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Friday, 22 September


Not in my classroom: Russias refugee children struggle to get to school openDemocracy

Headteachers in Russias schools are turning foreign children away fearing hefty fines and pressure from the migration services. RU

Children of Syrian refugees in an improvised school in Jordan. Forty percent of refugee children from the Middle East are not educated. Photo: Freedom House, open source.Nura, 12, takes her belongings from her rucksack and lays them on the desk: a big, bright pink pencil-case emblazoned with the words Im CHIC, a notebook, textbooks, and erasers. Nura always shares erasers with her neighbour Gufran, with whom she sits at the back desk in this classroom. On the next row sit two younger girls another Nura and Soraya, who are best friends. The children slurp lollipops and freshly-picked plums as they take out trading cards. All of them are originally from Aleppo.

The girls have turned up for a lesson at an integration centre in the town of Noginsk, just outside Moscow. Its run by Civic Assistance, a human rights organisation that runs classes for the children of foreign citizens in Russia. The school itself comprises two classrooms in an office building. The walls are covered with posters of the alphabet, animals and household objects, as well as childrens drawings. Among them are samples of applications made to Russias Federal Migration Service (FMS), including possible answers in Arabic and Russian (and phrases such as documents must be submitted to file an application and refusal for temporary asylum).

Usually around 10-15 people turn up for a lesson, but today there are just five girls. After all, tomorrow is the festival of Kurban-Bayram. Theres no single timetable teacher Elena Lebedeva, who is trained in pedagogy, begins the lesson with multiplication tables, then everyone reads a text about a boy, in which they have to insert the missing words in the correct grammatical case. The towel is on the windows...


Uzbekistans new leader fails his first test openDemocracy

One year after the death of Islam Karimov, the continued use of forced labour in Uzbekistans cotton fields shows how slow the pace of change really is.


Labour in the cotton fields of Fergana Region, eastern Uzbekistan, 17 September 2017. Photo courtesy of Uzbek-German Forum for Human RIghts. All rights reserved.

While President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan tucked into his third course at a New York dinner with wealthy American businessmen on Wednesday night, university students back home were preparing for a long day in the fields plucking cotton.

Despite the presidents promise to outlaw forced labour in the country from which I am exiled, institutions all over the country received an order to send their able-bodied staff and students to harvest cotton. September should be the start of the academic year. Instead, faculties, schools, kindergartens, as well as companies and hospitals, are emptying out as employees are ordered into the sweltering heat to work 14-hour days. 

One year ago, the 78-year-old former president, Islam Karimov, died suddenly after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He had been in office for 27 years, presiding over one of the worlds most repressive and secretive regimes. Thousands of innocent people were imprisoned for their politics or their religion. Dissidents were tortured and murdered. Others, like myself, fled in fear of another prison term. 

About one million people are forced to work in Uzbekistans cotton sector every year, under threat of losing their jobs or worse

The early actions of the new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, have encouraged optimism among many of my compatriots and western politicians. He is improving relations with neighbouring countries, has...

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Thursday, 21 September


Lure of Greatness, the video openDemocracy

Caroline Lucas MP, Zadie Smith, John Cleese, Kate Raworth, Aditya Chakrabortty, Peter Oborne, Quentin Skinner, Niki Seth Smith and Ralph Pritchard enjoy Anthony Barnett's new book.

In early August, before it was officially published, The New Statesman published a striking review of Anthony Barnetts The Lure of Greatness by John Harris, welcoming it as a punk polemic. Harris has distinguished himself with his outstanding video reports, Anywhere but Westminster. Taking a real interest in what goes on outside the bubble he engaged with Barnetts argument - that the frustration of English democracy and voice and its capture by Great Britishness was a determining factor in Brexit.

After that, there was no response at all in the main London newspapers to Barnetts call to understand the reasons for Brexit and Trump.  With the exception of Suzanne Moore in her G2 column, there seems to be a reluctance to confront his case that there are profound democratic causes which have enflamed millions. So we decided to make a video for social media to let readers know that the book existed. Here it is. Please share it and read the book, it is very stimulating.

Just as the video was finished Fintan OToole wrote a blistering review in The Irish Times that recognises the link between the best book on Brexit so far and openDemocracy flying the flag for transparency, reform and genuine popular power.

Please join Caroline Lucas MP, Suzanne Moore, Anthony Barnett and others to debate Confronting Brexit and Trump at London's Emmanuel Centre, 31 Oct 2017 7.30 to 9.15. Tickets here.

CC by NC 4.0


Strong and Cable? Jonathan Fryer

Vince Cable speechLiberal Democrats left sunny Bournemouth this week buoyed by the camaraderie and intellectual stimulation of autumn conference. It was make or break time for new Leader, Sir Vince Cable, who gave us all a rousing send-off with a speech full of meaty political content and a smattering of good jokes. Vince is a serious player; it was he, after all, who warned everyone where finance and the economy were going in the run up to the 2008 recession. And he has had ministerial experience in the Coalition government, notably as Business Secretary. So when he talks about the effects of Brexit, for example, people listen. But the big question is: can having an authoritative leader translate into votes for the party? The LibDems have been stuck around seven per cent in the opinion polls for some time and although the number of LibDem MPs went up from eight to 12 in June, the partys national vote share actually fell back slightly. When it comes to local elections the picture is a bit more rosy; as Vince himself acknowledges, the rebuilding of LibDem fortunes will, as ever, come from the bottom up. Nonetheless, a lot of the hopes for a Liberal renaissance rest on his shoulders. It was good to hear him at Bournemouth being the champion of Exit from Brexit a message likely to grow in appeal as the negative consequences of a looming Brexit become ever clearer but he is no one-trick pony. His speech had plenty of sound messages on a range of issues from funding the NHS to replacing tuition fees with a graduate tax. Given the totally shambolic performance of Theresa May and her UKIPTories recently, the soft Conservative vote must be wobbling, and it hard to see the increasingly left-leaning Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn scooping that up.


How to spend 500 million: womens rights groups on Europes UN grant openDemocracy

We welcome this weeks historic funding announcement for work to end violence against women and girls. But there are important caveats.

Photo: European Union 2017 - European Parliament. Photo: European Parliament/Flickr. Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Some rights reserved.Although donors increasingly recognise women and girls as key agents in development, there has been insufficient funding dedicated to strengthening womens movements, which are critical to creating a gender just world.

In recent years, womens rights activists have struggled to access global resources. Countries including Egypt, Russia and India, have passed repressive new laws that prevent groups from receiving money from donors overseas.

This is why activists have welcomed news from the European Union and United Nations this week, who are setting up a new collaboration to fund work to end violence against women and girls, with an initial commitment of 500 million.

This is an historic investment. It follows Canadas recent allocation of CAD $150 million to support womens rights organisations in the global south. The Netherlands made the first such specific commitment in 2008 with its MDG3 Fund, named after the UNs gender equality millennium development goal. Their initial allocation of 50 million rose to 70 million later that year, after a call for proposals received a huge response.

Although the priorities of the new EU-UN initiative are still unclear, its size is potentially game-changing for work to end violence against women and girls.

But struggles for womens rights require more than high-level financial com...


Scottish Labour: The party for whom nationalism remains a dirty word

Independence supporter and former MSP Campbell Martin takes a look at the Scottish Labour leadership campaign, now that the two candidates have been formally launched. And he doesnt like what he sees

Campbell Martin

Firstly, there is no such thing as the Scottish Labour Party. Scottish Labour is a description registered by the Labour Party, which has its headquarters in London, England. Members of the Labour Party in Scotland can legitimately refer to their organisation as Scottish Labour, but the Electoral Registration Commission confirms there is no such body as the Scottish Labour Party.

Secondly, Britain is not, never has been, and never will be a nation. It is a geographical area that forms the largest part of a union-of-nations known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

With those facts in mind, lets look at the comments by the two men vying to be the next leader of the Scottish Labour Party as part of a British national organisation. They both oppose nationalism and state that, under their leadership, if elected, there will be no second referendum on Scottish independence.


The candidates positioning and choice of words is for them to decide. However, their statement on nationalism is clearly, and deliberately, used as a way of attempting to smear the pro-independence movement in Scotland by seeking to draw a link to other known nationalist movements, such as the far-right, black-shirted, goose-stepping Neanderthals who can be regularly seen on our television screens in undemocratic Eastern-European countries and now, under President Trump, in the USA.

Few reasonable and rational people would disagree with opposition to the far-right concept of nationalism, which, history shows us, stems from a national chauvinism, an exaggerated patriotism that believes a particular nation is better than any other. This is the type of nationalism associated with British nationalist movements, which, actually, is more accurately related to a belief in English chauvinism, an imperialist legacy that asserts England is better than other nations, including its neighbour, Scotland. However, the whole point of the comments from the Labour leadership-contenders is to link this toxic nationalism with the peaceful and democr...


The Cudd Perspective II: An orderly return to business as usual?

Citizen Cuddis: Separating the dancer from the dance, so we dont have to

Not since my days as a deckhand on a submarine have I held my breath for so long. But the post summer re-animation of the less than great and the not very good to the Hall of Guff-Spouters  or the Westminster parliament as it known Dan Saff has me breathing normally again.

Will there be an orderly return to daily politics? Theres more chance of a narcoleptic making it through an episode of The Love Boat without mumbling timber, falling face first into his fish supper and snoring like he has a mouthful of kazoos. Such an event is highly unlikely to happen its a once in a generation thing, like a successful Brexit or the egg and spoon race becoming an Olympic sport.

The deck of this very boat was home to Cuddis before he embarked on his lucrative career as a Newsnet columnist. Three dark years were spent here, where he had to strap himself to the funnel thing every time it dived.
Like most of his stories, this one carries the dark ring of truth.

My whistle blower Deep Heat spent the summer cruising selected bars across the Central Belt, antennae sensitised to the chiff and chaff of political scuttlebutt of every hue. Granted, these were the sort of bars where punters take a leak in the street even though there are toilets inside, and this may have skewed the data. Nonetheless, what follows is the pick of the creme de la cream of the cherry on top of the crop of fascinating, and in many cases, entirely fabricated stories a genre pioneered by Good Morning Scotland.

What the Papers Say

Hand picked morsels of British journalism (Titles have been withheld to protect the stupid)


The Tory partys ambiguity around its Brexit messages has led to a new poster by artist Sir Percival Twistleton-Penge R.A. The poster is to be circulated during the Conservative party conference. The poster depicts John Bullshit with his trousers around his ankles, leaning over the despatch box like Tom Brown about to be caned stupid by the beak. Michel Barnier looms over John Bullshit lik...


So the Commies are fighting the Muslims? Not quite, Mister President

Commentary by Derek Bateman

Earthquakes in Mexico, a fusillade of hurricanes in the Caribbean, the unstoppable warming of the Earth, a Dr Strangelove President threatening total nuclear wipe-out, jackboot authority restored to Catalonia and an economy-crashing Brexit imminent as a shambolic government devours itself.

Oh, and Kezia resigns

Derek Bateman

If this isnt Armageddon, I dont know what is. Why Trump missed out Kezias resignation from his address to the UN will be debate by historians. I can only assume his advisers thought it best avoided in case he was asked to endorse her replacement.

You mean its a contest between a Communist and a Muslim? You can see his dilemma

Of all these global crises Kezia apart climate change is the most terrifying to me because it fits into a long-term worldview that mankinds destiny is to progress to destruction. In other words, we will develop science to the point where it wipes us out. We constantly create without weighing up the downside. So we discover nuclear fission and create a super efficient power source from it, nuclear energy. But we still havent worked out what to do with the dangerous waste it generates, therefore we pretend it isnt really a problem.


We produce a mass means of water distribution plastic bottles instead of cans, glass bottles or animal skins but dont know how to destroy the empties. The result is that millions of tons of tiny plastic particles are now in drinking water and in the sea. We dont know what impact it will have on human health. But its definitely killing life in the oceans.

We invented what our ancestors would regard as time travel airplanes that whiz us around to view the dazzling panorama of life of Earth yet those same planes are killing wildlife. Sixty seven per cent of all wild animals will have been wiped out in three years time.

Eighty per cent of rain forest in Ivory Coast has been destroyed to make way for cocoa because of our love for chocolate.

Sperm count in western males has halved probably due to lifestyle mobile phones, smoking and diet while science allows women to have children later when the r...


The President, the General and their country openDemocracy

The transition in Angola is already on its way. Fortunately for Angolans except for Mr. Dos Santos and his entourage it is not heading to where the former President wants. Espaol Portugus

CC0. Public Domain.

General, your tank is a powerful vehicle. It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men. But it has one defect: It needs a driver. General, your bomber is powerful. It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant. But it has one defect: It needs a mechanic. General, man is very useful. He can fly and he can kill. But he has one defect: He can think.

- Bertolt Brecht

Angola is not a democracy. Any serious and impartial analysis should start from the assertion that, in a democracy, journalists are free to do their work without being targeted and presidents do not stay in power for 38 years and unilaterally delay elections according to their own agenda. The nature of a regime does not depend on whether its leader is better or worse than, say, Equatorial Guineas Teodoro Obiang or Zimbawes Robert Mugabe. Neither does it depend on the interests of some politicians who capitalize on the richness of 1% of the population while the majority endures poverty and sickness in a resource-rich country. It does depend on political rights and civil liberties, the state of which in Angola is such, according to Freedom House, that the country can in no way be said to be a free country.

Respect for democratic norms and human dignity is not something that can be stopped at borders,...


The 51st State of Housing: The American housing crisis, and what it means for the UK openDemocracy

Three months after the Grenfell Tower fire, a moving extract from the author's Theres No Place: The American housing crisis and what it means for the UK. 

The following is an extract from the introduction to my book, Theres No Place: The American housing crisis and what if means for the UK. The book was published on 16th June 2017, two days after the Grenfell Tower fire. Three months later, its difficult to overstate the impact of the disaster.The following is an extract from the introduction to my book, Theres No Place: The American housing crisis and what it means for the UK. The book was published on 16th June 2017, two days after the Grenfell Tower fire. Three months later, its difficult to overstate the impact of the disaster. The deaths of at least 80 people (almost certainly more) have exposed not just the historic failures of housing policy, but also deeper fissures in our urban social fabric. Grenfell symbolises the conflict between housing as a private commodity, or a social asset a dichotomy personified by Donald Trump. Before Grenfell, I argued the UK was following in the housing footsteps of the US, with potentially disastrous consequences. After Grenfell, that warning feels even more pertinent.  Ive worked in and campaigned on housing in the UK for many years. During that time, Ive become increasingly conscious of the threads linking and ultimately binding the development of trans-Atlantic housing policy. This cross-fertilisation has, at times, appeared to define the differences between the two nations, with attitudes to housing reflecting wider cultural and political divergence. But it has now reached a critical point of convergence reflected in a common housing crisis. In both countries, plans are well advanced to detach housing, once and for all, from any semblance of public or non-profit provision and in the words of a right-wing UK housing academic, privatise the social rented stock and allow market relations to develop. I argue there are five broad features of this shared US-UK housing experience:

  1. Relentless government attacks on municipally-owned rented housing as part of a wider assault on public services.
  2. The unchecked rise of private landlordism as part of a broader advancement of private sector, profit-seeking interests.
  3. Growing corporate links between US and UK housing in the context of global speculative property investment.
  4. Socially-divided cities chara...


Brexit meansprogressive alliances, or corporate absolutism? openDemocracy

The Leave vote, however manipulated by the media, was not just a rejection of Brussels technocracy but of the political status quo at Westminster. Its time to rewrite the constitutional and political rules from scratch.

Image: Awaiting the Queen's Speech, UK Parliament, Creative Commons license.

The snap election in June tested to the limit the resolve by a progressive alliance of centre left parties to work together to defeat the Conservatives. The damage done to the Green Partys electoral prospects resulted from a simplistic mistranslation of the progressive alliance as a tactical voting exercise; one that played to the benefit of Labour without reciprocal gains for the Greens.

As a Labour supporter, I pushed hard for a local progressive alliance in Cornwall, and I share the dismay felt by many local Greens. In Cornwall, they stood down in three constituencies in the hope that local Labour would follow their example. They did not. What we got was the official line that it is not Labour policy to pursue a progressive alliance.

Yet I remain hopeful. The political bargaining over marginal constituencies to remove the Tories may bear fruit next time round.  Meanwhile there are other possibilities that progressives can explore, which side-step tribal politics; specifically, to turn instead to a 45-degree politics that involve centre-left parties looking outwards not upwards. To develop strong lateral networks with campaign and community groups as a counterbalance to the vertical structures of party control. But to what end?   

Currently in Cornwall and elsewhere, the focus has been on electoral reform and this is starting to gather a head of steam. While we did not break the Tory stranglehold in Cornwall, we have raised a much stronger awareness about our broken and outdated election system and the need to replace it with Proportional Representation.

Yet electoral reform cannot be considered in isolation from wider constitutional reform. It...


A new hope for a nuclear free world - but where is the UK? openDemocracy

A new UN treaty could make nuclear sabre-rattling and boasts of a willingness to incinerate cities, as unacceptable as threats to use chemical and biological weapons.

Image: United Nations/Flickr, Creative Commons.

Yesterday the UN Secretary-General Antnio Guterres opened the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in New York.  Heads of state and senior officials from over 40 countries lined up to sign the ground-breaking treaty on its first day.  They represent billions of people from across the world, from Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia-Pacific, including large countries that have given up nuclear weapons programmes, such as Brazil and South Africa.

More are listed to sign in the coming days.  But not the UK at least not yet!

The 2017 Nuclear Prohibition Treaty is the product of years of campaigning by thousands of civil society activists, scientists, doctors, diplomats, parliamentarians, and most of all from the courageous Hibakusha who survived the use and testing of nuclear weapons and have spent their lives raising awareness of the horrors and dangers.

This was not an arms control measure with counting rules, but a disarmament treaty driven by the imperative to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons because they are inhumane, abhorrent and unacceptable.

This treaty is the collective and effective revolt of nuclear have-nots, who overturned diplomatic assumptions and brought it to conclusion despite boycotts and opposition from nine heavily armed nuclear haves. 

With nuclear free governments in the driving seat, this was also a treaty dreamed up and significantly led by women, including  Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb, and Costa Rica's Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez, who steered the negotiations to fruition on 7 July. 

As the governments beg...


Violencia de gnero en el sector agrcola centroamericano openDemocracy

Las trabajadoras del sector agrcola en Centroamrica buscan combatir la discriminacin de gnero a travs de los convenios internacionales. English

Soy Iris Mungua. Vengo de Honduras, estoy en la Secretara de la Mujer de la Federacin de Sindicatos de Trabajadores de la Agroindustria, y tambin estoy coordinando un trabajo a nivel de Latinoamrica en la COLSIBAque es la Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Sindicatos Bananeros y Agroindustrias. En la COLSIBA estamos todos los pases de Centro Amrica, Ecuador y Per. Ah estamos haciendo una articulacin de trabajo con las organizaciones sindicales del sector de la agroindustria.

Penelope Kyritsis (oD): Por qu es la violencia de genero un problema para las mujeres en la industria?

Iris: Nosotras entendemos que en el sector agrcola, al cual nosotras pertenecemos, se viene dando mucha violencia de gnero en trminos de las condiciones sociales, laborales y sindicales de las mujeres en las plantaciones agrcolas. Por ejemplo, existe mucho acto de acoso sexual en las plantaciones. Tambin, hay una diferencia de salarios entre lo que le pueden pagar a un hombre y a una mujer, aun haciendo las mismas labores.

Otra de las cosas que hemos visto en los ltimos aos es que ahora estn empleando menos mujeres en estos sectores. No s si es que estn mirando a la maternidad y la lactancia como un costo a la produccin. Esas son cosas que nos preocupan mucho, y adems cuando las mujeres se quieren organizar en sindicatos tambin son despedidas.

Esos ejemplos los tenemos en nuestros pases, principalmente en las plantaciones de meln, donde no existe organizacin sindical y estamos en una fuerte lucha con las autoridades de nuestros pases porque eso tambin es violencia de genero. Existen los convenios 89, 98 y 111, que hablan de la no discriminacin en el trabajo de las mujeres, pero esas cosas se siguen dando en nuestros pases.

Penelope (oD): Esas mujeres tienen recursos para hablar del problema o reportar este problema?

Iris: Bueno, para las mujeres es bastante difcil hablar de acoso sexual. Porque si a la mujer no se la ha dado una educacin, si no se le ha dado una formacin, difcilmente la mujer va a denunciar. Porque el acoso sexual principalmente es un acto que no se puede comprobar. Es la palabra de la mujer contra la palabra del jefe, y por lo general el jefe est en un grado ms alto que e...


Eastern Kurdistan: a silent politics with huge casualties openDemocracy

It is surely time that organisations that are internally active should dedicate their efforts to resuming activities that give hope to the people.

lead Screenshot: Leaders from the past: Dr. Qasimlo talks about abjuring terrorism during the Kurdish struggle. Youtube.The situation of the Kurds in a drastically changing Middle East has received little attention in academia and less in the media despite their growing impact on regional and international politics. The biggest stateless people living in the Middle East are on the verge of a new status, not only in Iraqi Kurdistan, where a referendum for independence takes place on September 25, 2017, but also in Syria and Turkey. Then there are the Iranian Kurds. Their stories and the conditions they live in are the least known, not only by the international community but also by fellow-Kurds living in three neighbouring countries, due to an intense isolation. This weeks short series looks at current political struggles of the Kurds in four neighbouring countries or in a country that does not exist on the world map but in the hearts and mind of 40 million people. Mehmet Kurt, series editor.

Inspired by the Kurdish movement in the north and Rojava (in Turkey and Syria), PJAK (the Kurdistan Independent Life Party affiliated to the Kurdistan Workers's Party (PKK) or Iranian branch of the PKK) and recently KODAR (the East Kurdistan Democratic and Independent Party also founded by the PKK, to replace the PJAK) were established to fill the gap of the Kurdish struggle in Iran. Yet, this new attempt has faced several serious obstacles. Can Kurdish politics in Rojhelat, (Rojhelat, literally means East, and refers to the eastern part of Kurdistan which is located within Irans current borders) look for a change of course to take it out of its current stagnation? Or will it continue to waste the time, resources and patience of a disappointed Kurdish people?

The Islamic state of Iran executes at least seven people every day. Tens of thousands of political prisoners and thousands of other p...


Peace writ large: peacebuilding works, but we may need to shout about it more openDemocracy

On International Peace Day, a new report showcases the positive cumulative effect of peacebuilding initiatives, even when conflicts worldwide and the people killed or suffering are on the increase.

Philippines - Participants in a discussion on International Alerts research on the illicit gun trade in Mindanao Photo by Ilaria Bianchi - International Alert. All rights reserved.As director of programmes for International Alert over the past 13 years, I have seldom doubted the importance of our work, supporting local efforts to reduce violence and build peace in troubled parts of the world. When I was asked earlier this year to write a report making the economic, moral, and political case for more resources to be applied to peacebuilding, I thought it would be a simple task. After all, I have long been convinced of this case, so what could be simpler than articulating it to others?

But as I did my research, and began to frame the arguments, I started to have doubts. I realised that one of the reasons international agencies spend less than 1% of the economic cost of war on building peace, is that their decision-makers are sceptical that peacebuilding really works so they reach for more familiar tools for international engagement, or walk away from conflicts that remain unresolved. After all, I heard them say in my minds ear, achieving sustainable peace is a massive, well-nigh impossible goal, so why not settle for short term stability, however imperfect, and leave it at that. They generate a critical mass of energy for peace, and... if this continues, it leads to a constantly diminishing risk that violence will return.

But this crisis of confidence did not last. I continued my research, spoke with others, and found the...


What is peacebuilding? Ask the public openDemocracy

This International Peace Day a striking 84% of people in the UK, US and Germany agree that human beings have the right to live in peace: free from conflict.

lead Political leaders and traders from either side of the Line of Control in Kashmir meet for the first time on the Chakothi Bridge after 60 years of separation, as trading across the Line of Control is established. Muhammad Arif Urfi. All rights reserved.Amidst heightened global insecurity and media criticism of foreign aid spending, one might assume a rise in public sympathy for military solutions to armed conflict. However, a new poll shows there is surprisingly strong public appetite to invest in long-term peacebuilding efforts.

During the UK general election campaign this year, the press reported a split in the Cabinet between defenders of the 0.7% foreign aid budget and those who favoured a cut and redirection to a combined defence and security budget. The purpose of this would be to shore up security in countries which are incubators for terrorism.

But cutting foreign aid to free up money to keep Britain safe is a false dichotomy. Spending more on defence and security in countries where chronic political and governance problems are fuelling conflict and providing fertile ground for radical groups will not resolve those issues or necessarily make Britain safer. Whereas, international aid, when it works with people to address the factors fuelling conflict, can do. 

Peacebuilding is often an invisible sub-sector of international development. There is no one definition of the term, but it is considered by the United Nations and those that work in the field as a process which goes beyond ending violence to establish the conditions for durable peace and prevent the recurrence of violence. For most practitioners, peacebuilding should be owned by people living with conflict, based on an analysis of conflict and peace, and involve strategic interventions to address underlying causes or drivers of conflict. 

Until now it has been unclear what the UK public knows and thinks about peacebuilding.  However, the results of...


Edwin Ardener: the life-force of ideas openDemocracy

The work of the social anthropologist Edwin Ardener (1927-87) remains a fertile source of insight and influence, says his former student and editor of a collection of his essays, Malcolm Chapman.

(This article was first published on 21 September 2007)

Edwin Ardener was born eighty years ago today, on 21 September 1927. He studied social anthropology at the London School of Economics immediately after the second world war, coming into contact with a number of major figures in the subject - Edmund Leach, Raymond Firth, Darryl Forde, and Audrey Richards (as well as encountering the strong posthumous presence of Malinowski). Ardener began a long fieldwork involvement with west Africa in 1949, which involved numerous long visits over the next twenty years. Ardener's published ethnographic and analytical work from this period is lengthy and extensive. This is a point worth stressing for those who (if they are aware of him at all) have been exposed only to his later work, a collection of which was published in 1989, under the title The Voice of Prophecy, and other essays,

I had the privilege of editing and introducing this book. It had been in preparation before Ardener's sudden and unexpected death in 1987. He had always tried to retain "urgent provisionality" in his writings, and joked that the only way such urgent provisionality could properly be turned into a bound volume was as a posthumous work. We referred to the collection as "posthumous' even as we were working on it together, not realising how soon the joke would be delivered. This assemblage of writings has been republished in 2007 by Berghahn Books, with an insightful foreword by Harvard University's Michael Herzfeld. [Editor's note: a second and expanded edition is published in October 2017]. It is a modest but real sign both of the lasting interest in and the intellectual fertility and contemporaneity of Ardener's anthropology.

Worlds and meanings

Edwin Ardener's ethnographic writings covered many subjects. He developed his interests through intense attention to social and linguistic detail, in closely observed fieldwork contexts. He studied and published on life in village and plantation in Cameroon. He published on the relationship between divorce and fertility. He came to know the value, and the limitations too, of the positivist approach to numbers, counting and meaning. He had a deep appreciation of the virtues of empirical engagement with society.

He also, however, was coming to a refined appreciation of the limitations of positivism within social anthropology...


Catalonias de facto independence openDemocracy

Catalonia is trying to hold a referendum, to provoke a reaction from the State that would boost massive protests and deliver a majority which, so far, has proven elusive.

lead Catalan Independence supporters wave Esteladas (Catalan pro-independence flag) during a demonstration of Catalan Mayors backing Independence Referendum on September 16, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. NurPhoto/Press Association. All rights reserved.It is hard to be an internationalist in the age of nationalism. It is hard to believe in individual rights in times when group rights are supposed to prevail. It is hard to believe in citizenship when all that seems to count is nationality. It is hard, in short, to be cosmopolitan in an age of parochialism and identity politics. 

And it is also hard, on the eve of a referendum/mobilisation due to take place on October 1 in Catalonia, to stay calm and moderate when facing a confrontation of two narratives that carry with them at least in part, some of the cleavages separating the two logics mentioned above. 

Two narratives

The hegemonic narrative will tell you that Catalonia has been oppressed by a central state for centuries, a state that treats it as a colony. That it is time for the nation to rise and free itself from this secular abuse which now comes in the form of an authoritarian Spanish regime that is heir to the centralist, authoritarian ideology of Franco times. It will tell you that, no matter how Catalan politicians have been willing to negotiate a better relationship to achieve greater autonomy, the Spanish government has shown its willingness to destroy it. And last, but not least, it will tell you that, because so many attempts at such a negotiation have failed, there is now no alternative other than to unilaterally secede and re-conquer the sovereignty lost to Spain by the force of the facts. 

Yet there is another narrative that tells you that Spain is a fully-fledged western liberal democracy and one of the most decentralised states in the hemisphere. That Catalonia enjoys more freedom and effective self-government than at any time in modern history, that its culture is thriving, its language ubiquitou...


Georgias highlanders against hydropower openDemocracy

As the Georgian government moves ahead with its plans for increasing the countrys hydropower capacity, local communities are being sidelined in the process of compensation payments.

Locals working on their land to produce their food, Svaneti. (c) Bankwatch. All rights reserved.Earlier this summer, I visited Georgias Svaneti region together with colleagues from Bankwatch. Svaneti, located high in the Caucasian mountains, borders the breakaway territory of Abkhazia, and is home to some of the most pristine rivers in the Caucasus. As a team of civil society members, we travelled there to talk with local people and analyse the quality of consultations over future development projects on their lands.

Together with the surrounding forests, Svanetis Nenskra and Nakra rivers have existed in a symbiotic bond with local communities for centuries. This strong interdependence between people and nature is visible everywhere in Svaneti a constant reminder of the important role that local communities must play in designing infrastructure projects.

Yet in recent years, Svaneti has been transformed into a battleground between communities and the Georgian government with its plans for building large hydro power plants. The threat has united Svan people who are struggling to conserve what is left of their cultural heritage and the biodiversity of the region.

Public funding

The Georgian governments ambition to build dozens of new hydro power plants (HPPs) in the Svaneti region has caught the attention of international financiers. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have all expressed interest in financing the planned 280MW Nenskra HPP, the most advanced project in the governments pipeline. Up to 75% of the project costs could come from international public sources and with the loan approval date coming up on 15 November for the EBRD, there is little time to act.

But while the dam is supp...


The serious business of statistics Slugger O'Toole

When something you hear makes you burst out laughing, you know its time to write a blog.

In this case, I was listening to the biggest show in the country on the subject of Boris Johnson and his peddling of the myth that once Brexit is achieved there will be 350m a week available for the NHS.

Indeed, Sir David Norgrove, the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority took the unprecedented step of writing to the foreign secretary to say that to use the figure in the way was a clear misuse of official statistics.

So far so serious. The bit that made me laugh was the defence of Mr Johnson by former DUP MLA Nelson McCausland, who casually swept aside all concerns over accuracy by saying that Sir David wasnt infallible.

However its not really a laughing matter. There may be lies, damned lies and statistics, but I believe that having a robust evidence base on which to make decisions or shape policy is important. Its also important to understand how to interpret and present your evidence.

Yes, there can be accusations of spin, but to continually, blatantly, use inaccurate information takes it to another level.

Blaming the media for putting its own spin on things further muddies the water. Its true that different media have different biases, and, of course, the quality of journalism varies.

But there are many good journalists out there, asking the questions that we all want and need answers to. The Trump-esque media bashing of fake news is wearing thin.

There are plenty of resources out there such as the BBCs Reality Check, Spinwatch and Full Fact, the UKs independent fact-checking charity should you feel inclined to clarify what youve heard. Or you could read some news articles written by bone fide journalists who understand the need for truthful and accurate reporting.

In the meantime Im off to investigate the UK Statistics Authority. It sounds like heaven for a facts and figures nerd.


Environmental Governance Failure in Northern Ireland: High Time to Turn Over a New Leaf Slugger O'Toole

By Ciara Brennan, Ray Purdy and Peter Hjerp

Recent scandals including the RHI debacle and the discovery of illegal dumping on a massive scale (most notably at the Mobuoy Road super-dump) have catapulted Northern Irelands environmental governance failures into the public eye. The divergence from what can be considered good environmental governance is clear and the environmental, economic and socio-political consequences of these failures cannot be overestimated.

Protecting the environment is not a one-way cost and there has been very little political recognition in Northern Ireland of some of the serious economic impacts that weaknesses in current systems of environmental governance are having. Conservative estimates suggest that resolution of the RHI commitments alone could cost the Northern Ireland taxpayer over 490 million. Combining the cost of RHI, cleaning up the illegal dumping that has been discovered to date and remediating the consequences of illegal fuel laundering gives a total and already incurred cost of over 1 billion. In addition, weak environmental regulation and the failure to uphold the rule of law present critical disincentives to foreign direct investment, where a top priority for investors is the stability and transparency of political, legal and regulatory environment. A further risk created by a damaged environment relates to potential damage to the tourist economy (worth 723 million annually to the economy and sustaining 43,000 jobs).

A well-managed environment should be seen as a vital asset for the shared future of the people of Northern Ireland and a greater focus on protecting this common interest would enhance confidence in power-sharing and demonstrate stability. The high membership numbers of environmental NGOs in Northern Ireland indicate that there is clearly an appetite for environmental protection that is currently at odds with the level of importance assigned to it by the previous devolved governments. Given the severe consequences of environmental governance failures and its potentially devastating economic and environmental consequences a reform of the current state of environmental governance is urgently required. With the current political impasse creating significant uncertainty surrounding the NI Assemblys future, these decisions must be taken by UK government directly or jointly with the ROI government as a matter of urgency to ensure that environmental protection in Northern Ireland is insulated from the surrounding political turmoil. We suggest the following reforms:

  • An environmental audit committee should be established to enhance environmental integration across policy areas and ensure that departments are carrying out their functions within environmental limits.
  • A...


It is representative of fear represented to us by our constituents Slugger O'Toole

This fascinating interview of Ian Paisley by Noel Whelan at the Kennedy Summer School is worth listening to. The whole thing is worth listening to, but if you are short of time, jump in about 18.08 in and him talking about the battleground that the Irish language has become


Open letter to Third World Quarterly on the publication of 'The case for colonialism' openDemocracy

A letter of complaint to the editors of Third World Quarterly at Taylor & Francis on the publication of 'The case for colonialism' by Bruce Gilley.

Third World Quarterly. Image: Image used under Fair Use: Istanbul Policy Centre. All rights reserved.Two weeks ago, Third World Quarterly, a respected, anti-colonial academic journal that is the home of both the Third World Prize and the Edward Said Prize, published a pro-colonial and not particularly academic article by controversial political scientist, Bruce Gilley (published here; free copy available here). In addition to the kinds of questions and criticisms the article itself encouraged, and that the author perhaps was hoping to provoke, one has to ask questions about the editorial process followed by the journal, and the dubious ethics of publishing such an article in a journal such as this. How did this happen? How could this particular article get published in this particular journal?

Arguing the case for colonialism, and continuing the authors crusade against what he sees as a left-wing bias in academia, the article has so far prompted: a wave of incredulity and outrage on social media; a couple of petitions (here and here, both of which managed to garner several thousand signatures) calling for the article to be retracted and for the editors to apologise for its publication; a handful of online articles; a problematic response from the editor; and, subsequently, the resignation of a large bulk of its editorial board.

Prior to their resignation, the letter of complaint below (instigated by Claire Gallien, Sara Marino, Patricia Prieto-Blanco and myself, and signed by over 40 international academics) was sent to the journal and to its commercial academic publisher, Taylor & Francis, as well as a copy, listing the various codes of conduct breached, to COPE, the Commit...


A long-forgotten wall: the struggle of the Sahrawi people openDemocracy

Lost Land exposes the painful reality of the Sahrawi people, whose homeland is occupied by Morocco, while they crave independence. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 7th September 2017.

Lost Land Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd. Some politicians enjoy talking about walls; they seem to be all the rage. The most recent example would have to be American president Donald Trumps obsession with building a wall along the US-Mexico border; since the second intifada in 2000, Palestinians have found themselves trapped by the Israel West Bank barrier; and, not so far from home, in the European Union facing the worst refugee crisis since World War Two walls have mushroomed despite the Schengen Agreements supposed abolishing of internal borders. 

Lost Land, or Territoire Perdu, a documentary by Belgian writer and director Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd, sheds light on a lesser known, but equally oppressive, wall: el hisam  'the belt' in Arabic.

El hisam is the word used to refer to the wall built by Moroccans in the Western Sahara. It stretches over 2,400 km and cuts the Sahrawi territory into two parts: one part is occupied by Morocco and the other is controlled by the Sahrawi Peoples Liberation Army.

This wall, unlike those listed above, has not benefited from the same degree of press coverage; Vandeweerd's documentary, released in 2011, is a raw testimony to the suffering of the Sahrawi people, and the nomadic lifestyle they preserve, compressed between Mauritania and Morocco.

Lost Land has a nostalgic feel: it is a collection of stills, sometimes of the arid and empty desert landscape and sometimes portraits of the Sahrawi people, filmed with Super 8 cameras (a Kodak model that was introduced in 1965 and is best known for making home movies accessible to the masses).

Throughout the black and white 75-minute long documentary, nine people tell their stories of the occupation. Some were alive in 1975 when the raids first occurred and had to escape to Moukhayyem, the strip of desert that Algeria handed...


How starting and losing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan helped create the conditions for Brexit openDemocracy

Anthony Barnett discusses one of the key arguments in his new book on Brexit and Trump, The Lure of Greatness.

Adam Ramsay: You argue that one of the causes of Brexit (and Trump) was what you call four great breaches of trust. Two of those relate to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (with the other two relating to the financial crisis and response to it). The claim that Brexit and Trump are a response to the flatling of income, increased insecurity and ballooning of ultra-wealth since the financial crash of 2007-8 is familiar. But your first two breaches less so. Can you describe them briefly? Is it really fair to argue that Britain and America lost the war in Iraq?

Anthony Barnett: Tony Blairs aim was for him and Bush to be acclaimed as liberators by the people of Baghdad just as he was celebrated by Muslims as a liberator of Kosovo. To grasp how badly Washington and Whitehall have lost, therefore, you need only consider what it would be like had they won as intended. Victory would have meant that today a pro-American government, established after a short war and welcomed by the Iraqi people, would be the legitimate representative of a unified, peaceful Iraq, with large US bases astride its oil-fields. There would also be a stable Afghanistan. ISIS or Daesh would not exist. Trumps complaint that America needs to start winning again would be otiose. The British belief in their capacity to project world power as a satrap of Washingtons world order would have been confirmed. Their regimes would have stood tall in terms of their own legitimacy, lauded by the media. Calls for Brexit would have been brushed aside.

In brief the four breaches of trust are that they lied, they lost, they screwed the economy and then cashed in. The latter two are familiar, if you will excuse my vulgar shorthand: the financial crash and the ballooning of asset wealth by the ultra-rich after 2008. Together they have broken the economy hegemony in the sense of an untouchable right to rule, there being no alternative of neoliberalism. But the first two undermined the military political hegemony of the Anglo-Saxon order that appeared unquestionable after the collapse of Communism in 1989. The combination was fatal to their overall, global power and internal, domestic assent.

Of the first two, that you are probing, the deceit undermined belief in the integrity of the system of government. But equally if not more important, losing militarily exposed the fundamental over-reach and catastrophic judgment of th...


Oops! How Moscows municipal election turned into a headache for city hall openDemocracy

The unexpected success of independent candidates in Moscows recent council elections may be relative but it's real enough. RU

City day (c) Evgeny Sinitsyn/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.The Russian opposition enjoyed an unexpectedly decent showing at the municipal council elections in Moscow last week. The Yabloko political party, having broken with its own traditions by participating under the umbrella of Dmitry Gudkovs United Democrats coalition, secured 176 seats, while a further 108 were won by independents, the majority of which have been working together with Gudkov. Mikhail Khodorkovskys Open Russia movement, which set up a school for prospective municipal deputies, also contributed to the overall result. Theres even been talk of a united opposition victory at the election.

On balance, however, this talk is premature: United Russia candidates won 1152 seats out of an available 1502. In the wake of the elections, city newspapers controlled by Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin came out with identical editorials proclaiming a triumphant victory for United Russia. They cant exactly be accused of lying, either: winning over 75% of all seats is certainly a triumph.

Furthermore, the oppositions showing isnt sufficient to overcome the so-called municipal filter at next years mayoral elections: candidates must enlist the support of 110 deputies from 110 districts, but the oppositionists are represented on only 66 district councils.

System failure

At first glance, the results of this years municipal elections arent all that different from what we witnessed in 2012. Back then, United Russia also garnered some 75% of seats, with the rest being divided between nominal oppositionists.

In 2012, however, around half of all opposition seats went to the Communist Party. A year later, the Communists were able to overcome the municipal filter at the mayoral elections. In 2017, the Communists have only 43 seats. The respec...

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Can China help fix Venezuela? openDemocracy

After years of economic mismanagement and political strife, Venezuela finds itself in the midst of a political, economic, and humanitarian crisis, due in part to a loans-for-oil debtor relationship with China. Espaol Portugus

A protestor facing Venezuelas national guard in May 2017. Photo: Efecto Eco. Courtesy Dilogo Chino. All rights reserved.

The Chinese government has said little about the dire situation in Venezuela, while few other outside actors  including nearby Latin American neighbours  have called attention to Chinas role in it.

This oversight is both puzzling and misguided, given Chinas high-profile economic and diplomatic partnership with Venezuela. The lapse is rooted in Chinas foreign policy principle of noninterference in other countries domestic politics, its own undemocratic political system, and its claims of fostering win-win relationships with other developing countries. All of these factors have combined to create a deafening silence regarding Beijings role in addressing what is, in the end, a crisis of democratic governance in Caracas.

It is long past time to ask whether there is more that Beijing can and should do to help set Venezuela on a more sustainable path, both out of principle and Chinas own practical national interest. Ultimately, Chinas involvement in and response to Venezuelas multilayered turmoil underscore a range of broader economic and diplomatic challenges that Beijing faces in its relations with other resource-rich, crisis-wracked developing countries around the world.

A limited regional response

Over the past decade, China has become Venezuelas key overseas financial lifeline.

Venezuelas current crisis is grounded in the polarisation of domestic politics and society overseen by former president Hugo Chavez and his politicisati...


Pain, torture and alienation openDemocracy

Due to Egypts dire political and economic situation, pain and alienation are bound to be a feature of the lives of many for years to come.

AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. July 26, 2013. Anti-coup demonstrators at Rabaa Al-Adaweya square. AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.Human Rights Watch recently published a report exposing the use of systematic torture by Egyptian security forces. This includes, but is not limited to, the use of sexual violence, electric shocks and stress positions. Sadly, the report confirms what is already common knowledge amongst the vast majority of Egyptians.

What is novel in this report is that it affirms the use of torture as a matter of deliberate state policy, and that these wide spread abuses by security forces are condoned by President Sisi. Soon after the report was published, Human Rights Watch joined the list of websites blocked in Egypt, which now exceed 400 sites. 

Prisons in Egypt now host an estimated 60,000 political prisoners. It appears the regime plans to maintain or increase this number, as thirteen new prisons are currently being constructed to host what the NY Times dubbed Generation Jail.

It is not only the number of the political prisoners that is worth attention, but also the harsh conditions in which they are kept. The most notable example is the notorious Scorpion Prison, where a number of harrowing abuses have been recorded by...


How to deliver a national mission to decarbonise the British economy openDemocracy

We need to capitvate the global imagination by putting decarbonisation at the heart of our economic story. 

The arguments for mission-oriented industrial strategy in general, and the focus on a zero carbon mission in particular, have been well made. Historical examples the moon landings provide the usual case prove that it matters who is driving innovation and for what purpose. Public policy can steer the path of socioeconomic development toward solutions to the greatest problems we face, contrary to the prevailing narrative that the private sector is the only engine of innovation. Missions put outcomes first, giving socioeconomic development a more clearly defined purpose. The unprecedented threat of climate change requires global net zero decarbonisation, as recognised by the 2015 Paris Agreement, making it a prime candidate for the first national mission for the UK. So how would a mission-oriented industrial strategy be delivered? This is a question that we at IPPR are currently grappling with, in a project linked to our Commission on Economic Justice, which is developing a new approach to economic policy. Over the last thirty years, the orthodox approach to economic policy has precluded government intervention beyond two broad approaches:

  1. Horizontal policies that attempt to improve the general conditions for private sector investment in general through, for example, the promotion of workforce skills and the building of infrastructure
  2. Vertical policies that target interventions on particular sectors or technologies, such as support for the automotive industry or biotechnology.

As the BEIS select committee has shown, the governments Green Paper on Industrial Strategy  proposes a primary focus on horizontal policies, with some vertical interventions in order to support energy innovation and cultivate world-leading sectors. This approach is inadequate. Horizontal policies focussing on the supply side of the economy do not directly promote demand and therefore are better viewed as traditional economic policy. Industrial strategy requires an explicit focus on stimulating demand as well as improving the conditions in which firms invest. The decarbonisation of the economy cannot happen without this, particularly at a time when the British economy is suffering from a...


Persecuted beyond borders: why Italy needs LGBT refugee shelters openDemocracy

LGBT refugees fleeing torture, violence and discrimination often find persecution has followed them to Europe. Reception centres are beginning to respond to urgent needs.

Amani Zreba (right). Amani Zreba (right). Photo: courtesy of Amani Zreba. All rights reserved.Amani Zreba, 36, was forced to flee Tripoli six years ago because of her sexuality. I had a girlfriend from Egypt, and the whole society was hostile to us. At first I went to Egypt with her. I stayed there for a year, but I had to move even from there, she told me.

Zreba now lives in Milan, and is a volunteer for Immigrazione e Omosessualita, an association supporting LGBT refugees. I came here as asylum seeker," she said. "It was not easy, but after six months I got my status as a political refugee."

Today she wouldn't even consider going back to Libya. I am scared," she explained. "And now the situation in the country is really dangerous.

Her organisation is hoping to open a reception centre specifically for LGBT asylum seekers in Milan, to provide shelter from sometimes vicious homophobic violence, experienced throughout their journeys towards official refugee status.

Isolated and fearful

Libyas 1953 criminal code criminalised homophobia, with penalties of up to five years in prison. The fall of Muammar Gaddafi has not improved things; in 2012 a Libyan official shocked the UN by proclaiming that gay people threaten the future of the human race.

According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, Libya is one of 72 countries that criminalise people based on their sexual orientation. In at least eight of these states, those convic...


Neocolonial geographies of occupation: portrait of Diyarbakir openDemocracy

The terms military zone and death zone trace the colonial dynamics which have compartmentalised the city, in order to unpack further the claim that Kurdistan is a colony.

lead A street in Diyarbakr. Author's photo collection. The situation of the Kurds in a drastically changing Middle East has received little attention in academia and less in the media despite their growing impact on regional and international politics. The biggest stateless people living in the Middle East are on the verge of a new status, not only in Iraqi Kurdistan, where a referendum for independence takes place on September 25, 2017, but also in Syria and Turkey. In Syria, Kurds have fought an organised and effective struggle against the IS. In Turkey, they have suffered a massive destruction of Kurdish cities, displacement of half a million Kurds and eradication of all forms of legal entity by the Turkish state. Then there is Iran. This weeks short series looks at current political struggles of the Kurds in four neighbouring countries. Mehmet Kurt, series editor.

The colonial world is divided into compartments [...] the colonial world is a world cut in two (Fanon, 2001).

In the recent period starting in July 2015, with the sudden end in peace negotiations between the Turkish state and the Kurdish mainstream movement, we have witnessed an intensification of violence in Turkey Kurdistan. Kurdistan unlike the Occupied Palestinian territories does not exist on world maps. However, it does exist in the minds and hearts of its people. In this paper, I examine the new modalities of power emerging in neocolonial geographies more precisely, the spatial configurations of colonialism in Diyarbakr   de facto capital of Turkey Kurdistan. In doing so, I raise the question of whether this is an internal war getting worse day by day? If not, is it a colonial occupation, in the sense that the war is not in this country (in Turkey) but somewhere else (in its colony). Can we approach the Turkish state`s current policies by deploying a neo-colonial narrative?

A portrait of Diyarbakir



On Anthony Barnetts Lure of Greatness openDemocracy

In the era of Brexit and Trump, if another world is possible, what should it look like? Jeremy Fox finds much to praise in Barnett's timely new study - but also interrogates the book's interpretations of nationalism and neoliberalism.

Image: "Demagogues", Flickr/Philip Hunt. Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US are the focus of this elegantly written and insightful analysis about the period of political uncertainty in which the West finds itself. We are living through this period and many of us citizens as well as politicians and the media are struggling to understand both how we got here and what kind of future we might reasonably hope for and expect. Anthony Barnetts book provides an account of the lead-up to the current situation, offers a global perspective especially regarding the role of neoliberalism as the dominant economic paradigm of the age, and suggests some possible ways forward for the UK, of which the most salient and dramatic is that it should cease to exist so that our four constituent nations can go their own independent way.

The book is unashamedly judgemental about some of the key figures on both sides of the Atlantic. Notably enjoyable and apposite   is the authors contempt for Tony Blair and David Cameron, the first of whom he describes as governing with a more than passable imitation of megalomania, and the latter as a frivolous, contemptible liar who treated the country as just another playground for the destructive wantonness of the Bullingdon Club.

Where I part from the author is in his characterisation of the English as rejectionist...


Surviving violence in a Bangladeshi garment factory openDemocracy

Laws against gender-based violence at work exist in Bangladesh, but their protective power is as thin as the paper they're printed on.

My name is Kalpona Akter, and I'm a labour activist. I organise garment workers back home in Bangladesh.

Penelope: And can you please tell us a little bit about why you think gender-based violence in the workplace is such a prevalent issue in the garment industry?

Kalpona: It's such a prevalent issue because the majority of them are women workers the Bangladeshi garment industry is something like 15% men. It has become common, everyday, because the women do not speak out all the time and they are the majority. Everyone thinks women are weaker, so they can bear all these violences.

Penelope: What recourses do these women have at the moment, for instance to report sexual assault or other violations of their rights?

Everyone thinks women are weaker, so they can bear all these violences.

Kalpona: In the factory, I would say there is no mechanism to address or complain about these violences. Under national law women need to go to the police station. But, they need to go to many medical examinations, they need to go to police stations, where people are not friendly with women. Many times the women are fearful, because the people who do the violences are more powerful than these women. So that system really doesn't work.

Inside the factory, no mechanisms have really developed for women to be free to speak on that, or to complain especially when it comes to gender-based violence. For others, they don't have a platform they can complain to. The law says they can organise unions, and join them, but they're not free to do that. So it is the absence of the freedom to organise and bargain, the absence of the implementation of law. The law is there, but the lack of enforced mechanisms is really preventing them to address all of these issues.

Kalpona Akter at London launch of flagship UN Women Report in 2015. UN Women/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Penelope: Does the architecture of supply chains with layers of factories and sub-contractors prevent...

Hands Off Pants On: time to end gender-based abuse in the hotel industry openDemocracy

Too many women in Chicagos hospitality industry are experiencing gender-based abuse at work and women are speaking out to change that.

Photo by Noah Dobin-Bernstein, UNITE HERE Local 1.

Hotel housekeepers, bartenders, waitresses and cocktail servers the majority of whom are women of color and immigrants form the backbone of Chicagos booming hospitality and tourism industry. Now these women are speaking out about their experiences of widespread and disturbing sexual harassment from guests. And they are calling for an end to the abuse. They are a part of the Hands Off Pants On campaign, a public awareness and legislative initiative to fight sexual harassment and sexual assault in the hospitality industry.

Led by the Chicago Federation of Labor and UNITE HERE Local 1, the Hands Off Pants On campaign was born out of survey conducted in 2016 by UNITE HERE Local 1 of 487 women working in the Chicagoland hospitality industry. The survey revealed:

  • 58% of hotel workers surveyed had experienced sexual harassment from guests, including incidences of sexual assault;
  • 65% of casino cocktail servers surveyed have had a guest grope, pinch or grab them or try to touch them in an unwelcome way;
  • 49% of housekeepers surveyed have had guest(s) expose themselves, flash them, or answer the door naked. 

The Chicago Federation of Labor brought together male union leaders to create a video featuring the unrehearsed, unscripted reactions of the men reading real stories of workplace sexual harassment. This powerful video launched a legislative initiative to help protect Chicago hotel workers from sexual harassment and assault. In April 2017, an ordinance was introduced in in Chicago City Council which would ensure that hotels provide a panic button to every hotel worker in Chicago that works alone in a guest room or restroom. Women working in Chicagos hospitality industry are speaking out and calling for the passage of the Hands Off Pants On ordinance. Esthela, who works as a housekeeper in a downtown hotel, is among these women:

"I came to Chicago from Durango,...


No easy answers for ending forced labour in India openDemocracy

India must attend to a long list of issues if it's to achieve 'decent work for all' by the year 2030.

Manipur, India. Jake Guild/Flickr. CC (by)

We, the undersigned activists and academics, work on various forms of extreme exploitation in India. Endorsing the commitment of the Government of India to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 8 on Decent Work and SDG 8.7 on Forced Labour, Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, the undersigned hereby submit the following 25 points for consideration.

~ 1 ~

We believe that the problems of forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking which are sought to be addressed by SDG 8.7 must be tackled comprehensively. In other words, SDG 8 in general, and SDG 8.7 in particular, can only be achieved by interlinking with efforts to achieve other SDGs, especially SDGs 1 (against poverty), 2 (against hunger), 3 (health and well-being), 5 (gender equality), 10 (reduced inequalities) and 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions). Further, a multi-pronged strategy that responds to the needs of all affected constituencies, including bonded labourers, contract workers, domestic workers, intra and inter-state as well as international migrant workers, and sex workers is necessary in order to achieve SDG 8.7.

~ 2 ~

We believe that dominant international discourses on modern slavery do not adequately reflect the extreme exploitation and precarious nature of employment in India today. Instead, we believe that an undue emphasis on sensationalist accounts of modern slavery deny the widespread prevalence of economic exploitation even now based on social customs, cultural traditions and hereditary obligations and obfuscate the continuum between extreme and everyday forms of such exploitation.

~ 3 ~

We believe that the criminal law, which advocates very stringent punishment of offenders, is neither the best way to address exploitation nor to achieve SDG 8.7...


Humanizing technology openDemocracy

Its easier to turn technology in the direction of democracy and social justice when its developed with social and emotional intelligence. 

Credit: Pixabay/Geralt. CC0 Creative Commons.

Can we use the internet to enhance deep human connection and support the emergence of thriving communities in which everyones needs are met and peoples lives are filled with joy and meaning?

Thats a very challenging question, and the answer isnt just about technology, at least not in the conventional sense of that word. Its not about any of the emerging trends that are already impacting our societies like bitcoin, drones, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, hyperloops or any of the things that the Singularity University thinks will converge.

Its not just a matter of finding new technologies either, even if they are more user-centric or built on self-sovereign digital identities in place of corporate ownership and controlthe field that forms my own techno-specialty. And the solutions cant be driven by a government need to find a military advantagewhich is the case for a vast range of everyday innovations todayas Manuel DeLanda outlines in his book, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines

Our work on technical technologies wont generate broad human gains unless we invest an equal amount of time, energy and resources in the development of social and emotional technologies that drive how our whole society is organized and how we work together. I think we are actually on the cusp of having the tools, understanding and infrastructure to make that happen, without all our ideas and organizing being intermediated by giant corporations. But what does that mean in practice?

I think two things are absolutely vital.

First of all, how do we connect all the people and all the groups that want to align their goals in pursuit of social justice, deep democracy, and the development of new economies that share wealth and protect the environment? How are people supported...


Memory Exercises openDemocracy

In his film Memory Exercises, Paz Encina hones in on the life of Doctor Agustn Goibur, one of Paraguay's many 'desaparecidos', piecing together voice recordings notes of memory that begin to grapple with the past.

Memory Excerises (still).The Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay was the longest in all of Latin America, lasting from 1954-89. His regime, like many in the region over a similar period, was characterised by the systematic torture and disappearance of dissenters. In his film Memory Exercises, Paz Encina hones in on the life of Doctor Agustn Goibur, one of the many desaparecidos (disappeared people), telling the medics story through memories recounted by his family.

Goiburs persecution and murder will be a tragic but familiar tale to those acquainted with modern Latin American history.

Leader of the movement MOPOCO (El Movimiento Popular Colorado), Goibur was perhaps the most prominent opponent of the Stroessner government. Even when forced into exile in Argentina, Goibur was unfaltering in his opposition to El Gringo (a derogatory term by which Stroessner was known, meaning the westerner), plotting one attempt after another on his life. A terrorist in the eyes of the regime, Goiburs ensuing persecution, kidnapping and murder, will be a tragic but familiar tale to those acquainted with modern Latin American history.

Its a story you might expect to be told as a militantly political saga. Encinas film instead delves tentatively into the memories of Goiburs three children. Audio recordings of their recollections are pasted together, one fading into another to form a hazy soundscape, evoking the fabric of memory itself. Rogelio, Jazmn and Roland, now adults, remember the sights, smells and sounds associated with their father, summoning a tender nostalgia for their childhood. One addresses the director personally: one of the things etched in my memory, Paz, he says, is the smell of his skin. Never have I recognised it in someone else.



Light-fingered DUP Culture Crocs prepare to exploit new model Acht? Slugger O'Toole

I was asked on Friday if I thought there would be a resolution to the current impasse and answered honestly with a no idea that brought only the inevitable derisory laughter at a public pundit declaring himself unable to take a punt.

But as Patrick Murphy in the Irish News on Saturday joyfully declared:

This is a difficult time for astrologers, especially those who dabble in British and Irish politics. It is not much fun for columnists either, because whatever about the other heavenly bodies, this part of our planet faces three unpredictable outcomes regarding future developments in Stormont, Westminster and Leinster House.

The difficulty arises from the extemporaneous nature of Stormonts collapse.  Sinn Feins exit was notable by its haste and untidiness leaving them with an internal power vacuum derived from Martin McGuinnesss untimely departure and death.

On the face of it, an unfeasibly slender bottleneck must be traversed before Northern Irish democracy can be re-assembled. On Friday, Alex Kane noted this research from LucidTalk:

66 per cent of DUP supportersand almost 50 per cent of UUP/TUV/UKIP/PUP votersare opposed to an Irish language act. When DUP voters were asked the question, If the DUP judged that it suited DUP objectives to agree to a NI Irish Language Act, say as an overall agreement with SF, as a DUP voter would you agree with this?, 50 per cent wouldnt.

That will make Arlene Foster think twice before moving beyond the olive branch (legislation for a wider language and culture act) she offered Sinn Fin last week. And with around 70 per cent of Sinn Fin voters opposed to setting up the executive in the absence of an Irish language act, Michelle ONeill will also be treading very carefully.

There are concerns at the UK government level that the local institutions are back up in time for publication of the Coghlin review, which gives us at least a couple of years. That would fit with reports that Sinn Fein wants the time frame to stretch to any spring election in the Republic.

The DUP has business in Westminster to attend (swapping favours between the Tories and Labour to remind everyone theyre not bought into everything the government wants), whilst Sinn Fein is...


The folly of men openDemocracy

Pump, an absurdist take on the classic road movie, is a film of many questions and few answers. What can it tell us about our relationship with the built environment? At the Open City Documentary Festival on 9th September 2017.

Pump.Modern infrastructure rouses a peculiar romanticism in its human creators. From a dream through to rubble, from idea to abandoned husk, the built environment remains mysterious, fuelling imaginations with its promise of binding human life ever closer together. Perhaps it is a symptom of capitalist realism that the most physical symbols of commerce and efficiency  bridges, motorways, skyscrapers  command such widespread fascination. Or maybe this sentiment extends naturally from the masculine ambition that pervades the world of architecture and engineering, those boyish desires to build higher, tunnel deeper and dream bigger than ever before.

Time gives infrastructure another layer of intrigue. Once abandoned, buildings and structures can be repurposed and reclaimed, gaining all kinds of new meanings and functions. A power plant can become a nightclub, a railroad a public park, a chapel can become a synagogue before ending up as a mosque. The built environment endures even as it is renewed and reimagined. Its roads, tracks and waterways can lead us to multiple temporalities  to both snapshots of the past and visions of the future.

This interplay of space, time and building forms the context for Pump, a new documentary centred on 11 miles of monorail test track near Orlans in northern France. Atop eight-metre concrete pillars, the disused track plays host to the wanderings of director Joseph David and his companion Andrew Ktting, whose purpose in visiting the viaduct is at the outset unclear.


Tuesday, 19 September


How human rights are freeing journalists in Turkey a prison for members of the press openDemocracy

Though some from Turkey's independent newspaper Cumhuriyet are still being detained, human rights mechanisms are being used successfully even in this autocracy to free many others.

Cumhuriyet Newspaper journalist Musa Kart one of the seven jailed newspaper staff released pending the end of their terrorism trial. Istanbul, Turkey, July 28, 2017. Depo Photos/PA Images. All rights reserved.The cartoonists, the lawyer, the board member, the Editor-in-Chief and many of his columnists. Indeed, no one was spared on October 31, 2016 as the police launched a sweeping crackdown on Cumhuriyet, arguably Turkeys most important independent public interest newspaper. By November 5th, a dozen of its key personnel were being held in pre-trial detention in Sillivri maximum security prison under Turkeys anti-terrorism law. While the possibility of reprisals against Cumhuriyet always remained a possibility given Turkeys growing reputation as the worlds biggest prison for media personnel, I was alarmed at how quickly the state of emergency imposed by the government after the failed coup of July 2016 turned into a state of terror. Indeed, during the second hearing of the Cumhuriyet trial on September 11th, I bore witness to the full force of state power, with an intimidating phalanx of some hundred armed security personnel stationed menacingly outside the courtroom in Silivri.

While Cumhuriyets lawyers began the daunting task of defending their clients against the bewildering charge that they had carried out the activities of armed terrorist organizations of which they formed no part I reflected with no small measure of despondency on what we could possibly do to support them, as a European Foundation with offices in Stockholm and Geneva. Indeed, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation had announced Cumhuriyet as one of its 2016 Laureates just a month earlier, recognizing the newspaper for for their fearless investigative journalism and commitment to freedom of expression in the face of oppression, censorship, imprisonment and death threats.

Despite the prevailing mood within ci...


Portugals left-leaning economic recovery openDemocracy

Portugal is making the news for all the right reasons.

Antonio Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal. CC.

Portugal has been getting noticed for its remarkable recovery in the last two years, defying the doomsayers who predicted the devil was coming the moment that the Troika-prescribed policies were reversed and an expansionary policy was adopted instead.

The left-wing government that came to power in 2015, ridiculed by the media as a contraption, reversed many of the cuts imposed by the previous austerity government, which had tried to go beyond the Troika with disastrous consequences. Under Troika policies the deficit limit was always exceeded, public debt rose from 90% to 120% of GDP, and unemployment went through the roof.

Oddly enough, this left-wing alternative, by reducing austerity, and returning income to the middle-class, managed to make the economy grow, increase the tax revenue, reduce the burden of unemployment benefits, and achieve the lowest deficit in the 43-year old democracy. Public debt is also decreasing for the first time in many years.

Was this an unexpected outcome? Not so, say most economists who had always claimed countercyclical policies were the way to fight an economic depression, and had dismissed the notion of expansionary austerity as absurd. It seems Keynes was right, after all.

Meanwhile, though, the structural flaws of the Eurozone, that contributed heavily to Portugals financial crisis, persist. For concrete proposals on how DiEM25 would resolve them, see our European New Deal.


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