The Iraqi crisis: rethinking the narrative

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 14:13

An approach to Iraq focused on military intervention, with some humanitarian assistance, has defied the complexity of the domestic and regional kaleidoscope. No wonder it is failing.

The capture of Tikrit from Islamic State (IS) by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in early April, with the help of US airstrikes and Iranian advisors, appeared simultaneously to preserve and undermine the Iraqi state. While representing a significant territorial victory in the fight against IS, reports indicated that the group’s expulsion was followed by a wave of looting, summary executions and other atrocities, tarnishing the town’s ‘liberation’ and the forces associated with it.

While the ISF formally and visibly did the capturing, and took most of the credit, Iraq’s Shia militias dominated the first two weeks of the assault. These forces largely operate outside of state control—in spite of the recent move by the prime minister (and commander-in-chief), Haider al-Abadi, to bring them under his authority—and do most of the fighting against the Wahhabi-inspired Sunni IS.

The event fitted well into the common narrative of the conflict on which much of the west’s intervention against IS in Iraq is based. Its main elements—often espoused by US-, Israeli- and Gulf-based media and analysts—are questioning the chances of survival of the Iraqi state, perceiving IS as a signficant threat through the lens of global terrorism, framing Iran as the region’s challenger to the status quo, and suggesting that a fight for hegemony is taking place across the Middle East which pits Sunni against Shia regimes and groups. But this narrative is misleading.

Fear of implosion

First, it is doubtful that Iraq’s days as a unitary state are numbered. This proposition is mainly based on the combination of centrifugal domestic political forces—divergent Sunnis, Shia and Kurds—and centripetal regional forces influencing national affairs. Yet none of Iraq’s key neighbours (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey) wishes to see it disappear as a unitary state. They may prefer a weak Iraq for various reasons but they fear implosion bringing insecurity, radicalism, refugees and aspirations to self-determination across their borders.

Moreover, Iraq’s Sunnis have no viable alternative. A Sunni rump state is not only politically impossible given the record of the last ten years of radical groups emerging from Sunni-populated territorities, but also financially untenable. And Iraq’s Kurds are unlikely to declare independence in the face of resistance from both Turkey and Iran, considering their sizeable Kurdish populations. As long as Turkey transfers payments for Kurdish oil to the treasury in Bagdad instead of Erbil, the Kurds cannot really afford it either.

Secondly, and relatedly, Iraq’s Shia are more nationalistic and more fragmented than one might think. While some groups, such as Kataib Hezbollah, essentially owe allegiance to Tehran, far from all Shia militias are Iranian proxies—take Muqtada al-Sadr’s ‘Mahdi army’. And while Iraq’s Shia took up arms when IS arrived at the gates of Baghdad, this was much less a sectarian mobilisation than a response to a strident nationalistic call from the grand ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, which showed little symphathy for sectarian narratives. Al-Sistani’s influence is significant—he is perhaps as close as one can find to a national figure in Iraq—and in the Shia world his authority rivals, or even surpasses, that of his Iranian counterparts.

Thirdly, it is not just Iranian influence in Iraq which incentivises violence. While it is materially significant (advisors, weapons and funds), prolonged Saudi export of Wahhabism—its extremely conservative interpretation of Islam—has also played its part. As socio-religious influence, Wahhabism spreads more under the radar and with greater deniability than Iranian arms or pictures of Qassem Suleimani, leader of Iran’s Quds force, but it is not less of a hindrance to resolving Iraq’s governance crisis.

Fourthly, while Iraq’s Sunnis are not necessarily true believers in the ideology of IS they are deeply distrustful of the Iraqi state. Since 2003 they have been consistently marginalised by the government, its bureaucracy and corrupt ‘checkpoint army’. Over time, Iraq’s state institutions have increasingly moved away from treating the country’s citizens impartially on the basis of the constitution. What remains of that state is perceived as having been captured by Iraq’s Shia, while benefiting from significant international military support. This is seen as deeply threatening by many Sunnis—especially in the light of atrocities such as those that followed the capture of Tikrit.

Finally, the international community may continue to pretend that the crisis in Iraq can be resolved without addressing the crisis in Syria, but this is wishful thinking. Not only does IS operate freely across the border—re-emerging in Iraq having regained strength in Syria—but also it is the combined outcomes of these wars which feature in regional calculations. So regional involvement is only likely to become more constructive if a solution to both conflicts can be identified which is acceptable to the main players: Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Counter-narrative

These five points provide a counter-narrative on the crisis in Iraq. Disturbingly, most of the west’s intervention—and a lot of its reporting—does not take this complexity much into account. Focused on driving IS out of Anbar province and Mosul city, the US-led international coalition has not addressed how Iraq can become a state which functions for all its citizens. Engaged in Iraq but neglecting the war in Syria, western countries risk strengthening IS or creating a successor sooner or later. And by accepting or even reinforcing simplistic, Sunni versus Shia framing, they reduce the agency of Iraqi actors who can play a more constructive role.

A nuanced understanding is needed of the various regional and domestic stakeholders, and a greater range of instruments than just humanitarian assistance and military intervention need to be deployed. The risk of the current approach is that if violence is brought to a halt it will be merely the silence before the next storm.

For more from the Knowledge Platform on Security and Rule of Law go to www.kpsrl.org/.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Iraq's phantom army Iraq, a new war's peril Country or region:  Iraq Topics:  Conflict Democracy and government
Categories: les flux rss

The Iraqi crisis: rethinking the narrative

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 14:13

An approach to Iraq focused on military intervention, with some humanitarian assistance, has defied the complexity of the domestic and regional kaleidoscope. No wonder it is failing.

The capture of Tikrit from Islamic State (IS) by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in early April, with the help of US airstrikes and Iranian advisors, appeared simultaneously to preserve and undermine the Iraqi state. While representing a significant territorial victory in the fight against IS, reports indicated that the group’s expulsion was followed by a wave of looting, summary executions and other atrocities, tarnishing the town’s ‘liberation’ and the forces associated with it.

While the ISF formally and visibly did the capturing, and took most of the credit, Iraq’s Shia militias dominated the first two weeks of the assault. These forces largely operate outside of state control—in spite of the recent move by the prime minister (and commander-in-chief), Haider al-Abadi, to bring them under his authority—and do most of the fighting against the Wahhabi-inspired Sunni IS.

The event fitted well into the common narrative of the conflict on which much of the west’s intervention against IS in Iraq is based. Its main elements—often espoused by US-, Israeli- and Gulf-based media and analysts—are questioning the chances of survival of the Iraqi state, perceiving IS as a signficant threat through the lens of global terrorism, framing Iran as the region’s challenger to the status quo, and suggesting that a fight for hegemony is taking place across the Middle East which pits Sunni against Shia regimes and groups. But this narrative is misleading.

Fear of implosion

First, it is doubtful that Iraq’s days as a unitary state are numbered. This proposition is mainly based on the combination of centrifugal domestic political forces—divergent Sunnis, Shia and Kurds—and centripetal regional forces influencing national affairs. Yet none of Iraq’s key neighbours (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey) wishes to see it disappear as a unitary state. They may prefer a weak Iraq for various reasons but they fear implosion bringing insecurity, radicalism, refugees and aspirations to self-determination across their borders.

Moreover, Iraq’s Sunnis have no viable alternative. A Sunni rump state is not only politically impossible given the record of the last ten years of radical groups emerging from Sunni-populated territorities, but also financially untenable. And Iraq’s Kurds are unlikely to declare independence in the face of resistance from both Turkey and Iran, considering their sizeable Kurdish populations. As long as Turkey transfers payments for Kurdish oil to the treasury in Bagdad instead of Erbil, the Kurds cannot really afford it either.

Secondly, and relatedly, Iraq’s Shia are more nationalistic and more fragmented than one might think. While some groups, such as Kataib Hezbollah, essentially owe allegiance to Tehran, far from all Shia militias are Iranian proxies—take Muqtada al-Sadr’s ‘Mahdi army’. And while Iraq’s Shia took up arms when IS arrived at the gates of Baghdad, this was much less a sectarian mobilisation than a response to a strident nationalistic call from the grand ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, which showed little symphathy for sectarian narratives. Al-Sistani’s influence is significant—he is perhaps as close as one can find to a national figure in Iraq—and in the Shia world his authority rivals, or even surpasses, that of his Iranian counterparts.

Thirdly, it is not just Iranian influence in Iraq which incentivises violence. While it is materially significant (advisors, weapons and funds), prolonged Saudi export of Wahhabism—its extremely conservative interpretation of Islam—has also played its part. As socio-religious influence, Wahhabism spreads more under the radar and with greater deniability than Iranian arms or pictures of Qassem Suleimani, leader of Iran’s Quds force, but it is not less of a hindrance to resolving Iraq’s governance crisis.

Fourthly, while Iraq’s Sunnis are not necessarily true believers in the ideology of IS they are deeply distrustful of the Iraqi state. Since 2003 they have been consistently marginalised by the government, its bureaucracy and corrupt ‘checkpoint army’. Over time, Iraq’s state institutions have increasingly moved away from treating the country’s citizens impartially on the basis of the constitution. What remains of that state is perceived as having been captured by Iraq’s Shia, while benefiting from significant international military support. This is seen as deeply threatening by many Sunnis—especially in the light of atrocities such as those that followed the capture of Tikrit.

Finally, the international community may continue to pretend that the crisis in Iraq can be resolved without addressing the crisis in Syria, but this is wishful thinking. Not only does IS operate freely across the border—re-emerging in Iraq having regained strength in Syria—but also it is the combined outcomes of these wars which feature in regional calculations. So regional involvement is only likely to become more constructive if a solution to both conflicts can be identified which is acceptable to the main players: Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Counter-narrative

These five points provide a counter-narrative on the crisis in Iraq. Disturbingly, most of the west’s intervention—and a lot of its reporting—does not take this complexity much into account. Focused on driving IS out of Anbar province and Mosul city, the US-led international coalition has not addressed how Iraq can become a state which functions for all its citizens. Engaged in Iraq but neglecting the war in Syria, western countries risk strengthening IS or creating a successor sooner or later. And by accepting or even reinforcing simplistic, Sunni versus Shia framing, they reduce the agency of Iraqi actors who can play a more constructive role.

A nuanced understanding is needed of the various regional and domestic stakeholders, and a greater range of instruments than just humanitarian assistance and military intervention need to be deployed. The risk of the current approach is that if violence is brought to a halt it will be merely the silence before the next storm.

For more from the Knowledge Platform on Security and Rule of Law go to www.kpsrl.org/.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Iraq's phantom army Iraq, a new war's peril Country or region:  Iraq Topics:  Conflict Democracy and government
Categories: les flux rss

The government must act to improve the human rights of dementia patients and carers

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 11:57

Few now question the right of parents to stay with children in hospital - so why don't patients with dementia have similar rights? A blog for Dementia Awareness week.

At least a third of hospital beds are now occupied by people with dementia – up from a quarter of beds six years ago, according to figures from the Alzheimer’s Society.   

John's Campaign is single-issue and simple. It is for the right of carers to stay with people with dementia if they are admitted to hospital. It is named for the father of my friend, the writer Nicci Gerrard, whose father’s dementia was catastrophically accelerated by a stay in hospital where he was largely cut off from his family.

In the 1960s we had to campaign for parents to have the right to stay with their children in hospital. Few question this right now. So why does the same right not apply to carers of people with dementia?

Currently, patients with dementia – usually admitted for unrelated conditions – have worse outcomes than similar patients who do not have dementia, according to the Alzheimers Society

They suffer acutely from fear, disorientation and stress. Their levels of nutrition and hydration are poor. Their mobility and continence suffers, they are at extra risk of delirium and falls. They need almost constant reassurance and practical help.

Ideally, more people with dementia would be treated at home – surrounded by people, and in an environment, they trust and recognise. But the reduced number of district nurses, the appalling lack of dementia specialist nurses (Admiral Nurses) working in the community and shortages of GPs to do home visits make good quality care at home hard to achieve.

So we have to improve the experience of people with dementia in hospitals. And progress has been far too slow.

So where are we, post-election?

Thanks to Valerie Vaz MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham, Labour’s election manifesto pledged to incorporate this right into the NHS Constitution – something we will continue to campaign for.

In the last weeks of the last government Norman Lamb (Lib Dem Junior Health Minister) and dementia 'tsar' Alistair Burns wrote jointly to the Chief Executives of all acute hospital trusts in England, asking them to facilitate carers' wish to stay outside of regular visiting hours and overnight if necessary.

We hope that this letter will be acted on and receive the publicity it deserves – but there needs to be a stronger requirement – a right.

Despite a friendly and encouraging letter from David Cameron, who has taken a personal interest in dementia strategy since 2010 – current government policy is that 'visiting hours are a matter for individual hospitals to decide' –which leaves us needing to persuade hospital by hospital across the country that carers are different from visitors and that access should be granted as a right. Not only as a right for the carers but as a right for the patient. We have found ourselves rephrasing our central demand – switching the right of carers to stay with people with dementia to the right of people with dementia to have their carers with them if they are admitted to hospital.

Sarah-Jane Marsh, CEO of Birmingham Children's Hospital, commented that she saw 'no reason at all' why the approach they adopt towards involving families could not work equally well in adult hospitals.

Some hospital trusts are already beginning to change their practices. Both Bristol University and North Bristol Hospital Trusts have welcomed carers of people with any degree of dependency throughout their hospital system for the past five years. The Heart of England Trust in Birmingham recently took the decision to scrap visiting hours entirely – for everyone, not only carers.  A greater number of trusts or even individual wards find ways to differentiate carers from the generality of visitors (for example Imperial College Healthcare Trust has adopted ‘Carers Passports’). This then allows them to offer carers access at whatever time may be most helpful, including overnight. Imperial are also putting 'Carers Welcome' posters on all their ward doors to ram the message home. Other trusts are making similar decisions: Kingston, UCL, Royal Free in London, Trafford Hospital in Manchester, Brighton and Sussex University Hospital, the Countess of Chester Hospital, Basildon Hospital, Cheltenham and Gloucester. Then there are individual centres of excellence such as Professor Rowan Harwood's Medical and Mental Unit in Nottingham University Hospital Trust and Dr David Oliver's ward in the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

Pledges of support have come from the British Geriatric Society, the Alzheimers Society, Dementia UK, the Gold Standards Framework (end-of-life care), and Carers UK. Most recently Parkinsons UK publicly stated their support, seeing John’s Campaign as a way of helping their Get-It-On-Time initiative.

It does seem astonishing that we need a group like Parkinsons UK to campaign to ensure medicines are given at the right times during a hospital admission.

But our campaign has as one of our two guiding principles, that this will never be a campaign that blames individual nurses. The problem is huge, complex hospitals, and staffing levels stretched to breaking point.

Our campaign is not about getting nursing care on the cheap - nor an alternative to all the other improvements that are needed to make hospitals more dementia-friendly environments.

But we need to recognise that in today’s overstretched hospitals, nurses are simply not able to cope with the degree of nurture needed by someone with dementia as well as providing the essential professional nursing.

Our second key principle is that there will never be emotional pressure on carers. We want the right to stay with our loved ones in hospital, not the duty.

A few have suggested that carers should be allowed to ‘leave it to the nurses’ as they need respite from often 24/7 care. And indeed they should. But true ‘respite’ care is best offered when carers know that the person they care for is reasonably contented and secure, not when they are ill and at their most needy.

Of course, not all patients will have carers able to assist. But that is no reason not to accept help from those who are able and willing. Wards where carers are welcome confirm that their presence has the potential to improve the experience for all.

We have met with understanding and support from nurses at all levels. The Royal College of Nursing were quick to offer encouragement. England's Chief Nursing Officer, Jane Cummings, is currently promoting John's Campaign. Earlier this month I was invited to talk to a group of newly recruited Health Care Assistants in Essex who were giving the campaign their own equally enthusiastic support.

Andy Tysoe, a dementia nurse, described carers as the 'cognitive ramp' for his patients – like a guide dog, a hearing aid, a crutch or an interpreter.

Looked at from this perspective John's Campaign becomes an issue of equality, of disability discrimination, of mental capacity and informed consent. Suddenly it is something much too important to be left to a couple of middle-aged women and their kindly well-wishers. Despite the inestimable support we have received within six months, John's Campaign will only succeed if it effects a complete culture change. If it becomes the norm to ensure that vulnerable patients whose well-being and ability to function depends on others are never unnecessarily deprived of that support. This is something that should concern us all: I believe it is an issue of human rights. 

Categories: les flux rss

The government must act to improve the human rights of dementia patients and carers

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 11:57

Few now question the right of parents to stay with children in hospital - so why don't patients with dementia have similar rights? A blog for Dementia Awareness week.

Image: the writer Nicci Gerard with her father John

At least a third of hospital beds are now occupied by people with dementia – up from a quarter of beds six years ago, according to figures from the Alzheimer’s Society.   

John's Campaign is single-issue and simple. It is for the right of carers to stay with people with dementia if they are admitted to hospital. It is named for the father of my friend, the writer Nicci Gerrard, whose father’s dementia was catastrophically accelerated by a stay in hospital where he was largely cut off from his family.

In the 1960s we had to campaign for parents to have the right to stay with their children in hospital. Few question this right now. So why does the same right not apply to carers of people with dementia?

Currently, patients with dementia – usually admitted for unrelated conditions – have worse outcomes than similar patients who do not have dementia, according to the Alzheimers Society

They suffer acutely from fear, disorientation and stress. Their levels of nutrition and hydration are poor. Their mobility and continence suffers, they are at extra risk of delirium and falls. They need almost constant reassurance and practical help.

Ideally, more people with dementia would be treated at home – surrounded by people, and in an environment, they trust and recognise. But the reduced number of district nurses, the appalling lack of dementia specialist nurses (Admiral Nurses) working in the community and shortages of GPs to do home visits make good quality care at home hard to achieve.

So we have to improve the experience of people with dementia in hospitals. And progress has been far too slow.

So where are we, post-election?

Thanks to Valerie Vaz MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham, Labour’s election manifesto pledged to incorporate this right into the NHS Constitution – something we will continue to campaign for.

In the last weeks of the last government Norman Lamb (Lib Dem Junior Health Minister) and dementia 'tsar' Alistair Burns wrote jointly to the Chief Executives of all acute hospital trusts in England, asking them to facilitate carers' wish to stay outside of regular visiting hours and overnight if necessary.

We hope that this letter will be acted on and receive the publicity it deserves – but there needs to be a stronger requirement – a right.

Despite a friendly and encouraging letter from David Cameron, who has taken a personal interest in dementia strategy since 2010 – current government policy is that 'visiting hours are a matter for individual hospitals to decide' –which leaves us needing to persuade hospital by hospital across the country that carers are different from visitors and that access should be granted as a right. Not only as a right for the carers but as a right for the patient. We have found ourselves rephrasing our central demand – switching the right of carers to stay with people with dementia to the right of people with dementia to have their carers with them if they are admitted to hospital.

Sarah-Jane Marsh, CEO of Birmingham Children's Hospital, commented that she saw 'no reason at all' why the approach they adopt towards involving families could not work equally well in adult hospitals.

Some hospital trusts are already beginning to change their practices. Both Bristol University and North Bristol Hospital Trusts have welcomed carers of people with any degree of dependency throughout their hospital system for the past five years. The Heart of England Trust in Birmingham recently took the decision to scrap visiting hours entirely – for everyone, not only carers.  A greater number of trusts or even individual wards find ways to differentiate carers from the generality of visitors (for example Imperial College Healthcare Trust has adopted ‘Carers Passports’). This then allows them to offer carers access at whatever time may be most helpful, including overnight. Imperial are also putting 'Carers Welcome' posters on all their ward doors to ram the message home. Other trusts are making similar decisions: Kingston, UCL, Royal Free in London, Trafford Hospital in Manchester, Brighton and Sussex University Hospital, the Countess of Chester Hospital, Basildon Hospital, Cheltenham and Gloucester. Then there are individual centres of excellence such as Professor Rowan Harwood's Medical and Mental Unit in Nottingham University Hospital Trust and Dr David Oliver's ward in the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

Pledges of support have come from the British Geriatric Society, the Alzheimers Society, Dementia UK, the Gold Standards Framework (end-of-life care), and Carers UK. Most recently Parkinsons UK publicly stated their support, seeing John’s Campaign as a way of helping their Get-It-On-Time initiative.

It does seem astonishing that we need a group like Parkinsons UK to campaign to ensure medicines are given at the right times during a hospital admission.

But our campaign has as one of our two guiding principles, that this will never be a campaign that blames individual nurses. The problem is huge, complex hospitals, and staffing levels stretched to breaking point.

Our campaign is not about getting nursing care on the cheap - nor an alternative to all the other improvements that are needed to make hospitals more dementia-friendly environments.

But we need to recognise that in today’s overstretched hospitals, nurses are simply not able to cope with the degree of nurture needed by someone with dementia as well as providing the essential professional nursing.

Our second key principle is that there will never be emotional pressure on carers. We want the right to stay with our loved ones in hospital, not the duty.

A few have suggested that carers should be allowed to ‘leave it to the nurses’ as they need respite from often 24/7 care. And indeed they should. But true ‘respite’ care is best offered when carers know that the person they care for is reasonably contented and secure, not when they are ill and at their most needy.

Of course, not all patients will have carers able to assist. But that is no reason not to accept help from those who are able and willing. Wards where carers are welcome confirm that their presence has the potential to improve the experience for all.

We have met with understanding and support from nurses at all levels. The Royal College of Nursing were quick to offer encouragement. England's Chief Nursing Officer, Jane Cummings, is currently promoting John's Campaign. Earlier this month I was invited to talk to a group of newly recruited Health Care Assistants in Essex who were giving the campaign their own equally enthusiastic support.

Andy Tysoe, a dementia nurse, described carers as the 'cognitive ramp' for his patients – like a guide dog, a hearing aid, a crutch or an interpreter.

 

Looked at from this perspective John's Campaign becomes an issue of equality, of disability discrimination, of mental capacity and informed consent. Suddenly it is something much too important to be left to a couple of middle-aged women and their kindly well-wishers. Despite the estimable support we have received within six months, John's Campaign will only succeed if it effects a complete culture change. If it becomes the norm to ensure that vulnerable patients whose well-being and ability to function depends on others are never unnecessarily deprived of that support. This is something that should concern us all: I believe it is an issue of human rights. 

Categories: les flux rss

The EU referendum - what is the question though?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 9:02

Cameron will almost certainly opt for the least democratic question - a simple yes no, just as he did on the electoral reform vote. There is a much better way to calculate the public will and people should demand it.

Flickr/YanniKouts. Some rights reserved.

The Scottish referendum asked the wrong question, so we got the wrong answer, and we are now reaping the consequences. Likewise, the 2011 referendum on electoral reform asked the wrong question, and we still don’t know the opinions of the UK electorate on PR. And so it goes on. 

The UK’s membership of the EU is not a two-option question. If the EU referendum offers only two options, the outcome may well be an inaccurate reflection of the collective will. The democratic process should not be one by which those in power control everything, subject to the people’s ratification. Rather, it should allow the people (or its parliament) to decide, and then the executive, the government, should execute that decision.

Accordingly, this article first critiques a few previous referendums – Scotland in 2014, electoral reform (sic) in 2011, and, as an outside example, France’s 2005 plebiscite on the Lisbon Treaty. It then considers the proposed UK referendum on the EU before outlining a better methodology.

Scotland

The debate consisted of three options: (a) independence, (b) ‘devo-max’ and (c) the status quo.  When the Edinburgh Agreement was signed, however, David Cameron stipulated that the ballot paper was to list only (a) and (c), thereby putting any (b) supporters into a bit of a quandary.

When the opinion polls indicated growing support for (a), the Westminster parties changed (c) into (b).  But because (b) was not on the ballot paper, the levels of support for both (a) and (c) were artificially high. If ‘devo-max’ had been included in a three-option ballot, it would probably have won by a huge margin. Furthermore, the Scots (and everyone else) would have obtained a much clearer understanding of Scottish public opinion.

Electoral Reform

The debate consisted of many options; there are, after all, over 300 electoral systems to choose from. But again, Mr. Cameron decided that the choice should be restricted to just two of them: first-past-the-post, FPTP, and the alternative vote, AV. For any supporter of PR, however, that question – “Would you like FPTP or AV?” – was as nonsensical as that of the waiter who asks the vegetarian, “Beef or lamb?”

When New Zealand debated the same topic of electoral reform 25 years ago – much to the horror of the political establishment – they first had a public enquiry, as a result of which a multi-option ballot of five electoral systems was presented to the people: AV and FPTP, two forms of PR, and one in the middle. So four proposals meant change, and one, FPTP, was the status quo. A majority voted for change, so then, in a second round – the most popular option versus that status quo – a majority again voted for change. So New Zealand now has multi-member proportional, MMP, the German system (and they also have lots of coalition governments).

In the UK, however, there is a huge reluctance to consider multi-option voting. The Electoral Commission, which is charged by law to consider the fairness of any referendum question, decreed that both of the above questions were fair; multi-option voting, in their book, is off-limits.  Similarly, in a one-hour documentary on referendums just prior to the 2011 poll, and despite my prompting prior to the broadcast, the BBC refused to even mention multi-option ballots, let alone discuss the New Zealand example. And various academics also refuse to ponder the merits of a more plural form of decision-making, thereby perpetuating the false notion that, to be democratic, decisions must be taken by a (simple or weighted) majority; so questions must be dichotomous; so politics must be adversarial. An inclusive political structure is just not on their agenda.

France, 2005, the Lisbon Treaty

The question was “Approuvez-vous?”oui ou non?’ So those who liked the (EU and the) treaty said oui, while those who did not approve of either the treaty, and/or the EU per se, and/or Jacques Chirac, and/or McDonalds, and/or je ne sais quoi, all voted non. So non won 54.7 to 45.3 per cent.

At the very least, (as in Scotland – and even on this point, the Electoral Commission was at fault), the ballot should have consisted of two positive questions: “would you like the EU to adopt the Lisbon Treaty – the EU comme ci?” or “would you like the EU to continue as at present – the EU comme ça?”

Better still, of course, would have been a multi-option poll, which brings us to the present.

The UK and the EU

The UK’s relationship with the EU is multi-optional. The obvious option is the status quo: membership as is. A second option may well be membership as soon to be re-negotiated, with opt-outs or whatever. A third is an arrangement, similar to that negotiated by Norway or Switzerland for their relationships with the EU. And a fourth might be no relationship at all.

A Better Methodology

As in New Zealand, therefore, the more democratic approach would be to ask an independent commission to consider what options might be presented in any referendum. The public (and the political parties) would be allowed to make submissions and, on this basis, the commission would draw up a list of about four to six options, which would then be presented to the electorate. The decision of the people would then be implemented by the government.

There are many forms of multi-option voting. In some, voters may cast only a single preference; in others, they may choose a few options; while in a third category, people can cast preferences on all of the options. Obviously, the more information the voter can express, the more accurate might be any analysis of their opinions; and one of the third category of voting procedures – the modified Borda count, MBC – enables and indeed encourages the voter to cast a full slate of preferences. At best, then, the analysis can identify that option which is most acceptable to all, namely, the option with the highest average preference. And an average, of course, involves everybody, not just a majority: such an outcome is the most accurate assessment of the collective will.

Conclusion

In a plural democracy, as it were by definition, nearly every question will prompt a plurality of possible solutions; furthermore, on those occasions when the question is definitely dichotomous, as in Sweden’s 1955 referendum on the question, “which side of the road shall we drive on?” there can still be more than two options on the ballot paper: in this instance, it was a three-option poll: ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘blank’. Accordingly, on any contentious issue, and in what should therefore be a multi-option scenario, there should always be a multiple-choice ballot. A referendum cannot be fair, if someone has restricted the choice to a binary (and divisive) question.

It has been decided that the people will vote, in a free and fair referendum, on what is to be the future relationship of the UK in the EU. If that vote is to be truly free, it must not be restricted by Mr. Cameron or anyone else to a binary choice of just two options.

In an MBC, no-body votes ‘against’ anything. Instead, albeit in their order of preference, people vote ‘for’ the various options. Furthermore, politicians and others may argue, not only for their favoured option, but also for their second choice. A divisive two-option referendum often causes tensions, as in Scotland; bitterness, as in Ireland’s divorce referendum; or even violence, as in the Balkans, where “all the wars in the former Yugoslavia started with a referendum,” (Oslobodjenje, 7.2.1999).  In contrast, a multi-option poll is likely to be the catalyst of a much more tolerant campaign, and a much more accurate calculation of “the will of the people”.

Categories: les flux rss

The EU referendum - what is the question though?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 9:02

Cameron will almost certainly opt for the least democratic question - a simple yes no, just as he did on the electoral reform vote. There is a much better way to calculate the public will and people should demand it.

Flickr/YanniKouts. Some rights reserved.

The Scottish referendum asked the wrong question, so we got the wrong answer, and we are now reaping the consequences. Likewise, the 2011 referendum on electoral reform asked the wrong question, and we still don’t know the opinions of the UK electorate on PR. And so it goes on. 

The UK’s membership of the EU is not a two-option question. If the EU referendum offers only two options, the outcome may well be an inaccurate reflection of the collective will. The democratic process should not be one by which those in power control everything, subject to the people’s ratification. Rather, it should allow the people (or its parliament) to decide, and then the executive, the government, should execute that decision.

Accordingly, this article first critiques a few previous referendums – Scotland in 2014, electoral reform (sic) in 2011, and, as an outside example, France’s 2005 plebiscite on the Lisbon Treaty. It then considers the proposed UK referendum on the EU before outlining a better methodology.

Scotland

The debate consisted of three options: (a) independence, (b) ‘devo-max’ and (c) the status quo.  When the Edinburgh Agreement was signed, however, David Cameron stipulated that the ballot paper was to list only (a) and (c), thereby putting any (b) supporters into a bit of a quandary.

When the opinion polls indicated growing support for (a), the Westminster parties changed (c) into (b).  But because (b) was not on the ballot paper, the levels of support for both (a) and (c) were artificially high. If ‘devo-max’ had been included in a three-option ballot, it would probably have won by a huge margin. Furthermore, the Scots (and everyone else) would have obtained a much clearer understanding of Scottish public opinion.

Electoral Reform

The debate consisted of many options; there are, after all, over 300 electoral systems to choose from. But again, Mr. Cameron decided that the choice should be restricted to just two of them: first-past-the-post, FPTP, and the alternative vote, AV. For any supporter of PR, however, that question – “Would you like FPTP or AV?” – was as nonsensical as that of the waiter who asks the vegetarian, “Beef or lamb?”

When New Zealand debated the same topic of electoral reform 25 years ago – much to the horror of the political establishment – they first had a public enquiry, as a result of which a multi-option ballot of five electoral systems was presented to the people: AV and FPTP, two forms of PR, and one in the middle. So four proposals meant change, and one, FPTP, was the status quo. A majority voted for change, so then, in a second round – the most popular option versus that status quo – a majority again voted for change. So New Zealand now has multi-member proportional, MMP, the German system (and they also have lots of coalition governments).

In the UK, however, there is a huge reluctance to consider multi-option voting. The Electoral Commission, which is charged by law to consider the fairness of any referendum question, decreed that both of the above questions were fair; multi-option voting, in their book, is off-limits.  Similarly, in a one-hour documentary on referendums just prior to the 2011 poll, and despite my prompting prior to the broadcast, the BBC refused to even mention multi-option ballots, let alone discuss the New Zealand example. And various academics also refuse to ponder the merits of a more plural form of decision-making, thereby perpetuating the false notion that, to be democratic, decisions must be taken by a (simple or weighted) majority; so questions must be dichotomous; so politics must be adversarial. An inclusive political structure is just not on their agenda.

France, 2005, the Lisbon Treaty

The question was “Approuvez-vous?”oui ou non?’ So those who liked the (EU and the) treaty said oui, while those who did not approve of either the treaty, and/or the EU per se, and/or Jacques Chirac, and/or McDonalds, and/or je ne sais quoi, all voted non. So non won 54.7 to 45.3 per cent.

At the very least, (as in Scotland – and even on this point, the Electoral Commission was at fault), the ballot should have consisted of two positive questions: “would you like the EU to adopt the Lisbon Treaty – the EU comme ci?” or “would you like the EU to continue as at present – the EU comme ça?”

Better still, of course, would have been a multi-option poll, which brings us to the present.

The UK and the EU

The UK’s relationship with the EU is multi-optional. The obvious option is the status quo: membership as is. A second option may well be membership as soon to be re-negotiated, with opt-outs or whatever. A third is an arrangement, similar to that negotiated by Norway or Switzerland for their relationships with the EU. And a fourth might be no relationship at all.

A Better Methodology

As in New Zealand, therefore, the more democratic approach would be to ask an independent commission to consider what options might be presented in any referendum. The public (and the political parties) would be allowed to make submissions and, on this basis, the commission would draw up a list of about four to six options, which would then be presented to the electorate. The decision of the people would then be implemented by the government.

There are many forms of multi-option voting. In some, voters may cast only a single preference; in others, they may choose a few options; while in a third category, people can cast preferences on all of the options. Obviously, the more information the voter can express, the more accurate might be any analysis of their opinions; and one of the third category of voting procedures – the modified Borda count, MBC – enables and indeed encourages the voter to cast a full slate of preferences. At best, then, the analysis can identify that option which is most acceptable to all, namely, the option with the highest average preference. And an average, of course, involves everybody, not just a majority: such an outcome is the most accurate assessment of the collective will.

Conclusion

In a plural democracy, as it were by definition, nearly every question will prompt a plurality of possible solutions; furthermore, on those occasions when the question is definitely dichotomous, as in Sweden’s 1955 referendum on the question, “which side of the road shall we drive on?” there can still be more than two options on the ballot paper: in this instance, it was a three-option poll: ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘blank’. Accordingly, on any contentious issue, and in what should therefore be a multi-option scenario, there should always be a multiple-choice ballot. A referendum cannot be fair, if someone has restricted the choice to a binary (and divisive) question.

It has been decided that the people will vote, in a free and fair referendum, on what is to be the future relationship of the UK in the EU. If that vote is to be truly free, it must not be restricted by Mr. Cameron or anyone else to a binary choice of just two options.

In an MBC, no-body votes ‘against’ anything. Instead, albeit in their order of preference, people vote ‘for’ the various options. Furthermore, politicians and others may argue, not only for their favoured option, but also for their second choice. A divisive two-option referendum often causes tensions, as in Scotland; bitterness, as in Ireland’s divorce referendum; or even violence, as in the Balkans, where “all the wars in the former Yugoslavia started with a referendum,” (Oslobodjenje, 7.2.1999).  In contrast, a multi-option poll is likely to be the catalyst of a much more tolerant campaign, and a much more accurate calculation of “the will of the people”.

Categories: les flux rss

10 questions for the Labour Party

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 9:02

Labour's problems cannot be fixed by minor tweaks. They need to address the big questions.

Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper. Flickr/labour_party_uk

The UK general election was tumultuous and the results, particularly for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, disastrous. Of course, the position of Labour is better than that of the Liberal Democrats, but the combined fate of their decline is disheartening and disorienting for anyone on the centre- left. The surprise and shock of the outcome to many was, of course, fuelled by the false trail of expectations led by the polls. But when all is said and done the results were seismic.

Into the chasm of failure have stepped would-be leaders with manifestos and numerous commentators, nearly all offering instant solutions that would push the party further to the left, centre or right. I have read countless attempts to tell the Labour party where they went wrong. The enemies of the party bask in the glow of these fragilities while everyone else seems to rush in with ready-made solutions.

The rush to provide instant solutions to tomorrow’s problems is mistaken and will not help rebuild the crumbled edifice of Labour. Instead, I think the failure of Labour raises some very important questions, which need to be thought through carefully. This is a moment for deliberation about the key questions ahead; not a moment for false closure which will produce the semblance of a new direction without the foundations of one. The questions have to be right before answers sought.

The economy: getting the economic argument right is the typical difference between success and failure in electoral politics. Labour produced two unconvincing narratives. First, it failed to give a convincing account of what went wrong leading up to the global financial crisis. The Newsnight incident made this painfully apparent. But there was a further question about projecting a compelling account about what should be done next for the British economy. The latter issue is extremely difficult to think through, given the increasingly prominent role of financial capital in the British economy, its weak industrial base, the pull of London and the heavy internationalisation of the UK economy, involving Europe and the wider international community. Where does Labour want to take the British economy? And, moreover, how? These are difficult questions, but without a convincing response, the Tories will often seem the safer bet.

Green politics: Labour was almost silent in the election campaign on green issues and climate change; they became the preserve of the Green Party. Britain has, in many ways, become a global leader on these issues; yet, it is unclear now whether Labour can remain the torch-bearer for environmental stewardship. How did this sorrowful state of affairs arise? But there is an even more significant point. Thinking about what is next for the British economy is intimately tied to thinking about green energy, the tax structure, and a host of related issues. One of the biggest challenges facing any attempt to mitigate climate change is the question: how can one incentivise a shift from a high to low carbon economy? If the world as we know it is to survive till the end of this century, finding an answer to this question is not optional. Moreover, there can be no convincing account of what is next for the British economy without a compelling account of how to green it.

Tax and spending: the Labour party policies throughout the election appeared to squeeze the middle class. The combination of the mansion tax and the restoration of the 50% tax band allowed the media to have a field day. Irrespective of the media, the combination of these two taxes created a swathe of uncertainty among middle class voters. Uncertainty about how to vote in a general election is typically resolved in favour of the incumbent. This raises the bigger question of: who was the Labour party appealing to? Leaving out the middle classes in the UK voting system risks being something of a suicide note. The policies failed to speak to the job creators and those who make substantial contributions to a productive economy. It has long been said that Labour cannot win by just appealing to its traditional core. The election confirmed the question of how the Labour party can win unless it is a coalition of progressive voters across class boundaries.

Nationalism: caught between Scottish and English nationalism, the Labour party appeared to flounder. For years the signals of growing Scottish nationalism were misunderstood; and the rise of the English anxiety about the Union was left unaddressed. The Labour party was caught like a deer in headlights. Labour’s traditional internationalism, and its uncritical attachment to Europe, has remained unchanged despite the evident uncertainties that national communities face in the context of decades of neoliberal globalisation. Reactions to the latter have been intense and growing, with domestic political communities seeking to rearticulate the meaning of self-determination free of domination by outside forces. The question for Labour is: how can Labour balance a commitment to cosmopolitan values and aspirations, with a reappraisal of the concerns of nationalism in a global age? The doctrine of cosmopolitanism helps here. The principles of cosmopolitanism underpin both a claim to universality and a celebration of locality and difference; to treat each person as free and equal, and to recognise equal rights to self-determination means recognising both the universality of these principles and their necessary particular instantiation. How to combine cosmopolitanism with national self-determination remains an abiding issue.

Migration: the Labour party always seem to be in a slip stream in the debate about migration. Here too there is a paradox. On the one hand, the demographics of Europe mean that as economies grow, the labour supply is insufficient in a number of categories. On the other hand, prevailing anxieties about migration cause reaction and xenophobia. The categories of migration, however, need to be rethought at the national and wider levels. People fear that migrants might take away opportunities at a time of high unemployment and pressures on the standard of living. But there is a whole wealth of difference between, for example, the rights of permanent settlement and limited rights of economic settlement which may be restricted to a few years by visa specifications. Moreover, the serious plight of refugees should not be confused with those for whom migration is a choice. All these issues need rethinking and the nature and form of migration, and policy responses to it, need to be reconceptualised. How will Labour address the growing, and increasingly complex, issue of migration?

Inequality: breakneck neoliberal globalisation, linked to the financialisation of capitalism, has done little to alleviate inequality and poverty. The forces of globalisation and economic change have left millions marginalised and provided an opportunity for parties like UKIP to mobilise the disenfranchised.  Global production chains and deindustrialisation have left many disheartened and feeling powerless. But the link between globalisation and inequality is not the same across the world. State policies can mediate this link in significant ways as is abundantly clear from the managed entry to the global economy of many successful developing countries. Robust state institutions can shape the impact of the market in ways that produce more progressive outcomes. Attacking aspiration and a rising middle class (see point 3 above), often yields little income and does not touch the deep roots of economic inequality and poverty. These roots lie, in significant part, in the mobility of capital while the state and labour remain relatively immobile. The question is, can the Labour party rethink these links and provide a credible way of taxing and constraining mobile wealth, in coalition with other states and regional blocks?

Power: the decisions that affect people’s everyday lives are often made by people and companies in far off territories. The connection between capital and labour, that was once defined by a common space in a city or a region, is now broken. As such, how will Labour respond to the dynamic nature of power in an increasingly globalised world, whilst also guaranteeing the kind of domestic protections it has always championed? Large companies dwarf many small countries and can put states on a defensive when it comes to attracting jobs. But it is not just simply the power of large companies that has this effect. Futile decisions in Brussels or elsewhere on what constitutes a sausage or a chocolate, inevitably spark incredulity as much as hostility. Political regionalisation and economic globalisation raise acute issues about the reach of state-based accountability and the responsiveness of supranational entities. The former, without entrenchment in wider systems of democracy and accountability, create pressing questions about the nature and meaning of political community today.

Democracy and constitutionalism: right from the beginning the universal principles of equality, freedom and solidarity were spliced together with state formation. Yet there is only a contingent relationship between these principles and the state itself. The principles can be embedded at many different levels, as is already apparent today: citizens can be active members of their cities, regions, national states, and supranational regions. And if that is not enough, these principles can be entrenched in social movements putting pressure on international organisations, and in these organisations themselves. Over the last several decades the clash between state sovereignty and individual sovereignty (sovereignty linked to human rights and democratic standards) has tended to be resolved in international law in favour of the latter. Constitutional principles and democratic public spheres can, accordingly, be entrenched at diverse levels. In the context of the question how the UK might survive with the flourishing of nationalisms, these ideas provide tentative responses. Just as cosmopolitanism is an intersection of universality and diversity, contemporary political communities can only flourish as multilevel and multilayered polities – cities, regions, states, and international communities – woven together by principles of democracy and justice. This is a project to be developed in response to the question: how can politics be rearticulated to ensure both domestic (inward) and international (outward) democratic authority?

Defence: the Labour party seems to be boxed into a corner on defence and security. These issues matter but delivering them within the current structure of the British military and the deployment of weapons of mass destruction is another question. Trident no longer deters enemies and is a grotesquely expensive weapon system. If nuclear weapons have to be defended, there are cheaper ways of deploying them. But, why does Labour need to become the party of nuclear weapons? Britain has become a small/medium-sized power that still feeds too uncritically on its imperial past. In the unstable world of today, where fragile and failed states throw up new patterns of insecurity, the challenge is to develop an appropriate defence and security capacity for a very different set of security challenges than that which characterised the Cold War. The SNP were too often depicted as wild and delusional for challenging Trident. Yet, they raise a fundamental question about whether Trident is the right and the most appropriate military solution. Being boxed in by the Conservatives on this is a failure of imagination, strategy and tactics.

Technology: there is a profound dislocation between the growing immediacy of digital connectivity in everybody’s life and a political process that still functions in, and depends on, the institutions established with the rise of the modern state. Communicating through digital technology in terms of delivering a core message, will alone hardly convince most young voters. These technologies create the capacity for new kinds of politics, with interactivity and reciprocity at their core. Selling core ideas through digital technology will not fire the imagination of young people: encouraging them to contribute to the shaping of policy through these technologies may. Digital technologies have the capacity now to reshape the meaning of democratic practice. How can digital technologies be deployed to advance the quality and interactivity of the democratic public sphere? This is a question now well-worth exploring.

The Labour party needs to think through these issues and produce a convincing account of the changing nature of society, appropriate policies, and of what a Labour leadership can deliver that is distinctive and compelling. But even having “right policies”, while central to some constituencies, may not touch core concerns of the average voter. No amount of intellectual examination of the policy questions should neglect this question. It matters greatly where the voters’ concerns lie, and accessing these depends on more than talking to the proverbial taxi driver. At the end of the day, most people go to the ballot box worrying about job security, community, family, and services that they need. Unless the elaboration of policies connect to these fundamental concerns they might as well stay in think tanks and university seminars.

A politics that fails to become part of a wider social conversation with all those whom it seeks to encompass, will be a politics that in the end shrivels up. A renewed Labour project must conjoin with public debate and democratic politics at all levels; without this a proposed set of policies, or new interpretation of the nature and form of contemporary politics and economics, will not become an actual understanding or agreement among others, let alone a basis for action. 

 

OurKingdom doesn’t have a billionaire proprietor telling us what to write - we rely on donations from readers like you. Please support us if you can.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Reflections on the election: lessons to be learned... Those who half make reformism dig only their own graves Despite the election result, most people in the UK want an end to austerity
Categories: les flux rss

10 questions for the Labour Party

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 9:02

Labour's problems cannot be fixed by minor tweaks. They need to address the big questions.

Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper. Flickr/labour_party_uk

The UK general election was tumultuous and the results, particularly for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, disastrous. Of course, the position of Labour is better than that of the Liberal Democrats, but the combined fate of their decline is disheartening and disorienting for anyone on the centre- left. The surprise and shock of the outcome to many was, of course, fuelled by the false trail of expectations led by the polls. But when all is said and done the results were seismic.

Into the chasm of failure have stepped would-be leaders with manifestos and numerous commentators, nearly all offering instant solutions that would push the party further to the left, centre or right. I have read countless attempts to tell the Labour party where they went wrong. The enemies of the party bask in the glow of these fragilities while everyone else seems to rush in with ready-made solutions.

The rush to provide instant solutions to tomorrow’s problems is mistaken and will not help rebuild the crumbled edifice of Labour. Instead, I think the failure of Labour raises some very important questions, which need to be thought through carefully. This is a moment for deliberation about the key questions ahead; not a moment for false closure which will produce the semblance of a new direction without the foundations of one. The questions have to be right before answers sought.

The economy: getting the economic argument right is the typical difference between success and failure in electoral politics. Labour produced two unconvincing narratives. First, it failed to give a convincing account of what went wrong leading up to the global financial crisis. The Newsnight incident made this painfully apparent. But there was a further question about projecting a compelling account about what should be done next for the British economy. The latter issue is extremely difficult to think through, given the increasingly prominent role of financial capital in the British economy, its weak industrial base, the pull of London and the heavy internationalisation of the UK economy, involving Europe and the wider international community. Where does Labour want to take the British economy? And, moreover, how? These are difficult questions, but without a convincing response, the Tories will often seem the safer bet.

Green politics: Labour was almost silent in the election campaign on green issues and climate change; they became the preserve of the Green Party. Britain has, in many ways, become a global leader on these issues; yet, it is unclear now whether Labour can remain the torch-bearer for environmental stewardship. How did this sorrowful state of affairs arise? But there is an even more significant point. Thinking about what is next for the British economy is intimately tied to thinking about green energy, the tax structure, and a host of related issues. One of the biggest challenges facing any attempt to mitigate climate change is the question: how can one incentivise a shift from a high to low carbon economy? If the world as we know it is to survive till the end of this century, finding an answer to this question is not optional. Moreover, there can be no convincing account of what is next for the British economy without a compelling account of how to green it.

Tax and spending: the Labour party policies throughout the election appeared to squeeze the middle class. The combination of the mansion tax and the restoration of the 50% tax band allowed the media to have a field day. Irrespective of the media, the combination of these two taxes created a swathe of uncertainty among middle class voters. Uncertainty about how to vote in a general election is typically resolved in favour of the incumbent. This raises the bigger question of: who was the Labour party appealing to? Leaving out the middle classes in the UK voting system risks being something of a suicide note. The policies failed to speak to the job creators and those who make substantial contributions to a productive economy. It has long been said that Labour cannot win by just appealing to its traditional core. The election confirmed the question of how the Labour party can win unless it is a coalition of progressive voters across class boundaries.

Nationalism: caught between Scottish and English nationalism, the Labour party appeared to flounder. For years the signals of growing Scottish nationalism were misunderstood; and the rise of the English anxiety about the Union was left unaddressed. The Labour party was caught like a deer in headlights. Labour’s traditional internationalism, and its uncritical attachment to Europe, has remained unchanged despite the evident uncertainties that national communities face in the context of decades of neoliberal globalisation. Reactions to the latter have been intense and growing, with domestic political communities seeking to rearticulate the meaning of self-determination free of domination by outside forces. The question for Labour is: how can Labour balance a commitment to cosmopolitan values and aspirations, with a reappraisal of the concerns of nationalism in a global age? The doctrine of cosmopolitanism helps here. The principles of cosmopolitanism underpin both a claim to universality and a celebration of locality and difference; to treat each person as free and equal, and to recognise equal rights to self-determination means recognising both the universality of these principles and their necessary particular instantiation. How to combine cosmopolitanism with national self-determination remains an abiding issue.

Migration: the Labour party always seem to be in a slip stream in the debate about migration. Here too there is a paradox. On the one hand, the demographics of Europe mean that as economies grow, the labour supply is insufficient in a number of categories. On the other hand, prevailing anxieties about migration cause reaction and xenophobia. The categories of migration, however, need to be rethought at the national and wider levels. People fear that migrants might take away opportunities at a time of high unemployment and pressures on the standard of living. But there is a whole wealth of difference between, for example, the rights of permanent settlement and limited rights of economic settlement which may be restricted to a few years by visa specifications. Moreover, the serious plight of refugees should not be confused with those for whom migration is a choice. All these issues need rethinking and the nature and form of migration, and policy responses to it, need to be reconceptualised. How will Labour address the growing, and increasingly complex, issue of migration?

Inequality: breakneck neoliberal globalisation, linked to the financialisation of capitalism, has done little to alleviate inequality and poverty. The forces of globalisation and economic change have left millions marginalised and provided an opportunity for parties like UKIP to mobilise the disenfranchised.  Global production chains and deindustrialisation have left many disheartened and feeling powerless. But the link between globalisation and inequality is not the same across the world. State policies can mediate this link in significant ways as is abundantly clear from the managed entry to the global economy of many successful developing countries. Robust state institutions can shape the impact of the market in ways that produce more progressive outcomes. Attacking aspiration and a rising middle class (see point 3 above), often yields little income and does not touch the deep roots of economic inequality and poverty. These roots lie, in significant part, in the mobility of capital while the state and labour remain relatively immobile. The question is, can the Labour party rethink these links and provide a credible way of taxing and constraining mobile wealth, in coalition with other states and regional blocks?

Power: the decisions that affect people’s everyday lives are often made by people and companies in far off territories. The connection between capital and labour, that was once defined by a common space in a city or a region, is now broken. As such, how will Labour respond to the dynamic nature of power in an increasingly globalised world, whilst also guaranteeing the kind of domestic protections it has always championed? Large companies dwarf many small countries and can put states on a defensive when it comes to attracting jobs. But it is not just simply the power of large companies that has this effect. Futile decisions in Brussels or elsewhere on what constitutes a sausage or a chocolate, inevitably spark incredulity as much as hostility. Political regionalisation and economic globalisation raise acute issues about the reach of state-based accountability and the responsiveness of supranational entities. The former, without entrenchment in wider systems of democracy and accountability, create pressing questions about the nature and meaning of political community today.

Democracy and constitutionalism: right from the beginning the universal principles of equality, freedom and solidarity were spliced together with state formation. Yet there is only a contingent relationship between these principles and the state itself. The principles can be embedded at many different levels, as is already apparent today: citizens can be active members of their cities, regions, national states, and supranational regions. And if that is not enough, these principles can be entrenched in social movements putting pressure on international organisations, and in these organisations themselves. Over the last several decades the clash between state sovereignty and individual sovereignty (sovereignty linked to human rights and democratic standards) has tended to be resolved in international law in favour of the latter. Constitutional principles and democratic public spheres can, accordingly, be entrenched at diverse levels. In the context of the question how the UK might survive with the flourishing of nationalisms, these ideas provide tentative responses. Just as cosmopolitanism is an intersection of universality and diversity, contemporary political communities can only flourish as multilevel and multilayered polities – cities, regions, states, and international communities – woven together by principles of democracy and justice. This is a project to be developed in response to the question: how can politics be rearticulated to ensure both domestic (inward) and international (outward) democratic authority?

Defence: the Labour party seems to be boxed into a corner on defence and security. These issues matter but delivering them within the current structure of the British military and the deployment of weapons of mass destruction is another question. Trident no longer deters enemies and is a grotesquely expensive weapon system. If nuclear weapons have to be defended, there are cheaper ways of deploying them. But, why does Labour need to become the party of nuclear weapons? Britain has become a small/medium-sized power that still feeds too uncritically on its imperial past. In the unstable world of today, where fragile and failed states throw up new patterns of insecurity, the challenge is to develop an appropriate defence and security capacity for a very different set of security challenges than that which characterised the Cold War. The SNP were too often depicted as wild and delusional for challenging Trident. Yet, they raise a fundamental question about whether Trident is the right and the most appropriate military solution. Being boxed in by the Conservatives on this is a failure of imagination, strategy and tactics.

Technology: there is a profound dislocation between the growing immediacy of digital connectivity in everybody’s life and a political process that still functions in, and depends on, the institutions established with the rise of the modern state. Communicating through digital technology in terms of delivering a core message, will alone hardly convince most young voters. These technologies create the capacity for new kinds of politics, with interactivity and reciprocity at their core. Selling core ideas through digital technology will not fire the imagination of young people: encouraging them to contribute to the shaping of policy through these technologies may. Digital technologies have the capacity now to reshape the meaning of democratic practice. How can digital technologies be deployed to advance the quality and interactivity of the democratic public sphere? This is a question now well-worth exploring.

The Labour party needs to think through these issues and produce a convincing account of the changing nature of society, appropriate policies, and of what a Labour leadership can deliver that is distinctive and compelling. But even having “right policies”, while central to some constituencies, may not touch core concerns of the average voter. No amount of intellectual examination of the policy questions should neglect this question. It matters greatly where the voters’ concerns lie, and accessing these depends on more than talking to the proverbial taxi driver. At the end of the day, most people go to the ballot box worrying about job security, community, family, and services that they need. Unless the elaboration of policies connect to these fundamental concerns they might as well stay in think tanks and university seminars.

A politics that fails to become part of a wider social conversation with all those whom it seeks to encompass, will be a politics that in the end shrivels up. A renewed Labour project must conjoin with public debate and democratic politics at all levels; without this a proposed set of policies, or new interpretation of the nature and form of contemporary politics and economics, will not become an actual understanding or agreement among others, let alone a basis for action. 

 

OurKingdom doesn’t have a billionaire proprietor telling us what to write - we rely on donations from readers like you. Please support us if you can.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Reflections on the election: lessons to be learned... Those who half make reformism dig only their own graves Despite the election result, most people in the UK want an end to austerity
Categories: les flux rss

Fighting cuts alone won't save our justice system

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 9:01

A message for Mr Gove.

Flickr/StockMonkeys.com

The report by a JUSTICE working party, “Delivering Justice in an Age of Austerity”, published on 23 April, brought together a varied group of lawyers, including myself,  under the chairmanship of the retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Stanley Burnton. The context for the project was the decline in government support for the rule of law not only by cutting legal aid but by cutting funding for the administration of the courts  and restricting access to them by imposing prohibitive fees on litigants.

When I was asked to join the working party I hesitated. I feared that the premise of “austerity” would lead to compromises and the sacrifice of fundamental principle in the effort to make the best of an inadequately funded judicial system. I was disinclined to help the government to avoid the consequences of its ill-considered policies.

I soon found that other members of the working party were as much opposed to these policies as I am, as is JUSTICE itself and most other organisations concerned with the law and the common good.  

But fighting the cuts is not enough. There are other barriers to fair and effective dispute resolution for the great majority of the population. It remains our responsibility as lawyers to make the system work as well it can within whatever financial constraints exist (as they always do). The challenge for the working party was to propose improvements without compromising fairness, which demands that the parties to a dispute share a level playing field and equality of relevant resources.

Where disputes occur between well equipped public authorities and corporations those criteria are usually satisfied. But without legal support a private individual with limited or no resources may be forced to forego a valid claim or defence, or at best face the disadvantage of confronting a skilled opponent as a litigant in person.

Does this mean that in every dispute an impecunious party must be provided with a legally qualified representative at public expense? There are many disputes where no difficult legal issues arise and where an adversarial contest is an unnecessary burden on all involved. Hence the development of non-adversarial methods of dispute resolution.

The number of  unrepresented litigants is of course escalating. If they come into court inadequately prepared, the judge may not be able to help them. That is not the judicial function anyway.

The working party quotes an Australian judge: "there are three things that can be done in relation to self representation by litigants: one is to get them lawyers, the second is to make them lawyers and the third is to change the system.” If the first option is unattainable, the second is also unreal. The third is the one which the working party has therefore pursued.

A way forward is to adopt the inquisitorial approach of continental or civil law systems.  These tend to shift the burden (and cost) of investigation and presentation of evidence away from the litigants to the judiciary and the state bureaucracy.

Several judges, including the Lord Chief Justice, have argued for greater judicial intervention when faced with increasing numbers of litigants in person.

The working party looked at a number of existing schemes to assist dispute resolution within and outside the ordinary courts and tribunals. The Financial Ombudsman Service, the Office of the Social Fund Commissioner, and the Traffic Penalty Tribunal   provide useful models of schemes which lay stress on early proactive case management in which the essential facts and issues in dispute can be clarified. Caseworkers and adjudicators can do this before a judicial hearing. The hope is that the dispute will be resolved before it ever reaches a judge.

The new model proposed by the working party adopts this approach. It envisages a primary dispute resolution officer, to be called a “registrar” who will review all cases where a defence is lodged. The registrar will identify the relevant issues, the applicable law, the appropriate procedure and the evidence needed to resolve the case. A preliminary decision will be made either to

  1. dismiss the case
  2. undertake an “early neutral evaluation” (a scheme already piloted in the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal)
  3. undertake mediation
  4. refer the case to a judge on grounds of complexity of fact or law

The working party argues that such a scheme, extended to most tribunals and much of the jurisdiction of the County Court and the civil side of the High Court could improve access to justice by assisting litigants in person to level the playing field. It could also save resources by achieving earlier resolution of many cases.

Alongside the reshaping of the courts and tribunals in such a manner, the working party recognises that in most situations where there appears to be a legal problem, people need accessible and affordable information and advice as to whether and how to pursue a claim or defence. As legal aid and advice services have been curtailed, it explores how far improving technology could replace or at least supplement personal or face to face contact with an adviser. While recognising that the latter will always be needed by some, technological advances justify the case for much improved online and telephone advice and information services. The working party devoted much of its time to exploring innovations in other jurisdictions, especially in the Netherlands, British Columbia, and New South Wales.

Naturally these proposals raise many questions. Is the registrar meant to display the impartiality of a judge or lean in favour of the weaker party? The ambiguity may not matter too much if the registrar can sort out the problem to everyone’s satisfaction. There should always be a right to appeal. And the weaker party may still need legal aid, which the registrar should have power to recommend.

Is it realistic to contemplate the introduction of a whole new tier of functionaries into the system? Would they duplicate or replace district judges and Masters? What are the cost implications? And what if the more powerful party rejects settlement opportunities in favour of a full-scale trial? The registrar should be able to impose costs sanctions but would that be enough?

Is this a cost saving exercise? Resolving more disputes without expensive trials obviously saves money. Registrars will cost less than senior judges, whose time will be saved. Registrars would provide a useful corps of recruits for the regular judiciary. But new funding will need to be provided to pay for them ,and for extending online and telephone advice services. And of course legal aid must be available when needed.

Our system of justice and the rule of law have been gravely compromised. The report  offers an achievable framework for maximising access to justice for the ordinary citizen. Much work is needed to convert it into a practical programme, and that is an urgent task for government. Will you rise to the challenge, Mr Gove?

 

This article first appeared in the New Law Journal.

Categories: les flux rss

Fighting cuts alone won't save our justice system

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 9:01

A message for Mr Gove.

Flickr/StockMonkeys.com

The report by a JUSTICE working party, “Delivering Justice in an Age of Austerity”, published on 23 April, brought together a varied group of lawyers, including myself,  under the chairmanship of the retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Stanley Burnton. The context for the project was the decline in government support for the rule of law not only by cutting legal aid but by cutting funding for the administration of the courts  and restricting access to them by imposing prohibitive fees on litigants.

When I was asked to join the working party I hesitated. I feared that the premise of “austerity” would lead to compromises and the sacrifice of fundamental principle in the effort to make the best of an inadequately funded judicial system. I was disinclined to help the government to avoid the consequences of its ill-considered policies.

I soon found that other members of the working party were as much opposed to these policies as I am, as is JUSTICE itself and most other organisations concerned with the law and the common good.  

But fighting the cuts is not enough. There are other barriers to fair and effective dispute resolution for the great majority of the population. It remains our responsibility as lawyers to make the system work as well it can within whatever financial constraints exist (as they always do). The challenge for the working party was to propose improvements without compromising fairness, which demands that the parties to a dispute share a level playing field and equality of relevant resources.

Where disputes occur between well equipped public authorities and corporations those criteria are usually satisfied. But without legal support a private individual with limited or no resources may be forced to forego a valid claim or defence, or at best face the disadvantage of confronting a skilled opponent as a litigant in person.

Does this mean that in every dispute an impecunious party must be provided with a legally qualified representative at public expense? There are many disputes where no difficult legal issues arise and where an adversarial contest is an unnecessary burden on all involved. Hence the development of non-adversarial methods of dispute resolution.

The number of  unrepresented litigants is of course escalating. If they come into court inadequately prepared, the judge may not be able to help them. That is not the judicial function anyway.

The working party quotes an Australian judge: "there are three things that can be done in relation to self representation by litigants: one is to get them lawyers, the second is to make them lawyers and the third is to change the system.” If the first option is unattainable, the second is also unreal. The third is the one which the working party has therefore pursued.

A way forward is to adopt the inquisitorial approach of continental or civil law systems.  These tend to shift the burden (and cost) of investigation and presentation of evidence away from the litigants to the judiciary and the state bureaucracy.

Several judges, including the Lord Chief Justice, have argued for greater judicial intervention when faced with increasing numbers of litigants in person.

The working party looked at a number of existing schemes to assist dispute resolution within and outside the ordinary courts and tribunals. The Financial Ombudsman Service, the Office of the Social Fund Commissioner, and the Traffic Penalty Tribunal   provide useful models of schemes which lay stress on early proactive case management in which the essential facts and issues in dispute can be clarified. Caseworkers and adjudicators can do this before a judicial hearing. The hope is that the dispute will be resolved before it ever reaches a judge.

The new model proposed by the working party adopts this approach. It envisages a primary dispute resolution officer, to be called a “registrar” who will review all cases where a defence is lodged. The registrar will identify the relevant issues, the applicable law, the appropriate procedure and the evidence needed to resolve the case. A preliminary decision will be made either to

  1. dismiss the case
  2. undertake an “early neutral evaluation” (a scheme already piloted in the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal)
  3. undertake mediation
  4. refer the case to a judge on grounds of complexity of fact or law

The working party argues that such a scheme, extended to most tribunals and much of the jurisdiction of the County Court and the civil side of the High Court could improve access to justice by assisting litigants in person to level the playing field. It could also save resources by achieving earlier resolution of many cases.

Alongside the reshaping of the courts and tribunals in such a manner, the working party recognises that in most situations where there appears to be a legal problem, people need accessible and affordable information and advice as to whether and how to pursue a claim or defence. As legal aid and advice services have been curtailed, it explores how far improving technology could replace or at least supplement personal or face to face contact with an adviser. While recognising that the latter will always be needed by some, technological advances justify the case for much improved online and telephone advice and information services. The working party devoted much of its time to exploring innovations in other jurisdictions, especially in the Netherlands, British Columbia, and New South Wales.

Naturally these proposals raise many questions. Is the registrar meant to display the impartiality of a judge or lean in favour of the weaker party? The ambiguity may not matter too much if the registrar can sort out the problem to everyone’s satisfaction. There should always be a right to appeal. And the weaker party may still need legal aid, which the registrar should have power to recommend.

Is it realistic to contemplate the introduction of a whole new tier of functionaries into the system? Would they duplicate or replace district judges and Masters? What are the cost implications? And what if the more powerful party rejects settlement opportunities in favour of a full-scale trial? The registrar should be able to impose costs sanctions but would that be enough?

Is this a cost saving exercise? Resolving more disputes without expensive trials obviously saves money. Registrars will cost less than senior judges, whose time will be saved. Registrars would provide a useful corps of recruits for the regular judiciary. But new funding will need to be provided to pay for them ,and for extending online and telephone advice services. And of course legal aid must be available when needed.

Our system of justice and the rule of law have been gravely compromised. The report  offers an achievable framework for maximising access to justice for the ordinary citizen. Much work is needed to convert it into a practical programme, and that is an urgent task for government. Will you rise to the challenge, Mr Gove?

 

This article first appeared in the New Law Journal.

Categories: les flux rss

Deficits in the EU that should worry Europeans

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 8:45

In Greece for the first time the EU authorities demand a government complete a programme that it has neither designed nor has a democratic mandate to implement.

Laszlo Andor, former EU Commisioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion. Demotix/ Pedro Benavnte. All rights reserved.Over the last five years leaders in Brussels have focused their attention on the fiscal deficits of member countries that increased dramatically after 2008. It is no exaggeration to say that the central focus of policy and most EU summits has been supporting the euro through what austerity advocates euphemistically call "fiscal consolidation". Misdiagnosed and incorrectly measured, fiscal imbalances have simultaneously diverted attention from and highlighted far more important deficits in the European Union, of governance and social protection. 

The manifestation of these twin deficits include 1) the continued stagnation of the euro zone economies; 2) the ongoing conflict between the Syriza government and the EU; 3) xenophobic fears of migrants; and 4) the appalling level of unemployment in several of the euro zone countries.

A few days ago yet again came news that the euro zone perhaps had finally begun a sustained recovery, though scepticism outweighed enthusiasm in most reports. What passed for recovery was an annualized growth rate of 1.4% for the first quarter of 2015 (quarter-on-quarter rate of 0.4%). Prior to the crash of 2008 a growth rate below 1.5 would have been identified for what it is, near stagnation, below what in a more enlightened time we called the "natural" rate of growth of an economy (productivity change plus the rate of population increase, usually estimated at 2.5-3% for advanced market economies).

This unimpressive growth rate is not a recent failing of the euro zone, as the chart below shows, covering the years of the currency union (introduced as a unit of account in 1999). For comparison the chart includes the two largest advanced market economies, Japan and the United States, and the largest non-euro EU economy, the United Kingdom.

Prior to the crash of 2008 the countries of the euro zone grew substantially slower than both the United States and the United Kingdom, outpacing only notoriously stagnating Japan, a country weighted down in the 1990s and 2000s by a massive private debt overhang. Since the crash the comparison is even worse for the euro zone, stagnation more severe than that suffered by Japan before or after 2008.

If current projections, recently downgraded by the IMF, prove accurate, at the end of 2015 the euro zone will be at its 2008 level, while the UK and Japan will rise four percent higher, and the USA eleven percent higher.  Except for those ideologically committed to fiscal austerity, the explanation of the modest-to-poor performance of the euro zone is obvious -- monetary union without a common fiscal policy, disastrously aggravated by a troglodyte vision that public budgets must "balance". 

On the same day that much of the media reported a possible euro zone recovery, the head of the European Central Bank warned during a meeting with the director of the IMF that the economy of the currency union was too fragile for him to bring "quantitative easing" to an end.  For her part, Christine Lagarde reminded Mr Draghi of the obvious, that little progress would come via monetary intervention without fiscal policy.

Euro zone, UK, Japan & USA, Level of GDP compared to 2008 (percentage point differences)

Projections for 2015. Numbers in legend refer to 2015 values. In order to include non-EU countries, the source is OECD, Economic Outlook

Far more serious in the immediate term than the deficit of policy instruments is the governance deficit evidenced in the conflict-filled negotiations between the Greek government and the finance ministers of the other euro zone countries. Whatever judgement one makes about the wisdom of either side in the argument, a few central facts cannot be contested.

First among these is that in January of this year the Greek electorate chose a new government, because it promised to reverse the policies of the previous government.  The leaders of the EU both national and in Brussels refuse to accept this electoral mandate as binding, either on themselves or on the new Greek government. 

To put the matter simply, the EU has no governance procedure to manage conflicts between national and supra-national rules and decisions, which casts doubt upon the role of the democratic process at the national level -- at least for the smaller countries of the euro zone. 

This governance deficit is all the worse because of the ad hoc procedure for achieving the so-called bailout agreements between the EU and Greece (and also Ireland, Spain, Italy and Portugal among others). Once it became clear in late 2010 that such agreements would prove frequent, some specific legal guidelines should have been established. At the least agreements so fundamentally affecting national policy making called for greater participation of the European Parliament.

It is not relevant to argue that other governments in the euro zone have implemented austerity programmes, so the Greek government deserves no special consideration or concessions. In Greece for the first time the EU authorities demand a government complete a programme that it has neither designed nor has a democratic mandate to implement.

Xenophobia manifest in debate over immigration combines with high unemployment to demonstrate the other EU great deficit, the absence of a coordinated system of social protection. To my knowledge the only substantial EU-level program of social protection is the youth guarantee scheme championed by former Commissioner Laszlo Andor (see his SEJ article).  

The absence of EU social support programmes reinforces perceptions at the national level that the main function of the "bureaucrats in Brussels" is to issue edicts that intrude upon "business efficiency" and "national sovereignty".  These myth-ridden misperceptions are likely to overwhelm rational debate in the British referendum on EU membership promised by Prime Minister David Cameron.  Media reports indicate that a majority of Conservative MPS may favour withdrawal. The front-runner for the Labour Party leadership, Andy Burnham, announced that he supports holding a referendum as soon as possible (though he favours continued membership).  The stage is set for an acrimonious campaign in which far-right UKIP will thrive. 

It is unlikely that a majority of voters in Britain or elsewhere will support EU membership because euro zone finance ministers zealously pursue reductions in national fiscal deficits -- on the contrary. However, a very large number of people in Britain and elsewhere may abstain or favour withdrawal because of the collateral political damage caused by the governance deficit and the social support deficit.

Country or region:  Greece EU UK Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Ideas International politics
Categories: les flux rss

Deficits in the EU that should worry Europeans

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 8:45

In Greece for the first time the EU authorities demand a government complete a programme that it has neither designed nor has a democratic mandate to implement.

Laszlo Andor, former EU Commisioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion. Demotix/ Pedro Benavnte. All rights reserved.Over the last five years leaders in Brussels have focused their attention on the fiscal deficits of member countries that increased dramatically after 2008. It is no exaggeration to say that the central focus of policy and most EU summits has been supporting the euro through what austerity advocates euphemistically call "fiscal consolidation". Misdiagnosed and incorrectly measured, fiscal imbalances have simultaneously diverted attention from and highlighted far more important deficits in the European Union, of governance and social protection. 

The manifestation of these twin deficits include 1) the continued stagnation of the euro zone economies; 2) the ongoing conflict between the Syriza government and the EU; 3) xenophobic fears of migrants; and 4) the appalling level of unemployment in several of the euro zone countries.

A few days ago yet again came news that the euro zone perhaps had finally begun a sustained recovery, though scepticism outweighed enthusiasm in most reports. What passed for recovery was an annualized growth rate of 1.4% for the first quarter of 2015 (quarter-on-quarter rate of 0.4%). Prior to the crash of 2008 a growth rate below 1.5 would have been identified for what it is, near stagnation, below what in a more enlightened time we called the "natural" rate of growth of an economy (productivity change plus the rate of population increase, usually estimated at 2.5-3% for advanced market economies).

This unimpressive growth rate is not a recent failing of the euro zone, as the chart below shows, covering the years of the currency union (introduced as a unit of account in 1999). For comparison the chart includes the two largest advanced market economies, Japan and the United States, and the largest non-euro EU economy, the United Kingdom.

Prior to the crash of 2008 the countries of the euro zone grew substantially slower than both the United States and the United Kingdom, outpacing only notoriously stagnating Japan, a country weighted down in the 1990s and 2000s by a massive private debt overhang. Since the crash the comparison is even worse for the euro zone, stagnation more severe than that suffered by Japan before or after 2008.

If current projections, recently downgraded by the IMF, prove accurate, at the end of 2015 the euro zone will be at its 2008 level, while the UK and Japan will rise four percent higher, and the USA eleven percent higher.  Except for those ideologically committed to fiscal austerity, the explanation of the modest-to-poor performance of the euro zone is obvious -- monetary union without a common fiscal policy, disastrously aggravated by a troglodyte vision that public budgets must "balance". 

On the same day that much of the media reported a possible euro zone recovery, the head of the European Central Bank warned during a meeting with the director of the IMF that the economy of the currency union was too fragile for him to bring "quantitative easing" to an end.  For her part, Christine Lagarde reminded Mr Draghi of the obvious, that little progress would come via monetary intervention without fiscal policy.

Euro zone, UK, Japan & USA, Level of GDP compared to 2008 (percentage point differences)

Projections for 2015. Numbers in legend refer to 2015 values. In order to include non-EU countries, the source is OECD, Economic Outlook

Far more serious in the immediate term than the deficit of policy instruments is the governance deficit evidenced in the conflict-filled negotiations between the Greek government and the finance ministers of the other euro zone countries. Whatever judgement one makes about the wisdom of either side in the argument, a few central facts cannot be contested.

First among these is that in January of this year the Greek electorate chose a new government, because it promised to reverse the policies of the previous government.  The leaders of the EU both national and in Brussels refuse to accept this electoral mandate as binding, either on themselves or on the new Greek government. 

To put the matter simply, the EU has no governance procedure to manage conflicts between national and supra-national rules and decisions, which casts doubt upon the role of the democratic process at the national level -- at least for the smaller countries of the euro zone. 

This governance deficit is all the worse because of the ad hoc procedure for achieving the so-called bailout agreements between the EU and Greece (and also Ireland, Spain, Italy and Portugal among others). Once it became clear in late 2010 that such agreements would prove frequent, some specific legal guidelines should have been established. At the least agreements so fundamentally affecting national policy making called for greater participation of the European Parliament.

It is not relevant to argue that other governments in the euro zone have implemented austerity programmes, so the Greek government deserves no special consideration or concessions. In Greece for the first time the EU authorities demand a government complete a programme that it has neither designed nor has a democratic mandate to implement.

Xenophobia manifest in debate over immigration combines with high unemployment to demonstrate the other EU great deficit, the absence of a coordinated system of social protection. To my knowledge the only substantial EU-level program of social protection is the youth guarantee scheme championed by former Commissioner Laszlo Andor (see his SEJ article).  

The absence of EU social support programmes reinforces perceptions at the national level that the main function of the "bureaucrats in Brussels" is to issue edicts that intrude upon "business efficiency" and "national sovereignty".  These myth-ridden misperceptions are likely to overwhelm rational debate in the British referendum on EU membership promised by Prime Minister David Cameron.  Media reports indicate that a majority of Conservative MPS may favour withdrawal. The front-runner for the Labour Party leadership, Andy Burnham, announced that he supports holding a referendum as soon as possible (though he favours continued membership).  The stage is set for an acrimonious campaign in which far-right UKIP will thrive. 

It is unlikely that a majority of voters in Britain or elsewhere will support EU membership because euro zone finance ministers zealously pursue reductions in national fiscal deficits -- on the contrary. However, a very large number of people in Britain and elsewhere may abstain or favour withdrawal because of the collateral political damage caused by the governance deficit and the social support deficit.

Country or region:  Greece EU UK Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Ideas International politics
Categories: les flux rss

Silencing the challenging voices of the global ‘subalterns’ in anti-trafficking discourse

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 8:43

Contemporary anti-trafficking discourses are powered by a series of gendered and racialised binaries that silence the voices of the global subalterns, undermining their agency, and defusing their transgressions.

Contemporary forms of human trafficking are analysed from a variety of different and sometimes competing perspectives. Rarely is there consensus among academics, politicians or activists regarding what ‘trafficking’ is or what to do about it. Despite these differences, contemporary anti-trafficking discourses agree on one crucial idea: there is such a thing as ‘trafficking’ that can be discovered, analysed, and told.

‘Trafficking’ however, is not a neutral concept into which facts can be easily inserted, and from which policy responses can be efficiently derived. Instead, the ‘reality’ of trafficking is created by those discourses that have become dominant and accepted as ‘truth’. These discourses allow for particular understandings and actions, while foreclosing others. It is through these discourses therefore, that ‘trafficking’ emerges as a phenomenon that can be governed.

The convergence we’ve seen among otherwise disparate—and at times contradictory—narratives results from their common use of conceptual binaries to render the complexities of trafficking understandable: legal versus illegal migration, slavery versus free labour, or victim versus criminal. These binaries, which often become gendered and racialised, serve to articulate identities, notions of belonging, and conceptions of development in ways that silence the challenging voices of the global ‘subalterns’. The subalterns, according to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, are not simply those that are oppressed or disenfranchised. They are those that are oppressed and disenfranchised in such a way that forecloses any possibility of moving upwards. The global subalterns therefore, are those populations that are removed from all lines of social mobility, relegated to a space that is not a space, a position of political invisibility and misrecognition, which does not permit the formation of a recognisable basis of action.

The many binaries of anti-trafficking discourse

All hegemonic narratives understand trafficking to be an epiphenomenon of irregular migration, in opposition to legally approved modes of migration. This is problematic for two main reasons. First, as the work of Rutvica Andrijasevic and others has shown, trafficking can have elements of legal migration, such as legally obtained visas, and legal migration may include illegal elements too, such as bribes from state authorities.

Secondly and more importantly, to assume that regular and irregular migration are completely different hides the fact that such a distinction depends on the sovereign power of nation-states to control their borders. The power of this discursive separation ultimately serves to protect nation-states from those who are considered unwanted, and to justify a state’s use of force to accomplish that goal. It also conceals that a causal relationship exists between the two, as many migrants are forced into irregular forms of migration precisely because formal migration channels are not available to them.

Another dichotomy employed by hegemonic anti-trafficking discourses distinguishes between slavery and free wage labour. The absolute nature of the slave’s subjection is contrasted with capitalist wage labour underpinned by the presence of a contractual relation. This relation, however, presupposes the free nature of the contracting subject. Because slavery does not exist as a legal status however, the distinction between slavery and free labour actually depends on the definition of what constitutes tolerable and intolerable forms of exploitation.

This definition is, above all, political. Current anti-trafficking discourses render invisible the ‘unspectacular’ exploitation suffered by many as a result of the routine operations of global capitalism. They do this by limiting the ‘intolerable’ to the extreme exploitation connoted by the notion of ‘slavery’. Moreover, anti-trafficking discourses depoliticise the question of migrants’ labour rights by racially representing slavery as characteristic of non-democratic societies, and wage labour as specific to capitalist market relations in liberal democracies. This disconnects their economic exploitation from global economic disparities.

Forced vs. voluntary: constructed innocence and guilt

Given that many low wage workers undergo similar experiences of exploitation, anti-trafficking discourses must further distinguish between forced and voluntary migrants. This singles out the ‘experience’ of trafficked persons, depicting them as ‘innocent’ within activities that are criminalised, such as irregular migration or prostitution. The collateral effect of this is to divide migrants into different categories according to their degree of agency.

These categories are, again, heavily racialised and gendered. In fact, while most legal instruments designed to combat trafficking include a specific mention of women and children, no such reference is contained in legal instruments regarding smuggling. Anti-trafficking discourses often depict women (especially non-western women) as particularly devoid of agency, victimised and subject to (sexual) abuse. By linking the risks of migration and sexual abuse to the fact that they are women however, anti-trafficking discourses often encourage women to not migrate at all, in name of their own protection.

The forced/voluntary distinction is applied far beyond migration. Prostitution, for example, tends to be analysed within the dominant western script on sexuality. This confines sex to intimacy and love, and thereby portrays all sexual acts that take place outside of such spheres as degraded or degrading. As a result, prostitution is often understood as immoral and inherently sexist, and therefore contrary to the rights of women. This understanding makes those who consent to engage in prostitution somehow ‘guilty’ or ‘wrong’, whether immoral themselves or suffering from a severe case of false gender consciousness.

The distinction between forced and voluntary prostitution therefore, is underpinned by a distinction that separates ‘whores’ from the hegemonic understanding of ‘womenhood’. This distinction not only divides and disciplines women, but determines their innocence or guilt. It also upholds a view of sex as naturally procreative, thus reifying the notion of the ‘good sexual citizen’ who restricts sex to the realm of the intimate and private.

Victims vs. criminals: the final dichotomy

Ultimately, all these distinctions amount to a clear separation between ‘victims’ and ‘criminals’. Paradoxically, the need to draw such distinction derives from current anti-trafficking discourses themselves. These discourses must adequately distinguish ‘real’ trafficked persons from ‘bogus’ ones if they are to consider individual cases of prostitution, irregular migration and transnational organised crime as ‘victims of trafficking’. This distinction is, like all the binaries upon which it is sustained, gendered and racialised as the role of ‘victim’ or ‘criminal’ is linked to particular identities.

In the words of Jo Doezema, “it is not an accident of history, but a legacy of empire, that third world prostitutes’ suffering bodies are at the forefront of certain feminist anti-trafficking campaigns today”. Non-western women are the typical victims of trafficking within hegemonic anti-trafficking discourses. A nexus is established between their identity and their victimhood status. They are presented as poor, uneducated, tradition-bound and victimised, and consequently in need of ‘rescue’. ‘Criminals’ too are gendered and racialised, as they are identified primarily as male and non-western criminal gangs.

In using gendered and racialised notions of ‘victims’ and ‘criminals’, current anti-trafficking discourses locate responsibility in the unscrupulous practices of certain individuals, or in terrible cultural and economic conditions originating most commonly outside of the West. They also position western governments as unrelated to the situation of vulnerability of irregular labour migrants. As such, they then become rescuers with pure intentions and a moral commitment to the care of others. Such discourses ultimately serve to silence the voices of the global ‘subalterns’. They construct a hierarchy of patriarchal and economic development that depoliticises their agency and defuses any challenge that their transgressions may pose to the structuring of citizenship, mobility and labour rights in exclusionary terms.

Sideboxes Related stories:  ‘Foreign criminals’ and victims of trafficking—fantasies, categories and control The border spectacle of migrant ‘victimisation’ Overcoming space: mobility and history
Categories: les flux rss

Silencing the challenging voices of the global ‘subalterns’ in anti-trafficking discourse

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 8:43

Contemporary anti-trafficking discourses are powered by a series of gendered and racialised binaries that silence the voices of the global subalterns, undermining their agency, and defusing their transgressions.

Contemporary forms of human trafficking are analysed from a variety of different and sometimes competing perspectives. Rarely is there consensus among academics, politicians or activists regarding what ‘trafficking’ is or what to do about it. Despite these differences, contemporary anti-trafficking discourses agree on one crucial idea: there is such a thing as ‘trafficking’ that can be discovered, analysed, and told.

‘Trafficking’ however, is not a neutral concept into which facts can be easily inserted, and from which policy responses can be efficiently derived. Instead, the ‘reality’ of trafficking is created by those discourses that have become dominant and accepted as ‘truth’. These discourses allow for particular understandings and actions, while foreclosing others. It is through these discourses therefore, that ‘trafficking’ emerges as a phenomenon that can be governed.

The convergence we’ve seen among otherwise disparate—and at times contradictory—narratives results from their common use of conceptual binaries to render the complexities of trafficking understandable: legal versus illegal migration, slavery versus free labour, or victim versus criminal. These binaries, which often become gendered and racialised, serve to articulate identities, notions of belonging, and conceptions of development in ways that silence the challenging voices of the global ‘subalterns’. The subalterns, according to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, are not simply those that are oppressed or disenfranchised. They are those that are oppressed and disenfranchised in such a way that forecloses any possibility of moving upwards. The global subalterns therefore, are those populations that are removed from all lines of social mobility, relegated to a space that is not a space, a position of political invisibility and misrecognition, which does not permit the formation of a recognisable basis of action.

The many binaries of anti-trafficking discourse

All hegemonic narratives understand trafficking to be an epiphenomenon of irregular migration, in opposition to legally approved modes of migration. This is problematic for two main reasons. First, as the work of Rutvica Andrijasevic and others has shown, trafficking can have elements of legal migration, such as legally obtained visas, and legal migration may include illegal elements too, such as bribes from state authorities.

Secondly and more importantly, to assume that regular and irregular migration are completely different hides the fact that such a distinction depends on the sovereign power of nation-states to control their borders. The power of this discursive separation ultimately serves to protect nation-states from those who are considered unwanted, and to justify a state’s use of force to accomplish that goal. It also conceals that a causal relationship exists between the two, as many migrants are forced into irregular forms of migration precisely because formal migration channels are not available to them.

Another dichotomy employed by hegemonic anti-trafficking discourses distinguishes between slavery and free wage labour. The absolute nature of the slave’s subjection is contrasted with capitalist wage labour underpinned by the presence of a contractual relation. This relation, however, presupposes the free nature of the contracting subject. Because slavery does not exist as a legal status however, the distinction between slavery and free labour actually depends on the definition of what constitutes tolerable and intolerable forms of exploitation.

This definition is, above all, political. Current anti-trafficking discourses render invisible the ‘unspectacular’ exploitation suffered by many as a result of the routine operations of global capitalism. They do this by limiting the ‘intolerable’ to the extreme exploitation connoted by the notion of ‘slavery’. Moreover, anti-trafficking discourses depoliticise the question of migrants’ labour rights by racially representing slavery as characteristic of non-democratic societies, and wage labour as specific to capitalist market relations in liberal democracies. This disconnects their economic exploitation from global economic disparities.

Forced vs. voluntary: constructed innocence and guilt

Given that many low wage workers undergo similar experiences of exploitation, anti-trafficking discourses must further distinguish between forced and voluntary migrants. This singles out the ‘experience’ of trafficked persons, depicting them as ‘innocent’ within activities that are criminalised, such as irregular migration or prostitution. The collateral effect of this is to divide migrants into different categories according to their degree of agency.

These categories are, again, heavily racialised and gendered. In fact, while most legal instruments designed to combat trafficking include a specific mention of women and children, no such reference is contained in legal instruments regarding smuggling. Anti-trafficking discourses often depict women (especially non-western women) as particularly devoid of agency, victimised and subject to (sexual) abuse. By linking the risks of migration and sexual abuse to the fact that they are women however, anti-trafficking discourses often encourage women to not migrate at all, in name of their own protection.

The forced/voluntary distinction is applied far beyond migration. Prostitution, for example, tends to be analysed within the dominant western script on sexuality. This confines sex to intimacy and love, and thereby portrays all sexual acts that take place outside of such spheres as degraded or degrading. As a result, prostitution is often understood as immoral and inherently sexist, and therefore contrary to the rights of women. This understanding makes those who consent to engage in prostitution somehow ‘guilty’ or ‘wrong’, whether immoral themselves or suffering from a severe case of false gender consciousness.

The distinction between forced and voluntary prostitution therefore, is underpinned by a distinction that separates ‘whores’ from the hegemonic understanding of ‘womenhood’. This distinction not only divides and disciplines women, but determines their innocence or guilt. It also upholds a view of sex as naturally procreative, thus reifying the notion of the ‘good sexual citizen’ who restricts sex to the realm of the intimate and private.

Victims vs. criminals: the final dichotomy

Ultimately, all these distinctions amount to a clear separation between ‘victims’ and ‘criminals’. Paradoxically, the need to draw such distinction derives from current anti-trafficking discourses themselves. These discourses must adequately distinguish ‘real’ trafficked persons from ‘bogus’ ones if they are to consider individual cases of prostitution, irregular migration and transnational organised crime as ‘victims of trafficking’. This distinction is, like all the binaries upon which it is sustained, gendered and racialised as the role of ‘victim’ or ‘criminal’ is linked to particular identities.

In the words of Jo Doezema, “it is not an accident of history, but a legacy of empire, that third world prostitutes’ suffering bodies are at the forefront of certain feminist anti-trafficking campaigns today”. Non-western women are the typical victims of trafficking within hegemonic anti-trafficking discourses. A nexus is established between their identity and their victimhood status. They are presented as poor, uneducated, tradition-bound and victimised, and consequently in need of ‘rescue’. ‘Criminals’ too are gendered and racialised, as they are identified primarily as male and non-western criminal gangs.

In using gendered and racialised notions of ‘victims’ and ‘criminals’, current anti-trafficking discourses locate responsibility in the unscrupulous practices of certain individuals, or in terrible cultural and economic conditions originating most commonly outside of the West. They also position western governments as unrelated to the situation of vulnerability of irregular labour migrants. As such, they then become rescuers with pure intentions and a moral commitment to the care of others. Such discourses ultimately serve to silence the voices of the global ‘subalterns’. They construct a hierarchy of patriarchal and economic development that depoliticises their agency and defuses any challenge that their transgressions may pose to the structuring of citizenship, mobility and labour rights in exclusionary terms.

Sideboxes Related stories:  ‘Foreign criminals’ and victims of trafficking—fantasies, categories and control The border spectacle of migrant ‘victimisation’ Overcoming space: mobility and history
Categories: les flux rss

‘Foreign criminals’ and victims of trafficking—fantasies, categories and control

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 8:37

Casting migrants and smugglers as 'victims and villains' allows states to play saviour and legitimates immigration enforcement as the sole appropriate response.

Some people who live outside of their country of origin don’t really count as migrants. They might be expats; they might not be named at all. But Australian backpackers, French nannies, and international bankers are not really what we mean when we talk about migrants. If, however, you are the kind of person we mean when we talk about migrants—i.e. you are racialised and/or poor—then you are generally portrayed as either a victim or a villain. Migrants are constructed as victims and villains by a range of actors, including the state, journalists, politicians, judges, migrant advocates, and academics.

Gender and race are central to determining who goes where within this framework. In my work on ‘foreign criminals’, I examine the mechanics of gender and race in producing villains. ‘Foreign criminals’ have attracted much media and political interest in recent years. They are discursively constructed as racialised men who commit acts of hypermasculinist violence, often sexual, thus imperilling ‘our’ streets and, importantly, ‘our’ women. This construction of the ‘foreign criminal’ as a monstrous villain works to justify, on moral grounds, policies of imprisonment, indefinite detention, and deportation. This narrative is a gross simplification that relies on imaginaries familiar to those who work on issues surrounding ‘trafficking.

The Victim of Trafficking (VoT for short) is not a human type. It’s an administrative category produced by immigration controls. This is not to deny that some migrant sex workers—women, men and trans people—find themselves in truly awful situations. Rather, it is to suggest that such administrative constructs do not necessarily reflect meaningful distinctions, from the perspective of the individuals concerned.

The anti-trafficking narrative rests on a conception of the world in which nasty individuals force vulnerable people into servitude. Border controls have nothing to do with it whatsoever. The narrative further relies on crude images of suffering victims, images that marginalise those who don’t fit the mould. Not every migrant sex worker fits the image of the ideal victim (see e.g. Mai on non-heteronormative migrant sex workers), but most—dare I say all?—would still benefit greatly from substantive human and labour rights.

The images of the VoT and the ‘foreign criminal’, both entangled in a twisted fairy-tale of caricatured weakness and barbarism, simplify and distort much messier realities. Casting non-citizens in these roles helps to rationalise immigration controls.

When VoTs are constructed as helpless victims, held captive by unscrupulous (foreign) traffickers, enforcement becomes the appropriate response. As such, states are able to attest to the morality of immigration controls; victims are saved as the authorities work valiantly to eradicate ‘sexual slavery’. The role of immigration controls in ‘holding people captive’ is effaced in this narrative. The vulnerabilities of migrant sex workers are reduced to individual and extreme forms of abuse; the state disappears only to reappear as saviour. Put simply, if traffickers are evil and VoTs helpless, then the state needs to act through aggressive forms of crime and immigration control.

Likewise, if non-citizen offenders are portrayed as violent, savage outsiders then their expulsion becomes the only suitable response. This has wider implications for the legitimation of detention and deportation policies. Images of ‘foreign criminals’ as killers, rapists and paedophiles work to justify and celebrate the detention and deportation of any non-citizen with a criminal conviction, and, increasingly, any non-citizen who is even associated with or accused of criminal conduct.  Again, the narrative invokes victims and villains, with immigration controls working to protect the former and punish the latter.

Importantly, the VoT and the ‘foreign criminal’ only become intelligible in relation to problematic ideas about race and gender. According to Rutvica Andrijasevic, the anti-trafficking narrative relies on images of “wounded and inanimate female bodies”. In other words, the women that need saving are usually racialised in problematic ways. Similarly, the figure of the ‘foreign criminal’ preys upon deeply entrenched fears about the dangerous sexuality of racialised men. Both of these sets of racialised and gendered stereotypes justify draconian forms of immigration control and construct the state as a (masculine) saviour.

I have become wary of this economy of suffering that undergirds most debates on migration. As Julia O’Connell Davidson notes:

Because suffering is not raw datum, it can be selectively recognised…unfortunately, it is perfectly possible for states simultaneously to recognise some kinds of suffering as a qualification for community inclusion, but continue to operate the lethal immigration regimes and border controls that both deny and generate other kinds of suffering.

Arguing that rights should not be fastened onto suffering is not to deny that certain migrants have specific vulnerabilities. It is not to suggest that all migrant sex workers have it easy. Nor is it to ignore or underplay the pervasiveness of male sexual violence (sometimes non-citizens are guilty of hypermasculinist acts of sexual violence). However, we must remain fiercely critical of any conception of the state as protector.

Migrant sex workers often don’t look like VoTs, and policies instituted under the anti-trafficking rubric tend to bolster the forms of control directed at non-citizens who sell sex. Likewise, non-citizen ex-offenders usually don’t look like the caricatured ‘foreign criminal’. Instead, their complex biographies might include experiences of racism, poverty, irregularity and exclusion. Finding room to speak about these migrants requires us to resist buying into black and white notions of victims and villains, or into any such fantasy that casts the state as a saviour of VoTs. We must, instead, attempt the much harder task of critically thinking about how race and gender play into our preconceptions of who needs saving from whom.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The border spectacle of migrant ‘victimisation’ Illegalised migrants and temporary foreign workers: the new international segmentation of labour On freedom and (im)mobility: how states create vulnerability by controlling human movement
Categories: les flux rss

‘Foreign criminals’ and victims of trafficking—fantasies, categories and control

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 8:37

Casting migrants and smugglers as 'victims and villains' allows states to play saviour and legitimates immigration enforcement as the sole appropriate response.

Some people who live outside of their country of origin don’t really count as migrants. They might be expats; they might not be named at all. But Australian backpackers, French nannies, and international bankers are not really what we mean when we talk about migrants. If, however, you are the kind of person we mean when we talk about migrants—i.e. you are racialised and/or poor—then you are generally portrayed as either a victim or a villain. Migrants are constructed as victims and villains by a range of actors, including the state, journalists, politicians, judges, migrant advocates, and academics.

Gender and race are central to determining who goes where within this framework. In my work on ‘foreign criminals’, I examine the mechanics of gender and race in producing villains. ‘Foreign criminals’ have attracted much media and political interest in recent years. They are discursively constructed as racialised men who commit acts of hypermasculinist violence, often sexual, thus imperilling ‘our’ streets and, importantly, ‘our’ women. This construction of the ‘foreign criminal’ as a monstrous villain works to justify, on moral grounds, policies of imprisonment, indefinite detention, and deportation. This narrative is a gross simplification that relies on imaginaries familiar to those who work on issues surrounding ‘trafficking.

The Victim of Trafficking (VoT for short) is not a human type. It’s an administrative category produced by immigration controls. This is not to deny that some migrant sex workers—women, men and trans people—find themselves in truly awful situations. Rather, it is to suggest that such administrative constructs do not necessarily reflect meaningful distinctions, from the perspective of the individuals concerned.

The anti-trafficking narrative rests on a conception of the world in which nasty individuals force vulnerable people into servitude. Border controls have nothing to do with it whatsoever. The narrative further relies on crude images of suffering victims, images that marginalise those who don’t fit the mould. Not every migrant sex worker fits the image of the ideal victim (see e.g. Mai on non-heteronormative migrant sex workers), but most—dare I say all?—would still benefit greatly from substantive human and labour rights.

The images of the VoT and the ‘foreign criminal’, both entangled in a twisted fairy-tale of caricatured weakness and barbarism, simplify and distort much messier realities. Casting non-citizens in these roles helps to rationalise immigration controls.

When VoTs are constructed as helpless victims, held captive by unscrupulous (foreign) traffickers, enforcement becomes the appropriate response. As such, states are able to attest to the morality of immigration controls; victims are saved as the authorities work valiantly to eradicate ‘sexual slavery’. The role of immigration controls in ‘holding people captive’ is effaced in this narrative. The vulnerabilities of migrant sex workers are reduced to individual and extreme forms of abuse; the state disappears only to reappear as saviour. Put simply, if traffickers are evil and VoTs helpless, then the state needs to act through aggressive forms of crime and immigration control.

Likewise, if non-citizen offenders are portrayed as violent, savage outsiders then their expulsion becomes the only suitable response. This has wider implications for the legitimation of detention and deportation policies. Images of ‘foreign criminals’ as killers, rapists and paedophiles work to justify and celebrate the detention and deportation of any non-citizen with a criminal conviction, and, increasingly, any non-citizen who is even associated with or accused of criminal conduct.  Again, the narrative invokes victims and villains, with immigration controls working to protect the former and punish the latter.

Importantly, the VoT and the ‘foreign criminal’ only become intelligible in relation to problematic ideas about race and gender. According to Rutvica Andrijasevic, the anti-trafficking narrative relies on images of “wounded and inanimate female bodies”. In other words, the women that need saving are usually racialised in problematic ways. Similarly, the figure of the ‘foreign criminal’ preys upon deeply entrenched fears about the dangerous sexuality of racialised men. Both of these sets of racialised and gendered stereotypes justify draconian forms of immigration control and construct the state as a (masculine) saviour.

I have become wary of this economy of suffering that undergirds most debates on migration. As Julia O’Connell Davidson notes:

Because suffering is not raw datum, it can be selectively recognised…unfortunately, it is perfectly possible for states simultaneously to recognise some kinds of suffering as a qualification for community inclusion, but continue to operate the lethal immigration regimes and border controls that both deny and generate other kinds of suffering.

Arguing that rights should not be fastened onto suffering is not to deny that certain migrants have specific vulnerabilities. It is not to suggest that all migrant sex workers have it easy. Nor is it to ignore or underplay the pervasiveness of male sexual violence (sometimes non-citizens are guilty of hypermasculinist acts of sexual violence). However, we must remain fiercely critical of any conception of the state as protector.

Migrant sex workers often don’t look like VoTs, and policies instituted under the anti-trafficking rubric tend to bolster the forms of control directed at non-citizens who sell sex. Likewise, non-citizen ex-offenders usually don’t look like the caricatured ‘foreign criminal’. Instead, their complex biographies might include experiences of racism, poverty, irregularity and exclusion. Finding room to speak about these migrants requires us to resist buying into black and white notions of victims and villains, or into any such fantasy that casts the state as a saviour of VoTs. We must, instead, attempt the much harder task of critically thinking about how race and gender play into our preconceptions of who needs saving from whom.

Sideboxes Related stories:  The border spectacle of migrant ‘victimisation’ Illegalised migrants and temporary foreign workers: the new international segmentation of labour On freedom and (im)mobility: how states create vulnerability by controlling human movement
Categories: les flux rss

To empower women, prioritize their social and economic rights

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 8:30

What we can learn about the connection between gender equality and socioeconomic rights from coffee farming communities in Colombia? A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on economic and social rights.  Español

According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), rural women represented fully a quarter of the world’s population in 2000. Yet, despite their numbers, they face many additional barriers to seeing their rights protected and fulfilled when compared to their urban counterparts.

Take the case of Colombia. The country has fairly strong legislation and public policy to promote gender equality. In addition to several laws prohibiting gender discrimination and violence against women, in 2012 the government announced a new National Policy on Gender Equity (Política Pública Nacional de Equidad de Género para las Mujeres), with implementation strategies. But what have these laws and policies promoting women’s rights achieved for the average, low-income rural woman? In Huila and Cauca, agricultural states that I visited over the last few months, the answer I heard was next to nothing.

Which leads to a provocative question: could governments have more impact helping women by advancing the social and economic rights of the rural poor, rather than spending years formulating public policies specific to women’s rights? Some anecdotal evidence from Colombia supports the argument that prioritizing the social and economic rights of the rural poor may indeed better advance the broader agenda for women’s rights.

In Colombia, women’s integration into a rural wage-earning labour market is severely hindered by the smallholder family farm as the country’s predominant unit of production. In the coffee sector, for example, the average Colombian producer’s crop is less than five sq. hectares and permanent workers are often not paid until crops are sold. In this context, governments can largely only support women’s economic empowerment by helping to support family incomes in the aggregate. Formalization of the rural labour force and promoting decent work agendas need to be at the heart of this effort. While we wait for these agendas to gain traction, key opportunities for the fulfilment of economic rights in Colombia include: expanded credit and better and more direct links to buyers in domestic and international commodity markets, on the one hand, balanced by government programs to support those that fall between the cracks—such as female heads of household and displaced families affected by the armed conflict—on the other hand.


Flickr/CIAT (Some rights reserved)

A female farm hand carries coffee beans in the Cauca department of Colombia.

The female coffee producers involved in my research in Colombia had lower education levels, on average, than their husbands and common-law partners. Gender-targeted investments in training and education in rural communities would not only result in higher earnings potential (as women become more likely to afford child care) but the investment would also yield many beneficial secondary impacts for families (such as increased status of women within the family linked to their educational attainment).

Many of the women I encountered during fieldwork in coffee communities were inclined to perceive their wellbeing as directly linked to that of their children. As a result, many had received extension services (training to improve crop yields) or technical training of some sort, but didn’t complete trainings because course schedules interfered with family obligations. As the 2011 FAO Women in Agriculture report recommends, ensuring extension services in agricultural communities aren’t discriminatory would help increase training completion rates among women. Of course, this goes hand in hand with the need to extend child care services in Colombia—another (if perhaps unarticulated) social right that would disproportionately benefit women.

We need to promote women’s rights and fight discrimination in all its forms, as well as promote the social and economic rights of all. Women farmers surveyed by my project valued their health lower than that of the men in their families and were less likely to seek medical assistance than were their husbands. Only with better education outcomes for girls (to encourage women to seek assistance) and higher rural incomes (to be distributed more equitably among family members), will social norms like these start to change. For example, in our field workshops, adolescent pregnancies were identified as a common challenge, which higher secondary school completion rates among girls would no doubt help to reduce. More accessible health care in rural areas wouldn’t hurt either: Colombia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Latin America, at 83 deaths per 100,000 births.

In reality, we need to engage both strategies in tandem. That is, we need to promote women’s rights and fight discrimination in all its forms, as well as promote the social and economic rights of all. Governments, including Colombia’s, would do better if they implemented comprehensive approaches (at various levels) to tackle gender issues. With the creation of a Presidential Commission (“La Alta Consejería Presidencial para la Equidad de Género”) to implement the National Policy on Gender Equity, Colombia embarked on just such an effort; now it needs to follow through on its promise. Unfortunately, President Juan Manuel Santos put the equity policy on the backburner following his re-election last year, leaving the Vice Minister responsible with an extremely downsized staff.

Meanwhile, the women producing my favourite cup of imported Colombian coffee continue to wonder whether they will be able to afford the much-needed renovations to their houses. Perhaps next year.

The research project referred to, “Achieving Gender Equality in Colombia: A Fresh look at the Coffee Export Sector,” was funded by the Government of Canada in 2014 and 2015.

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

Sidebox: 

Related stories:  Transforming the development agenda requires more, not less, attention to human rights Workers’ rights really are human rights Without means, there are no real rights From aid to investment: funding women's rights groups Nationality laws – a new battleground for women’s equality Human rights for whom? A closer look at elitism and women’s rights in Africa Making women's rights human rights Leaving the struggle for women’s rights out of your account In Latin America, authoritarian “leftists” create new Berlin Walls Legal mobilization: a critical first step to addressing economic and social rights Open budgets, open politics? Can legal interventions really tackle the root causes of poverty? Winners and losers: how budgeting for human rights can help the poor
Categories: les flux rss

Has the west given up on democracy?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 7:48

Authoritarians are methodically cracking down on opposition elements, restricting civil society activity, swapping surveillance and censorship tips and technologies to keep domestic dissent at bay.

Tunisian General Rachid Ammar announces his resignation on TV, June, 2013. Demotix/ Chedly Ben Ibrahim. All rights reserved. Authoritarianism is on the march. Aggregate Freedom House scores on political rights and civil liberties have declined each of the past nine years. A third of all democratic regimes since the ‘third wave’ of democratization began forty years ago have failed. Authoritarians are methodically cracking down on opposition elements, restricting civil society activity, swapping surveillance and censorship tips and technologies to keep domestic dissent at bay.

It’s true that democracy comes in ‘waves’ of democratization, ebbing and flowing, as described by the late Samuel Huntington. Political scientists including Jay Ulfelder, Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way rightly urge caution when assuming the demise of democracy. We should hardly expect political systems to develop linearly, especially in places like the Middle East, where dictatorships have been rooted for decades usually with strong western support.

Still, growing evidence of democratic backsliding and authoritarian resurgence, chronicled by USIP’s Steven Heydemann is troubling. Russia and Syria are poster children for how authoritarianism has led to international instability. Support for democracy has been a core, bipartisan element of US foreign policy since the time of Woodrow Wilson. While idealism has been a motive; at its core, support for democracy has advanced US national interests. Democracies don’t go to war with each other; they are more reliable partners than tyrannies; they don’t commit mass atrocities; and they are better at reconciling domestic differences peacefully.  Systemic corruption and institutionalized discrimination have been key drivers of violent extremism, according to Carnegie scholar-practitioner Sarah Chayes.   

Around the world, aggrieved citizens are still standing up to challenge power structures, demanding basic freedoms. The question is. can we avoid citizen challenges leading to bloodbaths and prolonged chaos?  How can democratic movements lead to reforms that encourage more durable stability?

Our book, Is Authoritarianism Staging a Comeback? analyzes authoritarian resilience in places like Central Asia, Syria, and the Gulf,  highlighting the dilemmas and possible solutions.  As Denver scholar Erica Chenoweth demonstrates, mass nonviolent movements, which have historically been major drivers of democratic transitions and twice as successful as armed struggles at overturning dictators, have seen their effectiveness drop in the past few years to levels not seen since the 1950s. According to media expert Zeynep Tufecki, authoritarian regimes are using the internet and state-controlled media to counter challenges to their rule.

What can be done to reverse the tide? First, we should recall that civil society activism, in the form of speech, peaceful assembly, and labor organizing, are protected under international human rights law. Nonviolent activists have a right to receive information and even financial help from external actors, a point underscored by Seton Hall law professor Elizabeth Wilson. Second, the fact that the popular Arab Spring uprisings that toppled four dictators have not produced consolidated democracies doesn’t mean that western powers should give up on democracy in the Middle East – or anywhere else.

It’s hardly surprising that Tunisia, the one Arab Spring country on the best path to democratization, had the most nonviolent and participatory of all the uprisings. Tunisia has a civil society, anchored by strong trade and labor unions, helping to ensure nonviolent discipline during and after the transition. Tunisia’s George Washington, army chief of staff Rachid Ammar, refused regime orders to fire on peaceful demonstrators. This sense of integrity within the ranks of the military, as ex-Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair writes about, can be inculcated through contacts with military officers from democratic countries. Military-to-military ties are underappreciated sources of western leverage.

In an era of authoritarian backlash, there is a need for a new breed of diplomacy. Diplomats have a wide range of tools and assets to support pro-democracy movements. Popular uprisings in places like Egypt, which are often led by non-traditional civil society actors took diplomats who are too used to dealing with registered NGOs and CSOs by surprise. Ambassador Jeremy Kinsman and Kurt Basseuner highlight in their Diplomat’s Handbook for Democracy Development Support that everyday diplomatic tools can make a difference.  These range from showing solidarity, to physically inter-positioning to deter violence and coordinating allied embassies’ support for democrats. Unfortunately, foreign service officers receive minimal training on how to support democrats.   

Helping populations pivot from protests to politics is no simple undertaking. As Stanford’s Larry Diamond emphasizes, the reality is that democratic institutions, strong political parties, and the rule of law take generations to take root. There is plenty of evidence that technocratic tweaking of institutions without such strong civil society engagement doesn’t achieve democratic progress. Successful anti-corruption campaigns around the world, as chronicled by John’s Hopkins fellow Shaazka Beyerle, combine citizen-led action with engagement with government institutions.  

Arguably the most important role outside actors can play is helping civic actors pry open space for political engagement. Democracy support foundations and organizations need to develop innovative ways to support civil society, particularly in restrictive spaces. Such support should seek to advance key aspects of successful nonviolent movements, as Peter Ackerman and Hardy Merriman have stressed: unity around goals and leaders, operational planning, nonviolent discipline, diversified participation, movement resilience, and the ability to prompt loyalty shifts in the authoritarian’s key pillars of support. Engaging with broad array of civil society actors, using small, flexible grants to support credible local mobilizers, encouraging sustainable leadership and movement principles and providing convening spaces for activists, traditional civil society and government reformers to mix it up are a few ways to do that.  

Acclaimed strategist and Nobel Laureate in Economics Thomas Schelling once said that in the match between repressive regimes and domestic challengers, each side seeks to impose costs on the other side while minimizing the costs to their own side. “It is a contest and it remains to be seen who wins.” As authoritarians around the world seek to consolidate their grip on power, it behooves western actors to get serious about pushing back against the authoritarians, otherwise we risk the current ebb turning into a growing tide against democracy.    

Sideboxes Related stories:  Why did intelligence agencies spy on Greenpeace? A war of new connections Report thy neighbour: policing Sisi’s Egypt How Bahrain spies on British soil Police cooperation: another angle on the surveillance debate Behind the rise of the private surveillance industry in Central Asia Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Internet
Categories: les flux rss

Can feminist art free women from patriarchy in Eastern Europe?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 21. May 2015 - 16:48

As post-Soviet states continue their 'conservative turn', feminist artists stand up to address gender injustice in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

 

I first became acquainted with feminist art in Kyiv in 2012, when Feminist Ofenzyva (Feminist Offensive) organised ‘Women’s Workshop’, a project which invited female artists to create their works in collaboration with the public.

I was particularly struck by the work of Zhanna Kadyrova. Famous in Ukraine for her enormous sculptures and mosaics occupying up to two floors of a building, Zhanna was sat with a pile of newspapers, cutting out photographs of people with nail scissors for a surreal collage of miniature figures. 

Zhanna Kadyrova in the process of creating her collage, ‘Women’s Workshop’ exhibition, 2012. (c) Karina Sembe.

The newspapers were from various countries, but the world appeared uniform in the collages, as if inhabited only by men in suits doing highly serious things. Only rarely did a woman make an appearance amongst this mass of be-suited males, often with a smile on her face, either elegantly dressed or nude. In an interview with ArtUkraine, Zhanna explained that ‘the discrepancies between images of men and women struck me: for every three images of women, there were a hundred images of men. I then noticed how their roles are depicted. Men are shown shaking hands, women are shown in adverts, in the cultural sphere, or with a baby and that’s all.’

‘There are no other roles for women… Elsewhere in Europe or the US you can sometimes find images of a business woman in front of a microphone who has something to say. But it is rare in our [Eastern European] countries.’

In the mirror-world of patriarchy

The world in Kadyrova’s collage may seem strange, but it reflects the situation of women in contemporary Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.

The social, political and economic differences between the three countries are considerable, but the patriarchal tendencies found in each are often identical. Many of the issues faced by women have their roots in the Soviet era. It was in the Soviet Union that the idea of the ‘working mother’ took hold: a woman was to work on the same level as men, but was also expected to bring up the children, look after the household and herself. Nowadays, gender equality is proclaimed de jure as a goal rather than given. However, in reality it is not implemented in law, and many experience discrimination. 

Many factors contribute to what amounts to the feminisation of poverty in these countries. Women are forbidden from working in a great many professions (almost 200 in Belarus, more than 400 in Russia, and over 500 in Ukraine). There exists a strong vertical and horizontal gender segregation at work, and the pay gap between men and women is large (25-40% depending on the country). Similar to Soviet times, women come home after work and start an unpaid ‘second shift’ of housework: cooking, looking after children and relatives. 

While the USSR was far from paradise for women, its legislation had a silver lining: Soviet Russia was the first country in the world to legalise abortions, and, apart from Stalinist times, abortions were free and easily accessible in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. Yet in recent years, these states have all tried to restrict women’s reproductive rights under the guise of preventing a demographic crisis. This conservative politics is often initiated on the basis of a return to the traditional values of the hetero-normative family, and women are expected to produce a large quantity of children.

The situation is particularly acute in Belarus. In 2013, a council of ministers severely restricted the possible justifications for an abortion in the later stages of pregnancy: now a woman is only granted an abortion in cases of rape or the previous deprivation of parents’ rights. According to 2014 amendments in legislation, every woman in need of an abortion must first consult with a lawyer and psychologist.

Finally, this March, the Ministry of Health together with the Belarusian Eastern Orthodox Church undertook the ‘innovation’ of the so-called ‘Week without abortions’ (where a week for the Ministry somehow equals 9 working days): each day, abortions are banned in a different region of Belarus.

Men in suits

The Belarusian Eastern Orthodox Church undertook the ‘innovation’ of the so-called week without abortions.

The be-suited men who occupy the vast majority of positions in the Russian government have actively maintained a programme that limits the rights and roles of women in Russia.

The lives of bisexual, lesbian, and transgender women are endangered because of the infamous law banning ‘homosexual propaganda’ adopted in 2013. Despite a petition which gathered over 100,000 signatures, the government has yet to propose a law concerning violence against women.

Representatives of the Eastern Orthodox Church (which maintains substantial links with the Russian government) have actively sought to restrict the use of the term ‘domestic violence.’ Russia is also on the verge of criminalising abortions: a recent legislative initiative proposes a criminal penalty of a year in prison for a woman, her partner, and a doctor who performed an abortion. News of the proposed restrictions on abortions has already provoked a response by Russian feminists. One of the examples is the YouTube campaign ‘A Right to Abortion’  led by Leda Garina of LeftFem. Garina and other feminist activists are now being called for an interview with the Department for Countering Extremism: apparently, defending women’s rights is an extremist activity in Russia.

More than 100 women have taken part in the campaign #PravoNaAbort. Still taken from YouTube.

The Ukrainian government strived to adopt the conservative turn maintained by their Russian and Belarusian counterparts. However, their efforts have met with considerably less success. In 2013, an attempt to outlaw abortion failed. Measures against homosexual ‘propaganda’ were also proposed in 2011 and 2012, but were not ratified into law.

Quite why these measures failed is not clear. It is likely that street protests by leftist, feminist, and LGBT groups may have influenced an outcome, although Ukrainian geopolitical gyrations shifting back and forth from Russia to Europe up to 2014 is perhaps one of the key factors:

Reproductive labour

It is not surprising that protest voices have appeared in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. But these voices are heard not only in street demonstrations, but also in works of art dedicated to criticising the established order.

Violence against women run through contemporary feminist art projects. For instance, works by Belarusian artists such as Alesya Zhitkevich and Marina Narushkina embody the feminist slogan, ‘the personal is political’, and speak about various forms of violence against women: verbal and physical; emotional and sexual. Amongst many Russian artists, Masha Ivanova, Anna Repina, and Yana Smetanina have all dealt with the experience of violence against women and the stigma that is associated with it. Like many other post-Soviet countries, the problem of violence is particularly severe in Russia. Whilst no exact statistics exist, it is thought that around 14,000 women die from violence inflicted by men every year.

In her project Alesya Zhitkevich (Minsk) reflects on a classic feminist essay by Carol Hanisch. ‘Personal is Political’, 2013-2014. (c) Sergei Zhdanovich.

Reproductive labour is also important. The Ukrainian artists Ksenia Gnilitskaya and Alina Yakubenko created a video called ‘The Lifelong Game’ in 2015: the work imitates a videogame, in which a woman, occupied with everyday household chores, earns points and bonuses for each completed stage. The ‘game’ reflects the lives of many women in post-Soviet countries, but sadly, in real life, women’s reproductive work is endless and any points that the woman accrues are illusory, as they cannot be converted into money or social status.

The endless cycle of reproductive labour is often explored by artists with a mixture of seriousness and humour. For example, Mikaela from Moscow analyses the ‘ritual of an ironed shirt’ in her Anthropological Reconstruction (2014) with scientific rigour; Anna Zvyagintseva from Kyiv makes a Catalogue of Women’s Labour (2013), and Ukrainian artist Alevtina Kakhidze creates her texts and drawings about domestic labour at the same time as she performs the tasks which she depicts (In Order to Clean More Quickly, 2013).

While we can trace common themes in some artworks, feminist art in post-Soviet countries is not limited to a narrow circle of ideas. In fact, it is often intersectional, turning to the experiences of various marginalised groups.

For instance, a graphic art series by Viktoria Lomasko captures moments from different lives: of Russian sex workers, of lesbian women, of anti-authoritarian protests’ participants. The artist Hagra from Russia raises the issues of classism and transphobia in her comic work, and paints the life within and beyond the gender binary framework. Alina Kopytsia from Ukraine, in her drawings, fabric collages and sculptures, explores BDSM and exhibitionism, tracing the connection between the sexual and social. While taking an action against conservative attacks, feminist art also reflects on the society, offering it new visions and perspectives.

The art of survival

Feminist art in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine is a way of life, but those who engage in it often must master an art of survival. Although more and more male and female artists are addressing gender questions in their work, such a topic is not accorded the prestige and status of more conventional artistic mores, particularly when it positions itself as feminist. 

In 2014, I took a friend of mine to an exhibition at the prestigious Pinchuk Art Centre gallery in the centre of Kyiv.  I was overjoyed to see the same collage which Zhanna Kadyrova had created for the ‘Women’s Workshop’ exhibition in 2012. I started to explain the feminist undercurrent of this work to my companion, only to be cut short by the description of the artwork on the wall provided by the curator. Any mention of gender had disappeared completely and the work was described as addressing the ‘globalisation of mediatised images’. In 2014, after the Maidan protests, the same work was described as a ‘symbol of the protests which are flowing all over the world.’ In other words, the very same processes which feminist artists explore and criticise in their work can function in the discourse of galleries and curators so as to deprive art works of an explicitly feminist or polemical orientation.

Telling is the reception of Anna Zvyagintseva’s iron sculpture Fragment. Although it was called ‘a monument to women’s work’ by its author, the media and galleries maintain a stubborn silence with regard to its intended subject matter, and generalize the work as merely addressing ‘labour as such’ and the ‘mundane nature of life.’  

Anna Zvyagintseva: 'The movement to bring together feminist artists must simultaneously exist in institutional and activist realms and create connections between the two. Perhaps it should even create its own activist institution.' ‘Fragment’ installation, 2013. (c) Anna Zvyagintseva.

Sometimes this silence passes over into censorship. In 2013, the curators of an exhibition called ‘International Women’s Day. Feminism: from avant-garde to the present day’, excluded a work by Viktoria Lomasko due to its referencing the Pussy Riot group.  It is not surprising therefore that feminist artists often prefer to organise and display their work on their own and maintain autonomous projects. Even though they can receive token support in the form of grants or free exhibition space from friendly organisations and curators, these artists rarely receive any payment, and work merely due to their commitment to their ideas.

In post-Soviet countries, feminist art frequently exists in a space between galleries and the streets. As street artists, Mikaela, Smart Mary (Umnaia Masha), and the groups Gandhi and Zoa art all predominantly work on the street. They use the streets to create political art, directing society’s attention to social problems, and remind viewers of the historical traditions of feminism.

Although such art is soon destroyed and painted over, it is perhaps the most accessible to the general public. Many artists in Russia and Ukraine are also activists in political social movements, and readily create posters and stickers, which are used at feminist actions. Banners and posters by Smart Mary appear both at various demonstrations and in gallery spaces as art objects.

Smart Mary (Moscow): 'I believe that in order to achieve civic victory, we have to recognise our individual weaknesses and to speak out about them. The cult of strength and purity leads only to fascism and segregation.' ‘On-Off’ poster, 2013 (c) Smart Mary.

Although feminists must survive in these conditions, their work can directly help others to survive. A recent example is a performance of the Vagina Monologues in St Petersburg in 2014 (curated by Leda Garina and Anastasia Khodyreva). The money raised by the performance gathered funds for a women’s crisis centre that provides support for victims of people trafficking as well as victims of domestic and sexual violence.

At a time when Russian state support for crisis centres is almost zero, the money raised by ticket sales contributed to enabling a telephone hotline, which female victims can call and receive support. Similarly, a performance of the Vagina Monologues in Kyiv (organised by the Positive Women group and curated by Galina Dzhykaieva, Galya Yarmanova, and Lesia Pagulich) helped gather funds for a women’s crisis centre in Donetsk in order to aid women in the Donbas conflict zone.

Feminism without borders

Despite their working in various formats, some feminist artists from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia often meet and share their experiences. At the end of 2014, the new platform Feminist (Art) Criticism arose in Minsk. The curators Irina Solomatina and Tatsiana Shchurko gathered together feminist artists and researchers from 11 countries. For two weeks the project became a hub of academic and creative activity, providing exhibitions, concerts, master classes and conferences.

Despite many official obstacles, a new generation of feminist artists has appeared in Russia.

In Russia, the socially engaged project Feminist Pencil was created in 2012. Organised by Nadia Plungian and Viktoriya Lomasko, the project led to a few exhibitions and the establishment of an international separatist feminist art movement. The female artists of the Feminist Pencil revived the somewhat forgotten art of graphics and political posters.

The bravery of the statements and the ‘sharpness’ of the artists’ pencils are aimed at destroying stereotypes and exposing society’s many double standards. The project’s success inspired new feminist art initiatives, and clearly demonstrated that, despite many official obstacles, a new generation of feminist artists has appeared in Russia.

Mannaya Kasha (Moscow-Novosibirsk): ‘For me, feminist art is a fight against hierarchy. The weapon is a multi-tool with a double edge: it's not just aimed at women viewers, but also functions as an instrument of unceasing self-analysis for the artists themselves.’ 'Feminist banner’ street sticker, 2012-2013 (c) Mannaya Kasha.

Amongst those international feminist art projects in Ukraine, it is important to note the most recent, Motherhood, in 2015. With the developing war and economic crisis, Ukrainian society finds itself on the threshold of yet another conservative turn, and one which is based on crude nationalist rhetoric: men are praised as heroes whilst women and marginalised groups are forgotten. Curated by Oksana Briukhovetska, the project Motherhood addressed this problem through an exhibition, film screenings, lectures, and public discussions.  It seems that many feminist artists would agree with the remarks Motherhood participant Joanna Rajkowska: ‘I do not perceive reality as a permanent state of affairs, which I must endure with pain. The way we arrange our own world and our co-existence in it depends on us – the residents of this building, city, country, world…’ 

In its direct movement towards equality, feminist art in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine supersedes personal and state boundaries. It inspires protest, and its protest gives us inspiration in return. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Exhibition review: 'Borderlands' (GRAD, London) Times of war in Russian arts and culture Rights:  CC by NC 3.0
Categories: les flux rss

Can feminist art free women from patriarchy in Eastern Europe?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 21. May 2015 - 16:48

As post-Soviet states continue their 'conservative turn', feminist artists stand up to address gender injustice in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

 

I first became acquainted with feminist art in Kyiv in 2012, when Feminist Ofenzyva (Feminist Offensive) organised ‘Women’s Workshop’, a project which invited female artists to create their works in collaboration with the public.

I was particularly struck by the work of Zhanna Kadyrova. Famous in Ukraine for her enormous sculptures and mosaics occupying up to two floors of a building, Zhanna was sat with a pile of newspapers, cutting out photographs of people with nail scissors for a surreal collage of miniature figures. 

Zhanna Kadyrova in the process of creating her collage, ‘Women’s Workshop’ exhibition, 2012. (c) Karina Sembe.

The newspapers were from various countries, but the world appeared uniform in the collages, as if inhabited only by men in suits doing highly serious things. Only rarely did a woman make an appearance amongst this mass of be-suited males, often with a smile on her face, either elegantly dressed or nude. In an interview with ArtUkraine, Zhanna explained that ‘the discrepancies between images of men and women struck me: for every three images of women, there were a hundred images of men. I then noticed how their roles are depicted. Men are shown shaking hands, women are shown in adverts, in the cultural sphere, or with a baby and that’s all.’

‘There are no other roles for women… Elsewhere in Europe or the US you can sometimes find images of a business woman in front of a microphone who has something to say. But it is rare in our [Eastern European] countries.’

In the mirror-world of patriarchy

The world in Kadyrova’s collage may seem strange, but it reflects the situation of women in contemporary Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.

The social, political and economic differences between the three countries are considerable, but the patriarchal tendencies found in each are often identical. Many of the issues faced by women have their roots in the Soviet era. It was in the Soviet Union that the idea of the ‘working mother’ took hold: a woman was to work on the same level as men, but was also expected to bring up the children, look after the household and herself. Nowadays, gender equality is proclaimed de jure as a goal rather than given. However, in reality it is not implemented in law, and many experience discrimination. 

Many factors contribute to what amounts to the feminisation of poverty in these countries. Women are forbidden from working in a great many professions (almost 200 in Belarus, more than 400 in Russia, and over 500 in Ukraine). There exists a strong vertical and horizontal gender segregation at work, and the pay gap between men and women is large (25-40% depending on the country). Similar to Soviet times, women come home after work and start an unpaid ‘second shift’ of housework: cooking, looking after children and relatives. 

While the USSR was far from paradise for women, its legislation had a silver lining: Soviet Russia was the first country in the world to legalise abortions, and, apart from Stalinist times, abortions were free and easily accessible in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. Yet in recent years, these states have all tried to restrict women’s reproductive rights under the guise of preventing a demographic crisis. This conservative politics is often initiated on the basis of a return to the traditional values of the hetero-normative family, and women are expected to produce a large quantity of children.

The situation is particularly acute in Belarus. In 2013, a council of ministers severely restricted the possible justifications for an abortion in the later stages of pregnancy: now a woman is only granted an abortion in cases of rape or the previous deprivation of parents’ rights. According to 2014 amendments in legislation, every woman in need of an abortion must first consult with a lawyer and psychologist.

Finally, this March, the Ministry of Health together with the Belarusian Eastern Orthodox Church undertook the ‘innovation’ of the so-called ‘Week without abortions’ (where a week for the Ministry somehow equals 9 working days): each day, abortions are banned in a different region of Belarus.

Men in suits

The Belarusian Eastern Orthodox Church undertook the ‘innovation’ of the so-called week without abortions.

The be-suited men who occupy the vast majority of positions in the Russian government have actively maintained a programme that limits the rights and roles of women in Russia.

The lives of bisexual, lesbian, and transgender women are endangered because of the infamous law banning ‘homosexual propaganda’ adopted in 2013. Despite a petition which gathered over 100,000 signatures, the government has yet to propose a law concerning violence against women.

Representatives of the Eastern Orthodox Church (which maintains substantial links with the Russian government) have actively sought to restrict the use of the term ‘domestic violence.’ Russia is also on the verge of criminalising abortions: a recent legislative initiative proposes a criminal penalty of a year in prison for a woman, her partner, and a doctor who performed an abortion. News of the proposed restrictions on abortions has already provoked a response by Russian feminists. One of the examples is the YouTube campaign ‘A Right to Abortion’  led by Leda Garina of LeftFem. Garina and other feminist activists are now being called for an interview with the Department for Countering Extremism: apparently, defending women’s rights is an extremist activity in Russia.

More than 100 women have taken part in the campaign #PravoNaAbort. Still taken from YouTube.

The Ukrainian government strived to adopt the conservative turn maintained by their Russian and Belarusian counterparts. However, their efforts have met with considerably less success. In 2013, an attempt to outlaw abortion failed. Measures against homosexual ‘propaganda’ were also proposed in 2011 and 2012, but were not ratified into law.

Quite why these measures failed is not clear. It is likely that street protests by leftist, feminist, and LGBT groups may have influenced an outcome, although Ukrainian geopolitical gyrations shifting back and forth from Russia to Europe up to 2014 is perhaps one of the key factors:

Reproductive labour

It is not surprising that protest voices have appeared in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. But these voices are heard not only in street demonstrations, but also in works of art dedicated to criticising the established order.

Violence against women run through contemporary feminist art projects. For instance, works by Belarusian artists such as Alesya Zhitkevich and Marina Narushkina embody the feminist slogan, ‘the personal is political’, and speak about various forms of violence against women: verbal and physical; emotional and sexual. Amongst many Russian artists, Masha Ivanova, Anna Repina, and Yana Smetanina have all dealt with the experience of violence against women and the stigma that is associated with it. Like many other post-Soviet countries, the problem of violence is particularly severe in Russia. Whilst no exact statistics exist, it is thought that around 14,000 women die from violence inflicted by men every year.

In her project Alesya Zhitkevich (Minsk) reflects on a classic feminist essay by Carol Hanisch. ‘Personal is Political’, 2013-2014. (c) Sergei Zhdanovich.

Reproductive labour is also important. The Ukrainian artists Ksenia Gnilitskaya and Alina Yakubenko created a video called ‘The Lifelong Game’ in 2015: the work imitates a videogame, in which a woman, occupied with everyday household chores, earns points and bonuses for each completed stage. The ‘game’ reflects the lives of many women in post-Soviet countries, but sadly, in real life, women’s reproductive work is endless and any points that the woman accrues are illusory, as they cannot be converted into money or social status.

The endless cycle of reproductive labour is often explored by artists with a mixture of seriousness and humour. For example, Mikaela from Moscow analyses the ‘ritual of an ironed shirt’ in her Anthropological Reconstruction (2014) with scientific rigour; Anna Zvyagintseva from Kyiv makes a Catalogue of Women’s Labour (2013), and Ukrainian artist Alevtina Kakhidze creates her texts and drawings about domestic labour at the same time as she performs the tasks which she depicts (In Order to Clean More Quickly, 2013).

While we can trace common themes in some artworks, feminist art in post-Soviet countries is not limited to a narrow circle of ideas. In fact, it is often intersectional, turning to the experiences of various marginalised groups.

For instance, a graphic art series by Viktoria Lomasko captures moments from different lives: of Russian sex workers, of lesbian women, of anti-authoritarian protests’ participants. The artist Hagra from Russia raises the issues of classism and transphobia in her comic work, and paints the life within and beyond the gender binary framework. Alina Kopytsia from Ukraine, in her drawings, fabric collages and sculptures, explores BDSM and exhibitionism, tracing the connection between the sexual and social. While taking an action against conservative attacks, feminist art also reflects on the society, offering it new visions and perspectives.

The art of survival

Feminist art in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine is a way of life, but those who engage in it often must master an art of survival. Although more and more male and female artists are addressing gender questions in their work, such a topic is not accorded the prestige and status of more conventional artistic mores, particularly when it positions itself as feminist. 

In 2014, I took a friend of mine to an exhibition at the prestigious Pinchuk Art Centre gallery in the centre of Kyiv.  I was overjoyed to see the same collage which Zhanna Kadyrova had created for the ‘Women’s Workshop’ exhibition in 2012. I started to explain the feminist undercurrent of this work to my companion, only to be cut short by the description of the artwork on the wall provided by the curator. Any mention of gender had disappeared completely and the work was described as addressing the ‘globalisation of mediatised images’. In 2014, after the Maidan protests, the same work was described as a ‘symbol of the protests which are flowing all over the world.’ In other words, the very same processes which feminist artists explore and criticise in their work can function in the discourse of galleries and curators so as to deprive art works of an explicitly feminist or polemical orientation.

Telling is the reception of Anna Zvyagintseva’s iron sculpture Fragment. Although it was called ‘a monument to women’s work’ by its author, the media and galleries maintain a stubborn silence with regard to its intended subject matter, and generalize the work as merely addressing ‘labour as such’ and the ‘mundane nature of life.’  

Anna Zvyagintseva: 'The movement to bring together feminist artists must simultaneously exist in institutional and activist realms and create connections between the two. Perhaps it should even create its own activist institution.' ‘Fragment’ installation, 2013. (c) Anna Zvyagintseva.

Sometimes this silence passes over into censorship. In 2013, the curators of an exhibition called ‘International Women’s Day. Feminism: from avant-garde to the present day’, excluded a work by Viktoria Lomasko due to its referencing the Pussy Riot group.  It is not surprising therefore that feminist artists often prefer to organise and display their work on their own and maintain autonomous projects. Even though they can receive token support in the form of grants or free exhibition space from friendly organisations and curators, these artists rarely receive any payment, and work merely due to their commitment to their ideas.

In post-Soviet countries, feminist art frequently exists in a space between galleries and the streets. As street artists, Mikaela, Smart Mary (Umnaia Masha), and the groups Gandhi and Zoa art all predominantly work on the street. They use the streets to create political art, directing society’s attention to social problems, and remind viewers of the historical traditions of feminism.

Although such art is soon destroyed and painted over, it is perhaps the most accessible to the general public. Many artists in Russia and Ukraine are also activists in political social movements, and readily create posters and stickers, which are used at feminist actions. Banners and posters by Smart Mary appear both at various demonstrations and in gallery spaces as art objects.

Smart Mary (Moscow): 'I believe that in order to achieve civic victory, we have to recognise our individual weaknesses and to speak out about them. The cult of strength and purity leads only to fascism and segregation.' ‘On-Off’ poster, 2013 (c) Smart Mary.

Although feminists must survive in these conditions, their work can directly help others to survive. A recent example is a performance of the Vagina Monologues in St Petersburg in 2014 (curated by Leda Garina and Anastasia Khodyreva). The money raised by the performance gathered funds for a women’s crisis centre that provides support for victims of people trafficking as well as victims of domestic and sexual violence.

At a time when Russian state support for crisis centres is almost zero, the money raised by ticket sales contributed to enabling a telephone hotline, which female victims can call and receive support. Similarly, a performance of the Vagina Monologues in Kyiv (organised by the Positive Women group and curated by Galina Dzhykaieva, Galya Yarmanova, and Lesia Pagulich) helped gather funds for a women’s crisis centre in Donetsk in order to aid women in the Donbas conflict zone.

Feminism without borders

Despite their working in various formats, some feminist artists from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia often meet and share their experiences. At the end of 2014, the new platform Feminist (Art) Criticism arose in Minsk. The curators Irina Solomatina and Tatsiana Shchurko gathered together feminist artists and researchers from 11 countries. For two weeks the project became a hub of academic and creative activity, providing exhibitions, concerts, master classes and conferences.

Despite many official obstacles, a new generation of feminist artists has appeared in Russia.

In Russia, the socially engaged project Feminist Pencil was created in 2012. Organised by Nadia Plungian and Viktoriya Lomasko, the project led to a few exhibitions and the establishment of an international separatist feminist art movement. The female artists of the Feminist Pencil revived the somewhat forgotten art of graphics and political posters.

The bravery of the statements and the ‘sharpness’ of the artists’ pencils are aimed at destroying stereotypes and exposing society’s many double standards. The project’s success inspired new feminist art initiatives, and clearly demonstrated that, despite many official obstacles, a new generation of feminist artists has appeared in Russia.

Mannaya Kasha (Moscow-Novosibirsk): ‘For me, feminist art is a fight against hierarchy. The weapon is a multi-tool with a double edge: it's not just aimed at women viewers, but also functions as an instrument of unceasing self-analysis for the artists themselves.’ 'Feminist banner’ street sticker, 2012-2013 (c) Mannaya Kasha.

Amongst those international feminist art projects in Ukraine, it is important to note the most recent, Motherhood, in 2015. With the developing war and economic crisis, Ukrainian society finds itself on the threshold of yet another conservative turn, and one which is based on crude nationalist rhetoric: men are praised as heroes whilst women and marginalised groups are forgotten. Curated by Oksana Briukhovetska, the project Motherhood addressed this problem through an exhibition, film screenings, lectures, and public discussions.  It seems that many feminist artists would agree with the remarks Motherhood participant Joanna Rajkowska: ‘I do not perceive reality as a permanent state of affairs, which I must endure with pain. The way we arrange our own world and our co-existence in it depends on us – the residents of this building, city, country, world…’ 

In its direct movement towards equality, feminist art in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine supersedes personal and state boundaries. It inspires protest, and its protest gives us inspiration in return. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Exhibition review: 'Borderlands' (GRAD, London) Times of war in Russian arts and culture Rights:  CC by NC 3.0
Categories: les flux rss

Pages