Aug 28 2014

The End of Tolerance and the New Populism

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By Marina Prentoulis and Lasse Thomassen

Reflections on the 2014 local and European election results have heavily stressed the rise of the populist far right. Clearly they have emerged as a leading political force at home and abroad, but this is not the whole story.

UKIP, the French Front National and the Danish People’s Party have declared an end to tolerance of ‘the others’. This refers both to migrants and asylum seekers invading ‘our’ space, and the elites hidden in Brussels and Strasbourg governing without ‘our’ consent. Whether ethnic others or political and cultural elites, they are not part of ‘us’, and our intolerance of them is promoted as natural.

An anti-UKIP demonstration in Edinburgh, on May 9, 2014.

Seen from the mainstream and from the left, these parties capitalise on the anxieties experienced within communities increasingly subject to internal social diversity and external economic control. Although UKIP et al. present themselves as rebels against ‘establishment politics’, they are nothing more than its monstrous offspring. This is the same politics that has allowed democratic accountability and participatory citizenship to take the backseat as neo-liberal interests dominated Europe.

The old parties are clearly in crisis and losing electoral ground to new parties, right, centre and left. Concerned politicians of the mainstream parties are calling meetings to tackle the problem. In their minds, the challenge no doubt has little to do with them and the neo-liberal policies they have been backing. It is a challenge that has, for some time now, been dismissed as ‘populist’—a description which writes it down to the ignorance and fears of the ‘peoples’ of Europe.

Bridging the divides

The success of the radical left has drawn less attention, but there has been steady progress towards an alternative ‘populist’ discourse. Like the populism of the far right, the narrative of these groups is also intolerant of current political elites, and cast in the name of the peoples of Europe.

Mainstream politicians currently accord both the far right and the left the same label: Eurosceptics. But the new left populism that is slowly winning ground across Europe is rooted in different legacies and pursues a very different vision than the more successful far right. Whatever their success, one thing is sure: enough of traditional politics.

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Aug 19 2014

In Greece, They Shoot Immigrants, Don’t They?

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By Maria Kyriakidou

This image was widely used in the campaign to boycott Manolada strawberries, circulated in social media after the shooting in 2013.

This image was widely used in a campaign to boycott Manolada strawberries, circulated in social media after the shootings in 2013.

It was April of 2013, when Greece and the international press were shocked by the news that about thirty migrant workers were shot by the supervisors of the strawberry fields where they had been working in Manolada, Peloponese, after asking for six months’ worth of unpaid wages. More than a year later, at the end of July 2014, the trial of the four farmers involved concluded. Two of them, including the owner of the farm, also charged for human trafficking, were acquitted; two were found guilty of serious bodily harm and abetting serious bodily harm from neglect and received sentences of fourteen years and seven months and eight years and seven months respectively, but were freed pending appeal. In other words, no one is being punished for the shooting of twenty-eight people.

The failure of the Greek judiciary system to provide justice for the Bangladeshi immigrants is reflective of the general failure of the Greek state to protect migrant workers, who have been subjected to inhuman living and working conditions over the years. A lot of them desperate and undocumented are easy prey to the greediness of farmers. Anecdotes of undocumented immigrants being exploited over harvest period and later dismissed with threats and unpaid have been common knowledge for decades. The area of Nea Manolada has a recorded history of abuse of immigrants. A report by Amnesty International in the aftermath of last year’s shootings revealed the extent of labour exploitation endured by the strawberry pickers. More than a year later, nothing has improved. On the contrary, July’s verdict ultimately condoned modern slavery and gave a free pass to Greek farmers to pursue their profits at any human cost.

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Aug 11 2014

Plagiarism Frenzy in Serbia: In Deep Mud

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By Natalija Miletic

A spate of plagiarism scandals has been shaking Serbia’s political and university life, with issues being raised about political parties’ and public officials’ malpractices in obtaining PhD degrees, and about the integrity of Serbian higher education in general.

Since early June of this year three prominent politicians – the Minister of Interior, the Mayor of Belgrade, and the President of New Belgrade – the capital’s municipality representing the main business district in the country and probably in the region – have been denounced for having allegedly plagiarised their “fast-track” PhD dissertations. But the affair does not stop here, as it includes another “high-ranking personality” – the Rector and owner of Megatrend, Serbia’s biggest private university, who has been accused of boasting a PhD degree from the London School of Economics, which he has never obtained. It all started when three UK-based Serbian scholars presented to the public their analysis of the PhD dissertation submitted by the Serbian Minister’s of Interior, Mr Nebojsa Stefanovic, obtained in just two years, while he was serving as President of Parliament. In the article, published on the portal Pescanik (Hourglass), the scholars argue that, in addition to the lack of quality and the failure to meet the minimum standards of a research thesis, the minister’s PhD abounds in plagiarism. What followed was a series of cyber-attacks, which brought the website down, an occurrence that further fuelled the debate about this case. Minister Stefanovic conspicuously avoided addressing the charges throughout the week after, producing only one written statement, where he claimed he “honestly obtained the PhD”. But this did not prevent his superior, Prime Minister Vucic, to angrily state that the charges of plagiarism are “the most stupid thing he has ever heard”. However, higher education institutions, from the Ministry of Education to various “autonomous” university bodies, remained silent on the issue, despite early calls of a few distinguished professors to take the scandal seriously, as well as a subsequent petition signed by almost two thousand Serbian scientists from both the country and its diaspora in support of the article.

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Jul 29 2014

The Meaning of a British Exit from the European Union

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By John McCormick

Since January 2013, and the announcement by British Prime Minister David Cameron of his plan to hold a referendum on continued UK membership of the European Union, there has been much speculation about the possible effects of a so-called ‘Brexit’. However, it can be no more than speculation, because no member state of the EU has ever left the club, leaving us to sail through uncharted waters.

On several preliminary points we need to be clear. First, the promise of a referendum is less about a genuine effort to put the question to a national vote than to head off a dispute within the governing Conservative party, which is deeply split on Europe. There are shades here of the last time Britain had a referendum on Europe, in 1975; this too was prompted mainly by a dispute within the governing party, although then it was Labour.

Second, there is no certainty that there will actually be a referendum. In order for one to be held, the Conservatives will need to win an outright majority at the 2015 general election. However, they have not been doing well in the polls and, ironically, their chances of winning have been diminished by the rise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the one political party that is most in favour of a British exit.

Finally, even if a referendum is held there is no certainty that it will result in support for leaving. One of the effects of Cameron’s announcement has been to encourage a more active debate about the implications of a Brexit, and polls show that public opinion is wavering: where most surveys in 2013 found that more people would vote to leave than to stay, during 2014 they have so far found more people voting to stay than to leave. On few occasions has there been majority support for either option, making the “don’t knows” a critical element in the outcome.

Negotiating the Terms of an Exit

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that a referendum is held which results in a decision to leave. The effects would be twofold.

First, there would need to be a formal renegotiation of the details of the legal agreements reached by the UK as a member, some of them dating back to the terms of its 1973 accession to the European Economic Community (EEC). While no doubt a long list of such agreements could be established and reviewed, it would be far from complete; membership of the EU has involved a large number of changes to domestic law that would be hard to identify and even harder to undo.

We do even not know for certain how many domestic laws have been impacted by the requirements of EU membership. Critics of the EU place the number as high as 80 per cent, but a more considered assessment in 2010 by the House of Commons Library concluded that it was closer to 7 per cent. The report also noted that there was no totally accurate, rational or useful way of calculating the percentage of national laws based on or influenced by the EU, mainly because EU and national databases are not reliable, and differentiating between EU-generated and nationally generated changes to the law is not easy. Continue reading

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Jul 24 2014

The Spanish government has to engage constructively with a rising Catalan secessionist movement

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By Diego Muro and Martijn Vlaskamp

220px-2012_Catalan_independence_protest_(102)[1]The Catalan secessionist movement may fail in bringing about the political independence of Catalonia, but it has already succeeded at one thing: getting their supporters’ hopes up. Within the pro-independence campaign there are many enthusiasts who willingly spend their free time collecting signatures, organising talks and attending rallies with the hope of realising a brighter political project for the future.

In contrast, the campaign in favour of the status quo is being carried out by the Spanish Government with the support of a handful of Catalan organisations and has been characterised by disdain, neglect and even intimidation. Unsurprisingly, the government’s negative campaign has failed to convince Catalans who want to go it alone.

Spaniards and Catalans against secessionism may have reasonable arguments but their discourse is too often limited to delivering criticism. Supporters of the status quo complain that secessionists are misleading Catalan citizens in presenting a rosy picture of the future. They grumble that the sustainability of new states is unclear and that the nationalists’ position over issues such as membership of NATO or the EU is little more than wishful thinking.

They also object that the harsh realities of the Great Recession have contributed to making political independence more attractive and that the real problem is economic, not political. If Spain was going back to providing high quality public goods for all its citizens, they hope, support for separatist dreams would fade away. These are all valid points, but ultimately the anti-secessionist campaign only delivers a negative message – why secession is a bad idea – while failing to offer arguments to the effect that staying together would be a better option.

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Jul 17 2014

Europe should be understood not as an idea but rather as a clash of ideas

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By Francesco Tava

fortresseurope[1]In his recent European election campaign, Alexis Tsipras indicated that one of the key-points of his programme was the necessity to fight “against the idea of a Fortress Europe”, and to conceive an “inclusive form of community”.

The idea of Europe as a “fortress”, as a closed, self-defending universe, has a long and quite bizarre history. The phrase “Fortress Europe” was probably used for the first time during WWII, as a propaganda term. Curiously both sides of the conflict took recourse in the idea, but gave to it opposite meanings. In the British context, “Fortress Europe” was a battle honour accorded the Royal Air Force, to describe operations against Nazi-occupied zones in the continent. From this external perspective, the fortress was the target of a military action: something already firmly established, that it was necessary to destroy. On the other hand for Nazi propagandists “Festung Europa” referred to Hitler’s project of fortifying the whole of occupied Europe, as a response to the failure of the German campaign in Russia and to the resulting threat of a double invasion of the Reich, both from the East and from the West. In that case, the fortress was something to be constructed through a system of defences that harked back to the set of fortifications built in the eighteenth century by Frederick the Great.[1]

The ambiguity of the phrase “Fortress Europe” is still with us. The idea of Europe as a “Festung”, for example, recently became a slogan of the far right Freedom Party of Austria, still flourishing after the end of the Haider era as the astonishing result in the recent European elections (20,5%) clearly confirms. The idea of fortress here has a positive sense; in the face of increasing migratory pressures from extra-European countries, Europe must indeed become a fortress! Because this  “Festung” (unfortunately) does not yet exist, it is right and proper to build it by means of the abolition of the Schengen agreement and the re-installation of the old state national borders.

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Jul 11 2014

(No) Time for activism: the changing face of protest movements

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By Anne Kaun

occupy-earth[1]New media and technologies and, in particular, social media have been celebrated over the last few years for their role in protest movements, such as the 15-M movement in Spain, the ‘Aganaktismenoi’ in Greece or the global Occupy movement. In that context, digital media have been heralded as the saviour of democracy and civic engagement as they decrease the costs and efforts of participation, organizing and mobilizing to a minimum. In the context of the Euro crisis, they have been hailed for giving voice to the citizens and being the tools for the creation of networks of resistance to national government and European policies. However, the temporal logics of digital media and platforms have consequences for the organization and identity formation of protest movements, and it is these consequences that I would like to address in this post.

The question of digital technologies and the issues they pose for the organisation of social movements can be seen within the recent a growing commentary and interest in time or better in the lack there of. Art critic Jonathan Crary discusses the ends of sleep and the sociologist Mark Davis speaks of hurried lives. What these commentaries share is the underlying argument that our experience of time is closely linked to digital media technologies that enable immediate delivery of content and services. It is argued that these technologies – intended to simplify our lives – increase the speed of (information) exchange in society and thereby extend the stress levels in general. If one takes this observation seriously what are then the consequences for democratic conduct and deliberation?

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Jul 7 2014

It’s the Youth, Stupid! Greece’s most undervalued asset

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By Vasileios Tsianos

Youth-unemp-pic3-300x198[1]Numbers never lie. However the fashion of macroeconomic valuation has a long history of interpreting partially the truth that numbers are intended to resonate. During the last four years, statistical numbers regarding the Greek economy have been interpreted by multiple economists, international investors, and public policy decision makers. Amongst many others, the most popular numbers regurgitated by mass media are the 60% youth unemployment, the 160% debt-to-GDP ratio, the 10% deficit, and the excessive credit default swaps (CDS) spreads widening. These numbers on the country’s current economic state, along with the inverting of the demographic age distribution pyramid, has led traditional methods of macroeconomic growth research to assure investors that the Greek economy has little or negligible growth potential. As a result, the public opinion has come to a consensus: the current Greek youth is a lost generation.

National vision

Greece has never had a clear national vision for its economy, in the equivalent way that the US, Canada, Germany, Israel, or the so-called Asian Tigers countries have. Greek youth have a very high intrinsic human-capital value, and an immense potential for novel support of its entrepreneurial capacity. In this essay it is argued that Greece’s success story may be captured by a national economic vision of becoming an uprising Knowledge and Innovation Economy.

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Jul 3 2014

European economy’s invisible transformation: expulsions and predatory capitalism

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By Saskia Sassen

Parts of our economies, societies, and states in Europe are being stripped bare by an extreme form of predatory capitalism.[1] And this stripping can coexist with growth in much of our economies. The majority of workers and economic operations keep functioning, even if at reduced levels.

The language of low growth, unemployment, inequality, poverty, is not enough to capture what is going on in the current phase of capitalist political economies. All of these are present, but then they always have been part of capitalism. There is a specific difference I want to capture: something far more brutal and acute that we cannot capture with the usual language. Further, I want to argue that these dynamics are not only hitting Greece, Spain and Portugal, but in fact are present throughout Europe, including Germany and the much admired Scandinavian countries.

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Jun 30 2014

Punishment of mainstream national parties, not Euroscepticism, is behind Irish results

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By Paul Nulty

untitledThe outcome of the European elections in Ireland reflected those across much of Europe — losses for the traditional establishment parties, gains for populist, Eurosceptic and anti-austerity candidates. However, in addition to the resentment of austerity measures and democratic deficit felt across many EU states, internal historical and political circumstances have also contributed to these results.

Until the financial crisis of 2008, Irish voters and representatives were largely positive about the European project. Economically, Ireland has been one of the biggest per-capita beneficiaries of the EU, and structural funds for transport, the Common Agricultural Policy and open trade and travel enabled the country to become a successful, modern and open economy. Culturally and politically, alignment with Brussels was seen by many as welcome confirmation of true independence from London. However, a sense of unease about a loss of power to Europe has grown slowly over the past decade — the Lisbon and Nice treaties were both initially rejected in referenda before being passed at the second time of asking, and the austerity conditions imposed in the wake of the bank bailout in 2010 were viewed as punitive, especially considering the relatively compliant attitude of the Irish public and politicians, compared, for example, to those in Greece.

The only party with a tradition of Euroscepticism in Ireland is Sinn Féin, which began (as a modern party) as the political representation of the IRA during the troubles in Northern Ireland. Currently in government with Unionists in Belfast, the party has begun to make inroads south of the border in Dublin. Their gains came partly at the expense of Fianna Fáil, one of two centrist parties (the other being Fine Gael) who represented opposing sides of the civil war that followed Irish independence in 1922, and who have dominated government ever since. The other victim of Sinn Féin’s success was Labour, a centre-left party who have suffered the same fate as many junior coalition partners in austerity governments across Europe.

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