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Updated: 2 hours 17 min ago

Islamic State vs Britain

4 hours 49 min ago

The massacre of tourists in Tunisia's coastal resort of Sousse reveals Islamic State's intention to target Britain. There is more to come.

The full impact of the multiple killing of British holidaymakers in Tunisia on 26 June 2015 is being felt with the gradual return of the estimated twenty-nine bodies. Several key aspects of this and related incidents continue to emerge, which have serious implications for attempts to deal with Islamic State. Not least of these is the immediate promise of British prime minister David Cameron of a “full-spectrum response”, though with little indication so far of what that would actually mean.

The first aspect is that the attack turned out to be utterly different from what was initially assumed, namely a random attack by a young man acting alone. Instead, it was part of a developing campaign by elements linked to Islamic State, and with multiple aims.  

Seifeddine Rezgui’s assault on the Imperial Marhaba hotel at Sousse, which killed thirty-eight people in all, was specifically aimed at British tourists - to the extent of Rezgui deliberately avoiding killing Tunisians, even when some of them courageously stood in his way. It was targeted against the country which is second only to the United States in the pursuit of the now ten‐month air war with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

By a grim coincidence, the Pentagon released information on the extent of that war four days before the Sousse attack. It reported that in the ten months to 22 June 2015, as many as 7,655 targets had been attacked. This involved 15,800 sorties costing an estimated $9 million a day, which resulted in the killing of around 1,000 Islamic State fighters a month.

It is not possible to confirm these figures, nor to know how many of the dead were actually civilians. But what can be assumed is that Islamic State propagandists will make much of the deaths of any civilians, and will also constantly remind their followers across the world of the intensity of the “crusader assault” on these valiant protectors of Islam.

Britain’s role in the war is very small compared with that of the United States forces, but is still greater than any other ally. The UK defence ministry is very cautious about giving out details, although it has become apparent that armed Reaper drones with their Hellfire missiles have been used more widely than the Tornado strike-aircraft (see "Britain's information-light war", 25 June 2015).

Regarding the Sousse attack, it is emerging that Rezgui was the front person in a team assembled for the purpose. He had trained in an IS‐linked camp, Al Ajaylat, at Sabratha, a coastal town about 65 kilometres west of Tripoli in western Libya, only 90 kms from the border with Tunisia. In Tunis, government sources say the Sabratha camp was also the base used to train the two suicide-attackers who massacred twenty-two people at Tunisia’s Bardo museum on 18 March.

The significance of Libya is that it reinforces the disastrous nature of the Nato action in 2011 when its operation aided rebels in terminating the Gaddafi regime but with little recognition of the likely consequences. The oversight was remarkable given the experiences in Afghanistan (2001‐02) and Iraq (2003), and the manner in which apparently straightforward regime terminations had such dire long‐term consequences.

The domestic calculus

In this new context, however, any response to the mass murder of the tourists has to factor in the probable aims of Islamic State planners in encouraging the attack in Tunisia. It was clearly very much focused on Britain and its role in the war, as well as to demonstrate its capacity to operate in other countries. That factor is also present in the bombing of the Shi’a mosque in Kuwait on the same day. It is worth remembering here that Kuwait has a crucial role in supporting diverse US military units, so any internal social tensions that may result from the attack suits Islamic State (see "Sousse, Kuwait, Lyon: a triple alert", 26 June 2015).

A clear aim at Sousse, as with the Bardo museum operation, was to damage the Tunisian tourist industry. From the IS perspective, any increase in unemployment and marginalisation in Tunisia increases the chances of young people rallying to its cause.

In addition the focus on Britain seeks to provoke the British government into widening its role in the war, with the particular hope of ground forces being deployed - and thus, potentially, soldiers captured with predictably grim results. So far the Cameron government has been cautious about this, and it is likely that some senior military and diplomatic advisors with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan are advising accordingly.

There is another British dimension to the Tunisian incident. Islamic State also wants increased community tensions within Britain involving its sizeable Muslim population.  The ideal outcome from the IS perspective would be a rise in Islamophobia, with the possibility of further marginalising Muslim communities and attracted more than the current tiny numbers attracted to the cause.  There may well be further attacks to further this objective.

In this respect, Cameron appears to be close to falling into the trap with some of his comments this week on radicalisation. This adds to the sense that this is a time when every effort has to be made to maintain community relations. It will not be easy given the xenophobic elements within British politics, which Islamic State planners and strategists are well aware of and will integrate into their plans.

None of this makes it any easier to work out how to address the substantial problem of Islamic State. But the best advice, as with al‐Qaida over more than a decade, is not to do what it wants you to do. Even now, we do not appear to have learned that lesson.

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

Department of peace studies, Bradford University

Oxford Research Group

Patrick Cockburn, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Verso, 2015)

Remote Control Project

Paul Rogers, Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto, 3rd edition, 2010)

Michael Weiss & Hassan Hassan, ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (Simon & Schuster, 2015)

Paul Rogers, Global Security and the War on Terror: Elite Power and the Illusion of Control (Routledge, 2007)

Jessica Stern & JM Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror (HarperCollins, 2015)

Long War Journal

Related stories:  Islamic State, the long war Iraq and Libya, the prospect Sousse, Kuwait, Lyon: a triple alert Islamic State: power of belief Islamic State vs its far enemy Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Islamic State vs Britain

4 hours 49 min ago

The massacre of tourists in Tunisia's coastal resort of Sousse reveals Islamic State's intention to target Britain. There is more to come.

The full impact of the multiple killing of British holidaymakers in Tunisia on 26 June 2015 is being felt with the gradual return of the estimated twenty-nine bodies. Several key aspects of this and related incidents continue to emerge, which have serious implications for attempts to deal with Islamic State. Not least of these is the immediate promise of British prime minister David Cameron of a “full-spectrum response”, though with little indication so far of what that would actually mean.

The first aspect is that the attack turned out to be utterly different from what was initially assumed, namely a random attack by a young man acting alone. Instead, it was part of a developing campaign by elements linked to Islamic State, and with multiple aims.  

Seifeddine Rezgui’s assault on the Imperial Marhaba hotel at Sousse, which killed thirty-eight people in all, was specifically aimed at British tourists - to the extent of Rezgui deliberately avoiding killing Tunisians, even when some of them courageously stood in his way. It was targeted against the country which is second only to the United States in the pursuit of the now ten‐month air war with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

By a grim coincidence, the Pentagon released information on the extent of that war four days before the Sousse attack. It reported that in the ten months to 22 June 2015, as many as 7,655 targets had been attacked. This involved 15,800 sorties costing an estimated $9 million a day, which resulted in the killing of around 1,000 Islamic State fighters a month.

It is not possible to confirm these figures, nor to know how many of the dead were actually civilians. But what can be assumed is that Islamic State propagandists will make much of the deaths of any civilians, and will also constantly remind their followers across the world of the intensity of the “crusader assault” on these valiant protectors of Islam.

Britain’s role in the war is very small compared with that of the United States forces, but is still greater than any other ally. The UK defence ministry is very cautious about giving out details, although it has become apparent that armed Reaper drones with their Hellfire missiles have been used more widely than the Tornado strike-aircraft (see "Britain's information-light war", 25 June 2015).

Regarding the Sousse attack, it is emerging that Rezgui was the front person in a team assembled for the purpose. He had trained in an IS‐linked camp, Al Ajaylat, at Sabratha, a coastal town about 65 kilometres west of Tripoli in western Libya, only 90 kms from the border with Tunisia. In Tunis, government sources say the Sabratha camp was also the base used to train the two suicide-attackers who massacred twenty-two people at Tunisia’s Bardo museum on 18 March.

The significance of Libya is that it reinforces the disastrous nature of the Nato action in 2011 when its operation aided rebels in terminating the Gaddafi regime but with little recognition of the likely consequences. The oversight was remarkable given the experiences in Afghanistan (2001‐02) and Iraq (2003), and the manner in which apparently straightforward regime terminations had such dire long‐term consequences.

The domestic calculus

In this new context, however, any response to the mass murder of the tourists has to factor in the probable aims of Islamic State planners in encouraging the attack in Tunisia. It was clearly very much focused on Britain and its role in the war, as well as to demonstrate its capacity to operate in other countries. That factor is also present in the bombing of the Shi’a mosque in Kuwait on the same day. It is worth remembering here that Kuwait has a crucial role in supporting diverse US military units, so any internal social tensions that may result from the attack suits Islamic State (see "Sousse, Kuwait, Lyon: a triple alert", 26 June 2015).

A clear aim at Sousse, as with the Bardo museum operation, was to damage the Tunisian tourist industry. From the IS perspective, any increase in unemployment and marginalisation in Tunisia increases the chances of young people rallying to its cause.

In addition the focus on Britain seeks to provoke the British government into widening its role in the war, with the particular hope of ground forces being deployed - and thus, potentially, soldiers captured with predictably grim results. So far the Cameron government has been cautious about this, and it is likely that some senior military and diplomatic advisors with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan are advising accordingly.

There is another British dimension to the Tunisian incident. Islamic State also wants increased community tensions within Britain involving its sizeable Muslim population.  The ideal outcome from the IS perspective would be a rise in Islamophobia, with the possibility of further marginalising Muslim communities and attracted more than the current tiny numbers attracted to the cause.  There may well be further attacks to further this objective.

In this respect, Cameron appears to be close to falling into the trap with some of his comments this week on radicalisation. This adds to the sense that this is a time when every effort has to be made to maintain community relations. It will not be easy given the xenophobic elements within British politics, which Islamic State planners and strategists are well aware of and will integrate into their plans.

None of this makes it any easier to work out how to address the substantial problem of Islamic State. But the best advice, as with al‐Qaida over more than a decade, is not to do what it wants you to do. Even now, we do not appear to have learned that lesson.

Sideboxes 'Read On' Sidebox: 

Department of peace studies, Bradford University

Oxford Research Group

Patrick Cockburn, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Verso, 2015)

Remote Control Project

Paul Rogers, Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto, 3rd edition, 2010)

Michael Weiss & Hassan Hassan, ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (Simon & Schuster, 2015)

Paul Rogers, Global Security and the War on Terror: Elite Power and the Illusion of Control (Routledge, 2007)

Jessica Stern & JM Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror (HarperCollins, 2015)

Long War Journal

Related stories:  Islamic State, the long war Iraq and Libya, the prospect Sousse, Kuwait, Lyon: a triple alert Islamic State: power of belief Islamic State vs its far enemy Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Undermining indigenous self-determination and land access in highland Peru

5 hours 47 min ago

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

5 hours 47 min ago

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

5 hours 47 min ago

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

5 hours 47 min ago

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
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Greece and immigration: the nadir of European integration

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

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?

1. July 2015 - 15:42

Normal 0 false false false EN-GB JA X-NONE

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.

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

1. July 2015 - 15:42

Normal 0 false false false EN-GB JA X-NONE

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

Wartime rape is no longer kept under wraps in Kosovo

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

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

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

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

Greek referendum: voting for or against Europe?

1. July 2015 - 15:12

Why does Syriza say that it wants to stay in the Euro while doing exactly the opposite of what is required to achieve it?, To Potami asks.

AlexisTsipras addressing the Greek parliament, February 2015. Demotix/ . All rigths reserved.

The Greek referendum is a choice for or against Europe, for the drachma or the Euro, a choice between isolation or engagement with Europe. It is also a vote of confidence, or not, for the new government.

A ‘no’ vote, which the government of Syriza and the Independent Greeks propose, will begin a process of gradual disengagement from the Eurozone and possibly from the EU. A ‘yes’ vote, on the other hand, will be a spectacular defeat for the government, which only a few weeks ago had an approval rating of 60 or 70 per cent. It will also be a powerful statement of intent of the Greek people for staying the course of painful reform, which began in 2010 and has seen the largest fiscal consolidation in history and a drop of 25 per cent in GDP. 

Because this is the choice, Golden Dawn, the party of neo-Nazis, also supports 'no', hoping to achieve its isolationist dreams. People outside Greek politics - especially those who oppose austerity on Keynesian grounds - do not understand this and think that ‘no’ would be a vote against austerity. They are wrong. 

The government has proposed a very convoluted question, which more or less reads as follows: ‘do you wish to approve the bailout renewal proposal put forward by the EU and the IMF of 25 June?’. It then refers to the two separate documents it has in mind, giving their titles in English. However, this proposal lapsed when the bailout programme expired on 30 June. So the question is now entirely hypothetical, since no offer is on the table. In addition, capital controls have made the situation very much worse, so new measures will be required. The extraordinarily short campaigning time of seven days will not help to clarify any of these issues in the minds of most people.

Be that as it may, given the question, answering 'no' is not a straight vote against the Euro. The government insists that it intends to stay in the Eurozone and wants to receive a boost of a ‘no’ to the current deal so as to secure a better deal next week. This looks like an increasingly desperate gamble.

In reality, a ‘no’ vote will have two major effects. The first is internal. Tsipras' mandate will change. In January he was elected with the mandate of staying in the Euro and ending austerity, two incompatible aims. In the course of the five months that he has been in power it has become obvious - although not sufficiently explained by the flippant and populist Greek media - that this week he cannot deliver both promises. Since capital controls have been imposed, people have no access to Euros and suffer worse austerity. What the government now seems to want is a mandate for all-out war with the EU. As the nature of the question is so open ended, it can be interpreted either as a 'no' to the compromise plan, or as a 'no' to the EU in its entirety. Earlier this week Tsipras said that a no vote would allow us to 'stand on our own two feet'. 

But the second effect will be external, and is even more significant. A ’no’ vote to the last EU proposal will be a signal to the EU institutions and especially the ECB that a deal is not forthcoming. The ECB and the EFSF will interpret this as a sign that the Greek people are intent on confrontation. The Greek default to the IMF, which happened on Tuesday, will be interpreted as a definitive signal that Greece intends to default on all its loans, in order to remain 'independent', as instructed by its leaders. The result is that Greece soon will be bankrupt and its banks will run out of money entirely. 

It is in this way that a 'no' result will set in motion the process of disengagement from the Eurozone. It is true that the EU cannot throw Greece out of the Euro. There is no legal mechanism for 'Grexit' as Syriza's ministers say again and again. But this is irrelevant. 

The mechanism will work the other way round: the Greek government will beg for Grexit, when it finds out that it absolutely has to recapitalise its banks within a matter of days and discovers that the unilateral creation of a new currency is against EU law. Under EU law anyone paid in drachma or IOUs will be able to claim, correctly, that the drachma is illegal because it is against the laws of the Eurozone. Because EU law has direct effect and supremacy in Greece, anyone from an ordinary pensioner to even a large pharmaceutical company will be able to bring a claim against the government before the Greek courts in order to be paid in Euros, on the basis that monetary issues belong to the exclusive competence of the EU - for those countries that are members of the Eurozone. Chaos will ensue. The insecurity of legal tender will make banking impossible. In order to make a clean break with the past, Greece will itself ask to be let loose from the Eurozone framework. 

And then the tug of war between Greece and the Eurozone will become even more dramatic. The treaties can change only with unanimity. Any one government can ask the Greek government anything in return. If one government (Finland?) insists - for its own domestic calculations - that in order to protect the Euro we cannot have exit while remaining inside the EU, then Greece may be forced to leave the EU altogether. It will be the price the government will have to pay in order to have an internationally recognised legal currency and the banks working again.

So a ‘no’ vote leads to exit from the Eurozone and possibly exit from the EU. Why does Syriza say that it wants to stay in the Euro while doing exactly the opposite of what is required to achieve it? Syriza's leadership is guided by a bizarre mixture of anti-capitalism and nationalism, ideas that are minority positions in the wider public. Throughout the crisis Syriza has downplayed its ideology and highlighted an anti-austerity message. This is how it increased its vote share from 4 per cent to 36 per cent in four years. Since it won power, it has not felt the need to pretend to be more centrist that it really is. If it secures a 'no' it can now hastily declare victory on the 'anti-austerity' campaign and change strategy altogether. It will leave the Eurozone, or even the EU, and get down to the serious business of setting up a new clientelist state, within an isolated, state-run economy and a system of government that will work only for the benefit of the party and its cronies. This is the meaning of the coming referendum. 

This article was originally published on Britain and Europe on July 1, 2015.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

Greek referendum: voting for or against Europe?

1. July 2015 - 15:12

Why does Syriza say that it wants to stay in the Euro while doing exactly the opposite of what is required to achieve it?, To Potami asks.

AlexisTsipras addressing the Greek parliament, February 2015. Demotix/ . All rigths reserved.

The Greek referendum is a choice for or against Europe, for the drachma or the Euro, a choice between isolation or engagement with Europe. It is also a vote of confidence, or not, for the new government.

A ‘no’ vote, which the government of Syriza and the Independent Greeks propose, will begin a process of gradual disengagement from the Eurozone and possibly from the EU. A ‘yes’ vote, on the other hand, will be a spectacular defeat for the government, which only a few weeks ago had an approval rating of 60 or 70 per cent. It will also be a powerful statement of intent of the Greek people for staying the course of painful reform, which began in 2010 and has seen the largest fiscal consolidation in history and a drop of 25 per cent in GDP. 

Because this is the choice, Golden Dawn, the party of neo-Nazis, also supports 'no', hoping to achieve its isolationist dreams. People outside Greek politics - especially those who oppose austerity on Keynesian grounds - do not understand this and think that ‘no’ would be a vote against austerity. They are wrong. 

The government has proposed a very convoluted question, which more or less reads as follows: ‘do you wish to approve the bailout renewal proposal put forward by the EU and the IMF of 25 June?’. It then refers to the two separate documents it has in mind, giving their titles in English. However, this proposal lapsed when the bailout programme expired on 30 June. So the question is now entirely hypothetical, since no offer is on the table. In addition, capital controls have made the situation very much worse, so new measures will be required. The extraordinarily short campaigning time of seven days will not help to clarify any of these issues in the minds of most people.

Be that as it may, given the question, answering 'no' is not a straight vote against the Euro. The government insists that it intends to stay in the Eurozone and wants to receive a boost of a ‘no’ to the current deal so as to secure a better deal next week. This looks like an increasingly desperate gamble.

In reality, a ‘no’ vote will have two major effects. The first is internal. Tsipras' mandate will change. In January he was elected with the mandate of staying in the Euro and ending austerity, two incompatible aims. In the course of the five months that he has been in power it has become obvious - although not sufficiently explained by the flippant and populist Greek media - that this week he cannot deliver both promises. Since capital controls have been imposed, people have no access to Euros and suffer worse austerity. What the government now seems to want is a mandate for all-out war with the EU. As the nature of the question is so open ended, it can be interpreted either as a 'no' to the compromise plan, or as a 'no' to the EU in its entirety. Earlier this week Tsipras said that a no vote would allow us to 'stand on our own two feet'. 

But the second effect will be external, and is even more significant. A ’no’ vote to the last EU proposal will be a signal to the EU institutions and especially the ECB that a deal is not forthcoming. The ECB and the EFSF will interpret this as a sign that the Greek people are intent on confrontation. The Greek default to the IMF, which happened on Tuesday, will be interpreted as a definitive signal that Greece intends to default on all its loans, in order to remain 'independent', as instructed by its leaders. The result is that Greece soon will be bankrupt and its banks will run out of money entirely. 

It is in this way that a 'no' result will set in motion the process of disengagement from the Eurozone. It is true that the EU cannot throw Greece out of the Euro. There is no legal mechanism for 'Grexit' as Syriza's ministers say again and again. But this is irrelevant. 

The mechanism will work the other way round: the Greek government will beg for Grexit, when it finds out that it absolutely has to recapitalise its banks within a matter of days and discovers that the unilateral creation of a new currency is against EU law. Under EU law anyone paid in drachma or IOUs will be able to claim, correctly, that the drachma is illegal because it is against the laws of the Eurozone. Because EU law has direct effect and supremacy in Greece, anyone from an ordinary pensioner to even a large pharmaceutical company will be able to bring a claim against the government before the Greek courts in order to be paid in Euros, on the basis that monetary issues belong to the exclusive competence of the EU - for those countries that are members of the Eurozone. Chaos will ensue. The insecurity of legal tender will make banking impossible. In order to make a clean break with the past, Greece will itself ask to be let loose from the Eurozone framework. 

And then the tug of war between Greece and the Eurozone will become even more dramatic. The treaties can change only with unanimity. Any one government can ask the Greek government anything in return. If one government (Finland?) insists - for its own domestic calculations - that in order to protect the Euro we cannot have exit while remaining inside the EU, then Greece may be forced to leave the EU altogether. It will be the price the government will have to pay in order to have an internationally recognised legal currency and the banks working again.

So a ‘no’ vote leads to exit from the Eurozone and possibly exit from the EU. Why does Syriza say that it wants to stay in the Euro while doing exactly the opposite of what is required to achieve it? Syriza's leadership is guided by a bizarre mixture of anti-capitalism and nationalism, ideas that are minority positions in the wider public. Throughout the crisis Syriza has downplayed its ideology and highlighted an anti-austerity message. This is how it increased its vote share from 4 per cent to 36 per cent in four years. Since it won power, it has not felt the need to pretend to be more centrist that it really is. If it secures a 'no' it can now hastily declare victory on the 'anti-austerity' campaign and change strategy altogether. It will leave the Eurozone, or even the EU, and get down to the serious business of setting up a new clientelist state, within an isolated, state-run economy and a system of government that will work only for the benefit of the party and its cronies. This is the meaning of the coming referendum. 

This article was originally published on Britain and Europe on July 1, 2015.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

To save our health service MPs must stand together and back the NHS Reinstatement Bill

1. July 2015 - 12:32

The Bill, which was last week backed by the British Medical Association, seeks to reinstate the NHS based on its founding principles and rid our health service of the inefficiencies and fragmentation of the market. 

I’m proud to have presented the cross-party NHS Reinstatement Bill in Parliament. The creeping marketization of our NHS began in 1990 when trusts were created as atomised accounting centres, every trust to operate as if it were a separate business.  This was then developed by Alan Milburn (the Labour Health Secretary) in 2003, who took the model even further with foundation trusts and Independent Sector Treatment Centres. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act went still further by handing the private sector unprecedented access to NHS markets.

In an excellent article for this website Paul Evans revealed, just before the election, that over the last year private firms have won £3.5bn worth of new clinical contracts – an increase of 500% on the previous year.   Each year, more and more NHS contracts are forced out to tender and the private sector hoover up the profitable stuff.  Why wouldn't they.  Cherry picking might make good business sense for private firms but it is very bad news for our NHS. Private firms grab the predictable and lucrative work, thus depriving the NHS of vital income and training opportunities.  Orthopaedics departments in the NHS are a good case in point. They have traditionally had surgeons who carry out both emergency operations, on a broken leg, for example, and at other times they do elective work, such as hip or knee replacements.

But recent research by Professor Tim Briggs, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon shows that NHS trusts in England are typically losing between 10-40 per cent of their elective workload to other providers – while keeping the more expensive emergency work. Not only that, the corporate lawyers have been through the contracts to make it clear that when there are complications in an elective procedure, the NHS sorts it out.  “The private providers don’t readmit their emergencies, and that is putting all the risk on the trust,” says Briggs.

The loss of expertise means people with shoulder fractures may have to wait for treatment at another centre because the surgeon in trauma hasn't had enough experience of elective shoulder replacement to give them the confidence they need to deal with the problem locally.  That is worse for the patient and more expensive for the NHS.  So private sector involvement does not magically create greater efficiency – quite the opposite. 

On top of the inefficiency created by private sector involvement in healthcare we face the looming threat of the services the NHS must provide being cut. Under the 2012 Act, the list of services that foundation trusts must provide after April 2016 will be reduced compared with the list they must provide now - that is the expectation of Monitor (the expensive regulator that marketization of the NHS demands).  There is a serious danger that the NHS in England will be whittled down to a core service. 

Critically, in reinstating the NHS, from the bottom up and without imposing yet another top-down reorganisation, the Bill tackles the waste of administering the artificial internal market that has been created over the last 25 years and the situation post-2012 which forces NHS contracts out to tender. 

Our Bill, guided by the principles of the 1946 Act, would both reverse the costly marketisation we’ve seen and re-instate the Secretary of State’s duty to provide services. 

Now, more than ever, faced with five years of a Tory Government, we must stand together and fight for the NHS we believe in.

Just last week we saw local people in Cornwall stop the privatisation of pathology services at their local hospital-and these fights are happening up and down the country.

People fighting in local communities need a response from those of us in Parliament. Labour, known for so long as the party of the NHS, now has a real opportunity to go beyond political tribalism and back this cross-party bill to save our NHS. Already one of the leadership candidates for Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, has backed the bill: I hope the others will show the same vision and follow suit. 

Since its inception our NHS has never been in greater danger. MPs in Parliament who believe in a truly public NHS must now do all we can to save our health service by backing this bill.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

To save our health service MPs must stand together and back the NHS Reinstatement Bill

1. July 2015 - 12:32

The Bill, which was last week backed by the British Medical Association, seeks to reinstate the NHS based on its founding principles and rid our health service of the inefficiencies and fragmentation of the market. 

I’m proud to have presented the cross-party NHS Reinstatement Bill in Parliament. The creeping marketization of our NHS began in 1990 when trusts were created as atomised accounting centres, every trust to operate as if it were a separate business.  This was then developed by Alan Milburn (the Labour Health Secretary) in 2003, who took the model even further with foundation trusts and Independent Sector Treatment Centres. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act went still further by handing the private sector unprecedented access to NHS markets.

In an excellent article for this website Paul Evans revealed, just before the election, that over the last year private firms have won £3.5bn worth of new clinical contracts – an increase of 500% on the previous year.   Each year, more and more NHS contracts are forced out to tender and the private sector hoover up the profitable stuff.  Why wouldn't they.  Cherry picking might make good business sense for private firms but it is very bad news for our NHS. Private firms grab the predictable and lucrative work, thus depriving the NHS of vital income and training opportunities.  Orthopaedics departments in the NHS are a good case in point. They have traditionally had surgeons who carry out both emergency operations, on a broken leg, for example, and at other times they do elective work, such as hip or knee replacements.

But recent research by Professor Tim Briggs, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon shows that NHS trusts in England are typically losing between 10-40 per cent of their elective workload to other providers – while keeping the more expensive emergency work. Not only that, the corporate lawyers have been through the contracts to make it clear that when there are complications in an elective procedure, the NHS sorts it out.  “The private providers don’t readmit their emergencies, and that is putting all the risk on the trust,” says Briggs.

The loss of expertise means people with shoulder fractures may have to wait for treatment at another centre because the surgeon in trauma hasn't had enough experience of elective shoulder replacement to give them the confidence they need to deal with the problem locally.  That is worse for the patient and more expensive for the NHS.  So private sector involvement does not magically create greater efficiency – quite the opposite. 

On top of the inefficiency created by private sector involvement in healthcare we face the looming threat of the services the NHS must provide being cut. Under the 2012 Act, the list of services that foundation trusts must provide after April 2016 will be reduced compared with the list they must provide now - that is the expectation of Monitor (the expensive regulator that marketization of the NHS demands).  There is a serious danger that the NHS in England will be whittled down to a core service. 

Critically, in reinstating the NHS, from the bottom up and without imposing yet another top-down reorganisation, the Bill tackles the waste of administering the artificial internal market that has been created over the last 25 years and the situation post-2012 which forces NHS contracts out to tender. 

Our Bill, guided by the principles of the 1946 Act, would both reverse the costly marketisation we’ve seen and re-instate the Secretary of State’s duty to provide services. 

Now, more than ever, faced with five years of a Tory Government, we must stand together and fight for the NHS we believe in.

Just last week we saw local people in Cornwall stop the privatisation of pathology services at their local hospital-and these fights are happening up and down the country.

People fighting in local communities need a response from those of us in Parliament. Labour, known for so long as the party of the NHS, now has a real opportunity to go beyond political tribalism and back this cross-party bill to save our NHS. Already one of the leadership candidates for Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, has backed the bill: I hope the others will show the same vision and follow suit. 

Since its inception our NHS has never been in greater danger. MPs in Parliament who believe in a truly public NHS must now do all we can to save our health service by backing this bill.

Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

All you need is a politics of love

1. July 2015 - 9:34

After the US Supreme Court marriage equality ruling, campaigners chanted “love has won” and “#lovewins” was a Twitter trend. What would a broader politics of love look like?

Love balloon at the Reclaim Love street party in London's Piccadilly Circus. Credit: Demotix/Matt Irving.

Progressive-minded people are struggling to articulate an end-goal for politics. The Right, in most places, remains committed to neoliberalism (and its ideals of private property, liberty, and efficiency). The Left, meanwhile, has failed to respond convincingly.

There are some who still have faith in a Marxist vision of the collapse of capitalism; others hold onto religious prophecies. But for the rest of us, the direction our political journey should take has become unclear. We do not know where we are going. At the same time, there is a growing disdain of politics generally, especially amongst young people. Politicians don’t look like us, they don’t behave like we do, and their ideas don’t connect to our needs.

There is deep doubt, in other words, about whether politics is the right vehicle for collective struggle – even if we could settle on the destination of our journey.

A values-based politics 

So what is to be done, especially in countries like the United Kingdom where these trends are most pronounced? We think the answer lies in articulating a values-based politics, specifically, the values of everyday life. Some of these values, like kindness, have been wrongfully relegated to the private domain. Perhaps it is thought that these values are too virtuous to be respected consistently and in public by our politicians. 

Whatever the case, we believe these are values that we can rally around. We want to put forward a politics of love, in the spirit of finding a politics grounded in everyday values. Love itself might be understood as a value, but we think it can also be understood as a way of determining what is valuable. We view it as underlying other everyday values.

What love means 

We are not the first people to suggest that love could inform politics. In her book All About Love, bell hooks writes, “All the great social movements for freedom and justice in our society have promoted a love ethic. […] Were a love ethic informing all public policy in cities and towns, individuals would come together and map out programmes that would affect the good of everyone…” Jimmy Carter, the spiritually-minded and ethically-grounded US President, talked of the need for a “government filled with love”. And Vaclav Havel, the musician and playwright who led the fight to free Czechoslovakia from Soviet rule in 1989, said that a government must “radiate love”. This is not an exhaustive list of references to love in politics, either. Martin Luther King, Jr. focused on the idea in his speeches, Hannah Arendt has used a related concept, and many others (including marriage equality campaigners) have invoked love in similar ways.

What did these thinkers, writers, activists, and politicians mean by ‘love’, and how might we understand the concept? bell hooks chooses to understand love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. Love, for us, is a sentiment of enduring warmth towards a person or people, which shows a deep concern for them. It is closely connected to kindness, generosity, and commitment. The concept of aroha (from the indigenous Māori culture in Aotearoa New Zealand), which is best understood in its cultural context, enriches our understanding of love by articulating something a little wider, a little deeper. In his book Tikanga Whakaaro, Cleve Barlow writes that aroha is a creative force which emanates from the gods. 

He aha te aroha? Ko te aroha he tikanga whakaaro nui; ka aroha tētahi tangata ki tētahi tangata, ki tōna iwi, whenua hoki, ki ngā kīrehe, ki ngā manu, ki ngā ika, ki ngā mea katoa e tupu ake ana i te whenua. Ka aroha te tangata ki tētahi atu, ahakoa he aha tōna āhua i roto i ōna pikitanga ake, i roto anō i ōna heketanga iho, i roto i ōna hari, i roto i ōna pōuri, i roto i āna mahi pai me āna mahi hē.

What is aroha? Aroha in a person is an all-encompassing quality of goodness, expressed by love for people, land, birds and animals, fish, and all living things. A person who has aroha for another expresses genuine concern towards them and acts with their welfare in mind, no matter what their state of health or wealth.

Barlow emphasises the actively inclusive quality of love.

Ko te tangata e mea ana he aroha tōna, ka taea e ia te kite, te atawhai te iwi whānui ahakoa iti, ahakoa rahi. 

A person who claims to possess the gift of aroha demonstrates this love by sharing it with all people and without discrimination.

Politics – and policies – of love

If these understandings tell us something about what love is, what might a politics of love look like? We think love encourages us all to care about politics. If love involves a concern for people, then a politics of love will move this world to a better place for everyone. We can attempt to make our world a better place in lots of ways, by building character, for example, or by improving our relationships. But when we reflect on the many ways in which politics affects our well-being, it becomes clear that to love – to express a sentiment of enduring warmth towards a person or people – is, in part, to care about politics. 

This point can be brought out negatively: if we fail to resist racism or sexism, we cannot be said to be loving, we cannot be said to care about people. If we are committed to changing the structure of our society, politics must be part of the project. If politics is going to do the work of love, it will be because we as individuals care enough to ensure that it does. 

In such a politics, love would be woven through all of our policy. Embracing a politics of love would change how we justify policy, as well as how we talk about it. For example, welfare and benefits might be understood not in terms of encouraging re-entry into the work force (an economic justification), but rather as an expression of commitment towards certain individuals and groups in society that require support. A politics of love would rule out ‘beneficiary-bashing’ language, which does not, and cannot, evince love for those who receive benefits. As another example, refugee policy might be re-conceived as a way of showing warmth to persecuted individuals, in the same way that hospitality can be seen as an expression of love for outsiders.

The importance of people and collectives

Love requires that we recognise the importance of all people, and a politics of love would encourage us to ensure that this recognition informs every political decision that we make – in deciding whether to vote, and who to vote for; in running for office, or deciding whether to support those who are; in helping to make policy, or deciding how to respond to it…

We should also be aware that a lot of actions that do not seem political have a political dimension. Engaging in politics is a broader enterprise than we might think: who we are friends with, how we talk to others, how we operate in the so-called ‘private domain’ of the home – all of this is political, as feminists have long maintained. A politics of love is an ethical framework as well as a political approach.

Collectivity is also integral to a politics of love. A love ethic, in bell hooks’ terms, brings people together – and reminds us of the value of relationships and collective endeavour. Again, Māori culture in Aotearoa New Zealand (like that of many other indigenous cultures) can give us special insight into collectivity and how it might be understood: with its emphasis on collective well-being, it encourages us all to adopt a progressive understanding of politics, focused on enhancing the well-being of us all. We, collectively, are responsible for the world we share, and a focus on the strengths of collectives might help us make political decisions that better balance the needs of individuals, and that respond appropriately to the natural world on which we are so dependent. 

Arguments against the politics of love

It is likely that disagreements will arise as to how such an abstract term like ‘love’ is to be interpreted for, and applied to, politics. But the importance of love is something we should all be able to agree on. Are we advocating a politics of unconditional love, a politics where love can never be withdrawn? To this question, our answer is an unwavering ‘yes’. 

We believe the state owes love to all of its citizens by virtue of our being people, and by virtue of the relationship between the state and its people. The state may express love in stronger or weaker ways, but love itself must never be abandoned, and we should not be drawn into debates about whether love might be withheld, or withdrawn, from some individuals (such as prisoners). Others may say, as a further objection, that love is too soft – too airy-fairy, too waffly – for the hard discussions that need to be had in politics. We reject this claim, too. It is true that politics is not easy, and that (re-)introducing love into the political arena will not resolve all disputes. But it is precisely because politics is messy and difficult that we need motivating ideals – like love – that can keep us focused on what matters in divisive debates.

There are numerous values that we encounter in everyday life that could also be translated into politics. These include (but aren't limited to) compassion, responsibility, forgiveness, and honesty. These can be understood in relation to, and interpreted through, love. 

The politics of love that we have sketched demonstrates that everyday values can provide a wellspring of resources for a new vision of politics. This is a view of politics that is more grounded, and at the same more imaginative, than other narratives circulating today. We are suggesting that the direction our politics should take need not be based on some theory produced through detached reflection, or taken from some distant political movement. Maybe we have been living with it all along.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Pitirim Sorokin: expanding the radius of love Beyond electoral scapegoating: now is the time to love, learn and listen You can’t love a whole planet Why I want to burn everything down right now—and why I’m not going to Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

All you need is a politics of love

1. July 2015 - 9:34

After the US Supreme Court marriage equality ruling, campaigners chanted “love has won” and “#lovewins” was a Twitter trend. What would a broader politics of love look like?

Love balloon at the Reclaim Love street party in London's Piccadilly Circus. Credit: Demotix/Matt Irving.

Progressive-minded people are struggling to articulate an end-goal for politics. The Right, in most places, remains committed to neoliberalism (and its ideals of private property, liberty, and efficiency). The Left, meanwhile, has failed to respond convincingly.

There are some who still have faith in a Marxist vision of the collapse of capitalism; others hold onto religious prophecies. But for the rest of us, the direction our political journey should take has become unclear. We do not know where we are going. At the same time, there is a growing disdain of politics generally, especially amongst young people. Politicians don’t look like us, they don’t behave like we do, and their ideas don’t connect to our needs.

There is deep doubt, in other words, about whether politics is the right vehicle for collective struggle – even if we could settle on the destination of our journey.

A values-based politics 

So what is to be done, especially in countries like the United Kingdom where these trends are most pronounced? We think the answer lies in articulating a values-based politics, specifically, the values of everyday life. Some of these values, like kindness, have been wrongfully relegated to the private domain. Perhaps it is thought that these values are too virtuous to be respected consistently and in public by our politicians. 

Whatever the case, we believe these are values that we can rally around. We want to put forward a politics of love, in the spirit of finding a politics grounded in everyday values. Love itself might be understood as a value, but we think it can also be understood as a way of determining what is valuable. We view it as underlying other everyday values.

What love means 

We are not the first people to suggest that love could inform politics. In her book All About Love, bell hooks writes, “All the great social movements for freedom and justice in our society have promoted a love ethic. […] Were a love ethic informing all public policy in cities and towns, individuals would come together and map out programmes that would affect the good of everyone…” Jimmy Carter, the spiritually-minded and ethically-grounded US President, talked of the need for a “government filled with love”. And Vaclav Havel, the musician and playwright who led the fight to free Czechoslovakia from Soviet rule in 1989, said that a government must “radiate love”. This is not an exhaustive list of references to love in politics, either. Martin Luther King, Jr. focused on the idea in his speeches, Hannah Arendt has used a related concept, and many others (including marriage equality campaigners) have invoked love in similar ways.

What did these thinkers, writers, activists, and politicians mean by ‘love’, and how might we understand the concept? bell hooks chooses to understand love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. Love, for us, is a sentiment of enduring warmth towards a person or people, which shows a deep concern for them. It is closely connected to kindness, generosity, and commitment. The concept of aroha (from the indigenous Māori culture in Aotearoa New Zealand), which is best understood in its cultural context, enriches our understanding of love by articulating something a little wider, a little deeper. In his book Tikanga Whakaaro, Cleve Barlow writes that aroha is a creative force which emanates from the gods. 

He aha te aroha? Ko te aroha he tikanga whakaaro nui; ka aroha tētahi tangata ki tētahi tangata, ki tōna iwi, whenua hoki, ki ngā kīrehe, ki ngā manu, ki ngā ika, ki ngā mea katoa e tupu ake ana i te whenua. Ka aroha te tangata ki tētahi atu, ahakoa he aha tōna āhua i roto i ōna pikitanga ake, i roto anō i ōna heketanga iho, i roto i ōna hari, i roto i ōna pōuri, i roto i āna mahi pai me āna mahi hē.

What is aroha? Aroha in a person is an all-encompassing quality of goodness, expressed by love for people, land, birds and animals, fish, and all living things. A person who has aroha for another expresses genuine concern towards them and acts with their welfare in mind, no matter what their state of health or wealth.

Barlow emphasises the actively inclusive quality of love.

Ko te tangata e mea ana he aroha tōna, ka taea e ia te kite, te atawhai te iwi whānui ahakoa iti, ahakoa rahi. 

A person who claims to possess the gift of aroha demonstrates this love by sharing it with all people and without discrimination.

Politics – and policies – of love

If these understandings tell us something about what love is, what might a politics of love look like? We think love encourages us all to care about politics. If love involves a concern for people, then a politics of love will move this world to a better place for everyone. We can attempt to make our world a better place in lots of ways, by building character, for example, or by improving our relationships. But when we reflect on the many ways in which politics affects our well-being, it becomes clear that to love – to express a sentiment of enduring warmth towards a person or people – is, in part, to care about politics. 

This point can be brought out negatively: if we fail to resist racism or sexism, we cannot be said to be loving, we cannot be said to care about people. If we are committed to changing the structure of our society, politics must be part of the project. If politics is going to do the work of love, it will be because we as individuals care enough to ensure that it does. 

In such a politics, love would be woven through all of our policy. Embracing a politics of love would change how we justify policy, as well as how we talk about it. For example, welfare and benefits might be understood not in terms of encouraging re-entry into the work force (an economic justification), but rather as an expression of commitment towards certain individuals and groups in society that require support. A politics of love would rule out ‘beneficiary-bashing’ language, which does not, and cannot, evince love for those who receive benefits. As another example, refugee policy might be re-conceived as a way of showing warmth to persecuted individuals, in the same way that hospitality can be seen as an expression of love for outsiders.

The importance of people and collectives

Love requires that we recognise the importance of all people, and a politics of love would encourage us to ensure that this recognition informs every political decision that we make – in deciding whether to vote, and who to vote for; in running for office, or deciding whether to support those who are; in helping to make policy, or deciding how to respond to it…

We should also be aware that a lot of actions that do not seem political have a political dimension. Engaging in politics is a broader enterprise than we might think: who we are friends with, how we talk to others, how we operate in the so-called ‘private domain’ of the home – all of this is political, as feminists have long maintained. A politics of love is an ethical framework as well as a political approach.

Collectivity is also integral to a politics of love. A love ethic, in bell hooks’ terms, brings people together – and reminds us of the value of relationships and collective endeavour. Again, Māori culture in Aotearoa New Zealand (like that of many other indigenous cultures) can give us special insight into collectivity and how it might be understood: with its emphasis on collective well-being, it encourages us all to adopt a progressive understanding of politics, focused on enhancing the well-being of us all. We, collectively, are responsible for the world we share, and a focus on the strengths of collectives might help us make political decisions that better balance the needs of individuals, and that respond appropriately to the natural world on which we are so dependent. 

Arguments against the politics of love

It is likely that disagreements will arise as to how such an abstract term like ‘love’ is to be interpreted for, and applied to, politics. But the importance of love is something we should all be able to agree on. Are we advocating a politics of unconditional love, a politics where love can never be withdrawn? To this question, our answer is an unwavering ‘yes’. 

We believe the state owes love to all of its citizens by virtue of our being people, and by virtue of the relationship between the state and its people. The state may express love in stronger or weaker ways, but love itself must never be abandoned, and we should not be drawn into debates about whether love might be withheld, or withdrawn, from some individuals (such as prisoners). Others may say, as a further objection, that love is too soft – too airy-fairy, too waffly – for the hard discussions that need to be had in politics. We reject this claim, too. It is true that politics is not easy, and that (re-)introducing love into the political arena will not resolve all disputes. But it is precisely because politics is messy and difficult that we need motivating ideals – like love – that can keep us focused on what matters in divisive debates.

There are numerous values that we encounter in everyday life that could also be translated into politics. These include (but aren't limited to) compassion, responsibility, forgiveness, and honesty. These can be understood in relation to, and interpreted through, love. 

The politics of love that we have sketched demonstrates that everyday values can provide a wellspring of resources for a new vision of politics. This is a view of politics that is more grounded, and at the same more imaginative, than other narratives circulating today. We are suggesting that the direction our politics should take need not be based on some theory produced through detached reflection, or taken from some distant political movement. Maybe we have been living with it all along.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Pitirim Sorokin: expanding the radius of love Beyond electoral scapegoating: now is the time to love, learn and listen You can’t love a whole planet Why I want to burn everything down right now—and why I’m not going to Rights:  CC by NC 4.0
Categories: les flux rss

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