Greferendum: an anthology

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 20:42

Some of our best contributors on the Greek crisis give their thoughts on how they would vote in Sunday's referendum.

Demotix/Giorgos Panagakis. All rights reserved.

Frances Coppolaeconomics writer and contributor to the Financial Times

The creditors’ final offer is simply a watered-down version of the policies that were agreed in 2012. These have caused a 27% fall in Greek GDP, thrown one in four adults out of work, prevented more than half of young people from finding work at all, and created poverty and misery on a scale similar to the Great Depression. Crucially, they have also failed to make Greece’s debt sustainable.

In fact they have made matters worse. The IMF’s Debt Sustainability Analysis says that Greece will need an additional £60bn of financing and decades of debt relief, even without considering recent developments. The “reforms” imposed by the creditors neither restore the Greek economy nor ensure that creditors get their money back. They are not fit for purpose. Since the new proposal does not materially change them, the Greek people must reject them. A “No” vote is the only possible response. 

Costas Douzinas, Professor of Law and Director of the Birkbeck Institute of Humanities, Birkbeck, London

The Tsipras proposal brings back the fear elites feel when the people momentarily enter onto the political stage. The referendum will be an encounter with the anti-austerity resistance of the Greek people and in direct contact with the occupation of Syntagma Square in 2011. It places the people at the centre of politics and prefigures an institutional framework in which direct democracy becomes a permanent supplement to its representative part.

But the referendum puts the European elites too before a major dilemma: do they respect the democratic decisions of people or are the demands of banks, financiers and their political and media friends the holy writ of new Europe?

Spyros Sofos, lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University

I would vote 'yes' as I do not want my objections to the way the crisis has been managed at home and in Brussels to be usurped by politicians that dream that they can give the Union a bloody nose by destroying the Eurozone or that want to use the woes of my country as an example to be avoided by my fellow Europeans who will be going to the polls later this year to elect a government in Spain and elsewhere....I would like my 'yes' to serve as the start of the process of regaining my voice as a Greek and a European citizen.

Yanis Varoufakis, Minister of Finance, Greece

Since the announcement of the referendum, official Europe has sent signals that they are ready to discuss debt restructuring. These signals show that official Europe too would vote NO on its own ‘final’ offer. Greece will stay in the euro. Deposits in Greece’s banks are safe. Creditors have chosen the strategy of blackmail based on bank closures.

The current impasse is due to this choice by the creditors and not by the Greek government discontinuing the negotiations or any Greek thoughts of Grexit and devaluation…The future demands a proud Greece within the Eurozone and at the heart of Europe. This future demands that Greeks say a big NO on Sunday, that we stay in the Euro Area, and that, with the power vested upon us by that NO, we renegotiate Greece’s public debt as well as the distribution of burdens between the haves and the have nots. 

Dimitris Boucas, visiting lecturer, London School of Economics, UK

In the upcoming Greek referendum, there is a need to clarify the meaning of the two possible options.

YES means: accepting the current proposal of Greece’s creditors opening the road to more severe austerity measures with the least possible negotiating power for the Greek government, and legitimising the previous governments which brought the country to this point and opening the Pandora’s box for other indebted Member States

NO means: rejecting the current proposal and not condemning generations of young people to decades of austerity strengthening the government’s negotiating hand towards reaching a better agreement and most importantly, negotiating debt restructuring, coupled with measures for growth, always within the Eurozone

First and foremost, however, the referendum is a test for democracy. YES lends legitimacy to the unprecedented intervention and blackmail on the part of the European partners who equalise a NO vote with ‘return to the drachma’ - something that Mr Schäuble himself excluded as a possibility. NO is an anti-austerity message to Europe, honouring the values of democracy, respect of national sovereignty and solidarity of nations, which should be at the heart of the European project.

Antonis Vradis, Junior Research Fellow, Durham University, UK

Sunday's referendum vote is not about one fiscal detail or another, a bad agreement or one that is less so. In its essence, Sunday's question is about dignity and our lives from this point on.

It is a question those of us lucky enough to have made it to the ballot box will have to answer for those who didn't make it.

This is why, should the referendum go ahead, I will be casting a vote, for the first time in my life. I will be voting for my friends and family chased away and denied the capacity to live over here. I will be voting for my dear friend who decided, in the darkest hours of the crisis, that his was a life not worth living. I will be voting in the hope that doing so will help make the lives of the criminal market gang truly unlivable. 

Pavlos Eleftheriadis, Associate Professor of Law and a Fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford University

The government seems unaware of the immense risks it is taking. A ’no’ will be a signal to the EU institutions that a deal is not forthcoming. The Greek default to the IMF, which happened on Tuesday, will then be read as a definitive signal that Greece intends to default on all its loans, in order to remain ‘independent’, as instructed by its electorate. Greece would soon be bankrupt and its banks would run out of money entirely.

It is in this way that a ‘no’ result will set in motion the process of disengagement from the Eurozone. It is true that the EU cannot throw Greece out of the Euro. There is no legal mechanism for ‘Grexit’. But this is irrelevant. The mechanism will work the other way round: the Greek government will beg for Grexit, when it finds out that it has to recapitalise its banks within a matter of days and discovers that the unilateral creation of a new currency is against EU law. The treaties will be amended and Greece will exit the Euro just in order for its banks to start working again. 

Jan Zielonka, Professor of European Politics, University of Oxford

The vote on Sunday is not only about Greece, but also about Europe. Greeks can throw life into Europe by challenging the Frankfurt consensus and forcing the EU to halt the march of folly. Europe is doomed if such basic values behind the integration project as solidarity, equality and social care are being sacrificed on the altar of financial greed and national egoism. EU elites have lost a sense of history and economic rationality and the Greeks can make them rethink and possibly retreat. I fear that saving Europe is the last thing on the minds of the suffering Greek people.

Takis Pappas, Visiting Professor in Political Science, University of Freiburg, Germany

Here is a Greek story. It begins in Anatolia with my grandparents, who came to Greece as refugees after the forced exchange of populations - for them it was "The Disaster" - in the early 1920s. They became merchants and relatively prosperous Greek citizens. It continues with my parents, who worked their way in the private sector both in times of political tumult and in peace; politically moderate and wise folks as they were, they taught me to be a good citizen and productive member in society.

The story is now at a chapter where I have long ago moved residence from Greece to somewhere near the heart of Europe, happily seeing my own children to develop as true European citizens and proud heirs to a mixture of cultures. This has been a century-long, tortuous but also dignified journey from the Ottoman east to the enlightened West. And I don't want to see it reversed by a "leftist riffraff" in partnership with ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis. To have a happy ending, this story demands that I vote "yes".

Vassilis Petsinis, Visiting Researcher at the Herder Institute, Marburg, Germany

When Greece entered the Eurozone in 2001, I saw this as an essentially political project. Meanwhile, I remained very skeptical over the long-term capacity of the Greek economy to sustain the Euro currency. It did not take long until my worries were confirmed. Although I harbor various reservations over its timeliness, this referendum will provide Greek citizens with the opportunity to undertake political responsibility over a question of vital concern.

At this given moment, an abrupt default and Grexit would not provide a viable trajectory (let alone a panacea) out of the, admittedly harsh, austerity policies. By contrast, such a development would transform the already impoverished strata into an underclass in the literal sense. Furthermore, an abrupt Grexit would provide fertile ground for the reappearance of vulture capitalism comparable to the one that post-Communist Europe experienced in the 1990s.

In the light of these circumstances, I judge that an interim compromise between the Greek government and the EU would be a less bad option. In the long run, this would also give enough time for a more organized and better coordinated Grexit if there is no other way out. However, an abrupt default and Grexit would generate economic and, especially, political consequences that Greek society will not be able to manage in the immediate future.

James Galbraith, Professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, USA

If the Greeks vote for "No", then negotiations can resume on a foundation of clarity and determination. Greece will not leave the Euro. It cannot be expelled from the Euro or from the European Union.

If the Greeks vote "Yes," then the austerity will deepen. The Greek economy will not recover. Very likely, someone else will have the responsibility to try to govern. In that case, the opposition--in Greece as well as in other European countries--will pass firmly to the anti-European, anti-Euro forces. Europe will not survive the political victory of those forces.

Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, Director of the Centre for International and European Studies, Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey

Although it would be preferable if there were no referendum, I will vote Yes for a variety of reasons that are not directly related to the question posed. First, it negates the very notion of a parliamentary democracy that brought SYRIZA to power only 5 months ago, as the government has been unsuccessful or unwilling in negotiating a bailout. In this sense, the epitome of populism is at play yet again much as it brought SYRIZA to power after five years of playing the card of naysayers while in opposition by disrupting the orderly functioning of parliament and other institutions and encouraging disorderly street protests.

Secondly, for the first time in my life, I feel that my European identity, which complements my identity as a Greek, is threatened because both SYRIZA and the Independent Greeks, in their attempt to justify their governance, have been trying (somewhat successfully) to inculcate a sense of Greek exceptionalism which threatens to lead the country into terra incognita away from the European Union and the West in general.

Thus, the YES vote on my part is about putting the brakes on a government that should the NO vote prevail, would fundamentally challenge and change my way of life and negatively impact on the quality of my country’s democracy.

Vassilis Fouskas, Professor of International Politics and Economics, University of East London

I would vote NO. I support Greece's principled stand against the blackmail and diktats of the European financial institutions, a stand that is an inspiration for all true Europeans. Greece has exposed the rotten core of European banking capital to the light of democracy. It has exposed the asymmetrical and rigid neo-liberal nature of the monetary union presenting a truly reformist agenda countering the prevailing model of European "integration", that of low (or no) wages, cuts and austerity.

This model of development creates surpluses in the centre and debts in the periphery further aggravating structural asymmetries, rigidities and disintegration. It is not good. I envisage a united Europe of peace, democracy, justice and social solidarity. To my chagrin, this is the Europe that Germany and France cannot give. Little Greece was the first to officially pose those issues at the heart of Europe and, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the credit goes to her.

Iannis Carras, historian and lecturer at the Institute of Europe Studies, University of Freiburg, Germany

I have long been waiting for George Papandreou’s referendum on whether Greece should make the necessary changes to remain in the Euro. SYRIZA has however managed to conjure up a question that is both meaningless and divisive. Meaningless in the absence of a valid text, and divisive because it leads to a politics of nationalisms. The plan that was not agreed upon was insufficient in terms of reducing primary surpluses and of structural reforms.

But the alternative will be very much worse. The economy will tank, hunger will become widespread, pensioners and the poor will be disproportionately affected. Violence is likely. A “NO” will lead to a post-Sovietisation of Greek society. It is thus with a sense of mourning for the Greece and the EU that are failing us that I will vote “YES”.

But this “YES” comes with an addendum: if, after a “YES”, the EU and the creditors do not provide substantial debt relief in return for structural reforms, thus helping the Greek economy grow, they will bear the ethical responsibility for the inability of the Greek side to live up to impossible obligations. Historians of days to come will look back at their actions with disdain. 

Fintan O'Toole, Literary Editor at the Irish Times

There are times when the only thing to say is No. Not because you know exactly what all the implications might be but because someone has to put a spoke in wheels that are rolling towards disaster. The technocratic solution to the Eurozone crisis – vast bailouts of private banks plus austerity for the most vulnerable citizens plus the shrinking of the capacity of national states – is an obvious, empirical failure. But it is also undermining the ideas of democracy, justice and solidarity without which the whole European project will flounder. A Greek No will restore to Europe a starkly absent  idea – the principle of consent.

Neophytos Loizides, Reader in International Conflict Analysis, University of Kent & Iosif Kovras, Research Fellow, Queen's University, Belfast

At this critical moment the priority should be to transform the ill-conceived referendum into an opportunity for a constructive mandate for Greece's future. It is still possible for pro-EU forces to win the hearts and minds of the Greek people for policies that foster domestic consensus and credibility abroad.

The most critical move is interpreting the ‘yes’ vote as a renewed mandate not only to renegotiate better terms within the Eurozone but also to form a government of shared responsibility. Reframing the referendum result in positive and inclusive terms will bring forward new political dynamics, and act as a litmus test of the capacity of Greek society to overcome its deep divisions.

John Weeks, Professor Emeritus at SOAS, London

On July 5 Europeans will witness an extraordinary event. A sitting government will ask its people to decide on a major policy issue that lies outside its electoral mandate. It is difficult to exaggerate the radical nature of the coming referendum in Greece. In January 2015 the Syriza Party platform committed to ending austerity and remaining in the euro zone. Now in July it faces the black and white choice of more austerity or Grexit.

The Syriza government has not mocked democratic principle by invoking the cliché that "circumstances have changed" to justify doing what it promised never to do. Rather, it asks those who will be most affected, the people of Greece, to decide. That revolt is real whatever the outcome of the referendum.

If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking Can Europe Make it? on Facebook and following us on Twitter @oD_Europe

Sideboxes Related stories:  Why I will be voting NO in Sunday's Greek referendum Why I will be voting YES in Sunday’s Greek referendum Country or region:  Greece Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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Greferendum: an anthology

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 20:42

Some of our best contributors on the Greek crisis give their thoughts on how they would vote in Sunday's referendum.

Demotix/Giorgos Panagakis. All rights reserved.

Frances Coppolaeconomics writer and contributor to the Financial Times

The creditors’ final offer is simply a watered-down version of the policies that were agreed in 2012. These have caused a 27% fall in Greek GDP, thrown one in four adults out of work, prevented more than half of young people from finding work at all, and created poverty and misery on a scale similar to the Great Depression. Crucially, they have also failed to make Greece’s debt sustainable.

In fact they have made matters worse. The IMF’s Debt Sustainability Analysis says that Greece will need an additional £60bn of financing and decades of debt relief, even without considering recent developments. The “reforms” imposed by the creditors neither restore the Greek economy nor ensure that creditors get their money back. They are not fit for purpose. Since the new proposal does not materially change them, the Greek people must reject them. A “No” vote is the only possible response. 

Costas Douzinas, Professor of Law and Director of the Birkbeck Institute of Humanities, Birkbeck, London

The Tsipras proposal brings back the fear elites feel when the people momentarily enter onto the political stage. The referendum will be an encounter with the anti-austerity resistance of the Greek people and in direct contact with the occupation of Syntagma Square in 2011. It places the people at the centre of politics and prefigures an institutional framework in which direct democracy becomes a permanent supplement to its representative part.

But the referendum puts the European elites too before a major dilemma: do they respect the democratic decisions of people or are the demands of banks, financiers and their political and media friends the holy writ of new Europe?

Spyros Sofos, lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University

I would vote 'yes' as I do not want my objections to the way the crisis has been managed at home and in Brussels to be usurped by politicians that dream that they can give the Union a bloody nose by destroying the Eurozone or that want to use the woes of my country as an example to be avoided by my fellow Europeans who will be going to the polls later this year to elect a government in Spain and elsewhere....I would like my 'yes' to serve as the start of the process of regaining my voice as a Greek and a European citizen.

Yanis Varoufakis, Minister of Finance, Greece

Since the announcement of the referendum, official Europe has sent signals that they are ready to discuss debt restructuring. These signals show that official Europe too would vote NO on its own ‘final’ offer. Greece will stay in the euro. Deposits in Greece’s banks are safe. Creditors have chosen the strategy of blackmail based on bank closures.

The current impasse is due to this choice by the creditors and not by the Greek government discontinuing the negotiations or any Greek thoughts of Grexit and devaluation…The future demands a proud Greece within the Eurozone and at the heart of Europe. This future demands that Greeks say a big NO on Sunday, that we stay in the Euro Area, and that, with the power vested upon us by that NO, we renegotiate Greece’s public debt as well as the distribution of burdens between the haves and the have nots. 

Dimitris Boucas, visiting lecturer, London School of Economics, UK

In the upcoming Greek referendum, there is a need to clarify the meaning of the two possible options.

YES means: accepting the current proposal of Greece’s creditors opening the road to more severe austerity measures with the least possible negotiating power for the Greek government, and legitimising the previous governments which brought the country to this point and opening the Pandora’s box for other indebted Member States

NO means: rejecting the current proposal and not condemning generations of young people to decades of austerity strengthening the government’s negotiating hand towards reaching a better agreement and most importantly, negotiating debt restructuring, coupled with measures for growth, always within the Eurozone

First and foremost, however, the referendum is a test for democracy. YES lends legitimacy to the unprecedented intervention and blackmail on the part of the European partners who equalise a NO vote with ‘return to the drachma’ - something that Mr Schäuble himself excluded as a possibility. NO is an anti-austerity message to Europe, honouring the values of democracy, respect of national sovereignty and solidarity of nations, which should be at the heart of the European project.

Antonis Vradis, Junior Research Fellow, Durham University, UK

Sunday's referendum vote is not about one fiscal detail or another, a bad agreement or one that is less so. In its essence, Sunday's question is about dignity and our lives from this point on.

It is a question those of us lucky enough to have made it to the ballot box will have to answer for those who didn't make it.

This is why, should the referendum go ahead, I will be casting a vote, for the first time in my life. I will be voting for my friends and family chased away and denied the capacity to live over here. I will be voting for my dear friend who decided, in the darkest hours of the crisis, that his was a life not worth living. I will be voting in the hope that doing so will help make the lives of the criminal market gang truly unlivable. 

Pavlos Eleftheriadis, Associate Professor of Law and a Fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford University

The government seems unaware of the immense risks it is taking. A ’no’ will be a signal to the EU institutions that a deal is not forthcoming. The Greek default to the IMF, which happened on Tuesday, will then be read as a definitive signal that Greece intends to default on all its loans, in order to remain ‘independent’, as instructed by its electorate. Greece would soon be bankrupt and its banks would run out of money entirely.

It is in this way that a ‘no’ result will set in motion the process of disengagement from the Eurozone. It is true that the EU cannot throw Greece out of the Euro. There is no legal mechanism for ‘Grexit’. But this is irrelevant. The mechanism will work the other way round: the Greek government will beg for Grexit, when it finds out that it has to recapitalise its banks within a matter of days and discovers that the unilateral creation of a new currency is against EU law. The treaties will be amended and Greece will exit the Euro just in order for its banks to start working again. 

Jan Zielonka, Professor of European Politics, University of Oxford

The vote on Sunday is not only about Greece, but also about Europe. Greeks can throw life into Europe by challenging the Frankfurt consensus and forcing the EU to halt the march of folly. Europe is doomed if such basic values behind the integration project as solidarity, equality and social care are being sacrificed on the altar of financial greed and national egoism. EU elites have lost a sense of history and economic rationality and the Greeks can make them rethink and possibly retreat. I fear that saving Europe is the last thing on the minds of the suffering Greek people.

Takis Pappas, Visiting Professor in Political Science, University of Freiburg, Germany

Here is a Greek story. It begins in Anatolia with my grandparents, who came to Greece as refugees after the forced exchange of populations - for them it was "The Disaster" - in the early 1920s. They became merchants and relatively prosperous Greek citizens. It continues with my parents, who worked their way in the private sector both in times of political tumult and in peace; politically moderate and wise folks as they were, they taught me to be a good citizen and productive member in society.

The story is now at a chapter where I have long ago moved residence from Greece to somewhere near the heart of Europe, happily seeing my own children to develop as true European citizens and proud heirs to a mixture of cultures. This has been a century-long, tortuous but also dignified journey from the Ottoman east to the enlightened West. And I don't want to see it reversed by a "leftist riffraff" in partnership with ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis. To have a happy ending, this story demands that I vote "yes".

Vassilis Petsinis, Visiting Researcher at the Herder Institute, Marburg, Germany

When Greece entered the Eurozone in 2001, I saw this as an essentially political project. Meanwhile, I remained very skeptical over the long-term capacity of the Greek economy to sustain the Euro currency. It did not take long until my worries were confirmed. Although I harbor various reservations over its timeliness, this referendum will provide Greek citizens with the opportunity to undertake political responsibility over a question of vital concern.

At this given moment, an abrupt default and Grexit would not provide a viable trajectory (let alone a panacea) out of the, admittedly harsh, austerity policies. By contrast, such a development would transform the already impoverished strata into an underclass in the literal sense. Furthermore, an abrupt Grexit would provide fertile ground for the reappearance of vulture capitalism comparable to the one that post-Communist Europe experienced in the 1990s.

In the light of these circumstances, I judge that an interim compromise between the Greek government and the EU would be a less bad option. In the long run, this would also give enough time for a more organized and better coordinated Grexit if there is no other way out. However, an abrupt default and Grexit would generate economic and, especially, political consequences that Greek society will not be able to manage in the immediate future.

James Galbraith, Professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, USA

If the Greeks vote for "No", then negotiations can resume on a foundation of clarity and determination. Greece will not leave the Euro. It cannot be expelled from the Euro or from the European Union.

If the Greeks vote "Yes," then the austerity will deepen. The Greek economy will not recover. Very likely, someone else will have the responsibility to try to govern. In that case, the opposition--in Greece as well as in other European countries--will pass firmly to the anti-European, anti-Euro forces. Europe will not survive the political victory of those forces.

Dimitrios Triantaphyllou, Director of the Centre for International and European Studies, Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey

Although it would be preferable if there were no referendum, I will vote Yes for a variety of reasons that are not directly related to the question posed. First, it negates the very notion of a parliamentary democracy that brought SYRIZA to power only 5 months ago, as the government has been unsuccessful or unwilling in negotiating a bailout. In this sense, the epitome of populism is at play yet again much as it brought SYRIZA to power after five years of playing the card of naysayers while in opposition by disrupting the orderly functioning of parliament and other institutions and encouraging disorderly street protests.

Secondly, for the first time in my life, I feel that my European identity, which complements my identity as a Greek, is threatened because both SYRIZA and the Independent Greeks, in their attempt to justify their governance, have been trying (somewhat successfully) to inculcate a sense of Greek exceptionalism which threatens to lead the country into terra incognita away from the European Union and the West in general.

Thus, the YES vote on my part is about putting the brakes on a government that should the NO vote prevail, would fundamentally challenge and change my way of life and negatively impact on the quality of my country’s democracy.

Vassilis Fouskas, Professor of International Politics and Economics, University of East London

I would vote NO. I support Greece's principled stand against the blackmail and diktats of the European financial institutions, a stand that is an inspiration for all true Europeans. Greece has exposed the rotten core of European banking capital to the light of democracy. It has exposed the asymmetrical and rigid neo-liberal nature of the monetary union presenting a truly reformist agenda countering the prevailing model of European "integration", that of low (or no) wages, cuts and austerity.

This model of development creates surpluses in the centre and debts in the periphery further aggravating structural asymmetries, rigidities and disintegration. It is not good. I envisage a united Europe of peace, democracy, justice and social solidarity. To my chagrin, this is the Europe that Germany and France cannot give. Little Greece was the first to officially pose those issues at the heart of Europe and, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the credit goes to her.

Iannis Carras, historian and lecturer at the University of Freiburg, Germany

I have long been waiting for George Papandreou’s referendum on whether Greece should make the necessary changes to remain in the Euro. SYRIZA has however managed to conjure up a question that is both meaningless and divisive. Meaningless in the absence of a valid text, and divisive because it leads to a politics of nationalisms. The plan that was not agreed upon was insufficient in terms of reducing primary surpluses and of structural reforms.

But the alternative will be very much worse. The economy will tank, hunger will become widespread, pensioners and the poor will be disproportionately affected. Violence is likely. A “NO” will lead to a post-Sovietisation of Greek society. It is thus with a sense of mourning for the Greece and the EU that are failing us that I will vote “YES”.

But this “YES” comes with an addendum: if, after a “YES”, the EU and the creditors do not provide substantial debt relief in return for structural reforms, thus helping the Greek economy grow, they will bear the ethical responsibility for the inability of the Greek side to live up to impossible obligations. Historians of days to come will look back at their actions with disdain. 

Fintan O'Toole, Literary Editor at the Irish Times

There are times when the only thing to say is No. Not because you know exactly what all the implications might be but because someone has to put a spoke in wheels that are rolling towards disaster. The technocratic solution to the Eurozone crisis – vast bailouts of private banks plus austerity for the most vulnerable citizens plus the shrinking of the capacity of national states – is an obvious, empirical failure. But it is also undermining the ideas of democracy, justice and solidarity without which the whole European project will flounder. A Greek No will restore to Europe a starkly absent  idea – the principle of consent.

Neophytos Loizides, Reader in International Conflict Analysis, University of Kent & Iosif Kovras, Research Fellow, Queen's University, Belfast

At this critical moment the priority should be to transform the ill-conceived referendum into an opportunity for a constructive mandate for Greece's future. It is still possible for pro-EU forces to win the hearts and minds of the Greek people for policies that foster domestic consensus and credibility abroad.

The most critical move is interpreting the ‘yes’ vote as a renewed mandate not only to renegotiate better terms within the Eurozone but also to form a government of shared responsibility. Reframing the referendum result in positive and inclusive terms will bring forward new political dynamics, and act as a litmus test of the capacity of Greek society to overcome its deep divisions.

John Weeks, Professor Emeritus at SOAS, London

On July 5 Europeans will witness an extraordinary event. A sitting government will ask its people to decide on a major policy issue that lies outside its electoral mandate. It is difficult to exaggerate the radical nature of the coming referendum in Greece. In January 2015 the Syriza Party platform committed to ending austerity and remaining in the euro zone. Now in July it faces the black and white choice of more austerity or Grexit.

The Syriza government has not mocked democratic principle by invoking the cliché that "circumstances have changed" to justify doing what it promised never to do. Rather, it asks those who will be most affected, the people of Greece, to decide. That revolt is real whatever the outcome of the referendum.

If you enjoyed this article then please consider liking Can Europe Make it? on Facebook and following us on Twitter @oD_Europe

Sideboxes Related stories:  Why I will be voting NO in Sunday's Greek referendum Why I will be voting YES in Sunday’s Greek referendum Country or region:  Greece Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

In surprisingly fine fettle: the Turkish election

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 18:40

Grassroots social movements of the style seen at Occupy can be converted into actions that will force their relevance upon established political structures.

Turkish elections, 2015. Demotix/Alexandros Michailidis. All rights reserved.Turkish democracy is in better shape than we thought. The Gezi Park protests of 2013 saved a park from reconstitution as a shopping mall, but in demonstrating Turkish defiance at the style of government employed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, so too did it seemingly lay the grounds for further abuse of power: the corruption allegations against the President and the brutality with which they were crushed, the mysterious power cuts that not so mysteriously sabotaged local elections in 2014, endeavours at reshaping the constitution so as to empower the office President Erdoğan would wish to make permanently his own.

Surveillance increased, intimidation of journalists increased and much as Gezi was a victory, it seemed to have unleashed a power too strong for the brave but small Turkish civil society that had won their Istanbul park and sparked protests nationwide. At times it was almost as if, hopelessly and with some contradiction, a success had brought about the defeat of those who orchestrated it.

But the elections of 2015 should rightly be seen as the final act of the Gezi protests. They are testament to the scale of the triumph Turkish protesters then won – a thing that is perhaps only now apparent. In conversations on Turkish politics, the time clauses “before Gezi” and “since Gezi” have become commonplace, lingual evidence for the watershed then reached.

The historian, Eric Hobsbawm, on hearing of the Occupy protests of 2011, is said to have asked which party the protest was affiliated with. Informed that they were not of any particular party, the historian – though of otherwise considerable knowledge and prescience – decreed that “if there is no party, there is no future.” What has just happened in Turkey is direct evidence against this prognosis; moreover, it is evidence that grassroots social movements, of the style seen at Occupy, can – in the right circumstances and with the right handling – be converted into actions that will force their relevance upon established political structures. Given the high-handed and condescending tone that politicians and established voices often take towards these movements, the Turkish elections are of profound significance, and ought be seen as a model commanding some inspiration.

Despite frequently chiding the workings of modern capitalism for its short-termism, the usual custodians of the progressive political voice have perhaps been found guilty of a similar fault when appraising these new social movements and the hashtags, PR-savvy and viral internet reliance that have been utilised in Turkey as strongly as anywhere else. The internet is but ten years old; humans, society and political actors are still finding their feet with the medium, and the efficacy of the shareable content and ‘shallow’ (or otherwise) networks they create cannot yet be judged accurately. It is complacent to presume that the varied instances of international, on-street activism – from Sao Paolo to Madrid and Istanbul – might not at some stage collate their central nervous system.

Turkey before, throughout, and since the Gezi uprising has demonstrated a strong marriage of online and offline action; the strength might be seen as a result of Turkish society, its strong family and communal ties, but the template is replicable.

More than anything, the Turkish election results are a clear riposte to those activists who will advise against voting at all. Such can only ever be the advice of those with the luxury of apathy, and quite regardless of how understandable the foundations of that apathy might be.

As humans we exist simultaneously in many spheres and on many spectra; our politics is in our conversations, our consumer and employment choices, our social media sharing, attendance at protest but also – crucially – in our voting choices. Democracy empowers us in the sphere of capital-P Politics and – in all but the most extreme circumstances – it is foolish to opt for your own disempowerment in a sphere that legislates for all the others.

Some regional context is also valuable. It is now apparent that, despite the brutal annexation of power by the AKP, Turks can still hold open and fair elections and that –  more importantly – after 12 years of this rule, they are still able to neuter an unpopular government at the ballot box.

As madness rages in neighbouring countries, and western Allies in the Gulf continue to disregard democracy every bit as much as ISIS or Assad, that Turkey is to be found – almost surprisingly – in such health, is to be seen as a source of profound relief and some pride. This revelation ought cast a low light on the ongoing reticence of the EU towards Turkish accession, especially at a time where UK identity politics comes to equate support for the EU with a sense of what it is to be open, inclusive and human.

The truest of victories are those where your opposition comes also to agree.

Erdoğan, with an astonishing humility and after an uncharacteristic absence from screens and airwaves, advised on June 11 that Turkey ought to form its new coalition government without further delay. In a society in thrall to the idea of strong leaders, he – even more remarkably – counselled that egos be put aside in going about this process. We can only hope he was, in this remark, including his own ego; if so, and with continuing vigilance against foul play, what happened at the Turkish election was a thing very positive, and possibly even quite special.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Parliamentary politics as the hot potato of post-election Turkey: progress or paralysis? Turkish winners matter for debate, loser certain Country or region:  Turkey EU Topics:  Civil society Culture Democracy and government International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

In surprisingly fine fettle: the Turkish election

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 18:40

Grassroots social movements of the style seen at Occupy can be converted into actions that will force their relevance upon established political structures.

Turkish elections, 2015. Demotix/Alexandros Michailidis. All rights reserved.Turkish democracy is in better shape than we thought. The Gezi Park protests of 2013 saved a park from reconstitution as a shopping mall, but in demonstrating Turkish defiance at the style of government employed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, so too did it seemingly lay the grounds for further abuse of power: the corruption allegations against the President and the brutality with which they were crushed, the mysterious power cuts that not so mysteriously sabotaged local elections in 2014, endeavours at reshaping the constitution so as to empower the office President Erdoğan would wish to make permanently his own.

Surveillance increased, intimidation of journalists increased and much as Gezi was a victory, it seemed to have unleashed a power too strong for the brave but small Turkish civil society that had won their Istanbul park and sparked protests nationwide. At times it was almost as if, hopelessly and with some contradiction, a success had brought about the defeat of those who orchestrated it.

But the elections of 2015 should rightly be seen as the final act of the Gezi protests. They are testament to the scale of the triumph Turkish protesters then won – a thing that is perhaps only now apparent. In conversations on Turkish politics, the time clauses “before Gezi” and “since Gezi” have become commonplace, lingual evidence for the watershed then reached.

The historian, Eric Hobsbawm, on hearing of the Occupy protests of 2011, is said to have asked which party the protest was affiliated with. Informed that they were not of any particular party, the historian – though of otherwise considerable knowledge and prescience – decreed that “if there is no party, there is no future.” What has just happened in Turkey is direct evidence against this prognosis; moreover, it is evidence that grassroots social movements, of the style seen at Occupy, can – in the right circumstances and with the right handling – be converted into actions that will force their relevance upon established political structures. Given the high-handed and condescending tone that politicians and established voices often take towards these movements, the Turkish elections are of profound significance, and ought be seen as a model commanding some inspiration.

Despite frequently chiding the workings of modern capitalism for its short-termism, the usual custodians of the progressive political voice have perhaps been found guilty of a similar fault when appraising these new social movements and the hashtags, PR-savvy and viral internet reliance that have been utilised in Turkey as strongly as anywhere else. The internet is but ten years old; humans, society and political actors are still finding their feet with the medium, and the efficacy of the shareable content and ‘shallow’ (or otherwise) networks they create cannot yet be judged accurately. It is complacent to presume that the varied instances of international, on-street activism – from Sao Paolo to Madrid and Istanbul – might not at some stage collate their central nervous system.

Turkey before, throughout, and since the Gezi uprising has demonstrated a strong marriage of online and offline action; the strength might be seen as a result of Turkish society, its strong family and communal ties, but the template is replicable.

More than anything, the Turkish election results are a clear riposte to those activists who will advise against voting at all. Such can only ever be the advice of those with the luxury of apathy, and quite regardless of how understandable the foundations of that apathy might be.

As humans we exist simultaneously in many spheres and on many spectra; our politics is in our conversations, our consumer and employment choices, our social media sharing, attendance at protest but also – crucially – in our voting choices. Democracy empowers us in the sphere of capital-P Politics and – in all but the most extreme circumstances – it is foolish to opt for your own disempowerment in a sphere that legislates for all the others.

Some regional context is also valuable. It is now apparent that, despite the brutal annexation of power by the AKP, Turks can still hold open and fair elections and that –  more importantly – after 12 years of this rule, they are still able to neuter an unpopular government at the ballot box.

As madness rages in neighbouring countries, and western Allies in the Gulf continue to disregard democracy every bit as much as ISIS or Assad, that Turkey is to be found – almost surprisingly – in such health, is to be seen as a source of profound relief and some pride. This revelation ought cast a low light on the ongoing reticence of the EU towards Turkish accession, especially at a time where UK identity politics comes to equate support for the EU with a sense of what it is to be open, inclusive and human.

The truest of victories are those where your opposition comes also to agree.

Erdoğan, with an astonishing humility and after an uncharacteristic absence from screens and airwaves, advised on June 11 that Turkey ought to form its new coalition government without further delay. In a society in thrall to the idea of strong leaders, he – even more remarkably – counselled that egos be put aside in going about this process. We can only hope he was, in this remark, including his own ego; if so, and with continuing vigilance against foul play, what happened at the Turkish election was a thing very positive, and possibly even quite special.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Parliamentary politics as the hot potato of post-election Turkey: progress or paralysis? Turkish winners matter for debate, loser certain Country or region:  Turkey EU Topics:  Civil society Culture Democracy and government International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

North Ossetia is rethinking its role as Russia's ‘outpost’ in the Caucasus

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 14:34

From ‘outpost’ to ‘outpostism’ and then to ‘outposter’, North Ossetians are feeling increasingly alienated from the Russian centre.

For years after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, and especially the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992, North Ossetian politicians presented their republic as Russia's ‘outpost’ in the Caucasus. Two decades later, the concept of ‘outpost’ fails to ring bells not only among Ossetians themselves, but also the Russian government.

‘Outposter’

North Ossetia is a small republic (population: 700,000) in the central North Caucasus. North Ossetians are the only predominantly non-Muslim non-Slavic people in the North Caucasus. The strategically important and Russian-built Georgian Military Highway traverses the Caucasus Mountains, joining Vladikavkaz, the republic's capital, to Tbilisi and eastern Georgia. To the west one can see the Roki tunnel, South Ossetia's only link to the Russian Federation.

The high level of integration of Ossetians into Russian public life and government institutions dates back to the late Russian Empire. Ossetians were well represented in the Tsar’s army, and, as a result, their support for the October 1917 revolution was mixed, at best. Nevertheless, Ossetians were considered second-class citizens in Tsarist Russia, and the Bolsheviks quickly gained the support of the local population.

Even though there were many Ossetian officers in the Russian army, the majority of the Ossetian people were oppressed by the colonial Russian government. Culturally speaking, the primary theme of the founder of Ossetian literature Kosta Khetagkaty (1859—1906), also known as Kosta Khetagurov, was the bleak lives of Ossetians under the Russian state.

Tombs of mountaineers. Dargavs, North Ossetia's 'City of the Dead', just north of the Republic's border with Georgia 
In contrast to the situation 100 years ago, North Ossetians have had a much better view of Russia in the past two decades.

North Ossetia has had a rocky relationship with neighbouring Ingushetia to the east, and has been affected by the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict too. So, the concept of an outpost of Russia in the Caucasus seemed to be a convenient and beneficial role to many Ossetians for a long time. However, in the past several years, Ossetian activists have increasingly questioned North Ossetia’s true role in the North Caucasus and in Russian politics.

Having established firmer control over the restive North Caucasus, Moscow has also indicated that North Ossetia is only one of many Russian ‘outposts’ in the region. Thus it cannot aspire to special rights and privileges. Moreover, since North Ossetia is relatively quiet (compared to the other North Caucasian republics), it began to receive less financial support from the Russian government.

‘Outpost’ in North Ossetia gradually mutated into a derogative term: ‘outpostism’

It is interesting to observe how changes in word usage sometimes herald decay in political concepts. ‘Outpost’ in North Ossetia gradually mutated into a derogative term ‘outpostism’, and further sprouted into a related ironic term of ‘outposter’.

One North Ossetian observer notes that the ‘outpost’ concept in the republic is inherently contradictory. If the claim is that North Ossetia has been loyal to Russia ‘for centuries’ anyway, why should Russia pay for such loyalty?

Meanwhile, North Ossetia has been ‘losing’ its ethnic Russian population at about the same pace as other North Caucasian republics. And although some Russians know that Ossetians are part of the Russian Orthodox faith, overall, knowledge of Ossetia is limited: they are the same as other North Caucasians, and so end up in the same ‘bin’ as the latter.

Enduring tensions

Every North Caucasian republic receives the majority most of its budget funding in the form of various subsidies from Moscow. The differences, however, are quite telling. Russian experts point out that under the conditions of economic crisis, the government will prioritise supporting those North Caucasian republics which are most volatile, such as Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia.

For example, per capita budget funding of neighbouring Ingushetia in 2014 was roughly twice the amount received by North Ossetia. North Ossetians are quite sensitive to the differential level of support by Moscow, especially in regard to the North Caucasian republics, and Ingushetia, in particular. North Ossetia and Ingushetia have experienced ongoing rivalry for decades, which culminated in armed conflict in 1992, and continues to this day.

The government will prioritise supporting those North Caucasian republics that are most volatile

North Ossetians and Ingushes have repeatedly clashed over disputed territories. The Prigorodny district and Vladikavkaz, capital of North Ossetia, became the scene of armed clashes in 1992.

Hundreds of people were killed, thousands of homes were destroyed, and tens of thousands of people fled the violence, becoming refugees or otherwise displaced. Ethnic Ingushes who resided in the disputed parts of Prigorodny district and Vladikavkaz primarily bore the brunt of the armed conflict.

Despite many attempts of the government to resolve the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992, tensions have persisted and the refugee issue has been resolved only to some extent.

Flags of Russia and Ossetia flying together. In March 2014 a rally supporting Crimea's annexation was held in Vladikavkaz 
The conflict dates back to the Second World War and even earlier times. The eastern part of Prigorodny district belonged to Ingushetia prior to the deportation of the Ingush and Chechen people by the Soviet government to Central Asia in 1944.

Vladikavkaz used to be the administrative centre of Terek Region under the Tsarist regime in 1860-1920. Both contemporary North Ossetia and Ingushetia, along with several other regions, were part of Terek Region and both Ossetians and Ingushes could potentially lay claim to the city. When Ingushetia was formed as a separate republic in 1992, the issue of borders became vital for its future.

At the time of Chechnya’s de-facto secession from Russia in 1991, Ingushetia was left to its own devices as the paired Checheno-Ingushetia republic fell apart. Moscow benevolently looked at the split of Checheno-Ingushetia as a way of decreasing the influence and power of the quasi-independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria.

Ingushetia’s borders were defined neither in the east with Chechnya nor in the west with North Ossetia. Moscow sent contradictory signals to both the Ingush and the Ossetians. On the one hand, the Russian government supported the rehabilitation of the Ingush people, including ‘territorial rehabilitation.’ On the other, the government said territorial issues could be resolved only through mutual consent of republics.

The resulting conflict poisoned the relations between Ossetians and Ingushes for decades. Other tragic events, such as the Beslan school hostage crisis of 2004, contributed to the enduring animosity between the two neighbouring peoples.

Beslan

In September 2004, dozens of militants captured a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan. After two days of negotiations, government forces stormed the building, ending the hostage crisis in bloodshed. 333 out of over 1000 captured hostages were killed, most of them children.

The tragic events in Beslan shocked North Ossetians to the extent that even now, 11 years after the attack, some people speak about ‘Ossetian depression’. The primary demand of the militants in Beslan was the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. Paradoxically, North Ossetians on average were much more inclined to connect the attack not to the Chechens but the neighbouring Ingushes.

The Mothers of Beslan, the organisation of the victims and their relatives, harshly criticised the Russian government

The Beslan hostage attack cost the then president of North Ossetia, Alexander Dzasokhov, his position. North Ossetians also were quite critical of the government in Moscow.

The Mothers of Beslan, the organisation of the victims and their relatives, harshly criticised the Russian government and did not hesitate to point to Vladimir Putin as the primary culprit of the tragedy.

The main accusation against the government was that the government consciously avoided holding talks with the militants in Beslan and started the rescue operation, having failed to give any consideration to the lives of the hostages.

The fact that the so-called ‘main Beslan case’ is still being investigated 11 years after the attack, lends strong support to the belief that the Russian government is attempting to hide inconvenient truths from the people.

The Beslan generation: In June 2015 Taymuraz Mamsurov, Head of North Ossetia for 10 years, was succeeded by Tamerlan Aguzarov
Beslan has had a lasting impact on North Ossetia. Beslan is a small town with a population of about 37,000. The town has a significant railway hub and used to host quite a few industries, which made it attractive to Ossetians and other ethnic groups from different parts of republic.

So, nearly everyone in the small republic was affected in one way or another by the violent end to the crisis. Many Ossetians then started to question the usefulness of being ‘Russia’s outpost’ in the North Caucasus when it amounted to being targeted by militant groups and betrayed by the central government.

Beslan has had a lasting impact on North Ossetia

A solution to the rise of political dissent among North Ossetians was found in 2005 when Moscow replaced the unpopular head of the republic, Alexander Dzasokhov, with the then speaker of the republican parliament, Taimuraz Mamsurov.

The parliament’s speaker was not only an influential person in North Ossetia, but also came from Beslan. In addition, according to reports, one of Mamsurov’s daughters was among the hostages. Mamsurov allegedly declined an offer to seek his daughter’s release without releasing other hostages.

During the crisis, Mamsurov also quickly organised local armed militia in the town. Taimuraz Mamsurov never gained much popularity in North Ossetia as a governor, but he certainly managed to assuage the dissent among the North Ossetians by virtue of being the father of a hostage, and his role in alleviating the consequences of the hostage attack in Beslan.

In June 2015, Moscow replaced Mamsurov with the ex-chairman of the Supreme Court of North Ossetia, Tamerlan Aguzarov, who also has ties to Beslan. Aguzarov presided over the trial of the only (officially) surviving militant from the Beslan attack, Nurpasha Kulaev, in 2005-2006. So, the ‘tradition’ of Beslan-related politicians to lead North Ossetia continues.

Russian World

Judging by financial indicators, Moscow pays far greater attention to the developments in volatile Dagestan, politically-sensitive Chechnya, as well as the unsettled republics of Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria.

The ‘left behind’ feeling in North Ossetia is exacerbated by the economic downturn which has resulted in job losses and budget cuts. Moscow does not have doubts about its control over North Ossetia, so the ‘outpost’ paradigm can hardly be offered up as an asset in negotiations with Moscow.

North Ossetians, therefore, are in a search of a new broad political platform which would allow them to increase support from Moscow, but at the same time avoid jeopardising their relations with the neighbouring republics. The latter problem was vividly demonstrated when the North Ossetian public vigorously protested against the republican government’s plans in 2014 to install a monument to a Russian soldier who had killed scores of Circassians. Those plans were eventually dropped.

Apart from the fear of spoiling relations with their neighbours (North Ossetians and Circassians have been on fairly good terms in the past decades), North Ossetians are also showing signs of loyalty fatigue, related to the latest incarnation of the central government’s ideology of the ‘Russian World’ (Russkiy mir) that does not include anyone apart from the ‘Great Russian People’.

In essence, ‘Russian World’ means that Ossetians are neither part of the ‘Great Russian Nation’ nor the ‘outpost’ of it in the North Caucasus. This might cause them to look for another role for themselves.

Image one (Dargavs): CC Oleg Moro, 2012
Image two (Ossetian & Russian flags): CC Diana Gabareva, 2010
Image three (Taymuraz Mamsurov): Still via YouTube 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Five bloody days in North Ossetia South Ossetia’s unwanted independence Country or region:  Russia Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

North Ossetia is rethinking its role as the ‘outpost’ of Russia in the Caucasus

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 14:34

From ‘outpost’ to ‘outpostism’ and then to ‘outposter’, North Ossetians are feeling increasingly alienated from the Russian centre.

For years after the demise of the Soviet Union in 199, and especially the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992, North Ossetian politicians presented their republic as the ‘outpost’ of Russia in the Caucasus. Two decades later the concept of the ‘outpost’ of Russia does not seem to ring bells anymore not only among Ossetians themselves, but also in the Russian government.

‘Outposter’

North Ossetia is a small (0.7 million population) republic in the Central North Caucasus. North Ossetians are the only predominantly non-Muslim non-Slavic people in the North Caucasus. The strategically important and Russian-built Georgian Military Highway traverses the Caucasus Mountains, joining the Republic's capital of Vladikavkaz with Tbilisi and eastern Georgia, while the Roki Tunnel to the West remains unrecognised South Ossetia's only link to the Russian Federation. The high level of integration of Ossetians into Russian public life and government institutions dates back to the late Russian Empire. Ossetians were well represented in the Tsar’s army and partly because of that their support for the October 1917 revolution was quite low. Nevertheless, Ossetians were considered second-class citizens in Tsarist Russia, and the Bolsheviks quickly gained the support of the local population. Even though there were many Ossetian officers in the Russian army, the majority of the Ossetian people were oppressed by the colonial Russian government. Culturally speaking, the primary theme of the founder of Ossetian literature Kosta Khetagkaty (1859—1906), also known as Kosta Khetagurov, was picturing the bleak lives of Ossetians under the tight rule of the Russian state.

Tombs of mountaineers. Dargavs, North Ossetia's 'City of the Dead', just north of the Republic's border with Georgia 
In contrast to the situation 100 years ago, North Ossetians have had a much better view of Russia in the past two decades. North Ossetia has had a rocky relationship with neighbouring Ingushetia to the east, and has been affected by the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict too. So, the concept of an outpost of Russia in the Caucasus seemed to be a convenient and beneficial role to many Ossetians for a long time. However, in the past several years, Ossetian activists have increasingly questioned North Ossetia’s true role in the North Caucasus and in Russian politics. Having established firmer control over the restive North Caucasus, Moscow has also indicated that North Ossetia is only one of many Russian ‘outposts’ in the region and thus it cannot aspire to special rights and privileges. Moreover, since North Ossetia is relatively quiet, compared to the other North Caucasian republics, it began to receive less financial support from the Russian government.

‘Outpost’ in North Ossetia gradually mutated into a derogative term: ‘outpostism’

It is interesting to observe how changes in word usage sometimes herald decay in political concepts . ‘Outpost’ in North Ossetia gradually mutated into a derogative term ‘outpostism’, and further sprouted into a related ironic term of ‘outposter’. One North Ossetian observer notes that the ‘outpost’ concept in the republic is inherently contradictory. If the claim is that North Ossetia has been loyal to Russia ‘for centuries’ anyway, why should Russia pay for such loyalty? North Ossetia has been ‘losing’ its ethnic Russian population at about the same pace as other North Caucasian republics. And although some Russians know that Ossetians belong to Russian Orthodoxy, on average they know about Ossetians no more than about other North Caucasians, so they end up in the same ‘bin’, as the latter.

Enduring tensions between North Ossetians and Ingush

All North Caucasian republics receive most of their budget funding in the form of various subsidies from Moscow, but the differences are quite telling. Russian experts point out that under the conditions of economic crisis, the government will prioritise supporting those North Caucasian republics that are most volatile, such as Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia. For example, per capita budget funding of neighbouring Ingushetia in 2014 was about twice as big as in North Ossetia. North Ossetians are quite sensitive to the differential level of support by Moscow, especially in regard to the North Caucasian republics, and Ingushetia, in particular. North Ossetia and Ingushetia have experienced ongoing rivalry for decades, which culminated in armed conflict in 1992; and has continued to this day.

The government will prioritise supporting those North Caucasian republics that are most volatile

North Ossetians and Ingushes have repeatedly clashed over disputed territories. The Prigorodny district and Vladikavkaz, capital of North Ossetia, became the scene of armed clashes in 1992. Hundreds of people were killed, thousands of homes were destroyed, and tens of thousands of people fled the violence, becoming refugees or otherwise displaced. Ethnic Ingushes who resided in the disputed parts of Prigorodny district and Vladikavkaz primarily bore the brunt of the armed conflict. Despite many attempts of the government to resolve the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992, tensions have persisted and the refugee issue has been resolved only to some extent.

Flags of Russia and Ossetia flying together. In March 2014 a rally supporting Crimea's annexation was held in Vladikavkaz 
The conflict dates back to the Second World War and even earlier times. The eastern part of Prigorodny district belonged to Ingushetia prior to the deportation of the Ingush and Chechen people by the Soviet government to Central Asia in 1944. Vladikavkaz used to be the administrative centre of Terek Region under the Tsarist regime in 1860-1920. Both contemporary North Ossetia and Ingushetia, along with several other regions, were part of Terek Region and both Ossetians and Ingushes could potentially lay claim to the city. When Ingushetia was formed as a separate republic in 1992, the issue of borders became vital for its future.

At the time of Chechnya’s de-facto secession from Russia in 1991, Ingushetia was left to its own devices as the paired Checheno-Ingushetia republic fell apart. Moscow benevolently looked at the split of Checheno-Ingushetia as a way of decreasing the influence and power of the quasi-independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Ingushetia’s borders were defined neither in the east with Chechnya nor in the west with North Ossetia. Moscow sent contradictory signals to both the Ingush and the Ossetians. On the one hand, the Russian government supported the rehabilitation of the Ingush people, including ‘territorial rehabilitation,’; on the other, the government said territorial issues could be resolved only through mutual consent of republics. The resulting conflict poisoned the relations between Ossetians and Ingushes for decades. Other tragic events, such as the Beslan school hostage crisis of 2004 contributed to the enduring animosity between the two neighbouring peoples.

Beslan

In September 2004, dozens of militants captured a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan. After two days of negotiations, government forces stormed the building, ending the hostage crisis in bloodshed. 333 out of over 1000 captured hostages were killed, most of them children. The tragic events in Beslan shocked North Ossetians to the extent that even now, 11 years after the attack, some people speak about ‘Ossetian depression’. The primary demand of the militants in Beslan was the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. Paradoxically, North Ossetians on average were much more inclined to connect the attack not to the Chechens but the neighbouring Ingushes.

The Mothers of Beslan, the organisation of the victims and their relatives, harshly criticised the Russian government

The Beslan hostage attack cost the then president of North Ossetia, Alexander Dzasokhov, his position. North Ossetians also were quite critical of the government in Moscow. The Mothers of Beslan, the organisation of the victims and their relatives, harshly criticised the Russian government and did not hesitate to point to Vladimir Putin as the primary culprit of the tragedy. The main accusation against the government was that the government consciously avoided holding talks with the militants in Beslan and started the rescue operation, having failed to give any consideration to the lives of the hostages. The fact that the so-called ‘main Beslan case’ is still being investigated 11 years after the attack, lends strong support to the belief that the Russian government is attempting to hide inconvenient truths from the people.

The Beslan generation: In June 2015 Taymuraz Mamsurov, Head of North Ossetia for 10 years, was succeeded by Tamerlan Aguzarov
Beslan has had a lasting impact on North Ossetia. Beslan is a small town with a population of about 37,000. The town has a significant railway hub and used to host quite a few industries, which made it attractive to Ossetians and other ethnic groups from different parts of republic. So, nearly everyone in the small republic was affected in one way or another by the violent end to the crisis. Many Ossetians then started to question the usefulness of being ‘Russia’s outpost’ in the North Caucasus when it amounted to being targeted by militant groups and betrayed by the central government.

Beslan has had a lasting impact on North Ossetia

A solution to the rise of political dissent among North Ossetians was found in 2005 when Moscow replaced the unpopular head of the republic, Alexander Dzasokhov with the then speaker of the republican parliament, Taimuraz Mamsurov. The parliament’s speaker was not only an influential person in North Ossetia, but also came from Beslan. In addition, according to reports, one of Mamsurov’s daughters was among the hostages. Mamsurov allegedly declined an offer to seek his daughter’s release without releasing other hostages. During the crisis, Mamsurov also quickly organised local armed militia in the town. Taimuraz Mamsurov never gained much popularity in North Ossetia as a governor, but he certainly managed to assuage the dissent among the North Ossetians by virtue of being the father of a hostage, and his role in alleviating the consequences of the hostage attack in Beslan. In June 2015, Moscow replaced Mamsurov with the ex-chairman of the Supreme Court of North Ossetia, Tamerlan Aguzarov, who also has ties to Beslan. Aguzarov presided over the trial of the only (officially) surviving militant from the Beslan attack, Nurpasha Kulaev, in 2005-2006. So, the ‘tradition’ of Beslan-related politicians to lead North Ossetia continues.

Russian World

Judging by financial indicators, Moscow pays far greater attention to the developments in volatile and large Dagestan, politically important Chechnya, the volatile republics of Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, than North Ossetia. The ‘left behind’ feeling in North Ossetia is exacerbated by the economic downturn that has resulted in job losses and budget cuts. Moscow does not have doubts about its control over North Ossetia, so the ‘outpost’ paradigm can hardly be offered up as an asset in negotiations with Moscow.

North Ossetians, therefore, are in a search of a new broad political platform that would allow them to increase support by Moscow, but at the same time avoid jeopardising their relations with the neighbouring republics. The latter problem was vividly demonstrated when the North Ossetian public vigorously protested against the republican government’s plans in 2014 to install a monument to a Russian soldier who had killed scores of Circassians; and those plans were eventually dropped. Apart from the fear of spoiling relations with their neighbours (North Ossetians and Circassians have been on fairly good terms in the past decades), North Ossetians are also showing signs of loyalty fatigue, related to the latest incarnation of the central government’s ideology of the Russian World (Russky Mir) that does not include anyone apart from the ‘Great Russian People.’ Russian World in essence means that Ossetians are neither part of the ‘Great Russian Nation’ nor the ‘outpost’ of it in the North Caucasus, which might cause them to look around for another role for themselves.

Photo 1 (Dargavs): CC Oleg Moro, 2012
Photo 2 (Ossetian & Russian flags): CC Diana Gabareva, 2010
Photo 3: (Taymuraz Mamsurov) Still via YouTube 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Five bloody days in North Ossetia South Ossetia’s unwanted independence Country or region:  Russia Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

What is at stake in the Greek referendum?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 12:15

How will Greece be able to fix its economy in a desert landscape, with no appetite for reforms, without helpful partners and with a crippled democracy?

A 'Yes' rally in Syntagma Square, Athens. Demotix/Bjorn Kietzmann. All rights reserved.And so, in yet one more act of high drama, Greece is heading on Sunday towards a referendum. Only that the question asked is, to say the least, bewildering. Not only does the single ballot box contain eighty-five words, of which fifteen are in English, it also comes with two appendix technical documents and is presented in a biased no-before-yes format.

Still, at the moment things are fast getting simplified in Greek peoples’ minds: A ‘yes’ vote stands for Greece remaining at least in Europe (but not necessarily in the Eurozone) and the continuation of necessary austerity with reforms. Instead, a ‘no’ vote will be the gallant gesture of a proud people determined to maintain its ‘dignity’ and take from the ‘troika’ (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) no more.

In real terms, both sides have it wrong. The ‘yes’ side should know by now that reformism is precisely what the present Greek government most abhors. The ‘no’ side should also know, and recognize, that Greece has already lost most of its dignity, together with the trust of other nations in her; nor is it clear at all how national pride is to be regained. Apart from the extraordinary electoral rash, which leaves no real room for clear thinking, there are two closely connected reasons that explain such misperceptions about Greek realities: an emphasis on economics over politics and the fact that 2015 is not 2010. Here is why.

When Greece entered the first bailout program in early 2010, there were three choices available. The first choice was to default – something, however, that no important player at the time even dared to suggest. A second choice was to borrow money and initiate a bold programme of necessary medium- and long-term reforms, especially for better running of the state. Greece’s third choice was to borrow money with no reforms. As we now know, for five years successive Greek governments became determined to live on borrowed cash without implementing serious reforms for fear of the political cost. This paved the way to the elections of January 2015.

Once there, and already exhausted after five years of hardship, Greece’s citizens voted for a government that promised to end austerity but did not explain in which way. Lacking a realistic economic programme, and still a few parliamentary seats short of having an absolute majority on its own, Syriza formed a coalition government with the Independent Greeks (ANEL), an ultra-nationalist, right-wing populist party. Since then, the Greek government has utterly failed to propose a credible plan for reforms, choosing instead to spend all its political capital on attacking internal and external ‘enemies’.

This however reduced Greece’s presumed options from three to only two: either muddle through on borrowed money and no reforms, or default. Only that the first of those options was no longer realistic as the ‘troika’ (or, in Greek government’s newspeak, the ‘institutions’) made clear that the deal was money-for-reforms, plain and simple. Confronted with this dilemma, the Greek tandem of Syriza/ANEL had no hesitation im rejecting reforms while at the same time blackmailing their European ‘partners’ with the feared destruction of the Eurozone, if not the EU as well, if Greece was allowed to default. 

It was a high-risk gamble that did not pay off. Today, as the Greek banks are shut indefinitely and capital controls are in place, Greece has also failed to repay its IMF loan and the process of her default is set in motion with as yet unthinkable consequences, mostly for the poor and the needy. Ah, yes, the country is also heading towards a referendum in which the two government partners are openly supporting the ‘no’ choice. Which, admittedly, as days pass, may even become predominant in Greek society, especially since it is also fully endorsed by the neo-Nazi party of Golden Dawn.

It is through this prism, however, that the Greek voters’ choice between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ in this Sunday’s referendum begins making sense. For, somehow paradoxically, while the ‘no’ side still thinks in terms of already foregone and non-existing economic choices, the ‘yes’ side is more concerned about political options and, indeed, the future of democracy itself in Greece.

Accordingly, in the ‘no’ camp, even top economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz are urging the outright rejection of the 'austerity regime that has left Greece languishing for five years' so as to avoid a 'depression almost without end'. Such pundits involuntarily forget what the Greek government voluntarily conceals from the Greek people, that is, pure politics. How Greece will be able to fix its economy in a desert landscape, with no appetite for reforms, without helping partners and with a crippling democracy?

In the ‘yes’ camp, even when support comes from renowned economists, all talk is about reform politics. This is based on the simple realization that no improvement of the situation is possible without brave and painful changes and that no such changes can be successful without the country being in the safe harbor of the EU, and with its democracy in place and functioning.

Of the two choices the Greek people are so awkwardly confronted with, only the ‘yes’ vote allows for some hope for the future of the country and its existing political regime. And this is what Greek democrats should vote for on Sunday.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Why I will be voting NO in Sunday's Greek referendum Country or region:  Greece EU Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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What is at stake in the Greek referendum?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 12:15

How will Greece be able to fix its economy in a desert landscape, with no appetite for reforms, without helpful partners and with a crippled democracy?

A 'Yes' rally in Syntagma Square, Athens. Demotix/Bjorn Kietzmann. All rights reserved.And so, in yet one more act of high drama, Greece is heading on Sunday towards a referendum. Only that the question asked is, to say the least, bewildering. Not only does the single ballot box contain eighty-five words, of which fifteen are in English, it also comes with two appendix technical documents and is presented in a biased no-before-yes format.

Still, at the moment things are fast getting simplified in Greek peoples’ minds: A ‘yes’ vote stands for Greece remaining at least in Europe (but not necessarily in the Eurozone) and the continuation of necessary austerity with reforms. Instead, a ‘no’ vote will be the gallant gesture of a proud people determined to maintain its ‘dignity’ and take from the ‘troika’ (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) no more.

In real terms, both sides have it wrong. The ‘yes’ side should know by now that reformism is precisely what the present Greek government most abhors. The ‘no’ side should also know, and recognize, that Greece has already lost most of its dignity, together with the trust of other nations in her; nor is it clear at all how national pride is to be regained. Apart from the extraordinary electoral rash, which leaves no real room for clear thinking, there are two closely connected reasons that explain such misperceptions about Greek realities: an emphasis on economics over politics and the fact that 2015 is not 2010. Here is why.

When Greece entered the first bailout program in early 2010, there were three choices available. The first choice was to default – something, however, that no important player at the time even dared to suggest. A second choice was to borrow money and initiate a bold programme of necessary medium- and long-term reforms, especially for better running of the state. Greece’s third choice was to borrow money with no reforms. As we now know, for five years successive Greek governments became determined to live on borrowed cash without implementing serious reforms for fear of the political cost. This paved the way to the elections of January 2015.

Once there, and already exhausted after five years of hardship, Greece’s citizens voted for a government that promised to end austerity but did not explain in which way. Lacking a realistic economic programme, and still a few parliamentary seats short of having an absolute majority on its own, Syriza formed a coalition government with the Independent Greeks (ANEL), an ultra-nationalist, right-wing populist party. Since then, the Greek government has utterly failed to propose a credible plan for reforms, choosing instead to spend all its political capital on attacking internal and external ‘enemies’.

This however reduced Greece’s presumed options from three to only two: either muddle through on borrowed money and no reforms, or default. Only that the first of those options was no longer realistic as the ‘troika’ (or, in Greek government’s newspeak, the ‘institutions’) made clear that the deal was money-for-reforms, plain and simple. Confronted with this dilemma, the Greek tandem of Syriza/ANEL had no hesitation im rejecting reforms while at the same time blackmailing their European ‘partners’ with the feared destruction of the Eurozone, if not the EU as well, if Greece was allowed to default. 

It was a high-risk gamble that did not pay off. Today, as the Greek banks are shut indefinitely and capital controls are in place, Greece has also failed to repay its IMF loan and the process of her default is set in motion with as yet unthinkable consequences, mostly for the poor and the needy. Ah, yes, the country is also heading towards a referendum in which the two government partners are openly supporting the ‘no’ choice. Which, admittedly, as days pass, may even become predominant in Greek society, especially since it is also fully endorsed by the neo-Nazi party of Golden Dawn.

It is through this prism, however, that the Greek voters’ choice between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ in this Sunday’s referendum begins making sense. For, somehow paradoxically, while the ‘no’ side still thinks in terms of already foregone and non-existing economic choices, the ‘yes’ side is more concerned about political options and, indeed, the future of democracy itself in Greece.

Accordingly, in the ‘no’ camp, even top economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz are urging the outright rejection of the 'austerity regime that has left Greece languishing for five years' so as to avoid a 'depression almost without end'. Such pundits involuntarily forget what the Greek government voluntarily conceals from the Greek people, that is, pure politics. How Greece will be able to fix its economy in a desert landscape, with no appetite for reforms, without helping partners and with a crippling democracy?

In the ‘yes’ camp, even when support comes from renowned economists, all talk is about reform politics. This is based on the simple realization that no improvement of the situation is possible without brave and painful changes and that no such changes can be successful without the country being in the safe harbor of the EU, and with its democracy in place and functioning.

Of the two choices the Greek people are so awkwardly confronted with, only the ‘yes’ vote allows for some hope for the future of the country and its existing political regime. And this is what Greek democrats should vote for on Sunday.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Why I will be voting NO in Sunday's Greek referendum Country or region:  Greece EU Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Iran’s nuclear programme and the battle of the oligarchies

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 11:42

A contest of domestic elites with differing interests and strategic visions is a crucial, neglected element pervading Tehran's nuclear diplomacy.

Now that the nuclear-negotiation deadline of 30 June 2015 has passed, a battle is heating up between Iran and the P5+1 group, where both sides seek to finalise the technical details of the comprehensive agreement. In public statements, United States and Iranian leaders draw red lines seeking to advance their negotiating positions. While these lines are instrumental to the outcome, for Iran they also shed light on the central battle within the Islamic Republic. This conflict is not between hardliners and reformists. Rather, it is a battle between oligarchies, "integrationists" versus "interactionists": two groups with competing political visions and economic interests contending for the future of Iran.

To understand Iran and its forthcoming challenges, overused theocratic analogies should be discarded. Today, Iran most closely resembles post-Soviet Russia where a bankrupt political system, rampant corruption and economic mismanagement have given rise to greater access and opportunity for a divided political oligarchy. To keep the fracturing political elite together over the subsequent three decades, the establishment granted these groups economic privileges allowing them to benefit from their political connections by gaining access to the proceeds from privatisations, tax exemptions, and government contracts. In the process each developed a network of supporters and loyalists.

Despite such privileges, divisions emerged throughout the 1990s under the presidencies of Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989-97) and Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), both of whom were early advocates of regional and economic integration. To counterbalance the emergence of these political groups, conservatives joined forces with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), thus laying the groundwork for the current oligarchical structure.

In the realm of foreign policy, these groups remained united over the utility of the nuclear programme, believing it would provide Iran with the three pillars of deterrence, strategic leverage and factional unity. When the contested presidential elections of June 2009 led to large-scale public demonstrations, there was concern among scattered political groups - from hardliners to reformists - not to appear too soft or submissive to foreign pressure. Thus they rallied behind the establishment. The nuclear programme had helped bring a fractured elite together again.

The impact of sanctions coupled with profound economic mismanagement, however, began to take its toll on the Iranian economy. By 2012, as oil exports halved, the nuclear programme had proved to be a costly gamble that reinforced international and regional isolation. In these circumstances the establishment’s primal fear became long-term sustainability. The president elected in 2013, Hassan Rouhani, launched a fresh approach of constructive engagement with the international community as the only solution to save the Islamic Republic. The Islamic Republic’s rival elite, unable to blame the "great satan" (that is, the US) for Iran’s economic malaise, reluctantly accepted this initiative. It was agreed that an end to the nuclear standoff, and sanctions relief , would be intrinsic to the survival of the Islamic Republic. At the same time, this plan fuelled new tensions between Iran’s oligarchs and their domestic ambitions.

The sanctions prism

Ultimately, the two groups have differing visions of Iran’s domestic evolution, which can be seen through the prism of the penultimate goal of sanctions relief. It's important to note that this division is not necessarily along hardline versus reformist lines; rather it is about financial empires and billion-dollar oligarchs seeking to secure their long-term interests.

The first group, the integrationists, seek a nuclear deal and sanctions relief as a means to advance their pragmatic, technocratic political and economic agenda. A nuclear deal would allow this group to bring Iran back into the community of nations, thereby reinvigorating the country’s economic prospects through increased foreign investment. In turn, political liberalisation would follow. This platform would weaken their competitors by providing an alternate economic model built upon transparency and integration.  The successful completion of the nuclear negotiations would validate the integrationist vision.

The second group, the interactionists, is composed of conservatives who have built an expansive network of religious and military entities along with vast economic interests. Their success is predicated on their internal network of interactions. This group expanded their economic influence during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency (2005-13). The IRGC 's closing of Imam Khomeini airport in 2004 due to its opposition to a Turkish-Austrian contract for the airport’s management was the first of many examples of the group’s economic interference and influence. Ironically, they benefited from international sanctions, which allowed them to monopolise major contracts, mock-privatisations and the import market.

Interactionists are wary of integration, believing international cooperation will in the long run undermine their grip on power and bring about the demise of the Islamic Republic. To them, Iran’s integration into the international economy will trigger the collapse of the Islamic Republic. They perceive this as a part of a "soft coup" that would begin with economic liberalisation, continue to trickle down into society - and end with a complete political transformation. 

But the toll of sanctions has had an impact on this group too. Like their counterparts, they seek sanctions relief - but preferably through the collapse of the sanctions regime. Preventing their integrationist rivals from succeeding is an essential component of their survival. A sanctions collapse would kill many birds with one stone: defeating their domestic political opponents, continuing their economic monopoly with greater access to international markets, preventing western interference, and maintaining their regional strategic influence.     

The veteran diplomat Mohammad Javad Larijani captured this strategy best when he described as dangerous Rouhani’s approach of linking Iran’s economy to foreign investment in order to facilitate integration and "assimilation". In advocating an alternative path, he suggests that, "If we defeat the sanctions, we have achieved the greatest victory that will open many doors to us…through interaction rather than integration".

Herein lies the battle at the heart of the nuclear negotiations, the result of which will have profound implications for the future of Iran. Two competing groups agree on the means of sanctions relief, but differ on the strategic and political ends. But the outcome for these groups will not be a zero-sum game. They both have deep interests and entrenched networks. The international community must learn to live with and do business with interactionists and integrationists alike.

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) & Iran

Sanam Vakil

Arang Keshavarzian, Bazaar and State in Iran: The Politics of the Tehran Marketplace (Cambridge University Press, 2009)

Ali M Ansari, Iran under Ahmadinejad: The Politics of Confrontation (Routledge, 2007)

Michael Axworthy, Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran (C Hurst, 2007)

 

Related stories:  Iran, women in the frame Iran: a phantom victory Iran’s political shadow war Iran's women: a movement in transition Topics:  International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

¿A tres minutos del apocalipsis?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 11:30

El "Reloj del Fin del Mundo", medida acreditada de lo cerca que está el mundo de la catástrofe, se ha puesto de nuevo en marcha. Este artículo fue publicado por primera vez en openDemocracy el 30 de junio de 2015. English

Reloj del Fin del Mundo: minutos para para la medianoche, 1945 - 2015.Wikicommons/Fastfission. Some rights reserved

En el punto mismo de origen de la guerra fría, en junio de 1947, un grupo de científicos quiso llamar la atención sobre el peligro extremo que planteaba el rápido desarrollo nuclear para fines militares. Aquel mismo mes, el Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Boletín de los Científicos Atómicos), fundado en la Universidad de Chicago, publicó en su portada la imagen de lo que llamó Doomsday Clock (Reloj del Fin del Mundo). El reloj marcaba las doce menos siete minutos. En décadas posteriores, en varios momentos críticos de las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y la Unión Soviética, la manecilla del reloj se acercó todavía más a la hora fatídica. Era una clara señal de que una gran confrontación entre las dos superpotencias era cada vez más probable.

El fin de la guerra fría y la expectativa de un "dividendo de paz" ayudaron a mover la manecilla del reloj hacia atrás, hasta diecisiete minutos antes de la medianoche. Pero desde 1995 se ha ido deslizando hacia adelante una vez más, acercándose progresivamente a la hora temida. Durante las siguientes dos décadas, varios factores - enormes arsenales nucleares, degradación ambiental acelerada, nuevos avances tecnológicos - han generado una situación internacional cada vez más turbulenta. En enero de 2015, el reloj se colocó a tres minutos para la medianoche ya que, en palabras del Boletín, "los líderes internacionales no están cumpliendo con su deber más importante - garantizar y preservar la salud y vitalidad de la civilización humana".

Nueve estados en el mundo poseen unas 10.215 cabezas nucleares cuya potencia destructiva equivale a un millón de las que se lanzaron sobre Hiroshima y Nagasaki. En los últimos cinco años ha habido un número creciente de incidentes (robos, pérdidas, accidentes) relacionados con material nuclear sensible. Además, tanto la temperatura media global como el nivel del mar y la cantidad de dióxido de carbono en la atmósfera van en aumento. A esta lista pueden añadirse otros fenómenos inquietantes como la propagación del espionaje masivo y los ciberataques entre países, junto con las preocupantes transformaciones tecnológicas derivadas de la robótica y su aplicación en el campo de las armas letales.

En este contexto, tres factores adicionales están provocando graves e incontroladas tensiones. El primero es el empeoramiento de una crisis múltiple y entrelazada en Oriente Medio, Asia Central y el norte de África. El fracaso de las intervenciones militares (en Irak, Afganistán, Libia) lideradas por Occidente; el colapso de las primaveras árabes; la degradación del conflicto palestino-israelí; la expansión de la violencia sectaria entre suníes y chiíes; la multiplicación de las milicias armadas irregulares, como ISIS, que recurren al terror generalizado; las fricciones fronterizas en curso entre distintos países; el incremento de los Estados frágiles; y la potencial proliferación nuclear han convertido a esta extensa parte del mundo en un punto caliente permanente que nadie sabe cómo manejar - ni los Estados Unidos y las potencias europeas en declive, ni las potencias emergentes del Este y del Sur. Pensar que todas estas cuestiones críticas solapadas pueden seguir gestionándose con la tradicional mezcla de fuerza y realpolitik es conceptualmente ingenuo y estratégicamente equivocado.

El segundo factor es la intensificación de la hostilidad entre los países occidentales y Rusia. Una analogía imperfecta sería ver esto como una repetición de la guerra fría, lo cual sería además peligroso ya que podría dar lugar a mensajes inapropiados y a medidas erróneas que sólo agravarían la tensa situación en torno a Ucrania. Está claro que Occidente y Rusia tienen puntos de vista diferentes acerca de los ingredientes de un orden estable para Eurasia, y se ven incapaces o no están dispuestos a hacer concesiones. La combinación de una alianza atlántica extralimitada, que todavía está sufriendo una notable recesión, y una economía rusa debilitada, gobernada por un autoritarismo electoral, es muy problemática. Ambas partes, y el mundo, deben tratar de evitar la parálisis, la humillación, o la guerra.

El tercer factor, que es crucial entender, es la compleja dinámica geopolítica del sureste asiático. La transformación de China de actor regional a potencia global está provocando reacciones y reajustes importantes en la zona. Es fundamental gestionar la transición de poder internacional que subyace al resurgimiento de China en los asuntos mundiales. La historia demuestra que los cambios de poder relativo a menudo (aunque no siempre) terminan en guerra. Hay signos evidentes entre los actores geográficamente cercanos  como Japón y lejanos como Estados Unidos, de un compromiso para resistir y eventualmente revertir el resurgimiento de Beijing. La falta de confianza, moderación y autocontrol pueden conducir sin querer a una crisis. Sin ir más lejos, el llamado "giro" de Washington hacia la cuenca del Pacífico, la nueva seguridad adelantada por el primer ministro japonés, Shinzo Abe, y la estrategia militar reciente de China no parecen coincidir en un camino común que pueda acomodar los intereses de estos actores clave.

En resumen, esta es la primera vez en un cuarto de siglo que el mundo en su conjunto es testigo de una situación tan delicada. La advertencia del Boletín de los Científicos Atómicos debe ser tomada muy en serio.

Topics:  Conflict Democracy and government Ideas International politics Science Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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Use of force: the American public and the ethics of war

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 9:05

Survey data suggest that most Americans weigh the ethics of war with a heavy bias towards protecting American lives and national security. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, Public Opinion and Human Rights. Español, Françaisالعربية

The philosophical and legal doctrine known collectively as “just war theory” has been the prime focus of scholarly debate about the ethics of war in the West for hundreds of years. It also provides the basis for most extant international humanitarian law governing the conduct of war and has directly influenced the US military’s official targeting doctrine.

But to what extent are the American public’s views on the use of force consistent with just war doctrine’s ethical principles? Understanding the extent to which the public has internalized these principles provides insights into how warfare is likely to be practiced in the real world because, at least in democratic states, the public exerts an important influence over government policies.

Our research explores the public’s acceptance of three key moral principles from just war theory. These principles are usually referred to as “distinction” (sometimes called “non-combatant immunity”), which prohibits the intentional targeting of non-combatants; “proportionality,” which asks military decision makers to weigh the costs to foreign civilians of a particular operation against the operation’s contribution to winning the war; and “due care” which requires that combatants try to minimize collateral damage, even if that means accepting some increased risk to themselves.


Flickr/MarineCorps NewYork (Some rights reserved)

Public opinion survey results paint a picture of an American public more committed to US national strategic interests and the lives of American military personal than human rights-induced pragmatism.

To explore these questions, we conducted three related survey experiments in August 2014 on a large, representative sample of American citizens. In each experiment, subjects were randomly assigned to read a different mock news story about a hypothetical US military crisis in Afghanistan. In each article, subjects read that the United States had identified a Taliban target in an Afghan village and was considering various options to attack it. Each story then varied just one critical aspect of the scenario to highlight the application of different just war principles.

In the distinction experiment, subjects read that the US had discovered a chemical weapons facility in the village and was considering two airstrike options for attacking the target. The first option, a small-scale strike, had a 45% chance of destroying the target but would result in an estimated 20 collateral Afghan civilian fatalities. The second option, a large-scale strike, would double the chances of destroying the target to 90%, but increase the Afghan civilian fatalities in the village to 500. The different stories then varied whether the Afghan villagers were political supporters or opponents of the Taliban and whether or not the US would intentionally target the civilians. After reading the story, subjects were then asked which strike option they most preferred.

Contrary to the principle of distinction, we found that the public did not decrease its support for the large-scale strike even when the story stated that the strike would deliberately target civilian dwellings in order to “send a strong signal” to other villages not to support the Taliban (see condition B vs. C in figure 1). Indeed, nearly two out of three Americans expressed a preference for the large-scale strike when it intentionally targeted civilians. Moreover, again contrary to just war teachings, we found that Americans were significantly more likely to prefer the large-scale strike when the victims were described as political supporters of the Taliban than when the victims were Taliban opponents.

In the due care experiment, subjects again read that the US had discovered a Taliban chemical weapons laboratory. In this story, however, US leaders were choosing between an artillery strike, which would kill 200 Afghan civilians but avoid any risk to US troops, and a house-to-house assault, which would kill no Afghan civilians but placed US troops at greater risk. The news stories then increased the number of US military deaths in the house-to-house option from 5 to 50, while holding Afghan civilian casualties and all other features of the story constant.

Consistent with the principle of due care, we found that support for the artillery strike declined as the number of US military fatalities it would avert declined (see figure 2). Even when the artillery strike would avert the deaths 5 American soldiers at the cost of 200 Afghan civilian deaths, however, only a bare majority (50.5%) preferred the more discriminating door-to-door assault. When the artillery strike would allow the United States to avoid 50 military deaths, the preference for the artillery strike increased to nearly three-quarters of the population.

In the proportionality experiment, subjects read that the United States had received warning of a meeting of Taliban leaders in an Afghan village. US leaders were again deciding between a small-scale strike, which had a 45% chance of destroying the target was estimated to result in 20 Afghan collateral civilian deaths, and a large-scale strike, which increased the chances of destroying the target to 90% but also increased civilian casualties to 200. In one story, subjects read that the Taliban leaders were “low ranking” and that killing them “would have little effect on the outcome of the war.” In the second story, the Taliban leaders were described as “high ranking,” and the story stated that killing them would “have a major effect on the outcome of the war.”

Our results indicate that Americans do appear to weigh foreign civilian deaths against the military importance of the target as the proportionality principle advises (see figure 3). Support for the less discriminant, large-scale strike dropped by over 20% when the meeting was described as “low level”. Nevertheless, a surprisingly large minority of the public (44%) preferred the large-scale strike—killing 180 additional Afghan civilians—even when American military leaders explicitly concluded that it would have little impact on the war.

Taken together, these findings reveal that the public’s commitment to the principles of distinction, proportionality and due care are heavily biased in favor of protecting American lives and national security interests in ways that suggest limited support, at best, for most interpretations of just war doctrine. This conclusion is reinforced by our previous research that found high levels of public support for using nuclear weapons when those weapons provided a substantial military advantage over conventional weapons. Our findings suggest we cannot rely on the moral instincts of the American public to act as a strong check on American military operations that violate human rights.

Although these findings may appear inconsistent with the research by Sarah Kreps and Geoffrey Wallace, which finds that the public is influenced by concerns about compliance with international law, our results are more complementary than they may seem. Kreps and Wallace find that providing the public with arguments that drone strikes violate international law reduces support for drone strikes by between 6-8%. Yet over 40% of the public approved of the strikes even when told they would violate international law (this was almost twice as many subjects as opposed the strikes). Thus, as in our experiments, although the public is not unmoved by concerns for justice in the use of force, many Americans appear willing to put aside those concerns in times of war.

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

Sidebox: 

Related stories:  Doubling down on human rights data International law and US public support for drone strikes Does it matter when polls go wrong? Data-driven optimism for global rights activists Let the pollsters pick? Navigating public opinion in Israel In Israel, implementing human rights feels wrong Mapping human rights skepticism in Mexico More than smoke and mirrors: citizen perceptions of human rights The struggle for a truly grassroots human rights movement Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Use of force: the American public and the ethics of war

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 9:05

Survey data suggest that most Americans weigh the ethics of war with a heavy bias towards protecting American lives and national security. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, Public Opinion and Human Rights. Español, Françaisالعربية

The philosophical and legal doctrine known collectively as “just war theory” has been the prime focus of scholarly debate about the ethics of war in the West for hundreds of years. It also provides the basis for most extant international humanitarian law governing the conduct of war and has directly influenced the US military’s official targeting doctrine.

But to what extent are the American public’s views on the use of force consistent with just war doctrine’s ethical principles? Understanding the extent to which the public has internalized these principles provides insights into how warfare is likely to be practiced in the real world because, at least in democratic states, the public exerts an important influence over government policies.

Our research explores the public’s acceptance of three key moral principles from just war theory. These principles are usually referred to as “distinction” (sometimes called “non-combatant immunity”), which prohibits the intentional targeting of non-combatants; “proportionality,” which asks military decision makers to weigh the costs to foreign civilians of a particular operation against the operation’s contribution to winning the war; and “due care” which requires that combatants try to minimize collateral damage, even if that means accepting some increased risk to themselves.


Flickr/MarineCorps NewYork (Some rights reserved)

Public opinion survey results paint a picture of an American public more committed to US national strategic interests and the lives of American military personal than human rights-induced pragmatism.

To explore these questions, we conducted three related survey experiments in August 2014 on a large, representative sample of American citizens. In each experiment, subjects were randomly assigned to read a different mock news story about a hypothetical US military crisis in Afghanistan. In each article, subjects read that the United States had identified a Taliban target in an Afghan village and was considering various options to attack it. Each story then varied just one critical aspect of the scenario to highlight the application of different just war principles.

In the distinction experiment, subjects read that the US had discovered a chemical weapons facility in the village and was considering two airstrike options for attacking the target. The first option, a small-scale strike, had a 45% chance of destroying the target but would result in an estimated 20 collateral Afghan civilian fatalities. The second option, a large-scale strike, would double the chances of destroying the target to 90%, but increase the Afghan civilian fatalities in the village to 500. The different stories then varied whether the Afghan villagers were political supporters or opponents of the Taliban and whether or not the US would intentionally target the civilians. After reading the story, subjects were then asked which strike option they most preferred.

Contrary to the principle of distinction, we found that the public did not decrease its support for the large-scale strike even when the story stated that the strike would deliberately target civilian dwellings in order to “send a strong signal” to other villages not to support the Taliban (see condition B vs. C in figure 1). Indeed, nearly two out of three Americans expressed a preference for the large-scale strike when it intentionally targeted civilians. Moreover, again contrary to just war teachings, we found that Americans were significantly more likely to prefer the large-scale strike when the victims were described as political supporters of the Taliban than when the victims were Taliban opponents.

In the due care experiment, subjects again read that the US had discovered a Taliban chemical weapons laboratory. In this story, however, US leaders were choosing between an artillery strike, which would kill 200 Afghan civilians but avoid any risk to US troops, and a house-to-house assault, which would kill no Afghan civilians but placed US troops at greater risk. The news stories then increased the number of US military deaths in the house-to-house option from 5 to 50, while holding Afghan civilian casualties and all other features of the story constant.

Consistent with the principle of due care, we found that support for the artillery strike declined as the number of US military fatalities it would avert declined (see figure 2). Even when the artillery strike would avert the deaths 5 American soldiers at the cost of 200 Afghan civilian deaths, however, only a bare majority (50.5%) preferred the more discriminating door-to-door assault. When the artillery strike would allow the United States to avoid 50 military deaths, the preference for the artillery strike increased to nearly three-quarters of the population.

In the proportionality experiment, subjects read that the United States had received warning of a meeting of Taliban leaders in an Afghan village. US leaders were again deciding between a small-scale strike, which had a 45% chance of destroying the target was estimated to result in 20 Afghan collateral civilian deaths, and a large-scale strike, which increased the chances of destroying the target to 90% but also increased civilian casualties to 200. In one story, subjects read that the Taliban leaders were “low ranking” and that killing them “would have little effect on the outcome of the war.” In the second story, the Taliban leaders were described as “high ranking,” and the story stated that killing them would “have a major effect on the outcome of the war.”

Our results indicate that Americans do appear to weigh foreign civilian deaths against the military importance of the target as the proportionality principle advises (see figure 3). Support for the less discriminant, large-scale strike dropped by over 20% when the meeting was described as “low level”. Nevertheless, a surprisingly large minority of the public (44%) preferred the large-scale strike—killing 180 additional Afghan civilians—even when American military leaders explicitly concluded that it would have little impact on the war.

Taken together, these findings reveal that the public’s commitment to the principles of distinction, proportionality and due care are heavily biased in favor of protecting American lives and national security interests in ways that suggest limited support, at best, for most interpretations of just war doctrine. This conclusion is reinforced by our previous research that found high levels of public support for using nuclear weapons when those weapons provided a substantial military advantage over conventional weapons. Our findings suggest we cannot rely on the moral instincts of the American public to act as a strong check on American military operations that violate human rights.

Although these findings may appear inconsistent with the research by Sarah Kreps and Geoffrey Wallace, which finds that the public is influenced by concerns about compliance with international law, our results are more complementary than they may seem. Kreps and Wallace find that providing the public with arguments that drone strikes violate international law reduces support for drone strikes by between 6-8%. Yet over 40% of the public approved of the strikes even when told they would violate international law (this was almost twice as many subjects as opposed the strikes). Thus, as in our experiments, although the public is not unmoved by concerns for justice in the use of force, many Americans appear willing to put aside those concerns in times of war.

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Related stories:  Doubling down on human rights data International law and US public support for drone strikes Does it matter when polls go wrong? Data-driven optimism for global rights activists Let the pollsters pick? Navigating public opinion in Israel In Israel, implementing human rights feels wrong Mapping human rights skepticism in Mexico More than smoke and mirrors: citizen perceptions of human rights The struggle for a truly grassroots human rights movement Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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I was on a Russian nationalist hit list

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 9:04

In Moscow City Court, the suspected leader of a far-right terror group with links to the Kremlin stands accused of five murders. I was on their hit list.

 

In Moscow City Court, Ilya Goryachev, the suspected leader of the far-right terror group BORN (Militant Organisation of Russian Nationalists), is standing trial. He is accused of five murders and setting up a criminal organisation.

This is already the fifth trial on crimes committed by BORN. In February of this year, four former members of BORN stood trial for murder. Two of them received life sentences. In 2011, Nikita Tikhonov and Evgeniya Khasis were sentenced to life imprisonment and life imprisonment respectively for the 2009 shootings of Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer, and Anastisya Baburova, a trainee reporter at Novaya Gazeta. BORN was also responsible for the deaths of Eduard Chuvashov, a Moscow district judge, and Ilya Dzhaparidze, an anti-fascist activist, and others. As documents from this new case reveal, my name could have been on this list too.

Russian Image 

Goryachev, 33, is the leader of the now-defunct Russkiy obraz (Russian Image), a legally-registered right-wing organisation.

According to the investigation, Russkiy obraz and BORN operated in tandem, 'drawing on the experience of Sinn Fein and the IRA.' Goryachev developed this concept together with his old friend Nikita Tikhonov, who is currently serving a life sentence for the murders of Baburova and Markelov. Evgeniya Khasis, Tikhonov's girlfriend, received 18 years for assisting him in the murders.

While BORN carried out killings, Russkiy obraz attempted to transform itself into a political party, subtly manoeuvring its way through the Russian political system, which lies largely under the control of the Presidential Administration. The prosecution contends that Goryachev passed information about potential targets to members of BORN, helped them find firearms, and insisted that certain people had to be killed. 

Evgeniya Khasis at Moscow's Basmannyi court, 2010. (c) Andrei Stenin / VisualRIAN

Russkiy obraz presented itself to the administration of then president Dmitry Medvedev as a structure which held sway over Russia's Neo-Nazis, who were, at the end of the 2000s, something of a mass phenomenon.

In their efforts to take the top spot among the Russian far right, Russkiy obraz co-operated with the Russian wing of Blood and Honour/Combat 18, a UK-based Neo-Nazi organisation which dates back to the 1980s. Murders committed by BORN were meant to popularise far-right ideas and sow panic among the Neo-Nazi's opponents. 

The most puzzling thing about Goryachev's case, though, is why was it sent to court in the first place? The investigator in charge, Igor Krasnov, is a well-known operator in Russia's Investigative Committee, and was involved in previous BORN cases. Most recently, Krasnov located the group suspected of murdering opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in February.

But Krasnov is no longer involved in investigations: he has been transferred to Investigative Committee's management. And given the four other trials of BORN crimes, there was no pressing need for Goryachev to take the stand.

Ilya Goryachev at Moscow's Basmannyi court, January 2014. (c) Sergei Kuznetsov / VisualRIAN

There are, however, several documents in the case files elating to co-operation between the Neo-Nazis, the Presidential Administration (PA) and the Interior Ministry, which do not directly concern the crimes currently in question.

Now, though, these documents are in the open. Why?

Presidential connections

The most interesting material in Goryachev's file is his Skype and email exchanges. Studying this material, you begin to understand what happened inside this man's head – a man who, during 2007-2010, wanted to take part in the political process and become the leader of the Russian right.

That said, this much is clear: the Presidential Administration co-operated with Russkiy obraz, not BORN. Medvedev's minions, of course, did not approve right-wing murders. What they wanted was an organisation, dependent on the authorities, which could control the Russian far right. In particular, the PA wanted Goryachev to gain control over the 'Russian march' (an annual procession of nationalists held in Moscow), sidelining the more opposition-minded Movement Against Illegal Immigration.

Both the PA and the Russian Interior Ministry's Centre for Combating Extremism (better known as 'Center E') commissioned Goryachev to monitor the activities of leftist activists and anti-fascists. Indeed, Goryachev was in constant contact with the 'political technologists' working for the PA.

For instance, in 2008, Gary Kasparov and Eduard Limonov, leaders of the radical wing of Russia's opposition, proposed to co-operate with Russkiy obraz. Goryachev immediately wrote to his contacts at the Presidential Administration, suggesting various ways to use this situation to their advantage.

Ilya Goryachev at Moscow's Basmannyi court, January 2014. (c) Sergei Kuznetsov / VisualRIAN

But what was Goryachev's motivation for working with the authorities? In his correspondence, Goryachev notes on several occasions that 'people in the presidential administration understand that we're Nazis, but that we're ready to co-operate.' Goryachev refers to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov as an example of co-operation: after all, it seems the Kremlin is ready to put up with other activities in exchange for complete loyalty.

This correspondence also details Goryachev's discussions with political technologists on financing Russkiy obraz via presidential grants. These grants are distributed by the Civic Chamber, an oversight institution chaired by leading members of business and media. 

The trajectory of other members of Russkiy obraz is stranger still: they are now working in projects close to Anti-Maidan, the new pro-Kremlin movement headed by Senator Dmitry Sablin. In 2014, these people received 10.5m roubles (approx. £120,000) 'to monitor the influence of Maidan on radical organisations'. They received this money via Civic Chamber grants. 

A fatal interest 

Goryachev's case caught my eye for another reason, though: my name figures frequently in his correspondence.

While I have been involved in anarchist initiatives in Russia since the end of the 1990s, I became interested in anti-fascism quite by chance. In 2000 or 2001 – I don't remember now – I was the target of a Nazi attack. At the time, I was a part of a young leftist group.

I became interested in anti-fascism quite by chance 

In the end, what was most memorable about this attack was neither the deep scars I received from the sharpened metal object which struck me, nor the fact that I nearly lost an eye after someone shoved a bottle in my face.

No, what surprised me was their level of organisation: having received information from their scouts, they jumped out from behind a corner near the State Darwin Museum, attacking us before disappearing down the back streets. Moreover, our attackers were not dressed as you might imagine them – with swastikas and Doc Martins. They were unremarkable young men in sports clothes.

After this attack (and its level of organisation), I became interested in their movement, and wanted to resist it. Back then, you could count the number of Moscow's anti-fascists on two hands. But it grew, and soon there were dozens. Then hundreds. 

In the second half of the 2000s, after the murders and mass brawls in the metro, the Interior Ministry and FSB began to notice the conflict between Nazis and anti-fascists. As so often happens in Russia, this 'trend' went viral in Russia's big cities. In recent years, though, this conflict has cooled. 

My interest in anti-fascism during the 2000s had a profound effect on me: it forced me to train physically, to familiarise myself with ways of defending myself. But all this began after I started my own monitoring of the Russian right.

In the 2000s, print media was already on the back foot, and social networks were only just coming out. And so I spent a lot of time on Nazi forums and message boards, trying to figure out how their movement was organised. 

I came across Ilya Goryachev in 2001 or 2002. For Russian Nazis at the time, the main forum for discussion was the message board of Kolovrat, a right-wing punk band. One of its moderators, 'Arkan' (the name of Serbian civil war commander Željko Ražnatović), it turned out, was Goryachev. I don't remember how I made the connection, but it wasn't hard. 

Goryachev had only just started Russkiy obraz. Indeed, the anarchist organisation I was involved in setting up, Autonomous Action, was only just starting out too.

Although our paths have never crossed, Goryachev and I followed each other's activities closely throughout the 2000s. We are the same age, more or less. We were students at different universities, but we are both historians. We were even registered on the same postgraduate course at the Russian Academy of Sciences. On one floor, Goryachev was studying Serbian history, while on another I was studying Afro-American ethnic identities. Neither of us finished our PhDs. 

We have never met, but Goryachev and I followed each other's activities throughout the 2000s.

Afterwards, Goryachev worked in journalism for a time, and I'm still a journalist today. Goryachev produced the Russkiy obraz magazine, and I did the same for Autonomous Action. We studied each other's efforts with interest.

'A hereditary dissident'

Both fascists and anti-fascists collected information about one another scrupulously. Internet chatter, information from former girlfriends, chance acquaintances, Nazis who had recanted their beliefs, friendly football fans, we even tried to infiltrate spies into their groups – this is how we compiled dossiers on our opponents. And Nazis and anti-fascists uploaded this information (and photographs) to the internet. 

People from the Interior Ministry and FSB investigating crimes committed by the Nazis were intrigued by the information we collected. Some of the information we gathered made its way to them. I also passed this information on to the police, although I did it through third parties: whenever I was taken off by the police for 'friendly chats' (and interrogations), I always maintained that 'I never knew anything about this.' 

The Nazis also worked with the authorities. Most of all, it seems, with 'Center E'. Indeed, Goryachev's case has revealed how the Nazis had another, more effective way of collecting information. Although it remains unclear, it seems that our opponents would visit police stations and, using the names of friendly Duma deputies or perhaps the patronage of Center E, buy photographs and passport details of anti-fascists from police officers after people from the anti-fascist movement were detained at mass actions.

They continued to do this after the BORN case came to light. People from the by-then defunct Russkiy obraz helped identify the members of Pussy Riot using information from the police station where they were sent after one of their performances.

Goryachev's computer contained a database of around 100 Moscow anti-fascists. It was sent to the Presidential Administration, Center E, Blood and Honour, and the killers from BORN, with minor changes.

As it turns out, judging from Goryachev's correspondence, he was interested in me and Stanislav Markelov more than everyone else. Goryachev's intrigue was only spurred further by the fact that my parents knew the family of the physicist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov – this information isn't secret, you can find it online. As a result, Goryachev called me a 'hereditary dissident' and came to believe that I 'organise communications between street activists and human rights defenders, friendly journalists and politicians.' 

It's clear, at least from these emails, that Goryachev suffers from paranoia. He believes that the 'anti-Russian left-liberal lobby', which has apparently penetrated mass media, the FSB, as well as the legislative and executive powers, truly exists. 

According to these exchanges, Goryachev believes that I work closely with politicians frequently pilloried in the state press, such as Oleg Shein, Ilya Ponomarev and Geidar Dzhemal. My acquaintance with these people is limited to a few comments for the press. Sure, I once made an official request for information through Shein, but many people on the left did this while he was in the Duma. What's funnier, though, is that Goryachev believes I was in charge of distributing some kind of foreign financing to Russian anarchists and anti-fascists.

Regardless how absurd this might seem, these 'monitoring reports' made their way to Center E, who attempted to conduct 'a heart-to-heart' with me three times in 2010. It's quite possible that this could have ended in prison for me, but I was working for Novaya Gazeta at the time. A scandal broke out as a result, and Center E realised that they couldn't pin anything concrete on me: at least, at the time of writing, I am free. 

Name, address and number

Russian Nazis have had my address, surname and patronymic since the beginning of the 2000s. Before I became interested in anti-fascism, I sent an advert offering to swap punk music to a DIY journal. My address was included.

The Nazis have had my address, surname and patronymic since the beginning of the 2000s

My 'official' address is in Troitsk, a small town south of Moscow, and is quite far from the centre: it would be a hassle to go down there and keep watch over the entrance to my apartment block. That said, the killers of Ilya Dzhaparidze, an anti-fascist, travelled 100km to Maryino (where Dzhaparidze lived) and back every Saturday for months before they murdered him. 

Goryachev's database contains details of another anti-fascist registered in Troitsk. It classifies him as one of the leaders of the anti-fascist movement. Once someone shot at his window, nearly killing his brother. This story does not feature in the accusations made against BORN.

In the end, I was 'saved' by chance: the Nazis photographed another anti-fascist, confident that it was me. For a long time, his photograph sat on the internet next to my name and information. As a result, I've always been reluctant to put photographs on the net, avoiding photos and video cameras. 

The Nazis got hold of my photograph in 2013 – only after the BORN case blew up. At the time, I was working for RBK daily. I was sent to cover a Young Guard congress being held in Lipetsk. Young Guard is the youth-wing of United Russia.

I was amused when I arrived: many of the people working in the camp's press office and security detail were Nazis, including former members of Russkiy obraz.

In the end, this was where they finally photographed me, and the picture went online. That said, they photographed me while I was interviewing Vladimir Churov, the head of the Central Election Commission. Of course, they uploaded the photograph without Churov.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Russian nationalism can be deadly The dark doings of Russia’s Centre E Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

I was on a Russian nationalist hit list

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 9:04

In Moscow City Court, the suspected leader of a far-right terror group with links to the Kremlin stands accused of five murders. I was on their hit list.

 

In Moscow City Court, Ilya Goryachev, the suspected leader of the far-right terror group BORN (Militant Organisation of Russian Nationalists), is standing trial. He is accused of five murders and setting up a criminal organisation.

This is already the fifth trial on crimes committed by BORN. In February of this year, four former members of BORN stood trial for murder. Two of them received life sentences. In 2011, Nikita Tikhonov and Evgeniya Khasis were sentenced to life imprisonment and life imprisonment respectively for the 2009 shootings of Stanislav Markelov, a human rights lawyer, and Anastisya Baburova, a trainee reporter at Novaya Gazeta. BORN was also responsible for the deaths of Eduard Chuvashov, a Moscow district judge, and Ilya Dzhaparidze, an anti-fascist activist, and others. As documents from this new case reveal, my name could have been on this list too.

Russian Image 

Goryachev, 33, is the leader of the now-defunct Russkiy obraz (Russian Image), a legally-registered right-wing organisation. According to the investigation, BORN and Russkiy obraz operated together, 'drawing on the experience of Sinn Fein and the IRA.' Goryachev developed this concept together with his old friend Nikita Tikhonov, who is currently serving a life sentence for the murders of Baburova and Markelov.

While BORN carried out murders, Russkiy obraz attempted to transform itself into a political party, subtly manoeuvring the Russian political system under the control of the Presidential Administration. The prosecution contends that Goryachev passed information about potential targets to members of BORN, helped them find firearms, and insisted that certain people had to be killed. 

Evgeniya Khasis at Moscow's Basmannyi court, 2010. (c) Andrei Stenin / VisualRIAN

Russkiy obraz presented itself to the administration of then president Dmitry Medvedev as a structure, which held sway over Russia's Neo-Nazis, who were, at the end of the 2000s, a mass phenomenon. Trying to take the top spot among the far right, Russkiy obraz co-operated with the Russian wing of Blood and Honour/Combat 18, a UK-based Neo-Nazi organisation dating back to the 1980s. Murders committed by BORN were meant to popularise far-right ideas, and sow panic among the Neo-Nazi's opponents. 

The most puzzling thing about Goryachev's case, though, is: why was it sent to court in the first place? The investigator in charge, Igor Krasnov, a well-known operator in Russia's Investigative Committee, worked the previous BORN cases. Most recently, Krasnov located the suspects in the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in February.

But Krasnov is no longer involved in investigations. He has been transferred to Investigative Committee's management. And given the four other trials on BORN crimes, there was no pressing need for Goryachev to go on trial.

Ilya Goryachev at Moscow's Basmannyi court, January 2014. (c) Sergei Kuznetsov / VisualRIAN

In Goryachev's criminal case, there are, however, several documents relating to co-operation between the Neo-Nazis, the Presidential Administration and the Interior Ministry, which do not directly concern the crimes in question.

Now, though, these documents are in the open. Clearly, some kind of political intrigue is at play here. 

Presidential connections

The most interesting material in Goryachev's file is his Skype and email exchanges. Studying this material, you begin to understand what happened inside this man's head – a man who wanted to take part in the political process and to be the leader of the Russian right in 2007-2010.

That said, this much is clear: the Presidential Administration (PA) co-operated with Russkiy obraz, not BORN. Medvedev's minions, of course, did not approve right-wing murders. What they wanted was an organisation, dependent on the authorities, which could control the Russian far right. In particular, the PA wanted Goryachev to gain control over the 'Russian march' (an annual procession of nationalists held in Moscow), sidelining the more opposition-minded Movement Against Illegal Immigration.

Both the PA and the Russian Interior Ministry's Centre for Combating Extremism (better known as 'Center E') commissioned Goryachev to monitor the activities of leftist activists and anti-fascists. Indeed, Goryachev was in constant contact with the 'political technologists' working for the PA.

For instance, in 2008, Gary Kasparov and Eduard Limonov, leaders of the radical wing of Russia's opposition, proposed to co-operate with Russkiy obraz. Goryachev immediately wrote to his contacts at the Presidential Administration, suggesting various ways to use this situation to their advantage.

Ilya Goryachev at Moscow's Basmannyi court, January 2014. (c) Sergei Kuznetsov / VisualRIAN

But what was Goryachev's motivation for working with the authorities? In his correspondence, Goryachev notes on several occasions that 'people in the presidential administration understand that we're Nazis, but that we're ready to co-operate.' Goryachev refers to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov as an example of co-operation: after all, it seems the Kremlin is ready to put up with other activities in exchange for complete loyalty.

This correspondence also details Goryachev's discussions with political technologists on financing Russkiy obraz via presidential grants. These grants are distributed by the Civic Chamber, an oversight institution chaired by leading members of business and media. 

The trajectory of other members of Russkiy obraz is stranger still: they are now working in projects close to Anti-Maidan, the new pro-Kremlin movement headed by Senator Dmitry Sablin. In 2014, these people received 10.5m roubles (approx. £120,000) 'to monitor the influence of Maidan on radical organisations'. They received this money via Civic Chamber grants. 

A fatal interest 

Goryachev's case caught my eye for another reason, though: I figure frequently in his correspondence.

While I have been involved in anarchist initiatives in Russia since the end of the 1990s, I became interested in anti-fascism quite by chance. In 2000 or 2001 – I don't remember now – I was the target of a Nazi attack. At the time, I was a part of a young leftists group.

I became interested in anti-fascism quite by chance 

In the end, what turned out to be surprising was not the deep scars from the sharpened metal object they attacked me with, nor the fact that I nearly lost an eye in the attack after I was struck with a bottle.

No, what surprised me was their level of organisation: having received information from their scouts, they jumped out from behind a corner near the State Darwin Museum, attacking us before disappearing down the back streets. Moreover, our attackers were not dressed as you might imagine them – with swastikas and Doc Martins. They were unremarkable young men in sports clothes.

After this attack (and its level of organisation), I became interested in their movement, and wanted to resist it. Back then, you could count the number of Moscow's anti-fascists on two hands. But it grew, and soon there were dozens, then hundreds. 

In the second half of the 2000s, after the murders and mass brawls in the metro, the Interior Ministry and FSB began to take note of the conflict between Nazis and anti-fascists. And, as so often happens in Russia, this 'trend' went viral in Russia's big cities. But in recent years this conflict has cooled. 

My interest in anti-fascism during the 2000s had a profound effect on me, forcing me to train physically, to familiarise myself with ways of defending myself. But all this began after I started my own monitoring of the Russian right.

In the 2000s, print media was already on the back foot, and social networks were only just coming out. And so I spent a lot of time on Nazi forums and message boards, trying to figure out how their movement was organised. 

In 2001 or 2002, I came across Ilya Goryachev. For Russian Nazis at the time, the main forum for discussion was the message board of Kolovrat, a right-wing punk band. One of its moderators, 'Arkan' (the name of Serbian civil war commander Željko Ražnatović), was Goryachev. I don't remember how I managed to make the connection, but it wasn't hard. 

Goryachev had only just started Russkiy obraz. Indeed, Autonomous Action, an anarchist organisation still operating today, was only just starting out too – and I was actively involved in setting it up. 

Although our paths have never crossed, Goryachev and I followed each other's activities throughout the 2000s. We are the same age, more or less. We were students at different universities, but we are both historians. We were even registered on the same postgraduate course at the Russian Academy of Sciences. On one floor, Goryachev was studying Serbian history, while on another I was studying Afro-American ethnic identities. Neither of us finished our PhDs. 

We have never met, but Goryachev and I followed each other's activities throughout the 2000s.

Afterwards, Goryachev worked in journalism for a time, and I'm still a journalist today. Goryachev produced the Russkiy obraz magazine, and I did the same for Autonomous Action. We studied each other's efforts with interest.

'A hereditary dissident'

Both fascists and anti-fascists collected information about one another scrupulously. Internet chatter, information from former girlfriends, chance acquaintances, Nazis who had recanted their beliefs, friendly football fans, we even tried to infiltrate spies into their groups – this is how we compiled dossiers on our opponents. And Nazis and anti-fascists uploaded this information (and photographs) to the internet. 

People from the Interior Ministry and FSB investigating crimes committed by the Nazis were intrigued by the information we collected. Some of the information we gathered made its way to them. I did this myself through third parties: when I was taken off by the police for 'friendly chats' and interrogation, I 'never knew anything about this.' 

The Nazis also worked with the authorities. Most of all, it seems, with 'Center E'. Goryachev's case exposed how, apart from the same methods as us, the Nazis had another way of collecting information. Although it's still unclear, it seems that our opponents would visit police stations and, using the names of friendly Duma deputies or perhaps the patronage of Center E, buy photographs and passport details of anti-fascists from police officers after mass detentions of people from our movement.

They continued to do this after the BORN case came to light. People from the by-then defunct Russkiy obraz helped identify the members of Pussy Riot using information from the police station where they were sent after one of their performances.

Goryachev's computer contained a database of around 100 Moscow anti-fascists. It was sent to the Presidential Administration, Center E, Blood and Honour, and the killers from BORN, with minor changes.

Judging by Goryachev's correspondence, he was interested in me and Stanislav Markelov more than everyone else. Goryachev's intrigue was only spurred further by the fact that my parents were friends with the family of the physicist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov – this information isn't secret, you can find it online. As a result, Goryachev called me a 'hereditary dissident' and was sure that I 'organise communication between street activists and human rights defenders, friendly journalists and politicians.' 

It's clear, at least from these emails that Goryachev suffers from paranoia. He believes that the 'anti-Russian left-liberal lobby', which has penetrated mass media, the FSB, as well as the legislative and executive powers, truly exists. 

According to these exchanges, Goryachev believes that I work closely with politicians such as Oleg Shein, Ilya Ponomarev and Geidar Dzhemal. My acquaintance with these people is limited to a few comments for the press. Sure, I once made an official request for information through Shein, but many people on the left did this while he was in the Duma. What's funnier, though, is that Goryachev believes I was in charge of distributing some kind of foreign financing to Russian anarchists and anti-fascists.

Regardless how absurd this might seem, these 'monitoring reports' made their way to Center E. They attempted to conduct 'a heart-to-heart' with me three times in 2010. It's quite possible that this could have ended in prison for me, but I was working for Novaya Gazeta at the time. A scandal broke out as a result, and Center E realised that they couldn't pin anything concrete on me: at least, at the time of writing this text, I am free. 

The Nazis have had my address, surname and patronymic since the beginning of the 2000s. Before I became interested in anti-fascism, I sent an advert offering to swap punk music to a DIY journal. My address was included.

The Nazis have had my address, surname and patronymic since the beginning of the 2000s

My 'official' address is in Troitsk, a small town south of Moscow, and is quite far from the centre: it would be a hassle to go down there and keep watch over the entrance to my apartment block. That said, the killers of Ilya Dzhaparidze, an anti-fascist, travelled 100km to Maryino (where Dzhaparidze lived) and back every Saturday for months before they murdered him. 

Goryachev's database contains details of another anti-fascist registered in Troitsk. It classifies him as one of the leaders of the anti-fascist movement. Once someone shot at his window, nearly killing his brother. This story does not feature in the accusations made against BORN.

In the end, I was 'saved' by chance: the Nazis photographed another anti-fascist, confident that it was me. For a long time, his photograph sat on the internet next to my name and information. As a result, I've always been reluctant to put photographs on the net, avoiding photos and video cameras. 

The Nazis got hold of my photograph in 2013 – only after the BORN case blew up. At the time, I was working for RBK daily. I was sent to cover a Young Guard congress being held in Lipetsk. Young Guard is the youth-wing of United Russia.

I was amused when I arrived: many of the people working in the camp's press office and security detail were Nazis, including former members of Russkiy obraz.

In the end, this was where they finally photographed me, and the picture went online. That said, they photographed me while I was interviewing Vladimir Churov, the head of the Central Election Commission. Of course, they uploaded the photograph without Churov.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Russian nationalism can be deadly The dark doings of Russia’s Centre E Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

North Sinai and Egyptian media

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 9:03

Early on 1 July, an Islamic State affiliate started a massive and unprecedented attack in Egypt. Once again, the media is failing to verify the information it spreads.

Terrorist attacks have shaken Egypt to mark the second anniversary of the military coup—or at least this is what some claim. One wonders if it would have been any different had Morsi remained in power, as @salamamoussa points out in this tweet.

One reason it is doubtful that the 3 July anniversary is the motive behind the attack are recent encouragements by ISIS to intensify attacks during the holy month of Ramadan. ISIS was coming anyway—Morsi, Sisi or otherwise—and as we know their horrors are not restricted to Egypt.

As the situation continues to unfold, it is not the time to speculate about the ISIS affiliates' reasons for these fierce attacks. As usual (maybe even more than usual), rumors are flying around with beefed up images and numbers. Seeing that the great people from reported.ly are busy with the Greek Euro crisis, I decided to sum up a few of my findings.

What exactly happened

Around 9:15 AM CEST, I spotted a tweet by SkyNewsArabia saying that thirty Egyptian Army personnel had been killed and injured as North Sinai militants attacked Sheikh Zuweid. Muhamad Sabry, an Egyptian photojournalist based in North Sinai, had reported this earlier. This was alarming, as on 9 June, militants had already fired rockets at an airport in Sinai used by international peacekeeping forces. If confirmed, yesterday morning’s attack in Sinai would be the first major attack since January 2015, when the ISIS affiliate there, Wilayat Sinai (formerly known as Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis), launched terrorist attacks killing tens of people.

The attacks were quickly described as “gun fire” and “car bombing”. There were conflicting reports on the number of casualties for quite some time. The Egyptian Army spokesperson first announced that ten soldiers were dead or injured, and 22 assailants dead. According to the Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Ahram, there had been no official death toll because ambulances had trouble reaching the injured and killed for fear of getting caught in the crossfire. Then, things like this surfaced:

A suicide car bomb had exploded in a military checkpoint in Abu Rifai, located near Sheikh Zuweid. Things then escalated quickly as multiple IEDs were reported along with militants besieging Sheikh Zuweid’s police station and Egyptian F-16 army jets started flying over the area. Meanwhile, Mohannad Sabry, a Cairo-based freelance journalist, reported on events in Sheikh Zuweid:

According to army officials, two checkpoints were completely destroyed, one by the aforementioned suicide car bomb and the other by mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. About 70 fighters simultaneously attacked these targets. A local news agency in Sinai reported that an Apache helicopter had been hit by militant fire and withdrawn (also reported by an “IS fanboy” eyewitness). The terrorist militants had also planted landmines on different streets in Sheikh Zuweid to prevent military vehicles from advancing. Of course, in the midst of this it is the civilians who suffer the most…

The terrorists’ goal is apparently to have full control over Sheikh Zuweid and to “to eradicate the military’s presence in Sinai”. The militants were said to have taken two military tanks, but I was not able to confirm this. The second captured military checkpoint was Abu Higag. Given the way the attack seems to have unfolded — suicide car bombs in multiple locations, RPGs on rooftops, IEDs and mobile weaponry (including 4WD vehicles with mounted machine guns) in various locations across a 60,000 inhabitant city —the assault is highly coordinated.

The violence spread to Al-Arish, North Sinai’s 'capital' city, and Rafah where explosions were reported. Reports at 3:30 PM CEST indicate that at least 35 people had been killed in the on-going attacks. Israel closed the Nitzana and Kerem Shalom border crossings with Egypt. Some ISIS fanboys were also cheering “we are coming for the Zionists” and “Sinai will be a Jewish cemetery” (I would rather not link to the tweets, there's no need to give these sick people more visibility).

And then, around noon CEST, Wilayat Sinai claimed responsibility for the attack saying that its militants had mounted 15 simultaneous attacks on military sites, including “martyrdom operations” on Al-Arish’s officers club and two checkpoints in Sheikh Zuweid “in a blessed invasion”:

The statement also highlights that “eleven checkpoints and a police station in Sheikh Zuweid were attacked by militants using missiles”. A second statement was issued shortly after the first one, claiming that Wilayat Sinai “had besieged Sheikh Zuweid’s police station”. Ahram Online reported they had also “destroyed two military tanks and attacked four checkpoints using mortar rounds”:

A local woman and her 15 year-old daughter were killed, and five people from one family injured in the on-going clashes. People from Sheikh Zuweid also reported that militants were roaming the streets in vehicles with ISIS flags. Locals having witnessed the attacks report:

There were reports about Egyptian soldiers being taken hostage by militants, which I could not confirm. Policemen are however trapped in a besieged police station. In addition to the scale and coordination of the attack, what’s new is that Wilayat Sinai seems to aim to control land, not just raid the area.

From reactions on Twitter, with the Arabic hashtag for #SheikhZuweid trending, the operation is also a huge propaganda win for Wilayat Sinai and, vicariously, for ISIS. And if reports are accurate, the militants have gotten hold of major arms caches and have taken soldiers as prisoners.

Fake imagery spreads as the situation evolves

Tabloid Youm7 chose this awful moment to spread fake images of the attack:

They apparently decided that because people were reporting about terrorists firing RPGs from a building’s roof, they should publish a picture of a suspicious looking bearded man high up on a building. I checked it out and three minutes later, these are the results I found:

Then, super conveniently, a video emerged entitled “(VIDEO) Moment car bomb explodes in military post in North Sinai, Egypt”:

It was a fake: the video was first released back in 2013. Egyptian outlet El-Balad had posted a screenshot of it on 12 September 2013 describing it as a failed suicide car bomb attack on a military checkpoint in Al-Arish, North Sinai. El-Balad added that the car belonged to a bank and had been stolen three days prior to the attack. Lastly, the video itself was apparently first published by user ‘GlobalLeaks News’ on YouTube back in 2013.

And while we were all following conflicting reports over the exact death toll, @JanusThe2 posted this:

Sigh. There are many occurrences of this image, as seen from Google search, most of them from 12 November 2014:

Friendly warning: do not click on these links if you happen to find them online. Images accompanying ones of IEDs are extremely graphic.

Youm7 strikes again, quoting Sky News Arabia on the “60 martyrs from the [Egyptian] security forces” with this image:

This image is from a piece that listed the “30 Most Powerful Private Security Companies in the World”, dated 11 January 2014. The image, ill-sourced back to a Russian website, is associated with a PMC named the Northbridge Services Group.

It is also Masrawy’s turn to go through a swift verification process. They posted this tweet on this piece:

 The image from the tweet is not one from today’s attack, although I could not find much on it:

The image Masrawy used in the news piece and which bears a caption along the lines of “Security services impose curfew in Sheikh Zuweid” is from 2013, if not before (as seen on this Iranian website):

In Cairo, reports indicated that Fast Reaction Forces and Central Security were deployed “in preparation for any acts of violence”.

These are the reports that surfaced in the first half of 1 July 2015.

How will Egypt's forthcoming anti-terrorism legislation impact what looks like an escalation of violence? Difficult to say, especially with the glaring lack of independent media, which is misinforming and keeping the people of Egypt in the dark.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Only in Egypt’s media: women raped because the “guys were having a good time” One satirist exposes Egypt's lopsided media viewpoint Egypt's most powerful man tries to tame the media Egypt to its journalists: Turn a blind eye, or adopt our viewpoint! On Al-Jazeera's lopsided coverage of Egypt Country or region:  Egypt Topics:  Conflict Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

International law and US public support for drone strikes

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 9:00

When it comes to public opinion on drone strikes, the UN and NGOs may have more influence than we think. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on Public Opinion and Human RightsEspañolFrançaisالعربية

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, in United States counterterrorism operations has become a “key feature of the administration’s foreign policy”. In late 2014, the US reached a milestone by conducting its five hundredth drone strike to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

This growing reliance on drones to target militants has generated widespread condemnation worldwide. It has also become the subject of considerable controversy within the US itself. Recent debates have largely centered around two sets of questions: 1) the effectiveness of drones in eliminating terror threats; and 2) the legitimacy of strikes under international law. Domestic supporters point to drones as both effective for disrupting terrorist networks, and consistent with legal principles of self-defense and military necessity. Critics respond that attacks spawn grievances resulting in more terrorists than they eliminate, and represent fundamental violations of international law by breaching other countries’ sovereignty while harming countless civilians. Detractors and defenders alike have sought to directly sway the US public by putting forward these contending arguments in the marketplace of ideas.


Flickr/Ministry of Defense (Some rights reserved)

A Reaper drone returns to base in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Despite this vibrant debate, little is known about which voices or arguments resonate most with the US public. Do appeals to international law change citizens’ opinions toward drones, or is the public more persuaded by claims about their effectiveness? Despite its central importance in helping to understand the roots of domestic attitudes toward the use of force in the United States (and potentially beyond to other frequent drone users, like Israel), answers to this question are far from obvious.

On its face, opponents of US drone strikes should face an uphill battle, especially when pushing criticisms grounded in international law. Across various countries, the threat of terrorism tends to generate fear, anxiety and a thirst for security, reactions that should make citizens suspicious of upholding legal commitments. Given the secrecy often surrounding drone strikes, the US government also enjoys an immense informational advantage over the program’s details. Moreover, the largely bipartisan agreement amongst Republican and Democratic politicians behind drone policies (a rarity in the current polarized US landscape) presents formidable obstacles for any contrary positions put forward by critics. In line with this political consensus, available polling data in recent years points to consistently favorable US public support for drone strikes, views that are seemingly impervious to outside critiques (legal or otherwise).

US Public Opinion Data on Support for Drone Strikes, 2011-2014

To investigate the basis of public support for drone strikes—whether focused primarily on concerns of military effectiveness or international law—we conducted a survey experiment in September 2013 with a national sample of around 2,000 US adults, with assistance from Time-sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences (TESS) and the survey research firm GfK. Before being asked about their support or opposition toward drone strikes, respondents were randomly given additional information about the drones debate that differed on two main dimensions. First was the type of actor making the argument—the US Government (specifically the Joint Chiefs of Staff given their stature on the use of force), the United Nations, or a human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) like Human Rights Watch (HRW); and second, the line of argumentation for or against drone strikes—that is, was it based on military effectiveness, the violation of national sovereignty, or the violation of civilian protection. To remain consistent with the existing drones debate in America, the US government position was in favor of the effectiveness and international arguments, while the UN and NGO sides took a more critical stance. By comparing the answers of respondents in each of these groups to a separate baseline group that received no additional prompting, we could help to isolate the relative effect of arguments rooted in international law versus military effectiveness on support for drone strikes (for a full summary of the survey, see here).

Despite reasons to expect that drone strikes would pose a difficult case for the arguments put forward by the UN and NGOs, we find that these critics actually possess a concrete ability to sway public opinion, though with important caveats. Compared to their UN and NGO opponents, government claims actually have little additional impact on how its citizens think about drones. By contrast, when evaluating the various arguments concerning the merits of drone strikes, citizens appear particularly moved by criticisms rooted in international law. Pronouncements by either the UN or Human Rights Watch (HRW) that drone strikes violate the sovereignty of targeted states, or do not take sufficient measures to prevent civilian deaths, were associated with a drop of 6-8% in public approval for drones. Although modest, the available polling data suggest this would translate into a much more even split between US citizens for or against the use of drone strikes by their government. The relative impact of international legal appeals is also of similar size to that found in other studies on public opinion in related issue areas.

The Effect of Arguments and Elites on US Support for Drone Strikes

On the other hand, the public does not view all arguments equally. Claims both for and against the military effectiveness of drone strikes had fairly minor effects. While UN or NGO criticisms are still associated with declines in support, the effects are half the size found for the international law arguments based on violations of national sovereignty or civilian protection.

Taken together, our analysis suggests that in the case of counterterrorism, which should in many respects be a hard test for international law, appeals drawing on international legal arguments can influence the attitudes of citizens in the country that is currently the world’s foremost user of drone strikes. This is surprising given the large literature showing that Americans tend to be prudent and realpolitik in terms of their support for the use of force, not driven by concerns of legality or morality. Our results confirm that UN and NGO critics of US policy can gain some traction even within a relatively skeptical public. Their arguments are likely to resonate most when centered on legal issues, however, rather than on questions concerning the military effectiveness of drone strikes.

These findings also have important implications for what has become one of the “signature aspects” of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, the use of drones to target suspected terrorists. A number of studies have convincingly shown that public opinion matters in foreign policy, if not affecting whether a country initiates the use of force, but by affecting the sustainability of that decision. The US was able to intervene in countries like Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia and Iraq, but leaders ultimately found that their ability to continue those interventions was hamstrung by growing public opposition. Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Michael Hayden has implied that public attitudes are important in the specific context of American drone strikes, suggesting that “no president can do something repeatedly over a long term without that broad popular support.”

While more work certainly remains to be done, our research suggests that international law presents an important pathway through which controversial policies like drone strikes will be debated and challenged in the marketplace of ideas, both in the US and in the international community more broadly.

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

Sidebox: 

Related stories:  Doubling down on human rights data Use of force: the American public and the ethics of war Does it matter when polls go wrong? Data-driven optimism for global rights activists More than smoke and mirrors: citizen perceptions of human rights Mapping human rights skepticism in Mexico In Israel, implementing human rights feels wrong Let the pollsters pick? Navigating public opinion in Israel The struggle for a truly grassroots human rights movement Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

International law and US public support for drone strikes

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 9:00

When it comes to public opinion on drone strikes, the UN and NGOs may have more influence than we think. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on Public Opinion and Human RightsEspañolFrançaisالعربية

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, in United States counterterrorism operations has become a “key feature of the administration’s foreign policy”. In late 2014, the US reached a milestone by conducting its five hundredth drone strike to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

This growing reliance on drones to target militants has generated widespread condemnation worldwide. It has also become the subject of considerable controversy within the US itself. Recent debates have largely centered around two sets of questions: 1) the effectiveness of drones in eliminating terror threats; and 2) the legitimacy of strikes under international law. Domestic supporters point to drones as both effective for disrupting terrorist networks, and consistent with legal principles of self-defense and military necessity. Critics respond that attacks spawn grievances resulting in more terrorists than they eliminate, and represent fundamental violations of international law by breaching other countries’ sovereignty while harming countless civilians. Detractors and defenders alike have sought to directly sway the US public by putting forward these contending arguments in the marketplace of ideas.


Flickr/Ministry of Defense (Some rights reserved)

A Reaper drone returns to base in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Despite this vibrant debate, little is known about which voices or arguments resonate most with the US public. Do appeals to international law change citizens’ opinions toward drones, or is the public more persuaded by claims about their effectiveness? Despite its central importance in helping to understand the roots of domestic attitudes toward the use of force in the United States (and potentially beyond to other frequent drone users, like Israel), answers to this question are far from obvious.

On its face, opponents of US drone strikes should face an uphill battle, especially when pushing criticisms grounded in international law. Across various countries, the threat of terrorism tends to generate fear, anxiety and a thirst for security, reactions that should make citizens suspicious of upholding legal commitments. Given the secrecy often surrounding drone strikes, the US government also enjoys an immense informational advantage over the program’s details. Moreover, the largely bipartisan agreement amongst Republican and Democratic politicians behind drone policies (a rarity in the current polarized US landscape) presents formidable obstacles for any contrary positions put forward by critics. In line with this political consensus, available polling data in recent years points to consistently favorable US public support for drone strikes, views that are seemingly impervious to outside critiques (legal or otherwise).

US Public Opinion Data on Support for Drone Strikes, 2011-2014

To investigate the basis of public support for drone strikes—whether focused primarily on concerns of military effectiveness or international law—we conducted a survey experiment in September 2013 with a national sample of around 2,000 US adults, with assistance from Time-sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences (TESS) and the survey research firm GfK. Before being asked about their support or opposition toward drone strikes, respondents were randomly given additional information about the drones debate that differed on two main dimensions. First was the type of actor making the argument—the US Government (specifically the Joint Chiefs of Staff given their stature on the use of force), the United Nations, or a human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) like Human Rights Watch (HRW); and second, the line of argumentation for or against drone strikes—that is, was it based on military effectiveness, the violation of national sovereignty, or the violation of civilian protection. To remain consistent with the existing drones debate in America, the US government position was in favor of the effectiveness and international arguments, while the UN and NGO sides took a more critical stance. By comparing the answers of respondents in each of these groups to a separate baseline group that received no additional prompting, we could help to isolate the relative effect of arguments rooted in international law versus military effectiveness on support for drone strikes (for a full summary of the survey, see here).

Despite reasons to expect that drone strikes would pose a difficult case for the arguments put forward by the UN and NGOs, we find that these critics actually possess a concrete ability to sway public opinion, though with important caveats. Compared to their UN and NGO opponents, government claims actually have little additional impact on how its citizens think about drones. By contrast, when evaluating the various arguments concerning the merits of drone strikes, citizens appear particularly moved by criticisms rooted in international law. Pronouncements by either the UN or Human Rights Watch (HRW) that drone strikes violate the sovereignty of targeted states, or do not take sufficient measures to prevent civilian deaths, were associated with a drop of 6-8% in public approval for drones. Although modest, the available polling data suggest this would translate into a much more even split between US citizens for or against the use of drone strikes by their government. The relative impact of international legal appeals is also of similar size to that found in other studies on public opinion in related issue areas.

The Effect of Arguments and Elites on US Support for Drone Strikes

On the other hand, the public does not view all arguments equally. Claims both for and against the military effectiveness of drone strikes had fairly minor effects. While UN or NGO criticisms are still associated with declines in support, the effects are half the size found for the international law arguments based on violations of national sovereignty or civilian protection.

Taken together, our analysis suggests that in the case of counterterrorism, which should in many respects be a hard test for international law, appeals drawing on international legal arguments can influence the attitudes of citizens in the country that is currently the world’s foremost user of drone strikes. This is surprising given the large literature showing that Americans tend to be prudent and realpolitik in terms of their support for the use of force, not driven by concerns of legality or morality. Our results confirm that UN and NGO critics of US policy can gain some traction even within a relatively skeptical public. Their arguments are likely to resonate most when centered on legal issues, however, rather than on questions concerning the military effectiveness of drone strikes.

These findings also have important implications for what has become one of the “signature aspects” of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, the use of drones to target suspected terrorists. A number of studies have convincingly shown that public opinion matters in foreign policy, if not affecting whether a country initiates the use of force, but by affecting the sustainability of that decision. The US was able to intervene in countries like Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia and Iraq, but leaders ultimately found that their ability to continue those interventions was hamstrung by growing public opposition. Former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Michael Hayden has implied that public attitudes are important in the specific context of American drone strikes, suggesting that “no president can do something repeatedly over a long term without that broad popular support.”

While more work certainly remains to be done, our research suggests that international law presents an important pathway through which controversial policies like drone strikes will be debated and challenged in the marketplace of ideas, both in the US and in the international community more broadly.

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

Sidebox: 

Related stories:  Doubling down on human rights data Use of force: the American public and the ethics of war Does it matter when polls go wrong? Data-driven optimism for global rights activists More than smoke and mirrors: citizen perceptions of human rights Mapping human rights skepticism in Mexico In Israel, implementing human rights feels wrong Let the pollsters pick? Navigating public opinion in Israel The struggle for a truly grassroots human rights movement Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

¿Se acaban los socialismos del siglo XXI?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 8:04

Hay indicios que los gobiernos latinoamericanos llamados del “socialismo del siglo XXI” en Venezuela, Bolivia y Ecuador conocen pérdidas de reconocimiento y sus presidentes tan populares están perdiendo la aceptación excepcional que tuvieron. English

Wikimedia Commons.

Venezuela vive su propia desgracia interna fruto de un exceso de pretensión ideológica, desconocimiento de la economía, de las disputas faccinales del poder y su larga enfermedad de querer todo resolver con el exceso de renta o riqueza que le ha caído del cielo con el maná petrolero. Es imprevisible lo que puede pasar a este país.

En Bolivia y Ecuador, las elecciones seccionales, a pesar de no ser lo mismo que las nacionales en las que pesa la popularidad de Morales y Correa no dejan de indicar que el peso del partido gobernante pierde plumas mientras la oposición se reconstituye. En los dos países, como en Venezuela, el contrapeso al enorme peso adquirido por el gobierno central y partido, pasa a los gobiernos seccionales, intermediarios o locales. Ello a pesar que aún queda la legitimidad que les dio la inmensa capacidad de gasto fiscal con los excepcionales precios de las materias primas lo que les permitió ser nuevos ricos, ganarse favores de popularidad y gastar en cantidades para ello con clientelismo y propaganda.

Es frecuente que se diga que este bajón de aceptación o estos cambios son “normales” luego de tantos años en el poder, puede ser ello en parte. Sin embargo, en Bolivia y Ecuador se percibe ya otros aspectos muy reveladores del sistema que estos gobiernos han creado y de la dinámica de la organización política. Buena parte de los ganadores locales son disidentes del partido en el gobierno, hay una disputa de elites y la oposición se reconstituye así disminuyendo el halo de ser partidos que copan todo, al contrario políticos y electores reaccionan contra ello. Los perdedores gubernamentales son en buena parte gente acusada de corrupción e ineficacia. Son, pues, parte de ese mal creciente que es la corrupción, que acaba por difundirse de la cabeza a los pies de los gobiernos que concentran poder, disponen de tanto recurso y están casi sin control. Por lo general, la corrupción acaba con su prestigio y crear rechazos de largo plazo. La ineficacia llega con esos nombramientos a fieles al presidente o al partido, no escogidos por sus competencias para el puesto. Carencia de personal político no es excepcional en este tipo de gobiernos, que se centran en ganar poder y conservarlo, pero que a la vez ya generan las dinámicas que les desprestigiarán.

Correa como Morales han querido presionar al electorado con un burdo clientelismo de promesas si votan por ellos y carencia de recursos si votan por la oposición, este “paraíso con nosotros o infierno con la oposición” ha creado reacciones en su contra en el electorado mejor formado.

Hay descontentos que ahora afloran, igualmente con protesta en las calles, se está pues volviendo a la dinámica más pluralista de estas sociedades, en que partidos y oposición social han sido parte de sus democracias débiles en instituciones. Las fuerzas opositoras logran mejor reconstituirse o renovarse con nuevos cuadros, hay pues elites políticas locales y nacionales disponibles. En los hechos este pluralismo de hechos, desde lo local a lo nacional es un limite para la tentación autoritaria y un llamado a cambiar los comportamientos que consideran que su idea de gobierno puedo todo permitir.

El cambio del escenario económico puede implicar medidas impopulares que acaben por modificar las popularidades presidenciales y haga bola de nieve con estos fenómenos que ahora afloran al nivel local pero pueden ser parte de las nacionales a ese punto están ya fuertemente establecidas en los hechos y en las conciencias ciudadanas. Un ciclo político parece llegar al fin de su auge, pero su declinación es imprevisible. Ha sido un ciclo ante todo de una izquierda no sistémica pues su prioridad no fue el cambio del aparato productivo, no lo hace sino recién, ya muy tarde; y priorizó la distribución de la abundancia de recursos que ha tenido. Ha sido una “socialismo” Papa Noel que si no se renueva ahora, el contexto actual rápidamente puede deslegitimarlo.

 

 

Este artículo fue publicado originalmente en Lalineadefuego, Ecuador.

Country or region:  Venezuela Bolivia Ecuador Topics:  Democracy and government Ideas International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

¿Se acaban los socialismos del siglo XXI?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 8:04

Hay indicios que los gobiernos latinoamericanos llamados del “socialismo del siglo XXI” en Venezuela, Bolivia y Ecuador conocen pérdidas de reconocimiento y sus presidentes tan populares están perdiendo la aceptación excepcional que tuvieron.

Wikimedia Commons.

Venezuela vive su propia desgracia interna fruto de un exceso de pretensión ideológica, desconocimiento de la economía, de las disputas faccinales del poder y su larga enfermedad de querer todo resolver con el exceso de renta o riqueza que le ha caído del cielo con el maná petrolero. Es imprevisible lo que puede pasar a este país.

En Bolivia y Ecuador, las elecciones seccionales, a pesar de no ser lo mismo que las nacionales en las que pesa la popularidad de Morales y Correa no dejan de indicar que el peso del partido gobernante pierde plumas mientras la oposición se reconstituye. En los dos países, como en Venezuela, el contrapeso al enorme peso adquirido por el gobierno central y partido, pasa a los gobiernos seccionales, intermediarios o locales. Ello a pesar que aún queda la legitimidad que les dio la inmensa capacidad de gasto fiscal con los excepcionales precios de las materias primas lo que les permitió ser nuevos ricos, ganarse favores de popularidad y gastar en cantidades para ello con clientelismo y propaganda.

Es frecuente que se diga que este bajón de aceptación o estos cambios son “normales” luego de tantos años en el poder, puede ser ello en parte. Sin embargo, en Bolivia y Ecuador se percibe ya otros aspectos muy reveladores del sistema que estos gobiernos han creado y de la dinámica de la organización política. Buena parte de los ganadores locales son disidentes del partido en el gobierno, hay una disputa de elites y la oposición se reconstituye así disminuyendo el halo de ser partidos que copan todo, al contrario políticos y electores reaccionan contra ello. Los perdedores gubernamentales son en buena parte gente acusada de corrupción e ineficacia. Son, pues, parte de ese mal creciente que es la corrupción, que acaba por difundirse de la cabeza a los pies de los gobiernos que concentran poder, disponen de tanto recurso y están casi sin control. Por lo general, la corrupción acaba con su prestigio y crear rechazos de largo plazo. La ineficacia llega con esos nombramientos a fieles al presidente o al partido, no escogidos por sus competencias para el puesto. Carencia de personal político no es excepcional en este tipo de gobiernos, que se centran en ganar poder y conservarlo, pero que a la vez ya generan las dinámicas que les desprestigiarán.

Correa como Morales han querido presionar al electorado con un burdo clientelismo de promesas si votan por ellos y carencia de recursos si votan por la oposición, este “paraíso con nosotros o infierno con la oposición” ha creado reacciones en su contra en el electorado mejor formado.

Hay descontentos que ahora afloran, igualmente con protesta en las calles, se está pues volviendo a la dinámica más pluralista de estas sociedades, en que partidos y oposición social han sido parte de sus democracias débiles en instituciones. Las fuerzas opositoras logran mejor reconstituirse o renovarse con nuevos cuadros, hay pues elites políticas locales y nacionales disponibles. En los hechos este pluralismo de hechos, desde lo local a lo nacional es un limite para la tentación autoritaria y un llamado a cambiar los comportamientos que consideran que su idea de gobierno puedo todo permitir.

El cambio del escenario económico puede implicar medidas impopulares que acaben por modificar las popularidades presidenciales y haga bola de nieve con estos fenómenos que ahora afloran al nivel local pero pueden ser parte de las nacionales a ese punto están ya fuertemente establecidas en los hechos y en las conciencias ciudadanas. Un ciclo político parece llegar al fin de su auge, pero su declinación es imprevisible. Ha sido un ciclo ante todo de una izquierda no sistémica pues su prioridad no fue el cambio del aparato productivo, no lo hace sino recién, ya muy tarde; y priorizó la distribución de la abundancia de recursos que ha tenido. Ha sido una “socialismo” Papa Noel que si no se renueva ahora, el contexto actual rápidamente puede deslegitimarlo.

 

 

Este artículo fue publicado originalmente en Lalineadefuego, Ecuador.

Country or region:  Venezuela Bolivia Ecuador Topics:  Democracy and government Ideas International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Is this the end of the Latin American 21st century socialisms?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 7:55

Public support for the Latin American governments of so-called “21st century Socialism” in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador is waning, and their broadly popular presidents are losing the remarkable acceptance they have enjoyed in previous years.

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Venezuela is living through its own internal misfortunes as a result of ideological excesses, ignorance of economics, factional power struggles and a long-term obsession the idea that everything can be solved with oil wealth as if it were manna from heaven. For Venezuela, the future is unpredictable.

In Bolivia and Ecuador, despite the fact that local and regional elections are certainly not equivalent to national ones, where Evo Morales’s and Rafael Correa’s popularity weighs heavily, recent results indicate that the governing party’s clout is diminishing while the opposition is rebuilding (sub-national elections were held in Ecuador in February 2014 and in Bolivia in March 2015). In both countries, as in Venezuela, regional and local governments provide a counterweight to the overhwelming power of central governments and their parties notwithstanding the latter's legitimacy stemming from control of massive public spending (sustained by exceptional raw material prices) which has allowed them to win favor and popularity through patronage and propaganda.

It is frequently said that the fall in popularity is to be expected after so many years in office; and this may be partly true. However, both in Bolivia and Ecuador other revealing aspects of the system these governments have created and of the dynamics of political organization are clearly apparent. Many of the regional/local election winners are ruling party dissidents.  A struggle among the elites is taking place, and the opposition is reshaping - all of which result in a waning of the ruling party’s monopolizing capacity, which is precisely what local politicians and voters are reacting against.

Many losers on the governmental side are accused of corruption and inefficiency. They are, therefore, an integral part of the growing evil of corruption that ends up spreading from head to toe in the body of governments that concentrate power, possess plentiful resources and act without restraint. Generally speaking, corruption ends up destroying their reputation and in long-term rejection by voters. Inefficiency is inherent in the appointment of people loyal to the president or the party who are not chosen on th ebasis of ability. The absence of qualified political personnel is not unusual when governments focus on gaining and keeping power while at the same time generating the very dynamics that will discredit them.

Correa and Morales have tried to put pressure on voters with promises of gross patronage or the threat of withholding resources. But their discourse of “paradise with us or hell with the opposition” has prompted a backlash among better educated citizens.

Discontent is currently also surfacing via street protests, and so we are witnessing a comeback of a more pluralist dynamic in these weak democracies, where both societal and party opposition have been so far under-represented in the institutions. Opposition forces are better than the government at renewing themselves through fresh groupings, both at the national and local level. The surge of this new pluralism is setting a limit to the authoritarian temptations of those who believe that their idea of government allows them to get away with almost anything.

Changes in the economic situation may entail unpopular measures which could alter the popularity of the presidents and snowball from the local/regional to the national level, given that the opposition forces are now firmly established both in fact and in the minds of voters. A political cycle appears to be coming to a end, though its speed of decline is still unclear. This has been primarily a cycle during which a non-systemic Left has, at least until quite recently, left the productive apparatus unchanged while prioritising the distribution of the plentiful resources available. If this Santa Claus Socialism fails now to renew itself, the current context could rapidly delegitimize it.

 

 

This article was first published by La línea de fuego, Ecuador.

Country or region:  Venezuela Bolivia Ecuador Topics:  Democracy and government Ideas International politics Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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