Undermining indigenous self-determination and land access in highland Peru

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 4:00

While current neoliberal privatisation laws provide for protections to indigenous lands, no formal or informal mechanisms exist for natives to actually enjoy such safeguards.

Quechua in Peru. Maria Grazia Montagnari/Flickr. Creative Commons.

European colonial projects depended on the racialisation of native populations to maintain their economies of plunder. The belief that indigenous peoples were inherently unable to enjoy the same rights as colonists undergirded colonial civil society and legitimised, in contemporary eyes, brutal exploitation and even genocide. Europeans from Juan de Matienzo in the sixteenth century to Mario Vargas Llosa more recently have furthermore argued that these costs were worth paying, as European colonialism brought with it enlightened civilisation. The ends, they have said, justified the means.

Troubling echoes of this mentality are still apparent today, namely in the Peruvian government’s approach to indigenous land rights. The current neoliberal project centres on the concept of market rule: governments must alter all goods and services so they can be traded in the global marketplace. In highland Peru, new laws enabled the marketisation of indigenous lands, explicitly promoting dispossession as the most efficient outcome and therein improving the wellbeing of all. “This model of smallholders without technology is a vicious circle of extreme poverty”, explained Peru’s president Alan García in 2007. “We must encourage medium-sized property, the middle class of farmers who know how to obtain resources, seek out markets and create formal jobs”.

Nevertheless, Peru’s recent law on land ownership, passed in 1995, paternalistically provides rights specifically for natives, the majority of smallholders, out of respect for traditions going back to “ancient times”. Only seventeen percent of all landholdings in Peru have clear title, with the number much lower in the Andes. In order to rectify this, the new legislation allows that “under current law, the titling of the communities can take two modalities: communal or individual”. That is, the law provides for clear private titles as well as for titles based on the indigenous-associated community system, which is protected against taxation and appropriation in order to enable the poor to keep their lands as the basis of their survival. The law further holds that the lands of indigenous communities can only become private if a majority of the villagers vote in favour of privatisation (at the time of passage the proportion needed was set at two-thirds).

Rights on paper only

I conducted a multi-year ethnographic study in the village of Huaytabamba (all names are pseudonyms) from 1999 to 2003, where a fierce battle over privatising the lands had broken out. Located twelve twisty kilometres above the regional capital of Ayacucho in south central Peru, villagers in this Quechua-speaking community survive on less than a dollar a day. The food they eat primarily comes from their own fields. Only four families wished to privatise lands, whereas more than 30 adamantly opposed it for fear of once again becoming beholden to a draconian landed elite.

One man, Pedro, led the charge against privatisation by attempting to exercise his rights as given by the new law. However, Pedro not only discovered that the infrastructure needed for him to enjoy his rights did not exist, but also that an array of forces was actively undermining his attempts to do so. In other words, Pedro found neoliberalism reproducing colonial forms of racial domination that confined him to rightless status and allowed for the seizure of his lands.

First, the government’s ‘special land titling project’ (PETT in its Spanish acronym), which was charged with implementing the law, did not provide for the community-based option. It only supplied private titles. This was in part because PETT personnel viewed private titles as the superior option. They described these in interviews as simple resources for improving wellbeing, as they provided access to cash through loans and sales, something community-held titles did not do. They therefore saw the desire to keep the land communal as irrational.

Pedro and his allies thus turned to the second protection mechanism included in the law: the need for a majority vote. In stark contrast to national elections, which are strictly regulated so as to minimise manipulation by the powerful, PETT provided neither resources nor guidance to local communities in order to ensure the fidelity of the vote. The villagers were simply left to their own devices. Pedro saw his chance when it became his turn to act as president of the community, and he brought the issue to a vote in the village assembly. Villagers soundly defeated the issue, with over 90 percent voting against privatisation. The village elite responded with blatant disregard, and despite the fact that the vote was held in accordance with the new law they persisted in their attempts at privatisation.

Pedro and his backers attempted further votes that would more concretely solidify the popular will as the law of the village. They exacted commitments from all major regional authorities to come regulate the decision making process, including the mayor, the district governor, and a judge. Against this threat, the village privatisers launched a vicious campaign condemning such actions as external manipulation that undermined village sovereignty. That this sovereignty was based on the community government, the specific entity the privatisers sought to eliminate, was immaterial.

The actions against the district mayor were particularly vicious. The privatisers denounced the mayor, including through the Quechua language radio station, for building a school that had never seen a student because it had immediately flooded. They accused him of undertaking the project only to win votes. As one worker put it, “the mayor got them all to vote for him and now this school is flooded.” The privatisers condemned the mayor, saying, “this is not a school; this is only a corral; you who have been a teacher and now are mayor should fix it.” While the school construction was clearly corrupt, what the privatisers conveniently overlooked was that the project was brokered locally by one of their own.

The mayor, like the other officials, did not expect such brazen hostility. They assumed their roles would be more formal and based on their authority. Thus, when they were blindsided, they quickly pulled back from their promises. On the day Pedro had scheduled external authorities to come help, he and I scoured the provincial capital to get them to make good on their promises. But we only found locked doors. These urban authorities had no institutional or legal obligation to fulfil a regulatory role, and they gladly fell back on this lest the accusations of manipulation stick on them and ruin their careers. Thus, in simply doing their job, these officials helped preserve the system in which the indigenous do not enjoy substantive rights.

False friends

Pedro’s urban allies provided the greatest betrayal. The community faction secured village presentations from three different organisations, believing that a village vote would immediately follow based on the information provided. For instance, when Pedro and I visited the defensoría del pueblo, the government sponsored human rights ombudsman, the young lawyer working there explained the law in easy terms and said he would have no problem making a presentation to the village. An Ayacucho non-governmental organisation and the secretary general of the Peruvian Peasant Confederation (CCP) made similar presentations. All these organisations agreed with the majority that privatisation was against its best interests.

But these organisations—the community’s greatest urban allies—refused to help regularise the voting process. They demurred not because of threats from the privatisers, but rather because they saw facilitating an intimidation-free vote as interfering with local self-determination. So they declined offers to help regulate a vote because they thought they were respecting village autonomy, not helping to undermine it.

Such behaviour denied the manipulative informality dominating political processes in Huaytabamba. It instead presupposed the existence of local mechanisms to guarantee a free and open vote, even though these organisations were aware that the privatisers fearlessly employed intimidation and fraud to get their way. While these organisations did not want to give the impression of manipulating the process, they did nothing to moderate the rampant coercion and therefore countenanced it through inaction. In this way, foes, friends, and all levels of government worked together to undermine the desires and rights of the indigenous villagers, and thus to give them a push down the path to dispossession.

Sideboxes Related stories:  A master plan for Indigenous freedom Adivasis in India: modern-day slaves or modern-day workers? Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Transforming ‘beasts into men’: colonialism, forced labour and racism in Africa

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 4:00

European colonisers maintained their workforce with forced labour after slavery was abolished, claiming work would do Africans good. This opened up new dangers to an already vulnerable population.

The idea of the ‘white man’s burden’ dates from our grandfather’s time, or earlier. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was used to both justify and attack imperial endeavours. Today, the white man’s burden lives on in ideas of guilt or responsibility for inequalities made more visible in a globalising world. Activists exploit these feelings to mobilise support for their causes, one of the most visible being the drive to end ‘modern-day slavery’. In my effort to uncover the history of forced labour in colonial Africa, I searched out letters and reports written by observers and agents of empire to grasp how these practices affected African life and how these individuals viewed colonial labour. In tracing this history, it is the views of Africans themselves that reveal the depth of depravity and height of hypocrisy woven into the fabric of ‘modern slavery.’

And work shall set you free

Having taken much of the nineteenth century to abolish slavery and the slave trade, the rulers of Europe’s African ventures found themselves in need of a workforce at the dawn of the twentieth. Building empire—for gold, God and glory—was hard work, and few Europeans were willing to go to Africa and bend their backs under the tropical sun. At the same time, Europe had just justified wars of conquest and colonisation under the guise of eliminating slavery. European colonies could thus hardly return to the slaver’s whip. How, then, could Africans be made to work in the service of empire?

Colonial rulers across the continent came to the conclusion that Africans would be forced to work anyway. The specific laws authorising this varied, but they were all undergirded by a general agreement that Africans lacked the intellectual and moral capacity to appreciate the value of labour. According to this self-serving, racist ‘paternalism’, European colonisers were obliged to force Africans to work for their own good. Yet even as colonisers claimed Africans would be ‘saved’ by European civilisation, colonisers made them vulnerable to new forms of servitude.

Portugal’s laws expressed this move most explicitly. Africans had a “legal and moral obligation” to work and, if they did not, colonial authorities could and would force them to do so. The chief architect of the law made clear the role race played in his thinking. For him, Africans were “big children”. Work, meanwhile, was a form of education that could “transform beasts into men”. As such, the state would impose “up to the state of extermination, as many other obligations as might benefit” what he called, “those backward negroes of Africa, those ignorant outcasts of Asia, those half-savages of Oceana”.

Under Portuguese colonial rule, Africans were compelled to grow rice and cotton, among other crops, and forced to sell to state buyers at fixed prices. Others were taken to work on road-building and other infrastructure projects, for which they were paid little or nothing. Still others were forced to work for white settler-farmers or large gold and sugar companies, where their work was dirty, dangerous, and disagreeable. What all these types of labor shared was a tedious toil, frequent exposure to violence and premature death, and a level of pay that barely met the needs of existence.

Believed by many, but not by all

No less a figure than Frederick Lugard, who was knighted for his service to the British empire—‘service’ which included institutionalising forced labour in colonial governance—recognised that Africans might regard forced labor as a “white man’s slavery”. Indeed, the words that Africans used to condemn colonial labour made clear just how vile this labour was, and how little it differed from the slavery of the past. On encountering a group of seven Africans who had been taken for contract labor, an African man in central Mozambique warned that the man who had taken them would beat them, feed them less than their bodies required for sustenance, and ‘sold blacks as if they were chicken or goats’. To the great frustration of the agent who had contracted them, they then took to their heels, he reported.

While Africans had the clearest view of such practices, some settlers or visitors were skeptical of a ‘civilising mission’ that seemed more like a “veneered barbarism”. One such traveler, Henry Nevinson, visited Portugal’s colonies and saw the inhumane treatment African workers suffered while cultivating cocoa destined for Cadbury, the British chocolate maker. He reported in his book Modern Slavery that few of these workers received payment and even fewer managed to escape bondage, positing that forced labor in Portuguese-ruled Africa was no different from the “slavery of our grandfathers’ time.” He meant that colonial forced labour, regularly justified as part of the so-called civilising mission, was no different from the racially-justified chattel slavery of generations past.

Nevinson’s reference to slavery can be best understood as political rhetoric, since colonial forced labour was different from earlier forms of servitude in Africa. Slave masters at times treated slaves with great brutality but, having invested much capital in their purchase, regarded them as valuable property. In contrast, white settlers in Africa often treated forced labourers “much worse than any ass or ox they possess”, because if an African worker fell ill or even died, the settler suffered no loss. As one colonial governor in Mozambique put it in 1910, “with the death of an ox or an ass they are out the money it cost them”. Or, in the words of an elderly African in Angola, who in the early 1920s could recall a time when slavery was still legal, “the slaves were better fed then we forced labourers are for we are not property”.

Portugal’s colonies: unexceptional in their brutality

The plight of Africans in Portugal’s colonies received the most attention, both because the Portuguese did less to camouflage their coercion and also because poor Portuguese settlers depended more heavily on state-imposed labour. That said, by virtue of being born black all those living in colonial Africa were legally vulnerable for state-sanctioned bondage. Vulnerability was the rule to which tenuous exceptions existed: women, children, the elderly, soldiers, African chiefs, and the infirm were often exempt from forced labour. These categories offered some protection, but they were elastic. It was not always clear whether one qualified, and the exceptions were inconsistently applied according to the whim of European officials. Indeed, colonial officials and colonists routinely ignored these and other regulations, and Africans were quite normally left without the protection of the law. In the words of historian Gregory Mann, colonial practices could generate a ‘black hole’ that obscured their very nature. The colonial powers also took their time in abolishing forced labor in Africa, which saw no real demise until the years after world war two.

If Africans had long known that colonial forced labor was little more than a new form of servitude, it was ideas of sovereignty and rights new to the post-war world that made plain to all the contradictions inherent to the colonial system. African activists turned such ideas on the system itself, making it impossible to ignore its antiquated nature, and used them to advocate for a new and more just social order.

Latter-day abolitionism

Activists today again use the language of ‘modern slavery’ to inflame moral sensibilities, suggesting that we co-exist with the evil of slavery in both time and space. It permeates our electronics, clothing, and even our food. One challenge remains the same: how should those advocating change make their case without calling into question the capacities of those whose rights they champion?

Sideboxes Related stories:  Harsh labour: bedrock of global capitalism Don’t call it a comeback: racial slavery is not yet abolished A wall of silence around slavery Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Undermining indigenous self-determination and land access in highland Peru

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 4:00

While current neoliberal privatisation laws provide for protections to indigenous lands, no formal or informal mechanisms exist for natives to actually enjoy such safeguards.

Quechua in Peru. Maria Grazia Montagnari/Flickr. Creative Commons.

European colonial projects depended on the racialisation of native populations to maintain their economies of plunder. The belief that indigenous peoples were inherently unable to enjoy the same rights as colonists undergirded colonial civil society and legitimised, in contemporary eyes, brutal exploitation and even genocide. Europeans from Juan de Matienzo in the sixteenth century to Mario Vargas Llosa more recently have furthermore argued that these costs were worth paying, as European colonialism brought with it enlightened civilisation. The ends, they have said, justified the means.

Troubling echoes of this mentality are still apparent today, namely in the Peruvian government’s approach to indigenous land rights. The current neoliberal project centres on the concept of market rule: governments must alter all goods and services so they can be traded in the global marketplace. In highland Peru, new laws enabled the marketisation of indigenous lands, explicitly promoting dispossession as the most efficient outcome and therein improving the wellbeing of all. “This model of smallholders without technology is a vicious circle of extreme poverty”, explained Peru’s president Alan García in 2007. “We must encourage medium-sized property, the middle class of farmers who know how to obtain resources, seek out markets and create formal jobs”.

Nevertheless, Peru’s recent law on land ownership, passed in 1995, paternalistically provides rights specifically for natives, the majority of smallholders, out of respect for traditions going back to “ancient times”. Only seventeen percent of all landholdings in Peru have clear title, with the number much lower in the Andes. In order to rectify this, the new legislation allows that “under current law, the titling of the communities can take two modalities: communal or individual”. That is, the law provides for clear private titles as well as for titles based on the indigenous-associated community system, which is protected against taxation and appropriation in order to enable the poor to keep their lands as the basis of their survival. The law further holds that the lands of indigenous communities can only become private if a majority of the villagers vote in favour of privatisation (at the time of passage the proportion needed was set at two-thirds).

Rights on paper only

I conducted a multi-year ethnographic study in the village of Huaytabamba (all names are pseudonyms) from 1999 to 2003, where a fierce battle over privatising the lands had broken out. Located twelve twisty kilometres above the regional capital of Ayacucho in south central Peru, villagers in this Quechua-speaking community survive on less than a dollar a day. The food they eat primarily comes from their own fields. Only four families wished to privatise lands, whereas more than 30 adamantly opposed it for fear of once again becoming beholden to a draconian landed elite.

One man, Pedro, led the charge against privatisation by attempting to exercise his rights as given by the new law. However, Pedro not only discovered that the infrastructure needed for him to enjoy his rights did not exist, but also that an array of forces was actively undermining his attempts to do so. In other words, Pedro found neoliberalism reproducing colonial forms of racial domination that confined him to rightless status and allowed for the seizure of his lands.

First, the government’s ‘special land titling project’ (PETT in its Spanish acronym), which was charged with implementing the law, did not provide for the community-based option. It only supplied private titles. This was in part because PETT personnel viewed private titles as the superior option. They described these in interviews as simple resources for improving wellbeing, as they provided access to cash through loans and sales, something community-held titles did not do. They therefore saw the desire to keep the land communal as irrational.

Pedro and his allies thus turned to the second protection mechanism included in the law: the need for a majority vote. In stark contrast to national elections, which are strictly regulated so as to minimise manipulation by the powerful, PETT provided neither resources nor guidance to local communities in order to ensure the fidelity of the vote. The villagers were simply left to their own devices. Pedro saw his chance when it became his turn to act as president of the community, and he brought the issue to a vote in the village assembly. Villagers soundly defeated the issue, with over 90 percent voting against privatisation. The village elite responded with blatant disregard, and despite the fact that the vote was held in accordance with the new law they persisted in their attempts at privatisation.

Pedro and his backers attempted further votes that would more concretely solidify the popular will as the law of the village. They exacted commitments from all major regional authorities to come regulate the decision making process, including the mayor, the district governor, and a judge. Against this threat, the village privatisers launched a vicious campaign condemning such actions as external manipulation that undermined village sovereignty. That this sovereignty was based on the community government, the specific entity the privatisers sought to eliminate, was immaterial.

The actions against the district mayor were particularly vicious. The privatisers denounced the mayor, including through the Quechua language radio station, for building a school that had never seen a student because it had immediately flooded. They accused him of undertaking the project only to win votes. As one worker put it, “the mayor got them all to vote for him and now this school is flooded.” The privatisers condemned the mayor, saying, “this is not a school; this is only a corral; you who have been a teacher and now are mayor should fix it.” While the school construction was clearly corrupt, what the privatisers conveniently overlooked was that the project was brokered locally by one of their own.

The mayor, like the other officials, did not expect such brazen hostility. They assumed their roles would be more formal and based on their authority. Thus, when they were blindsided, they quickly pulled back from their promises. On the day Pedro had scheduled external authorities to come help, he and I scoured the provincial capital to get them to make good on their promises. But we only found locked doors. These urban authorities had no institutional or legal obligation to fulfil a regulatory role, and they gladly fell back on this lest the accusations of manipulation stick on them and ruin their careers. Thus, in simply doing their job, these officials helped preserve the system in which the indigenous do not enjoy substantive rights.

False friends

Pedro’s urban allies provided the greatest betrayal. The community faction secured village presentations from three different organisations, believing that a village vote would immediately follow based on the information provided. For instance, when Pedro and I visited the defensoría del pueblo, the government sponsored human rights ombudsman, the young lawyer working there explained the law in easy terms and said he would have no problem making a presentation to the village. An Ayacucho non-governmental organisation and the secretary general of the Peruvian Peasant Confederation (CCP) made similar presentations. All these organisations agreed with the majority that privatisation was against its best interests.

But these organisations—the community’s greatest urban allies—refused to help regularise the voting process. They demurred not because of threats from the privatisers, but rather because they saw facilitating an intimidation-free vote as interfering with local self-determination. So they declined offers to help regulate a vote because they thought they were respecting village autonomy, not helping to undermine it.

Such behaviour denied the manipulative informality dominating political processes in Huaytabamba. It instead presupposed the existence of local mechanisms to guarantee a free and open vote, even though these organisations were aware that the privatisers fearlessly employed intimidation and fraud to get their way. While these organisations did not want to give the impression of manipulating the process, they did nothing to moderate the rampant coercion and therefore countenanced it through inaction. In this way, foes, friends, and all levels of government worked together to undermine the desires and rights of the indigenous villagers, and thus to give them a push down the path to dispossession.

Sideboxes Related stories:  A master plan for Indigenous freedom Adivasis in India: modern-day slaves or modern-day workers? Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Transforming ‘beasts into men’: colonialism, forced labour and racism in Africa

Open Democracy News Analysis - 2. July 2015 - 4:00

European colonisers maintained their workforce with forced labour after slavery was abolished, claiming work would do Africans good. This opened up new dangers to an already vulnerable population.

The idea of the ‘white man’s burden’ dates from our grandfather’s time, or earlier. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was used to both justify and attack imperial endeavours. Today, the white man’s burden lives on in ideas of guilt or responsibility for inequalities made more visible in a globalising world. Activists exploit these feelings to mobilise support for their causes, one of the most visible being the drive to end ‘modern-day slavery’. In my effort to uncover the history of forced labour in colonial Africa, I searched out letters and reports written by observers and agents of empire to grasp how these practices affected African life and how these individuals viewed colonial labour. In tracing this history, it is the views of Africans themselves that reveal the depth of depravity and height of hypocrisy woven into the fabric of ‘modern slavery.’

And work shall set you free

Having taken much of the nineteenth century to abolish slavery and the slave trade, the rulers of Europe’s African ventures found themselves in need of a workforce at the dawn of the twentieth. Building empire—for gold, God and glory—was hard work, and few Europeans were willing to go to Africa and bend their backs under the tropical sun. At the same time, Europe had just justified wars of conquest and colonisation under the guise of eliminating slavery. European colonies could thus hardly return to the slaver’s whip. How, then, could Africans be made to work in the service of empire?

Colonial rulers across the continent came to the conclusion that Africans would be forced to work anyway. The specific laws authorising this varied, but they were all undergirded by a general agreement that Africans lacked the intellectual and moral capacity to appreciate the value of labour. According to this self-serving, racist ‘paternalism’, European colonisers were obliged to force Africans to work for their own good. Yet even as colonisers claimed Africans would be ‘saved’ by European civilisation, colonisers made them vulnerable to new forms of servitude.

Portugal’s laws expressed this move most explicitly. Africans had a “legal and moral obligation” to work and, if they did not, colonial authorities could and would force them to do so. The chief architect of the law made clear the role race played in his thinking. For him, Africans were “big children”. Work, meanwhile, was a form of education that could “transform beasts into men”. As such, the state would impose “up to the state of extermination, as many other obligations as might benefit” what he called, “those backward negroes of Africa, those ignorant outcasts of Asia, those half-savages of Oceana”.

Under Portuguese colonial rule, Africans were compelled to grow rice and cotton, among other crops, and forced to sell to state buyers at fixed prices. Others were taken to work on road-building and other infrastructure projects, for which they were paid little or nothing. Still others were forced to work for white settler-farmers or large gold and sugar companies, where their work was dirty, dangerous, and disagreeable. What all these types of labor shared was a tedious toil, frequent exposure to violence and premature death, and a level of pay that barely met the needs of existence.

Believed by many, but not by all

No less a figure than Frederick Lugard, who was knighted for his service to the British empire—‘service’ which included institutionalising forced labour in colonial governance—recognised that Africans might regard forced labor as a “white man’s slavery”. Indeed, the words that Africans used to condemn colonial labour made clear just how vile this labour was, and how little it differed from the slavery of the past. On encountering a group of seven Africans who had been taken for contract labor, an African man in central Mozambique warned that the man who had taken them would beat them, feed them less than their bodies required for sustenance, and ‘sold blacks as if they were chicken or goats’. To the great frustration of the agent who had contracted them, they then took to their heels, he reported.

While Africans had the clearest view of such practices, some settlers or visitors were skeptical of a ‘civilising mission’ that seemed more like a “veneered barbarism”. One such traveler, Henry Nevinson, visited Portugal’s colonies and saw the inhumane treatment African workers suffered while cultivating cocoa destined for Cadbury, the British chocolate maker. He reported in his book Modern Slavery that few of these workers received payment and even fewer managed to escape bondage, positing that forced labor in Portuguese-ruled Africa was no different from the “slavery of our grandfathers’ time.” He meant that colonial forced labour, regularly justified as part of the so-called civilising mission, was no different from the racially-justified chattel slavery of generations past.

Nevinson’s reference to slavery can be best understood as political rhetoric, since colonial forced labour was different from earlier forms of servitude in Africa. Slave masters at times treated slaves with great brutality but, having invested much capital in their purchase, regarded them as valuable property. In contrast, white settlers in Africa often treated forced labourers “much worse than any ass or ox they possess”, because if an African worker fell ill or even died, the settler suffered no loss. As one colonial governor in Mozambique put it in 1910, “with the death of an ox or an ass they are out the money it cost them”. Or, in the words of an elderly African in Angola, who in the early 1920s could recall a time when slavery was still legal, “the slaves were better fed then we forced labourers are for we are not property”.

Portugal’s colonies: unexceptional in their brutality

The plight of Africans in Portugal’s colonies received the most attention, both because the Portuguese did less to camouflage their coercion and also because poor Portuguese settlers depended more heavily on state-imposed labour. That said, by virtue of being born black all those living in colonial Africa were legally vulnerable for state-sanctioned bondage. Vulnerability was the rule to which tenuous exceptions existed: women, children, the elderly, soldiers, African chiefs, and the infirm were often exempt from forced labour. These categories offered some protection, but they were elastic. It was not always clear whether one qualified, and the exceptions were inconsistently applied according to the whim of European officials. Indeed, colonial officials and colonists routinely ignored these and other regulations, and Africans were quite normally left without the protection of the law. In the words of historian Gregory Mann, colonial practices could generate a ‘black hole’ that obscured their very nature. The colonial powers also took their time in abolishing forced labor in Africa, which saw no real demise until the years after world war two.

If Africans had long known that colonial forced labor was little more than a new form of servitude, it was ideas of sovereignty and rights new to the post-war world that made plain to all the contradictions inherent to the colonial system. African activists turned such ideas on the system itself, making it impossible to ignore its antiquated nature, and used them to advocate for a new and more just social order.

Latter-day abolitionism

Activists today again use the language of ‘modern slavery’ to inflame moral sensibilities, suggesting that we co-exist with the evil of slavery in both time and space. It permeates our electronics, clothing, and even our food. One challenge remains the same: how should those advocating change make their case without calling into question the capacities of those whose rights they champion?

Sideboxes Related stories:  Harsh labour: bedrock of global capitalism Don’t call it a comeback: racial slavery is not yet abolished A wall of silence around slavery Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

“After Five Years of Devastation I Am Finally Bringing A Message of Solidarity And Hope From Greece”

alternatives international - 2. July 2015 - 2:08

Yiannis Bournous, member of the Political Secretariat of Syriza was invited by Alternatives to its Festival of Solidarity held in Montreal on June 13, 2015. This speech has been transcribed by Sophia Reuss, coordinator of the Alternatives International Journal

Some of you know many aspects of the consequences of the barbaric neoliberal austerity policies that have been imposed on my country. These policies have been imposed by foreign lenders consisting of the European Union Commission, the European Union Central Bank, and the IMF and internally, from the parties that used to rule our country for the last forty decades: the Conservatives and the Social Democrats.

Since 2010 and since the agreement of the first Memorandum of Understanding between the socialist government of Mr. Papandreou and the institutions formally known as Troika, our country has been used as a big experimentation field for the elaboration of the most barbaric neoliberal structural reforms that Europe has seen since the end of World War II. They have used the debt crisis as an excuse in order to impose an offensive elaboration of neoliberal adjustments and policies. In previous years, they have been unable to fully impose these policies because of social resistance; not only in Greece but in many other European countries.

The last five years of the memorandum policy, an extreme austerity policy, has resulted in dramatic economic and social figures. We must first demolish the myth that these policies are applied to over-indebted countries in order to reduce public debt. In 2010 when the first memorandum of austerity was signed for Greece, the public debt was 120% of the GDP. After five years of destructive policy, when our new government took the country into our own hands, the public debt exceeded 175% of the GDP.

Greece has a general unemployment rate of approximately 30%. Amongst the youth, the unemployment rate is 60%. What are the results of this youth unemployment? In the last five years, Greece has been suffering from the biggest brain drain that any European country has seen since WWII. In the last four years, Greece, a country of 11 million inhabitants, has lost 300,000 people. These people have migrated at any cost in order to find any kind of job. Among them are more than 130,000 young specialized scientists who hold Master's and PhD degrees.

Suicide rates have reached sky high numbers in the years of the memorandums of austerity. Homelessness has become a newly unprecedented trend. In cities we are seeing the phenomenon of people who are working but who are also homeless. Simultaneously, the social consequences of neoliberal austerity have been even harder for marginalized categories including women, workers, employees, youth, and migrants.

The country that we took into our hands after the national elections on January 25th was a devastated country with destroyed social structures and infrastructure, and with collapsing public schools and hospitals. Neoliberal fundamentalists insist that despite the verdict expressed by the Greek people, the new government should follow exactly the same policy. This means, the continuation of the violent internal devaluation of labour and the continuation of cuts to salaries. The minimum wage in the private sector has dropped to 580 euro. This number is even smaller for young workers under the age of 25. A basic pension in Greece is 380 euro. People have worked all of their lives no longer have the ability to survive and often, must depend on their unemployed children.

Since January 25th, the institutions known as Troika finally have somebody at the table of negotiations who says “no”. Aside from the political aspects of this whole process, it is psychologically unbearable to come from a country which has been victimized not only economically but also socially, ethically, and culturally. In order to justify the unprecedented redistribution of wealth from bottom to top that has been happening in the last five years, they have employed an unbelievable smear campaign against the Greek people. The campaign slanders the Greek people as a population that is lazy, not working enough, and living on expensive European taxpayers. Enough is enough.

Through these loan agreements, 92-93% of the money offered to Greece in the last five years went back to German, French, and other foreign banks as repayment to previous loans. In this sense, the private banks profited from loans to Greece because they did not only receive their money back, but also interest.

Now we are in a process of negotiation. Greece continues to repay our obligations until the end of this month. But this cannot continue because we have used up all of the existing resources and means as a state. So now, the dilemma I put on the table is very clear. We refuse to pay the installment on June 1st. We have transferred three installments to June 30th and the IMF has agreed because they are afraid of a Greek default. We stated that if we don't have an agreement June 30th, we will prefer to pay pensions and salaries, instead of continuing to repay lenders.

Our government has started implementing programs against the attempt to institutionalize neoliberal barbarity.

1. Loan for the Humanitarian Crisis: free electricity, housing allowance, and food coupons to families and households who live under extreme poverty.

2. Loan for the Restructuring of Cities: this constitutes cities that are in debt to the state and social security funds and contributes to two things. First, restart the economy so that small and medium businesses can begin repaying debt and get their business running again. Second, increase state revenue. Through these measures, 200,000 citizens have rearranged their debt with the state. In the first month, this has already brought 150 million euro to the state and it has rearranged a total amount of 4.2 billion euro.

3. The Return of 4,500 Civil Servants: this includes the heroic cleaning ladies of the Ministry of Finance, teachers, professors, doctors, and nurses who were illegally fired by the previous government. These people are already back to their work. I should tell you that in a country with collapsing hospitals, two weeks ago it was the first time since 2009 that we announced that we are hiring doctors and nurses. You cannot begin to imagine the situation in public hospitals. Surgeries are delayed because hospitals are asking patients to bring their own surgery materials from home.

4. The Reopening of the Greek Public Radio Television: the public radio television was reopened on June 11th on the two year commemoration of its illegal closure by the right wing government of Mr. Samaras. With us today, there are many people from the Greek diaspora in the room. For the moment, 2/3 of the national channels are back in operation and very soon we will reinstall broadcasting of ERT satellite which has been so dramatically missed by the Greek diaspora.

5. Granting Citizenship to 2nd Generation Immigrants: this concerns about 200,000 children who have been born or raised in Greece and who have enjoyed Greek education. So, it their lawful right to have Greek citizenship. They are paying taxes, they contribute to the national economy, and they are part of our culture.

6. Special Alternate Minister Against Corruption: it is the first time in Greece that there is a special Alternate Minister against Corruption. This is very important for foreign journalists to know because they seem to be forgetting it. All the lists of big tax evaders have been opened and are under investigation. In the first two months of the investigation, 5,000 names of big tax evaders who have illegally transferred their money abroad or still owe money to the state have been taken to justice. After the end of the investigation, the total number of names is calculated to be 24,000. The list consists of oligarch families who traditionally, have supported the social democrats and right wing government through the past four decades.

7. Multidimensional Foreign Policy: there is a new concept of multidimensional foreign policy. Greece respects each obligation as a member state of the European Union. But at the same time, we are making use of the powerful geopolitical and geostrategic position of our country. We have started a debate with Russie. We have started a debate with China. We are here to play a peaceful role as a mediator for the resolution of four open conflicts in our region including the Middle Eastern conflict and the conflict in the Ukraine.

8. President of Parliament: it is the first time that the Greek parliament has a left women as its president. Three committees have already been instituted: First, a committee to audit the debt; to see where it came from, which part of it is illegal, and which part of it is unethical. Second, a committee for the investigation of the conditions that submitted our country to the memorandum of austerity. People must see solid proof that justice, transparency, and democracy are returning to this country. Ex-ministers and even ex-prime ministers must explain to people under which conditions the IMF made its first entrance to the eurozone member states. Third, the committee for the German war reparations to Greece. This is sensitive issue and we do not wish to show that the Greek people are turning against the German people. That is not the character of the crisis. This is not a controversy between countries. The crisis is a class controversy between the interests of the capitalists and the interests of the workers of Europe.

It is the first Greek government that dares to bring this historical and ethical issue into the foreground of the discussion. I want to thank our comrades from the German left, not only for their support for this demand but in general, for their overall stance in the German parliament. They are the only political force in Germany that since the beginning of the crisis, has dared to speak up and say that it is not a fault of the Greek people.

9. Restoration of Minimum Wage in the Private Sector: we wish to make gradual reinstallments until summer 2016 and restore the minimum wage in the private sector from 580 to 741 euro. This will restore the wage to what it was before the first memorandum. We believe that we will be victorious in this demand.

To sum up, the crisis has created very strong social and political polarization. This is not only the case in Greece and the rest of Europe, but gradually all over the world. There is a need for clear response by all social and political forces and their response will determine their political fate.

I should remind you of the political fate of the Greek Socialist Party. It was once a party of 48% of the votes. In the polls today, they have 3.5%. This is because they gave the wrong answer over the last two decades. They chose the neoliberal camp and neoliberal theory and practice as an answer to the global crisis. So, in the face of this harsh and historical polarization, we have a window of hope that opened with the Greek elections in 2012. This window of hope became even bigger with the Greek elections in 2015. It opened widely with the victory of the Spaniards in the local elections of Madrid and Barcelona. It became even bigger in Turkey, a non-EU country, where the Peoples' Democratic Party managed to be the first left party in Turkish history. Two weeks ago, the party took 13% and became the fourth force in the Turkish National Assembly.

Regardless of our country, we must keep this window open as a historical opportunity. This is not a revenge but a chance to change the fate of our peoples. This struggle is not only a struggle for Greece. It is a struggle for the future of European people and it is a struggle that will determine the fate of global neoliberal forces for the next period. For this reason, we are determined to succeed.

Categories: les flux rss

“In our Blood, We Have in The Memory of the Spanish Fighters, Who Were The First To Fight Fascism In Europe”

alternatives international - 2. July 2015 - 2:05

Pablo Bustinduy Amador, International Representative of Podemos, Spain was invited by Alternatives to its Festival of Solidarity held in Montreal on June 13, 2015. This speech has been translated and synthesized by Sophia Reuss, coordinator of the Alternatives International Journal

On the crisis in Spain:

I do not intend to place too much emphasis on the statistics. In Spain, unemployment plagues 25 per cent of the population, with a 50 per cent youth unemployment rate. I want to simply highlight two statistics: the number of millionaires in Spain, since the beginning of the crisis, has risen by 36% per cent. In Spain, currently, 35 per cent of families live under the poverty line. These are the two statistics representative of the crisis. It is, in fact, not a crisis, but a massive redistribution of wealth that generates misery, exclusion, and a social majority deprived of the conditions of citizenship. Because, when a government does not guarantee a population fundamental human rights – social rights, public services, education, health, retirement – we cannot call the population a citizenry. Fear is incompatible with citizenship. If a social majority lives in constant fear of losing their homes, of losing their jobs, of not being able to retire, how can they lead public lives?

On austerity policies and the Spanish elections:

It is not a matter of choosing, every four years, between Party A and Party B. A democracy has a material base – comprised of social rights and public services. When we attack the material base of democracy, we attack democracy itself. The logic of austerity that was followed in Spain is a threat to democracy. There is a referendum in these elections; we are not simply choosing a government like in past elections. These elections call for a choice between two camps: democracy and austerity. And the majority of the Spanish people chose democracy. In November, in the general elections, we will stand up and cry: we are here, the people mobilized and spoke out: never again, a country without its people, never again!

The Podemos Hypothesis:

What is behind this movement, which began a year and a half ago, without resources, without money, without media? It is a miracle, what has happened in the past year. In three months, without appearing in the media, we won 8% of the votes in European elections in May 2014. But the night of the elections, when the country was waiting for images to emerge of celebrations and youth dancing and embracing each other in the streets. Instead, we emerged very sombre, and we announced: “tonight, we have lost the elections. Tomorrow, there will be families who lose their homes, there will be individuals waking up and going to work without knowing what will happen to their children. We are serious, we are here to change this country.” The Spanish people heard us, and they understood our task. We are serious. We continued with our effort. We created a revolution of the spirit, a certain ethic of victory. We told ourselves, the moment is now, and we will not give up. We might lose, but it will not be because of a lack of effort or will. That was the day of the local elections, but my comrades were still not happy. There was still much work to be done, they said. They are right; and such change begins with a mentality. We understood that we needed to speak to people, and people are in agreement with us. Some 45 per cent of the population is in agreement with us. The population agrees that after a long life of work, we have the right to retirement with dignity. The population agrees that after pursuing an education, we have the right to a future in our country. The population agrees that the political and economic elite endorses a logic of corruption, and that this is an act of treason.

We may be a new party, but we have a deep memory. In our blood, we have in the memory of the Spanish fighters, who were the first to fight fascism in Europe. We have a long memory, which translates into responsibility. Responsibility is not contenting ourselves with symbols, practices, and tradition. We must speak to people. And, after all, there is always an alternative.

Categories: les flux rss

“Syriza's Election Success Has Done Much To Stimulate Debate About The Future Of Europe”

alternatives international - 2. July 2015 - 2:01

Caren Lay, member of the Parliament from Die Linke, Germany was invited by Alternatives to its Festival of Solidarity held in Montreal on June 13, 2015. This speech has been transcribed by Sophia Reuss, coordinator of the Alternatives International Journal

Thank you so much for the invitation and to Alternatives and Québec Solidaire. It's delightful to see that there is roaring resistance against austerity politics not only in Europe, but also in Québec. My name is Caren Lay. I am the Deputy Chair of the German Left Party. Our party was founded in 2007. But now in the past couple of years, we have managed to become the largest opposition party in the country. We are the strongest opposition party, even ahead of Greece and we are gaining approximately 10% of the votes.

We were very successful at the last elections. We won 2 elections and subbed two major German Northern cities: Hamburg and Bremen. We succeeded in becoming the leading party in a county called Thuringia. So, this was a great success for the German left. Our party is a very important corrective to the politics of Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of the main champions of the austerity agenda, which she implements not only in Germany but all over Europe.

The German Left opposes welfare cuts, privatization, deregulation, wage dumping and precarious unemployment politics. These neoliberal policies started exactly 12 years ago in Germany. They led to wage decreases, a drop in domestic demand, and in turn created substantial export surpluses and trade imbalances. It is precisely these low wage policies that ruined the economies of other European countries.

So, if we are casting alternatives to austerity one of the main questions is, what is the cause of the economic crisis that Europe is suffering? It is not a debt crisis. It is an economic crisis and at the heart of the evil is low wage policies in which Germany is tragically the leading exponent.

Cuts and costs are the German government's watchwords. So in our opinion, it's not the Greeks, the Spaniards, or the Italians that pose the main threat to the Eurozone and to Europe as a whole. It is what mainstream German politics are in favour of.

As previously said, there is continual bashing of the Greek people by the Conservative party. The leader of the Conservative party has even said, “no Europe must speak German.” This reawakens very bad memories.

Some of you may ask, aren't there successful aspects of austerity policies? Isn't Germany a country that came out of the economic crisis successfully? For example, our chancellor says that Germany is successful in emerging from the crisis because of austerity policies. I think that if we look at the facts we will see that this is not true. It is not the truth for Europe and it is not the truth for the majority of German people.

Youth unemployment is visible and we are seeing a rise in the number of homeless people. Many countries, including France and Germany, are experiencing economic stagnation. So, the outcomes have been exactly opposite of what austerity was supposed to achieve. As long as Germany continues with these kinds of politics (austerity, privatization, and low-wage policies), Greece and therefore, the Eurozone as a whole, will never achieve stability.

What we need instead are public investment programs. The only way is to generate enough demand to stimulate European economies and reduce deficit.

There is some good news. First, we are seeing increasing strikes in Germany. For example, kindergarten teachers, train drivers, and postal workers are striking. In practice, this demonstrates solidarity with Greece. Germany is saying that low-wage politics are at the heart of the economic crisis. This is one of the main reasons why we support the strikes of these people.

We must implement alternative politics. As said, we need increased public investment and we need a “debt haircut” for Greece. This is the only way to ensure that Greece can exercise its sovereign right to make its own decisions instead of being constantly blackmailed by institutions. Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, argues that with a debt haircut, Greek could implement reform by its own efforts, without taking on new debt. We also need a European debt conference because, Greece is not the only country struggling.

The central question is who is going to pay for this public investment? I argue that this program should be funded by millionaire techs and European wealth techs. It is time that those who profited from the crisis are made to pay. This includes countless German, Greek and other European millionaires. Workers, pensioners, and the unemployed can no longer take the burden. We say that this program should be funded by our millionaire techs, our European wealth techs.

There is a lot of bad news from Europe and Germany, a country, which earlier this morning, was referred to as “The Belly of the Beast.” But, there is also good news. The good news is that there is growing opposition and resistance against austerity politics and as the left wing party, we are proud to be a part of that resistance. We are witnessing a shift in the hegemony. Now that Syriza is in government in Greece, people are changing their minds.

If we look at left-liberal newspapers, they are sympathizing with Syriza, They are starting to doubt the politics of Angela Merkel and the Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. One of the main reasons for this is that Syriza was victorious in the election.

This symbolizes a radical shift in Europe, away from absurd politics to which there was supposedly no alternative. It symbolizes a radical shift towards social justice and the end of the politics of blackmail. Syriza's election success has done much to stimulate debate about the future of Europe—especially in Germany, the motherland of austerity politics.

More and more people are beginning to sympathize with our position and with Syriza's position. Another piece of good news is that tens of thousands of demonstrators took part in the Blockupy protests during the inauguration of the headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. This is one of the main symbols of resistance against austerity.

To shift hegemony completely, our task is both easy and hard. It is not a problem between Greece and Germany or between France and Spain. It is still the question of whether workers, pensioners, and the unemployed have to pay or if it's millionaires and private banks who will pay for this crisis. So, it is a question of whether we have a racist explanation for the crisis of if there is a socialist alternative. I think there is an alternative.

Having said all of this, I wish Syriza continued success in its efforts to resist against European debt policy and Troika blackmail. I wish Podemos very success with their politics and goals to shift hegemony in Spain. I am very glad to see that there is growing resistance in Québec as well. So, thank you so much.

As I said, we the Left Germany party stand with you. We will do everything to stop the dictatorship of austerity. Austerity policies must have an end in Europe and everywhere else in the world. It must end as soon as possible.

Categories: les flux rss

How Climate Change Connects to Austerity

alternatives international - 2. July 2015 - 1:58

Sean Sweeney from Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, USA was invited by Alternatives to its Festival of Solidarity held in Montreal on June 13, 2015. This speech has been transcribed by Sophia Reuss, coordinator of the Alternatives International Journal

The following speech will talk about trade union work from the international perspective around climate change and how it connects to austerity.

The main conclusion I have reached from my work with Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is that a new trade union climate politics is emerging. It's emerging on both the global level and North American stage, and although it has still got a long way to go, there are many encouraging signs, a few of which I would like to report.

In many ways, the discourse in the unions has a new feel to it, a new sense that unions have to break with the mantras of growth and extraction, as well as the need for exploitation of resources. However, this new feel also connects to the old tradition in the labour movement: the need for ownership of control and of economy. This was recognized in the century before last, when unions realized that in the work place, a certain level of gains could be accomplished, but what was really needed was more control over economy. This issue is coming back into the trade union agenda in a powerful way.

Trade union work also emphasizes something that I think we all have to pay attention to: the need for program. In my generation of the socialist left, it was all about program, and not too much about movement. We already had a movement; the arguments were over program. In recent decades, it is all about movement and program was 'so yesterday'. However, I have always felt, and I still feel, that speaking truth to power is not enough. If truth is on one side, and power is perpetually on the other side, that is not enough to address the social and ecological crisis we face. We have to aspire to power. A program is not a list of demands; it is a process of implementation for a set of solutions.

The body that I coordinate is called Trade Unions for Energy Democracy. It came out of a very intense debate that took place during the Rio +20 talks in 2012 in Rio de Janeiro. There was a big meeting of the trade unions, an international assembly, where the main position of the European trade union movement was that we should support the green capitalists against the 'bad' capitalists, and that we should be supportive of green job strategies. You could summarize their program in three two-word expressions: green jobs, just transition, and decent work. It was a minimum program. It never addressed corporate power, the problems of the commodification of nature, or the extension of capitalism into nature.

Now, at that meeting, which I consider a historic turning point for the international trade union movement, the proposals were met with extreme anger from unions from the global South. Indigenous organizations related to the labour movement said: "No! We have to defend the commons, we have to develop the public sphere, and we have to struggle for control over key sectors, among them energy.”

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy came out of that meeting. We convened a follow-up meeting in October 2012, which was addressed by one of the top leaders of the climate science community, James Hanson. This meeting occurred two weeks before Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeastern United States and killed (at least in the New York City area alone) more than 50 people. The climate was imposing itself on the meeting. We fortunately missed the disaster by two weeks, but the message was clear: climate change is here, and we need a plan of action to deal with it.

The conclusion of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is threefold. One: there is an energy emergency. It reflects itself in what is the civilizational crisis. The current trend in the global energy sector is for more and more fossil fuel expansion and extraction. When liberal environmental groups tell you that the world is moving toward renewable energy, they are not looking at the facts. The facts are that yes, renewable energy is growing, quite impressively. But what is growing far more impressively, and distressingly, is fossil fuel use in the form of coal, oil, and gas, as well as extreme extraction in the form of so-called unconventional fuels: fracking, tar sands, shale gas, shale oil. It goes on and on. Business as usual is not an option. If we take the science seriously, we have to take the solutions seriously. It's no good calling for a few green jobs, for incremental change here and there, or trying to persuade the capitalist system to put a price on carbon and therefore pay for natural resources. This has failed. We are in a new moment now, when the failure of green capitalism is evident for all to see.

The trade union program came to the fore in the battle against the Keystone XL pipeline. It was exactly four years ago. I had the privilege of convening a meeting of US-based unions. Naomi Klein was in attendance, along with the Indigenous Environment Network. We made an appeal to American unions not to support the Keystone XL pipeline.

Four unions in the room responded, "we cannot do that; we already signed a project-labor agreement with the company Trans Canada, which means jobs for our members. The climate-policy of the Obama administration has failed, and we need jobs now otherwise our members are going to kick us out of office.” Other unions were very silent, but over a period of weeks and months we went into a series of intense discussions with these unions, and in the end, six of them came out against Keystone XL.

Now what does that mean? These unions were in public transport, which is a key climate solution; the pollutants associated with tar oil spoke to the issues facing public transport workers. More importantly, the other unions that came out against the Keystone XL pipeline were Nurse's Unions. Nurse's Unions have taken an active role in opposing the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States. However, the question remains: once you've decided to resist fossil fuels and take it on the chin from other unions who consider you to have betrayed the culture of solidarity in the labour movement, what do you do next?

Now the conundrum presents itself: you can resist fossil fuel expansion, you can resist co-electrical terminals, and you can resist the fossil fuel industry expansion and carbon locking. But at the end of the day, we need to struggle for control over the energy sector. This may sound like mission impossible, but there are a number of things going for this argument. First of all, it is technically possible to be 100% renewable energy within two decades, globally. We know that's true. What is not possible at the moment, is to implement that with today's politics. We have to struggle at the community, municipal, national, and regional levels for public control of renewable power, and a planned transition away from fossil fuels. So the program we're looking for in the trade unions in climate policy, is based on five pillars:

The first, it has to be independent. Independent not just of the energy companies, but also of the liberal, environmental groups who are still attached to the market and the private sector.

Second, it needs to be based on the science. There's no point in making an emissions reduction commitment if it doesn't comply with the scientific necessity.

It needs to be internationalist. In the United States, the US union movement always talks about rebuilding America, rebuilding the middle class, and competing against China. We need to get away from that narrative and move towards a global, internationalist approach.

Fourthly, it needs to be transformative. There's no point in endorsing incremental measures. System change, yes. But, we have to move from a fossil-based economy to a renewables-based economy. We have to do it with a sense of equity, principle, inclusion, and democracy. It needs to be planned and coordinated.

Lastly, it needs to be able to move ordinary working women and men into action. If we just focus on the climate and the ecological issues, we will appeal to some. However, we need to address, per Naomi Klein's book This Changes Everything, politics, capitalism, and the human condition as we fight to change the energy system itself.

Categories: les flux rss

With Referendum on Austerity, Greece Goes all-in on Democracy

alternatives international - 2. July 2015 - 1:54

Within Syriza, tensions were reaching a fever pitch. The left wing of the party was growing impatient, and party activists openly confessed their disappointment with the government. Some went so far as to speak of treason, cracks beginning to appear in the political party and its fragile coalition government. Most observers predicted a deal with European creditors, on terms inevitably unfavourable to Greece.

Editors' note: Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois is a former spokesperson for the Quebec student movement, a columnist for Ricochet and French CBC Radio and a Governor General's Award-winning author. Currently in Greece, he sent the following report to our French edition from Athens.

Against these long odds, Alexis Tsipras made the most audacious decision of his young mandate on Saturday morning: asking the Greek people to vote directly on the proposed bailout deal, and calling for them to vote against.

In an address to the nation Sunday, the Greek prime minister confirmed the holding of the public referendum and announced the beginning of capital controls designed to avoid a bank run. The country's banks will be on “holiday” for the week, and a daily withdrawal limit of 60 euros already in force will remain in place until July 7, two days after this referendum.

Meanwhile, the Greek prime minister has promised to continue paying pensions and salaries as usual. The one piece of good news for the Tsipras government is that the European Central Bank, not wanting to take sole responsibility for the collapse of the Greek banking system, decided to maintain (but not increase) financial aid to Greek banks.

These recent developments have led to the first signs of panic among the Greek population. Since Saturday's speech long lines have appeared outside ATM machines, and more and more of these machines are out of funds. Greece is on red alert.

As I write these lines, the creditors in Brussels continue to refuse to accept the only demand of Tsipras, which is a temporary extension of the financial aid program to Greece until the referendum can be held on July 5, so that the vote can happen in peace. In his speech to the nation on Sunday, the Prime Minister vehemently condemned that decision, describing it as a “negation of the right of the Greek people to arrive at a democratic decision.”

Tsipras goes all-in

Was this move planned in advance? Regardless, no one can now say that Greece refused to negotiate. In tabling a controversial final offer last Monday, which could well have cost him power as it contained major concessions, Tsipras gave a chance to the negotiating process. Charges of bad faith can no longer be made. The Greek prime minister can now confidently say that he exhausted all options at the negotiating table. Conversely, in arrogantly refusing the compromise proposed by Athens, the creditors have demonstrated, once again, their ideological bias for austerity, and their lack of respect for democracy.

In announcing, Saturday night, the holding of this referendum, Alexis Tsipras has killed two birds with one stone: restoring unity within his party and highlighting the ideological blindness of the powers and institutions of Europe. In a speech laced with references to national pride and the history of the country, he called upon his fellow Greeks to respond to the “ultimatum” offered by creditors: “Faced with this blackmail designed to force you to accept a program of austerity which is humiliating, never-ending and lacks any prospect of recovery, I am calling on you to respond with sovereignty and with pride, as the proud history of the Greek people demands.”

The tone has been set.

A potentially costly defeat

If the young leader of Syriza wins his bet and the Greek people democratically reject the “reforms for cash” deal offered by creditors, at the cost of great suffering and misery, it is Europe itself which will tremble.

A snowball effect could greet a “Grexit,” as other countries caught in similar crises could, in the medium term, decide to follow the Greek example and opt for a strategy of “default and devaluation.” The Syriza government, young and inexperienced though it is, could provide a political example to the rest of the continent. Now accused of “bringing your country into a chaos from which it cannot escape in the short term” by the German finance minister, Tsipras has replied with confidence that he is acting as an agent for his people. If the referendum proves him right, the face off between the power of money and the democratic will of the people will be total.

Conversely, if voters accept the deal produced in the past weeks of negotiation, the legitimacy of the Syriza government will be severely affected. The resignation of Tsipras, or the dissolution of parliament, would be entirely possible. In calling this referendum, the Greek government is going all-in, and no matter what happens, an important chapter in European history will be written on July 5.

Unpredictable results

In Europe's conservative media, commentators are confident that Tsipras will lose his bet. This remains a real possibility. Two polls, published in the last few hours, paint totally opposed pictures of the situation.

A newspaper aligned with the right has announced a victory for the “YES” side in their poll, with 57 per cent support. Another paper identified with the centre-left predicts a “NO” vote of 53 per cent. By all indications, the suspense will continue until the votes are counted.

I met Antonis Mavromatos a few days ago in Athens. The young doctor and influential activist within the left wing of Syriza admitted that he was very worried, even angry, at the direction taken by his party. Reached again in the capital hours after the announcement of the referendum, he confessed his surprise, and his joy: “I am very happy. The pressure of the creditors was too strong, even unbearable. Tsipras decided to turn that pressure back on them. That's real politics!” A prediction? “Greeks will say no. 60 per cent!”

Source: https://ricochet.media/en/502/with-referendum-on-austerity-greece-goes-all-in-on-democracy

Categories: les flux rss

Three Minutes To Midnight: Natural Catastrophes in the Anthropocene

alternatives international - 2. July 2015 - 1:51

The 2015 Doomsday Clock reads 3 Minutes to Midnight. Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has annually evaluated nuclear threats, climate change, biosecurity and other potential hazards in order to inform the public and policy leaders about humanity's development and survival.

The Bulletin set the 2015 Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to catastrophe than in 2014; the Clock has not read 3 minutes since 1984. Why 3 minutes to midnight? “The clock ticks now at just three minutes to midnight because international leaders are failing to perform their most important duty—ensuring and preserving the health and vitality of human civilization.” The rationale is markedly political.

Although natural catastrophes are indeed natural, their frequency, intensity, and consequences take on unnatural proportions. From immediate relief to long-term aid, all disasters have a thoroughly political dimension. Prime examples of 2015's political failures are governments' and international institutions' insufficient responses to large-scale natural catastrophes.

Halfway through 2015, the following unprecedented natural catastrophes have wreaked havoc across the globe. Their repercussions not only threaten livelihoods, but loom menacingly over the capitalist system, debt structures, Bretton Woods institutions, and green capitalist politics.

Natural catastrophes in the anthropocene present us with a clear choice: challenge the capitalist system, or these events will continue to disproportionately affect the marginalized while the international community turns a blind eye.

Karachi Heat Wave

On June 20th, a deadly heat wave hit Karachi and resulted in record-breaking temperatures of over 45 degrees Celsius, the highest recorded since 1979. Heat stroke, dehydration, and other heat-related illnesses have killed over 1,330 people in Pakistan's Sindh province. Over 100,000 have suffered from heat stroke, and tens of thousands continue to flood into government and private hospitals, overwhelming the health care system.

Nearly two-thirds of the heat wave's victims are homeless individuals who cannot seek shelter or safe drinking water. The remaining 35 to 40 per cent of the victims are elderly women who died in their homes, whose deaths could have been prevented by fans and air conditioning units. However, repeated power outages across the province have prevented residents from seeking such relief indoors.

The provincial government has responded to the crisis with calls to further save electricity, and has closed schools and public institutions. The government's response is inadequate.

Advisers to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman, Imran Ismail, have filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah. Ismail claims that the heat wave victims died due to criminal negligence on the part of the Chief Minister and other local ministers. The FIR will set in motion the criminal justice process in order to charge the ministers with manslaughter for their inadequate response to the heat wave.

Despite subsiding temperatures this week, the political implications of the heat wave, namely the provincial government's failure to adequately respond to its citizens, are intensifying. The heat wave has unearthed systemic political issues, including a lack of governmental accountability and frail social services.

Gujarat Flooding

Beginning on June 23rd, torrential rainfall over the Arabian Sea has left over 80 people dead in the Indian State of Gujarat, with most of the deaths reported from the Amreli district in Saurashtra. In Amreli, 400 of 619 villages have been affected, and thousands of individuals have evacuated their homes.

The floods have devastated the area—six major state highways connecting Amreli city to its sub-districts are damaged, 60% of the affected villages do not have access to drinking water, and bridges and electricity poles are destroyed.

The state government deployed the Indian Air Force and National Disaster Response Force for rescue and relief operations. Around 1,000 people have been airlifted out and more than 10,000 people have been moved to higher ground.

Although flooding is common during India's monsoon season, recent developments in Gujarat are embedded in a series of extreme weather patterns across South Asia. In June alone, the Saurashtra region has experienced over half of its annual predicted rainfall. This is unprecedented.

Damages to villages, farmlands, and roads are currently estimated at over 8 billion rupees ($183.7m). Chief Minister of Gujarat, Anandiben Patel, who conducted an aerial survey of the Amreli district, declared that the kin of each deceased victim will receive Rs 4 lakh. Food packets were distributed on June 25th

Despite these ongoing efforts, more than 65,000 people are left homeless and the catastrophe continues to disproportionately affect India's most vulnerable.

Gorkha Earthquake in Nepal

On April 25th, a M 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal, the epicenter approximately 80 kilometres northwest of capital Kathmandu in Lamjung District. The earthquake was the largest to occur in the region since the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake.

On May 12th, less than one month later, a M 7.3 aftershock hit Nepal, near the Chinese border between Kathmandu and Mt. Everest. To date, there have been 94 aftershocks of the Gorkha earthquake of M 3.0 or larger.

As a result of both of the earthquakes and their aftershocks, landslides and avalanches have devastated Nepal and neighbouring regions, including a deadly avalanche on Mt. Everest. The total death toll has surpassed 8,500, although rescue missions are still searching for missing people in remote areas.

The Nepali government has established a $2 billion Earthquake Relief Fund for Reconstruction and Rehabilitation. However, according to Nepali government officials, the reconstruction and rebuilding effort will require approximately $6.6 billion over five years.

In addition to providing humanitarian aid, the international community should forgive Nepal's debt. This could spur long-term financial stability and free up valuable and limited funds that could be redirected into rescue and relief efforts.

At present, Nepal owes approximately $1.5 billion to both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, $133 million to Japan, and $101 million to China. Nepal is slated to repay $10 million of loans to the IMF this year and $13 million in 2016. The prospects of debt relief are unclear. What is clear, however, is that without a combination of both debt cancellation and humanitarian aid, Nepal's short- and long-term post-earthquake revitalization will be stunted.

Categories: les flux rss

Tunisia: Old Cultural Reflexes and Nascent Democracy

alternatives international - 2. July 2015 - 1:48

After January 14th, 2011, the most uncommon dreams of a beleaguered small country were permitted, and some of them have already come true: for the first time there have been the formation of governments after holding democratic and transparent elections, a National Constituent Assembly that adopted a progressive Constitution where essential rights are guaranteed, a new Assembly of People's Representatives that is playing its legislative role, independent regulatory bodies that are underway....
But although the essential foundations of a sustainable democracy have been laid, much remains to be done to get rid of past habits and old reflexes.

In fact, the democratic culture cannot be improvised, neither could it be made up at the spur of the moment. It will, we believe, take time for the democratic ethos to prevail and ultimately become a way of life.

This is precisely what we call "transition", this grey zone that fills the gap between the revolutionary moment and the effective implementation of democratic values and human rights traditions. Three examples show that we are only at the beginning of the road.

Freedom of conscience, you said?

A cording to a survey carried out by the Forum of Applied Sciences, The Arab Youth Observatory and the Arab Institute of Human Rights, "Tunisians are still torn between traditional values and their tropism towards modernity. " (Business news, 15th May 2015)

The Proof? We are only 39% who respect other religious beliefs and only 28%of us support the freedom of conscience!

On the other hand, 91% of Tunisians say they are in favor of spreading the Islamic message out of Muslim countries but at the same time, opposed to other religious proselytism in Tunisia. (previous source)

Our home made racism

Tunisia often prides itself on being one of the pioneer countries that abolished slavery in 1846. However, the facet of a racist "culture" that is contemptuous and disdainful towards blacks is still latent and never missed the opportunity to become manifest, taking violent forms in public spaces as it has been illustrated lately.

After the match between Tunisia and Equatorial Guinea for the African Nations Cup, there were waves of violence against African students, and most of these young students were advised not to go out in the aftermath of the match."This is the most cowardly, stupid and hideous aspect of our society, " said an outraged journalist. (Wedbar 1st February 2015)

The Tunisian black minority, also, say they suffer daily verbal stigma."The struggle against anti-black racism may take longer time than we think because of the legal vacuum, the trivialization of racism and the non-recognition of this social and societal scourge," states bitterly Saadia Mosbah, president of the association, “Mnemti” (My Dream).

Extreme Homophobia

Let's just recall that three years ago, the then minister of human rights and transitional justice, Samir Dilou, raised a big outcry when he referred to homosexuality as “a disease that has nothing to do with human rights.” The most violent condemnation came from Amnesty International which retorted that “condoning discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity is a blank check for the most serious human rights violations” (Tunisian Official Rhetoric undermines Human Rights, AI , 24-02-2012)

And here we go again: the issue has come up lately when Shems, an association that defends sexual minorities has been legalized. Following a TV appearance of one of its members, a campaign of amazing violence broke out. We can sum up the position of the “Tunisian elite” into three categories:

• “The progressives” who estimate that homosexuals' rights are not a top priority now and it is high time we addressed more important issues such dealing with the social and economic situation , combating poverty, facing terrorism…

• “The moderates”: who call for applying the rule of law, and more precisely article 230 of the criminal code that stipulates a sentence of up to three years for such a “sexual delinquency,”

• “The Religious” who raised up the sacred texts and warned against breaking taboos and disdaining “natural values”, threatening “sodomites with the fires of hell” …

These positions of unparalleled virulence, coming from different intellectual and political backgrounds, share the same stereotyped prejudices. They all underscore the still superficial assimilation of human rights culture. In fact, there are distances between chanting slogans about these human rights and respecting human beings in their diversities and differences. Unless we walk up these distances, it is going to be impossible for us to build a sustainable democracy based on tolerance and freedom.

Messaoud Romdhani is with the Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia

Categories: les flux rss

Globalisation of Misery

alternatives international - 2. July 2015 - 1:44

One in every 122 people on the planet today is displaced, a result of the iniquities of development the world over

World Refugee Day on June 20 may have been just one of those rituals conjured up by the United Nations to keep one among its many bureaucracies in business. But this year's observance brought gloomy news. All those headlines about countless thousands setting off in despair across harsh deserts, raging seas and forbidding mountains, it turned out, actually stacked up. In its report released that day, the UN refugee agency conveyed a grim but unsurprising finding, that the number of the uprooted — refugees, asylum seekers and the internally displaced — is today at its highest since the end of World War II.

The figures made for bleak reading. In 2014, the number of the displaced went up by 13.9 million, a four-fold increase over the previous year. Though statistics are yet to be tallied, the first half of 2015 brought no respite. At the end of 2014, the total number of the displaced stood at 59.5 million, of which close to two-thirds were categorised as ‘internally displaced' and most of the rest as ‘refugees'. A small fraction, just over three per cent, was at some stage of the quest for asylum.

Half of the refugees are children. And looking at the problem from another angle, one in every 122 persons inhabiting the planet today lives in the state of trauma and uncertainty induced by displacement, not knowing where they belong or how to sustain life from one day to the next.

Media images of desperate people crossing the Mediterranean after aggregating at a point in Libya, from where the sea journey to the European mainland is relatively short, have flooded the airwaves. Equally traumatic has been the plight of ethnic Rohingyas fleeing persecution and a virtual declaration of their non-personhood by the government of Myanmar, which the great hope for global democracy, citizen Aung San Suu Kyi, has done little to contest.

Images of desperation on one side are sharpened by the sublime farce of the response from the masters of the global order. Mid-June, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon made a highly publicised helicopter landing on the deck of a warship patrolling the Mediterranean, ostensibly to intercept and turn back the boats carrying people from the Libyan coast to the European mainland. Europe had little capacity to take on board the refugee flood, he said, and its response would be to first crack down on the traffickers bringing human cargos across. This manner of criminal conduct would be firmly quashed. Once containment was achieved the more serious business would begin, of mitigating the factors propelling thousands across choppy seas in desperate search of security and sustenance. While acknowledging the complexities involved, the high British official was categorical that the task would not involve ‘boots on the ground' — the term of art representing active military deployments — in the regions of human distress where refugee flows originated.

On another of the frontlines of the global refugee crisis, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was showing a different order of smarts, placing a few strategic financial inducements to outbid the best offer desperate refugees could make to the entrepreneurs in human misery. With a better price on offer from the Australian treasury, the human smugglers were happy to return their cargo to the place of origin. Questioned about his methods, Abbott admitted that ‘creative strategies' had been used and then fell back on a trusted old principle of Australian politics: that tapping into an underlying vein of racist xenophobia is a fail-safe plan. He would not discuss the methods used, since the key goal of turning back the boatloads of distressed people had been achieved. Neither was the Australian opposition willing to grasp that nettle since the strategy was one of long vintage and credible claims to cross-partisan authorship.

As alarm bells began sounding across global councils, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein deplored the ‘demonisation of migrants' and the ‘growing bigotry' in dealing with them. Strategies of military deterrence were condemned to failure. Europe simply had to reckon with the reality that just as millions from their shores had done in the past, people would ‘brave terrible peril to seek safety for themselves and their children'.

Just one remove from the floundering international response to a spiralling tragedy is a deeper crisis of globalisation. The term became global currency in the last-quarter century as the inescapable destiny of all people. But the current conjuncture speaks of the iniquities of development having acquired explosive form. Globalisation was a charter of rights for the free flow of capital to every nook and crevice of world economy. Human rights were a subsidiary concern, if one at all, typically to be accommodated through acknowledging every ethnic particularity.

As terms of trade collapsed, developing countries had to reach deep into their reserves, exploiting natural resources on an accelerating scale to sustain rapidly crumbling positions in the world economy. Solidarities between elites within the framework of the nation-state eroded, fuelling ethnic warfare.

The implosion of South Sudan and the continuing tensions in the horn of Africa exemplify the failure of older antidotes of peace through separation. The consequence has been an entire new nation emerging on the map: the global nation of the disempowered and the displaced, which signals to the world that there can no longer be any delay in addressing the programme of disempowerment that globalisation has represented for large numbers of people.

Sukumar Muralidharan is an independent writer and researcher based in Gurgaon and Shimla

(This article was published on June 26, 2015)

Source: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/know/globalisation-of-misery/article7354419.ece

Categories: les flux rss

Greece and immigration: the nadir of European integration

Open Democracy News Analysis - 1. July 2015 - 17:04

Significantly, centre-left governments also aligned themselves with the conservative majority, providing further evidence for the argument that European Social Democratic parties are incapable of an alternative European leadership.

Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaite. Demotix/Mikhail Palinchak. All rights reserved.In late June, debates in the European institutions reached their lowest point ever. Xenophobia, parochialism and flawed economic thinking shaped the two main debates, which focused on Greece and immigration. The statements of Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite during the European Council and on social media exemplify the substance of the debate. With a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Greece, Grybauskaite tweeted that “The Greek government still wants to party but the bills have to be paid by somebody else”. Note: this came from the president of a country that is among the largest net recipients of EU funds, both in per capita terms and as a proportion of GDP.

Unrepentant, Grybauskaite displayed her complete lack of states(wo)manship again at the European Council meeting on June 25. In a discussion on the European refugee crisis, Grybauskaite stated that she had no intention of contributing to any solution. Her statement accompanied Lithuania’s rejection of the European Commission’s Agenda on Migration, which required the country to host a few hundreds of refugees escaping conflict and poverty. Lithuania’s position on the migration issue was echoed by that of most other east and central European EU member states. European Council president and former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk sided with this “regional alliance”, completely disregarding the impartiality that his current position requires, which caused an unprecedented clash with Commission president Jean Claude Juncker.

Their position appears all the more parochial if the broader picture is taken into account. Thus far, the refugee crisis has had little or no impact on these member states, with the exception of Bulgaria and Hungary. By contrast, hundreds of thousands of central and east European citizens have left their countries for western Europe in recent years, thereby enjoying the benefits of European integration. And yet, today their European leaders want to keep their borders closed (to poor refugees). Hungary has even announced the construction of a wall on its border with Serbia, a move evoking memories of another wall that separated Eastern Europe from the west. Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz declared that Poland was ready to welcome 60 Christian families from Syria, suggesting that the concept of religious tolerance is still foreign to her. Hence, many leaders of the “new” EU member states have not fully understood that xenophobia should be left out of the European institutions, or that solidarity is not a concept that applies exclusively to debates concerning Russia and EU structural funds.

Several western European member states are proving to be no less xenophobic. Earlier in June, France closed its border with Italy to migrants, leaving them to spend the night in makeshift encampments on the rocky coast near Ventimiglia. Under the initiative and leadership of western European member states, the EU drew up plans for military attacks to stop migrant boats. It is unclear how such attacks would distinguish between traffickers and refugees, or how they would avoid making civilian casualties in Libyan ports. Most importantly, even if the recently launched EU naval/military operation (Eunavfor Med) is successful, it would not improve the plight of migrants: they would be grounded in war-torn countries, where their human rights and lives are at risk.

The response to the migration crisis has shown that, despite regularly boasting about their support for human rights, solidarity and democracy, European leaders are hardly concerned with these values in crisis situations. This has become evident not only vis-à-vis non-EU citizens in distress, but also in the Union’s treatment of one of its own member states, Greece.

After five years of economic recipes imposed by the ‘troika’ (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), Greece’s GDP shrank by over 20%, far more than the troika had predicted in 2010 and 2012. Unemployment rose to over 25% and youth unemployment stands at 50%.

Other indicators also draw a tragic picture: the number of Greeks living below the threshold of poverty has soared (40% of Greek children are estimated to live below the poverty line), while the total number of suicides increased by 35%. Simultaneously, little or nothing was done to improve tax collection and fight tax evasion. Most of the money of the two bailouts of Greece was used to save banks and private investors; less than 10% of it was used by the government for reforming its economy and safeguarding weaker members of society. This is the record of Antonis Samaras’s centre-right government, which held power from June 2012 until late January 2015 and patiently complied with the troika’s requests.

Tired of recessionary and self-destructive policies, in January 2015 a relative majority of Greeks voted for the left-wing party Syriza, which promised to improve the welfare of poorer Greeks and renegotiate the terms of Greece’s debt payments to its international creditors. Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis went into the negotiations with the troika, now rebranded as ‘the institutions’, genuinely believing that the country’s creditor would take into account the failure of the previous austerity programmes and the dire straits of the Greek economy and society.

However, they were faced with the IMF’s insistence on further cuts in welfare expenditure and pensions, despite the fact that 45% of Greek retirees live below the poverty line. Moreover, European leaders proved reluctant to discuss debt relief with Greece, even though the IMF itself advocated it.

At the European level, Tsipras and Varoufakis were confronted with strong political opposition from the Spanish, Irish and Portuguese leadership. This opposition was based entirely on domestic political considerations, rather than on any economic calculations pertaining to the Greek economy. At the height of their national crises, in a position similar to that of their Greek colleagues, the Spanish, Irish and Portuguese governments had already sold to their electorates the message that accepting the tough austerity measures demanded by the troika was the only way out of the crisis. For them, allowing an alternative solution for Greece – no matter whether it is viable or not – involves the risk of alienating their voters and strengthening the domestic political opposition.

Negotiations between Greece and the institutions dragged on until the end of June, until the Greek side realized that it would not be able to extract any non-recessionary and socially fair proposal from the creditors. The institutions drastically revised even a last-ditch Greek proposal that included estimated cuts of 8 billion euros, as they would be raised predominantly from taxation - with a higher toll on big businesses - and not from budget cuts (here is the Greek draft with the radical rewriting put forward by the troika).

Hence, EU leaders largely ignored the plight of the Greek economy and society and the result of the January elections, which had clearly signalled the necessity of a new approach, at the very least combining conditionality with flexibility in the methods to achieve economic objectives. Instead, the European Council ended up proposing more of the same: a 5-month extension of the bailout programme and some vague promises to discuss debt relief in the context of a third bailout programme, which neither the Greek government nor many other national leaders want. Having been elected with the promise of ending bankrupt austerity policies, Alexis Tsipras had no economic reasons or democratic mandate to accept this proposal.

Ultimately, the Euro-Greek drama at the end of June exposed the lack of solidarity of Eurozone leaders towards a member state, as well as their parochial fixation on counterproductive rules and flawed economic policies.

Instead of developing an ambitious vision for the future of Greece and the Eurozone, national and EU leaders decided to stick to the erroneous policies of the past. Significantly, large and small member states with centre-left governments aligned themselves with the conservative majority, providing further evidence for the argument that European Social Democratic parties are incapable of putting forward an alternative European leadership. With a political class that is unable to interpret the Greek call for economic and social change, and has largely adopted a xenophobic rhetoric in the immigration debate, the European construction has reached its nadir.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Greece and immigration: the nadir of European integration

Open Democracy News Analysis - 1. July 2015 - 17:04

Significantly, centre-left governments also aligned themselves with the conservative majority, providing further evidence for the argument that European Social Democratic parties are incapable of an alternative European leadership.

Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaite. Demotix/Mikhail Palinchak. All rights reserved.In late June, debates in the European institutions reached their lowest point ever. Xenophobia, parochialism and flawed economic thinking shaped the two main debates, which focused on Greece and immigration. The statements of Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite during the European Council and on social media exemplify the substance of the debate. With a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Greece, Grybauskaite tweeted that “The Greek government still wants to party but the bills have to be paid by somebody else”. Note: this came from the president of a country that is among the largest net recipients of EU funds, both in per capita terms and as a proportion of GDP.

Unrepentant, Grybauskaite displayed her complete lack of states(wo)manship again at the European Council meeting on June 25. In a discussion on the European refugee crisis, Grybauskaite stated that she had no intention of contributing to any solution. Her statement accompanied Lithuania’s rejection of the European Commission’s Agenda on Migration, which required the country to host a few hundreds of refugees escaping conflict and poverty. Lithuania’s position on the migration issue was echoed by that of most other east and central European EU member states. European Council president and former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk sided with this “regional alliance”, completely disregarding the impartiality that his current position requires, which caused an unprecedented clash with Commission president Jean Claude Juncker.

Their position appears all the more parochial if the broader picture is taken into account. Thus far, the refugee crisis has had little or no impact on these member states, with the exception of Bulgaria and Hungary. By contrast, hundreds of thousands of central and east European citizens have left their countries for western Europe in recent years, thereby enjoying the benefits of European integration. And yet, today their European leaders want to keep their borders closed (to poor refugees). Hungary has even announced the construction of a wall on its border with Serbia, a move evoking memories of another wall that separated Eastern Europe from the west. Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz declared that Poland was ready to welcome 60 Christian families from Syria, suggesting that the concept of religious tolerance is still foreign to her. Hence, many leaders of the “new” EU member states have not fully understood that xenophobia should be left out of the European institutions, or that solidarity is not a concept that applies exclusively to debates concerning Russia and EU structural funds.

Several western European member states are proving to be no less xenophobic. Earlier in June, France closed its border with Italy to migrants, leaving them to spend the night in makeshift encampments on the rocky coast near Ventimiglia. Under the initiative and leadership of western European member states, the EU drew up plans for military attacks to stop migrant boats. It is unclear how such attacks would distinguish between traffickers and refugees, or how they would avoid making civilian casualties in Libyan ports. Most importantly, even if the recently launched EU naval/military operation (Eunavfor Med) is successful, it would not improve the plight of migrants: they would be grounded in war-torn countries, where their human rights and lives are at risk.

The response to the migration crisis has shown that, despite regularly boasting about their support for human rights, solidarity and democracy, European leaders are hardly concerned with these values in crisis situations. This has become evident not only vis-à-vis non-EU citizens in distress, but also in the Union’s treatment of one of its own member states, Greece.

After five years of economic recipes imposed by the ‘troika’ (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), Greece’s GDP shrank by over 20%, far more than the troika had predicted in 2010 and 2012. Unemployment rose to over 25% and youth unemployment stands at 50%.

Other indicators also draw a tragic picture: the number of Greeks living below the threshold of poverty has soared (40% of Greek children are estimated to live below the poverty line), while the total number of suicides increased by 35%. Simultaneously, little or nothing was done to improve tax collection and fight tax evasion. Most of the money of the two bailouts of Greece was used to save banks and private investors; less than 10% of it was used by the government for reforming its economy and safeguarding weaker members of society. This is the record of Antonis Samaras’s centre-right government, which held power from June 2012 until late January 2015 and patiently complied with the troika’s requests.

Tired of recessionary and self-destructive policies, in January 2015 a relative majority of Greeks voted for the left-wing party Syriza, which promised to improve the welfare of poorer Greeks and renegotiate the terms of Greece’s debt payments to its international creditors. Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis went into the negotiations with the troika, now rebranded as ‘the institutions’, genuinely believing that the country’s creditor would take into account the failure of the previous austerity programmes and the dire straits of the Greek economy and society.

However, they were faced with the IMF’s insistence on further cuts in welfare expenditure and pensions, despite the fact that 45% of Greek retirees live below the poverty line. Moreover, European leaders proved reluctant to discuss debt relief with Greece, even though the IMF itself advocated it.

At the European level, Tsipras and Varoufakis were confronted with strong political opposition from the Spanish, Irish and Portuguese leadership. This opposition was based entirely on domestic political considerations, rather than on any economic calculations pertaining to the Greek economy. At the height of their national crises, in a position similar to that of their Greek colleagues, the Spanish, Irish and Portuguese governments had already sold to their electorates the message that accepting the tough austerity measures demanded by the troika was the only way out of the crisis. For them, allowing an alternative solution for Greece – no matter whether it is viable or not – involves the risk of alienating their voters and strengthening the domestic political opposition.

Negotiations between Greece and the institutions dragged on until the end of June, until the Greek side realized that it would not be able to extract any non-recessionary and socially fair proposal from the creditors. The institutions drastically revised even a last-ditch Greek proposal that included estimated cuts of 8 billion euros, as they would be raised predominantly from taxation - with a higher toll on big businesses - and not from budget cuts (here is the Greek draft with the radical rewriting put forward by the troika).

Hence, EU leaders largely ignored the plight of the Greek economy and society and the result of the January elections, which had clearly signalled the necessity of a new approach, at the very least combining conditionality with flexibility in the methods to achieve economic objectives. Instead, the European Council ended up proposing more of the same: a 5-month extension of the bailout programme and some vague promises to discuss debt relief in the context of a third bailout programme, which neither the Greek government nor many other national leaders want. Having been elected with the promise of ending bankrupt austerity policies, Alexis Tsipras had no economic reasons or democratic mandate to accept this proposal.

Ultimately, the Euro-Greek drama at the end of June exposed the lack of solidarity of Eurozone leaders towards a member state, as well as their parochial fixation on counterproductive rules and flawed economic policies.

Instead of developing an ambitious vision for the future of Greece and the Eurozone, national and EU leaders decided to stick to the erroneous policies of the past. Significantly, large and small member states with centre-left governments aligned themselves with the conservative majority, providing further evidence for the argument that European Social Democratic parties are incapable of putting forward an alternative European leadership. With a political class that is unable to interpret the Greek call for economic and social change, and has largely adopted a xenophobic rhetoric in the immigration debate, the European construction has reached its nadir.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Parliamentary politics as the hot potato of post-election Turkey: progress or paralysis?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 1. July 2015 - 15:42

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The elections have been widely interpreted as a revitalization of parliamentary politics in Turkey. Yet a paralyzed parliament's inability to tackle key issues may prove the undoing of opposition promises of change.

Grand national assembly of Turkey main chamber. Wikicommons/VOA. some rights reserved.In politics, a Hot Potato is a topic so contentious that it causes damage to a candidate whether he shows himself to be for it or not. For a campaign to be successful, so argue strategists, such issues are best to be avoided altogether, or, better yet deflected onto the opposing candidate.

The term evolved from a nineteenth century game, in which participants would sit in a circle and pass a lighted match, piece of paper, or candle around until the flame burnt someone’s fingers. The group would then choose an embarrassing or painful challenge for the loser to perform. In later times the flame was substituted with a hot potato, but the lesson remained the same. Try not to burn your fingers. Perhaps the most poetic part was the accompanying rhyme: “Jack’s alive and likely to live. If he dies in your hand you’ve a forfeit to give”.

As Parliament convened on June 23, the only forfeit to give was power. And while the elections have been correctly identified as a victory for identity politics, the ensuing political instability is likely to continue, as any coalition government will have to assume the costs of the AKP’s looming financial debt crisis.

The crossroads at which Turkey now stands has given rise to the paradoxical situation in which everyone wants to rule, yet no party wants to assume the potentially devastating cost of taking responsibility for the fallout from AKP policies. Even the appointment of a commonly agreed parliamentary speaker is fraught with risk. Either the parties find common ground quickly, or let the clock run out and allow the AKP to keep the prestigious seat.

As the parties pass around the Hot Potato of forming a coalition, the parliamentary system risks becoming the scapegoat for a lack of political momentum. Already rumors and conspiracy theories abound, with some speculating that the AKP deputies will vote to keep the HDP speaker candidate in the race, so as to fragment the opposition and present itself as a center alternative. A risky strategy no doubt, and if nothing else, one that serves as a clear indicator of the unpredictability of current events.

In the hours following the election results, AKP Deputy Burhan Kuzu, head of the parliamentary constitution committee, described the outcome as an indicator of ‘the weakness of the parliamentary system’. Although better known for his colorful outbursts, which include claims that Angela Merkel’s skiing injury was retribution for the Gezi protests, his argument that parliament is weak contains a hidden truth.

Despite rumours about infighting within the AKP political elite, a divided parliament may be Erdoğan’s best bet at returning to his former prominence. Paralysis in parliament will inevitably make the Presidency appear stronger, and may well shift the public’s sympathies back towards the AKP. Add to this the memory of the chaotic 70s, during which Turkey saw more than ten different coalitions try their hand at ruling the country, and it becomes clear that the process of coalition forming will undoubtedly be imbued with negative connotations. 

The formation of a coalition Government will be made harder as the adrenaline of a shock election subsides. That the public has rejected the idea of an expanded presidency, does not automatically entail an endorsement of the parliamentary system, especially in a country that has become accustomed to strongman tactics and lightning fast policy changes. With the gradual stagnation of Turkey’s economy, the loss of investor trust following the graft scandal, and the social costs of increasing unemployment and rising inflation, the challenge for any coalition will be to provide fast results, and to pin the crises on the AKP, rather than being crushed under the weight of the aforementioned issues.

Add to that the uncertainties of foreign policy, the security challenges in the Middle East, and the already vastly increased Presidential influence in international politics, and it becomes clear that the formation of a coalition Government is to no party’s immediate benefit. That does not take away that the moment is ripe for political and economic reform, and that the window of opportunity for meaningful change has not closed. Certainly, the AKP has suffered a significant setback, but it means that the coalition building process must be faced with caution if the opposition wishes to maximize the electoral advantage that it currently enjoys.

The dilemma is as follows. On the one hand, the elections have re-energized the parliamentary system, saving it from a stifling decade-spanning majority rule. For the first time since the inception of the AKP, the party finds itself forced to consider forming a coalition in order to govern. On the other hand, the political maneuvering required to achieve a coalition agreement will no doubt paralyze the country’s obligations to engage with pressing economic and foreign policy issues, and may yet quell Turkey’s newfound enthusiasm for parliamentary politics.

Some have put their hopes on a new coalition without the AKP. Yet this poses the problem that a new Government will inherit the woes of the current administration, and would likely shoot Erdoğan straight back into power during the next election cycle. To enter into a non-AKP coalition would hence seem political suicide. And yet any party that joins an AKP coalition will find it difficult to live up to the promise of change.

The HDP knows it cannot risk to dampen the momentum of the current wave of enthusiasm, especially considering that its real success was in capturing a large part of the Kurdish vote from the AKP, and not in the heralded consolidation of the supposed post-Gezi liberal vote. Here too, a paralyzed parliament will not be able to bring about any change in the Kurdish issue, and will make it difficult for the HDP to retain its strategic advantage in the long term.

On the other hand, if the AKP chooses to strengthen its conservative base by forming a coalition with the nationalist MHP, it risks losing the Kurdish vote for good. In sum, as the parties pass the Hot Potato to avoid looking weak in the coalition negotiations, they risk losing the momentum required to bring about lasting change.

If the opposition parties want to retain the momentum that translated into electoral gains, they need to have the courage to accept these challenges, and to prove that they can provide an alternative to the strongman tactics that have come to define the AKP political style. To transform the current optimism into a working government will require caution, strategy, and most of all the ability to formulate a new vision for Turkey that both recognizes the breadth of the challenges at hand, without succumbing to the politics of polarization.

This then, is both the pitfall as well as the potential of parliamentary politics; that the parties have a chance to embrace cooperation, reject polarization, and prove that the prospect of forming new coalitions is no Hot Potato, but rather an opportunity to steer Turkey back towards social cohesion and economic progress.

Country or region:  Turkey Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Parliamentary politics as the hot potato of post-election Turkey: progress or paralysis?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 1. July 2015 - 15:42

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The elections have been widely interpreted as a revitalization of parliamentary politics in Turkey. Yet a paralyzed parliament’s inability to tackle key issues may prove the undoing of opposition promises of change.

Grand national assembly of Turkey main chamber. Wikicommons/VOA. some rights reserved.In politics, a Hot Potato is a topic so contentious that it causes damage to a candidate whether he shows himself to be for it or not. For a campaign to be successful, so argue strategists, such issues are best to be avoided altogether, or, better yet deflected onto the opposing candidate.

The term evolved from a nineteenth century game, in which participants would sit in a circle and pass a lighted match, piece of paper, or candle around until the flame burnt someone’s fingers. The group would then choose an embarrassing or painful challenge for the loser to perform. In later times the flame was substituted with a hot potato, but the lesson remained the same. Try not to burn your fingers. Perhaps the most poetic part was the accompanying rhyme: “Jack’s alive and likely to live. If he dies in your hand you’ve a forfeit to give”.

As Parliament convened on June 23, the only forfeit to give was power. And while the elections have been correctly identified as a victory for identity politics, the ensuing political instability is likely to continue, as any coalition government will have to assume the costs of the AKP’s looming financial debt crisis.

The crossroads at which Turkey now stands has given rise to the paradoxical situation in which everyone wants to rule, yet no party wants to assume the potentially devastating cost of taking responsibility for the fallout from AKP policies. Even the appointment of a commonly agreed parliamentary speaker is fraught with risk. Either the parties find common ground quickly, or let the clock run out and allow the AKP to keep the prestigious seat.

As the parties pass around the Hot Potato of forming a coalition, the parliamentary system risks becoming the scapegoat for a lack of political momentum. Already rumors and conspiracy theories abound, with some speculating that the AKP deputies will vote to keep the HDP speaker candidate in the race, so as to fragment the opposition and present itself as a center alternative. A risky strategy no doubt, and if nothing else, one that serves as a clear indicator of the unpredictability of current events.

In the hours following the election results, AKP Deputy Burhan Kuzu, head of the parliamentary constitution committee, described the outcome as an indicator of ‘the weakness of the parliamentary system’. Although better known for his colorful outbursts, which include claims that Angela Merkel’s skiing injury was retribution for the Gezi protests, his argument that parliament is weak contains a hidden truth.

Despite rumours about infighting within the AKP political elite, a divided parliament may be Erdoğan’s best bet at returning to his former prominence. Paralysis in parliament will inevitably make the Presidency appear stronger, and may well shift the public’s sympathies back towards the AKP. Add to this the memory of the chaotic 70s, during which Turkey saw more than ten different coalitions try their hand at ruling the country, and it becomes clear that the process of coalition forming will undoubtedly be imbued with negative connotations. 

The formation of a coalition Government will be made harder as the adrenaline of a shock election subsides. That the public has rejected the idea of an expanded presidency, does not automatically entail an endorsement of the parliamentary system, especially in a country that has become accustomed to strongman tactics and lightning fast policy changes. With the gradual stagnation of Turkey’s economy, the loss of investor trust following the graft scandal, and the social costs of increasing unemployment and rising inflation, the challenge for any coalition will be to provide fast results, and to pin the crises on the AKP, rather than being crushed under the weight of the aforementioned issues.

Add to that the uncertainties of foreign policy, the security challenges in the Middle East, and the already vastly increased Presidential influence in international politics, and it becomes clear that the formation of a coalition Government is to no party’s immediate benefit. That does not take away that the moment is ripe for political and economic reform, and that the window of opportunity for meaningful change has not closed. Certainly, the AKP has suffered a significant setback, but it means that the coalition building process must be faced with caution if the opposition wishes to maximize the electoral advantage that it currently enjoys.

The dilemma is as follows. On the one hand, the elections have re-energized the parliamentary system, saving it from a stifling decade-spanning majority rule. For the first time since the inception of the AKP, the party finds itself forced to consider forming a coalition in order to govern. On the other hand, the political maneuvering required to achieve a coalition agreement will no doubt paralyze the country’s obligations to engage with pressing economic and foreign policy issues, and may yet quell Turkey’s newfound enthusiasm for parliamentary politics.

Some have put their hopes on a new coalition without the AKP. Yet this poses the problem that a new Government will inherit the woes of the current administration, and would likely shoot Erdoğan straight back into power during the next election cycle. To enter into a non-AKP coalition would hence seem political suicide. And yet any party that joins an AKP coalition will find it difficult to live up to the promise of change.

The HDP knows it cannot risk to dampen the momentum of the current wave of enthusiasm, especially considering that its real success was in capturing a large part of the Kurdish vote from the AKP, and not in the heralded consolidation of the supposed post-Gezi liberal vote. Here too, a paralyzed parliament will not be able to bring about any change in the Kurdish issue, and will make it difficult for the HDP to retain its strategic advantage in the long term.

On the other hand, if the AKP chooses to strengthen its conservative base by forming a coalition with the nationalist MHP, it risks losing the Kurdish vote for good. In sum, as the parties pass the Hot Potato to avoid looking weak in the coalition negotiations, they risk losing the momentum required to bring about lasting change.

If the opposition parties want to retain the momentum that translated into electoral gains, they need to have the courage to accept these challenges, and to prove that they can provide an alternative to the strongman tactics that have come to define the AKP political style. To transform the current optimism into a working government will require caution, strategy, and most of all the ability to formulate a new vision for Turkey that both recognizes the breadth of the challenges at hand, without succumbing to the politics of polarization.

This then, is both the pitfall as well as the potential of parliamentary politics; that the parties have a chance to embrace cooperation, reject polarization, and prove that the prospect of forming new coalitions is no Hot Potato, but rather an opportunity to steer Turkey back towards social cohesion and economic progress.

Country or region:  Turkey Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
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Wartime rape is no longer kept under wraps in Kosovo

Open Democracy News Analysis - 1. July 2015 - 15:41

Two recent milestones in Kosovo – an official monument recognising women’s suffering during the Kosovo War, and an art installation commemorating wartime rape – shows that change may be coming to a topic long taboo in the country.

“Everywhere in Kosovo, memorials or statues are dedicated to male war heroes – I didn’t see women’s contributions mentioned anywhere,” claimed Alma Lama about the time she spent working as a journalist in Kosovo. This year’s June 12 – celebrated as Kosovo’s liberation day – marked a milestone in this perspective. On that day Heroinat (the Albanian female plural of heroes), a memorial devoted to women’s contribution during the Kosovo War initiated by Lama, was inaugurated in Prishtina. Not far from the new statue, Alketa Xhafa-Mripa and Anna Di Lellio opened their art installation Mendoj për ty (Thinking of you) addressing the continued stigmatisation of wartime rape in Kosovan society.

'Heroinat' memorial. Photo via Alma Lama.

Built by Kosovo’s ministry of environment and spatial planning, Heroinat is the first monument in the country highlighting women’s sacrifices during the war. It is situated in the green area across from the ‘palace of youth and sports’ in Prishtina’s centre. Meanwhile, the initiator of the project, Alma Lama, is a parliamentarian for the political party LDK. Thanks to her commitment, Kosovo’s national budget of 2013 included this war memorial dedicated to women that has now been constructed. Lama wanted to change the situation in which commemoration is reserved solely for killed soldiers, which occurs to the disadvantage of women. “Everybody who saw what happened during the war is aware of the fact that women carried a heavy load on their shoulders, maybe the heaviest one,” she said

By filling the whole football stadium in Prishtina with clothes lines of 5000 dresses donated by Kosovar men and women all over the country, the art exhibition Thinking of you helped to fight the grievance Lama sensed in Kosovan society. The project was implemented under the aegis of the National Council for the Survivors of Wartime Sexual Violence and the Kosovo’s President Atifete Jahjaga – the first woman to become a president in the post-communist Balkans. 

A raped women is not to blame for what happened to her

Airing dirty laundry in public is a way of saying “talking about your private issues in public”. However, on Prishtina’s football pitch no dirty laundry was hung – the clothes were clean. Metaphorically these dresses stand for the women who survived the wartime rape. “They are clean, pure, they carry no stain,” said artist Xhafa-Mripa. In this way, Mendoj për ty speaks a very clear language with the aim of fighting the prevalent stigma of these women: in the traditional family conception, a raped person dishonours their family and once somebody finds out what happened, she has to fear exclusion from society. That way, society makes a guiltless person who survived a rape guilty, and the reason why survivors who talked publicly about the rape often said that they would have preferred to have been killed than to live on as a raped person. 

'Thinking of you' exhibition to commemorate survivors of wartime rape in Kosovo. Photo via author.

The exhibition evokes the 11,541 empty chairs displayed in the centre of Sarajevo in 2012 to remember the city’s dead. Hence, it had not only an artistic value but also a commemorative component and an activism potential, which will be hopefully exploited. It would be a disappointment for the concerned people if the debate on Kosovo’s society’s treatment with wartime rape victims ends once the hype of Thinking of you draws to a close. To put it in Anna Di Lellio’s words: “We hope that besides making the survivors feel more accepted during this past month, the installation will produce a more permanent shift in attitude.” Di Lellio is well aware that this “will not happen automatically.”

The Serbian government of the 1990s knew that once they were to touch an Albanian woman, they would offend her family’s honour and would provoke the traditional-minded man to cast out his wife (if he were to find out that his spouse was raped). The unscrupulous military tactics had two objectives: to traumatize the raped woman and to cause family dramas, once the rape turned out. “Rape was used as an instrument of war in Kosovo,” emphasised Regan E. Ralph, the former Director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch in 2000.

International organisations like the World Health Organisation and the US-based Centre for Disease Control estimated that as many as 20,000 Kosovar women fell victim to wartime rape. Considering the secrecy when it comes to this topic, it is unclear how accurate this figure really is. Instead of memorising the figure one should bear in mind that rape during the Kosovo War was a phenomenon on a tragically large scale.

“Rape was used as an instrument of war in Kosovo” 

According to the International Criminal Court Statute in Rome, sexual violence in war is codified as a war crime and crime against humanity (art. 8. 2. and art. 7. 1.). Even though rape was a weapon of ethnic cleansing for the Serbs fighting for the dictator Slobodan Milošević, nearly every one of them was acquitted of this crime at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Netherlands. To date, there have been only two convictions: Vlastimir Đorđević, Serbia Assistant Minister of the Interior, and Nebojša Pavković, a former Serbian army general. 

15 years after the end of the war, Kosovo’s assembly has amended the Law on War Veterans and added survivors of sexual violence among recipients of compensation – including a monthly payment of about 350 Euros.

To this day, the law is not functioning. The government does still not know how to verify the survivors of wartime rape, as the famous Kosovar journalist Flaka Surroi wrote. It also remains questionable how many raped people will actually draw this assistance provided by the state. For in order to receive the money, the concerned person has to confess to their family what happened to them. Paradoxically, in the traditional family understanding this would mean isolation for the raped person.

More interesting is that Kosovan politicians rejected a similar law in 2013. From this perspective, Thinking of you not only recalled to society’s mind the terrible fate of so many women during the war. The art installation was also a reminder of the government’s ignorance: 12 years had to pass until a first legal attempt was undertaken – and refused – in order to de-stigmatise the victims.

Civil society in Kosovo offers help to the victims

The biggest achievement of Mendoj për ty is maybe that it transformed wartime rape for a short time from a stigmatised topic to an issue the whole society was confronted with. Yet, it would be wrong to say that Kosovar civil society has done nothing for the victims so far. The Kosova Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims (KRCT), Medica Kosova, the Center for the Promotion of Women’s Rights and Kosova’s Women Network are contact points for raped women in search for professional help. The problem is that most of the concerned women are too reluctant to make use of this help. Medica Kosova, for example, is in charge of only 143 outspoken survivors. 

The patriarchal deadlock is especially desperate for these people – men are not excluded as they were certainly also raped during the war. Too many fear – not without good reason – Lushe’s fate, the main protagonist in Isa Qosja’s Three Windows and a Hanging. She spoke publicly to the newspaper about her rape and was excluded and terrorised by her fellow villagers. Even from this angle, Thinking of you was successful in engaging men in the promotion of their project.

Via twitter and facebook, the Kosovar rapper BimBimma called on his fans to go to the art installation. If one knows the songs of Burim Kursani, his civil name, it is not that surprising that he campaigned against the stigmatisation of wartime rape in his society. He is not known for misogynistic lyrics; he prefers to use his raps in order to point to the problems of his society. In Çu !!! (Wake up !!!), he for instance portrays the apathy of his fellow citizen towards Kosovo’s political and economic stagnation since the independence in 2008. 

“Finally the time has come to support our sisters, mothers and daughters and to tell them that it was not their fault.”

In contrast, the support of Rifat Jashari, the brother of the Kosovar war hero Adem Jashari, for Mendoj për ty was unexpected, but very laudable. His participation is unexpected in the sense that he is not exactly part of Prishtina’s alternative scene. Rifat Jashari is an old man with handlebar moustache and a plis – a white brimless felt cap, a part of the traditional costume of Albanians – on his head. When Di Lellio and Xhafa-Mripa went to Drenas, a provincial city, in order to collect cloths for their art installation, they met him accidentally in a restaurant.

When they told him about their project, he said: “finally the time has come to support our sisters, mothers and daughters and to tell them that it was not their fault.” Rifat Jashari’s words does not mean that in the following days thousands of Kosovar women will tell their families about the rape. Yet, his words and the entire society’s reaction surely gave hope and consolation to the concerned ones. This year’s June 12 showed that Kosovo is able to take on its own giant strides towards a society with a higher equality between men and women.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Women of Kosovo: a mirage of freedom and equality A window into women’s experiences in Kosovo Haki Stërmilli’s 'If I Were a Boy': the first Albanian feminist manifesto The texture of patriarchy in Kosovo Are photos of ‘badass protester girls’ really so badass? Slavenka Drakulić: violence, memory, and the nation Are Bosnian and Herzegovinian victims of wartime rape finally being given constructive attention? Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Wartime rape is no longer kept under wraps in Kosovo

Open Democracy News Analysis - 1. July 2015 - 15:41

Two recent milestones in Kosovo – an official monument recognising women’s suffering during the Kosovo War, and an art installation commemorating wartime rape – shows that change may be coming to a topic long taboo in the country.

“Everywhere in Kosovo, memorials or statues are dedicated to male war heroes – I didn’t see women’s contributions mentioned anywhere,” claimed Alma Lama about the time she spent working as a journalist in Kosovo. This year’s June 12 – celebrated as Kosovo’s liberation day – marked a milestone in this perspective. On that day Heroinat (the Albanian female plural of heroes), a memorial devoted to women’s contribution during the Kosovo War initiated by Lama, was inaugurated in Prishtina. Not far from the new statue, Alketa Xhafa-Mripa and Anna Di Lellio opened their art installation Mendoj për ty (Thinking of you) addressing the continued stigmatisation of wartime rape in Kosovan society.

Built by Kosovo’s ministry of environment and spatial planning, Heroinat is the first monument in the country highlighting women’s sacrifices during the war. It is situated in the green area across from the ‘palace of youth and sports’ in Prishtina’s centre. Meanwhile, the initiator of the project, Alma Lama, is a parliamentarian for the political party LDK. Thanks to her commitment, Kosovo’s national budget of 2013 included this war memorial dedicated to women that has now been constructed. Lama wanted to change the situation in which commemoration is reserved solely for killed soldiers, which occurs to the disadvantage of women. “Everybody who saw what happened during the war is aware of the fact that women carried a heavy load on their shoulders, maybe the heaviest one,” she said

By filling the whole football stadium in Prishtina with clothes lines of 5000 dresses donated by Kosovar men and women all over the country, the art exhibition Thinking of you helped to fight the grievance Lama sensed in Kosovan society. The project was implemented under the aegis of the National Council for the Survivors of Wartime Sexual Violence and the Kosovo’s President Atifete Jahjaga – the first woman to become a president in the post-communist Balkans. 

A raped women is not to blame for what happened to her

Airing dirty laundry in public is a way of saying “talking about your private issues in public”. However, on Prishtina’s football pitch no dirty laundry was hung – the clothes were clean. Metaphorically these dresses stand for the women who survived the wartime rape. “They are clean, pure, they carry no stain,” said artist Xhafa-Mripa. In this way, Mendoj për ty speaks a very clear language with the aim of fighting the prevalent stigma of these women: in the traditional family conception, a raped person dishonours their family and once somebody finds out what happened, she has to fear exclusion from society. That way, society makes a guiltless person who survived a rape guilty, and the reason why survivors who talked publicly about the rape often said that they would have preferred to have been killed than to live on as a raped person. 

'Thinking of you' exhibition to commemorate survivors of wartime rape in Kosovo. Photo via author.

The exhibition evokes the 11,541 empty chairs displayed in the centre of Sarajevo in 2012 to remember the city’s dead. Hence, it had not only an artistic value but also a commemorative component and an activism potential, which will be hopefully exploited. It would be a disappointment for the concerned people if the debate on Kosovo’s society’s treatment with wartime rape victims ends once the hype of Thinking of you draws to a close. To put it in Anna Di Lellio’s words: “We hope that besides making the survivors feel more accepted during this past month, the installation will produce a more permanent shift in attitude.” Di Lellio is well aware that this “will not happen automatically.”

The Serbian government of the 1990s knew that once they were to touch an Albanian woman, they would offend her family’s honour and would provoke the traditional-minded man to cast out his wife (if he were to find out that his spouse was raped). The unscrupulous military tactics had two objectives: to traumatize the raped woman and to cause family dramas, once the rape turned out. “Rape was used as an instrument of war in Kosovo,” emphasised Regan E. Ralph, the former Director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch in 2000.

International organisations like the World Health Organisation and the US-based Centre for Disease Control estimated that as many as 20,000 Kosovar women fell victim to wartime rape. Considering the secrecy when it comes to this topic, it is unclear how accurate this figure really is. Instead of memorising the figure one should bear in mind that rape during the Kosovo War was a phenomenon on a tragically large scale.

“Rape was used as an instrument of war in Kosovo” 

According to the International Criminal Court Statute in Rome, sexual violence in war is codified as a war crime and crime against humanity (art. 8. 2. and art. 7. 1.). Even though rape was a weapon of ethnic cleansing for the Serbs fighting for the dictator Slobodan Milošević, nearly every one of them was acquitted of this crime at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Netherlands. To date, there have been only two convictions: Vlastimir Đorđević, Serbia Assistant Minister of the Interior, and Nebojša Pavković, a former Serbian army general. 

15 years after the end of the war, Kosovo’s assembly has amended the Law on War Veterans and added survivors of sexual violence among recipients of compensation – including a monthly payment of about 350 Euros.

To this day, the law is not functioning. The government does still not know how to verify the survivors of wartime rape, as the famous Kosovar journalist Flaka Surroi wrote. It also remains questionable how many raped people will actually draw this assistance provided by the state. For in order to receive the money, the concerned person has to confess to their family what happened to them. Paradoxically, in the traditional family understanding this would mean isolation for the raped person.

More interesting is that Kosovan politicians rejected a similar law in 2013. From this perspective, Thinking of you not only recalled to society’s mind the terrible fate of so many women during the war. The art installation was also a reminder of the government’s ignorance: 12 years had to pass until a first legal attempt was undertaken – and refused – in order to de-stigmatise the victims.

Civil society in Kosovo offers help to the victims

The biggest achievement of Mendoj për ty is maybe that it transformed wartime rape for a short time from a stigmatised topic to an issue the whole society was confronted with. Yet, it would be wrong to say that Kosovar civil society has done nothing for the victims so far. The Kosova Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims (KRCT), Medica Kosova, the Center for the Promotion of Women’s Rights and Kosova’s Women Network are contact points for raped women in search for professional help. The problem is that most of the concerned women are too reluctant to make use of this help. Medica Kosova, for example, is in charge of only 143 outspoken survivors. 

The patriarchal deadlock is especially desperate for these people – men are not excluded as they were certainly also raped during the war. Too many fear – not without good reason – Lushe’s fate, the main protagonist in Isa Qosja’s Three Windows and a Hanging. She spoke publicly to the newspaper about her rape and was excluded and terrorised by her fellow villagers. Even from this angle, Thinking of you was successful in engaging men in the promotion of their project.

Via twitter and facebook, the Kosovar rapper BimBimma called on his fans to go to the art installation. If one knows the songs of Burim Kursani, his civil name, it is not that surprising that he campaigned against the stigmatisation of wartime rape in his society. He is not known for misogynistic lyrics; he prefers to use his raps in order to point to the problems of his society. In Çu !!! (Wake up !!!), he for instance portrays the apathy of his fellow citizen towards Kosovo’s political and economic stagnation since the independence in 2008. 

“Finally the time has come to support our sisters, mothers and daughters and to tell them that it was not their fault.”

In contrast, the support of Rifat Jashari, the brother of the Kosovar war hero Adem Jashari, for Mendoj për ty was unexpected, but very laudable. His participation is unexpected in the sense that he is not exactly part of Prishtina’s alternative scene. Rifat Jashari is an old man with handlebar moustache and a plis – a white brimless felt cap, a part of the traditional costume of Albanians – on his head. When Di Lellio and Xhafa-Mripa went to Drenas, a provincial city, in order to collect cloths for their art installation, they met him accidentally in a restaurant.

When they told him about their project, he said: “finally the time has come to support our sisters, mothers and daughters and to tell them that it was not their fault.” Rifat Jashari’s words does not mean that in the following days thousands of Kosovar women will tell their families about the rape. Yet, his words and the entire society’s reaction surely gave hope and consolation to the concerned ones. This year’s June 12 showed that Kosovo is able to take on its own giant strides towards a society with a higher equality between men and women.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Women of Kosovo: a mirage of freedom and equality A window into women’s experiences in Kosovo Haki Stërmilli’s 'If I Were a Boy': the first Albanian feminist manifesto The texture of patriarchy in Kosovo Are photos of ‘badass protester girls’ really so badass? Slavenka Drakulić: violence, memory, and the nation Are Bosnian and Herzegovinian victims of wartime rape finally being given constructive attention? Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Women of Kosovo: a mirage of freedom and equality

Open Democracy News Analysis - 1. July 2015 - 15:41

A female President and political discourse that trades in 'gender equality' can't paper over the continued corrosive effects of patriarchy in Kosovo, from property law to social taboos.

One of my favorite childhood pastimes in Albania was listening to my mother talk about her adventures in a family of nine children – all hailing from Kosovo, but taking refuge in then communist Albania to flee from discriminatory Yugoslavian policies.

Being the youngest of the siblings, my mother would often echo the stories of her much older sisters and brothers, including how their father, a beloved teacher, persevered against all odds to gain his sons’ entry into the top schools of the region. But as I grew, I began to notice a pattern: there were no girl characters in these stories.

One day, I asked my mom about her five sisters, and that’s when the story transformed from an epic of perseverance to one of passive acceptance. Out of my five aunts, only one of them was allowed to pursue a middle school education in Kosovo, after years of begging and pleading with the family patriarch. The rest either never received the gift of education or were young enough to benefit from Albania’s more inclusive educational system and cultural atmosphere. These childhood stories seemed to offer a similar lesson: if growing up in Kosovo, hope very hard that you are not born a girl.

Many may assume that such times of extreme gender limitations are long gone in a country located in the heart of Europe. On the surface, women in contemporary Kosovo have perfect equality. Kosovo underwent a decade of international supervision following the 1998-99 civil war, ethnic cleansing campaigns, and international military intervention against Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic – culminating in unilateral independence in 2008. As part of this legacy, Kosovo adopted an egalitarian law package in 2004, as demanded by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

'Thinking of you' art installation in Prishtina commemorating victims of wartime rape. Photo via Reuters/ all rights reserved. These laws fulfill all European Union requirements and include the Law on Gender Equality, the Inheritance Law, and Family Law. As Sandra Joireman, Weinstein Chair of International Studies and professor of Political Science at the University of Richmond, affirms, since the days of Yugoslavian rule, Kosovo’s constitution and laws have consistently declared women as equal to men.

Today, Kosovo even has a female president, two former Deputy Prime Ministers, and other female high-level officials. In fact, due to an electoral quota of 30 percent, the Assembly of Kosovo has the second highest representation of women in the region. Walking down the streets of the capital Prishtina, with its endless supply of immaculately dressed, strutting women, what appears is a mirage: a mirage of equality and independent, Western womanhood.

In practice and daily life, women still face insurmountable struggles for access to property, social resources, personal security, and cultural equality. Even worse, these gendered dilemmas occur in the context of a failing Kosovar economy, prompting mass exoduses out of the country, general unemployment rate at over 31 percent, and the highest levels of corruption found in Southeast Europe.

Women in Kosovo continue to live within the confines of a rigid patriarchal society, one in which men have the final say in all family matters, have primary access to all social and economic resources, and are able to preserve the cultural landscape of more traditional times – regardless of newly imposed institutions.

As will be explored below, all main structures of women’s oppression in Kosovo stem from cultural norms that link women’s social value to men, constructing intricate webs of devastating dependency. While practical gender equality remains a distant dream for most Kosovar women, much can be done by citizens, political elites, NGOs, and international actors to advance a more egalitarian society.

Property rights – perfect on paper only

The case of property rights in Kosovo is one of the most illuminating examples of the mirage of equality. Even with equal inheritance rights on the books, women only own 15 percent of property in Kosovo, rising from 8 percent in 2012, but still far below other Balkan states and countries throughout the world.

Much of this deficit is rooted in the power of traditional social norms, originating from the widely-practiced Albanian code of ethics, the Kanun. Among many other misogynist prescriptions, this ancient code subverts women to second-class citizenship, allowing for the patrilineal secession of all family resources. Thus, contemporary culture dictates that upon marriage, a woman must move into her husband’s ancestral home, residing there with her in-laws but never owning the property in her own right. Her brother then obtains full ownership of the family home.

Moreover, as dictated by the Kanun, in traditional communities, any property disputes are settled by all-male meetings of elders. “Even if a family does not have a son, the property goes to the male cousins,” confirms Ali Pasoma, the leader of these meetings in the town of Vushtrri. Such cultural indoctrination may explain why women often waive their rights, giving their share of family property to male relatives, when issues of inheritance arise in courts.

'Thinking of you' art installation in Prishtina commemorating victims of wartime rape. Photo via Reuters/ all rights reserved.

With cultural norms so deeply engrained, many women find it shameful to consider asking for any degree of property rights in the family or in a marriage. On rare occasions, when women refuse to give up their legal rights, family members may isolate, coerce or even physically threaten the women.

Even in courts, women’s claims are often ignored, discouraged due to long judicial delays, or insufficiently enforced in the rare case of a win. This desperately uphill battle is not lost on the women of Kosovo. In a survey study completed by the Kosovar for Gender Studies Center from 2010-11, 41 percent of women thought that inheritance, although egalitarian in law, was predominantly determined by traditional gender norms. But while facing this harsh reality, more than 75 percent of these women agreed that parents’ property should be inherited by both genders without distinction.

The women, however, feared a range of repercussions: 31 percent feared that they would be ignored and judged by family, and another 30 percent thought that their efforts would be blocked by male relatives.

Discrimination in property rights has far-reaching consequences. Most significantly, it hinders women’s economic involvement, as they are discouraged from owning businesses (with only 6 percent of businesses owned by women), taking out loans, and partaking in most entrepreneurial activities. Additionally, the underlying norm of male dominance in the family and in the public sphere translates into other economic sectors. For instance, a 2012 World Bank report found that only 11 percent of working-age Kosovar women were permanently employed.

Furthermore, in parallel to the dynamics of property rights, Kosovo’s cultural and economic landscape still favors male education over female as a better family investment, given that men generally stay with their parents after marriage while women join their husband’s households.

Although levels of education are now less dramatically gendered, the ratio of boys to girls in primary education still remains at 52 to 48, and women have an average of two years less education than men – trends that will inevitably perpetuate suboptimal labor market and public sphere outcomes into the future. The plight of property rights for Kosovo’s women, thus, reflects more fundamental flaws embedded in Kosovo’s patriarchal society – flaws that remain salient decades after my mother’s childhood stories and my aunt’s struggle to gain an education. 

Rape and domestic violence

In the case of property rights, Kosovar women are made to rely on men for access to a resource they cannot themselves possess without suffering a culture clash. In the case of domestic and sexual violence, women are socialized to feel excruciating personal shame for the criminal acts that men commit, for the sake of protecting male relative’s family honor. Without access to economic independence, these norms become almost impossible to eradicate and continue to define the lives of many Kosovar women.

An estimated 20,000 Albanian women – 4.4 percent of the population – were raped by Serbian forces in the two years prior to NATO’s entry into the post-war region. But there have only been two rape prosecutions in Kosovo to date by the war crimes unit of EULEX. Few women have spoken publicly about their trauma as doing so would be seen as bringing immense humiliation not only to their families, but also to their villages and ethnic Albanians as a whole.

Even those who may wish to speak out are stopped by male relatives, who command that survivors of sexual violence take their suffering to the grave. In Kosovo, being raped is perceived as worse than death, due to the dishonor it reflects on the males of the family. As such, many men refuse to marry these “tainted” and “touched” women. Even husbands often abandon their wives once learning about their rapes – leaving them to fend for themselves in a society that offers no alternatives.

As an Albanian male so horridly summarized, a victim of sexual violence, once publicly exposed “would be dirty, evil, the castle of the enemy.” So today, thousands of victims of sexual violence continue to suffer in shame and silence – often experiencing persistent depression and other psychiatric illnesses. While institutional resources and centers are becoming more readily available for these women, the crushing cultural stigma of rape keeps most of them from taking advantage of any venues of support.   

The plight of domestic violence in Kosovo reveals similar patterns. In 2010, the Kosovar government adopted a Law and a National Strategy against domestic violence, amidst rising numbers of unemployed men taking out their economic failures and frustrations on their wives.

But police in Kosovo continue to register over 1,000 officially-reported episodes of domestic violence every year – a staggering number considering the small size of the country and the number of unreported cases. The unaddressed root of the problem is that most women do not report the violence, having internalized much of it as a normal part of marriage.

A survey conducted in 2015 by the Kosovo Statistic Agency (ASK) and UNICEF indicates that almost half of the women in Kosovo justify male violence against them, with 42 percent accepting the violence only under certain conditions, such as failing to consult the husband on family decisions and not properly caring for the husband and his parents.

Furthermore, as in the case of rape, domestic violence is seen as a private matter. A woman tarnishes her family’s honor if she denounces her abuser. In other words, cultural norms do not place shame on the men who perpetrate the violence, but on the women who suffer through it and worst of all, dare to speak of it.

Women's economic and social dependence on their husbands, their fear of losing their children and community, and fear of more violence perpetuates norms of shame and silence. In Kosovo, as in many other regions of the world, women’s oppression in one sector of life feeds into all others – with a lack of property rights enforcing women’s subservient economic status to men, and women’s economic and social dependence on men making it nearly impossible for them to escape the cycle of violence.

Oppressive cultural expectations

An overarching theme is quick to emerge amidst these sources of oppression. Women in Kosovo may appear free and equal under the law, but their realities are often bleak. Cultural norms dictate that women value themselves and are in turn valued based on their unequal relationships to men.

According to this unwritten law of Kosovar society, women don’t need to seek out property rights, as their homes and futures will be provided by their fathers and future husbands – until something goes wrong. Employment and educational limitations easily fit under this same umbrella of thought. Women also shouldn’t speak of the violence committed against them, as it devalues their worth to male relatives and directly harms the reputation of men in their lives. After all, women in Kosovo are just very versatile objects, existing only to fulfill the needs of the patriarchs. They serve as commodities to be bought, sold, and betrothed for the benefit of men.

If one narrows in on the daily lives of young and old Kosovar women alike, the mirage of equality begins to fade into a darker reality of cultural subservience. 

Moving forward

Fortunately, the atmosphere for women is improving, especially in bigger cities, such as Prishtina and Mitrovica. A young generation of men and women is rising, with growing expectations of real freedom and gender equality. But change will not be swift as cultural norms are some of the most enduring facets of the human experience. Nevertheless, many actors across Kosovo are fighting back.

In January 2014, UN WOMEN in Kosovo financed the production of a report and brochure to provide women with information on their property rights and relevant legal structures and codes. Many other organizations, including EULEX and various human rights NGOs, have supported similar awareness and normative campaigns and have pressured the domestic government to further enforce egalitarian property rights.

On the subject of violence against women, artists in the Kosovar and global community have spearheaded the awareness campaigns. Just this week, on the anniversary of NATO forces entering post-conflict Prishtina, a Kosovo-born artist transformed a football pitch into a giant art installation in tribute to survivors of sexual violence. Thousands of clean, donated dresses hanging on washing lines over the “masculine” football field reminded citizens of the crimes committed against their countrywomen, broke the oppressive silence on Kosovo’s wartime rapes, and served as a step toward removing the heavy stigma of victimhood.

In addition, as a response to International Women’s Day this year, an art collective comprised of sisters living in Prishtina literally and publicly beat the Kanun, the book of Albanian patriarchal law, with tools and activities associated with housewifery. In the international arena, the 2014 film Three Windows and a Hanging, directed by Isa Qosja, further exposed the plight of Kosovo’s victims of wartime rape by telling the story of a teacher in a small Kosovar village, who defies tradition by revealing that she and three other women were raped by Serbian forces during the Kosovo War.

Slowly, these public, informal methods of influence have the potential to sway long-held norms and beliefs on the value and role of women in society – but there is always more to do. 

Eradicating the mirage for good  

Citizens coupled with the international community, especially the European Union, must incentivize the Kosovar government to craft more gender-sensitive policies. In other words, governmental institutions must anticipate the culturally-based limitations that women face in accessing formal social structures, and they must account for these limitations in law.

One of the first steps in this endeavor would be for the Agency for Gender Equality and women’s NGOs to organize training sessions for judges, so as to increase sensitivity toward cases relating to gender issues, property inheritance, and domestic and sexual violence. Perhaps most importantly, all awareness and information campaigns for equality must also involve men.

These campaigns must emphasize the benefits that both men and women would receive from eradicated patriarchal traditions and increased gender equality, such as higher economic productivity, increases in household incomes, and more stable societies.

The mirage of gender equality hurts all. Returning to a personal narrative, had my aunt not won the fight against the patriarch to continue her education, both Kosovo and Albania would have missed out on one of the most dedicated educators of the era. The status of women dictates the status of society as a whole, and consequently, Kosovo will not progress as a state unless it liberates its women from culturally-imposed second-class citizenship. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  A window into women’s experiences in Kosovo Haki Stërmilli’s 'If I Were a Boy': the first Albanian feminist manifesto The texture of patriarchy in Kosovo Are photos of ‘badass protester girls’ really so badass? Slavenka Drakulić: violence, memory, and the nation Listen to Bosnia's plenums Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Women of Kosovo: a mirage of freedom and equality

Open Democracy News Analysis - 1. July 2015 - 15:41

A female President and political discourse that trades in 'gender equality' can't paper over the continued corrosive effects of patriarchy in Kosovo, from property law to social taboos.

One of my favorite childhood pastimes in Albania was listening to my mother talk about her adventures in a family of nine children – all hailing from Kosovo, but taking refuge in then communist Albania to flee from discriminatory Yugoslavian policies.

Being the youngest of the siblings, my mother would often echo the stories of her much older sisters and brothers, including how their father, a beloved teacher, persevered against all odds to gain his sons’ entry into the top schools of the region. But as I grew, I began to notice a pattern: there were no girl characters in these stories.

One day, I asked my mom about her five sisters, and that’s when the story transformed from an epic of perseverance to one of passive acceptance. Out of my five aunts, only one of them was allowed to pursue a middle school education in Kosovo, after years of begging and pleading with the family patriarch. The rest either never received the gift of education or were young enough to benefit from Albania’s more inclusive educational system and cultural atmosphere. These childhood stories seemed to offer a similar lesson: if growing up in Kosovo, hope very hard that you are not born a girl.

Many may assume that such times of extreme gender limitations are long gone in a country located in the heart of Europe. On the surface, women in contemporary Kosovo have perfect equality. Kosovo underwent a decade of international supervision following the 1998-99 civil war, ethnic cleansing campaigns, and international military intervention against Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic – culminating in unilateral independence in 2008. As part of this legacy, Kosovo adopted an egalitarian law package in 2004, as demanded by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

'Thinking of you' art installation in Prishtina commemorating victims of wartime rape. Photo via Reuters/ all rights reserved. These laws fulfill all European Union requirements and include the Law on Gender Equality, the Inheritance Law, and Family Law. As Sandra Joireman, Weinstein Chair of International Studies and professor of Political Science at the University of Richmond, affirms, since the days of Yugoslavian rule, Kosovo’s constitution and laws have consistently declared women as equal to men.

Today, Kosovo even has a female president, two former Deputy Prime Ministers, and other female high-level officials. In fact, due to an electoral quota of 30 percent, the Assembly of Kosovo has the second highest representation of women in the region. Walking down the streets of the capital Prishtina, with its endless supply of immaculately dressed, strutting women, what appears is a mirage: a mirage of equality and independent, Western womanhood.

In practice and daily life, women still face insurmountable struggles for access to property, social resources, personal security, and cultural equality. Even worse, these gendered dilemmas occur in the context of a failing Kosovar economy, prompting mass exoduses out of the country, general unemployment rate at over 31 percent, and the highest levels of corruption found in Southeast Europe.

Women in Kosovo continue to live within the confines of a rigid patriarchal society, one in which men have the final say in all family matters, have primary access to all social and economic resources, and are able to preserve the cultural landscape of more traditional times – regardless of newly imposed institutions.

As will be explored below, all main structures of women’s oppression in Kosovo stem from cultural norms that link women’s social value to men, constructing intricate webs of devastating dependency. While practical gender equality remains a distant dream for most Kosovar women, much can be done by citizens, political elites, NGOs, and international actors to advance a more egalitarian society.

Property rights – perfect on paper only

The case of property rights in Kosovo is one of the most illuminating examples of the mirage of equality. Even with equal inheritance rights on the books, women only own 15 percent of property in Kosovo, rising from 8 percent in 2012, but still far below other Balkan states and countries throughout the world.

Much of this deficit is rooted in the power of traditional social norms, originating from the widely-practiced Albanian code of ethics, the Kanun. Among many other misogynist prescriptions, this ancient code subverts women to second-class citizenship, allowing for the patrilineal secession of all family resources. Thus, contemporary culture dictates that upon marriage, a woman must move into her husband’s ancestral home, residing there with her in-laws but never owning the property in her own right. Her brother then obtains full ownership of the family home.

Moreover, as dictated by the Kanun, in traditional communities, any property disputes are settled by all-male meetings of elders. “Even if a family does not have a son, the property goes to the male cousins,” confirms Ali Pasoma, the leader of these meetings in the town of Vushtrri. Such cultural indoctrination may explain why women often waive their rights, giving their share of family property to male relatives, when issues of inheritance arise in courts.

'Thinking of you' art installation in Prishtina commemorating victims of wartime rape. Photo via Reuters/ all rights reserved.

With cultural norms so deeply engrained, many women find it shameful to consider asking for any degree of property rights in the family or in a marriage. On rare occasions, when women refuse to give up their legal rights, family members may isolate, coerce or even physically threaten the women.

Even in courts, women’s claims are often ignored, discouraged due to long judicial delays, or insufficiently enforced in the rare case of a win. This desperately uphill battle is not lost on the women of Kosovo. In a survey study completed by the Kosovar for Gender Studies Center from 2010-11, 41 percent of women thought that inheritance, although egalitarian in law, was predominantly determined by traditional gender norms. But while facing this harsh reality, more than 75 percent of these women agreed that parents’ property should be inherited by both genders without distinction.

The women, however, feared a range of repercussions: 31 percent feared that they would be ignored and judged by family, and another 30 percent thought that their efforts would be blocked by male relatives.

Discrimination in property rights has far-reaching consequences. Most significantly, it hinders women’s economic involvement, as they are discouraged from owning businesses (with only 6 percent of businesses owned by women), taking out loans, and partaking in most entrepreneurial activities. Additionally, the underlying norm of male dominance in the family and in the public sphere translates into other economic sectors. For instance, a 2012 World Bank report found that only 11 percent of working-age Kosovar women were permanently employed.

Furthermore, in parallel to the dynamics of property rights, Kosovo’s cultural and economic landscape still favors male education over female as a better family investment, given that men generally stay with their parents after marriage while women join their husband’s households.

Although levels of education are now less dramatically gendered, the ratio of boys to girls in primary education still remains at 52 to 48, and women have an average of two years less education than men – trends that will inevitably perpetuate suboptimal labor market and public sphere outcomes into the future. The plight of property rights for Kosovo’s women, thus, reflects more fundamental flaws embedded in Kosovo’s patriarchal society – flaws that remain salient decades after my mother’s childhood stories and my aunt’s struggle to gain an education. 

Rape and domestic violence

In the case of property rights, Kosovar women are made to rely on men for access to a resource they cannot themselves possess without suffering a culture clash. In the case of domestic and sexual violence, women are socialized to feel excruciating personal shame for the criminal acts that men commit, for the sake of protecting male relative’s family honor. Without access to economic independence, these norms become almost impossible to eradicate and continue to define the lives of many Kosovar women.

An estimated 20,000 Albanian women – 4.4 percent of the population – were raped by Serbian forces in the two years prior to NATO’s entry into the post-war region. But there have only been two rape prosecutions in Kosovo to date by the war crimes unit of EULEX. Few women have spoken publicly about their trauma as doing so would be seen as bringing immense humiliation not only to their families, but also to their villages and ethnic Albanians as a whole.

Even those who may wish to speak out are stopped by male relatives, who command that survivors of sexual violence take their suffering to the grave. In Kosovo, being raped is perceived as worse than death, due to the dishonor it reflects on the males of the family. As such, many men refuse to marry these “tainted” and “touched” women. Even husbands often abandon their wives once learning about their rapes – leaving them to fend for themselves in a society that offers no alternatives.

As an Albanian male so horridly summarized, a victim of sexual violence, once publicly exposed “would be dirty, evil, the castle of the enemy.” So today, thousands of victims of sexual violence continue to suffer in shame and silence – often experiencing persistent depression and other psychiatric illnesses. While institutional resources and centers are becoming more readily available for these women, the crushing cultural stigma of rape keeps most of them from taking advantage of any venues of support.   

The plight of domestic violence in Kosovo reveals similar patterns. In 2010, the Kosovar government adopted a Law and a National Strategy against domestic violence, amidst rising numbers of unemployed men taking out their economic failures and frustrations on their wives.

But police in Kosovo continue to register over 1,000 officially-reported episodes of domestic violence every year – a staggering number considering the small size of the country and the number of unreported cases. The unaddressed root of the problem is that most women do not report the violence, having internalized much of it as a normal part of marriage.

A survey conducted in 2015 by the Kosovo Statistic Agency (ASK) and UNICEF indicates that almost half of the women in Kosovo justify male violence against them, with 42 percent accepting the violence only under certain conditions, such as failing to consult the husband on family decisions and not properly caring for the husband and his parents.

Furthermore, as in the case of rape, domestic violence is seen as a private matter. A woman tarnishes her family’s honor if she denounces her abuser. In other words, cultural norms do not place shame on the men who perpetrate the violence, but on the women who suffer through it and worst of all, dare to speak of it.

Women's economic and social dependence on their husbands, their fear of losing their children and community, and fear of more violence perpetuates norms of shame and silence. In Kosovo, as in many other regions of the world, women’s oppression in one sector of life feeds into all others – with a lack of property rights enforcing women’s subservient economic status to men, and women’s economic and social dependence on men making it nearly impossible for them to escape the cycle of violence.

Oppressive cultural expectations

An overarching theme is quick to emerge amidst these sources of oppression. Women in Kosovo may appear free and equal under the law, but their realities are often bleak. Cultural norms dictate that women value themselves and are in turn valued based on their unequal relationships to men.

According to this unwritten law of Kosovar society, women don’t need to seek out property rights, as their homes and futures will be provided by their fathers and future husbands – until something goes wrong. Employment and educational limitations easily fit under this same umbrella of thought. Women also shouldn’t speak of the violence committed against them, as it devalues their worth to male relatives and directly harms the reputation of men in their lives. After all, women in Kosovo are just very versatile objects, existing only to fulfill the needs of the patriarchs. They serve as commodities to be bought, sold, and betrothed for the benefit of men.

If one narrows in on the daily lives of young and old Kosovar women alike, the mirage of equality begins to fade into a darker reality of cultural subservience. 

Moving forward

Fortunately, the atmosphere for women is improving, especially in bigger cities, such as Prishtina and Mitrovica. A young generation of men and women is rising, with growing expectations of real freedom and gender equality. But change will not be swift as cultural norms are some of the most enduring facets of the human experience. Nevertheless, many actors across Kosovo are fighting back.

In January 2014, UN WOMEN in Kosovo financed the production of a report and brochure to provide women with information on their property rights and relevant legal structures and codes. Many other organizations, including EULEX and various human rights NGOs, have supported similar awareness and normative campaigns and have pressured the domestic government to further enforce egalitarian property rights.

On the subject of violence against women, artists in the Kosovar and global community have spearheaded the awareness campaigns. Just this week, on the anniversary of NATO forces entering post-conflict Prishtina, a Kosovo-born artist transformed a football pitch into a giant art installation in tribute to survivors of sexual violence. Thousands of clean, donated dresses hanging on washing lines over the “masculine” football field reminded citizens of the crimes committed against their countrywomen, broke the oppressive silence on Kosovo’s wartime rapes, and served as a step toward removing the heavy stigma of victimhood.

In addition, as a response to International Women’s Day this year, an art collective comprised of sisters living in Prishtina literally and publicly beat the Kanun, the book of Albanian patriarchal law, with tools and activities associated with housewifery. In the international arena, the 2014 film Three Windows and a Hanging, directed by Isa Qosja, further exposed the plight of Kosovo’s victims of wartime rape by telling the story of a teacher in a small Kosovar village, who defies tradition by revealing that she and three other women were raped by Serbian forces during the Kosovo War.

Slowly, these public, informal methods of influence have the potential to sway long-held norms and beliefs on the value and role of women in society – but there is always more to do. 

Eradicating the mirage for good  

Citizens coupled with the international community, especially the European Union, must incentivize the Kosovar government to craft more gender-sensitive policies. In other words, governmental institutions must anticipate the culturally-based limitations that women face in accessing formal social structures, and they must account for these limitations in law.

One of the first steps in this endeavor would be for the Agency for Gender Equality and women’s NGOs to organize training sessions for judges, so as to increase sensitivity toward cases relating to gender issues, property inheritance, and domestic and sexual violence. Perhaps most importantly, all awareness and information campaigns for equality must also involve men.

These campaigns must emphasize the benefits that both men and women would receive from eradicated patriarchal traditions and increased gender equality, such as higher economic productivity, increases in household incomes, and more stable societies.

The mirage of gender equality hurts all. Returning to a personal narrative, had my aunt not won the fight against the patriarch to continue her education, both Kosovo and Albania would have missed out on one of the most dedicated educators of the era. The status of women dictates the status of society as a whole, and consequently, Kosovo will not progress as a state unless it liberates its women from culturally-imposed second-class citizenship. 

Sideboxes Related stories:  A window into women’s experiences in Kosovo Haki Stërmilli’s 'If I Were a Boy': the first Albanian feminist manifesto The texture of patriarchy in Kosovo Are photos of ‘badass protester girls’ really so badass? Slavenka Drakulić: violence, memory, and the nation Listen to Bosnia's plenums Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

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