Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, November 23, 2020

France Gets Tough on Terrorism

By Henry Srebrnik, [Frederickton, NB] Daily Gleaner

A recent series of murders has brought a hardening of French attitudes towards terrorism. President Emmanuel Macron has sought to make a critique of Islamism a signature issue before the 2022 presidential campaign.

France has faced terrorism before, most notably on Jan. 7, 2015, when terrorists forced their way into the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Incensed at the publication of a series of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which is prohibited by Muslim law, they killed 12 people and injured 11 others.

When Charlie Hebdo republished the caricatures this past September, it triggered a new chain of events that included two stabbings outside the newspaper’s former offices, the beheading of a teacher near Paris, and the murders of three people inside a church in Nice.

In a speech Oct. 2, Macron declared that the “ultimate goal” of Islamists is to “take complete control.” He categorized “Islamist separatism” as a “parallel society” that “leads to denial of the Republic’s laws.”

The Oct. 16 murder of schoolteacher Samuel Paty, in particular, caused an uproar. He had shown students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, as part of a lesson on free expression, while allowing Muslim students to be excused from class.

It took place in the context of the high-profile trial of accomplices of the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attackers.

The killing of a teacher at a public school was seen as an attack on the very foundation of French citizenship. Macron called him “the face of the Republic.” Paty was a strong believer in laicité, the strict secularism that separates religion from the state in France.

Paty was posthumously granted France’s highest award, the Légion d’Honneur, and commemorated in a national ceremony at the Sorbonne in Paris on Oct. 21. Macron, eulogizing Paty, told his audience: “I have named the evil. The actions have been decided on. We have made them even tougher. And we will carry them to their conclusion.”

The country’s interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, describing France as fighting a “civil war” to defend the French secular and unitary Republic, announced police operations against “the enemy within, insidious and extremely well organized.”

The steps included expelling some 200 imprisoned foreigners suspected of terrorist links, carrying out raids and banning a Muslim group accused of “advocating radical Islam” and hate speech.

Macron has also bridled at criticism from the Western media. “France is fighting against Islamist separatism, never against Islam,” he wrote to the Financial Times on Nov. 4 after it published an opinion piece that Macron asserted had unfairly accused him of stigmatizing French Muslims for political purposes.

“For over five years now, and since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, France has faced a wave of attacks perpetrated by terrorists in the name of an Islam that they have distorted. Some 263 people -- police officers, soldiers, teachers, journalists, cartoonists, ordinary citizens-- have been assassinated in our homeland,” he responded in the Financial Times.

Macron also expressed irritation about American coverage of the government’s response. He pointed to the New York Times, which was highly critical of Macron’s plans, referring to a “broad government crackdown against Muslim individuals and groups” in an Oct. 21 article.

A Washington Post article of Oct. 30 also accused the government of adopting “reactionary language” and directing its rhetoric “toward criminalizing and stigmatizing France’s Muslim population.”

“Our democracy was established against the Catholic Church and the monarchy, and laicité is the way that democracy was organized in France,” sociologist Dominique Schnapper explained in the New York Times Oct. 26.

Caroline Fourest, a teacher, journalist, and co-founder of the feminist, secularist anti-racist journal ProChoix, in an article published Nov. 9 on the Tablet website, wondered “Why the American Press Keeps Getting Terror in France Wrong.”

She suggested that for them the “fight against racism required them to close their eyes to the mortal dangers of terrorism and fundamentalism -- and to ally with enemies of free speech, open debate, and other foundational values of free societies.”

Yet Macron found himself mocked by dozens of journalists. “Why is defending the principles of free speech and the separation of church and state so hard for Americans these days?” she wondered.

 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Nigerian Troubles Hit Close to Home

 By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

We live in a globalized world, and this is especially true if you are an academic. At UPEI, international students make up a very significant part of the student body. They bring different points of view and knowledge to the classroom.

I’m always glad that they make up a large part of my classes. But their problems are often those taking place back in their home countries.

Many Canadians are unaware of the recent spate of protests in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, revolving around police brutality.

Nigeria is home to more than 300 ethnic groups, including three dominant ones: the Igbo in the south-east, the Yoruba in the south-west, and the Hausa in the north. Northerners have ruled the country for 38 out of the last 60 years, mostly via military coups. The Igbo tried, but failed, to secede from the country in a brutal war that lasted from 1967 to 1970.

Conversations usually revolve around which ethnic group gets what, when, and how. Or how fairly a person from one group was treated compared to one from another. It’s called “getting our piece of the national cake.”

Large protests in the country began in early October, with mostly young people demanding the scrapping of a notorious police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). As the #EndSARS hashtag went viral, the demonstrations grew in size, demanding broader reforms in the way Nigeria is governed.

In an attempt to quell the unrest, the SARS unit was dissolved on Oct. 11, but the protests escalated after shootings in the nation’s biggest city, Lagos, on Oct. 20, when according to the rights group Amnesty International, security forces killed at least 12 people.

Lagos and other parts of the country saw buildings torched, shopping centres looted and prisons attacked.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari called for an end to the protests in a televised speech, urging protesters to stop demonstrating and instead engage with the government "in finding solutions.” He admitted that almost 70 people had been killed in the protests against police brutality.

Officials introduced a curfew in Lagos state, and the governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, published a list of 23 police officers who were charged with various offences. He indicated he had published the list to show he was “rebuilding Lagos and ending police brutality.”

President Buhari’s address to the nation missed the point, according to blogger and columnist Japheth Omojuwa. Buhari called for an end to the protests and the beginning of a dialogue, but he refused to apologize and “will be remembered for threatening Nigerians just because they asked their government to commit to justice.”

Meanwhile, I received an email from an excellent student in one of my courses, informing me that her parents, who live near Port Harcourt, in Rivers State, were in danger. The city is in the Niger Delta, the centre of Nigeria’s oil industry.

She wrote that “there is a massacre happening in my hometown right now as I type to you.” Some criminals that took advantage of the protests to end police brutality had been moving from house to house killing people and setting houses on fire, she explained. Fortunately, a few days later, her mother managed to re-establish contact and told her they were unhurt. But for days she had little else on her mind. I asked her if I could mention this in an article on Nigeria and she said yes.

The region has suffered extreme environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate petroleum waste dumping. Protestors have been jailed and even murdered, among them the environmental and political activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was executed by the military 25 years ago.

His "crime”? His attempts to save the land and water of his fellow Ogoni people, a very small ethnic group within Nigeria, numbering less than a million in a country of more than 200 million.

After his death, several Ogoni parties brought about lawsuits against the oil giant Shell for their role in both Saro-Wiwa’s trial and execution and in their treatment of Ogoni lands over the past decades.

Meanwhile, many Nigerians are looking forward to the 2023 presidential elections and using the lessons learnt during the recent protests to field a candidate to campaign on issues relevant to this youthful nation, where more than 60 per cent are under the age of 24.

 

Monday, November 16, 2020

America's Jewish Community Deeply Divided Over Politics

By Henry Srebrnik [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner

Out of the 14.5 million Jewish people now in the world, 47 per cent reside in Israel. Its Jewish population is 6,841,000. It is the only country with a Jewish majority.

American Jews, at 5,700,000 make up almost 40 per cent of world Jewry, but these numbers continue to show a slow downward trend, due, among the non-Orthodox, to low birth rates, marriages with non-Jews, and assimilation. They comprise just two per cent of the American population.

The majority of Americans, living in a liberal state based on a civic form of nationhood, view states founded on ethnicity and religion as discriminatory forms of political organization.

But ethnic democracies like Israel don’t assimilate, homogenize or try to enforce the neutrality of the public domain. They are particularistic rather than universalist, and embrace the mores and values of a specific culture. Ethnic democracies grant rights to all citizens, but only insofar as those rights don’t interfere with the goal of self-determination for the dominant group.

Today, most American Jews are already secular people, who know little about “real, existing Judaism” -- that is, a knowledge of the theology and liturgy, the ability to read Hebrew (or Yiddish), and so forth.

They have converted to the liberal American creed, and it certainly takes precedence over any lingering attachment to an Israel that is increasingly seen as an ethnocracy with even elements of “theocracy.”

So Jewish Americans are splitting between two camps: less religious “universalistic” Jews who are far less interested in, or even skeptical about, Israeli political issues and “tribal” Orthodox Jews who align more with the Jewish state.

The two groups are now dramatically diverging. The nonpartisan AP VoteCast Survey of the 2020 national electorate, conducted over several days before Nov. 3, and continuing until the polls closed, included interviews with more than 110,000 people across the U.S.

(The survey was conducted online and via telephone. The margin of error was 0.6 percentage points for voters and 0.9 percentage points for non-voters, 19 times out of 20.)

AP VoteCast found that of the three per cent of the electorate that was Jewish, 68 per cent voted for Joe Biden, and 30 per cent for Donald Trump. And the two groups are dramatically split by degree of religious observance and attitudes towards Israel and Zionism.

The former care primarily about issues in American society, like immigration, health care, or human rights, while the latter pray for the coming of the Messiah to lead Jews back to the Holy Land.

Jonathan Tobin, editor in chief of the Jewish News Syndicate noted that the 2020 campaign made us realize “that the talk of two distinct warring American Jewish tribes, that neither understand nor want much to do with each other, is not a metaphor. It is a harsh reality.”

Jews constitute some of Trump’s fiercest opponents – and his most fervent supporters. Many on the left laboured for his defeat,  while those on the right thought he was not just worthy of re-election but also Israel’s best friend. In numerous Jewish neighbourhoods across America, friends and even relatives have stopped speaking to each other.

But even those liberal Biden voters might be surprised to learn that the price of their own well-being in America might one day be to give up their support, however lukewarm, for Israel and Zionism – that is, Jewish self-determination -- altogether.

The rise of a certain kind of progressivism in some corners of the left, including among the radical members in the Democratic Congressional caucus, seeks to make support for Israel a political and moral sin, linking it, however speciously, to the evils of racism. They are committed to the view that Jews are white, and that the Jewish state is an expression of “white supremacy.”

The rise of the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in colleges and elsewhere does not bode well. Its advocates consider racism inherent in the Jewish “ethnostate” and the ideology that birthed it.

It will be increasingly difficult for most Jews in America to withstand this zeitgeist shift in their social milieu. So other than the self-contained Orthodox, it is conceivable that most secular liberal Jewish Americans will eventually be assimilated into the larger culture, and this divide will wither away. Their grandchildren won’t care, and maybe won’t even know, that they are of Jewish descent.

 

Monday, November 09, 2020

Europe is Reeling Under the Pandemic's Second Wave

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner

COVID-19 has played no ideological favourites in the western world. It has proved catastrophic throughout Europe and North America, regardless of the political parties in power.

The immense death toll in the United States, in sheer number of infections and deaths, dwarfed any other country. But this may be changing, as a second wave of the pandemic is now hitting Europe full force. Will its leaders fare any better than Donald Trump did in trying to control it?

The population of the European Economic Area (EEA), comprising the countries of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, and the United Kingdom, is approximately 528 million people, some 200 million more than the American total of 328 million.

As of early November, the total death toll stemming from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic in the 32 countries of the EEA was some 223,000 deaths, compared to 232,000 in the United States.

The U.K. has reported some 47,000 deaths; Italy, 39,000; France 37,500; Spain, 36,000; Belgium, 12,000; and Germany, 11,000.

While the American figure per capita is huge, at 720 deaths per million, it is actually surpassed by Belgium, with an enormous toll of 1,022 per million, and Spain, at 762 per million.

The U.K. is not far behind the U.S., with 697 deaths per million; Italy is at 644, and France at 544.5. Only Germany, with 127, is doing better.

But things are becoming dire in Europe. Most countries are reporting more infections per day than they were during the first wave last spring. Spain and France saw new records on Nov. 2 with the former reporting 55,000 new cases and the latter 52,000.

The view of health experts now is that Europe’s strategy for exiting its spring lockdowns failed. Either politicians ignored their advice, or the systems weren’t in place to implement it correctly. New measures are now being instituted.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez asked lawmakers to approve an extension until May 2021 of the country’s state of emergency. The measure puts into place a national nightly curfew and allows regions to impose more localized restrictions, such as limiting movement outside city limits on weekends.

French President Emmanuel Macron has declared a nationwide lockdown until Dec.1. People must stay in their homes except to buy essential goods, seek medical attention or use their daily one-hour allocation of exercise. They are still able to go to work if their employer deems it impossible for them to do the job from home.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a partial, month-long shutdown in England, including nonessential businesses such as restaurants, pubs, and hairdressers. People are allowed to leave home for only a short list of reasons including exercise. Travel is also discouraged.

The lockdown is supposed to end on Dec. 2, but cabinet minister Michael Gove cautioned that this couldn’t be guaranteed “with a virus this malignant, and with its capacity to move so quickly.”

Germany has adopted similar measures, with people confined to their homes, and all bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas, gyms and other leisure facilities closed and concerts cancelled, during a four-week “wave-breaker” shutdown that seeks to force daily new infections back down to manageable levels.

Germans have been asked not to travel, and hotels are barred from accommodating tourists. Private gatherings will be limited to 10 people from a maximum of two households.

“We will do try to do everything politically so that this is limited to November,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. But she stressed that “we are very much dependent on the majority of people simply being sensible.”

Belgian virologist and government adviser Marc Van Ranst pointed to Germany’s partial lockdown, commenting that “we should have done this six weeks ago.” The country’s surging cases forced it to move some severely ill patients to neighbouring Germany

In Italy, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte announced new restrictions, including the closure of shopping malls and museums on weekends. Movement between regions are limited and a “late-evening” curfew is in place.

“We are aware of the frustration, the sense of loss, the tiredness of citizens,” declared Conte, as he defended his government’s decision. Clearly, people are despondent, as Europe faces a long cold winter.

 

Monday, November 02, 2020

Welcome to the Kamala Harris Presidency

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner

In summer 2019 I wrote a number of articles suggesting that the Democratic Party’s best chance of beating President Donald Trump would be by nominating California Senator Kamala Harris.

That didn’t happen, but, in a roundabout way, might she still become president?

After all, how is one to understand how a feeble, almost 78- year-old man, during a pandemic and crisis around white racism, could end up being the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate this year? This is someone who first sought the nomination in 1988 -- 32 years ago.

But I think I understand why Congressman Jim Clyburn, the African American kingmaker from South Carolina, turned Joe Biden’s prospects around in that state’s Democratic primary last February, and made certain Biden would get the nomination.

Though they have tried to hide it until the election was over, Biden has been fading fast. Right until the end, he spent much of his time at home in little Delaware.

Biden did little campaigning, always in front of small audiences, took almost no questions from reporters, and refused to sit down for interviews with journalists not hand-picked by his staff.

In more normal times this would have demonstrated that he was physically simply not up to the demands of the job. Fortunately for those who will catapult him to victory, this was not much of a problem in 2020, as they could point to COVID-19.

So here was the Clyburn deal: The Democratic Black caucus in Congress would back Biden and allow him to finally become president, on condition he select as vice-president the person who not too long afterwards would take over. This was Kamala Harris, a Black woman, who might on her own have lost to Trump, perhaps due to racism.

The South Carolina state Democratic Party is predominantly African American – whites in the state are largely Republicans – so Clyburn could in effect control the process.

Hence we went from a raucous primary scramble, with both Biden and Harris polling poorly and donors deserting them, to a sudden triumph for Biden almost overnight.

Clyburn obviously told Biden that he could get the former vice-president over the hump on Super Tuesday if he agreed to choose Harris as his running mate.

The two other major contenders, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, immediately folded their tents and endorsed Biden. This, too, must have been part of some grand bargain.

No doubt Barack Obama was in on this all along and he’ll be part of the team behind the scenes, in what amounts to a “semi third term.” After all, American Democrats revere him, and he received the most slanted media honeymoon in history.

No previous president has been so transparently partisan. Think of the animus other ex-presidents may have felt towards their successors, but none identified himself with a political “resistance” to a sitting president.

One small piece of evidence leading to the conclusion that Harris may soon take over was a piece of news that appeared in early October. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated she wants to establish a commission to evaluate the fitness of a president under the terms of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.

This wasn’t, she emphasized, just about Donald Trump. There was the need “for us to create a process for future presidents.” Was Pelosi using Trump as a stalking horse to get an early start on replacing Biden soon after he wins the election?

Mike McCormick, who worked with Biden from 2011 to 2017, in September told the Washington Free Beacon that the presidential candidate is “not the same Joe Biden. He’s lost a step and he doesn’t seem to have the same mental acuity as he did four years ago.”

McCormick noted that Biden seemed to get “lost” during interviews and no longer had the ability to smoothly go off script and connect naturally with his audience.

So maybe it was no slip of the tongue when both Biden and Harris, at separate rallies, called their campaign “Harris-Biden” while campaigning in Florida in mid-September, with Harris referring to the Democratic ticket as the “Harris administration, together with Joe Biden.”

I guess she already knew what lay ahead. Can you spell “placeholder?”

 

The U.S. Senate Races in New England

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

Four of our six neighbouring New England states are holding contests for the United States Senate in this election cycle.

In our closest American state, Maine, Democratic challenger Sara Gideon will defeat U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the four-term Republican incumbent. In Massachusetts, Democrat Ed Markey, the state’s junior senator, is sailing to an easy victory over his Republican opponent, Kevin O'Connor.

New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, the sitting incumbent Democratic and a former governor, will beat Republican Corky Messner. And in Rhode Island, Senator Jack Reed will easily win a fifth term in office against the Republican challenger Allen Waters. The region is a Democratic stronghold, so none of this is a surprise.

In 2014, 68 per cent of Maine voters cast a ballot for Susan Collins, and she had one of the highest state approval ratings in the Senate.

As an independent, pragmatic centrist who supports abortion access and LGBTQ rights, Collins was ranked as the most bipartisan member of the U.S. Senate in the 116th Congress. But she’s in trouble, fighting a flood of ads and rising anti-Trump fervor.

There has been a record amount of spending in this election – some $115 million in TV ads. Gideon, a four-term state senator, has proved to be a prolific fundraiser, dramatically outpacing Collins.

Issues include the COVID-19 pandemic, health care, the economy, and climate change. Criticism of Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic has helped Gideon, while Collins has campaigned around ensuring small businesses get the attention they need during the emergency.

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, leaving an opening on the Supreme Court, became a major issue.

Whereas most Republicans wanted Trump to have the Senate confirm a new appointee, Collins opposed holding a quick vote and opposed the nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. Colins also faced backlash for voting to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, and from supporting Trump during his impeachment proceedings.

In Massachusetts, the Republican candidate, Kevin O’Connor, tried to contrast Ed Markey’s liberal stance on racial issues and police brutality. Markey wants to disarm police of “weapons of war.” Ginsburg’s death also featured prominently in the contest. Markey, predictably, was firmly opposed to filling the Supreme Court opening, contending that Barrett was “a far-right, extremist judge.”

The two candidates also clashed on the issues of climate change and medical care. Markey has spent $13.8 million in his Senate re-election campaign as opposed to O’Connor’s $460,003.

In New Hampshire, polls show Jeanne Shaheen far ahead of Corky Messner. The Granite State campaign has also been affected by Ginsburg’s death. Shaheen opposed any replacement until after the election, while Messner wanted the nomination to move forward.

Shaheen has been campaigning around abortion rights. She also accused Messner of using attack ads paid for by “dark money” groups and of trying to suppress the vote.

Rhode Island will re-elect Jack Reed by a wide margin over Allen Waters, a Black Republican with conservative values. This is virtually a non-contest; Reed has raised more than $3.5 million dollars, while Waters has been running a shoestring campaign on little more than $20,000.

Reed opposed Barrett’s nomination, calling it an “unprecedented process to drag the Court down an extremist, polarized path” in order “to terminate the Affordable Care Act” (Obamacare).

Barrett was confirmed Oct. 26 – Collins was the only Republican to vote against her -- and the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on Nov. 10 regarding the law.

 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Trump Will Likely Lose, But he Doesn't Deserve to

By Henry Srebrnik, [Moncton, NB] Times &Transcript

Donald Trump will most likely go down to defeat on Nov. 3 — and most Canadians will breathe a sigh of relief.

They could no more conceive of voting for him than of casting their ballot for Benito Mussolini or Francisco Franco. But was there anything at all positive in Trump’s four years as president?

First, let’s take one thing off the table right away: Trump is not a “fascist.” Fascists like Franco and Mussolini were warmongers and controlled private armies or were themselves officers. They took power through coups d'état or street violence. 

Even if coming to power through legal means, fascists quickly suspended constitutions and assumed dictatorial powers.

They didn’t wait four years and face defeat in a subsequent election, with most of the media and civil society vociferously opposed to them.

Actually, Trump is a right-wing nationalist and isolationist. Even his impeachment earlier this year relating to a phone call to a Ukrainian president was nothing but political theatre on the part of the Democrats.

Now, let’s look at Trump’s actual record, as opposed to his undeniably terrible persona. In terms of the economy, unemployment in the United States had fallen to its lowest level in 50 years. The rate was only 3.5 per cent this past February, and for Black workers, it fell to an all-time low.

As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic the unemployment rate did rise to almost 15 per cent in April but had fallen back to 7.9 per cent by October.

In 2019, median household income shot up 6.8 per cent. To understand how impressive this is, consider that from 1967 to 2018, the average annual increase was a mere 0.6 per cent. The bottom fifth of households saw their incomes climb 10 per cent while the top five per cent saw their share of total income drop.

Trump pledged when elected to reduce illegal immigration and has done so. The closing of the last gaps in the border fortifications between Mexico and the United States is progressing. Trump also ordered the recruitment of some 10,000 new immigration and customs officers and 5,000 border guards as soon as he took office

He concluded agreements with Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador stipulating that migrants should apply for asylum in the respective Central American countries when they enter them on their way to the U.S.

Mexico also committed to limiting migration from central America to the United States by deploying its National Guard and improving its own protective fences and walls. By 2017, the number of illegal border crossings in the south of the U.S. had sunk to its lowest level in 17 years, and it dropped by 84 per cent between May 2019 and May 2020.

As for foreign policy, Trump brokered the treaties between Israel and the Gulf states of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, with perhaps more countries soon to sign on. He also virtually eliminated the Islamic State as a force in the Arab world. And the withdrawal of troops from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq were positive steps.

Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, in a Sept. 22 article on the Tablet website, wrote that “Trump’s masterstroke came by breaking the hold of the Washington foreign policy establishment on the Middle East peacemaking business. In denigrating his accomplishment, the leading lights of American foreign policy have also conveniently erased from memory their unblemished record of outrageously bad predictions.”

But just as important, perhaps more so, has been Trump’s pressure on Iran, the world’s foremost enabler of instability in the Middle East and elsewhere.

He withdrew in 2018 from the flawed Iran nuclear deal negotiated in 2015 under President Barack Obama, and he has imposed several rounds of American sanctions on Iran.

In January, Trump ordered the killing of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleiman, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, and a major perpetrator of terrorism in the region.

Finally, he strengthened Washington’s relationship with Taiwan in the face of Chinese threats.

But Trump may soon be replaced by a career politician who has little to show for his 48 years in federal politics. Truly, no good deeds go unpunished.

 

Friday, October 23, 2020

The Ever-Shifting Contours of Hungarian Politic

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

In a tour de force published earlier this year, University of California at Berkeley Professor John Connelly surveys the past thousand years in his book From Peoples into Nations: A History of Eastern Europe. It will be the standard text for years to come.

One of these peoples, the Magyars, or Hungarians, have played a major role in the region. By the late middle ages, the medieval Kingdom of Hungary was an important Christian state. That kingdom, however, was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Mohacs in 1526, when Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent wiped out much of Hungary’s nobility and clergy.

Defence against Ottoman expansion shifted to the Habsburg emperors of Austria, and by 1700 all of Hungary had come under their rule. In 1867 Hungary became an autonomous partner in the renamed Austro-Hungarian Empire, but the “Dual Monarchy” was defeated in the First World War and the empire dissolved.

The post-war collapse of the Habsburg and three other major empires led to the formation of new states throughout the region, each determined to establish boundaries that would provide it with the largest possible territory.

Some succeeded, others failed, and this was particularly true of the nations defeated in the war. For instance, the map known as the “Carte Rouge,” created by the Hungarian Count Pal Teleki in 1918, represented the density of different Hungarian regions’ by ethnic population.

Created as a scientific backing for Hungary’s position at the peace talks after the end of the conflict, it was of little help. The 1920 Treaty of Trianon saw defeated Hungary lose two-thirds of its pre-war territory and some 60 per cent of its population. It remains a sore point among Hungarians to this day.

Hungary, an ally of Nazi Germany in the Second World War, again ended up on the losing side, and became a Soviet Russian satellite state. Although the 1956 uprising failed, Communism in Hungary thereafter tended to be more tolerable than in other states behind the Iron Curtain.

The decades of the 1960s-70s saw economic reforms, known as the “New Economic Mechanism, popularly called “Goulash Communism.”

So by the time the Cold War ended, the country was virtually free of Marxist dogma. In 1989, there were few doubts about the bright democratic future of post-communist Hungary. But it hasn’t turned out that way. Instead, there has been a bitter repudiation of liberal democracy itself.

Some fifteen years ago, Hungary looked firmly like a success story, having made considerable progress on all sorts of metrics of democracy, rule of law, and institutional quality. Today, on measures such as Freedom House’s Freedom of the World Index, the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators, and the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index, Hungary has undergone a degree of “democratic backsliding” or “de-democratization.”

In the 1990s the judiciary was insulated from political pressures, following recommendations by international authorities. Hungary’s constitutional court was also hailed as one of the strongest in the world, pushing back assertively against government legislation, including striking down its fiscal consolidation package in 1995.

It also deployed the doctrine of an “invisible constitution,” filling the gaps in the text of the constitution by borrowing from international law and developing and applying its own abstract concepts, such as human dignity.

Yet far from entrenching the principles of judicial independence in Hungarian legal practice and political life, these early reforms led to a backlash and ultimately to the full-fledged politicization of the courts under the rule of Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his FIDESZ party.

In elections held in 2010, Orban secured a constitutional majority and passed a new Fundamental Law with FIDESZ votes only. By doing so, he also ensured that the entire pre-2011 jurisprudence of Hungary’s constitutional court went out the window.

Since then, we have seen the forced retirements of large numbers of judges, compromising the judiciary’s integrity; crackdowns on independent media; and the branding of foreign-funded non-governmental organizations as “foreign agents.”

Orban has also hounded the western-oriented Central European University out of the country and forced the university to move to Vienna. However, the European Court of Justice recently ruled that Orban’s decision was not in line with European Union law.

Some analysts blame this as resentment against those forces, spearheaded by the United States and Western Europe, which sought to turn Hungary and other Eastern European nations into copies of the West, without much regard for local realities. It may be a bitter lesson in ideological “overreach.”

 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Donald Trump Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner

On Oct. 9, we learned who won the Nobel Peace Prize. It wasn’t Donald Trump – though it should have been. Instead, it went to the UN World Food Programme, “for its efforts to combat hunger.”

 Many people or organizations have been chosen since it was established in 1901, including some whom history later demonstrated were unworthy of it. Some recent recipients were activists whose work had little to do with relations between states.

In other cases, obvious candidates were bypassed, often for ideological reasons. Donald Trump was one of the latter.

The prize is awarded, according to the selection committee, “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

In September, Trump was nominated by Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a member of the Norwegian parliament, who lauded Trump for his efforts toward resolving protracted conflicts worldwide.

“I think he has done more trying to create peace between nations than most other Peace Prize nominees,” stated Tybring-Gjedde, citing Trump’s role in the establishment of relations between Israel and the Gulf states of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

He also praised Trump for “creating new dynamics in other protracted conflicts, such as the Kashmir border dispute between India and Pakistan, and the conflict between North and South Korea.”

Trump brokered the Abraham Accords, the treaties between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, signed at the White House Sept.15. The documents represent a significant symbolic and substantive breakthrough in the relationships between Israel and the Arab world.

Included is a reference to the Arab and Jewish common heritage, as descendants of Abraham, and the need “to foster in the Middle East a reality in which Muslims, Jews, Christians and peoples of all faiths are committed to a spirt of coexistence, mutual understanding, and respect.”

As part of this deal, Israel agreed to suspend annexation of more Palestinian land in the West Bank. It enhances peaceful relations between Israel and moderate Arab states as well as a possible precursor to progress with the Palestinians.

Other countries, including Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, and Sudan, may eventually come on board. Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, cautiously welcomed the agreement and Riyadh may eventually normalize relations with Israel. It also, of course, foils to some extent the ability of Iran to make mischief in the Persian Gulf.

Also, Israel and Lebanon have agreed to conduct negotiations on their mutual maritime border, with the U.S. as mediator.

The agreement was the most significant advance in Arab-Israeli relations since Egypt and Israel made peace in 1979 – for which Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat were jointly honoured with the peace prize.

And in 1994 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat received it for signing the Oslo Accords – which didn’t bring peace.

There are other accomplishments. Donald Trump brought the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia, two bitter enemies, to the White House on Sept. 4 to sign an agreement for economic cooperation.

Serbia agreed to move its embassy to Jerusalem, while Kosovo will be recognizing Israel and also planning to locate its embassy there. “It took decades because you didn’t have anybody trying to get it done,” Trump told Serbian President Aleksander Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti.

The contrast with Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, is telling. Obama gained the prize just a year after winning office, basically for aspirational speeches. The former secretary of the Nobel Peace Prize committee, Geir Lundestad, admitted in 2015 that Obama failed to live up to expectations.

Last year’s recipient, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, was honoured for resolving the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea. Commendable, but not as important as what Trump has achieved.

And unlike previous presidents, Trump has not blundered into new military conflicts. Very few American troops have been killed on his watch.

So why didn’t Trump win the Nobel Peace Prize? Because he is reviled by a chattering class which differs from him ideologically, and which doesn't want to see him re-elected.