Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Monday, August 27, 2018

Hungarian-born Billionaire George Soros Battles East European Nationalism

By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
George Soros has been a thorn in the side of east European nationalists for years. They hate him with a passion.

Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1930, Soros is one of the world's most successful investors and richest men. He made his fortune running a hedge fund and is now a full-time philanthropist, political activist and freelance statesman.

In the United States, he is a major donor to Democratic candidates and progressive groups. 

Elsewhere, his Open Society Foundations (OSF) financially supports civil society groups around the world, with a stated aim of advancing justice, education, public health and independent media. 

Since its establishment in 1993, the OSF, headquartered in New York and with branches in 37 countries and some 1,800 employees, has reported expenditures in excess of $11 billion.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Soros has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the former Soviet-bloc countries to promote civil society and liberal democracy. This has not endeared him to many who prefer right-of-centre nationalism to globalist multiculturalism.

Soros is reviled by, among others, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Victor Orban of his native Hungary.
In 2015, Putin expelled Soros’s philanthropic organization, the OSF, from Russia, claiming it was a security threat, and Russian state media churn out a steady flow of anti-Soros content.

Orban, during the April Hungarian election, which he won handily, ran a campaign in which he accused Soros, who is an American citizen, of plotting to overwhelm Hungary with Muslim immigrants in order to undermine its Christian heritage. 

He attacked Soros during campaign rallies, and his government plastered the country with anti-Soros billboards. In the aftermath of the election, the OSF announced that it was closing its Budapest office because of concerns for the safety of its employees. 

The fate of the Soros-founded Central European University, based in Budapest, and run by Canada’s Michael Ignatieff, is also problematic, as Orban wants it gone.

“We can’t go into another academic year like this. We’re in a holding pattern but it’s not going to go on too much longer,” Ignatieff, CEU’s rector, told the London-based Guardian in May.

When Soros, who survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary as a child, moved to New York in 1956 to take a job on Wall Street, his goal was to make enough money to allow him to quit finance and turn to scholarly pursuits.

He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams and was within two decades a very wealthy man. He then turned to making a political impact.

He created his philanthropic organization in 1979 and turned his attention to Eastern Europe, where he started financing dissident anti-Communist groups. He funneled money to the Solidarity strikers in Poland and to Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia.

The eventual fall of Communism was not for Soros, the “end of history” and the triumph of western democracy.

This part of the world had little tradition of liberal democracy, and this needed to be nurtured, Soros reasoned, if it was to avoid reverting to other forms of autocracy. (Today, he considers his fears to have been well-founded.)

He provided his native Hungary with money and resources in the 1990s, including millions to modernize Hungary’s health care system and endowing the Central European University, which has since graduated more than 14,000 students drawn from across Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

But though Orban was himself initially a young recipient of money from Soros, as prime minister his politics moved to the right.  

When the European refugee crisis hit, and tens of thousands of refugees arrived on Hungary’s border Orban’s government erected a fence in order to keep them out, and refused to comply with a European Union quota plan to take in asylum-seekers.

Groups that received financial support from the OSF were providing assistance to the refugees massed along Hungary’s border, and this became a further reason for Orban’s attacks on Soros. 

The Hungarian Parliament enacted legislation aimed at Soros requiring his organizations to register with the government and making it a crime to assist illegal immigrants. His Hungarian helpers were called “mercenaries.”

Soros told a New York Times reporter in July that democracy was in trouble there and elsewhere because in many countries it had become sclerotic, insufficiently responsive to the public’s needs. 

“It’s losing out,” he said. Illiberal democracy, of the sort that Orban had fashioned in Hungary, was proving to be “more effective,” for the time being at least.

Mexico and the U.S. Share a Troubled Border

By Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian
The always troubled Mexican-American border was front and centre this past summer as President Donald Trump, in an attempt to dissuade migrants, mainly from Central America, from entering the United States, detained -- and separated – parents and their children.

The resultant outcry forced him to abandon the policy, but it has done nothing to solve the seemingly never-ending problem of poverty-stricken people escaping violence from trying to illegally enter the U.S.

For that matter, Trump has still not shelved the idea f building a wall to separate the two countries. Or more of a wall, actually since there are parts of a wall there already.

The border spans 3,66 kilometres across four states – California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. There are 16 sets of sister cities that line the border, which weaves from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1846, President James K. Polk had sent American troops into Mexico, over what he claimed was an invasion – Mexican troops were supposedly occupying disputed territory. This war was short and defined the line. 

But the border didn’t move from an abstraction to a law until 1848 in Article V of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. It was finally mapped between 1891 and 1896. That’s the line that exists today.

The border has been a place of violence. In the early twentieth century, American policy mandated that all immigrants coming across the border be deloused with gasoline and the chemical Zyklon B.
People have always been trekking across the line to find jobs, and just as often deported. Every president has had to grapple with the problem of the border. 

Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans in the United States were forcibly “repatriated” during the Great Depression; many were actually U.S. citizens.

In 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower deported 13 million Mexicans. The program was called Operation Wetback. 

In 1969, Richard Nixon announced Operation Intercept, which mandated vehicle inspection for every car crossing into the United States. What was once a journey by vehicle became a journey on foot.

Bill Clinton began building the wall in 1993. Later, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act fined people for illegal entry. This funded more of the wall and pushed immigrants to find other ways to cross.

When he was President, George W. Bush sent in the National Guard to the border. So did President Barack Obama.

None of this stops the desperate. In 2017, 303,916 people were caught crossing into the United States illegally through the border. Most of them were not from Mexico, but elsewhere in Central America.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration vowed to implement a zero-tolerance for illegal border crossings. The result was families being separated and held in detention centres, because children cannot be held in prison with their parents. 

Infants and toddlers were shipped thousands of miles away from their parents, to often untraceable destinations all over the continent.

The federal government in July completed reunifications of more than 1,800 migrant families, but the lingering effects remain. Many children remain apart from their parents.

The people coming up from Central America are escaping from their own culture, one that has created those very horrors they are fleeing – but what to do? 

Will the U.S. eventually have to let in every last Central American? That’s clearly not possible. A sovereign country needs to protect its boundaries and determine who it allows in, based on its own needs.

Total asylum claims increased 1,700 per cent between 2008 and 2016, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Congress in May.

“Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems -- even all serious problems -- that people face every day all over the world,” Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, said in June.

Clearly, humanitarian considerations come up against political realities, and the latter usually prevail. Citizens vote, while migrants have little voice.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Canada's Spat with Saudi Arabia

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner
When Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, earlier this month tweeted that she was “gravely concerned” about the arrests of civil society and women’s activists in Saudi Arabia, she and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn’t realize what they were getting themselves into.
Her tweet addressed the case of siblings: Samar Badawi, a women’s-rights activist, and her brother, Raif, a blogger who has been imprisoned since 2012.
“We are going to lead with our values,” Canada’s finance minister, Bill Morneau, added for good measure. “It’s important that we bring Canadian values around the world.”
But “dissing” a very touchy nation like Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the religious guardian of Islam, is a no-no – certainly, if you don’t want to suffer the repercussions.
The kingdom’s new power behind the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, doesn’t appreciate being lectured by western liberals scolding him about “Canadian values.” Such hectoring is perceived as an insult.
He especially doesn’t want to appear as his efforts at modernizing the country’s political culture is a result of caving in to non-Muslim countries meddling in Riyadh’s domestic affairs.
Ali Shihabi, founder of the Arabia Foundation, a Washington, DC-based think tank focused on the geopolitics and socioeconomics of the Middle East with a particular focus on the states of the Arabian Peninsula, explained Mohammed’s dilemma in the New York Times:
 “Any Arab leader, particularly a young one who has recently assumed power in a traditional and mostly tribal society, has to carefully maintain his and his country’s stature and prestige, what classical Muslim scholars called hayba.
“This refers to the awe and respect that a ruler and his state must command in order to maintain order and stability without having to resort to excessive coercion, and without which there is no basis for legitimate rule.”
So Prince Mohammed cannot allow himself or his country to be publicly lectured by Western leaders — especially in his own language.
This was particularly the case since the Canadian embassy in Riyadh posted the tweet in Arabic, ensuring a wide circulation on local social media.
Such perceived blatant interference in Saudi Arabia’s domestic affairs could not go unanswered without damaging the prestige of the state in the eyes of its people.
Canadian human rights missionaries forget that the prince must tread carefully. While he attempts to modernize the country’s economy and politics, religious conservatives are trying to undermine him by claiming that his reforms are the product of an “American agenda” that aims to Westernize Saudi society and distance it from its Islamic roots.
Therefore he had to meet this insult head on. As a result, it prompted Saudi Arabia to freeze new trade and investment deals with Canada, expel Ottawa’s ambassador and recall its own envoy.
The country also cancelled scholarships for more than 15,000 Saudi students attending Canadian universities, which will mean the end of the economic benefits Canada reaps from their international tuition fees.
The national airline Saudia suspended flights to and from Toronto as well.
And of course Canadian jobs were the line, too. In London, Ont. there were worries about the potential economic fallout from the conflict.
The city’s General Dynamics Land Systems plant has been supplying light armoured vehicles to Saudi security forces, thanks to a huge, $15-billion contract signed by the federal government in 2014.
True enough, bilateral trade between the two countries is small, valued at roughly $4 billion, but was there really a need to ruffle these feathers?

Monday, August 20, 2018

An Election in a Troubled Land

By Henry Srebrnik, [Fredericton, NB] Daily Gleaner 

People in a troubled African state went to the polls twice this summer. The result was no surprise.

On July 29, the African nation of Mali held a presidential election, with 24 candidates on the ballot. 

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the incumbent, came first but failed to secure enough votes to win a second term in office outright.

A candidate needed to obtain more than 50 per cent of the votes to win outright.

Keita won 41.4 per cent of the vote in the first round, while his main rival, Soumaila Cissé, came in second with 17.8 per cent.

The two, who also went to a runoff vote in 2013, contested the second round of voting on August 12.

This time, Keita beat Cissé by 67 to 32 per cent.

No opposition leader has ever won an election against a sitting president in Mali’s five presidential elections since 1991.

Keita has been president since 2013. He was prime minister from 1994 to 2000.

He was elected president in the 2013 presidential election and the party he founded in 2001, Rassemblement pour le Mali, came first in the legislative elections.

Cissé, a former finance minister and leader of the Union pour la République et la Démocratie, was again his main challenger.

The northern part of the country has been embroiled in conflict for the past six years.

Tuareg rebels and loosely allied jihadists seized the desert north in 2012, prompting French forces to intervene to push them back the following year.

But they have since regained a foothold in the north and centre, using the sparsely-populated Sahel as a launchpad for attacks across the region. Canada is now involved in peacekeeping efforts there.

More than 300 civilians have died in ethnic clashes this year, according to UN figures.

By the time something that looked like order had been restored, Mali had become one of the ten poorest nations in the world.

Low voter turnout in the first round -- only some 41 per cent participated -- was attributed to people fearing political intimidation or electoral violence, despite the presence of 15,000 UN peacekeepers and 4,500 French troops.

In northern towns like Gao, residents charged that Keita cut a deal with armed groups to rig the vote. Cissé also accused Keita of stuffing ballot boxes.

Polls in the runoff had an even lower turnout -- some 34 per cent -- amid attacks and violence by Islamic extremists, who disrupted a fifth of Mali’s polling stations.

Some observers hoped that the election would strengthen a 2015 accord that brought together government officials, government-allied groups, and former rebels.

But most Malians express little faith in the state’s capacity to reduce criminality, manage the economy, create jobs, or fight corruption. This election didn’t change their minds.