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Wednesday, 20 June

23:50

Looking from within: is the nuclear deal a big deal for the Iranian people? openDemocracy

The best deal for the Iranian people is to get dignity and respect and to save their country from further political and economic collapse.

A man watches the news broadcast on U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal at a teahouse in central Tehran, capital of Iran, on May 8, 2018. Picture by Ahmad Halabsiaz/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.The United States recent withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has exposed some of the multi-layered dynamics of entrenched socio-political and cultural contradictions embedded in the very formative constituents of the Iranian nation-state.

The debates over the (un)desirable repercussions of JCPOA have taken different expressions among proponents and opponents of the Iranian government; both signaled their deep apprehension about the possibility of a militarist intervention against Iran by the United States with the support of its regional allies.

A cursory glimpse over the social media platforms in recent weeks reveals that a considerable number of Iranian intellectuals share with the hardliners and reformists the idea that the US decision to withdraw from the deal was fundamentally dictated by Israel, some Arab countries, as well as the US neoconservative faction, in an organized attempt to overthrow the Iranian regime.

Appealing to a dozen conspiratorial accounts to explain the invisible causes behind breaking this internationally abided agreement, the Iranian nationalists jumped to the conclusion that the whole plan is to undermine the entirety and integrity of Iran by inciting ethnic and religious groups.

However, they simply ignored the fact that Irans socio-economic fabric has already been destabilized by four decades of theocratic dictatorship that mobilized all resources in order to export the Islamic Revolution to the world. Having perceived Iran and Iranianness as culturally consistent and unique phenomena, they undervalue both the historicity and contingency of what came to emerge as the Iranian nation-state in less than a century.

Such an ahistorical understanding is best exemplified in adopting and generalizing the...

22:58

How real urban planning could address the demographic challenge in Russias North Caucasus openDemocracy

As new data shows, birth rates, migration and urban planning in Russias North Caucasus affect the regions politics. RU

Aleksandr Panin. Source: Vkontakte.Kartfonds recent series of maps Demographic Trends in the North Caucasus show that in the east of the region Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan the birth rate is higher and the death rate lower than average. Is this connected with local traditions, or do state programmes to stimulate childbirth work better in republics with a high unemployment rate? Does this dynamic lead to mass migration to other areas and, as a consequence, interethnic tension in the region?

I talked about this to Aleksandr Panin, a senior research fellow at Moscow State Universitys Faculty of Geography and a managing partner of Kartfond. Here, Panin analyses new maps of the region, published in February, and explains that the North Caucasus republics actually have an increasingly aging population. If the authorities are going to halt the process of youth migration, creating a more pleasant and comfortable environment in urban centres will be key. 

We are looking at charts of birth rates, death rates and the natural growth of the population in this region. How important are they?

What you see on the table is only a small sample of our maps. But even they can show how the regions of the Caucasus vary and how difficult it is to develop a single spatial development strategy for all its different areas.

Can we trust the figures that the research is based on? Rosstat, Russias Statistics Agency, has often been criticised for the lack of objectivity in its published figures.

We base our maps on municipal statistics. The demographics are accurate in terms of births and deaths, as these require the issue of official certificates. But there are a lot of questions around other figures.

In the first place, Rosstat took a lon...

22:50

Did police officer involved in Rashan restraint do what he was trained to do? openDemocracy

Police officers use of force must be Proportionate to the threat, Lawful, Accountable and Necessary. Inquest hears expert testimony on Days Six and Seven.

Officer BX47 restrains Rashan Charles, Saturday 22 July, 2017

The inquest into the death of Rashan Charles, which involved restraint, heard expert evidence last week on police use of force.

Both expert witnesses, Ian Read and Martin Graves, are retired Metropolitan Police officers, each with more than 30 years experience. They testified on the types of permitted restraints, how they are used and in what circumstances.

Read said that he did not know the officer (known as BX47) who restrained Rashan, but he had been present at BX47s training ten years ago.

Both Read and Graves said they knew Rod Charles, Rashans great uncle, who retired as a chief inspector four years ago after 30 years service with the Metropolitan Police.

The expert evidence ran over two days, from mid-afternoon on Tuesday 12 Juneinto Wednesday 13 June, Days Six and Seven of the inquest.

Rashan Charles died after being restrained last summer by the police officer BX47 and a man described as a member of the public in a convenience store in Hackney, east London. The coroner granted both men anonymity and ruled they should be known in court as BX47 and Witness 1. A second officer, who arrived in the restraints final moments and administered CPR is known as BX48.

What the jury saw and heard

CCTV and police body worn camera footage played in court showed BX47 use force to take Rashan to the ground. Then, BX47 attempts to retrieve something from Rashans mouth. Rashan is still moving at this stage, his legs kicking. On BX47s body worn camera footage, the officer is heard shouting: Spit it out, spit it out.

Immediately after this, there is a muffled sound from Rashan. The officer repeats the command Spit it out several times. Then a second voice is heard offering a hand. This is Witness 1. He kneels down, joins in the restraint, pinning...

22:48

Mexican elections: the security issue openDemocracy

Mexicos next president will have the opportunity to revamp the countrys security policy framework, which for more than a decade has focused on militarized confrontation with criminal gangs. Espaol

Source: Insight Crime. All Rights Reserved.

According to official figures, 2017 saw more homicides than any other year in Mexicos recent history. And independent analyses point to organized crime as the main driver of the escalating violence.

This adds to mounting evidence that the heavy-handed approach of the past two presidents has failed to improve security in the country.

But are the candidates for the rapidly approaching July 1 elections promising anything different? And if they are, will it work?

The frontrunner: Andrs Manuel Lpez Obrador

Running under the banner of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), former Mexico City Mayor Andrs Manuel Lpez Obrador, known widely as AMLO, is the favorite at this stage of the race, with double-digit leads in most polls.

As a virulent critic of former presidents Felipe Caldern and Enrique Pea Nieto, a victory by AMLO would give him a strong mandate to break with the past.

The best example of this is his proposal to award some form of amnesty to members of criminal groups. This remains mostly a nascent idea, but AMLO has repeated and refined it, despite a furious reaction from his opponents.

The former mayor has spoken favorably of phasing out the use of the military for domestic security tasks.

Most recently, ...

22:45

No red carpet for Thai junta leader, Mrs May openDemocracy

As Theresa May welcomes the Thai Prime Minister to Number 10 today, does she care about democracy and human rights? Or are business deals the only real priority?

Image: Pro-democracy demonstration in Thailand, May 2018. Credit: Chiawat Subprasom/Zuma Press/PA Images, all rights reserved.

Thailands Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha is meeting UK Prime Minister Teresa May in London this afternoon (June 20), and is scheduled to meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris five days later. Human rights concerns need to be at the top of the agenda.

May and Macron should be prepared to give General Prayut an earful about Thailands abysmal human rights record and why his dawdling on restoring civilian democratic rule is damaging Thailands reputation and hurting Thai people.

The United Kingdom and France are long-time allies of Thailand who have repeatedly stated that bilateral relations will only be normalized when democracy is fully restored through a free and fair election.

Yet four years after the May 2014 coup, Thailand is nowhere close to meeting General Prayuts pledge to quickly restore civilian democratic rule.

Instead, the military junta has been trying to masquerade as a kinder, gentler quasi-democracy. That argument has fallen flat in Thailand, and European leaders should not fall for it either.

Since the coup, General Prayut has wielded unchecked power with total impunity. The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has routinely enforced censorship and blocked public discussions about the state of human rights and democracy in Thailand. Hundreds of pro-democracy activists and dissidents have been prosecuted on criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for the peaceful expression of their opinions.

Public gatherings of more than five people and peaceful political activities are prohibited. Thousands have been summoned to have their political attitudes adjusted by the military and pressured to stop making critical comments against the junta. Military authorities continue to secretly detain people for up to seven days without charge and interrogate them without access to lawyers or safeguards...

20:47

McQueen ***** Jonathan Fryer

Alexander McQueen and Isabel BlowAs a lad in Londons East End, Lee McQueen (later to be rebranded with his posher-sounding middle name Alexander) had little interest in the subjects he was meant to be studying, instead spending most of his time in class drawing. His taxi-driver father would have liked him to become a mechanic or something similarly practical, but the podgy youth encouraged by his mother and gran was determined to become a fashion designer, pursuing his vocation with a determination that belied his years. He managed to get an apprenticeship at a tailors in Savile Row, but already his creative imagination was heading in directions that were wildly different from the norms of traditional fine tailoring or haute couture. An MA course at Central St Martins (paid for by an aunt who withdrew her nest-egg to sponsor him) enabled him to experiment, to learn about working in a team, and to get noticed. His designs were outrageous, both in their style and often in the materials they were made of. He was essentially on the breadline financially, living off the dole after graduation, while hiding the fact that he was working, and forming a key friendship with the avant garde style guru, Isabel Blow. He embarked on a number of gay relationships, but none was to prove permanent, as his work always came first. And as he rose rap...

19:49

The Directors of Democracy openDemocracy

Democracy is the way in which two or more people discuss a topic they have in common, make a decision about it, and ensure that the agreed action satisfies all.

Breakout working group from a session at Fearless Cities on 'Building non-state Institutions'. Bertie Russell. Liberal democracy was supposed to be the end of history, remember? The last political product youd ever need to buy because its so convincingly good. But just look at it now. In most countries it works at half cock, being undermined by mass abstention and populism; or else its existence is threatened by oligarchs and autocrats who see it as a useful means to legitimise their regimes. Indifference, apathy, cynicism, disillusion, ignorance and disengagement are rife. Sometimes you have to wonder whether democracy is worth bothering with at all.

Clever political analysts in the universities of the west say we face a stark choice: take action to save democracy or start planning its funeral. They take a practical, managerial approach to the problem. They know what is best for us and they want to direct us along the right course. They can tell us exactly what liberal democracy is so that we do not have to think things out for ourselves.

These Directors of Democracy work from high vantage points in Yale, Harvard, Oxbridge, London, Paris. They cosy up with politicians and move in the circles of the state and of the national media.  Their narrow range of political experience leads them to make two assumptions that they are not challenged on because they mostly debate with others of their own kind  

One assumption is that democracy is a set of institutions. Another assumption is that there are those who give the orders and those who take them although the latter have to be given the impression that they are nominally in control over the former.

Power, in theory, travels upwards in a democracy, from the people but we can all see that is very rarely true. In practice all decisions are made by cabals on high. So naturally the Directors focus their attention on national political structures that matter and the personnel that shuffle into and out of them (as well as having privileged access to jo...

19:45

What kind of capitalism is it possible for the left to build? openDemocracy

To win power, the left must build a narrative around ending privatisation, empowering the workforce and borrowing to invest. To stay in power, left governments must transition to an economy based on high automation, shorter working hours and free services. 

To win power, the left must build a narrative around ending privatisation, empowering the workforce and borrowing to invest. To stay in power, left governments must transition towards an economy based on relative abundance, high automation, shorter working hours and free services. 

***

To win power, the left must build a narrative around ending privatisation, empowering the workforce and borrowing to invest. To stay in power, left governments must transition towards an economy based on high automation, shorter working hours and free services. 

***

After Trump, Brexit, the formation of a right wing coalition in Austria and now the M5S/Lega government in Italy, the way the current era might end is becoming clearer. Right wing populism demands an end to migration and offshoring. Right wing conservatism, in response, harnesses the populist into a programme of nation-centric free-market economics call it Thatcherism in One Country. Meanwhile, Russias perennial hybrid warfare against Western democracies opens up the social fissures within them even further. The G7s failure to commit to a rules based global order after Trumps walkout then presages the actual paralysis of multilateral institutions. At worst the EU, NATO and the Eurozone fall apart. Of course, its possible to imagine that the populists, the demagogues and their right wing, authoritarian voters suddenly become exhausted and satisfied with the world as it is. But it is much easier to imagine that the anger of their voters escalates, that democratic institutions become frayed and discredited, and that the nerves of liberal technocrats crack. Either way, the project I am trying to outline in this series namely the programme, philosophy and moral basis for a radical social democracy in the 21st century has increasingly to be conceived as a plan for picking up the pieces, not the deepening and extension of an essentially stable system. In my book Postcapitalism, I argued that information technology creates the possibility of a long transition beyond market-based societies towards an economy based on relative...

19:15

Turkeys economy needs reliability and peace openDemocracy

The manifesto pledge on the economy of the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) in the Turkish elections on June 24.

Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) demonstration in Istanbul, Turkey, on 17 June 2018 for the upcoming general elections.NurPhoto/ Press Association. All rights reserved.

Turkey is preparing for an election of historic importance to be held on June 24, 2018. The AKP during 16 years in power have created a rent-seeking economy through the exploitation of labor and nature only to benefit its own supporters. It was the shopping malls, chain markets and contractors supporting the government that benefited and thrived, not the workers, civil servants, retirees, farmers, tradespersons. As the foreign debt continued to grow, the AKP government continuously wasted economic resources in luxury, in more construction, in arms and war.

The AKP that came to power following the economic crisis of 2002 was forced to call the elections in a panic after dragging the country into a severe economic crisis in the last days of its 16 years in power. Different social strata in society have begun to feel the economic consequences of the governments security policies and growing oppression, and ambitions for regime change in favor of one-man rule, especially after 2014. As HDP, we see the deepening of crisis of democracy in recent years as the principle cause of the current economic crisis. The AKP-MHP coalition aims to rule the country under the law of a state of emergency and a regime under one-man rule. In recent years the AKP has shattered the social peace.

The AKP-MHP coalition aims to rule the country under the law of a state of emergency and a regime under one-man rule. In recent years the AKP has shattered the social peace. The Parliament has been turned into an endorser/notary of the Palace. The judiciary has been turned into an instrument of the Palace. The media have become a propaganda outlet for the regime and academic freedoms were curtailed under the threat of state issued decrees. AKP policies have put on hold the countrys claim to be a democratic society and the deepening of the crisis of democracy has triggered a deep economic crisis. The econom...

17:45

Russias cautious role in Syria openDemocracy

How far would Russia risk its international relations to protect the regime of Bashar Al Assad?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (L) view a military parade in the Russian-run Hmeimim Air Base in the coastal city of Latakia, Syria, on Dec. 11, 2017. Picture by Syrian Presidency/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.What is Russia doing in Syria? Is it protecting the regime of its ally Bashar al-Assad from falling? Is it protecting its own geopolitical interests alongside Irans in the Middle East against the United States hegemony? Is it really bothered by the rise of Islamists and terrorists, as Russian President Vladmir Putin claims?

The Arab Spring changed the face of domestic politics and foreign policies in many countries, from Tunisia to Bahrain. However, Syria could be seen as the most catastrophic location due to the existence of major regional and international stakes, in addition to a growing ethno-sectarian conflict and the rise of transnational terrorism, which directly affects neighboring countries like Iraq and Lebanon.

Endless debates can be had on Syria today, ranging from the US-Russian rivalry to the hunting of Kurdish fighters by Turkey or the Iranian paramilitary expansionism, along with sectarianism, terrorism and many more. However, one of the major conclusions this conflict brought to light is an unusual, more confident Russian participation in the Middle East in fact, its first since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Syria, like many other Arab countries, faced a wave of protests during the Arab Spring in 2011 demanding a better economy and political freedom. Within less than a year, the country witnessed the formation of an armed opposition in response to the regimes crackdown on demonstrations.

Nevertheless, the power vacuum within a new and leaderless opposition, trapped between several regional and international interests and funds, caused an early breakup, as foreign...

17:10

Refugee today citizen tomorrow? A message for International Refugees Day openDemocracy

"It is time to listen to the voice of cities."

lead lead Lorena Oval Dorta. All rights reserved.There is a voice which is rarely heard in the deeply divisive debate about refugee policies the voice of cities. Listening to cities can not only make the debate more constructive, it can also help shape policies which reconcile solidarity and societal cohesion.

Most asylum-seekers and refugees live in cities: in neighborhoods, parks, enterprises, hospitals and schools. They are not an abstract political issue they are human beings with needs, responsibilities and aspirations.

Mayors care about people living in their cities. They care both about the welfare of newcomers and the prosperity and well-being of the entire community. Therefore, we have to find a way to secure both. We cannot afford to engage in short-term political struggles and neglect the long-term perspective. We must pave the way for todays refugees to become the citizens of tomorrow. If they cannot work, study, create enterprises and even volunteer because of legal or administrative obstacles, or because they have no affordable opportunities to learn our language, we still need to find a way to avoid lives and talents being wasted. We can achieve this if we manage to convince fellow citizens that migrants are not a threat, but an opportunity to build more inclusive, open, creative, and dynamic cities for everyone.

For us, all those who feel they belong to the city are citizens.

We call for a political vision in our societies which takes integration seriously, as our attitudes determine whether migration will be a blessing or a curse.

Successful integration cannot be based on rejection and fear. It can only work if there is mutual respect and a shared pluralistic community identity. We can only help newcomers embrace the values of equality, human rights and democracy, which are the pillars of our societies, if we are able to demonstrate that we live by these values ourselves. We need to lead by example, building relentlessly open, just, and inclusive democracies.  

In order to make our mission a success, we work together with other citie...

17:00

The Union in Revolutionary Times Slugger O'Toole

There may never be a United Ireland. But, equally, there could be one very soon. Historical inevitability is a fallacy best left to ageing Marxist university lecturers. So ubiquitous is forecasting the fate of Northern Ireland through the glacial process of demographic change, we forget that in revolutionary times, previously robust assumptions can crumble in a day.

The night the Berlin Wall was accidentally opened, a panel discussion on West German TV discussed the stunning events of the previous hours (on YouTube here). The right-wing journalist Gerhard Lwenthal, long a figure of ridicule on the left for his histrionic anti-Communist rants, confidently predicted that reunification would soon follow.

He was dismissed not only by his fellow panel members, but by a supporter of the East German opposition who was enjoying his first night with freedom to travel by joining the audience. The Easterner noted that not one placard calling for reunification had been seen among the street demonstrations of millions taking place over preceding weeks; there were smart people in the ruling SED too, and they would work something out with the opposition. He would be going back East the next day to play his part. Liberal journalists in the studio cooed with delight. For most of the West German lite in November 1989, reunification was a fantasy to be feared, not an emerging reality to be embraced.

Unionists would be rightly outraged if I were comparing Brookeborough and the B Specials with Honecker and the Stasi. My point is rather that it would be as foolish to bet the Union on the scepticism of Fine Gael voters towards rapid Irish reunification as it was for the reformist faction of the SED to depend on the scepticism of West German Social Democrats to see off German reunification. The West German centre and left did indeed blow cold on reunification until it was a fait accompli and were consequently blown away by Helmut Kohl in the first all-German elections of December 1990.

Among the ten schoolboy summers I spent with a family in a Catholic, CDU-voting, village on the Dutch border were those of 89 and 90. The transformation in mood was tremendous. In August 1989, as tens of thousands camped in the West German embassies in Prague and Budapest to eventually be whisked ad occidentem on sealed trains to a new life, people on the far-off Rhineland sympathised, but surely it wasnt a good idea for all these people to think their problems would be solved in the West? If all the young and able people left, perhap...

09:12

Rashan Charles, encounters with police and support services openDemocracy

Rashans final visits to his GP and encounters with the police and social services. Day Six of the inquest into the death of a young Londoner.

lead lead Rashan Charles

On Tuesday 12 June, Day Six of the inquest, the jury was given a brief, potted account of Rashans encounters with public and state services. 

Rashan Charles died, aged 20, in Hackney, East London, after a police officer chased him into a convenience store, grabbed him from behind, threw him to the ground and restrained him. A man described by the police as a member of the public joined in the restraint, helping to handcuff Rashan as he lay limp and face down on the floor.

On Day Six of the inquest into his death, Coroner Mary Hassell read two short statements relating Rashans final visits to his GP and encounters with the police and social services from childhood up until his death.

A written statement from Dr Rajendra Tahalani revealed that in September 2016 Rashan had been hit by a car, been badly injured with a deep wound on his left leg. Rashan went to see Dr Tahalani two weeks after the car accident with a support worker from the Jobcentre. Rashan needed a sick note, he was struggling to attend Jobcentre appointments. 

Dr Tahalani said in the statement that he wrote an earlier sick note for Rashan in July 2016 for a stress-related problem. Rashan was on bail for police charges related to cannabis. Rashan told his doctor that he felt stressed a lot and smoked cannabis to help with that. 

The statement from Dr Tahalani revealed that Rashan was referred to a psychologist and had problems with anxiety. 

Rashan was known to childrens social services, the court heard, and was on the child protection register during childhood. 

The coroner read a statement of Ras...

06:32

How Russias security services target Crimean Tatars as Islamic terrorists openDemocracy

In the four years since the peninsulas annexation, Russian security services have become well practiced at prosecuting Crimean Tatars on terrorism charges. RU

Evelina, daughter of Arsen and Zarina Dzhepparov, looks at photographs of her parents. Image: Alina Smutko. All rights reserved. I will prove by all possible and impossible means that hes guilty even if he isnt guilty. These were the first words Arsen Dzhepparovs family heard from the mouth of a Federal Security Service investigator in after his subordinates broke down a gate and entered the familys yard. The investigator in question was a senior FSB lieutenant named Alexander Kompaneytsev. A former Security Service of Ukraine operative, Kompaneytsev is known for having instigated the beating and arrest of Crimean human rights defender Emir-Usein Kuku, and also for being an active recruiter of witnesses for Hizb ut-Tahrir cases in Crimea.

The FSB paid three visits to Arsen Dzhepparov in April 2016. The first came two weeks before his arrest, and took place at the boiler plant where he was working. Kompaneytsev told Dzhepparov in no certain terms that he must give incriminating evidence against four already-arrested individuals named in the Yalta Hizb ut-Tahrir case. When Arsen refused to comply, he was fired from his job at the FSBs request.

The second visit occurred exactly one week later. Dzhepparov was driving to a construction site where he was making some extra money. Another car cut in ahead of him right by a traffic police station. The police immediately stopped Dzhepparov; the offending vehicle, meanwhile, braked to a halt nearby and a group of now-familiar FSB officers, two of them in uniform and armed with automatic weapons, exited. The officers ordered Dzhepparov out of the car together with its other four occupants and proceeded to search it. One of the other guys tried to object, earning himself a blow to the chest with the butt of an automatic. In the meantime, the traffic police were busy deletin...

06:14

Ashcroft Poll shows a competitive Border Poll race. Slugger O'Toole

Lord Ashcroft released the results of the survey he conducted which included results of how a Border Poll, North and South would go.

In the South

When do people think there should be a Border Poll

05:55

Would psychedelics really lead to democratic transformation? openDemocracy

History offers many reasons to look askance at technical shortcuts to the reformation of human character: a response to Vikram Zutshi.

Credit: Flickr/Torbakhopper. CC BY-ND 2.0.

In his recent article for Transformation Vikram Zutshi argues that if psychedelic drugs can radically reform our relationship to nature and each other, then those of us committed to social transformation must start to take the use of psychedelics much more seriously. He suggests that in the face of environmental collapse and intensifying hatreds, perhaps real change begins with rewiring our perceptual framework.

It seems clear that psychedelics can rewire our perceptions, and since our perceptions drive our politics these drugs certainly do have political significance. But its not clear that that a psychedelic politics would also be a democratic politics, nor that the social transformations Zutshi envisions would be positive if what we want is a more open and inclusive democracy.

Of course everything depends on what we mean by terms. Maybe Zutshi has a different notion of what politics is, and what it means for politics to be democratic. I think politics is democratic when we meet each other as equals in debates about public matters. So, for example, there can be no democratic politics between children and adults. Of course in reality the line between childhood and adulthood is messy. Some children are more than the equal of adults and some adults are less mature than some children.

But the point is this: democracy is never just about inclusion in the abstract. Its always about being included into some real community of people who treat each other as equalsnot in every capacity but in terms of the capacities required to participate in common decision-making. We can debate precisely what these capacities are, but if so that means that one of the good democrats capacities is precisely the willingness to debate, and that includes a basic level of respect for facts and logic, as well as for the feelings and sensibilities of others.

Of course theres always a risk that the requirements for inclusion in this process will be confused with excuses to exclude people who ought to be treated as equalsgroups that traditionally have been marginalized and oppressed such as women,...

02:12

Desperately seeking socialism: why the Soviet Union's left-wing dissidents matter today openDemocracy

This new collection of essays seeks to rebalance our understanding of dissent in the late Soviet Union, drawing attention to democratic socialists from the 1950s into the 1980s. 

August 1968, Prague. Wikipedia / Public Domain. Some rights reserved.

This is a response to Dissidents Among Dissidents by Ilya Budraitskis, a new collection of essays published in Russian in 2017 by Free Marxist Publishers. It was originally published on People and Nature

The New Cold War is the subject of the most politically compelling of the essays in this book by the Russian socialist Ilya Budraitskis. He wrote it in the summer of 2014, as Russian troops streamed into eastern Ukraine to fight alongside the Russian-armed militia of the separatist peoples republics, and the Russian ultra-nationalists, mercenaries and volunteers who joined them.  

At that time, the existence of a New Cold War was already being treated in public discourse as an obvious and indisputable fact, Budraitskis argues but the production of rhetoric has run way ahead of the reality.

To question the assumptions behind the rhetoric further, Budraitskis considers the character of the original Cold War, i.e. between the Soviet bloc and the western powers between the end of the Second World War and 1991, in the essay Intellectuals and the Cold War. As he writes, the Cold War was a set of principles of the world order, construed by ruling elites and then confirmed in intellectual discourse and in the everyday activity of masses of people.

The reality of continuous psychological mobilisation, and the nerve-straining expectation of global military conflict, as apprehended by society as a whole, became a means of existence, reproduced over the course of two generations, in which loyalty to beliefs was combined with fear and a feeling of helplessness before fate.

This proposition, that the Cold War was essentially a means of social control, in which masses of people were systematically deprive...

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Tuesday, 19 June

23:47

Can the Turkish Opposition beat Erdoan? openDemocracy

The most likely challenger on June 24 is the CHPs candidate Muharrem nce who will have an uphill battle.

lead lead A huge banner for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan goes up in Ankara, Turkey, on June 17, 2018. Qin Yanyang/Press Association. All rights reserved.

Turkish democracy has been in a slow motion crisis for some time now. Turkeys president Recep Tayyip Erdoan is frequently mentioned in the same breath as Victor Orban, Rodrigo Duterte, and Vladimir Putin. His Justice and Development Party has been running the country under a state of emergency since the summer of 2016, using anti-terrorism and defamation laws to imprison large numbers of journalists, NGO workers and opposition politicians. Last year, the party won a referendum to grant major new powers for the president. In April this year, Erdoan called a snap election to vote in the next president of Turkey. The most likely challenger is the CHPs candidate Muharrem nce who will have an uphill battle.

The national willpower 

For the AKP the most important aspect of democracy is the vote, while separation of powers, freedom of the press and independent judiciary are regarded as irrelevant compared to the power of the the national willpower as the AKP catchphrase goes. A ballot victory is considered a carte blanche and thats why elections still matter to the AKP as their sole source of legitimacy. However, their corrupt control of the media and willingness to stoop to all manner of dirty tricks (as seen in the 2015 election and 2017 referendum) means that elections are far from fair. A ballot victory is considered a carte blanche and thats why elections still matter to the AKP as their sole source of legitimacy.

That being said, this election is going to be very tight. Approval ratings suggest that the population is closely divided&n...

23:42

The terrible price of zero tolerance immigration openDemocracy

The US Attorney General claims these separations are justified by the Bible and will deter illegal immigration, though there is no evidence backing either claim. His is a minority position.

lead A contractor with the federal government has applied to the state of Texas for a license to house up to 240 immigrant children between the ages of 0 and 17 at 415 Emancipation Avenue, Houston, June 16, 2018. Flickr/Patrick Feller. Some rights reserved.

Within minutes of crossing the border, they are ripped from their mothers arms. The children, some of them still breastfeeding, are shuffled into temporary shelters. Their parents are marched to detention centers where they are kept under lock and key. Stories and images are emerging of toddlers, adolescents and teenagers crammed into cages. After making the treacherous voyage from Central America and Mexico, asylum seekers and migrants are treated like stray dogs on arrival. Even wailing babies find little consolation: government policy is that they are not to be touched. The psychological damage, stress and emotional trauma they endure is incalculable.

Welcome to Donald Trumps America. Since US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the zero tolerance immigration policy two months ago, roughly 2,000 children have been separated from their parents. The reality is no one knows for sure. Sessions claims that these separations are justified by the Bible and will deter illegal immigration, though there is no evidence backing either claim. His...

23:15

Ineos loses fracking case Newsnet.scot

By Russell Bruce

Scottish Government win case against fracking

The rejection of the petitioners case is a win for the Scottish Government and the careful handling of the issue by Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse. It is a win for the environment, a win for a new direction in energy production, breaking from a past reliance of fossil fuels and it is a win for campaigners.

The Court of Session has today rejected a petition by Ineos Upstream Ltd and Reach Coal Seam Ltd that sought to challenge the Scottish Governments actions in relation to unconventional oil and gas which includes fracking and coalbed methane extraction.

Welcoming the Courts decision, the Minister for Business, Energy and Innovation Paul Wheelhouse said:

I welcome the Court of Sessions ruling on this

Paul Wheelhouse

important issue, which has been a cause of acute concern in communities across Scotland.

This decision  vindicates the extensive process of research and consultation which the Scottish Government has undertaken since 2015.

As I set out in October, our preferred position is not to support Unconventional Oil and Gas extraction in Scotland, and that position remains unchanged.

I have repeatedly set out to parliament that we would undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) ahead of finalising that position and that approach has been endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the Scottish Parliament.

The work to complete the SEA and a Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment is currently underway and the findings will be carefully considered.

In the meantime, a moratorium is in place which means no local authority can grant planning permission and Ministers would defer any decision on any planning application that did come forward until the policymaking process  is completed. The practical effect of the current moratorium and the policymaking process which is underway to finalise our position is that no fracking can take place in Scotland at this time.

Scotland is an energy rich country and can make choices  that favour the environment. Those choices must continue to be Scotlands to make. Mays po...

22:21

The politicization of justice in Latin America openDemocracy

Latin America has extensive experience of politicized justice and judicialized politics. Today, as governments and parliaments face a deep credibility crisis, the judiciary has become a leading political actor. Espaol

Free Lula Demonstration. Source: Nueva Sociedad. All Rights Reserved.

Last April, former Brazilian President Luiz Incio Lula da Silva gave himself up to the police to start serving a 12-year prison sentence for passive corruption and money laundering. His was the latest in a series of detentions and prosecutions of political and economic Latin American leaders.

The trend began four years ago with the outbreak of the Brazilian Odebrecht bribery scandal. However, while taking action against corruption is indeed a necessity of an urgent nature, the increasingly politicized approach of the judicial procedures to this end is placing the entire region upon a slippery slope.

Today, as governments and legislative bodies in Latin America face a deep credibility crisis, the judiciary has become a leading political actor in several countries in the region.

In Brazil, for example, leading figures involved in the Lava Jato operation (an ongoing investigation into large-scale corruption within the State oil company Petrobras) such as Deltan Dallagnol - attorney of the Federal Public Ministry of Brazil and lead prosecutor of this case - and Sergio Moro - the judge in charge of the investigation - have become true political actors. Their influence far exceeds their role as lawyers, magistrates or first instance court judges.

But the real problem is that civil servants like Moro have transformed judicial action against corruption into a moral and political crusade, for the sake of which they are ready and willing to bend the rules of the law.

The Brazilian Supreme Court judges argue that in order to imprison Lula before the 2018 presidential campaign, Moro bypassed the rules of criminal proceed...

21:37

Colombia and the possibility of modernising democracy openDemocracy

These elections imply that democracy in Colombia will gradually become more normalised, which until now has been marred with violence, structural deficits and a lack of true alternation. Espaol

Two Colombians of different generations engage in a heated discussion en the Plaza Bolvar of Bogot, 24 November 2016. AP Photo/Ivan Valencia. All Rights Reserved.

With 10,373,000 votes in his favour, the victory of Democratic Centre candidate Ivn Duque means he will now become the youngest president of Colombia at 41 years of age, and continues the pattern of successive right wing governments in the country.

The next opposition leader will be Gustavo Petro, the most emblematic figure of the progressive movement, who obtained 8,034,000 million votes for the Colombia Humana party which sought to put in place, for the first time in Colombian history, a left-wing leader. 

The difference of 2,339,000 votes in favour of Duque makes him a leader with enough support to allow him a wide margin for leadership regarding the more complex and baroque issues plaguing internal politics, and for pressing international questions such as the drug trade and Venezuela.

But even with such an undisputable victory, the popular vote does not provide him with carte blanche given that Duque must govern not just on behalf of his own supporters but also on behalf of the 8 million who voted left, the 800,000 who voted blank, and for the 47% of the electorate who abstained. 

In any case, these have been monumental elections in the political trajectory of Colombia given that the traditional hegemonic parties have been the biggest losers of the presidential stand-offs.

The old party formations that previously dominated the Colombian political sphere for years have been knocked out of the game, and it remains to be seen if this change is perhaps even definite.

We have seen how political parties have gradually become more fragmented, and this is not necessarily negative.

These electio...

21:27

Happy Birthday NHS: What changes are necessary, and how might we make them? Slugger O'Toole

Tonights Slugger event is highly focused on health policy, for which we make no apologies. One poor feature of devolution in Northern Ireland is its retreat from policy in favour of populism. However, this is also a wider feature of western democracy.

About a year before the last but one UK general election, this animated conversation between Professor John Kay and Steve Richards illustrates the exact same casual (ie, uncosted) retreat taking place elsewhere:

In Northern Ireland (as elsewhere), there is, rightly, a lot of focus on patient outcomes. But there is very little corresponding effort to identify flaws within the system and almost no space to considering alternative solutions.

This despite the fact our healthcare structures are now carrying a demographic weighting it was never designed to carry. [Not the sort of demographic questions our politicians like to talk about is it? Ed]. Er, no.

In 2016, Bengoa noted:

When the NHS was created in 1948, life expectancy was 65.8 years for men and 70.1 years for women. It is now 78.1 for men and 82.4 for women.

In terms of costs, users aged over 65 account for more than two-fifths of HSC spending 42%, compared to their population share of 14%.

Whereas the average cost of treating a 55-59 year old stands at 1,970 per head, this rises to over 6,000 for 75-79 year olds and 14,000 for the over 85s.

The latest stats from NISRA in April of this year make grim reading:

  • One in four of the population here will be in 65 and over age group by 2041 (page 9)
  • Over the decade up to 2026, the population aged 65 and over is projected to increase by 25.0 per cent (page 25)
  • Over the decade up to 2016, the population aged 85 and over is projected to increase by 31.4 per cent (page 27)

It might actually be worse in England, where the breach between health and social care was made back in the early 70s. Nevertheless, our A&E services are in permanent crisis. The entire NI health service only keeps going by finding money between spending rounds.

One of the problems all elected politicians face in times of aust...

21:05

Greece: in need of a debt relief that actually works openDemocracy

Its not too late to steer the Greek economy and the EU towards a sustainable development course for the twenty-first century. There are tools to deliver this. Policy-makers should use them.

lead The Ptolemaida lignite plant. Andrea Bonetti / WWF Greece. All rights reserved. The Greek government and its creditors are once more involved in behind-closed-doors negotiations, busily debating Greeces fate after the end of the 3rd Adjustment Programme (August 20). Far from the spotlight and opaque Eurogroup negotiations, Greeces economy, society and least mentioned in international media environment are hanging in the balance.  

Ten years into Greeces Great Depression, the three successive Adjustment Programmes have not led to a new, sustainable, development model. Rather they have economically resulted in a huge debt overhang, dramatically undermined social development and jeopardized Greeces natural wealth.

To take but three examples: environmental and employment regulations and legislation have been steadily undermined in the name of a putative competitiveness. Creditors conditionality is locking Greece into dirty energy production for decades to come. And the current dash-for-oil-and-gas is threatening regions of unique ecological wealth, whose economies heavily rely on healthy ecosystems. The current dash-for-oil-and-gas is threatening regions of unique ecological wealth, whose economi...

19:50

Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy Slugger O'Toole

As America continues its depressing slow drift into Fascism this quote caught my eye:

In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. Its the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.

Quotation: Captain G. M. Gilbert, the Army psychologist assigned to watching the defendants at the Nuremberg trials

For those of you like me who are regular visitors to the States the whole situation is profoundly depressing. I always find Americans a warm and friendly people. To see them being manipulated into hating their fellow man so much that they condone concentrate camps for kids is heartbreaking.

This clip below is from the excellent documentary The House I live in (available on Netflix). It gives a terrifying insight into how genocide can occur:

 The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Post edited to add video.

15:10

Fighting patriarchy in Kazakhstan: problems and perspectives openDemocracy

Kazakhstans feminist activists thought it would take 10-15 years for gender inequality issues to be resolved. That was 25 years ago. RU

Women in Kentau. Photo CC BY-SA 3.0: Yuriy75 / Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.Feminism and gender studies are still a subject for academic research for Kazakhstans first generation of feminist activists. The younger generation of activists are defending the rights of the LGBT community, and public officials are simply ignoring feminism and gender equality altogether.

Kazakhstan is 57th in the world in terms of female members of Parliament. The countrys Senate has only four women members out of 47, and in the lower house of Parliament there are a mere 29 women members out of 107. Admittedly, if we take another set of statistics, the country does have the second largest number of women occupying senior governmental posts in the Eurasian Customs Union (after Belarus).

Meanwhile, the top jobs in all kinds of commercial structures are overwhelmingly occupied by men. Only 11.6% of chief executives of Kazakhstans 2,291 mining and quarrying companies are women; just 12.6% of its 867 electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning enterprises are run by women and they head only 12.9% of 9,218 agricultural, timber felling and fish processing firms.

Family relationships, even in urban centres, remain organised around the breadwinner role. Unemployment levels are higher among women (5.5%) than men (4.4%). The highest unemployment levels are to be found among young people aged 25-34 and here too there are more women (7.7%) than men (6.1%). And it is the same across the country. Both in the north and south of Kazakhstan, there is still a strong feeling...

06:55

Turkeys three-dimensional populism, three leaders and three blocs openDemocracy

The election is therefore offered a choice between three blocs, each of which mobilises people in terms of a different type of populism as expounded by their respective charismatic leader.

lead Jailed presidential candidate for Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition, Selahattin Demirtas, makes his first television appearance in over a year and a half on June 17, 2018. Depo Photos/Press Association. All rights reserved.

The upcoming presidential election in Turkey is another interesting example of the global populist zeitgeist, albeit taking on diverse forms in different countries in southeast Europe, the east Mediterranean and the Middle East. Turkey has been subject to the power of the right-wing conservative populist, Justice and Development Party (AKP) for the last 16 years under the former football player Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who is in some sense a charismatic leader).

The AKPs hold on power has created a sense of despair on the part of the opposition (similar to that during Thatchers years in the UK with her claim that there was no alternative to the neoliberal order) until June 2013 and the emergence of the Gezi protest movement, which has been compared to other grass roots (or square) movements such as occupy, the anti-austerity movement and the Arab spring.

Gezi as an irregular, populist social movement rejected the existing representative democracy by arguing that as the mass of ordinary people, they were not represented by the elitist centre-right and centre-left parties. Instead, the many components of the Gezi movement synergized with the new Kurdish-led and left-leaning populist Peoples Democracy Party (HDP) that for the first-time afforded a real opportunity for representation of not only a collective Kurdish political identity but other excluded groups and brought 80 MPs into the Parliament in June 2015.

The HDP established a chain of equivalence between its diverse components without essentialising Kurdish identity over other alliances, using radical democracy as a common point of affiliation. The HDP uses a different discourse than the orthodox pro-Kurdish political parties through the charming left-wing populism of the human rights lawyer, Selahattin Demirtas....

01:31

Goodbye to the Mackintosh Newsnet.scot

By Dorothy Bruce

What can you say when a building burns down. If a factory or empty structure then you probably dont say anything wonder perhaps at what might go up in its place. But when its a building like the Mackintosh School of Art then again there are no words. How can words express what Glaswegians and so many others feel about a building described by that overworked word iconic?

The Mackintosh or the Mack as it was locally referred to, was part of Glasgows, Scotlands, Europes and international architectural and cultural heritage. It was also a renowned academic institution, internationally recognised as one of Europes leading university-level institutions for the visual creative disciplines.

it heralded the closure of an era of classical affectations and stuffy decor, reimagining and reinventing structure, spaces and interior designs.

Im no expert in art. Ive merely dabbled in painting and drawing courses, done a few classes in tapestry weaving, visited numerous galleries, and have known artists. Oh, and I spent years obsessed with researching and writing a book on Alexander Reid and those around him at that period. The resulting book never got into print as publishers seem to have a blockage when faced with anything to do with art, despite my manuscript being a biography rather than a book about paintings. But when you write about Reid art has to find a place in the narrative. Reid was the Glasgow art dealer who lived in Pariss Montmartre, and for some months in 1876 lodged with the Van Gogh brothers, working in a local gallery with Theo whilst being painted a number of times by Vincent.

I dont know how well Reid might have known

...

00:33

Deturpaes: Notas crticas sobre Mercadorias e Educao All that is Solid for Glenn Rikowski

Glenn Rikowski

Deturpaes: Notas crticas sobre Mercadorias e Educao

 

 

 

 

 

 

My article Deturpaes: Notas crticas sobre Mercadorias e Educao has been published in Curriculo sem Fronteiras (Vol.18 No.1), a Brazilian journal.

 

The Resumo / Abstract are below, and you can get the article from either Academia of ResearchGate.

Glenn Rikowski

 

Resumo

Este artigo argumenta que as tentativas de entender a mercantilizao da educao e da pesquisa educacional, sem recorrer ao maior pensador sobre as formas de mercadoria Karl Marx -, inevitavelmente levam a confuses e a deturpaes na teoria educacional. Isso demonstrado por meio de uma crtica a um artigo recente de David Bridges (2017), no qual o autor se concentra na mercantilizao na pesquisa educacional. Ao ignorar as ideias de Marx, e tambm de tericos marxistas contemporneos, que escrevem sobre a mercadoria e a mercantilizao, Bridges no realiza distines cruciais na anlise da mercantilizao e, alm...

00:26

Global capitalism in Central Asia and competing economic imaginaries openDemocracy

For the US, Russia and China, Central Asia is a space of competing economic influences.

Khan Shatyr entertainment centre. Photo CC BY 2.0: Ben Dalton / Flickr. Some rights reserved.The US, Russia and China have competing visions and strategies of economic development in Central Asia, partly in response to economic problems and contradictions in their own advanced and emerging capitalist economies. In seeking to regulate Central Asia, the major powers are also competing to shape global capitalism and the international order. Central Asia offers an array of economic opportunities for major powers, including access and control of valuable natural resources, favourable terms of trade and efficient trade routes.

In recent years, two economic regional integration initiatives have propelled Central Asia from the periphery to the centre in geopolitics. First, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) was established by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in 2015, with Armenia and Kyrgyzstan joining later. The EEU introduces the free movement of goods, capital, labour and services, and provides for common policies in macroeconomic and industrial spheres. There are plans for greater economic integration and harmonisation, and for its expansion and cooperation with countries from South Asia and Middle East. It operates through supranational and intergovernmental institutions, and is largely modelled on the European Union.

Second, in 2013 President Xi Jinping of China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to create trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along ancient trade routes, such as the land and maritime Silk Road. Since then, many Central and South Asian countries have signed cooperation agreements with China to invest in roads, railways and transport hubs, as well as i...

00:00

I am from Salamiya but none of this applies to me openDemocracy

In Syria, one could notice some of the significant remarks denigrating others based on their religion, sect, race or color.

This article by Abdullah Amin Al-Hallaqforms part of a special series focused on Oral Culture and Identity in Syria. It is the outcome of an ongoing partnership between SyriaUntold and openDemocracys North Africa West Asia in a bid to untangle the roots of sectarian, ethnic and other divides in Syria.

 

For better or for worse, I am not sure which exactly, I was born in the city of Salamiya, located in the heart of Syria to the east of Hama. I am Ismaili by birth (Ismailism is a branch of Shia Islam). Both my parents belong to the Ismaili faith but I am irreligious by conviction. I follow secular tactics in my day-to-day life and apply secular strategies to live in the world. I respect the right of any person to believeas well as not to believein any religion or doctrine (although most believers do not respect or recognize our rights to not believe). I respect that right provided they do not see their sect or religion as the end of all righteousness, based on supernatural and shamanistic ideologies firmly rooted in environments still mired in superstitions.

Holding ones own sect in high regard was not shown publically in Syria, perhaps due to the Syrian mosaic and coexistence propaganda, which we experienced so clearly after the revolution! However, one could notice some of the significant remarks that were flourishing among the least educated in this or that community, remarks denigrating to others. Denigrating others based on their religion, sect, race or color is to a certain extent a pretension to superiority based on ones own sectarian or religious affiliation. There is no need to dwell on the obvious here: the need to not label an entire group with one defining feature, and to be careful not to attribute to the whole what only some of its members might gossip about. For the purpose of this article, however, there are some rare verbal n...

Monday, 18 June

20:26

Scotland is better at democracy than Westminster but thats too low a bar openDemocracy

Three quarters of Scots feel they have little or no influence over local services. A coalition of campaigners is seeking to change that.

Image: Garbh Allt, one of the latest community land buyouts. Credit: Garbh Allt Community Intiative Estate

Scotland is a great teacher about modern politics. The politics is more open and inclusive than it is in Westminster partly as a result of having ditched Westminsters one-party-takes-all voting system. But being better at democracy than Westminster is not a particularly high bar.

Scotland does not escape the inequality, confusion and precariousness that is fuelling bad politics across the globe. Democracy is not only about elections: in Scotland we see a relatively vibrant political and activist culture, often challenging and at times belligerent in the face of concentrations of power. Still, we can do better.

Democracy is not only about elections it is mostly about power. Jane MacLeay, the American trade union organiser, defines power as being the ability to stop bad things happening to you and your community and the ability to make good things happen. If democracy is about anything it should be about making sure that all communities have that sort of power. This might seem obvious but it is not a conclusion we came to quickly.

In 2012, a coalition of campaigners including Common Weal, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Scottish Rural Parliament, Galgael and others, began to try and work out what would make Scotlands democracy better. We had a good starting point Scotlands 1989 Claim of Right drawn up by the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which asserts the sovereignty of Scottish people.

We wanted to discuss and begin to describe how this beautiful idea could be made a reality. After 18 months of public meetings, roundtables and a citizens assembly we produced a set of recommendations called Democracy Max.

The main idea is that democracy should work best locally in the places we live and work, send our kids to school, dance with our friends...

19:52

Mondays trade votes are a cynical move to entrench undemocratic procedures openDemocracy

The vote on two EU trade deals with Canada and Japan is a cynical move to quash debate about the democratic processes for and the content of the UKs future trade deals.

This Monday, MPs will be asked to debate and vote on two EU trade deals with Canada and Japan. The government will argue that this is all about stability for business and normal because we remain an EU member until the end of the transition period.UPDATE: after this article was published the order of business for parliament was changed to remove the debate about the EU-Canada deal.UPDATE: after this article was published, debates on both the EU-Canada and EU-Japan deal were taken off the parliamentary agenda. It is expected that they will be brought back to parliament soon. This Monday, MPs will be asked to debate and vote on two EU trade deals with Canada and Japan. The government will argue that this is all about stability for business and normal because we remain an EU member until the end of the transition period. We must not be fooled: tabled ten months before the transition period and in the midst of Brexit mayhem, this is a cynical move to quash debate about the democratic processes for and the content of the UKs future trade deals. Lets start with the argument that signing on to the EU-Canada (CETA) and EU-Japan (JEFTA) trade deals sends a strong signal to business that the UK is serious about maintaining stability as it enters the transition period. In fact, the opposite is true. The government has delayed, beyond all reasonable expectations, bringing its Trade Bill back to the Commons. The Bill is extremely limited in scope, but it does seek to establish the transfer of EU trade deals into UK law. Not bringing it to parliament means that, ten months before we enter the transition period, when we are allowed to start formal trade negotiations, we still dont have an adequate procedure in place to govern the transfer of EU trade deals into UK law. More importantly, there is no agreement from partners that they are prepared to do this without making changes to the text. There is also no indication from the UK government about the kind of trade deal it wants nor how it will incorporate...

09:00

Better from a friend or from a bank? Kyrgyzstan between informal and formal financial services openDemocracy

A third of Kyrgyzstans GDP sits in informal institutions. I spoke to people who use these systems to find out how it works and why its important.

Market at Jalal-Abad, Kyrgyzstan. Photo BY-NC-ND 2.0: Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.As the taxi driver prepares to embark on his daily route connecting Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, to Talas, a city located in the countrys north east, a passer-by hands him stacks of money. The man explains that the money (which is the national currency, the som) is for his village. The driver appears accustomed to this sort of request: he charges his fee and takes the stacks. Once we depart, I ask the driver about this financial transfer, and he explains that the funds are meant to cover the persons sherine obligations. You know, his sherine is quite a costly one, I wonder why do people go on with this system?

Sherine is the Kyrgyz term that designates an informal financial institution widespread across Kyrgyzstan, a country in the heart of Central Asia that achieved independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This system corresponds to what economists term Rotating Savings and Credit Associations (ROSCAs). The concept describes a group of individuals who agree to make a number of financial contributions to a common pot over a predefined period of time. At the groups regular meetings, the pots lump sum is given in turn to each contributor for their personal use, until eventually every group member has had their turn in using the funds, which ends a sherine life cycle.

ROSCAs have been around for centuries all over the world, albeit under different denominations. As prominent US political scientist Robert Putnam puts it in his seminal book Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, ROSCAs have been found from Nigeria to Scotland, from Peru to Vietnam, from Japan to Egypt, from West Indian immigrants in the eastern United States to Chicanos in the West, from illiterate Chinese villagers to b...

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