The European Union is home to 60 regional or minority languages which are threatened and risk to disappear. Language can constitute more than just a communication tool, as it can be regarded as a bearer of culture and traditions. In such a culturally diverse environment, where the EU can be seen as an engaging multicultural mosaic, is the diversity constituting a key point for our sense of communality? Or is the presence of multiculturalism representing an obstacle for a potential homogeneity?
One of the most varied and endangered linguistic minorities in Europe is the Sami. The Sami is an indigenous people living today in a territory which extends on four countries (Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway), in a region called Lapland. Sami livelihood and economy was mainly based on the reindeer husbandry, coastal fishing, and hunting. Thus, due to their need to follow reindeers, they have never lived in one and only big community, setting up several smaller communities instead. Consequently, their nomadic life led to the development of different Sami languages, at least ten, which cannot be classified simply as dialects of the same language. Nowadays, the Sami language which counts the larger number of speakers is the North Sami, followed by the Lule Sami and South Sami. It belongs to the finno-ugrian linguistic family and it is commonly divided into three branches, depending on the grade of mutual intelligibility they can reach.
Since the establishment of borders in the Scandinavian peninsula and Russia, the Sami population quickly became a minority and encountered all the correlated difficulties as, for instance, the prohibition to speak their own language and the obligation to learn the new majority (“national”) languages. This was a consequence of the development of the agricultural activities, which implied a progressive settlement in the most Northern-most areas where the reindeers used to graze, and the wish to reach a certain homogeneity amongst the territory after the drawing of new borders. Thus the Sami people was considered a threat to the in-borders safety and homogeneity of the now “national” population. Continue reading “The EU & Minority Languages Promotion”→
Imagine how the map of the European Union could look like in 2030. A compact conglomerate of Member States, with only two small black holes – Switzerland and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Oh, three actually: Great Britain will have become the third one by that year.
While the UK is slowly putting out to the sea, definitively leaving the well-known harbor of the European Union, there are some countries which are struggling to join those that might seem safe and still waters. Lucky for them, they do not have to cross any stormy sea, as they are in the heart of the continent. According to the captains, the first Balkan ships should enter the EU in 2025 if nothing goes wrong during the remaining voyage. But bad weather seems to be a permanent feature of the European political scene and by that time the secure Union could have become an even more troubled and tempestuous harbor unprepared to welcome the newcomers.
At the moment, the incoming fleet counts six components. While Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina still hold the position of potential candidates, Albania and the FYR Macedonia already have the candidate status; Serbia and Montenegro are progressing with accession negotiations and thus are at the forefront in the path towards the European harbor.
Apparently, Serbia and Montenegro now start to see the light at the end of the tunnel – a very long one. The integration process of Western Balkan countries has been on the European agenda since the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003. Afterwards, stabilization and association agreements have entered into force with all six partners. However, expected progress has faltered. Enlargement has been hindered by numerous hitches, including the slow pace of reforms and economic growth, the influence of external actors such as Russia and Turkey, together with problems both in the domestic and European contexts.
2018 might prove a pivotal year in this long and turbulent voyage. Enlargement in the Balkans is one of the priorities of Bulgarian Presidency at the Council of the EU and in May a summit will be organized in Sofia for Western Balkan countries – for the first time since 2003. This new wave of engagement could lead to advances in each country’s process. Continue reading “A Bridge over Troubled Water: The Balkans and the EU”→
For over 70 years, the United States has upheld an international order that has not seen a single major power war, brought wealth and prosperity to dozens of nations which adopted open and free markets, and has advanced issues such as democracy, human rights, women’s rights, and other progressive issues through the international institutions the US helped to create at the end of World War II. Yes, it is easy to point out when the US’s foreign policy has aligned with countries that did not uphold similar values, or that the US has violated international law through its military undertakings, or assisted in overthrowing foreign governments – even established democracies. But even when acting against its own founding values, the American president has always at least rhetorically upheld the values of a liberal world order, albeit it sometimes hypocritical. But it seems that era has come to a screaming halt.
Many see the election of the American president as an opportunity to change the status quo and to embark on a new set of policies. Take for example the election of Barack Obama who ran on a progressive platform and repeatedly vowed to drastically change the foreign and domestic policies of past administrations. To be fair, Obama has accomplished several of his stated goals and changed American policies in a wide range of areas both domestically and abroad. However, the US has a larger portion of its population incarcerated than any other country; its governing apparatus more resembles an oligarchy than a democracy; its security state has only grown further at the expense of Americans’ civil liberties; and the undeclared wars in the broader Middle East have continued and expanded with no end in sight. Although Obama vowed to change America, the similarities are more striking than the differences.
But Obama is not an exception. It has been nearly the same for every modern American president. The change and reform they promise during the campaign quickly collides with the reality of the presidency. Career bureaucrats and civil servants that constitute the majority of the federal government do not change together with the president and his staff – even if the presidency is won by the different party. This leads to a continuation of policies across party lines. However, the recent change of presidents is different in more than one way.
Donald Trump’s surprise electoral college victory may not constitute a dramatic change in the country’s foreign or domestic policies. But his victory did not happen in a vacuum. It was coupled with an emboldened and in many ways radicalized Republican Party and a highly volatile international order, which relies heavily on American leadership. The combination of these factors will most likely disengage the US from the international community, including Europe and the European Union.
It is first worth examining the governing philosophy of the Republican Party, which won the presidency, Congress, and appointed a judge to the Supreme Court to ostensibly tip the court in the party’s favor. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Republicans – under the banner of conservatism, neoconservatism and most recently the ultra-conservative Tea Party – began shifting their bellicosity from foreign powers to domestic foes, such as American liberals and progressives. From their unprecedented partisan 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton to their obstructionism towards Obama, the party has repeatedly obstructed democratic processes for electoral gains.
Over the course of the last eight years, the Republican Party has engaged in political tactics and rhetorics more common in authoritarian regimes than a developed democracy. As an opposition party they praised foreign leaders over their own president, they attempted to delegitimize the Obama presidency through the birther movement (with the movement’s leader eventually becoming the new president) and even denied millions of elderly Americans healthcare by not expanding Medicare at the state level, which would have been completely subsidized through federal legislation commonly referred to as Obamacare.
On the international stage, a resurgent Russia is using hybrid warfare to influence other country’s domestic politics and elections – its greatest succes being the recent US presidential election. Through propaganda, disinformation, and financing of nationalistic parties, Russia aims to install more pro-Russian governments or, at the very least, undermine Western democracies. Due to the civil war in Syria, Europe has experienced the largest migration of refugees since World War II. The influx of refugees coincided with a rise of lone-wolf and small-cell terrorist plots inspired by ISIS. The destablization of the international order has been exploited by nationalistic politicians around the world with racist and xenophobic rhetoric, all to gain power and all to the expense of the values of liberal democracies.
The Trump administration has so far expressed the desire to pursue more realpolitik on the international stage, although detailed positions are unknown or do simply not yet exist. The ‘America First’ slogan translates into a parochially defined set of national interests, most likely limited to the economy and military. Trump’s comments on NATO being obsolete actually fit into this parochial nationalist rhetoric. Moreover, Trump has shown an inclination to align with authoritarian leaders around the world rather than traditional American allies. He has also displayed a strong tendency to be more bellicose and provocative confronting friends and foe alike, most shockingly evident in the conversations with the Australian and Mexican heads of state. This will most likely worsen if the domestic situation in the US further destablizes.
It is also evident that Trump will not so much turn a blind eye towards Europe as he will take positions that are explicitly contrary to the EU’s interests. For example, Trump has shown to be rather indifferent about a united Europe and even openly admired nationalistic European politicians. This will force the EU into an uncomfortable situation. Will it stand up against Russian meddling and American rhetoric and pursue a robust and united EU, or will it allow the nationalists to win-out? Any attempt by the EU to stay united and robust can easily backfire due to the growing nationalist sentiments accross the continent. However, the situation has proven to be a Catch 22. If the EU does not stand up against the threats posed by the disruptions in the international order, the existence of the EU could be in grave danger. This would pose an existantial threat to free trade and the peaceful relations on the continent.
As 2016 proved, nothing can be taken for granted anymore. The chaotic and unpredictable behavior of Donald Trump will most likely become the norm and not the outlier in the coming years. This will not bode well in an already volatile international order. The special relationship between the US and the EU (and its individual nations) may be in for some hardship – especially if Trump follows through with his proposed Russian alignment. But if one thing is certain, expect uncertainty.
Tyler is a local news reporter for the Alpena News in Michigan. When escaping from his unhealthy obsession with international politics, you can find him traveling and exploring the great outdoors.
On the morning of 12 February of this year, 1260 members of the German Federal Assembly, which includes Bundestag members and state electors, voted to choose the 12th President of the Federal Republic of Germany. Garnering over 900 votes, the clear winner was the Grand Coalition candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who served twice as foreign minister and ran for chancellor under the SPD banner in 2008. He has held public office for over 20 years.
On paper, Steinmeier has all the makings of a tame president; he is well-liked and respected in the international community and within the German government. According to Bild, Steinmeier even has the dubious honor of using the German informal “you” with more members of the Cabinet than any other – high praise for those in the German-speaking world.
However, appearances can be deceiving, and surely the Steinmeier presidency will not be without a backbone. During the last year of his term as foreign minister, Steinmeier spoke out strongly against Russian aggression, the inaction of the international community in the Syrian crisis, and the shortsightedness of the Brexit decision. Most notably, he is a decisive critic of US President Donald Trump and of the nationalist movements taking hold around the world.
From Freedom to Courage
Germany’s current president, Joachim Gauck, has spent most of his term promoting freedom. Gauck, who was an East German resistance leader before the fall of the Berlin Wall, has repeatedly stressed reconciliation and social justice in his speeches. His term has not been without crisis – the floundering euro, Brexit, and the refugee influx, just to name a few – but he has continued to call for openness, tolerance, and a need to cherish the freedoms that are easy to take for granted. Gauck embraced the “Refugees Welcome” movement more than any other German politician and at times was harsh in his criticism of those who were steadfastly anti-refugee.
Steinmeier promises to be a different kind of president. After nearly three decades in the spotlight, he is politically savvy and will likely be less concerned with visiting children’s shelters and more concerned with asserting Germany’s role in the world. If “Freedom” was the motto of the Gauck presidency, it is safe to say that “Courage” will be the that of Steinmeier’s. In his acceptance speech following his election, Steinmeier spoke of two kinds of courage: the courage that Germany can give to others, and the courage that Germans must display in the face of rising unrest in Europe and beyond.
Steinmeier recounted a story of a young Tunisian activist telling him that Germany gave her courage. Germany, which not so very long ago represented the opposite of freedom and justice, now has a place as one of the pillars of modern democracy in the West. Germany gives courage, said Steinmeier, because it is proof that peace comes after war, that reconciliation can follow division. In this sense, Germany must continue to be a symbol of courage for countries in crisis.
But Steinmeier also meant courage in another sense. Three important European elections – France, Germany and the Netherlands – are coming up this year, each with its own populist candidate. In the face of Marine Le Pen, Frauke Petry, and Geert Wilders, respectively the leaders of the nationalist waves in these countries, Steinmeier preached patience, tolerance, and above all, a commitment to the core values of Europe.
The “Anti-Trump” President?
Following his election, the German daily Berliner Morgenpost dubbed Steinmeier the “Anti-Trump President” – a title that has since been reprinted everywhere from The Independent to Bloomberg. Whether or not he enjoys the moniker, Steinmeier has certainly been among the strongest critics of the US President, referring to him at one point as a “hate-preacher.” After Trump’s election, Steinemeier issued the following statement as foreign minister: “I think we will have to get used to the idea that US foreign policy will be less predictable for us and we will have to get used to the idea that the US will tend to make more decisions on its own.” He went on to say that working together with the US will be much harder over the next four years and that Europe must stay the course, despite the unsettling results.
In his speech on Sunday, Steinmeier issued a thinly veiled critique on Trump and his populist counterparts in Europe. He called on all Germans to fight against baseless accusations and fear-mongering. “We must have the courage to say what is and what isn’t,” he said, claiming a universal responsibility to differentiate facts from lies. This, too, will likely be a theme of the Steinmeier presidency. Shortly before his candidacy was announced in 2016, the President-elect decried the rise of right-wing parties in Europe and the US and accused Trump and others of “mak[ing] politics with fear.”
Or the “Pro-Russia” President?
Rather than the “Anti-Trump” President, some may dub Frank-Walter Steinmeier the “Pro-Russia” President. As foreign minister, Steinmeier was regularly lampooned by his CDU colleagues for his mild stance toward Russia. He began his second term as foreign minister in late 2013, only a few months before Russia annexed Crimea. Following the annexation, Steinmeier joined his international colleagues in denouncing Russia and supported upping economic sanctions until the conflict was resolved.
However, Steinmeier has relaxed his stance since then and has insisted on a need to keep channels of communication open. Russia is an important actor in two of the most significant global crisis areas: Syria and the Ukraine. Continuing with heavy sanctions and isolation will do nothing to solve these issues, according to Steinmeier. Over the summer, he was also quick to criticize NATO for carrying out exercises in Eastern Europe. He accusedthe organization of “warmongering” and said, “Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is mistaken.”
Thus far, only Russian news outlets seem to believe that Steinmeier will be a friend to the east, but the differences between he and Gauck are undeniable. As a former citizen of East Germany, Gauck was understandably apprehensive about former KGB officer Vladimir Putin. Steinmeier, who has worked with the Russia on international issues since his time in the Schroeder administration, will be a welcome change for the Kremlin.
Emphasizing German Leadership
In an interview with television station ZDF following the election, Steinmeier indicated his intention to work closely with both Moscow and Washington. He was very clear that Germany is currently in the midst of a “reorganization of international relations” and that possible unpredictability in the East and the West will mean a greater need for a stable country.
Nevertheless, the role of the German president is not to negotiate with foreign leaders or herald in big changes. The German president is primarily a domestic role; he or she acts as a moral authority, but has very little political power. As the head of government, Steinmeier will be confined to ceremonial tasks like welcoming state visits and approving the Cabinet. The political might in Germany is held by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and by the parliament, the Bundestag. Despite his limited power, Steinmeier is expected to set a tone for the coming years and it appears as though he will be just as active as his predecessor.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier will take office on 18 March 18 this year. On September 24, the country will vote for new Bundestag representation and a new government will take office.
The Western Balkan region is an often neglected corner of Europe and rarely attracts media interest from mainstream outlets. The result is that the region is fairly unknown to other Europeans. Is the region comprised of underdeveloped economies or do they have the potential to grow? Are they fragile or stabile states? And most importantly, are the Western Balkan countries ready to join the EU? To find any answers for these questions, it is important to look at Serbia and Albania, the two countries that have significant influence in the region. The stability and progress of the Western Balkans greatly depends on the relationship between these two countries.
Serbia officially became an EU candidate country in 2012, and in 2014 the accession negotiations were opened. The possible accession of Serbia is not without controversy or problems. Serbia was a crucial actor in all the conflicts that tormented the region in the last decade of the 20th century. Nowadays, Serbia’s refusal to acknowledge the independence of Kosovo is perceived as the biggest obstacle to a possible accession to the European Union. Furthermore, the multi-ethnical composition of the Western Balkan region has proven to be a sensitive issue. Neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina is home to over a million Serbs and although Montenegro voted to leave the State Union with Serbia in 2006, the census of 2011 shows that 28.7 of the population still identifies as Serbian. When Serbia would join the EU, this could destabilize its multi-ethnical neighboring countries. Last but not least, Russian influences in Serbia raise questions about Serbia’s loyalty to the European project.
Albania has been an official candidate for accession to the European Union since June 2014. Similar to Serbia, it too has a considerable diaspora in neighboring countries. The country has a significant influence in the region, mostly in Kosovo where the majority of the population is Albanian. In neighboring Macedonia, 25% of the population identifies as Albanian, especially in the border regions of Western Macedonia. Also, there are large Albanian communities in the south of Serbia and in the south-east of Montenegro. Albania is already a member of NATO – it is seen as an important partner in combatting international crime – but also here questions of loyalty to the European project arise. Turkish influences in Albania have been historically strong.
Even though there are considerable cultural differences between Albania and Serbia, the political situation is remarkably similar. Both governments have strong leaders as prime-ministers. Aleksandar Vučić in Serbia and Edi Rama in Albania have both displayed autocratic characteristics during their time in office. According to reports of the EU Commission, both Serbia and Albania have problems with media censorship and with deep-rooted corruption in the state and judiciary. Despite the questionable state of democracy in both countries, Vučić and Rama are pro-European leaders and have repeatedly stressed their countries’ commitment to gain EU membership. For their role in stabilizing the region after the horrifying civil wars in the 1990s, they actually received widespread support from EU Member States. The result of this support is that despite the corruption and autocratic leadership, the Western Balkan region is relatively stable.[i] Proposals for cooperation are heard from both sides. Instead of fueling ethnic tensions for short-term electoral gains, it seems the two countries embarked on a road of reconciliation and cooperation. One example of this new trend is the first visit, after 68 years, of an Albanian prime-minister to the Serbian capital of Belgrade in 2014. The most tangible example of how the reconciliation between Albania and Serbia leads to enhanced regional stability in the Western Balkans, is the relative relaxation of Serbian-Kosovar relations. The Brussels Agreement, which is a direct result of this dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, is a positive step forward for the stabilization of the entire region.
The EU is by far the main economic and political partner of the Western Balkans and as stated above, Vučić and Rama are well known for their pro-European orientation. But the question of EU membership for Serbia and Albania is complicated. On the one hand, the countries’ focus on regional stability, mutual understanding, and tolerance resemble the dominant EU discourse. On the other hand, the autocratic traits of the countries’ leaders strongly resemble the political situation of their allies in Russia and Turkey. Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan are also greatly admired in the Balkan region and as stated above, the political leaders are also not immune to this. Signs of Putinism and Erdoganism are evident in the politics of the Western Balkans.
The EU’s choice to support the Western Balkans’ authoritarian political leaders in an attempt to maintain and advance regional stability is a matter of political necessity in the current context. Yet at the same time that support and external legitimization is stalling the necessary process of further democratization. It can indeed be argued that the EU turning a blind eye towards the rule of law and human rights in these countries empowers authoritarianism. However, in the current circumstances it is a rational thing to do. Although paradoxical, Europe needs strong national leaders to stabilize the Western Balkan region. The price is paid in terms of slow political reforms. The EU leadership should however always be aware that this is a precarious and temporal situation. While autocratic leadership on the short-term might benefit Europe and the Balkan region, on the long-term it might also provide for democratic backsliding and further instability.
[i] This article was written before Serbian-Kosovar relations significantly deteriorated after Serbian provocations in Kosovo.
It is a cold and grey Saturday afternoon, just one week before Christmas and I am rushing over the empty Platz der Menschenrechte, Human Rights Square, in front of the old German weapons and munitions production factory in Karlsruhe. This huge building was constructed with German Pünktlichkeit during the First World War and managed to avoid demolition in the late 1970s after having been a reliable space for the preparation of violence and destruction. With sentiment echoing Adorno’s phrase, “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” the city of Karlsruhe in the post-war decades seemed paralyzed and helpless to interact with this huge memorial of violence production in its heart.
It wasn’t poetry that brought a spirit of hope into the massive walls in Lorenzstraße – at least not just that. In the 1980s, the artist group “99.9% leerer Raum” moved into the old factory, just before, in 1984, the first ever email was received just a few kilometres away at the Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe (KIT). At that time, enthusiasm for new and connective technology of communication had awoken to end the rather destructive technology of weapons, which had dominated the atmosphere of the massive building. In 1987 the association for arts and media technology was founded, and eight years after the ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medien), the Centre for Art and Media, opened in the old German weapons and munitions production factory. Since then, the building has hosted exhibitions with a focus on media and communication technology. It is, however, an unusual exhibition for the ZKM, which I am visiting today. Usually, visitors come to stroll down memory lane between the antiquities and rarities of computer and video games, or to discover new developments occurring in the digital arts. Although this exhibition does not focus on technology and media art, it fits perfectly in this historic building.
“Art in Europe 1945-1968” is the title of the exhibition, curated by Eckhart Gillen and Peter Weibel and their Russian colleagues Daria Mille and Daniel Bulatov. It is a cooperation between the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and the State Museum Exhibition Centre ROSIZO in Moscow. The exhibition contains more than 500 diverse works of about 200 European artists. In Karlsruhe it has the significant subtitle, “The Continent that the EU does not know.” The curators aim to give a second perspective on the dominant narrative of post-war Europe. They present works by artists, who have responded to the breakup of a divided continent after a decade of destruction.
“Art in Europe 1945-1968” focuses on a central cultural space. One that was damaged and torn apart several times during the 20th century. The curators present artistic developments, stemming from the huge area that is geographical Europe. With artwork coming from anywhere between the Ural Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, the exhibition draws on many sources in its goal of opening up a new narrative with regards to a shared past. The curators claim that until today historiography looked at the arts of the 20th century as divided into two main streams. Firstly, there was abstract expressionism, which is seen as a symbol of freedom in the West. Then there is social realism which, according to these curators, has been seen as a conservative kind of art, an art bent to serve the communist political system in the East. This exhibition, however, is an effort to engage with the history of art in Europe in a less simplified manner. This exhibition explores these themes through comparison, by finding similarities, and understanding differences in a socio-political approach to interpretation.
While walking through this huge exhibition, taking up two floors with an immense amount of art work, I can sympathize with the curators and let myself get lost in the many pictures, sculptures, films and photographs. It is hopeless trying to discover everything: this exhibition is the product of more than twenty years, and 200 people, full of creativity and extreme emotions. It is by accident, that I find the small Picasso, “Pigeon, Blue Variation” from 1951, hidden on the back of one of the huge white walls. The difficulty of mapping this great quantity and variety of art in post-war Europe can also be seen through the different strategies of structuring the exhibition in the three hosting places in Brussels, Karlsruhe and Moscow. In Karlsruhe it is organized into the five chapters “Trauma and Remembrance,” “Cold War,” “New Realism,” “New Visions,” and “Utopia 1968”. While 1945 is interpreted as ‘hour zero’, 1968 is defined as the starting point for a new relationship between West and East. What might seem like a very linear and horizontal approach, is in fact an attempt to entangle spaces, to invite visitors to discover art works that have not shared the same space before. Curator Peter Weibel calls it an active plea for understanding Europe – a goal which is just as important today as it was in 1945.
The idea of “Art in Europe 1945-1968” was conceived already in 2012, and it was supposed to be shown in Russia first. However, after the crisis in Ukraine and the strained relationship between the EU and Russia, many important sponsors withdrew their financial support. It is in these grey and cold days, that it becomes more important than ever to take a break and discover new perspectives on what shapes Europe: memories and trauma, war, utopia, and new visions. Now, in times of a critical public discourse regarding Europe, and in times of planning the building of walls, it is maybe more appropriate than ever to consider the leading questions of “Art in Europe 1945-1968”: “what is Europe?”
What I take with me walking back from the ZKM, in the old German weapons and munitions production factory in Karlsruhe, over the Human Rights Square, is the idea to keep my eyes wide open and to search for hidden ideas. Ideas that are not omnipresent in the main discourse surrounding us today. There was a lot happening in the period between 1945 to 1968 in Europe. It seems like a period of conflict and inconsistency . There is also a lot going on in Europe today, and it is essential to reflect on the present patterns of perception and communication. “Art in Europe 1945-1968” shows that it is worth challenging established constructs and opening a discussion about a common past and a common future. Despite or precisely because of its confusing multitude of pieces, visitors of “Art in Europe 1945-1968” can find a new way of looking at Europe in the past and in the present. I interpret this exhibition as a liquid reflection on arts and European society. It commutes between the East and West in Europe, and changes its setting in each location. It is not a fixed construct which needs to be consumed in a certain way, but one that underlines different perspectives. An exhibition is more than its images or sculptures. It represents a reflection on the everyday reality of artists and curators, and it grows in the space where it is shown, and with each visitor approaching it. “Art in Europe 1945-1968” communicates with its surrounding and with its audience and it is worth, I believe, taking your time to look, listen, reflect and respond.
The exhibition “Art in Europe 1945-1968” can be visited in the ZKM until 29th of January 2017 and afterwards in Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.
Throughout history, the struggle between the West and the East has fallen on the shoulders of the U.S. and Russia. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the West’s relationship with Russia has always been testy. With the disintegration of the USSR, the US was deemed victorious, while spreading its influence and liberal ideology throughout the world, while Russia and its stalling economy was seen as the loser. Twenty-five years of US hegemony, good or bad, was felt in every corner of the globe, whilst Russia’s global headlines comprised of its propaganda, sniggered at by Western nations, poor economy and the propping up of dictatorships. However, in recent times, it is evident that Russia is somewhat gaining its influence back via foreign policies and especially through the soon-to-be new alliance with president-elect Donald Trump. It is now difficult to ignore the growing power of Russia throughout the world, especially as even its classic nemesis, the US, appears to be bowing to Putin’s charm.
After the events of 2014 there was an agreement in the West to isolate and punish Putin for his actions in, the now-annexed, Crimea. Russia was placed under economic sanctions that were intended to weaken its trade with the western hemisphere and contributed to the poor state of the Russian economy. Also diplomatic ties suffered between Russia and the West and at times have stalled, especially due to Russia’s role in Syria. It had looked like Russia would continue to play second fiddle to the US in the global political field, until the recent turn of global events.
Most significantly, president-elect Donald Trump has not hidden his admiration for Vladimir Putin. During the campaign, Trump praised Putin and his leadership qualities. Trump’s actions are drastically different from previous US presidents who had a frosty relationship with Putin. The oncoming US-Russia relations boom have alerted governmental figures and they have questioned if Putin would have influence in future US policies. Even in choosing his cabinet, Trump causes concern. Rex Tillerson was announced as the new Secretary of State and within hours of this declaration, concerns were raised by both Republicans and Democrats about Tillerson’s close ties to Putin. Were Putin to somehow have influence in US policies, then it is clear that the tide would clearly change in global politics. During the campaign, Russian hackers were blamed for leaking DNC emails, which destabilised the Democratic Party with Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation and the raised questions about the DNC’s authenticity. Post-election, Barack Obama called for an enquiry to examine if Russia had any influence on the final result.
Without a doubt, European leaders are concerned that Trump will have a soft approach to Putin and his foreign policy. This year, tensions escalated between the west, especially the US, and Russia due to its involvement in Syria and the continuous breaking of agreed ceasefires. Previously, there was no doubt that the Western block would stick together against Russia, but the stronghold alliance is not as stable as it once was. In France, Marine Le Pen secured a €9 million loan from Europe-Russia Bank (ERB), for her political party, Le Front National, to strengthen her far-right rhetoric which ultimately disrupts mainstream European values. Russia’s growing influence in Europe further demonstrates its tactical aim to have a strong hold in the continent à la pre-fall of the Berlin wall. Recently, during presidential elections, both Bulgaria and Moldova elected men who lean closer to Russia and distance themselves from the Western block. With uncertainty mounting in post-Soviet countries; it is evident that Putin’s foreign policies point to a wish for a quasi-USSR looking map. Trump’s limp response to supporting NATO may only encourage turning Putin’s attention towards the Baltic and Balkan states. In Germany, a warning has been issued from head of security that there may be interference in next year’s elections in Europe by Russia.
Further afield, in the strategically important Pacific region, the Philippine president, Roger Duterte, described Putin as his “idol”, recently claiming that the two have much in common. While creating a gap between the Philippines and the US – for instance calling Obama a “son of a whore”- it is evident that Duterte would welcome a strong alliance with Russia. This would diminish the US’ influence in the region, which has been essential for US interests for many years.
Despite its recent influence in global politics, some political leaders will still create obstacles for Putin and his Russia. Angela Merkel claimed that the sanctions placed against Russia must continue due to the lack of progress in Ukraine. Furthermore, Alexei Navalny, leader of Progress Party has declared that he will run in the 2018 Russian presidential elections and will “speak about things people refuse to talk about”.
Pockets of once assured Western alliances around the world are quickly being challenged by different leaders. With Russia’s frosty relationship with the West thawing with the election of Trump, and other global political party leaders, one thing seems certain: Russia is is finally coming in from the cold.
Donald Trump is the next President of the United States of America. In the US this needs to be accepted as soon as possible so that those for him, and those against him, can start making the best of this divisive result. America will learn how to deal with Trump domestically- they are a robust democracy with rigid cheques and balances.
Within the EU we also have to come to terms with a result that many did not think would happen and did not want to happen. This was not a European decision though, but the choice of the US electorate, a choice that needs to be respected. The choice we are faced with now is how to react to Trump’s America in the international arena. This choice is especially important for the moderates of the EU. If they want to stave off the effects of Trump they will need to, to quote Anthony L. Gardner, current US Ambassador to the EU, “speak out with passionate intensity”.
To do this, we first need to answer the question on all of our minds- what does Trump mean for the EU? When you are dealing with a man who one day threatens to take the US out of NATO and the next promises fierce allegiance to allied states, it’s hard to pin down the policy from the rhetoric.
Below I will give The Euroculturer’s best guess at how Trump’s Presidency will affect the EU, by asking what policies we can actually expect from the eccentric millionaire. Once we have it on paper, I will make a few suggestions as to how the EU, and its Member States, might best respond to this new era in EU-US relations.
What will he do?
Although conventional wisdom says that we shouldn’t take a candidate on his pledges, this candidate said he would win, and he did, against all odds. So on this occasion, it might be best to look at what Trump has already said about his planned foreign policy:
Effect: Trump has claimed in the past that Mike Pence, his running mate and Vice President elect, would be left to take care of ‘domestic and foreign policy.’ Though perhaps even more conservative than Trump, particularly as regards reproductive rights, Pence is a more traditional Republican, and would be therefore easier to anticipate. Expect a dismantling of Obamacare domestically, but little overt change internationally- which would normally give the leaders of EU States some solace. However, it is hard to imagine that the natural showman that is Trump would be willing to completely eschew the opportunity of meeting world leaders and taking part in important international congresses. Fame is Trump’s bread and butter, he is an entertainer, and one thinks he would not miss the opportunity to, at the very least, be the face of America in those critical moments. Therefore, discounting policy for the moment, we think you can at least expect a visible Trump in Europe.
Already his presence has been felt, with right wing parties falling over themselves to congratulate him and to declare his victory as a feather in their caps. An official from France’s Front National has stated, in the aftermath, that ‘Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built’. Nigel Farage, the man who brought about Brexit with his UKIP party, has gleefullyclaimed to be the catalyst for Trump’s victory, and believes Trump’s victory heralds further political upheavals in Europe. (Side note: Farage, in this same interview, made a joke about Trump assaulting Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK, which perhaps shows the affect Trump is already having on the language of politics in European countries.)
So, for those who think Trump may just be a figure head, it is worth remembering the moral power a figure head has. Trump could embolden alt right movements in Europe, and with elections in The Netherlands, Germany and France coming sooner rather than later, Geert Wilders, AFD and Front National could be looking to shock the world with their surprise, poll defying victories. Nobody in the EU should take this possibility lightly.
Response: If Trump’s victory can embolden the alt right, it should also serve as a rallying call to the moderate and left movements in Europe (and the US). The fact that Trump won with the backing of traditional Democrats shows (as Brexit was passed with the backing of Labour voters) that the base of the left has been overtaken by the new rhetoric of the alt right, slamming global financial institutions and immigration. In many ways this is to be expected. Most countries in the EU have lived under austerity measures for nearly a decade, since the 2008 financial crash. While financial institutions have been bailed out, businesses have closed and rural areas have been decimated by a drain of the youth to cities and other countries. According to city dwellers and the middle class, the recession is over and austerity worked. For rural people and those living in relative poverty though, the recession never ended, and austerity is still keeping stride with their day to day lives. This is fertile ground for populists. Not because people are stupid, that’s the lazy answer, but because they are angry. Brexit was a sledgehammer to the system they felt encouraged their marginalisation, Trump was another.
Similarly, immigration has fuelled the alt right in the US and the EU. Here, fear of Muslim immigrants is felt in most EU states by a large section of society. This fear is not backed by fact; it’s not based on numbers and it is certainly not easy to address. However, this is no excuse not to address it. When liberal left society calls you a fool or a racist for a genuine fear, resentment brews. We saw this in the US where I personally believe that Clinton lost a lot of voters with her ‘deplorables’ comment. To this section of society the only place to turn is the right, where they may not be offered a perfect solution, maybe not even a message that they really believe, but they are paid attention to. The left and the moderates need to do more than dismiss the fears of this section of the population. We talk often about training immigrants to fit into society; we talk too little about how to prepare the current population. The left does not need to abandon immigration as a platform, it certainly cannot abandon asylum seekers, but they must innovate how this is communicated to the public. Research shows that interaction is the best cure for xenophobia,which explains why, consistently, city populations vote for more liberal immigration policies. Social democratic parties must lean harder on their ‘social’ aspect in Europe, get people to meet. Not just those who already support immigration, it’s not those we need to convince. Instead we need to find ways to reach out to those sections of society already facing hardship economically and are more likely to be segregated from international communities. Go where the people are- trade civic events that attract leftists for pubs, football clubs and all the rest. There also must be more that can be good to reach people in Europe’s small towns, Europe’s isolated farms. Regardless of how they do it, the left and the moderates, if they want to diminish the power of the fear of immigration, they need to realise that immigration should not be pushed, but introduced. Claims that the left has been betrayed by their base belie the fact that the voter base feels betrayed by their parties.
Pro-EU citizens and parties need to realise that only by tackling these aspects of globalisation, and by communicating with the people most affected, can the momentum of the alt right be slowed. Otherwise the mere spectacle of a Trump Presidency might threaten the EU’s political establishments.
Effect: Trump, throughout his campaign, has threatened to reduce the US commitment to NATO, threatened to leave partners that fail to raise their contributions to the alliance to fend for themselves, and has even threatened to pull out of the organisation all together. This, surprisingly, is not too far away from the policy of previous Democratic and Republican leaders. The US elite have for a long time said that NATO lacks support from its partners, particularly European nations who fail to meet the budgetary requirements of the organisation. The difference here is the tempo of Trump’s statement- threats to abandon the alliance already causes hairs to stand on end, particularly in Eastern Europe, where states such as Poland count on NATO for defence in the event of a conflict with Russia. NATO as a deterrent itself is weakened by this threat and the EU states that rely on it for the stable state of the continent face an uncertain future.
Response: In the aftermath of Brexit, Italy, France and Germany discussed increasing military cooperation, now that the tricky UK was no longer part of the picture. The UK, the Netherlands and Poland have opposed an increase in EU common defence as it is feared that this could undermine NATO. With the UK out of the picture, the new big three still failed to get the Netherlands, Finland or Poland on side.
With Trump this might change. Even the distant chance that NATO could be weakened can cause chaos. In response to this the EU should push harder for closer common defence in the EU. The Netherlands and Poland, traditional atlanticists, may be won over to this as an alternative to NATO, a stabilizing force in the region and a clear deterrent for any hostile states. Ideas such as a common defence research fund, a centralised military operation HQ and even an EU army, which have been so recently been rubbished may be revived. They at the very least should be talked about, to lay the groundwork in the case that NATO becomes an uncreditable source for European security. It centralises European control of their defence, alleviating fear by becoming self-sufficient in terms of protection. Honestly, looking at the trend with NATO, centralising European defence may just be inevitable, but by seizing the opportunity, the EU gets the chance to show unity and forward thinking.
There are of course many, many difficulties to such a course of action, political and moral. Politically, getting neutral Ireland on board will be difficult and not necessarily tractable. Morally, there are arguments to be made about warmongering and feeding the military industrial complex. These are no small matters and should give pause to any thought of increased military cooperation or spending. However the moral debate, essential to this policy, is beyond the scope of this article- which is merely arguing that increasing EU common defence is an appropriate response to a weakening of NATO in order to ensure security and stability, particular in Europe’s border regions.
Effect: More concerning for security is Trump’s stated desire to cool tensions with Russia, potentially ending the EU-US joint sanctions regime and recognizing the annexation of the Crimea. These are points which the EU and some of its major Member States are unlikely to support.
Trump’s promise to end the deadlock and work with Assad to defeat ISIS also fits with his desire to improve relations with the Kremlin. However working with Assad, who is widely disliked in EU circles, risks alienating prominent Member States and encouraging Russia to take a more active role in international affairs, a situation that would make the EU’s eastern flank nervous. This could help destabilise states in Eastern Europe, with Russia interfering with more gusto in the aftermath of a warming of relations with the US.
Response: Despite recent problems amongst Member States in the EU’s eastern flank, the EU should take this opportunity to reaffirm the place of Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia and Czechia at the heart of the European project. Support should be offered if tensions with Russia do rise, and a strong voice on their behalf should be coming out of Brussels in any talks with Russia. Likewise, if these states want a better relationship with Russia, they should be allowed to pursue it within certain limitations. They share a history which might be advantageous to exploit in building upon the EU’s autonomous relationship with Russia, something that will be needed if the US pursues a specific policy as regards Russia. Europe has different red lines with Russia than the US. For central Europe the Ukraine situation and the annexation of the Crimea is not an area where many concessions can be made to Russia.
Effect: Under Trump and a House and Senate controlled by the Republican Party the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement is very likely dead. This would have seen tariffs between the EU and US cease to exist in most areas, a harmonisation of standards and the setting up of an arbitration system by which organisations can bring cases against states that introduce practices which disadvantage them commercially. While there are many who would like applaud this development, and perhaps rightly, there nevertheless stands the risk that this weakens EU and US trade, which would in turn weaken both our influences worldwide. Similarly, while not perfect, and not yet fully negotiated, TTIP offered the chance for two regions, which share many of the same values with regard to human rights, to work together and set the international agenda as regards workers’ rights. There are many legitimate criticisms of the TTIP concept of course, and even without Trump it may not have gotten off the ground politically in Europe or the US. However, the jobs TTIP would have created could maybe have eased domestic tensions in the EU and the US, and therefore its loss cannot be counted an uncomplicated victory for anyone, as youth unemployment ravages the young voting population. Trump’s pledge to reduce the US corporate tax regime is also troublesome, as it will harm industry in the EU, particularly Ireland where many ostensibly US companies have their bases due to Ireland’s tax regime.
Response: The CETA deal with Canada is an example of how the EU should respond to TTIP. Although not free of problems associated with TTIP, such as the controversial investor court, CETA is an example of how the EU can expand its trade with smaller, likeminded regions as a way of offsetting the damaged trade relations. Seeking trade relationships similar to this with smaller states, such as Australia and New Zealand, will help bring investment into the EU and hopefully bring jobs to lift the many jobless of Europe into employment. It could also help the rural regions by boosting agricultural exports, and in this way respond to chronic problems in the EU’s rural areas. However, to avoid public opposition, these new deals should not seek to establish investor courts- even if these means the deals need to be more limited.
Trump means that the EU will be faced with new challenges, many of which are not anticipated in these responses, and many of which cannot be anticipated. However with this article I hoped to suggest that even if Trump were to be as extreme as his campaign suggested, there are moves to be made. The EU is not powerless to respond to a changing world, and for the sake of its citizens, it certainly should not stand idly if these changes will have a negative impact on their livelihoods. Trump’s Presidency does not necessarily represent anything revolutionary- he is not the first business man to be elected President, he is not the first man to be elected President, and he is certainly not the first Republican. His campaign was vicious and his comments on women and minorities have caused shock, but only time will tell if he really is anything other than another Republican President. However, if this does mark a new era in international politics, the EU is morally obliged to take its place in the world.
On 12 October 2016, at a seminar hosted by The Netherlands Atlantic Association, a group of presenters outlined the clear evolution in Russia’s methods for extending its sphere of influence, when compared to earlier decades. A key element of this new method, as elaborated on by Jakub Kalensky, of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Aivar Jaeski, of NATO and Mark Laity of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) is that Russia uses disinformation as an important element in its foreign policy. This type of disinformation campaign is also known as hybrid warfare. A good example of this is the developments around the investigation into the shooting down of flight MH-17 in Ukraine airspace. Almost three hundred people died, of which nearly two hundred were Dutch citizens. Investigations have shown that the plane was shot down by a Russian missile, used by Ukrainian rebels. However, the Kremlin has denied any involvement and has made numerous statements claiming that the investigations are speculative and false. Additionally, the Kremlin has stated that it has proof that there was no Russian involvement in the tragedy, but this “proof” had not been released to the investigative authorities until last week- despite two years of demands from the Dutch government to see it. There is still much doubt regarding this “proof”. In the upcoming weeks the investigation team of MH-17 will look into this.
This is not the only example of Russia using disinformation as a real policy method. Last year, a new department in the EEAS was set up, the East Stratcom Task Force, in response to Russia’s disinformation campaign. The Task Force is responsible for finding Russian propaganda and debunking it. On their twitter account, the Task Force publishes all the results of their investigations. A funny example are theclaims coming from the Russian Ministry of Defense that the Crimea was already Russian about 160 million years ago, when dinosaurs walked the Earth.
Whereas this is an rather entertaining example, Russia is very serious in its disinformation policy. A year before the invasion of Crimea, Putin officially stated that Russia had no plans to invade Crimea. European (and other international) leaders believed him. A year later, Russia invaded Crimea, and pointed out that it never said it would not.
What Russia does with its disinformation policy is create uncertainty, allowing for a situation where the average citizen does not know what to believe. Where the Bolsheviks were clear that everybody besides themselves were not trustworthy or good, Russia now is spreading the idea that you cannot believe anybody, full stop. Not even the Russian leaders themselves, since Russian people disappear when they ask questions and speak critically about the Kremlin. Pro-Russian journalists who write that Russia did nothing wrong in the Crimea and with the MH-17 crisis get rewarded for their efforts.
Worse yet is that the current situation in Europe shows that this disinformation policy is working. Nobody knows what is true and what is not. The consequence of this is that there is no straightforward policy towards Russia, as is shown with the MH-17 investigations. Because of all this uncertainty, European leaders do not stand up against Russian interference in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood. Their disinformation campaign has been very effective at wedging a policy divide between European states. Bilateral relations with Russia, varied across the continent, get in the way of a unified response. For example Latvia and Estonia have a difficult relationship with Russia, and for Estonia the Russian threat is “very real.” However, for other European Member States, such as Italy, who blocked further sanctions on Russia this week, the Russian threat is a bit further away, and they prefer a stable relationship with Russia because of economic interests. These elements contribute to a lack of a common European voice towards the Kremlin and its foreign policy.
However there are ways we can combat Russia’s hybrid war. What we can do, according to Kalensky, is contribute to the investigations of the East Stratcom Task Force, and give them information about Russia’s disinformation policy whenever we come across it on the web or in print. This way, it can be shown to the general population that the disinformation policy is a real and tangible threat, breeding disorder and mistrust, happening on media across Europe, and that there is a need to do something about it.
The Asian Century is a debated concept which posits the idea that the 21st century will be led by the Asian continent from an economic, political, and cultural perspective. Supposedly, the previous 19th and 20th centuries, have been the British (European) and the American centuries respectively. The AsianDevelopmentBank is so confident of such an accomplishment that it published a report in 2011 titled “Asia 2050: Realizing the Asian Century.”
The implications are plentiful and, unsurprisingly, global. Yet this article aims to move one step beyond the above discussion. Over the past few weeks, several articles have focused on the possibility of a shift of power in Eurasia, from different angles. The first piece, “Black Wind, White Snow: Imagining Eurasia”by Casey Michel was published on TheDiplomat website, which referred to a recently released book reflecting on the Russian concept of “Eurasianism.” The notion was apparently coined, or at least, co-opted by the Kremlin and surrounding bodies as a way to promote and promise a brighter future to the disillusioned post-Cold war generations. The outcome of this attempt at normative construction has been mixed, according to Michel, but an overall aura of pessimism is perceivable across the book, suggesting that the imagined Eurasia may stay in the Kremlin’s mind.
Still, due to its strategic position and regional influence, it is crucial to consider the role of Russia in any potential Eurasian ‘coalition’.
The second and third articles tackle the issue from a more inclusive perspective and, perhaps startlingly, depict two opposite scenarios. The first one is from George Friedman, an expert in intelligence and international geopolitics, who wrote an article for Forbes claiming that the “Last time Eurasian Instability Was This Bad Was Before World War II”, describing several factors to justify such a dire prediction. A few examples are the supposed failure of the European Union, followed by the Russian and Middle Eastern crisis, in addition to the aforementioned slowdown in both China and Japan’s economies. The only exception, according to the author, is India, but that country alone will not be able to stop a ‘grand’ destabilization affecting the whole Eurasian continent.
Such a vision, in my opinion, is rather unconvincing, especially when considering the economic and geopolitical self-interest of the majority of the Eurasian countries. Their goal is, mostly, to pursue peaceful means of gain, being well aware that armed conflicts can bring far more disadvantages than benefits. A notable exception may be North Korea, for obvious reasons.
The last article, which I particularly enjoyed, provides a more optimistic view on the phenomenon. Graham E. Fuller, a former senior CIA official, wrote for TheWorldPost (partner of the renowned HuffingtonPost) an article entitled “The Era of American Global Dominance Is Over.”Such a bold statement from an American citizen may sound preposterous to some. Yet it is another piece covering the position of Eurasia, seen as an increasingly relevant one in this article. The author recognizes that the term itself may remind the readers of a geographical feature more than a political one, Eurasia as a sole, vast landmass. The author sees it as more than that. The central reason why Fuller thinks that the US is failing to deal with Eurasia is its stubbornness in ignoring the mega-continent “rising force” which is attracting more and more nation-states to its sphere. The article then mentions several economic, military and political reasons that support the author’s well-articulated stance. Nonetheless, the recurring theme is that the current century has seen the demise of Western global dominance and that the US should accept it now in order to take advantage of such power shift, while is still happening.
This last article appears to be the most convincing when you look to the latest global developments. A change is indeed happening, and although it does not mean that the US is not going to occupy a predominant position, their position is certain to be less hegemonic.
The above articles may not follow a common pattern and they likely originated from different pitches. Still, they have all been published in the past few days which may be a peculiar coincidence or a hint of an upcoming geopolitical trend. Regardless of that, it is unquestionable that the current European situation may benefit from additional transcontinental collaborations and a more balanced, multipolar power redistribution may benefit all the global players in the long run.