side of the Atlantic with Brexit, where calls for national consensus are accompanied by a steadfast refusal to allow any of the discussion and flexibility required to reach it. Many of us feel deeply uncomfortable in polities that spew so much hypocrisy, vitriol and hate.</p> <p>I’ve got a fair amount of experience trying to reach out to people I disagree with, or even fear a little, by running something called the <a href="">Echo Chamber Club</a> over the last few years. Every week I researched the news and opinion articles that people like me were probably consuming, and then disseminated counterpoints that I thought subscribers would find challenging. As a result of this experience I now frame the debate around polarisation in the following way: “how can we be different but still get along?” How can we respect what’s incommensurable about our views and values without resorting to violence and oppression?</p> <p>My aim is <em>not</em> to create consensus, since I think it’s a good thing to have diversity in ideas. Instead, I look to ensure that we feel more comfortable in working alongside those with different opinions – or at least in talking and listening to them in a search for common ground. If we can’t even do that, then permanent division is inevitable, and with it the ever present danger of a low-grade civil war. How can we transform our democracies and daily practices to avoid this damaging outcome?</p> <p>Since it’s easier to answer this question in a particular context let’s take a few concrete examples. First, the ongoing conflict between someone who’s opposed to abortion - a pro-lifer - and someone who believes that women have the right to abortion, a pro-choicer.</p> <p>I am firmly in the pro-choice camp, and I’ve found it hard to understand how anyone can call themselves both pro-life and a feminist. But it turns out that some women do exactly that, so I chose to investigate the other side’s mission and claims.</p> <p>One group, the <a href="">New Wave Feminists</a>, base their arguments on pacifism. They are against war, the death penalty and torture, so they feel it would be a contradiction for them to be in favour of abortion. Their aim is to create a society where no woman would feel the need to have one. <a href="">They write</a>: “Look, we don't work to make abortion illegal.&nbsp;We work to make it unthinkable and unnecessary. And we do that&nbsp;by getting to the root of the&nbsp;<em>need</em>&nbsp;for it.”</p> <p><a href="">Feminists for Life</a> is a similar group whose slogan is “Women Deserve Better.” They seek to eliminate the reasons that drive women to abortion by advocating “practical resources and holistic support which address the unmet needs of pregnant women, parents and birthparents.” This group seems a little more extreme because they implicitly state that abortion should be illegal, though they also write that women themselves should not be prosecuted for seeking one. And, <a href="">they say</a>, “We should criminalize anyone who withholds child support, fires a woman from her job because she is pregnant, refuses to accommodate her pregnancy, expels her from school, or threatens violence - any act that forces her to choose between sacrificing her child and sacrificing her education, career plans, or safety from violence.”</p> <p>When I look at these two groups, I realise that we have some things in common. I would also like to make motherhood a more economically and psychologically comfortable position for those who choose it. I don’t want to stigmatise it, and I recognise that women have abortions for many complicated reasons, but I can see we have a common goal.</p> <p>So I have a choice. I can choose to view these women as feminists through their own description of their identity, or I can reject their view of the world and claim that I know better. Through one lens I see only conflict, and through the other, I can see a potential way forward. One mindset helps us to work together and the other does not.</p> <p>Let’s look at a different example with similar implications. Claudia Sternberg, Kira Gartzou-Katsouyanni and Kalypso Nicolaïdis have written a fantastic book on “<a href="">The Greco-German Affair in the Euro Crisis</a>,” which examines a wide range of journalistic pieces written in Germany and Greece as the latter looked bankruptcy in the eye.</p> <p>They found many points of view from both countries. Some journalists attempted to understand each other, and often learned something about themselves in the process. Yes, there was stereotyping: some Germans wrote editorials lambasting the Greeks for being ‘extravagant’ and ‘lazy,’ while some Greeks portrayed the German’s as ‘cruel’ and ‘stingy.’ And, of course, there were plenty of references to how Germany behaved during two World Wars.</p> <p>However, at least some of the journalists&nbsp;on each side reached out to try to understand the perspectives of the other by describing them in ways they might actually recognise. This led to the admission that both countries were interdependent because they shared the same currency. Because they had to work together to avoid the Euro’s collapse, they&nbsp;had to respect people who lived in other countries and value their concerns. As the authors concluded, “if many journalists or politicians chose to resort to offensive and stereotypical depictions of the Other during the crisis, this was not for a lack of alternative discursive options.”</p> <p>What lessons can be learned from these examples? For me the most important is the principle of <em>‘mutual recognition’</em> in guiding processes of negotiation between conflicting groups with confidence, respect and esteem.</p> <p>First, confidence: to understand others you must understand yourself - meaning that you must be confident that your own emotions, values and contributions to society are valid. What’s more, you must feel confident in your ability to enact change, and recognise that your actions have consequences. In this way, you recognise yourself as a morally responsible human being.</p> <p>Second, respect: when you are confident you can take a look at others, recognising that they too have valid emotions, values and contributions to society. They are also responsible human beings and deserve equal recognition for being so. We are all entitled to rights that respect our humanity.</p> <p>Third, esteem: through respect we understand that all people have equal rights. Adding esteem into the equation extends those rights to the equal expression of our differences. In the modern world we need an abundance of difference to uphold complex societies, so we should hold difference in esteem.</p> <p>So far so good, but there are some obvious objections to this framing. The first concerns presumptions of equality where power is asymmetrical. In the case of Germany and Greece, for example, Germany was in a much more powerful position, so how could recognition be ‘mutual?’</p> <p>The answer is that, although recognition requires input from all sides, it takes more commitment from the stronger party, because it is much easier for them to dismiss the concerns of the weak. The continued denial of recognition from those in power can only lead to instability. Groups have to go through a difficult and respectful process to find genuine common ground, as opposed to an artificial consensus.</p> <p>Secondly, why should we ‘recognise’ misogynist, racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views as valid? The theory of mutual recognition helps us turn this question on its head. Those with these views don’t respect the humanity and identities of others; instead they deny recognition to women, people of colour, Jews and immigrants. The frame I’m presenting provides a way of understanding and communicating why these attitudes are so damaging and how we might combat them, since we can simultaneously expose racism and misogyny <em>and</em> look to understand other aspects of the identities of such groups which are not bigoted or xenophobic.</p> <p>Theories like this can help us to address division and polarisation, because without them we can’t understand where the problem comes from or how to handle it in terms other than opposition. So, for example, in my pro-choice/pro-life example this is how I re-framed seemingly-irreconcilable positions: when I approached the pro-life feminists I was already confident in my own identity as a feminist, but I also took steps to recognise them by understanding their own ideas on their own terms. I understood their interpretation of feminist values and respected them as feminists. Through this examination, I returned to reflect on my own ideology and recognised where there were similarities, and equally importantly, where I had to stand my ground if we were to ever have a future negotiation. This is the process of mutual recognition: try and find some commonalities and see if you can negotiate around the differences.</p> <p>I try to follow the same process in the rest of my personal life and work. It takes a long time, and it can be very hard. A disagreement never lasts for half an hour. Instead it’s a process that takes days if not weeks. There are no quick fixes when it comes to conflict, but having a structure can help. Practicing confidence, respect and esteem provides a useful way to build bridges in divided communities. I hope you’ll try it.</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/alice-thwaite/escaping-from-echo-chambers-of-politics">Escaping from the echo-chambers of politics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/alice-thwaite-jazza-john/can-polarisation-be-eroded-by-design">Can polarisation be eroded by design? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/perry-walker/helping-people-to-find-common-ground-on-brexit">Helping people to find common ground on Brexit</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Political polarization Alice Thwaite Trans-partisan politics Tue, 19 Feb 2019 19:50:55 +0000 Alice Thwaite 121667 at Migrant crisis in Europe? Look at Yemen <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Just to be clear, this means that more desperate people crossed the Red Sea into<em> </em>Yemen in 2018 than crossed the Mediterranean heading for Europe.&nbsp; </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="// 2019-02-19 at 14.19.34.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// 2019-02-19 at 14.19.34.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="262" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Euronews screenshot.Dozens of Somali refugees killed in Saudi airstrikes off Yemen, 2017. Youtube.</span></span></span></p><p>While Brexit is giving UK residents a break from media focus on desperate people attempting to reach wealthy Europe by crossing the Mediterranean by sea, a few figures should help to put things in perspective, as the issue will surely soon re-emerge in the headlines. </p> <p>Xenophobia remains a fundamental rallying cry of the right throughout Europe, including the UK, and is all too frequently manifested through Islamophobic populism. This has already led to the implementation of anti-migrant policies by most regimes but particularly the far right ones in Eastern Europe. </p> <p>This last year, they have been joined by the new Italian regime’s rhetoric and action in turning away humanitarian ships rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean. The hostile environment for migrants in Europe has led to a massive drop in arrivals: while many <a href="">more than one million</a> people arrived in 2015, only <a href="">144,000</a> did so in 2018. A few migrants who had managed to reach northern France and in particular the Calais of ‘jungle’ notoriety took to small boats to reach the UK: about 500 did so in 2018, including 200 in the last two months of last year.&nbsp; Some might wonder why this did not happen earlier, but this event gave the British government a temporary public relations respite from Brexit as Secretary of State Sajid Javid rushed to Dover to stem this terrifying influx!</p> <h2><strong>A hidden migrant crisis in the Gulf of Aden</strong></h2> <p>Meanwhile, more than 160,000 people arrived in Yemen in 2018 alone. Just to be clear this means that more desperate people crossed the Red Sea into Yemen than crossed the Mediterranean heading for Europe.&nbsp; </p> <p>Yemen is in the midst of an internationalised civil war and suffering from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis according to the UN’s Secretary General. There has been no outcry about a ‘migrant invasion’ from any Yemeni Minister of the Interior, whether from the internationally recognised government or the Huthi movement who control the capital Sana’a. Indeed Yemen has received and accepted close to a million Somali refugees since the 1990s, allowing them to work and live in the country, as Yemen is the only country in the Arabian Peninsula to recognise the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Prior to the current war, the country’s authorities have been impressively hospitable to Somali refugees, though not to the thousands of Ethiopians and others who have crossed the Red Sea. </p> <p>Migrants crossing into Yemen only make the headlines either when the Saudi-led Coalition planes bomb a boat crossing and kill its passengers (including people leaving on boats commissioned by UN agencies to repatriate them to the Horn of Africa) or when sufficiently large numbers of corpses wash up onto the Yemeni shores of the Arabian Sea. In both cases, they get little more than <a href="">a few lines</a> in <a href="">obscure media</a>.</p> <p>The main route has also changed as a result of the war: while more than 70% of people crossed the Red Sea between 2010 and 2013, since then the figure has dropped to less than 20% with most heading for the Arabian Sea coast.</p> <h2><strong>Who is heading for Yemen and why?</strong></h2> <p>So why are more people still heading for Yemen than leaving?&nbsp; Who are they? And why do thousands head for a country in the midst of an internationalised civil war where millions are starving?&nbsp; Shouldn’t travel be in the other direction, with Yemenis trying to escape the disastrous conditions in their country?</p> <p>Yemen is hardly ever the intended destination of these migrants. While travel to Saudi Arabia and the UAE via Oman used to be difficult in the past, travel conditions have become far more dangerous and expensive in recent years. At the beginning of the current decade, the Saudi regime built a fence along most of the border from the Red Sea coast eastwards to control immigration, and the situation has obviously worsened dramatically since the Saudi-led coalition has intervened in the civil war throughout the country since 2015. In 2018 the cost for getting from the southern Yemeni coast to Saudi Arabia was about USD 1200. But travelling to Saudi Arabia from east Africa via Yemen is significantly cheaper than reaching the southern coast of the Mediterranean, a trip costing at least USD 3000, a price which ignores possible ransoming and imprisonment by criminal gangs as well as the actual sea crossing.</p> <p>Last year alone, <a href="">160,000 people i</a>n east Africa were sufficiently desperate to head for a country on the brink of famine and in the midst of a war. The overwhelming majority (92%) are Ethiopians and the rest are Somalis. Three quarters of them are adult men while women form 16% of the migrants and children, mostly boys, form 10%.<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> They head for the southern Arabian Sea coast of Yemen, for two main reasons: the Red Sea coast is now a military zone with naval forces of the coalition firing at fishing boats and anything else that moves; on the African side much of the coast is in Eritrea.<a href="#_ftn2">[2]</a> The southern Arabian Sea coast is more easily accessible from the different departure points in Somalia, both Berbera in ‘independent’ Somaliland and Bossasso in the ‘autonomous’ Puntland.&nbsp; </p> <p>In the past 5 years, more than 700 corpses have been recovered on Yemen’s southern coast including 156 in 2018.<a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a> Crossing into Yemen is the cheapest part of the trip, with fares ranging from USD 120 to USD 200. While many of those involved are aware of the war in Yemen, some are not. Amazingly thousands still cross in the belief that they will have an easy ongoing trip to their ultimate destination, Saudi Arabia. Once in Yemen, many seek additional income and try to find work, usually as unskilled labourers in agriculture and as car washers and other informal jobs in towns. This was difficult in the pre-war period and is almost impossible now the war is on.&nbsp; Some fall into the hands of criminals and are ill treated and ransomed, on a scale smaller than that found in Libya but sufficiently significant to be notable.</p> <p>Most Somalis have left their homes because years of drought have made it impossible to cultivate the land and have killed their livestock, leading to worsening poverty, and destitution. Another reason is insecurity in their home areas. Although war has abated in Somalia, it is hardly a haven of peace and prosperity. In addition possible ill-treatment in Yemen has resulted in changed strategies for Somalis: while before 2011 many of them headed for Yemen as a final or temporary destination, since the beginning of this decade and, even more so, since the outbreak of war, their destination is Saudi Arabia, with no intention of remaining in Yemen.</p> <p>Similarly Ethiopians, who now form the overwhelming majority of migrants, the thousands heading for Saudi Arabia, via Yemen, have clearly not noticed that their country is currently the great economic success story we read about occasionally in western media. Poverty, drought, lack of employment are key factors pushing them to face the risks of this very dangerous journey, regardless of the high risk of failure. Of 42,000 people expelled from Saudi Arabia in the 10 months starting mid-November 2017, 46% were Ethiopians, while 51% were Yemenis. The trend has accelerated with the changes in labour regulations in Saudi Arabia and in 2018 Saudi authorities have deported about 10,000 Ethiopians a month.<a href="#_ftn4">[4]</a> &nbsp;</p> <p>Although many have failed, very few have abandoned their ambitions and taken up the International Organisation of Migration’s offers of repatriation: between 2010 and 2018, only 24,000 returned home under these auspices,&nbsp; 77% of them Ethiopians and 16% Somalis. Of course, regardless of the risks, all migrants heading for Saudi Arabia, whether Ethiopian, Somali or Yemeni, dream of success and wealth after a few years of work in Saudi Arabia.</p> <h2><strong>What about Yemenis?</strong></h2> <p>Very few Yemenis try to escape the war. Most of those who head for Saudi Arabia do so to earn money and feed their families as they have done for the past half century. The new Saudi regime has introduced tough measures to ‘saudi-ise’ its labour force and reduce employment opportunities for foreigners as well as make their residence conditions expensive and unappealing. These measures have affected Yemenis as well as many other nationalities and probably reduced the number of Yemenis in Saudi Arabia to below one million. However arrivals since 2015 also include the leaders of the internationally recognised government, their attendants, and some of the war profiteers.</p> <p>Other than the majority in Saudi Arabia and about 100,000 people of Yemeni origin in the United Arab Emirates, the war has led to the creation of new Yemeni communities in other neighbouring Arab states: Oman has received about 50,000 Yemenis since the war started. In Jordan 14.500 and in Egypt 8000 were registered with UNHCR by the end of 2018, representing a fraction of the Yemenis present in both these countries. Most Yemenis in these countries are professionals as well as political exiles who are maintaining more acceptable living standards and they also include people who have been unable to return to Yemen as a result of the coalition closure of Sana’a airport since mid-2016. &nbsp;</p> <p>By contrast most of the few thousand Yemenis arriving in Djibouti are poverty stricken war-related refugees. A very few Yemenis have headed for Europe through the unofficial routes used by African migrants: the International Organisation for Migration recorded 326 Yemenis in the first 11 months of 2018, while a total of 353 had reached Greece in 2015<a href="#_ftn5">[5]</a>, reflecting both Yemenis’ reluctance to leave their homes and the difficulties they encounter when travelling internationally.&nbsp; </p> <p>Within Yemen itself, population movements have been massive: overall since the war started 3 million have been displaced, many of whom return home as soon as fighting abates in their areas, so about 1 million remain displaced. In the second half of 2018 alone, with the coalition military offensive against the city and other parts of the Hodeida governorate, more than one million people were displaced until the December 18 ceasefire, going to other parts of Yemen, often where they had relatives, but basically escaping from the air and ground attacks which led to heavy civilian casualties.</p> <p>In conclusion, while this article has provided a few figures, readers should remember that each one of the individuals who make up the thousands and millions is experiencing the tragic, painful and frightening suffering associated with the tragedies described in the stories you can find on numerous websites and social media. So this represents a multiplicity of horror stories. Migrants heading into Yemen are facing extreme hardship conditions in addition to entering a country at war where most of the population are also suffering from famine conditions. What does all this say about living conditions and prospects in their own countries?&nbsp; </p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a>&nbsp; IOM Mixed Migration in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, January-June 2018.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref2">[2]</a>&nbsp; Surprisingly no Eritreans appear to go to Yemen, they mostly head directly overland to the Mediterranean sea, at far higher cost, ranging from a minimum of USD 1800 to about USD 4000 per person, and that excludes the ransoms many have to pay when they are taken hostage by traffickers.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref3">[3]</a> Reuters 4 December 2018</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref4">[4]</a> Reuters, ibid</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref5">[5]</a> Data from IOM</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Yemen </div> <div class="field-item even"> Saudi Arabia </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"> 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 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Saudi Arabia Yemen International politics Economics Conflict Helen Lackner Tue, 19 Feb 2019 14:05:53 +0000 Helen Lackner 121741 at Why a focus on "fake news" and Facebook misses the internet's real problems - and solutions <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>MP's new 'fake news' report largely ignores other platforms like Google and YouTube, and surveillance capitalism itself – and risks sending regulation in the wrong direction.</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="275" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>Yesterday morning, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee published its long-awaited final report into disinformation and ‘fake news’. The report – which follows a long and at times dramatic investigation – is full of interesting and insightful details about political microtargeting (the targeting of political messaging to relatively small groups of people) and the spread of disinformation.</p> <p>But the report’s myopic focus on one company – Facebook – means that it misses the bigger picture – including the internet’s dominant variety of capitalism.</p> <p>It is of course welcome that attention is being paid to these problems, and there is much in the Committee’s report that’s good. The report is undoubtedly right to find that Britain’s electoral laws are woefully inadequate for the age of the algorithm and are badly in need of reform. Its recommendation that inferences drawn from analysis of other data about people should be more clearly considered to be personal data likewise seems eminently sensible.</p> <h2>Is it ok to manipulate people to extract their money, just not for politics?</h2> <p>But there are also clear shortcomings. Focusing on disinformation itself as a target for regulation brings an obvious problem. By calling for interventions based on ‘harmful’ content, the report asks the Government to step into the dangerous territory of regulating lawful political conversations between people. Are private companies to be mandated to police these communications on the Government’s behalf? There are numerous good reasons why this is deeply undesirable (not to mention incompatible with human rights laws).</p> <p>The biggest oversight, however, is in diagnosing disinformation as essentially a problem with Facebook, rather than a systemic issue emerging in part from the pollution of online spaces by the business model that Facebook shares with others: the surveillance and modification of human behaviour for profit. </p> <p>‘Surveillance capitalism’, as it’s known, involves gathering as much data as possible about as many people as possible doing as many things as possible from as many sources as possible. These huge datasets are then algorithmically analysed so as to spot patterns and correlations from which future behaviour can be predicted. A personalised, highly dynamic, and responsive form of behavioural nudging then seeks to influence that future behaviour to drive engagement and profit for platforms and advertisers. These targeted behaviour modification tools rely on triggering cognitive biases and known short-cuts in human decision-making. Platforms and advertisers extensively experiment to find the most effective way to influence behaviour.</p> <p>Without looking at surveillance capitalism, it’s impossible to understand microtargeting in its wider context. It’s impossible to understand the desires for profit and market position driving these practices. And it’s impossible to understand that the same behaviour modification tools are sold to advertisers, political parties, and anyone else who’s willing to pay. Without considering these practices within surveillance capitalism more generally, the report seems to implicitly accept that manipulating people through psychological vulnerabilities is fine if you’re doing it to extract their money, but not if you’re doing it for politics.</p> <p>Notably, both Google and YouTube, its subsidiary, were largely omitted from the report. They get the odd mention, but it’s clear that the Committee was too fixated on Facebook to pay them sufficient attention. Google invented surveillance capitalism and remains arguably its foremost practitioner, with significant influence over the world’s access to information. And YouTube (also running on a surveillance business model, naturally) has serious problems of its own in terms of promoting violent extremism, disinformation, and conspiracy theories. This led the academic Zeynep Tufekci, writing in the New York Times last year, to describe YouTube and its video recommendation system as “[maybe] <a href="">one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century</a>”.</p> <h2>It's not “fake news” that’s the problem, it’s the algorithms that disseminate it</h2> <p>This brings us to the second aspect missed by the Committee: the increasingly prevalent algorithmic construction of reality. Take disinformation. As noted above, the report focused on false content itself. This seems to have missed one of the key routes by which an individual piece of content can become a systemic problem worthy of attention. In the grand scheme of things, a YouTube video about a wild conspiracy theory doesn’t really matter if it’s only seen by 10 people. It matters if people watching relatively innocuous content are driven towards it by YouTube’s recommendation system. It matters if it’s algorithmically promoted by YouTube and then seen by 10 million people. </p> <p>Platforms might argue that they can’t be held responsible for the content they host or for the actions of their users (outside of things which are clearly illegal). But recommending content is not simply hosting it, and it is not a neutral act. Platforms selectively target content (including advertising) through their recommender systems so as to show us what they think will keep us engaged with their services, bring them revenue, and help them build market share. Make no mistake – through these platforms we do not get a true picture of what’s going on in the world. The spaces we inhabit online are viewed through the lens of corporate desires. What we encounter is algorithmically mediated to suit the platforms’ interests. While microtargeting is increasingly recognised as manipulation, this is a softer, perhaps more insidious form of corporate algorithmic influence.</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, various actors have learned how to game these systems to boost the audience for their content, including conspiracy theorists and extremists. And bots and other fake accounts are often being used to take advantage of the algorithmic construction of online space to manipulate content rankings. This allows them to game trending topics so as to shape discourse more generally, and drive fringe ideas into the mainstream (a common misconception of bots holds that they are usually intended to change the opinion of real users with whom they come into contact). </p> <p>The influence wielded by surveillance platforms through personalisation gives them significant means to shape the online public sphere. They are, of course, motivated by profit and duty to shareholders rather than by public good and duty to wider society. You might think that this is fine – they are, after all, private corporations. But while television, mass media, and the advertising industry have long shaped our world, never before have private companies had such influence over the construction of the everyday reality we inhabit. Never before have they exercised such influence over the private activity of individuals talking to other individuals about their lives. They do so without any democratic legitimacy, and with little transparency over their processes or accountability for their actions. </p> <p>To properly address the problems of manipulation, disinformation, and violent extremism fermenting on online platforms, future regulation must properly acknowledge the role of surveillance capitalism – not just through targeting tools but in the algorithmic construction of online spaces. Future regulation should recognise that content isn’t necessarily the problem in and of itself. It must consider the active role of platforms in promoting content, and establish minimum standards for doing so (in the form of paid-for advertising or otherwise). This approach benefits from largely sidestepping much of the content regulation debate. Regulating the use of technical systems by corporations rather than intervening in communications between individuals means that people should still be free to post, view, or share anything that is not illegal. Freedom of expression demands nothing less.</p> <p>Surveillance companies’ exorbitant profits and their influence on the construction of our reality is in large part driven by their use of recommender systems. That must come with responsibility in some form for what they’re algorithmically disseminating. They will argue that being more careful with recommender systems could result in lower revenues. In 2018 Google brought in $136 billion; Facebook took $56 billion. They can afford to take the hit. Perhaps that should be understood as the cost of doing business in future. This industry wouldn’t be the first to have its practices and its profits reined in by regulation for the good of society. </p> <p>Because of its restricted focus, the usefulness of many of the solutions proposed in the DCMS Committee’s report is somewhat limited. That’s disappointing. But all is far from lost, and there are other directions for progress. To get there, we need to think bigger than Facebook. It’s time to acknowledge the role of surveillance capitalism in these systemic issues. It’s time to recognise that the problem isn’t just content – it’s dissemination and amplification by algorithm to maximise profit at all costs.</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="/uk/brexitinc/adam-ramsay/dark-money-investigations-what-we-ve-found-out-and-why-we-re-looking">Dark money investigations: what we’ve found out, and why we’re looking</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/jennifer-cobbe/problem-isn-t-just-cambridge-analytica-or-even-facebook-it-s-surveillance-capitali">The problem isn’t just Cambridge Analytica or Facebook – it’s “surveillance capitalism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/mary-fitzgerald-peter-york-carole-cadwalladr-james-patrick/dark-money-deep-data-voicing-dissent">Dark Money Deep Data</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/uk/sam-jeffers/how-can-we-better-regulate-elections-in-digital-age">How can we better regulate elections in the digital age?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/brexitinc/des-freedman/fake-news-and-facebook-symptoms-not-causes-of-democratic-decline">&#039;Fake news’ and Facebook: symptoms not causes of democratic decline</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"> UK </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"> 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 4.0 </div> </div> </div> uk uk UK Civil society Democracy and government Internet media Jennifer Cobbe Tue, 19 Feb 2019 12:34:51 +0000 Jennifer Cobbe 121740 at Radical-right backlash against Games of Belonging: the case of Mesut Özil <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Özil, like many others, has repeatedly stated that he would prefer to play for both national football teams if international football regulations made it possible.</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="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Signboard replaced outside hometown of Mesut Ozil in Turkey, removing photo of him in a German jersey in July 2018. Gurkay GüNdogan/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p><p>The recent case of Mesut Özil has shown a severe rupture in relations between German-Turks and German natives, which has been a long time coming, but went unrecognized while the football national team put it in the shade. However, it was precisely because of the earlier sporting success of the German squad that the Özil case escalated into a fierce conflict. Three crucial ingredients played a role in this escalation: the failure of political messaging on national football-team diversity, some setbacks in Germany-Turkey relations, and the rise of the populist radical right in both Turkey and Germany. </p> <h2><strong>The staging of <em>Games of Belonging </em></strong></h2> <p>International football events include <em>Games of Belonging</em> for immigrant footballers;<em> </em>a play that evolves in three acts. In the first pre-match act, an approaching international football fixture prompts the media to ponder whether immigrant players feel they belong to nation X or Y, Germany or Turkey. National belonging here is a zero-sum game: the more one belongs to nation X, the less one is able to belong to nation Y. </p> <p>In a matchday second act, nationhood is performed symbolically. A case in point is Özil’s 2010 handshake with German chancellor Angela Merkel in the locker-room after an international match against Turkey in Berlin, when he was booed by German-Turks. It was ironic that Özil scored against the national team of his “ethnic roots”, which demonstrated the zero-sum game impeccably. Here was a second-generation German-Turk opting for Germany and shaking off his ethno-cultural backpack with the goal that he scored. </p> <p>Act 3. In various after-match episodes separate from the event, those subjected to these belonging debates become active participants and insist that their choice for one nation does not fairly represent their transnational feelings of belonging to both Germany and Turkey equally. As many other immigrant footballers around the globe have proclaimed, Özil has also repeatedly stated that he would prefer to play for both national football teams if international football regulations made it possible. </p> <h2><strong>Disenchantment and the growth of a nativist backlash against <em>Games of Belonging</em></strong></h2> <p>In 2009, Özil forfeited Turkish membership, after he chose to play for the German football national team. He was framed as an “ethnic traitor”, a “Turk who had defected”, lost touch with his “roots”. On the other hand, Mesut Özil was celebrated as the poster boy for immigrant integration politics in Germany, where he was, for instance, awarded a national immigrant integration prize in 2011 and seen as one of the most influential role models to promote second- and third-generation German-Turks’ identification with Germany.</p> <p>After the 2018 photo with Erdogan, Özil’s reconciliation with his Turkish identity was widely recognized. On the other hand, Özil was denounced for paying court to an autocrat, which was framed as the one thing a “true” German would not do. In fact, as many pundits contended, native political and national football association representatives were very busy wooing autocrats themselves in former years. But <a href="">immigrant national team footballers have to accomplish more than natives</a>. Any slippage, and immigrants’ full national membership is questioned. Natives on the other hand, may risk being banned from the national football team in a worst case scenario, yet their national belonging remains beyond question.</p> <p>Public <a href="">photos of Özil and Erdogan</a> have appeared regularly since 2011, and he always prayed before matches, sharing a post of his <a href="">pilgrimage to Mecca</a> before the 2016 European Championship. Özil was neither fully reconciled to his Turkish identity at that stage nor banned from German national identity, though the AfD party had unsuccessfully tried to create a scandal around events related to Özil before 2018. Why then was there no escalation before 2018?</p> <p>To begin with, the interplay of the rise of populist radical-right parties in Germany and Turkey with failed political messaging by traditional parties aggravated the political context for national football-team diversity. </p> <p>After ongoing blame-games from 2016 onwards, German-Turkish relations suffered a severe setback. Disenchantment with traditional parties grew after their promises to tighten the screws on Erdogan were not in the end delivered. When racial outnumbered economic concerns, segments of the national conservatives from right to left identified the AfD party as the only saviour capable of standing for “German values” (most notably, democracy) and defending them against “the Sultan of the Bosphorus” and his German-based Turkish supporters. </p> <p>Ever since the 2017 election campaign, traditional parties have pursued disenchanted national-conservative voters by raising a critical voice on the ”Turkish issue”. Özil could not escape the recurring nationalist German-Turkish blame-games expounded by the already established populist radical-right in Turkey and its consolidating counterpart in Germany. Failed political messaging by traditional parties, and unmet promises, facilitated the mainstreaming of radical-right narratives which defended secessionist expressions of nativist nationhood. </p> <p>Finally, the economic exploitation of national football-team diversity caused frustration among German-Turks. In his post-World-Cup statement, Özil lamented the racism against him because of his Turkish and Muslim identity. Özil sided with French Karim Benzema and Belgian Romelu Lukaku, stating: “I am a German when we win, an immigrant when we lose.” </p> <p>For Turkish immigrants, the case of Özil reflected the frustrating double logic they encountered over the decades. They were turned to enthusiastically when needed to rebuild the country (and its economy) but soon discriminated against once the work was done. German-Turks united against such an obvious anti-Turkish racism. And the repeated <a href="">charges of Nazism raised by Erdogan against Germany</a> even made some identify ‘cultural traits’ of racism among Germans. The latter marked a dangerous trend, as such propositions very quickly “close down” ethno-cultural boundaries, resulting in ethno-cultural fragmentation and polarization. </p> <p>This frustration of immigrants can only be prevented if ethnic diversity is communicated, explicitly or implicitly, as a basic democratic right instead of a conditional economic promise of success. In fact, if ethnic diversity is linked to economic success, it may soon be connected to failure as well. Merkel’s “golden handshake” in 2009 and the absence of protection for Özil in 2018 are a good example of how easily “things have changed”.&nbsp; </p> <p>Failed messaging culminated in a frustrated backlash against immigrant integration politics, while the German majority and Turkish immigrants were on their way to “opening up” their horizons vis-à-vis each other. In 2018, the mainstreaming of radical-right narratives in Germany and Turkey exploited the Mesut Özil case and painted German-Turkish <em>games of belonging </em>in a nativist light. It seems very unlikely that international football will introduce transnational regulations for immigrant footballers in this current period of ‘ethno-national rebirth’.</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>Visit the <a href="">Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right</a> (#CARR).</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"> Germany </div> <div class="field-item even"> Turkey </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"> 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 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? Turkey Germany Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Ideas International politics Özgür Özvatan Tue, 19 Feb 2019 12:28:13 +0000 Özgür Özvatan 121739 at