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Thursday, 21 December


A terminal crisis in Turkmenistan? openDemocracy

While Turkmens are told theyre living in a golden age, food shortages, labour unrest and unemployment are on the rise. Unless president Berdymukhamedov changes things fast, his days could be numbered.

Keeping the throne warm? President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, during Vladimir Putins visit to Ashgabat in October 2017. Photo (c): Sergey Guneyev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.

Very few images are more powerful than those depicting the overthrow of a dictator. Recent footage from the Zimbabwean capital of Harare, where Robert Mugabe was deposed after 37 years at the helm, immortalised a moment of epochal change. People celebrated the demise of a regime that held on to power through a mix of disastrous economic policies, international isolation, and brutal repression.

Central Asia-watchers would have certainly noted that a strikingly similar combination of power technologies defines the authoritarian politics of the regions most idiosyncratic regime, namely that which is presiding over Turkmenistan. With very few international supporters, the Turkmen leadership has been enforcing, for almost three decades, an unencumbered and repressive decision-making monopoly, managing the countrys significant resource endowment through an unequivocally kleptocratic outlook. Ignoring this reality, official propaganda continues to present Turkmenistans authoritarian desolation as an altyn asyr, a golden age in which the regimes enlightened leadership is to guide the Turkmen people through an unprecedented period of wealth and peace.

Official propaganda continues to present Turkmenistans authoritarian desolation as a golden age

While we always highlighted the absurdity of this narrative, we now have enough evidence to question the sustainability of the policies implemented by Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, raising at the same time many doubts about the viability of his personal rule. Reading between the lines of official documents and news reports, and liaising on a daily basis with our contacts in Turkmenistan, we have come to believe that the Berdymukhamedov...

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Wednesday, 20 December


Northern Ireland Electoral Commission in new bid to honour transparency laws from 2014 openDemocracy

The government has been accused of trying to cover up for the DUP as it reverses a law which promised transparency in Northern Irish political donations from 2014.

Image, BBC News, fair use

The head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, Anne Watt has repeated her demand to the UK government that legislation should be put in place to allow the publication of full details of donations and loans to political parties made since 2014.

The call by Ms Watt was made less than a day after a special committee in Westminster advanced the progress of a new law on political donations in Northern Ireland that will limit full transparency only to funds received after July this year. 

By a majority of one, the government effectively succeeded in keeping secret the full details of a 435,000 donation to the DUP that was made during the Brexit referendum in 2016.  The majority of the cash was spent on the UK mainland on pro-leave campaigning and included payments to two digital analysis groups currently under investigation by the UK authorities. 

The origins and full details of the record DUP donation, were arranged through a former vice-chair of the Scottish Conservatives, Richard Cook, who runs a small Glasgow-based organisation called the Constitutional Research Council (CRC).

The CRC was fined 6,000 by the Electoral Commission in August. However the current law in Northern Ireland protects any details of the fine from being published.

Watts demand is deeply embarrassing for the Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, and his junior minister, Chloe Smith.  During the heated and often angry debate in Commons committee, Smith claimed the government had consulted the Electoral Commission, fulfilled its statutory obligations and insisted there was widespread support among parties in Northern Ireland for no backdating of transparency other than from July 2017.

Although the Commissions head welcomed the planned new law that will now be voted on by the full House of Commons soon after the holiday recess   her statement added : We continue to call on the Secretary of State to put in place the necessary legislation that will allow...


Arseny Roginsky: Giving Russia its history back openDemocracy

On 18 December, Arseny Roginsky, historian, dissident and one of the founders of Russias Memorial society, passed away. He will be sorely missed. 

Arseny Roginsky. Source: Memorial Archive.

For me, the archive (and I mean, of course, only literary and historical archives) is the natural continuation of the library. And unpublished archival documents are in no way different from published documents, you can treat them as accidentally unpublished or as-yet-unpublished. I believe its necessary to explain this now because I often meet people far from historical research who are sincerely convinced that archives always contain classified documents, or documents that might defame someone or something. And thats why they only let chosen people into archives, people endowed with some special trust, and that thats how it should be. This idea of what an archive is, is, of course, completely mistaken. Just as mistaken as an attempt to classify documents as more important or less important, more valuable or less valuable. Every document is important, every document is valuable as evidence of our past.

This quotation is not from a lecture or an excerpt from a public discussion. It is Arseny Roginskys final statement (called The status of a historian in the USSR) before a Soviet court, and he made it on 4 December 1981, after which Roginsky was sentenced to four years in prison. Formally, Roginsky was sentenced for forging documents, but in reality, for samizdat, his work on the underground historical journal Memory.

This is perhaps one of the most unusual speeches made at a political trial. Roginsky, a historian, librarian at Leningrad Public Library and graduate of Tartu University, doesnt talk about his ideological confrontation with the Soviet authorities or human rights defence, but what we call freedom of information today. Indeed, the right to information and preservation of history was Roginskys ideological axiom. He tried to guarantee this right during an era of bans (and punishment for breaking them), in an era when the right to information could in fact be realised, and today, when the Russian state is once again depriving citizens of accessing their own history, closing off arch...


The fatal flaw in economics funding openDemocracy

A new campaign hopes to transform the funding of economics research and make the subject more relevant to the real world. 

As the old saying goes, He who pays the piper calls the tune. This week, a coalition of economics students, academics and campaigners gathered to get inside the process for the funding of economics research, to create an economics fit for the real world.

The piper principle plays out for academic research through a process called the Research Excellence Framework (REF), and  its impact is  considerable. The REF is a very big deal for universities. Every five years or so, each institution gets assessed through the REF. Academics submit their published research which is then judged against a set of criteria and graded. The higher it is graded, the more money their department will receive for future research.

Within economics departments the REF  encourages a single type of economics, while broader research is sidelined. Work that draws on innovative insights about human behaviour, market failures, gender dynamics, ecological limits and institutions is  not valued whilst more mainstream research, underpinned by a narrow set of assumptions about how the economy works,  receives the highest grade.

Because it determines so much of their funding, universities take the REF very seriously. In economics departments, it influences who they hire and fire, which topics they research, and the kind of economics that gets taught to students. Because it dictates the teaching, this cycle is perpetuated. Narrow economics begets narrow economics and society is burdened with economists who can not deal with the challenges society faces, from climate change, to inequality, to financial instability and beyond.

Because the REF has such an impact on society, the new coalition REFunding Economics is working to defend the discipline and make sure that diverse, real-world economics gets the funding it deserves.

The bias derives from several factors, but possibly most crucial is the choice of individuals that sit on the REF panels. They set the criteria for what is classed as world-leading research, and later they grade the thousands of pieces of submitted work, ultimately deciding if it is high quality or not. In the 2014 REF, the economics panel was overwhelmingly made up of experts who subscribe to a narrow view of economics, while more diverse, interdisciplinary economists were left by the wayside.

The REFunding Economics coalition is determined to have a positive impact on the next REF, due to take place in 2021. As a first step, they are working to get top quality diverse economists into the heart of the REF system. The REF orga...


Childless proletarians: ten years after the great recession, would you start from here? openDemocracy

Far-right populism, with its emphasis on nationalism, cultural purity, anti-immigration, and security, might become a much stronger catalyser of votes, even where this has not yet happened.

lead European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi and Vice President Vitor Constancio at a press conference in ECB HQ in Frankfurt, Germany, on Dec.14, 2017. Xinhua/ Press Association. All rights reserved.Ten years after the inception of the Great Recession we can clearly see some of its political effects. The economic woes of the developed world have enhanced the chances of leaders like Donald Trump, contributed to Brexit and its unfolding, and boosted populism in the West and beyond. How far have economic problems influenced the rise of populism? Is there any kind of long-term dynamic?

We claim that one of the causes of the dissatisfaction with democracys current state is the existence of two or more labour markets or, to use a more technical term, labour market segmentation.

The idea that there would be many labour markets, each of them being structured as a separate segment, gained popularity in US universities in the 1960s-70s. Economists noticed the existence of a primary market with competitive, high-skills jobs for highly-educated professionals, and a secondary market of jobs requiring lower skills, that are less competitive and often occupied by women or marginalised groups minorities, the youth, migrants. This tendency has gradually expanded from the US to the rest of the west, Europe, and now potentially the global world. Globalising competition has reproduced dualism and segmentation all over the world.

Globalising competition has reproduced dualism and segmentation all over the world. A few industries (mainly in high technology and the services) increasingly employ highly-paid and cosmopolitan innovators or creatives, people who often attended the best colleges and universities; meanwhile, hundreds of millions of workers fight for McJobs, with long working hours, poor training, high turnover, and limited possibilities to climb the career ladder...


Brexit strains between London and Dublin are harming Northern Ireland Slugger O'Toole

At the end of the year, instead of adding pressure for the restoration of Stormont, Brexit has banished it to the sidelines.

The border issue remains. Without an overall Brexit deal, the default of Northern Ireland remaining in alignment with the single market and customs union cannot easily be reconciled with the continuing integrity of the UK internal market.

In the run-up to stage two negotiations in March,  pressure mounts  for the British government to decide at last how close a relationship they want with the EU. The closer the relationship, the more EU obligations they must observe and the less they depart from the present convergence of standards and regulations, as the latest review of  choices from the Institute for Government makes crystal clear.

If limited divergence in the final deal chimes with alignment for Northern Ireland, all well and good.

But the clouds darken over the bigger issue. The British are bound to argue for maximum free trade in services which take up 80% of the economy, as well as free trade in goods.  Michel Barniers opening shot is to deny a special deal on services  is on offer from the EU.

Unless this position  moderates in response to British proposals, Ireland will suffer. It is in Irelands interests to argue within EU 27 against an EU hardline on this most fundamental of British aims in the interest of the  British- Irish relations including Northern Ireland. A brutal binary choice for Britain runs flat contrary to Irelands interests.

Amid Brexit preoccupations, what space can  be found for filling the expanding vacuum over  the Norths government?

A maximalist approach by Ireland in regarding the Good Friday Agreement as an EU document will only irritate the British, whose reluctance to impose full direct rule hardly needs reinforcing.

The plaintive appeal from the civil service for choices to be made before the March deadline between  scenarios for the Northern Ireland budget is truly abject.

Decisions are needed  on both a Brexit strategy and on Northern Irelands government at roughly the same time like now.

The recommendation to cut MLA salaries by a quarter is among them.

On spending the choices are entirely familiar. They lie between salami-slicing all round, setting priorities such as health or not all on health, or a new budget strategy of putting up the rates and tuition fees and restoring prescription charges.

As the Irish government are opposed to old-style direct rule, they should explain where  their locus lies if any,  in influencing this agenda.

As well as finding themselves on opposite sides of the Brussels table, Brexit has left the British-Irish relationship prickly and has  reinforced the impression of the governments as champions  of either side of the community at the expense of concert...


Consumer is King? Of class actions and who matters in EU law openDemocracy

The European Commission proposes that consumers should be able to take class actions in future, in the wake of the VW Dieselgate scandal. But it has forgotten other victims of corporate harm.

Image: Keita Kuroki/Flickr, Creative Commons license.

A fire in a textile factory in Pakistan killed over 260 workers on 11 September 2012. The workers were producing directly for the German clothes retailer KiK! (Kunde ist Knig! or Consumer is King!) in a building without fire alarms, emergency exits, or fire extinguishers. Of the roughly four hundred relatives and injured survivors, only four were able to afford to bring claims for compensation against the clothes brand in Germany, financed by German NGOs. These four separate claims all argue the same thing: the brand broke its duty to ensure the factory had fire safety measures in place. In August 2016, German judges accepted jurisdiction over the cases and granted the four individuals legal aid.

Now, at the end of 2017, the roughly 400 remaining survivors and relatives are time-barred from bringing more cases, as they were unable to raise the necessary funds in time.

Collective redress (also known as class action) is a procedure allowing many individuals to bring their judicial claims together in a single proceeding against a common defendant. It economises the proceedings for claimants by enabling them to run the one same case for many, at roughly the same financial cost and risk. It economises the functioning of the judiciary, as numerous identical cl...


Perhaps we can begin with social parity. Slugger O'Toole

Writing in the Guardian, Richard Angell, LGBT officer of the Labour Irish Society and director of Progress, has an interesting suggestion

Owen Smith is right to say that if the parties of Northern Ireland cannot get their act together and restore power-sharing government then direct rule, however undesirable, must be used to make progress on LGBT and reproductive rights.

But he is wrong to say that referendums are necessary to give a mandate for change. For one, thing they are not required. Unlike in the Republic of Ireland, where these were constitutional questions, a referendum is not needed to change the law for either marriage equality or abortion. They are the preserve of legislators. Some will look to Australia. But the reason for the consultative ballot in Australia was a total failure of leadership, and should neither be indulged nor repeated.


As it stands in Northern Ireland, women with the resources to travel to Britain to access an abortion can do so, while those who do not must carry on with an unwanted pregnancy or pursue an unsafe and unlawful procedure. Women in Northern Ireland should not have to cross the Irish Sea to access medical care that is their right.

The DUP have made clear their demands for a single UK regulatory framework: politically, economically and financially. Perhaps we can begin with social parity. That would ensure our citizens in Northern Ireland have the same reproductive rights and LGBT rights they deserve, the same as everyone else in Britain.

Despite his own argument, he doesnt call for the same direct changes in legislation on both issues.

Instead, we should work to build a majority in the assembly to legislate for the rights of women in Northern Ireland, impressing on the parties there that this is a human rights issue.

In fact, Richard Angells argument serves as a reminder that the correct place for all these discussions, and any subsequent legislation, is the Northern Ireland Assembly.  As Mick mentioned in his comments to the News Letter today

Mick Fealty, editor of the Slugger OToole political blog, said Mrs ONeill has a no-...


The politics of food: What to look out for in 2018 openDemocracy

From farm subsidies to chlorine-washed chicken, 2018 is shaping up to be a critical year for the food industry. 

For a sector that rarely gets mentioned unless dead or diseased animals are piling up, food has had a lively political year. New Bills have been passed, and chlorine-washed chicken has been discussed at a Party Conference. The appointment of Michael Gove to the head of DEFRA put fire into the belly of the conservation lobby. We all got a little bit excited. But the excitement remains tinged with frustration at the lack of a coherent joined-up plan, and so much confusion about just how the government intends to resolve its differences on standards in trade deals. Do we get chlorine-washed chicken or not? US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross thinks we must, but Gove says no. Its almost as if the Doris Day song playing in our ears: Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps With a transition deal with the EU now likely, it seems possible that we will stay in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) for that period. So the promised new Agriculture and Fisheries Bills, and Goves vision of ecological farming and new marine policies are possibly four years away. Or maybe not? However, we can make use of the opportunities that do arise. The big animal sentience bunfight has already delivered rewards a new Bill and indicated both a shift in Conservative strategy and the impact of people power. But the solutions dont yet get at the heart of the problem. This, as ever, means following the money and power.   Four food Brexit issues will hit the stands in 2018. They illustrate why politics, finance and food are being increasingly entangled, and why a new vision, policies and partnerships are needed. However, we can make use of the opportunities that do arise. The big animal sentience bunfight has already delivered rewards a new Bill and indicated both a shift in Conservative strategy and the impact of people power. But the solutions dont yet get at the heart of the problem. This, as ever, means following the money and power. Four food Brexit issues will hi...


How whales and dolphins can teach us to be less stupid openDemocracy

Learning from the other inhabitants of our blue planet.

Upside down dolphins and killer whale or orca. Credit: Flickr/Rumpleteaser. CC BY 2.0.

For those tens of millions of us who have been watching the extraordinary Blue Planet II, the final programme in the series (which looked at the human-caused threats facing the seas) may have come as both a wake-up call and a disappointment. Disappointment, at what weve done to this beautiful planet. And perhaps also, disappointment that the BBC didnt look deeply enough into why these harms have happened.

What emerges when we reflect more profoundly in this way?

The background to what were doing to the oceans includes, crucially, this: that the world is possessed by the ideology of possessive individualism, which comes in different varieties: liberal, neoliberal and libertarian. This possession is utterly disastrous, at a moment when we need to think and act collectively, politically, and as a civilisation, not just as an aggregate of individuals.

What would it mean to really take seriously our identity as a we, our belonging to each other and to our homesour common home? To be us, rather than just a lot of mes?

Central to such a transformation is the need to overcome the prejudicethe very ideaof the individual. It is not persons who are the fundamental units of social existence, its embedded communities.

We are born into community, and in this respect our political starting point should never be the fantasy of the social contract. That fantasy, of the individual-as-person allegedly prior to society, dangerously gets in the way of the ultra-long time-scale of community. Individuals die. The community livesunless it stupidly commits itself to death.

We humans seem very far from understanding this at present. The situation is pretty desperate. Might we be able to learn from other animals who seem, in the ways they live, to have a better grasp of this crucial point? Could other animals possibly have anything to teach us? And even if they did, how could we understand it?

Perhaps in the way indicated by cetologist Volker Deecke. To appreciate other peoples cultures,...


An update on Gary Linekers post & perhaps the reason behind the caging of Palestinian kids GMMuk Michael Aydinian

I got to say Im delighted with the response for the Gary Lineker post where he said, seeing the IDF cage young Palestinian boys was sickening. It was truly gratifying seeing so many people support Gary Lineker. However, this post is for the purpose of highlighting one of the few who were critical. A chap named Mike Moreno came out


What future for civil society in Zimbabwe? openDemocracy

During the stand-off between the military and President Mugabe that led to his historic resignation, there was reason for hope. Zimbabwe's civil society must now re-invent itself to ensure this hope lives on.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa makes opening remarks during a congress of the governing ZANU-PF party in Harare, Zimbabwe, 15 December, 2017. Source: Shaun Jusa/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

This article is part of our series on the 2017 International Civil Society Week, where CIVICUS and the Pacific Islands Association of non-Governmental Organisations (PIANGO) brought civil society members and activists from around the world together to discuss some of the key challenges our planet is facing. You can see more of what came out of the event here.

Many Zimbabweans are preparing to celebrate their first Christmas without the only president they have ever known.

For some, it will indeed be a celebration, for others particularly those in the brutal fight for real social change it will more likely be a time for reflection and contemplation.

In November, Zimbabwes military forced President Robert Mugabe, who had run the country since independence 37 years ago, to resign. Although the coup was widely welcomed and celebrated by citizens when it happened, representatives of civil society and the political opposition are now less enthusiastic about prospects for civil societys role and place in a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.

And for good reason. When Mugabes reign came to an abrupt end on November 21, clearing the way for his former vice-president Emerson Mnagagwa to take power, expectations were high that the environment in which civil society operates in Zimbabwe would improve.  But the new presidents actions, such as the appointment of a new cabinet that includes veterans of the ruling ZANU-PF party and the military who have been accused of past atrocities against civilians and activists, along with the deafening silence on any role for civil society and t...


Why John Bercow Is a Hero Jonathan Fryer

449177D3-C066-4CA9-943B-07239321330CThe Speaker of Britains House of Commons, John Bercow, has come in for a lot of flack over the years, mainly from his fellow Conservatives. But he has proved himself to be a hero in the way that he maintains debating standards in the chamber and is unafraid to stand up to bullies. We saw that brilliantly this week when he defended MPs who have received death threats and other abuse because of their opposition to Brexit. Speaker Bercow not only stressed that these MPs were doing their duty by speaking up for what they believe in but also took a swipe at newspapers such as the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express and even the Daily Telegraph for publishing headlines and articles that have accused critics of Brexit of being traitors and Enemies of the People. Its worth pointing out that few Conservative politicians dare take on the right-wing rags head-on out of fear of becoming targets themselves. Theresa May is just the latest in a line of British Prime Ministers who have kowtowed to Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre. But refusing to stand up to bullies and that is what these men are only encourages them. Though he knows he will be the subject of yet more unflattering stories and epithets, John Bercow has not been afraid to do so and deserves praise for it. Its just a pit...

Tuesday, 19 December


How UK anti-abortion activists use American tactics to shock and shame women openDemocracy

50 years after the 1967 Abortion Act, the anti-abortion movement is consolidating with transatlantic support.

Anti-abortion activists at the 2017 March for Life in Washington DC. Anti-abortion activists at the 2017 'March for Life' in Washington DC. Photo: Dimitrios Manis/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved. Anti-abortion activists gathered outside the UK Houses of Parliament on 27 October to protest 50 years since the passing into law of the UKs 1967 Abortion Act. Nina Naidu* was working nearby, and went to take a closer look.

Like many women in the UK, she had previous, personal experience with both abortion and virulent anti-choice demonstrators. Earlier this year, the 24-year-old decided to terminate a pregnancy, and was accosted by protestors on the way to her appointment.

At the Westminster demonstration, there were deeply disturbing billboards Naidu told me. Around 10-foot-tall, reinforced with aluminium scaffolding, they showed blown up images of bleeding foetuses alongside imagery of enslaved black people.

There were also Game of Thrones-style CGI pictures of babies being sacrificed in some sort of fantasy orientalised temple, she said, describing the images on display at the protest, organised by the campaign group Abort67.

Game of Thrones-style CGI pictures of babies being sacrificed in some sort of fantasy orientalised temple

The self-styled genocide prevention group has used such graphic and emotionally-manipulative pictures since its formation, 11 years ago. Recently, its visibility has increased thanks to growing links with other anti-abortion groups in the UK and abroad.

Abort67 presents its campaigns as connected to the struggles of US civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. It has compared abortion to slavery, the...


The return of authoritarianism is priming the Middle East for more conflict openDemocracy

How is the Saudi-Iranian rivalry overwriting the Arab Springs key messages?

Boys sit on the rubble of a two-floor building after it was allegedly destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes on the northern outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen, 23 August 2017. Picture by Hani Al-Ansi/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.Today, conflict in the Middle East is reduced to Saudi-Iranian rivalry. The story is that emergent Iranian hegemonic designs in the Levant pose a threat to regional peace that needs to be countered. The narrative is cast as religious Shia v. Sunni strife for additional existential effect. However, this simplistic frame obscures a more significant development: the return of authoritarianism to the Middle East.

Autocratic rule is consolidating in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and Iran alike. It is overlaying the causes of the Arab Spring - a lack of bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity with new waves of repression. This realization is insufficiently reflected in western foreign policy that is dominated by concerns over radicals and refugees. Yet, the mix of domestic repression and foreign neglect stores up conflict for the future. It also runs the risk of simply repeating history.

The regime of president El-Sisi has been consolidating itself ever since the coup dtat of 2013. In particular, it uses the escalating insurgency in the Sinai to increase its control over Egyptian civil society and religion. As the country is basically broke, it has pawned its foreign policy in part to Saudi Arabia to foot the bill. North, Turkey has discarded its rule of law where political dissent is concerned and re-started a civil war against 20% of its population. Absolute majority rule takes precedence over individual- and minority rights. East, the Iranian state retains a paradoxical balance between revolutionary believers and geopolitical pragmatists with elements of democracy in a cast of clerical autocracy. ...


Catalonia and the theatres of recognition openDemocracy

Isnt it the case that fellow Europeans not only have the right to comment on the affairs of their neighbours but that doing so is a political virtue which ought to be cultivated?

lead Catalan Popular Party candidate for the upcoming Catalan regional election Xavier Garcia Albiol and Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy in a campaign meeting in Salou, Spain on December 17, 2017. NurPhoto/Press Association. All rights reserved.It seems as though in the ongoing Spanish debate over the Catalonian question, one must start by stating where one speaks from. So here it is. As a Greek and French citizen married to a Brit living in Brexitland, whose Franco-German mother survived the last European civil war by denying both her nationalities, whose fathers parents lost everything as 1922 refugees from Asia Minor, I do not belong nowhere but in many somewheres.

While I hate all nationalisms, I do like the sense of anchoring that comes with national belonging and feel extremely lucky to have so many such anchors. To be absolutely clear: my instinct is strongly against Catalonian independence. But I am also wary of passing judgment on the merit of the case from far away. Indeed, I try to be especially attuned these days to the dangers of denying the complexity and mysteries of politics of which we are not familiar, having just co-authored a book delving into the many ways in which Germans and Greeks reveled for many years in a long-distance ping-pong of simplistic caricatures of each other.[1]

And yet I have been saddened over the last few weeks by the implicit and explicit outrage coming from various quarters in Spain that make it offensive to express an opinion on the Catalonian question from abroad. Many Spaniards, including friends of mine, project a palpable sense that outsiders are suspicious a priori, at best ignorant of the facts or at worse downright condescending, teaching Spaniards about their own history or politics.

Sure, it happens. But do I have to exhume my Spanish great-grand mother, to obtain a droit de parole?  Isnt it the case instead that fellow Europeans not only have the right to comment on the affairs of their neighbou...


Toxic cash: the risks of Russias sovereign civil society programme openDemocracy

By banning NGOs from receiving foreign funding, the Russian government has forced them to seek financial support at home. But state grants undermine civil societys independence. RU

November 8: Fund of presidential grants in the discussions of the forum "Community" ("Soobschestvo"). Source: Fund of presidential grants / Vkontakte.The Kremlin recently announced the winners of the second Presidential Grant awards competition for 2017. According to the organisers, they had received more applications than ever before, and the overall sum allocated (4.5 billion roubles) was also the highest. In fact, the sum was double than that of the previous contest this past spring.

This NGO support programme was erroneously named (presidential grants) from the start. It is, needless to say, not funded out of Putins own pocket or some presidential foundation, but from the public purse. It only bears that name because the instruction to allocate the necessary cash is signed by Vladimir Putin. The name has stuck, making the Russian president the countrys chief philanthropist. In April 2017 this error was officially enshrined in the name of the new body responsible for state funding The Presidential Grant Foundation for the Development of Civil Society (PGF). Grant winners are selected by Russias Presidential Administration.

The grant programme was created in 2006: the mid-2000s were the highpoint of the then First Deputy Chief of the Russian Presidential Administration Vladislav Surkovs sovereign democracy. Russias updated Foreign Agent law did not exist yet, but the state controlled media were already actively trying to discredit human rights and environmental NGOs. The main premise of their smear campaign, which reflected Russias rulers perception of these organisations work, was already in place: if Russian NGOs receive funding from the west, that means they work...


The 26 March case: how Russia is cracking down on freedom of assembly openDemocracy

In March 2017, Russia witnessed its largest public protests in years. But investigations into the events of that day are being used to punish participants. RU

1,043 people were detained at the 26 March anti-corruption rally in Moscow. (c) Xinhua/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.

This article is part of our partnership with OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests in Russia.

On 26 March 2017, Russia witnessed the largest public protests for the last few years. According to different reports, between 36,000 and 88,000 people in 97 cities took part in the country-wide anti-corruption protest.

In Moscow, 1,043 people were detained on 26 March more than the Bolotnaya Square protest in May 2012. But since the crowd was dispersed this spring, nine people have faced criminal prosecution. All of them have been charged under Article 318 of Russias Criminal Code for using force against police officers. Seven people have already been sentenced to prison terms of between 18 months (suspended sentence) to three years, eight months. The investigation into the events of 26 March has been extended to spring 2018.

Opening a case under Article 318 (or threatening to) in order to frighten or punish people who complain of police brutality is a common practice in Russia. In most cases where people are beaten during arrest or at a police station, police officers face few consequences.


During the dispersal of the crowd in central Moscow on 26 March, police and National Guard officers used excessive force against protest participants. We received reports of beatings during detentions, in riot vans and at police stations. The police beat protesters with batons in the process of detaining them (sometimes several police officers beat a single person at once, sometimes beating them in the head), twisted peoples arms behind their backs, pressed them to t...


Why theres a moral duty to sue our government over climate change openDemocracy

The UK government is leading us to climate tragedy, by failing to align its climate change targets with science and international law. So 11 UK citizens, plus the charity Plan B, have started legal action against it. And we need your help.

The worst act of negligence in history is taking place in plain sight - the ultimate negligence against humanity and the ultimate negligence against life itself.

We know that without an urgent and radical change of direction the world is racing beyond critical and irreversible tipping points in the climate system (such as Arctic collapse and rainforest burn). That, in turn, is likely to lead to runaway global warming of 4C + in the course of this century. The consequences defy detailed description. Human civilization will be lost. Some humans will survive but most will not. Most species of animals will be gone.

We must do whatever it takes to avoid such an outcome. We know it can be done, but there are major obstacles to in our way: powerful vested interests, political inertia and a fast-closing time-window of opportunity. Nor does it help that the sheer scale of the danger is so overwhelming. It risks numbing our critical faculties because the reality is too painful to bear. Normally rational people take refuge in denial, resignation or comforting fantasies.

Yet this defining moment in human history confronts each one of us with a stark choice. Either we are part of the problem (if only by remaining bystanders) or we are part of the solution.

11 UK citizens plus the charity, Plan B - have decided to be part of the solution. We have concluded we have no choice but to take the UK Government to Court.

The Paris Agreement and the accountability deficit

Few seriously argue that global warming can be allowed to exceed well below an additional 2C (indeed many believe the limit is too high given the impacts being felt even now). The Paris Agreement, signed by every government in the world, commits countries, collectively to that limit, along with the simultaneous obligation to pursue efforts towards limiting a temperature increase to 1.5C.

It is one thing, however, for 197 countries to agree, through a process of consensus, to a common goal (ie the global tem...


Brexit is an economic catastrophe - the sooner it is dumped the better openDemocracy

Why would any rational Government, Tory or Labour, pursue Brexit at such immense financial and non-financial cost?


The path towards a soft Brexit has been established, but the real disjuncture may still lie ahead openDemocracy

A cleaner Brexit is a near-inevitable marker of the next phase of European integration.

The divorce deal between the UK and the European Union (EU) agreed earlier this month has effectively averted the immediate prospect of a hard Brexit. After the UKs capitulation on a range of key sticking points, talks on some sort of trade deal will now ensue. Any new arrangements will be preceded by a lengthy transition period during which nothing much will change. But we should be wary of assuming a return to an approximation of the status quo; the EU is being transformed from the top down, and it is unlikely that a half-in, half-out UK will be a viable part of its next iteration. Brexit means I had predicted we would end up more or less where we are now shortly after the June 2016 referendum. Able to marshal only narrow and technical arguments in favour of EU membership, the UKs overwhelmingly pro-EU business elite had little influence in the referendum campaign, but much more where it matters, over policy development. In the Remainer Theresa May they had a Prime Minister determined to deliver a soft Brexit, while able to retain just enough trust among leave voters. Then the snap election happened. May threw away the parliamentary majority she needed to deliver Brexit on her terms; victorious over Labours Eurosceptic leader Jeremy Corbyn, but ultimately outsmarted as the Brexit election became an opportunity instead to protest against a perceived fait accompli. What few realised at the time, however, was just how much the soft Brexit cause would be helped by the Conservative Partys enforced alliance with the DUP. While May has undoubtedly been weakened by the election result, the DUPs refusal to endorse a Brexit deal that left the door open (in order to maintain the Good Friday agreement) to regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and the mainland has proved to be a quite convenient constraint. The leaders of the Scottish and Welsh governments, and of the Greater London Authority, quickly seized on the original draft to argue that they too wanted the opportunity to diverge from the rest of the UK, when the UK starts diverging from the EU after Brexit even if Northern Ireland did not. But Theresa May believes in the union a great deal more than the payday patriots in the hard Brexit camp. As such, underlying the...


In Praise of Migrants Jonathan Fryer

903482B9-F40D-4B73-8C6E-AF3BF453455DMigration has always been part of the human condition. If the experts are right, then all of us originate from Africa if we go back far enough, and in the following millennia the human species settled the world. In more modern times, there have been several convulsive waves of migrants, such as ethnic Germans fleeing central and Eastern Europe after the Second World War, refugees from conflicts including Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and the desperate young Africans hoping to find a better life in the Eldorado if Europe or Central Americans heading for the US. Within the European Union, migration is recognised as a right, as freedom of movement of people is one if the Four Freedoms of the European Singke Market. Yet migrants often get a bad Press, not least from the rabid right-wing media in the UK and the US. But where would those countries be if it werent for the contribution made by migrants, often doing work that the indigenous people dont want to do? So, on this International Migrants Day lets think of migration not as a problem but as a bles...


Police afraid, no-go areas, as gangs of thugs damage property, attack with vicious dogs Pride's Purge

Local gangs of thugs armed with metal pipes and vicious dogs trained to kill are terrorising local estates up and down the country:

The gangs who call themselves hunt packs have been recorded physically assaulting people, damaging property and setting their vicious dogs on local wildlife and pets.

But despite video and photographic evidence, the police are so afraid of these packs, they are reluctant to prosecute, presumably for fear of retribution.

Retribution from the influential, wealthy people who are members of these gangs, that is.

Because of course, if these gangs were working class people from housing estates, and not wealthy, well-connected people from country estates killing local wildlife for fun, the police would come down on them like a ton of bricks.




The bigger battle to defend democracy online openDemocracy

With the big tech companies masters of the worlds new public square, it is vital they work to address anti-democratic manipulation of their platforms everywhere, not just in the United States.

Mark Zuckerberg with Mexican President Pea Nieto in 2014. Flickr/Presidencia de la Repblica Mexicana. CC-BY-2.0.The recent focus on Russia-linked hacking and information operations aimed at the US presidential election has overshadowed another related and important story: governments around the globe are increasingly using these same new digital tactics domestically, often to great effect.

For the big technology companies to truly champion the dont be evil values they strive to embody, it is vital that they also address the manipulation of their platforms by nondemocratic actors aiming to manage public opinion and repress political opposition in their own countries. The companies can best do this by listening to targeted activists, independent journalists, and other in-region experts who understand how platforms are being used (and abused) in different countries, and then harnessing their tremendous internal technical capacities and creativity to implement solutions.

A 2017 paper by Oxford Internet Institute researchers concluded that cyber troops are now a pervasive and global phenomenon, citing organized social media manipulation in at least 28 countries. Across these countries, they found that every authoritarian regime has run campaigns targeting their own populations, while only a few have also targeted foreign publics.

Freedom House researchers, in their 2017 Freedom on the Net report, identified 30 countries where governments are employing armies of opinion shapers to spread government views, drive particular agendas, and counter government critics on social media. For example, members of a special unit within the Sudanese state security service created fake accounts on Faceboo...


Is DiEM25 still a vehicle for change? openDemocracy

DiEM25 members vote for the first transnational political party in Europe is a vote for more leadership. But the new strategic horizon is experimental and circular.

lead Spiral. Wikicommons/fdecomite. Some rights reserved.With DiEM25s vote to establish the first European transnational political party on November 8, the movement takes its strategy to the next step: pushing forward its European New Deal programme by contesting the European elections in 2019.

The decision to establish a political party raises a number of important questions: Can electoral politics be a meaningful instrument to achieve a more radical and democratic Europe? How to balance the power between the political movement and the party in order for DiEM25 to remain capable of change? How, while restricting political leadership to local and short-term tactics, can the movement remain open to ideas and capable of continuously adjusting to new circumstances and experiences?

Can electoral politics be a meaningful instrument? 

DiEM25s political programme can be briefly summarized as follows: democratic alternatives are possible and they are necessary. This does not, however, tell us much about the movements capacity to act. Although its call for a new democratic horizon is ubiquitous, aiming for radical democratic change is not enough. Whether DiEM25 can remain capable of change is linked to a more general debate: is electoral politics a meaningful instrument to fight for a more radical democratic European Union?

Following on DiEM25s proposal Not just another political party, electoral politics can become a crucial form of leadership within a movement. The question is not if but how. DiEM25s political party differs from other political parties in three ways.

Firstly, and to be precise, we have to speak of a transnational party list which consists of a transnational decision-making structure and considers cross-national candidacies. Secondly, DiEM25s electoral wing will take the form of a political party in...

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