Thursday, April 14, 2016

Quo Vadis, Poland?

Source: Wikipedia
The Polish Parliament
Poland, the biggest EU state in Central and Eastern Europe, is going through a strong nationalist revival in the last two years, rising many questions and worries about the future of the country within the Union. Poland is the second, after Hungary, to join the new wave of nation-centered politics from the former communist block, but by far the most important from the point of view of the decision making processes within the Union. 
The dramatic changes took place after May 2015 presidential elections, when  Lech Kaczynski won the elections and the Party for Right and Justice (PiS) gained control over the both chambers of the Parliament. Lech's twin brother, Jaroslaw, former prime minister, died in a controversial airplane accident in 2010, together with more than half of the Polish politicaleadership at the time. 
PiS is the first party to govern the country alone since the end of communism, a situation which gives considerable leverage in the internadecision making process. This rule of the unique party comes after the disappointment brought by many of the post-communist coalitions. 

Policy of thought

With 4 out of 10 people living in the countryside and over 90% of the population of Catholic faith, Polish politicians started an aggressive campaign, both on the home and foreign front aimed to reinstate a different leadership. Many observers assume that such a return to identity politics is the consequence of a total and non-critical adhesion to the Western values after the fall of communism.
Kaczynski - and not only - are often building their discourses by blaming the German influence into their media and politics. Cultural happenings that do not comply with the overall directions confirmed through the religious channels are welcomed with protests and threats of outlaw. The public TV and broadcast were purged by bringing people close to the establishment. The Polish leaders categorically refused to accept any refugees. This February, Patrik Jaki, deputy minister for Justice proposed baning the sentence 'Polish death camps' under the threat of a 3-year sentence. And the examples can continue...

Where to?

Poland joined the EU in 2004, and since then the country's economic situation improved permanently. The unemployment was reduced, the highway network extended from 76.5 to 3000 km. The current government made more economic promises too, one of them being to increase the child subsidy to around 129$, an encouragement for extended families too. From the same family register, the authorities seek to completely outlaw abortions and birth control, a decision that rose protests in the country.
The Venice Commission, a legal body in charge with overviewing the constitutional changes within the EU, warned the country that many of the previsioned constitutional changes are contrary to human rights.
As the EU's sixth largest country, Poland is important from a strategical point of view too, for its border with Russia and for its voted and influence on the climate change policy of the Union, as the biggest coal producer in the EU.  
This July, NATO is supposed to have its regular summit in Poland and the current situation worries both sides of the Atlantic.
Within the EU, Poland can be subject to the rule of law mechanism adopted in 2014, leading to the suspension of the voting rights, following successive breaches of the EU Treaty. Kaczynski is trying to play hard the Hungarian card, whose far-right leader Orban he met recently. 
He wants to keep Poland in the EU, but without the euro, dreaming to be, maybe, the UK of the East. Meanwhile, it risks to be more isolated within the democratic partners. On the other side of the border, the man from Kremlin may be just a little bit happier.  

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hollande in Lebanon, what to expect

When things are not going on as expected on the home affairs front, the foreign policy can help. At least when it comes to such a special relationship as the one between France and Lebanon.
French president, Francois Hollande is expected in Beirut the 16th of April for a working visit, part of a tour in the region between 16-18 April which includes also Egypt - state visit -and Jordan - meeting with King Abdullah II regarding the regional partnership and the fight against terrorism.

The current situation in Lebanon

Since the end of the mandate of the previous president Michel Suleiman in September 2014, the presidency of Lebanon is vacant. Compared to other situations when the various factions haven't reach an agreement for the next presidential candidate that lead to open conflicts, this time things seem to be less explosive. Hollande is supposed to express during his visit the support for coexistence and proper functioning of the local institutions, including the presidency.
The country was also affected by the Syrian civil war, with refugee camps in the country. France kept a very low profile in the issue of refugees, compared to the German EU partner and the French president is interested in helping the country with intelligence and financial support for diminishing the war repercurssions.
In most situations to be addressed, the French president is expected to offer commitment towards stability without offering concrete solutions. Another surprising fact is that during the war in Syria, the country remained stable.
In the post-war Syria, France would prefer a minimal influence of both hungry for more regional power actors Iran and Turkey, a trend which on long term can positively influence the internal situation in Lebanon too.
However, under the curtains, France keeps a permanent contact with Iran, an important player in the country with high interests through the support for the terrorist organization Hezbollah. The influence of France in this case is however limited, a major influencer being rather Russia, with good relations on both sides. In an interview with Al Mayadeen TV on March 21, the secretary general of the terrorist organisation, Hassan Nassrallah, noticed the 'common goals' between Hezbollah, Iran and Russia. It is the usual terrorist propaganda for the consumption of the Arab public, as an experienced diplomat as Lavrov sees much further than this. As for now, Russia can help the settlemet of an agreement for the election of a new president. For example.
Another important aspect of the French-Lebanese agenda is the delivery of French weapons, part of a $3 billion grant by Saudi Arabia, the highest ever given to the military sector. France also encourages Saudi Arabia's influence in the country, as a counter-balance to the Iranians. 

French-Lebanese strong connections

Out of the many others former French colonies, Lebanon always remains a special partner. Besides the interest of so many wealthy countries to get involved in the local affairs, not only for a good cause, France remains the main source of foreign direct investment. Thanks to France, Lebanon is one of the main Mediterranean beneficiaries of financial and technical assistance from the EU. Again, the friends for benefits from the region do not hurry up to support the economy, only the croonies from Hezbollah.
In addition, thousands of French-Lebanese citizens live and work in Lebanon, and around 250,000 people of Lebanese origin live in France. 
France continues to be influential but not the predominant power in the region. The effects of this visit, scheduled for last year but delayed for security reasons, are not to be seen immediately, but France keeps playing hard games in the Middle East and given the comptitors, it is preferably to many, if not most of them. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Relics of the Cold War at the History Museum Berlin

Although it is a modern city that grows up every day and sooner or later the traces of the past will be nicely covered by white new buildings for rent, Berlin remains a relic of the Cold War. And I am not talking only about the physical presence of the Wall that can be still admired and photographed in its friendly colourful form in the Eastern side of the city. I am talking about mentality differences and architectural traces that ca be noticed especially if you walk at length the streets over and over again.
Traces of the recent history are present everywhere in Germany, but especially in the Brandenburg area, a department surronding Berlin that used to be part of the Eastern Germany. Very often during my travels I stumble o monumental statues in the honour of the Soviet Army and cemeteries of the Soviet soldiers who died during their stay or fight in Germany. Not mentioning the many abandoned barracks and the famous Teufelsberg CIA listening station in Berlin. 
This year, Berlin is hosting three important events about this important historical epoch. One is hosted at the German History Museum: exhibition of photographies taken by the Dutch photographer Martin Roemers between 1998 and 2009 from both East and West parts of Europe, featuring relics of the Cold War. Mostly, there are ugly tunels and bunkers aimed to offer protection during a possible nuclear attack. It covers Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine, and Lithuania and Latvia, on one side, and Great Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium on the Western side. The pictures are documentaries of a specific architecture and memories of a historical context. With some ironical notes not sure if intended by the photographer, with the details of the stomatological chair ready to be used by the communist leaders in case of nuclear attack. The exhibition is open to the public until 14 August.
Another event related to the Cold War is 14th of July exhibition at the Aliirten Museum that will last until January 2018 about 100 Objects. Berlin during the Cold War. It will feature various objects associated with that period and I will be curious to have a look at it soon. 
A research institute dedicatede to the Cold War was inaugurated the last year and regular events are supposed to take place here in the next weeks and months too. Berlin Center for Cold War Studies is part of Humboldt University and hosts an important archive covering this period. I hope to pay a visit soon and find out more about.
Shortly, it seems that the Cold War is still part of the daily German reality and an episode that still needs in depth consideration.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Machiavelli's advice to citizens for the coming American Elections

The coming American elections are an inspiration not only for journalists and power brokers, but also for political scientists. Maurizio Viroli is an Italian expert in Machiavelli whose writings are given a different spin than the usual focus on the leader: the electing citizens. Not extremely appreciated in the US and rarely associated with open and transparent democracy, the author of the Prince is now given an enriched interpretation. 
One of the most important assets of a real leader is to be voted by citizens involved in the everyday life of the Republic. Peacefully, they have to use the public meetings, rallies and debates for expressing their opinions about government and leadership in general and getting to know the candidates. With the democratic republic preferable to any other forms of government, Machiavelli's advice to the voters in Viroli's interpretation is to 'judge by the hands, not by the eyes'. In other words, to avoid evaluating politicians by their appearance. Although, we have to remember that one of the features outlined by the author of the Prince is eloquence but in this interpretation it is the role of the citizens to put facts and words together. 'Machiavelli's advice to citizens' is to choose that leader able to understand when the common good prevails over particular interests and able to adapt its politics to the changing context. Equally, they have to be careful with candidates that promise to achieve bold gigantesque political projects. Also, first priority of a president of a democracy is to promote peace and avoid war. Separation between state and church and religion in general is recommended for a democracy, as well as the need to have leaders knowledgeable about history and admiring 'the right people'. In the opinion of the author: 'The USA is the most successful example of a republic that has a strong civic religion, is acceptably tolerant and has been able to preserve a good separation between state and church'. Citizens should intend to limit the power of their leaders and avoid keeping them in power because power is a source of corruption and Machiavelli is not the only one to have outlined that.
An important asset of the book is also relying on various examples from the US history, offering a practical perspective on the political science texts.  
The book is expected to be published the 26th of April.

Disclaimer: I was offered the book by the publisher via, but the opinions are, as usual, my own