Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Nationalism of Great Powers

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
It may not be a good thing for the international community that the three mightiest nations on the planet are, arguably, also the three most nationalistic.

China, Russia and the United States all consider themselves to have world-historical missions to enlighten or save the world. They all view themselves as exemplars for other, “lesser,” states.

America was founded by Calvinist Protestants who considered themselves chosen by Providence to create a republican commonwealth in the New World: in the words of the Puritan leader John Winthrop in 1630, a “city upon a hill.”

America would become a “promised land,” a replica of the Old Testament covenant between God and the Israelites. It would thus become the country’s “manifest destiny” to expand across the continent and emerge as the world’s most powerful nation.

As a nation defined by a creed and sense of mission, Americans tend to equate their interests with those of humanity, which in turn informs their global posture. They consider themselves the “indispensable nation,” the country that “makes the world safe from democracy.”

The sense that the history and mission of the U.S. makes it superior to other nations is sometimes referred to as “American exceptionalism,” and it allows the country to see itself as the standard to which other states should be judged.

Russian nationalism, too, emerged from a religious base, in this case Russian Orthodox Christianity. Under the tsars, the Russian Empire was sustained by three pillars – autocracy, Russian ethnicity, and Orthodoxy.

Byzantine missionaries brought Christianity to Russia and it became an Eastern Orthodox state in the 10th century.

At the time, Constantinople was the “second Rome,” being the seat of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. But when Byzantium fell to the Muslim Ottoman Turkish Empire in 1453, the Russians saw themselves as having inherited the mantle of the faith.

They now deemed themselves the “third Rome,” stewards of the purest form of Christianity. “Two Romes have fallen. The third stands. And there will be no fourth,” proclaimed the Russian monk Philotheus of Pskov, in 1510.

In Russia, religion and state were fused, because of the Byzantine model known as Caesaro-papism. It was now a “holy empire.”

Those Russians who considered Russia as uniquely favored by God, known as Slavophiles, opposed the influences of Western Europe in Russia and were determined to protect Russian culture and traditions.

The Bolshevik revolutionaries who seized power in 1917 were nominally “anti-nationalists” and, of course, atheists, yet the Soviet form of nationalism, too, privileged the country above all others.

Moscow, now the capital of international Communism, remained a beacon for all those fighting for socialist revolution. The Soviet road to Communism was the path others needed to follow.

Today, of course, all that is gone, yet Vladimir Putin’s Russia remains an intensely nationalistic country, with religion again playing a part in buttressing the sense of Russian greatness.

Putin was determined to restore Russian dignity after the chaos that followed the collapse of the USSR and many Russians still dream of a reconstituted, though non-Communist, successor to the old Soviet state.

China is, of course, an ancient culture, one that, until a few centuries ago, was paramount in East Asia, and technologically superior to any other on earth.

Some form of a Chinese state has existed for some four millennia, and the Chinese concept of the world was largely a division between the civilized world and the “barbarians” beyond its frontiers, who as vassals of the empire were supposed to acknowledge Chinese suzerainty.

The intensity of Chinese nationalism therefore stems from the almost permanently dominant position occupied by the Chinese Empire within the world with which it maintained relations. 

Humbled and humiliated by western powers after the 17th century, it has re-emerged as a great power. Ostensibly Communist, it is once again the “Middle Kingdom,” the centre of the world.

And it intends to make certain other countries acknowledge that status. Nor will it rest until it reclaims all the territories lost when it was weak, including Taiwan.

In his 1998 book Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America, political philosopher Richard Rorty asserted that “National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals.”

Still, too much of anything may be a bad thing. These three powers, given their historical and ideological traditions, may be headed for a collision of one sort or another. The rest of the world watches, worries, and waits.

The Politics of Identity in Kosovo

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The Albanian people in the Balkans are not descended from the Slavic migrations into the region that occurred from the sixth century onwards. They consider themselves the descendants of the first people that lived in the land, the Dardanians. And unlike the majority of ethnic groups in the region, they are mainly Muslims.   

An Albanian state was created just before the First World War, but not all Albanians were incorporated into it. Many became part of the newly created Yugoslavia, distinguished from their Slavic neighbours when it came to language and ethnicity.

Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia worked to undermine Albanians politically. Even in post-1945 Communist Yugoslavia, the Albanians in Kosovo did not acquire their own republic, as was the case for Bosnians, Croats, Serbs, Slovenes and Macedonians, but instead they became part of Serbia.   

As Yugoslavia began to disintegrate, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic revoked Kosovo’s autonomous status in 1989. The Serbs viewed themselves as the defenders of “Western civilization and Christianity” against the Kosovar Albanian Muslims.

In reaction, the Kosovar Albanians mounted resistance to Serbian domination. They first formed the non-violent Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova.

Unable to win back their rights through the LDK, they created the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1996 which, with the help of NATO, prevailed in a war in 1999, after some 10,00 Kosovar Albanians had been killed.

In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence. NATO still has some 5,000 troops stationed in the country to keep the fragile peace. Serbia has never accepted Kosovo’s sovereignty.

Saudi-based humanitarian agencies charitable organization soon arrived in Kosovo. They took the opportunity to spread religious education and helped rebuild mosques that had been destroyed in the war.

Kosovo itself is legally a secular state. Article 38 of the constitution guarantees freedom of belief, conscience and religion, and Article 39 ensures and protects religious autonomy.

Understandably, though, Kosovo, where 96 per cent of its two million inhabitants are Muslim, has close historic, political, and religious ties with Muslim Albania and Turkey.

Kosovo is still a largely pro-western country. In the capital of Pristina, many street names pay tribute to former American presidents, owing to NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign and Washington’s support for Kosovo’s independence.

In recent years, though, more conservative forms of Islam are taking root. There were about 200 mosques after the war in 1999. Today, there are more than 800.

There is an element of society and certain parts of Kosovo that are becoming more religious,” according to Naim Rashiti, an analyst at the Balkan Policy Research Group, a Pristina-based think-tank. “This is a new experience for us.”

Kosovo’s identity remains fragile. Many Kosovar Albanians are not emotionally attached to the new state, but see themselves as Albanians, and some wish to be united with their ethnic brethren across the border.

In Pristina, even in government buildings, the Albanian red flag with a black, double-headed eagle is widely seen, instead of the country’s own flag. So for many Kosovars, Islam has filled that identity gap.

Meanwhile, low-level hostilities between Kosovo and Serbia continue. On Jan. 14, a Serbian nationalist train left the capital, Belgrade, for Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, where most of Kosovo’s remaining 50,000 Serbs live. 

It was painted with Serbian flags, religious Christian Orthodox scenes of monasteries and medieval towns, and inscribed with “Kosovo is Serbian” in 20 languages.

Not surprisingly, Pristina saw it as an act of provocation. “I believe that turning back the train was the appropriate action,” declared Prime Minister Isa Mustafa. Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama also weighed in. “Serbs will be able to enter Kosovo only as tourists,” he remarked.

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic accused Pristina of attempting to ‎spark a conflict and said that he would be willing to send the army to defend Serbs in Kosovo, if necessary. “The territory of Kosovo is the territory of Serbia under international law,” he added.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Is This Just Fake News on Steroids?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

A partially declassified report released Jan. 5 outlines what America’s top intelligence agencies view as an elaborate “influence campaign” ordered by President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

The CIA, the FBI, and the National Security Agency described the operation as Russia’s effort to “undermine the U.S.-led democratic order” and to skew the outcome of the 2016 presidential race in favour of Donald Trump.

As far as I can tell, the Russian “cyber attack” that supposedly “hacked the American election” consisted of getting hold of Democratic National Committee e-mails and disseminating them; no bullets used, no one killed, no stuffing of ballot boxes.

It was just the modern version of steaming open letters, copying the contents, and mailing them to newspapers, or of instructing hack journalists on your payroll to write slanted articles. There is nothing new about any of that.

It bears repeating, yet again, that the hacked e-mails were not forgeries but genuine. They drew attention to the way the DNC had been working on Hillary Clinton’s behalf to defeat Bernie Sanders in the primaries.

Yet American cable channels such as CNN and MSNBC devote almost their entire news coverage to insisting that Russia hacked the electoral process. They seem intent on “shaping the narrative” that Russia is once again, as during the Cold War, an evil empire wreaking havoc.

The claim of Russian interference in the election has led to the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and closure of two diplomatic compounds in the United States.

Actually, just about everything written or said during the contest influenced people one way or the other. Every oped, every feature story, every newscast. Naturally -- that’s what a campaign is all about.

Unfortunately, American elections have degenerated to the point that both major parties concentrate, not on the issues, but on what the Russians call “kompromat”: each candidate publicizes every piece of dirt they can uncover on the other.

If they were won or lost on the issues, rather than on the equivalent of National Enquirer style yellow journalism and gossip, none of this would even work.

There’s another way you can tell that the issue of “Russian hacking” has been blown up out of all proportion.

We are told that it has been going on for years, yet prior to Clinton’s loss, the media showed little interest, and the story would have remained buried – in contrast to genuine “acts of war” such as, for example, the bombing of Pearl Harbor – had Clinton won the election.

After all, she wouldn’t have wanted to call attention to the unethical methods of the Democratic Party officials who stacked the deck on her behalf against Sanders.

In a press conference held Oct. 18, Barack Obama told reporters that “there is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s election, in part because they’re so decentralized.” He certainly changed his tune after Clinton lost!

For what it’s worth, I do think hackers sponsored by the Russian government did the deed, though we have seen no hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims. And America’s intelligence agencies have been wrong many times before.

In early 2003, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking to the UN, justified the impending invasion of Iraq by claiming that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction.

Powell presented surveillance photographs to support this claim.  But it turned out that in fact there were none.

We also know that the intelligence services in 2011 lied about the terrorist attack against the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. They backed up the politically motivated narrative of the Obama administration that the attack was due to a video.

There was no shortage of misleading and intentional misinformation during the Vietnam War, for those of us old enough to remember it.

Lyndon Johnson’s fabricated 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which an American destroyer exchanged fire with North Vietnamese torpedo boats, served as a pretext for a Congressional resolution allowing the bombing North Vietnam and the escalation of the war.

Trump has stated that only fools would oppose better relations with Russia. But most of the American political class, and the heavily Democratic-leaning media, still refuse to accept him as the duly elected president.

A Brave Man in an Immoral Europe

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
On Jan. 17, 1945, Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat credited with saving thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Second World War, was arrested by Soviet authorities and never seen or heard from again. Last Oct. 26, at the request of his family, he was formally declared dead.

There are few positive stories that emerged from the Holocaust. Most ordinary people could do very little to help Jews, even if willing to risk their own lives and those of their families.

That is why a few well-placed diplomats played an outsized role in saving Jews. They had the wherewithal to provide Jews with safe passage out of Europe, or to supply them with documents granting them some form of asylum or otherwise enabling them to stay out of the clutches of the Nazi executioners.

Arguably the best-known was Raoul Wallenberg, who was appointed secretary in the Swedish Embassy in Budapest, Hungary, in the summer of 1944.

Hungary was by then virtually the only state in Axis-dominated Europe whose Jewish community had remained safe from the Nazi “Final Solution,” despite its regime being allied to Germany.

But that changed on March 19, 1944, when German troops occupied the country. In the two months that followed, the Nazis deported 440,000 Jews, mainly from outside Budapest, to the largest and most infamous death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau.

An additional 230,000 remained in the capital, where they awaited their fate.

Meanwhile, the American War Refugee Board requested that Sweden, which had stayed neutral during the war, send a special envoy to Budapest to spearhead a rescue effort. So in the summer of 1944, the Stockholm government agreed to use its diplomatic mission in Budapest to help Hungary’s remaining Jews.

Raoul Wallenberg, a member of one of Sweden’s wealthiest and most prominent families, was selected to be that envoy. He was an ideal choice, as he was sympathetic to the plight of European Jews, could speak Hungarian and German, and was familiar with Budapest.

He was given full diplomatic privileges and his principal task would be to deal with issuing passports.

By the time Wallenberg arrived that July, the only Jews left in Hungary were in Budapest. The Swedish embassy began issuing travel documents to Hungarian Jews. Wallenberg introduced the colours of the Swedish flag, marked the documents with government stamps and added Swedish crowns.

Altogether, he issued Swedish diplomatic papers to more than 30,000 Hungarian Jews, preventing their deportation and murder.

Wallenberg also bought and rented more than 30 buildings in Budapest. He ordered that the Swedish flag be flown over these houses, thus converting them into official Swedish embassy annexes and shielding their inhabitants from the Nazis. At least 10,000 Jews moved into these safe houses for protection.

As Hungary was falling to Soviet forces, on January 17, 1945 Wallenberg began a journey to Debrecen, located 120 miles east of Budapest, where the Soviets and a provisional Hungarian government were headquartered.

The exact purpose of the trip is unknown, but Wallenberg was taken into custody by Soviet forces and was never seen or heard from again. The reason for the arrest was never made clear.

On Feb. 6, 1957 Soviet deputy foreign minister Andrei Gromyko released a report to the Swedish authorities informing them that Wallenberg had died of a heart attack on July 17, 1947 in Moscow’s infamous KGB-run Lubyanka prison. In the ensuing decades, various sources claimed that Wallenberg was still alive and being held by the Russians.

On Dec. 23, 2000, Russian officials admitted Soviet forces had wrongfully held Wallenberg at a Soviet prison. But no document certifying that he was executed has ever been found and his exact fate still remains a mystery.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Egypt's Coptic Christians Face Renewal of Violence

Henry Srebrnik, [Halifax, NS] Chronicle Herald
On Dec. 11, a bomb ripped through the chapel in the St. Mark’s Cathedral complex, the seat of Egypt’s ancient Coptic Orthodox Church. It killed 27 people and wounded another 49, one of the deadliest attacks on the country’s Christian minority in recent memory.

Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Islamic State, though the Egyptian government blamed the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Divisions have widened in recent decades between Egypt’s Sunni Muslim majority and the Coptic Christian minority, who account for about 10 per cent of the country’s 92 million people.

Pope Tawadros II, spiritual leader of Egypt’s Orthodox Christians, has said that attacks against Christians have occurred on average about once a month over the past three years. In too many instances, the police don’t care to investigate.

Egypt’s Christians have long complained of discrimination, saying they are denied top jobs in many fields, including academia and the security forces. And the Egyptian parliament in August passed a law imposing restrictions on the construction and renovation of churches.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights counted 77 incidents of sectarian violence between 2011 and 2016 in Minya governorate south of Cairo, home to Egypt’s largest Christian community.

Egypt saw a previous wave of attacks by Islamic militants after July 2013, when the military under Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi overthrew President Mohamed Morsi, a freely elected leader and a senior Muslim Brotherhood official.

Many of his supporters blamed Christians for supporting his ouster, and scores of churches and other Christian-owned properties in southern Egypt were ransacked that year. The army and the police made little attempt to intervene.

Some 38 churches were looted and torched, while 23 others were attacked and heavily damaged in one week. According to the Coptic Orthodox and Catholic churches in Egypt, 160 Christian-owned buildings were also been attacked.

Two years earlier, a New Year’s Day 2011 bombing at the Saints Church in Alexandria killed 21 people. That same year, 28 Christians were killed in clashes with the military outside the Egyptian Radio and Television Union building in Cairo. They were protesting against an attack on another church.

In 2006, there were days of clashes in Alexandria between Copts and Muslims after a Copt was stabbed to death during a knife attack on three churches.

Under the 19th-20th century Egyptian monarchy Copts were relatively secure. But they faced increasing marginalization after the 1952 coup d’état led by Gamal Abdel Nasser.

His pan-Arabist ideology had little room for a community that felt little affinity with the larger Muslim Arab world. He also nationalized many businesses that were owned by Copts.

Increasingly, Egyptian Christians are speaking out against the government, ignoring the wishes of the church.

On Sept. 19, during Sisi’s visit to New York to address the UN General Assembly, 82 Copts signed a public letter protesting the church’s widespread support of Sisi and expressed frustration that the situation for Christians in Egypt has not improved.

Some went so far as to say it is worse than under Hosni Mubarak, the dictator overthrown during the Arab Spring in 2011.

Two days earlier, Tawadros had stated that media outlets were publishing false news about relations between Copts and Muslims.

“Egypt is not the best society in the world, but both its people and its leadership are trying to become the best society,” the pope explained.

Monday, January 09, 2017

How Are the World's De Facto States Faring?

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer

In 2004 I co-edited De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty, a book that examined ten unrecognized polities around the world, though a few others, such as the Kurdish Region of Iraq, Timor Leste, and South Sudan, didn’t make the cut. (The last two, though very troubled, are in fact independent today.)

How are these ten entities faring today? It’s a mixed bag.

Four of them are the result of the “frozen conflicts” in the zones of contention between newly-formed states that emerged in the wake of the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Transnistria, largely Russian and Ukrainian in ethnicity, broke away from Romanian-majority Moldova in 1992. In the Caucasus, Armenian-majority Nagorno-Karabakh declared its independence from Azerbaijan, a Muslim Azeri state, after a war that ended in 1994.

Chechnya tried to free itself from Russia, and the Abkhazians demanded their freedom after Georgia become a separate country.

Nagorno-Karabakh survives due to its support from neighbouring Armenia. The conflict heats up occasionally, most recently last April, when dozens of Azeri and Armenian soldiers died in a flare-up of hostilities.   

Abkhazia, which emerged as a country after a war with Georgia in 1993-1994, has become stronger following the abortive attempt by the Georgians to recapture it, and also Russian-majority South Ossetia, another secessionist area, in 2008.

Moscow quickly came to their aid and defeated Georgia’s aspirations to reunify its former territory as a Soviet republic.

As for Chechnya, after two bloody wars against Russia in 1994-1996 and 1999-2000, it has slid backwards and is now a satrapy ruled by a warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov, who governs the ethnic republic with the blessing of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In the Balkans, the Republika Srpska, Kosovo and Montenegro all emerged from the detritus of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

The Republika Srpska is the Serbian region of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the loose federation that is also home to Croats and Muslim Bosniaks. Since the end of the war in Bosnia in 1995, it is a virtually autonomous region in a failed state paralyzed by ethnic conflict.

Albanian-majority Kosovo, wrested from Serbia with help from NATO in the 1999 war of secession, declared formal independence in 2008. However, Serbia continues to claim it and a Russian veto keeps it out of the United Nations. Montenegro, on the other hand, parted ways with Serbia peacefully in 2006. It is in the United Nations and has applied for membership in the European Union.

The Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been partitioned since 1974 between the officially recognized Republic of Cyprus, in effect a Greek jurisdiction, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Tensions between the two have eased since the island was admitted to the European Union in 2004, although the EU legislation is suspended in Northern Cyprus.

The Palestinians remain enmeshed in the seemingly intractable conflict with Israel and now administer two semi-sovereign statelets which are often at odds with each other.

One of them, the West Bank, ruled by the Palestine Liberation Organization, is mired in corruption; the other, Gaza, under the control of Hamas, is a hotbed of ideological Islamism.

Somaliland in the horn of Africa remains a beacon of stability within the anarchic vacuum that is Somalia since 1991. Nonetheless, though it is a democratically governed country which has run free elections since 2003, and also a rare development success story, no one has recognized it.

In the Pacific, the island of Bougainville, part of the Solomon Islands archipelago, tried to free itself from Papua New Guinea in a civil war that ended in 1999. But, though now an autonomous part of that country, it may yet re-emerge as a state after a scheduled 2019 referendum.

Why this New Cold War Rhetoric Now?

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Why, in the last days of Barack Obama’s presidency, are we being subjected to the constant orchestrated drumbeat of anti-Russian propaganda on American television and newspapers? After all, Washington has been long aware of Russian cyber spying.

Part of it is to weaken Donald Trump, as he gets set to assume the presidency. After all, Obama and Hillary Clinton are still seething over their loss to the man they kept mocking.

They hope to drive a wedge between the new president, who has consistently indicated a desire to improve American-Russian relations, and anti-Kremlin hawks like senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

McCain has called the hacking of a Democratic Party e-mail server “an act of war.” Graham told reporters in Latvia that “Russia is trying to break the backs of democracies all over the world.” And Obama himself recently referred to the “free world,” a Cold War term not heard in many years.

So a second reason is to prepare the grounds for claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin will have “fixed” next year’s French and German elections, should the right-wing, anti-European Union National Front (FN) or Alternative for Germany (AfD) happen to win.

Indeed, the intelligence agencies have now begun to doubt the validity of last June’s Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Britons voted to leave the European Union. That result, too, went the “wrong” way, so why not also try to tie Putin to that as well?

A Dec.10 article in the London-based Guardian noted that the CIA investigation into the alleged Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails “may also have implications for the integrity of Britain’s Brexit referendum last June, and how upcoming elections in France and Germany could be vulnerable to Russian manipulation.”

A few days earlier, the chief of the British intelligence agency MI6, Alex Younger, warned that cyber-attacks, propaganda and subversion from hostile states pose a “fundamental threat” to European democracies, including Britain.

Younger did not specifically name Russia but left no doubt that this was the target of his remarks.

British Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon also contended that there was “a disturbing pattern” of allegations against Russia around cyber warfare.

The head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service also has warned that next year’s German general election could be targeted by Russian hackers intent on spreading misinformation and undermining the democratic process.

"We have evidence that cyber-attacks are taking place that have no purpose other than to elicit political uncertainty,” Bruno Kahl, president of the Federal Intelligence Service, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung in late November.

“The perpetrators are interested in delegitimising the democratic process as such, regardless of who that ends up helping.” He added that the attacks “come from the Russian region.”

Hans-Georg Maassen, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, said in an interview that cyberspace had become “a place of hybrid warfare” in which Russia was a key player. “More recently, we see the willingness of Russian intelligence to carry out sabotage.”

Germany faces a heated election campaign next year, largely due to the pressure Chancellor Angela Merkel is under because of her liberal refugee policy.

She, too, has asserted that populists and social media platforms spreading propaganda were in danger of causing unprecedented damage to democracy.

In France, NF party leader Marine Le Pen has stated that her election as president next year would form a trio of world leaders – meaning herself, Putin and Trump -- that “would be good for world peace.” This is obviously music to Putin’s ears.

But will he necessarily support her campaign? Russia might be just as content to aid the conservative candidate François Fillon, who is known as a friend of Russia and a critic of Western sanctions against the Kremlin.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Fear of "Fake News"

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
Americans now live in an age of intense political polarization. One result? Partisan political websites are feeding followers false or misleading information, according to an Oct. 20 analysis by BuzzFeed News.

Their review of more than 1,000 posts from six large hyper-partisan Facebook pages selected from the right and from the left found that the least accurate pages generated some of the highest numbers of shares, reactions, and comments -- far more than the three large mainstream political news pages analyzed for comparison.

One purveyor of false news, Alex Jones, has nearly 1.4 million followers on Facebook. In a Nov. 17, 2013 interview in New York magazine, Jones claimed that being called a conspiracy theorist was just a way to discredit “someone who questions known liars in government and media.”

So are we really so gullible? According to several studies, the answer is yes: even the most obvious fake news starts to become believable if it’s shared enough times.

Is all of this really unprecedented?  Not really. First of all, there’s nothing new about it. We’ve had pamphleteers spreading scurrilous lies since the dawn of print. Has no one heard of the various conspiracy theories around John F. Kennedy’s assassination?

We have always been subjected to fabricated news, but it used to be called propaganda. As David Uberti pointed out on Dec. 15 in “The Real History of Fake News,” in the Columbia Journalism Review, “It’s worth remembering, in the middle of the great fake news panic of 2016, America’s very long tradition of news-related hoaxes.”

By the early 19th century, when modern newspapers came on the scene, many were printing fake stories to increase circulation.The only thing new is that virtually anyone with a computer can disseminate it now, via tweets, Facebook posts, their own websites, or other social media.

“Whatever its other cultural and social merits, our digital ecosystem seems to have evolved into a near-perfect environment for fake news to thrive,” New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club on Dec. 12.

In consequence, many internet destinations “have become unsafe spaces,” as Jennifer Howard observed in “Internet of Stings,” in the Times Literary Supplement of Dec. 2, “where fake news prevail.”

Fake news also proliferates because “real news” is sometimes suppressed. All kinds of stories are also subject to “self-censorship” by the mainstream press. Public trust of the media has been in decline for decades.

So people turn to samizdat (as I now call these various blogs), which may or may not be telling the truth.

So how can we protect ourselves from digital lies? Separating truth from fiction takes time and an open mind. And who should decide what is false and what isn’t?

After all, was it “fake news” to report on data models that showed Hillary Clinton with overwhelming odds of winning the presidency? Surely that, too, skewed the election.

Some believe the solution is enhanced fact-checking – but others see this, too, as a conspiracy designed to censor unpleasant news. Who will guard the guardians? It becomes a house of mirrors.

We should definitely not leave that task to governments, as Kenan Malik cautioned in “Gatekeepers and the Rise of Fake News,” a Dec. 5 New York Times oped. Such suggestions “promote cures worse than the disease.”

Here’s some advice from British journalist Simon Oxenham of the London-based New Scientist magazine: check who produced it. “Often it is clear from the URL that a website is pretending to be reputable by stealing the name and style of another publication.”

But the “big lie” unfortunately sometimes wins the day, with dire consequences.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Rise of Populist Parties in Nordic Countries

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The Nordic countries have long been considered a part of Europe where people support progressive and social democratic parties committed to the preservation of the welfare state.

However, as elsewhere in Europe, these nations have in recent years seen the rise of right-wing populist and anti-immigrant parties.

The Danish People’s Party (DF), Finns Party (PS), the Progress Party of Norway (FrP), and the Sweden Democrats (SD) have all become significant forces in their respective countries.

These states have proportional election systems with low vote thresholds for gaining seats (four per cent in Norway and Sweden; two per cent in Denmark; none in Finland) and a strong tradition of minority coalitions. All this has helped radical parties gain a foothold in their political systems.

In Denmark, the DF emerged out of an anti-tax movement and assumed its present form in 1995, as the issue of immigration began to dominate Danish politics. It first participated in elections in 1998 and immediately won 7.4 per cent of the vote.

In 2012, Kristian Thulesen Dahl became the party leader and succeeded in enhancing the party’s image. By 2015 it had almost tripled that initial result, with 21.1 percent. With 37 of 179 seats, it became the second-biggest parliamentary group.

In Norway, the FrP, founded in 1973, also initially developed as an anti-tax movement and was very similar to the DF in its ideology. It gained a double-digit election result – 13 per cent -- for the first time in 1989.

The FrP has recently tried to improve its image and distance itself from racism. Since 2013, when it garnered 16.3 per cent and 29 of 169 seats in parliament, good for third place, it has been included in a government coalition under the conservative Hoyre Party.

A successor to the openly fascist Sweden Party, the SD, founded in 1988, presented itself as a ethnic-nationalist, Euro-sceptic movement.

It entered the Swedish parliament for the first time in 2010, with a vote of 5.7 per cent. It doubled that number in 2014, with 12.9 per cent, taking 49 of 349 seats and becoming the third-largest party.

To present a more moderate face, it has expelled more than 100 openly racist party members since 2012. Sweden’s other parties have denied the SD any voice in government, but some centre-right politicians have become more open to the idea of a possible coalition with them.

In Finland, the PS was established in 1995 and is the successor to the now-defunct populist Finnish Rural Party. Fiscally centre-left but socially conservative, it sees itself as the defender of the national culture.

It remained marginal until its electoral breakthrough in 2011, when it won 19.8 per cent of the balloting.

Though the party’s share of the vote fell to 17.7 per cent in 2015, it nonetheless became the second-biggest group in the legislature, with 38 of 200 seats, and part of a tripartite centre-right governing coalition, whose rhetoric on immigration has become stronger.

These anti-immigrant, populist parties have gained further support since some 250,000 refugees entered the Nordic countries in 2015, including a record 163,000 in Sweden.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, a Social Democrat, has tightened asylum rules and border controls.

In Denmark the DF has even attracted disgruntled Social Democrats. So last January a bill tightening immigration laws, including the confiscation of refugees’ valuables passed with overwhelming support.

In Norway, a few months after a number of immigration reforms were instituted aimed at making it a less attractive destination for refugees and migrants, the number of asylum seekers dropped precipitously.

Prior to last year’s election, the PS website stated that Finland “should take care of the Finns first.”

Throughout northern Europe, the larger issue is the growing unwillingness to subsidise those seen as the foreign poor.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Anti-Immigrant Politicking Has Merkel on the Defensive

Henry Srebrnik, [Halifax] Chronicle Herald

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is running scared.

Clearly, the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) is nipping at her heels. She is now shifting to the right in an attempt to win next September’s German federal election.

The AfD is the first populist party likely to clear the five-per-cent threshold required to land seats in the Bundestag. In recent state elections, it has siphoned votes from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) after capitalising on anger in parts of the German electorate over her liberal refugee policy.

It now has seats in 10 of Germany’s 16 states.

Though Merkel’s party remains the frontrunner, the AfD is currently polling at about 12 per cent nationally.

At the recent CDU party conference in Essen, Merkel, who has led Germany for 11 years, confirmed she would run for a fourth term. But she acknowledged the election would be more difficult than any other she has contested.

Merkel’s decision, in the summer of 2015, following the escalation in the Syrian civil war, to suspend all external border controls and the usual rules on refugees, resulted in a record influx of nearly 1.1 million refugees and migrants, mostly from predominantly Muslim countries.

Merkel’s opponents have blamed the policy for the mass sexual assaults last New Year’s Eve in Cologne and two recent terror attacks by ISIS supporters. So her government is now addressing public fears surrounding the issue.

In an about-face, Merkel has now called for a public ban on the Muslim full-face veil in some areas of public life — such as courts, schools and universities, as well as in road traffic and during police checks.

A full ban is considered incompatible with Germany’s basic laws.

To the applause of about 1,000 delegates, she called the burqa and niqab not compatible with German culture.

“Here we say ‘show your face,’ ” she said. “So full veiling is not appropriate here. It should be prohibited wherever legally possible.”

A year ago, the CDU had rejected such a ban.

She also promised that honour codes or Islamic Shariah law would never replace German justice. “That has to be expressed very clearly.”

Merkel told the party conference that last year’s large influx of refugees would not happen again. A situation like that of 2015 “should not be repeated.”

She stated that refugees had found protection in Germany against war and persecution in their troubled homelands. But, she added, “not every refugee can stay.”

She also stressed it was legitimate for Germany to expect newcomers to integrate.

Her government has moved to toughen asylum rules and to declare several countries “safe” — meaning people from there cannot expect to receive protection in Germany.

Thomas de Maiziere, the German interior minister and one of Merkel’s closest allies in the CDU, had already proposed a partial burqa ban last August. He called the veils “contrary to integration.”

He said the law would apply in “places where it is necessary for our society’s coexistence.”

All this is taking place within the context of rising populist and anti-immigrant sentiment throughout much of the continent. Politicians who play on nationalism and worries about economic disenfranchisement are on the rise.

Is the current flow of Europe’s politics now also working against Merkel?

Only Clinton Responsible for Her Defeat

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
Hillary Clinton has blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged cyber attack of the Democratic National Committee’s e-mail server and FBI director James Comey’s investigation of her own e-mails for losing the presidential election.

Speaking to campaign donors in New York Dec. 15, she said Putin’s actions were “an attack against our country.”

The American political and media establishment has for weeks been in a state of hysteria over Russian interference in the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump – as if Clinton would otherwise have certainly won.

Let’s assume that the Russians hacked the DNC e-mails and had them leaked. First off, remember this: Putin didn’t actually fix the election, in the sense of electronically “stuffing” ballot boxes long-distance and creating a false victory for Trump.

The Russians simply released true information to WikiLeaks. They didn’t spread “false news” – the e-mails were not forgeries.

They revealed the corruption and collusion by those running the DNC, such as Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, in order to defeat Bernie Sanders.

What the Democrats are now saying is that the American electorate should not have known about these shenanigans -- because they then voted for the “wrong” candidate. 

It’s hard to believe unemployed rust belt voters who helped elect Trump paid much heed to any of this anyhow, or that they were swayed by Putin.

As for those Americans who did bother to read them, they certainly, as American journalist Doug Henwood wrote Dec. 13 in of the London-based Guardian, “discovered precisely how cynical and empty the Clinton operation was.”

It’s also easy to blame James Comey, the director of the FBI, for the trouble that the private e-mail server scandal caused, but the decision to set that up was hers. Had she used the State Department’s own system, there would have been nothing to investigate.

Maybe Clinton should look in a mirror if she wants to lay blame. She lost because she failed to engage the millennial and the minorities Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012. She spent most of August with the elites in Hollywood, the Hamptons and Martha’s Vineyard fundraising instead of meeting with the working class across the country.

Her refusal to hold press conferences, her dismissal of the Goldman Sachs speeches, her assumption that identity politics would suffice, her high-handed comments about Trump supporters being a “basket of deplorables,” and her assumption that the presidency should be hers by “divine right” – all these were far more important matters.

Anyhow, if foreign hacking is tantamount to an attack on the nation, maybe there should also be an investigation to determine whether foreign nations curried favor with the Clintons with their multi-million dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation, and what they expected in return when Clinton was supposed to become president.

The election wasn’t an exam, where the voters gave the “wrong” answer. In a democracy, regardless of what the Russians or the FBI did, Americans had the right to vote for Trump and not for Clinton.

Now the mainstream press has taken to running endless articles warning their readers about Trump’s subservience to Putin, his anti-democratic tendencies, and his existential threat to their liberty.

Two typical examples in the Dec. 18 New York Times: Nicholas Kristof, “Trump: The Russian Poodle,” and Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, “Is Our Democracy in Danger?”

They make Trump sound like a cross between the Nazi collaborators and puppets like Marshal Philippe Pétain in Vichy France and Vidkun Quisling in occupied Norway. It’s not even very subtle as propaganda.

Dutch Politician Convicted of Inciting Hatred

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Whatever one may think of his politics, one thing is certain: Geert Wilders certainly has the courage of his convictions.

A populist Dutch politician who is the founder of the nationalist right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV), he is its leader in the House of Representatives, the lower assembly of the nation’s bicameral parliament.

An agent provocateur par excellence, Wilders in 2008 caused protests in the Muslim world for a short, online film which showed verses of the Qu’ran next to images of extreme violence and terrorism.

In 2011 Wilders was acquitted of hate speech, but he was less lucky this year. On Dec. 9 he was convicted of inciting hatred by a Dutch court. However, he received no penalty or punishment.

The charge stemmed from a March 2014 incident during the country’s municipal elections in which Wilders urged his supporters to chant that they wanted fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands. Members of the Dutch Moroccan community pressed charges.

Wilders denied any wrongdoing, saying the comments he made are protected as free speech.

But the three-judge judge disagreed, finding that Wilders had overstepped the limits by specifically targeting Moroccans.

“For the first time, Wilders has been condemned for racism and discrimination,” said Abdou Menebhi, one of the people who registered a complaint.

“Today, I was convicted in a political trial which, shortly before the elections, attempts to neutralise the leader of the largest and most popular opposition party,” Wilders responded. “They will not succeed.”

Regardless of the verdict, “no one will be able to silence me.” He mocked the court, tweeting that it had convicted “half of the Netherlands.” He intends to appeal.

His anti-Islam, anti-immigration rhetoric has propelled him to the top of Dutch polls. Some of them suggest the PVV is today the most popular party in the Netherlands, on track to win some 36 seats in the 150-seat lower house if elections were held now. It currently occupies 12 seats in parliament.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centrist People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) would get 23 seats compared with the 41 seats it won in the 2012 elections. Labour (PvdA) would get 10 seats against the 38 it won then. The two parties currently govern the country in coalition.

Last August the PVV released its one-page manifesto ahead of the March 2017 legislative elections.

Under the PVV proposals, mosques, Islamic schools and asylum centres would be closed; the borders would be shut down with a blanket ban on migrants from Islamic countries; women would be forbidden from wearing a headscarf in public; and the Qu’ran would be banned.

The party also pledged to withdraw from the European Union and has called for a vote on it as soon as possible.

Pressure from people like Wilders has had an effect. In November the Dutch government agreed to a partial ban of the wearing of full-face veils in public places such as schools, hospitals and on public transport.

The motion was approved by 132 members in the 150-seat house, including Rutte’s ruling VVD- PvdA coalition.

However, this doesn’t go far enough as far as Wilders is concerned, because it does not ban wearing full-face coverings on the street. He remains a man who continues to attack the country’s liberal political culture.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Empires Often Decay from Within

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Pioneer Journal

Empires, after a long period of international reverses and inner political decay, often expire, as T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” may suggest, “not with a bang but a whimper.”

This was the case with two of the mightiest imperiums on earth, separated by more than 1,500 years – Rome and the Soviet Union.

On Sept. 4, 476, the last day of the Roman Empire in the west, Odoacer, a member of the Germanic tribe Siri and former commander in the Roman Army, who had entered the city unopposed, easily dethroned the sixteen-year-old emperor Romulus Augustulus.

The one time military and financial power of the Mediterranean was unable to resist and disappeared.

Fast forward more than 15 centuries to Moscow on Dec. 25, 1991, when the last Communist president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, dissolved the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which, like Rome, had been one of the mightiest powers on earth.

By then, most of its 15 constituent republics had effectively seceded from the federation.
Even its core, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, had declared its independence under its leader Boris Yeltsin, who had assumed its presidency on June 12, and it would emerge as the Russian Federation.

In a nationally televised speech, Gorbachev announced his resignation as president. He declared the office extinct and handed over its functions, including control of the Soviet nuclear codes, to Yeltsin.

A state whose Communist Party had for more than seven decades exercised totalitarian control over the economy, administering all industrial activity and collective farms, and which controlled every aspect of political and social life, was no more.

Gorbachev had come to power in 1985, following decades of rule by old apparatchiks. He inherited a stagnant economy, an onerous arms race with the United States, a debilitating war in Afghanistan, and a restive group of Soviet satellite states in eastern Europe, in particular Poland, whose fierce sense of nationalism had grown in the wake of the election of a Polish pope, John Paul II.

Gorbachev introduced two sets of policies that he hoped would help the USSR become a more prosperous, productive nation. The first of these was known as glasnost, or political openness.

Glasnost gave new freedoms to Soviet citizens. Political prisoners were released. Newspapers could print criticisms of the government. For the first time, parties other than the Communist Party could participate in elections.

The second set of reforms was known as perestroika, or economic restructuring. The best way to revive the Soviet economy, Gorbachev thought, was to loosen the government’s grip on it. Individuals and cooperatives were allowed to own businesses for the first time since the 1920s. Workers were given the right to strike for better wages and conditions.

However, these reforms were slow to bear fruit. Perestroika had torpedoed the “command economy” that had kept the Soviet state afloat, but the market economy took time to mature.

In his farewell address, Gorbachev summed up the problem: “The old system collapsed before the new one had time to begin working.”

He also withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan, and declared a policy of non-intervention in the Warsaw Pact states. The first revolution of 1989 took place in Poland, soon followed by others.

Not surprisingly, the desire for sovereignty spread to the Soviet republics themselves. It was a tsunami that swept away one of the world’s largest empires by the end of 1991.

The USSR committed many crimes, especially against its own citizens, and no one should mourn its passing. But no one should forget what it stood for, however imperfectly, either.

Its values included altruism, self-sacrifice, the elevation of group over individual concerns, and the rejection of materialism. This bound people together and gave them a sense of meaning.

That this became intertwined with the cruelty and mass murder that eventually destroyed it was a twentieth-century tragedy.

The McCarthyism of the Left

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
From the end of the Second World War to the downfall of Senator Joe McCarthy, America was consumed by an anti-Communist “red scare.”

People on the left, mainly Democrats, were accused by Republicans of being “fellow-travellers” and “fifth columnists” on behalf of the Soviet Union and its dictator, Joseph Stalin.

There were blacklists that led to people being fired from their jobs and ostracized, and many lives were ruined.

In 1948, right-wingers insisted that presidential hopeful Henry Wallace was just a Communist puppet. Today, it seems, the tables are turned.

With the election of Donald Trump, it is now Democrats whipping up anti-Russian hysteria by claiming that Vladimir Putin helped the Republican candidate defeat Hillary Clinton by interfering in the presidential election.

The charge of being a tool of the Kremlin, levelled against Trump and his supporters, is part of the left’s campaign to de-legitimize the incoming president. Might we call it McCarthyism 2.0?

During the presidential campaign, the Democrats and the mainstream media (especially the Washington Post) repeatedly warned of the supposed endangerment to the country’s national interest by the apparent ideological affinity between Trump and Putin.

Stories also regularly appeared in the press regarding Trump’s business interests overseas, as well as those of his associates, implying that he would be “soft” on Russia due to his ties there.

In late October NBC News reported that the FBI was looking into business dealings between ex-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russian politicians and businessmen. He denied any business relationship with the Kremlin, calling the charge “Democratic propaganda.”

Then there were the stories alleging that Russians had hacked into the communications of the Democratic National Committee and the private emails of influential individuals, notably Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and then leaked the contents onto the internet.

By the end of August, several leading Democratic lawmakers had asked the FBI to investigate senior Trump campaign advisers for collusion in the suspected Russian hacking. Clinton campaign spokesman Glen Caplin said the Trump campaign had multiple advisers with deep ties to Russia.

“The prospect of individuals tied to Trump, Wikileaks and the Russian government coordinating to influence our election raises concerns of the utmost gravity and merits full examination,” wrote Harry Reid, the Democratic Minority leader in the Senate, to FBI director James Comey.

In early September, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter warned Moscow that Washington “will not ignore attempts to interfere with our democratic processes.”

Trump’s victory has only made things worse. On Dec. 9 President Obama ordered a “full review” of Russian hacking during the presidential campaign, after intelligence officials reported that the CIA concluded that Putin was not just trying to undermine the election, but had also acted to give Trump an advantage.

Eric Schultz, the deputy White House press secretary, told reporters that the president wanted this done under his watch because “he takes it very seriously.”

And Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are pushing for a broad investigation. Do they hope to lay the groundwork for future impeachment proceedings?

The Democrats will also pounce on the fact that Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, has struck several major deals with the Russian state-run corporation Rosneft and has a personal relationship with Putin.

This frenzy remains part of America’s enduring Russophobia. Twenty-five years after the collapse of Communism, why do people still assume Russia is capable of nothing but evil?

Now that Obama has himself become a McCarthyite, “Tail-gunner Joe” must be laughing in his grave.

Actually, with Trump’s ascendancy, maybe Americans can liberate themselves from their Cold War discourse. The world doesn’t need a new period of American-Russian enmity.

Friday, December 16, 2016

India and Israel Forge a Growing Partnership

Henry Srebrnik, [Calgary] Jewish Free Press

The Israeli-American relationship, already under strain during the Obama presidency, enters a new period of uncertainty with the election of Donald Trump. Jerusalem’s ties with Europe have also deteriorated.

As a consequence, Israel seeks closer bonds with other major powers. One of these is India.
Twenty-first century geopolitics are bringing Israel and India closer together. The force driving this is Islamism, from which both these democracies are under attack. 

As well, India faces a hostile nuclear-armed state, Pakistan, next door, which it accuses of supporting jihadis and fomenting violence in Muslim-majority Kashmir, while Israel is concerned that its main adversary, Iran, may be in the process of acquiring a nuclear capability. 

As a reaction to these external threats, the secular political left, once led, respectively, by the Congress Party in India and the Labour Party in Israel, has been displaced in government by the hard-line nationalists in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Likud.

India formally established full diplomatic relations with Israel in January 1992, but under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in office since 2014, ties between the two nations have greatly expanded. His election elicited an enthusiastic response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

India has begun denouncing Palestinian suicide bombings and other terrorist acts in Israel, and is no longer initiating anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations. 

In 2015 it abstained from voting on the UN Human Rights Council’s condemnation of Israel’s actions during its conflict with Hamas in Gaza a year earlier; all the European countries on the Council voted in favour. It was the first time in decades that India abstained from a decision against Israel in an international forum. 

After all, India’s historically pro-Arab stance in the Middle East has not been adequately reciprocated and rewarded by the Arab world. It has received no backing from Arab countries in the resolution of problems it faces in Kashmir. On the contrary, Arab nations have firmly stood by Pakistan.

This flourishing friendship was highlighted with the eight-day visit to India in mid-November by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

“We noted the strength of our growing defence partnership and agreed on the need to make it more broad-based through production and manufacturing partnerships,” Prime Minister Modi said at a joint press conference in New Delhi.

“Our people are constantly threatened by forces of terrorism and extremism. We recognize that terrorism is a global challenge, knows no boundaries and has extensive links with other forms of organized crime.”

When the Soviet Union collapsed, India found itself with outdated military hardware and equipment that were unsuitable for combat. At the same time, the Israeli defence industry was developing electronic upgrades to improve the capabilities and extend the life cycle of military platforms such as planes, ships, and tanks. So India has now become Israeli defence companies’ largest customer. 

But the commercial ties between the two nations also include water treatment, telecom products, optics, metals, aviation, agriculture, diamonds, chemicals and medical equipment.  India is Israel’s third largest trading partner in Asia, just after China and Hong Kong.

Bilateral non-defence trade stands at about $5 billion. Shraga Brosh, the president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, has said that he and his Indian counterpart have agreed to work “to triple trade and cooperation between our two countries in the coming years.”

In a speech before the Israel-India Innovation Partnership, Rivlin told listeners that “India is a top trading partner for Israel today. Together, we have built a powerful and strong market. And together we must work to make this market even stronger.

“I express here today an official Israeli hope that this visit to India will open the way to a full free trade agreement between our countries.” Rivlin’s assertion could provide fresh momentum to the conclusion of the agreement, which has remained elusive despite negotiations having begun more than six years ago.

During Rivlin’s stay in India, the two countries signed cooperation agreements in agriculture and the management of water resources. Rivlin observed that there are already programs that bring thousands of Indian farmers to Israel, and that expanding these initiatives would greatly improve their quality of life. 

He added that India can leverage Israel’s expertise in water management through technological solutions and “greatly benefit” from it.

Israel also signed more than 20 education collaboration agreements with India and its institutions of higher learning. “Ten percent of all foreign students and scholars in Israel today are from India, and 40 joint research projects were supported by both governments,” Rivlin said. “I truly believe that the academic cooperation between India and Israel is a top priority for both nations, both people.”

Hindu-majority India has no history of anti-Semitism, and the country is a favorite destination for Israeli tourists, especially young Israelis taking time off after completing their army service. 

The Israeli president laid a wreath at the tomb of Mahatma Gandhi, and visited the sites of the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks by Pakistani-based Islamists, which killed 195 people, including nine Israelis. 

“Nearly eight years ago, this wonderful city was the victim of one of the most terrifying, brutal and murderous terror attacks. Indians are no strangers to the threat and to the reality of modern global terrorism,” Rivlin said. 

An anticipated visit by Modi to Israel next year would demonstrate that a new era of Indian-Israeli relations has truly begun.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Rise of European Populism

Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer:

Throughout Europe, as issues revolving around economic stagnation and national identity become ever more salient, populist parties are becoming stronger. 

Though their specific policies may differ, they all share a rejection of the established liberal order, and demand strong governments to carry the fight against immigration.

The most visible is the National Front (FN), which some analysts think may even be poised to win power in the French presidential election next spring.

Marine Le Pen, the daughter of co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, has been the head of her party for almost six years.

Her followers insist that Islam constitutes a threat to the country’s very future. And like most of her fellow populists, Le Pen blames membership in the European Union, already weakened by the Brexit vote in Britain last June, for its troubles. “We want to destroy this EU,” she has declared.

If Le Pen becomes president, she will push for a referendum based on the British model. “I want to regain control over our currency,” she insists, “and our borders.” Le Pen is an economic nationalist who believes in a strong role for the state within the capitalist system.

Remarked Florian Philippot, one of Le Pen’s main advisers, “Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built.”

Another player in the populist surge has been Nigel Farage, the former leader of Britain’s UK Independence Party (UKIP), one of the main supporters of Brexit. “Our life has changed,” he boasts. “There are plenty more shocks to come.”

Some of these “shocks” are already potentially on the horizon. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for March in the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders of the radical anti-Islamist Freedom Party (PVV) is ahead in the polls, while Germans will vote in the fall of 2017 for the next Bundestag.

Frauke Petry of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) is planning to announce her candidacy for chancellor in the election, which is likely to see the AfD win seats in the federal parliament for the first time.

Even Czech President Milo Zeman, a social democrat, wants his government to pursue a “foreign policy based on our own interests” rather than kowtowing “to pressure from the United States and the EU.” He is also critical of what he considers to be the “organized invasion” of the continent by Muslims. 

In neighboring Slovakia, the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party came second in the March parliamentary election. 

SaS leader Richard Sulik told Slovaks that he did “not want to live in a Europe where more Muslims are born than Christians -- and I’m an atheist.”

Meanwhile, Austria held a rerun of its 2016 presidential election on Dec. 4. Last May’s result was declared invalid after irregularities in the counting of postal votes.

Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the Freedom Party (FPO), the far-right nationalist movement originally formed in the 1950s by former Nazis, had seen his support surge due to worries over immigration as well as weak economic growth. 

Hofer, who campaigned on an “Austria First!” slogan, asserted that he wanted to lead a country that was secure “for our children and grandchildren.” But he lost to a former Green Party politician, Alexander Van der Bellen, by 53.6 to 46.4 per cent.
Italy held a constitutional referendum the same day, with a different outcome. 

There, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) asked voters to approve a constitutional law that would streamline Italy’s government, including slashing the size of the Senate from 315 members to 100. 

It was opposed by the anti-establishment, anti-globalist and Euroskeptic parties: the Five Star Movement (M5S), founded in 2009 by Beppe Grillo, and the Northern League (LN), led by Metteo Salvini. 

The referendum lost by some 20 per cent, and Renzi resigned. Salvini called it a victory against “the bankers, the financiers,” while Grillo claimed that now “Sovereignty belongs to the people.” Both parties will be major factors when the country elects a new parliament.

American journalist John Judis, in his recently published book The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics, contends that these European populists are benefitting from the current rage against their financial and political establishments.

Far-Right Populist Party Loses Election

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Austria may have dodged a right-wing bullet on Dec. 4. The country held a rerun of last spring’s presidential contest, after that result was declared invalid by Austria’s constitutional court after irregularities in the counting of postal votes.

Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the Freedom Party (FPO), the far-right nationalist movement originally formed in the 1950s by former Nazis, was beaten by a former Greens politician, Alexander Van der Bellen, by 53.6 to 46.4 per cent.

Hofer had garnered some support from mainstream conservatives in the People’s Party, one of the country’s two mainstream parties, which declined to throw its weight behind Van der Bellen. The Social Democrats, the other major party, did back the winner.

The FPO is anti-foreigner, anti-Islam and anti-globalization. The party saw its support surge due to worries over immigration as well as weak economic growth.

Memories of last year’s Europe’s migration crisis, in which nearly one million people passed through Austria, a country of 8.4 million, are still fresh.

Hofer promised to “put Austria first” by introducing strict border controls and banning the burqa. “Islam is not a part of Austria,” Hofer said recently. “The kind of politics that is permitting a changing face of Austria and Europe has to be opposed.” He wanted, he asserted, to lead a country that was secure “for our children and grandchildren.”

Johann Tschurtz, the FPO’s deputy governor of Burgenland, a border region next to Hungary, also attributed the party’s popularity with a rejection of “elites” in Vienna, the Austrian capital.

“All the actors, the artists in Vienna are against Norbert Hofer -- and, yes, the comics, too. The ordinary voters don’t like that,” he maintained.

Hofer’s election would have sent shockwaves through Europe, as it would have made him Europe’s first far-right head of state since the Second World War.

He had made clear that he wanted to be an interventionist head of state, threatening to dismiss a government if it raises taxes and calling for referendums on a range of issues.

Hofer is also an irredentist, who in 2015 indicated that he’d like to incorporate South Tyrol, the German-speaking province in northern Italy that was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, into the Austrian state.

He has since proposed offering dual nationality to citizens of the autonomous province.
The claim was made on the basis of ethnicity and history. The region, known as Alto Adige by Italy, was annexed by Rome in 1918, following the Austrian defeat in the First World War.

Yet despite dictator Benito Mussolini’s attempt to “Italianise” the area by forbidding German and pushing through Italian vocabulary and culture, the population remained German-speaking.

After the Second World War, despite the region being granted autonomy, the locals continued to fight, sometimes even with violence.

They are Italian citizens but simply don’t feel Italian; German is spoken the vast majority of the 510,000 inhabitants of the region. Polls conducted in 2013 noted that 46 per cent of South Tyrol’s population would favor their secession from Italy.

Any attempt by Austria to reopen the issue would have led to yet more friction in an already fragile European Union.