Syria: Arab League Monitors and Fact-Finding Mission

The arrival of the Arab League monitors was intended to bring a relative calm to the growing civil war in Syria, but opposition forces have described worsening conditions in cities and towns amid an intensifying government offensive aimed at repressing all evidence of dissent.

The Arab League Fact-Finding Mission has Been Declared Pointless

The arrival of Arab League monitors comes at a time in which security forces and allied militia fighters are supposed to be withdrawing in order to end the violence involving more than 9 months of protest against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.  Instead, more than 20 demonstrators were injured and 10 killed in the Grand Mosque area of Douma, another 6 were shot in the central city of Hama.  Selected by Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby, the monitors have worked in the opposition epicenter of Homs, arrived in the cities of Daraa, Idlib, Hama, and have visited the general Damascus area.  The monitors are intended to serve as fact-finders, reporting on the Arab League initiative that calls for President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces to withdraw from cities, release detainees ad end violence. Evidently, the intensification of government violence indicates that al-Assad has taken an alternative approach, hoping o distill all violence through quick and decisive military action.

“The people of Homs and the youth activists have no faith in the Arab League mission.  It is clear now they are just another ploy by the Syrian regime to buy time.  They are ineffective and have no resource to change the situation. But we are doing are part and showing them what is happening in Homs, submitting evidence of killing and arbitrary arrest, and showing them what is happening.” – Khaled Abo Saleh, opposition activist in Homs

Arab monitors move to Syrian towns including Hama and Daraa today after a delegations to Homs was met with mass rallies of about 70,000 protesters in the city.  In front of the monitors, loyalist forces of al-Assad fired tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the crowd in Homs.  Reports suggest that close to 25 people die every day in the city of Homs alone, though now reduced due to international personnel presence.  Nonetheless, the Sudanese Lieutenant in charge of the fact-finding mission, Mohamed Dabi, stated that nothing was amiss in the city of Homs.  Opposition activists have repeatedly criticized the selection of the Sudanese military commander.  The activists report that the commander had a key position in the government atrocities committed in Sudan’s embattled Darfur region.  The head of the monitoring group has ignored many evident depiction of violence and death, often announcing relative calm or not announcing any information at all.

“All I see now is the head of the mission barely announcing any information while dozens have died in the first two days of the mission.  I would not have allowed people dying under the umbrella of the monitors mission and face the guilt on my consciousness or under the responsibility of our association.” – Ibrahim Zafarani, founding member of Arab Doctors Association

With dozens of people having died in the first two days of the fact-finding mission, the Arab League mission has so far been pointless.  Ibrahim Zafarani, a founding member of the Arab Doctors Association, withdrew from the Arab League fact-finding mission because he disagreed with the mission’s methods.  The United Nations has released reports that estimated around 5,000 people have been killed since March in violence linked to Syria’s unrest.  The Arab League currently has 75 monitors in Syria, with more expected to arrive in the coming days.  A permanent group will remain in Homs, which has been under a military siege for days.  The mission is aimed to establish an ambiance of transparency, allowing Syrian activists to be vocal in their grievances.

“Generally, we have 25 to 30 killed in Homs every day, now maybe the death toll is 9 to 10.  But martyrs cannot be counted in number they must be counted in the loss to their family and the devastation to their people.  I told al-Dabi that 15 people were killed in a protest the day the mission arrived in Homs. I showed him the body of a toddler killed by Syrian security forces.  I took him to see the destroyed neighborhoods and the parts of Homs completely cut off from food, water and electricity.” – Khaled Abo Saleh, opposition activist in Homs.

In retrospect, the presence of international monitors has pressured al-Assad to release detainees and meet other demands by the activists and the international community.  Nevertheless, al-Assad has stepped up military presence, trying to use the time allotted to him by the fact-fining mission, to arrest and suppress all vocal dissenters.   So saying, such as tactic of attrition will not calm nor eradicate the growing animosity of the people against the corrupt and cruel dictator that has left the country awash in the blood of its people.


North Korea: Death of Kim Jong-il, Rise of Kim Jong-un

Jim Jong-il, the authoritarian leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, has died of a heart attack at the age of 69 and is to be replaced by his son Kim Jong-un.

Kim Jong-il to be Replaced by Kim Jong-un

The communist nation of North Korea has been repressed since its division in 1945, emerging as another proxy nation for the grand ideological conflict between the US and the USSR during the Cold War.  As a single-party state under a united front led by the Korea Worker’s Party (WKP), the country has been led under a military-first policy which has alienated the people and has led to mass starvation, deprivation and one of the lowest-ranking human rights records of any country.  Under Jong-il, the country has been described as a Stalinist dictatorship, illustrating elements of Stalin’s elaborate cult of personality, focus on militarization, nationalization of resource, media censorship, internal purges and public repression.  The tension between North Korea and the rest of the world has ben evident in recent years due to its status as a nuclear weapons state and pervasive use of missiles and military in drills, tests and against their democratic neighbor of South Korea.  North Korea is the world’s most militarized nation, with a total of 9,495,000 active, reserve and paramilitary personnel; which all have been left to the “Great Successor”, Kim Jong-un, who lack any military or diplomatic experience.

“The issue of primary concern now is not whether North Korea will maintain political stability, but what will be the nature of the new political leadership, and what policies will it pursue at home and abroad.  In the short-term, there won’t be new policies, only a stressing of policy stability and continuity.  So soon after Km Jong-il has died, no leader will dare say that an alternative policy course is needed.” – Zhu Feng, Professor of International Relations at Peking University

Though the power vacuum of North Korea is to be filled by the not-yet 30-year-old son, Jong-un, there are many that believe that he will not be able to assert and entrench his authority.  When Jong-il replaced his father, who had also died of a heart attack at 82, tension within North Korea and against its neighbor South Korea rose sharply. Consequently, Jong-il had additional 2 decades to prepare for such a transition unlike his current son.  Moreover, Jong-il had both military and diplomatic experience ; therefore, he was able to appeal to the ruling council of military generals.  So saying, Jong-un could use a mutated form of diversionary war to prove his strength and establish his credentials as the rightful leader.  Such a move to precipitate a crisis is not out of the realm of understanding considering that in 2010, when Jong-il suffered a stroke, his son sank a South Korea naval vessel and ordered the brief bombardment of a South Korea island.  Jong-un is fully capable of conjuring outside threats and externalizing the intelligence and leadership skills that make him suitable to success his father, as well has having a ruthless streak useful to rule a militaristic nation.

“We were distressed to learn of the unfortunate passing of Kim Jong-il and we express our grief about this and extend our condolences to the people of North Korea.  We are convinced that with the shared efforts of the two sides, the friendship between the parties, government and peoples of China and North Korea will be strengthened and developed.  The Chinese people will always stand besides the North Korea people.” – Ma Zhaoxu, Chinese Foreign Minister

News of the death of the leader whose push to build a nuclear arsenal has left the North heavily sanctioned and internationally isolated, triggered immediate precautionary steps in the region, with South Korea putting its military on high alert.  South Korea, still technically at war with the North, placed its troops and all government workers on emergency alert.  The White House also issued a statement illustrating their commitment to stability on the Korea Peninsula, as well as to its allies.  Since the Korea War, ending with an Armistice Agreement in 1953, the US has kept 28,000 troops on the divided peninsula.  China, the North’s neighbor and only ally, has remained supportive and has expressed its confidence in the ability for North Korea to remain united and remain a relationship with its Southern counterparts.  North Korea, which clearly violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by testing a nuclear weapon in 2006 and 2009, is seen as the greatest threats to the region’s security.

“Standing in the van of the Korean revolution at present is Kim Jong-un, great successor to the revolutionary cause of Juche [self-reliance] and outstanding leader of our party, army and people.  Kim Jong-un’s leadership provides a sure guarantee for credibility carrying to completion the revolutionary cause of Juche through generations.” – KCNA new agency

In retrospect, Kim Jong-un takes over a hermit state whose economy has been decimated by decades of mismanagement under his father who preferred relying on central planning and the brutal suppression of any opposition.  Under Kim Jong-il, an estimated 1 million North Koreans died during a famine in the 1990s and even with god harvest, the state cannot feed its 25 million people. Evidently, the stability of the region and chances of insurrection will be played out throughout the long-term.


Iraq: Political Crisis (Export Democracy?)

As the last convoy of US soldiers pulled out of Iraq on Sunday morning, ending nearly 9 years of war, the questions still stands whether Iraq will be able to emerge from its political crisis.

The Division of Iraq has only been Exacerbated by American Withdrawal

The Iraq War was launched in March 2003 with missiles striking Baghdad to oust Saddam Hussein, has closed with a fragile democracy still facing insurgency, sectarian tensions and the underlining theory (Selectorate Theory) that the exportation of democracy is rarely successful (read about Selectorate Theory in Libya here).  With the American soldiers marching jubilantly to Kuwait and home, the departure brings to the Iraqis a sense of sovereignty amidst fears their country may slide once again into sectarian violence.  The intensity of violence and suicide bombings has subsided but Sunni Islamist insurgency and rival Shi’ite militias remain a threat, carrying our repeated attacks on Iraqi government and security officials.  Iraq has states that its forces can contain the violence but they lack capabilities in areas of air defense and intelligence fathering.

“We think there are new indications of a new attempt to create a dictatorship.  We are really worried that the country being led into chaos and division and the possibility of civil war is there.” – Saleh al-Mutlaq, Deputy Prime Minister of Iraw

In International Affairs, the concept behind Selectorate Theory helps illustrate the problems behind the implementation of Democracy by a foreign power.   In the case of Iraq, Selectorate Theory argues that because the US is a democracy and it has a responsibility to appease its winning coalition, it must enforce a democracy in Iraq that reflects the values of the American people.  So saying, a government that reflects the values of the American people will not appease the Iraqis, the people who that government is intended to represent and be beholden to.   Hence, when the secular Iraqiya bloc, which won most of the votes of Iraq’s disenchanted Sunni Arab minority, walked out of Parliament on Saturday, it sparked a political crisis.  The bloc, led by former Premier Ayad Allawi, said its reason for the boycott was its previous accusation that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki held a monopoly on all decision-making.  Evidently, the swift withdrawal of American troops is parallel by the swift unravelling of Iraq’s political process.  The political crisis, the boycott by the Iraqiya and threats of resignation were triggered by reports that security forces loyal to Prime Minsiter Nouri al-Maliki, a Shi’ite, are planning to arrest the country’s Sunni Vice-President, Tariw al-Hashimi, and charge him with terrorism.  Coupled with recent activity of military force encircling the homes of top Sunni politicians with tans and armored personnel carriers, fears have been fueled that Prime Minister Maliki intends to further consolidate his grip on power by moving against his rivals.  For over a year now, the Prime Minister has effectively controlled the Interior and Defense Ministries, which oversee the police and military, while conflicts between Sunni and Shi’ite politicians have delayed the appointment of permanent ministers.

“We can no longer remain silent about the way that state is being administered, as it is plunging the country into the unknown.  Iraqiya rejects this system of policy-making that consists of ignoring other political parties, politicizing the justice system, exercising sole power and violating law.” – Ayad Allawi, head of Iraqiya bloc

Moreover, a brewing confrontation in the province of Diyala underscored the riske that violence could erupt.  After the mostly Sunni leadership of the province declared last week the it intended to seek a regional autonomy under the terms of Iraq’s constitution, Shi’ite militiamen surrounded the provincial council headquarters and set fire to the Sunni governor’s home.  The governor and most members of the provincial council have fled to northern Kurdistan, and on Saturday, the main highway linking Baghdad to the northern city of Kirkuk was blocked for a 3rd day by Shi’ite militiamen who belong to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.  The crisis marks the most serious breakdown yet of the consensus forged a year ago between the main Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish political blocs that enabled the creation of the current coalition government.

“It’s never going to end.  People are going to continue to suffer.  As long as there is a political crisis, its never going to end.” – Mohhamed Abbad Hussein, Iraqi citizen injured by bomb explosion

In retrospect, tensions have been building for months between the factions in the coalition government, largely targeted at the failure of Prime Minister Maliki to include Sunnis in the decision-making process and his steady pursuit of personal control over the security forces.  Considering the lack of past success in attempts to implement democracy in foreign territories by the developed powers in the West, the regional conflict in Iraq will capitalize on growing political animosity and fuel the division of the country.

EU: Britain’s Negligence and Euroskepticism

Prime Minister David Cameron has effectively isolated Britain from the European community after vetoing an EU-wide treaty change aimed at reigning in the Eurozone crisis and further integrate the EU member nations.

"I regret just how badly David Cameron's negotiation strategy has let Britain down" - Douglas Alexander

Leaders of 26 European countries, including the 17 Eurozone nations, agreed Friday to forge a new pact with strict caps on government spending and borrowing to restructure the foundations of the single currency; but the ever pestering problem of Euroskeptic Britain has illustrated its negligence by rejecting the pact.  26 of the 27 EU leaders agreed to pursue tighter integration with stricter budget discipline in the single currency area, but Britain under Prime Minster David Cameron has stated that it could not accept the proposed EU treaty amendment after failing to secure its desired concessions.  Britain’s veto is enough to thwart German and French plans to reform existing European Union treaties, a process requiring unanimity.  Though Sweden, Hungary and Czech Republic have still to review the pact and consult their national parliaments, the block of 26 will force ahead and create a new separate accord, all of which is explained here.   Evidently, Britain’s refusal to go along with its close allies, Germany and France, has driven a wedge between the two sides and could result in instability between the UK being outside of the union, as well as being the third largest economy in the community,  and the progressive moving 26 member nations that are within the pact.

“The summit will surely resolve the Euro-crisis.  There is no EU crisis apart from Britain being foolish and not looking towards the future.  The Euro can easily live without Britain, but can Britain live without the Eurozone?” – William Middendorf, German citizen in Berlin

The Merkozy duo had wanted a binding compact with all 27 member nations to agree to changes in the Lisbon treaty so that stricter budget and debt rules for the Eurozone could be enshrined in the bloc’s basic law.  Nonetheless, Britain, which is outside of the Eurozone but has persistently seemed fit to criticize and lecture the single currency, refused to support the pact.  Rather, David Cameron said that Britain wanted guarantees in a protocol protecting its financial services industry in London from future financial regulations.  Not surprising that the British Budgetary Question, under Prime Minister Thatcher, was only resolved once EU leaders agreed to compensate Britain for its contributions to the Common Agricultural Policy.  Sadly, David Cameron fails to realize that the current crisis has stemmed from a lack of regulation of financial services and therefore, the UK cannot be handed a waiver.  Most vocal in his anti-Brit sentiment has been French President Sarkozy, who often states that the European community has grown tired of Britain’s independent streak, suggesting the PM was trying to use emergency negotiations as a window of opportunity to defend its own national interest by making demands that were off-point.

“You can’t on the one hand ask not to be in the Euro and at the same time wish to be part of all the decisions affecting a currency you don’t want, and often criticize.” – Nicolas Sarkozy, French President

Coincidentally, such animosity is not uncommon for the two neighboring countries.  Before the creation of the EU, Charles De Gaulle spearheaded the formation of the European Community and protected the French profit gained from the Common Agricultural Policy.  So saying, British ascension into the community would threaten France’s power and also represent ties to NATO and the US, both of which De Gaulle were vehemently opposed too.  Moreover, Britain was against the revenues that all member nations had to contribute to the CAP, as most profit went to France at the time, so Britain’s opposition only fueled French animosity.  Generally, the British membership in the EU has often been questioned due to its history of skepticism and reluctance.  Britain’s opt-out in the European Monetary Union (EMU) illustrates its past and present relations with Euroskepticism which has been evident since the days of Margaret Thatcher the Bloody British Question.  Under John Major, Thatcher’s successor, the UK exited from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) which sought to reduce exchange rate variability and achieve monetary stability.  Under Gordon Brown, Britain vehemently opposed the Commission’s proposal to cut Britain’s rebate from CAP and redistribute the proceeds to other net paymasters, as well as increase the EU’s budget by 35% between 2007 and 2013.

“It’s quite untenable for us to remain in a union alone, on the outside, having laws made for us, while we’re in a permanent voting minority.   This is the worst of all worlds for the UK.” – Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independent Party

Furthermore, the actions by the British Prime Minister has also made evident the divide in his government, as well as the growing instability that his regime may soon be facing.  In the past, Cameron has faced two attempts to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU, which it joined in 1973.  This recent rift will increase pressure from Euroskeptics within Cameron’s Conservative party.  A recent poll showed that 49% of Britons would vote to leave the European Union while 405 would vote to stay in it.  In contrast, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, representing the much more pro-European Liberal Democrats, is already regretting the damage the Cameron’s decision will have.  Members of the Liberal Democrats and Labour party have condemned Cameron’s negotiation strategy and are remarking on the isolation that Britain has now been left in, without any allies outside or inside the Union. Nonetheless, as a member of the bloc, Britain has agreed to bind itself to regional regulations, employment laws and legal ruling and despite its many opt-outs, past allowances for rebates and its personal flexible interpretations of EU law, the UK must come to the realization that the EU is a supranational entity and not their privatized network of free trade profit mongering.

“It is thanks to Europe that London has got so much business.  50% of Britain’s trade is with Europe.  If the UK steps away from this, the long-term consequences will be extremely grace.” – Karel Lannoo, Chief Executive and Financial Markets Analyst at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS)

EU: The “Stability Union” – Brussels Summit

The outcome of the two-date European Union Summit has sparked hope but skepticism as the Eurozone block united towards further fiscal integration under a new separate treaty.

The Pressure Is On For European Leaders To Get It Right This Time

The outcome of the Summit has left financial markets uncertain whether or when more decisive action will be taken to stem the prolonged debt crises in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain; but progress has yielded modest gains on global markets and has presented a grand opportunity for the European Union to emphasize the strength of supranationalism.  After 10 hours of talk, that carried on Friday morning, all 17 Eurozone members and 9 other aspiring members have resolved negotiations on a new treaty along with the reforms to the EU treaty (Lisbon Treaty).  The agreement reached calls for tougher deficit and debt regime to avoid a repetition of the debt crisis in the future.   So saying, a new treaty could take 3 months to negotiate and requires referendums in some countries, such as Ireland.  In the meantime, the European Central Bank (ECB) will be vital in the coming days with markets doubting the strength of Europe’s financial measures to protect vulnerable economies such as Italy and Spain.  The ECB has agreed to keep purchase of Eurozone government bonds capped for now and not take extra precautionary measures.  The purchasing of bonds by the ECB were a highly debated and controversial issue, most vocal opposition came from the Germans which viewed the actions as demeaning considering the calls for budget control, reform and austerity measures.  The purchasing of bonds represented a temporary relieve for many nations, allowing them to grow law in a time of urgency and severity, further perpetuating the fiscal crisis in Europe.  The ECB cap decided by the bank’s governing council has limited bong purchases to around 20 billion Euros a week.  Evidently, with Standard and Poor’s move to issues warnings throughout the Eurozone of potential downgrade, as well as taking preemptive moves to downgrade multiple French banks, the threat of market and public volatility is very real and the EU must make steady progress to catalyze on the time allotted to them.

“This is a breakthrough to a union of stability.  The fiscal union will be developed step by step.  We will use the crisis as a chance for a new beginning.  We achieved an important step towards long-term stable Euro.  You can say it’s the breakthrough to the union of stability.  The stability union, the fiscal union will be developed step-by-step in the next years, but the breakthrough has been achieved.” – Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

The new treaty for the Eurozone and aspiring members is supposed to create a fiscal union or a merging of the budgetary policies of the 23 countries involved in the EU.  Among the key elements are debt brakes, which set a maximum budget deficit of .5% of the countries’ gross domestic product and should be enshrined into the countries basic legal framework.  Beginning in 2016 and once this policy is in fully effect, Germany’s deficit limit will be at .35%.  Another element are budget checks, in which members would be expected to present their national budget proposal to the European Commission before final approval by their individual legislatures.  In a step towards escalation of supranational power, the Commissions’ sanction powers under the infringement procedure have been magnified.  If the Commission identifies violations of the fiscal union’s rules or if a country’s deficit is too high, then the Commission can automatically initiate pre-determined sanctions.  This can only be stopped by 2/3rd agreement of the finance ministers.  Lastly, the new agreement has loudly rejected the concept of members pooling their debt under Eurobonds.

“The 17 member states of the Eurozone and already many others are committed to a new fiscal compact, a new European fiscal rule to be transposed in national legislation.  It is more about fiscal discipline, more automatic sanctions, stricter surveillance.  An intergovernment treaty will make this agreement binding in combination with secondary legislation and firm political commitment this will give the fiscal compact its full force.” – Herman Van Rompuy, European Council President

In addition, with the treaty preparation on the horizon, the pressure from international investors, credit rating agencies and Eurozone members is still paramount.  With a large number of EU countries at risk of joining the ranks of the highly indebted, the new agreement has included some emergency measures for short-term predicament. One such agreement is an International Monetary Fund (IMF) emergency fund.  Within the next 10 days, the Eurozone members are to resolve negotiations on the transfer of 200 billion Euros to the IMF.  The money is meant to serve as loans to bankrupt government, such has been the case in Greece repeatedly.  The money is only to be given under strict conditions.  Another element from the Merkozy reforms is the acceleration of the implementation of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), to replace the current European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).  The 500 billion Euro EFSF will have to be funded with money from national banks sooner than expected as the ESM has been agreed to become established in the summer of 2012.  for now, the EFSF will not have a banking license; therefore, it will be unable to borrow from the ECB.  Which countries can get loans from the facility will be decided by a majority vote of 85%, a reform pushed for by President Sarkozy but Germany is the country with veto power.  Lastly, with private investors holding the reigns of market outlook for the EU, recent “hair-cuts” on their investment in Greece have not vindicated the strength the EU has tried to demonstrate.  Therefore, the idea of involving private creditors in national debt restructuring or debt cuts has been abandoned.  This serves as a clear signal to the financial markets that government debt can now be purchased without any extra risks.

“So this, we should not forget, what is our aim  The aim is to reinforce discipline, reinforce convergence and to reinforce governance of the Euro area, not necessarily for all 27, but for the Euro area.” – Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission President

In retrospect, the summit has yielded substantial progress for the future of the EU, as well as hope for the true unionization of the supranational entity.  Nevertheless, much of the agreement rests on full cooperation, successful implementation and in the end, the regulations and guidelines must be upheld by a supervising force, which in this case is the European Court of Justices.  Many of the ideas have been implemented in the past but without successful regulation or supervision, the guidelines grew flexible and forgotten, allowing the high levels of deficit in countries like Greece.  So saying, the EU cannot lose itself in the hype of reforms and immediate progress but must maintain careful perseverance and cautious supervision over any an all members.  Therefore, with countries like Hungary, Czech Republic and Sweden still on the edge about committing to the reforms, waiting for further deliberation with their national governments, the EU must maintain vigilance.

Russia: Fraudulent Elections and the Silent Majority

Despite the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1991 and the emergence of a democratic regime under Yeltsin, the recent Duma election held this past Sunday have illustrated the manipulation and corruption still evident in the post-Soviet era.

The Streets of Moscow Reverberate

As the protesters take to the streets in the form an occupy movement, the secrecy and intrigue of Putin’s historic rise demonstrates the manipulation democracy, a dictated form of democracy, that has been implemented under the dominant party, United Russia.  For instance, in the Second Chechen War in 1999, Yeltsin was able to manipulate public fervor in support of Putin through the use of Rally-Around-The-Flag effect, symbolizing the concepts of nationalism and strength through Putin and against the Chechen.  The events that led to Putin’s success were at the cost of  several hundred Russia civilian lives during a series of apartment building bombings, that were to be believed as committed by Chechen rebel but more widely to believed as a Russian government sponsored act.  The result was a short and victorious war to escalate the support and confidence behind the propaganda advocating Putin for Presidency.  Putin became acting President in December 1999, won the 2000 election and was also re-elected for a 2nd term lasting until May 2008.   Because of constitutionally mandated limits, Putin was ineligible to run for a 3rd presidential term; instead he was nominated Prime Minister by Medvedev.  Many believe Putin held the reigns of power and Medvedev serve more so a symbolic purpose.  Nevertheless, Putin’s popularity hinged on economic recovery.  Along with criticisms by the West and opposition parties, the 2008 global fiscal crisis perpetuated growing animosity of the public against Putin’s prolonged reign of power.

“This time we are seeing a lot more heroes who are standing up to the pressure.  The idea that United Russia is an unstoppable force doesn’t control peoples’ minds anymore.” – Ivan Melnikov, Communist Party chairman

Moreover, the increasing activism of the public has been made evident after Sunday’s national vote, which resulted with United Russia still winning a majority of votes, just short of 50%, but significantly less from its previous 65%.  Nonetheless, demonstrators have been protesting against what many believe as electoral fraud.  Up to 10,000 protesters converged on the downtown Chirtye Prudhi metro station attempting to march to the Kremlin but were intercepted by security forces, who then detained 300 protesters, many of which were subsequently handed a 15-day prison sentence.  Opponents of Putin did not yield though, on Tuesday evening, hundreds more confronted thousands of heavily armed riot police on Moscow’s downtown Triumph Square, culminating in another 250 detained protesters.  Protest rallies were also reported in other Russian cities on Tuesday, including St. Petersburg, the Volga center of Camara and the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.  Nonetheless, there are still more public officers than demonstrators on the streets of Moscow.  According to released official figures, more than 50,000 security forces were deployed on Tuesday alone.  Compared to only a few thousand protesters who have been demonstrating in Moscow since the beginning of the week, the suppression of Russia and its “managed democracy” is evident.

“If 100 of you show up, then we’ll beat you up.  If there are 1,000 of you, then we’ll use tear gas.  If 10,000 people march in the streets, then we’ll stand and watch you.  But when 100,000 people show up, then we’ll join you.” – Russian Police Officer

Among the chaos of the protests and the brutality of security forces, Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet Premiere, has voiced public condemnation of Putin’s use of force and has supported the calls that Russia’s parliamentary elections were marred by fraud, calling for a re-run.  Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) announced the results of an international elections observation mission following the reports of governmental manipulation.  The OSCE and PACE monitors verified that the polls on Sunday were slanted in favor of United Russia, noting apparent manipulation, such as the stuffing of ballot boxes.

Furthermore, the evidence of manipulation has warranted prevalent condemnation internationally, most vocal being from the Human Rights Watch and the US.  Notoriously, Stalin’s reign as premier illustrated the suppression and nationalization of all media assets, as well as censoring and eliding any published reports.  Many pictures of officials shunned or purged by Stalin were edited, efficiently deleting the man from history.  So saying, the recent election scandal has also highlighted continued censorship and media harassment.  Golos, Russia’s main independent election monitoring group, was targeted by authorities.  On December 4th, Golos’ website crashed, as well as several independent media outlets that published information about election-related violations.  The email account of Lydia Shibanova, Golos’ director, and her deputy, were also hacked and still remain blocked.

“I think Russia’s leaders can only take one decision – annul the results of the election and hold a new one.  Literally by the day, the numbers of Russians who do not believe that the declared election results were honest in increasing.  In my opinion, disregard for public opinion is discrediting the authorities and destabilizing the situation.” – Mikhail Gorbachev, Former USSR Premiere

Despite the fervent animosity behind the protests, being redirected towards an anti-Putin message, the ability for Tuesday’s planned demonstrations to be silence does not bode well, questioning whether the fledgling protest movement can maintain its momentum.  Doubtlessly, the instability does not provide grounds for speculation of a Russia revolution like that in late 2004, as the Russian establishment is too strong and too powerful, but a new generation has emerged and the newly emerged middle class in Russia cities is no longer satisfied with the political situation.  There is a large silent majority in Russia that has grown restless and tired but this majority, as the name implies, silent.  There is still only a few hundred people taking to the streets in various cities, only accumulating to a few thousand in total.  The Kremlin will attempt to use pressure to keep the demonstration silent and unbeknownst to others, and so far it has been effective.  A real threat must be presented to Putin and United Russia, the grievances must be heard and the voices must be loud.


EU: The “Merkozy” Reforms

German Chancellor Angela Merkal and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a dynamic duo commonly referred to as “Merkozy”, have agreed on a series of reforms to address the debt crisis and have proposed the creation of a new European treaty to go into effect by the end of March.

The Dynamic Duo, Merkozy

The statement from the leaders of the largest contributing markets in the EU came after the held crisis talks in Paris.  For the first time since “crisis talks” became the form for any meeting involving EU leaders, the talks have yielded a plan that has offered a glimmer of hope.  The plan combines elements of intergovernmentalism to appease many of the internal dissenters known as Euroskeptics in Germany and Northern Europe, as well as involving supranational elements to appease Sarkozy and his winning coalition due to the immediacy of French elections.  The announcement, coupled with the austerity measured unveiled in Rome over the weekend, led to Italy’s long-term borrowing rate falling below 6% on Monday, the lowest it has been since October.  The events have illustrated a series of good fortunes for the EU, hopefully foreshadowing momentum for reform and achievement for the single market entity.  The proposition for a new European treaty will be presented to Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, on Wednesday, ahead of a critical summit of all 27 EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.  Evidently, the Merkozy duet has illustrated the progress possible through cooperation and integration; thus making evident the success of the Flexibility Principle, allowing any EU member nation to seek further integration with another, as well as the strength of perseverance of the two parents of the EU, France and Germany.

“We want to make sure that the imbalances which led to the situation in the Eurozone today cannot happen again.  Therefore, we want a new treaty, to make clear the peoples of Europe, members of Europe and members of the Eurozone, that things cannot continue as they are.” – Nicolas Sarkozy, French President

The new regulation being proposed by Merkozy is, in reality, a stability union.  At the heart of the treaty will be rigid rules to enforce the Euro’s original deficit and debt limits, initially set at 3% deficit and 60% debt under the Stability and Growth Pact.  For the Euro member nations that do not adhere to the new regulations for budget cuts, they will be persecuted by the European Court of Justice, punishments allowed under the Infringement Procedure.  The rigid guidelines and direct threat of fiscal punishment, as well as a loss of sovereignty  demonstrated the Germanic influence eminent in the proposal.  Merkel’s fiscal union is one-sided and legalistic, reassuring her Parliamentarian supporters that the EU would not gain more powers to intervene in the tax and expenditure decisions of countries which have secured their fiscal structure.  Nevertheless,  Sarkozy’s ideas of supranational supervision, fulfilling the requirement for a fiscal union, is also depicted through new sanctions and enforcement powers by the EU on any country whose borrowing has exceeded agreed limits.   So saying, countries like Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Ireland which have already asked for bailout packages will lose a great deal of fiscal sovereignty.

“This package shows that we are absolutely determined to keep the Euro a stable currency and as an important contributor to European stability” – Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

Furthermore, the details of the plan consists of a series of 5 reforms aimed at restructuring the flexibility of the fiscal union, as well as an intensification of enforcement mechanisms and restrictions to ensure that deficits such as those in Greece will not be permitted or go unnoticed.  First and foremost, Merkozy propose automatic sanctions for any country which runs up a deficit of more than 3% of GDP.  This is to be followed by the implementation of what Merkozy refers to as a “Golden Rule” built into every Eurozone member’s constitution.  Thus, Eurozone members would have a constitutional obligation to balance their accounts, as a the rule forbids countries from persistently running a deficit.  Despite such escalated restrictions, these were previously included in the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP). Applied in 1997, the SGP limited deficit to 3% of GDP, but more concerning is that the SGP became more flexible and inconsequential after a series of reforms in 2005 and 2007 because of the inability of France and Germany to meet those set regulations.  Moreover, the SGP also limited debt to 60% of GDP but the Commission warned in 2008 that the average public debt in the Eurozone would reach 85% of GDP by 2010.  With the stark reality of Greece’s debt at 116% and Italy not far behind, the failure of the past haunts the future reforms as well.  Nonetheless, not be intimidated, Merkozy plan to give the European Court of Justice powers to supervise and punish any infringement.  The ECJ will verify that countries do not run a deficit and if so, new sanctions and intervention by the entity will affect only those countries and mark a loss of fiscal sovereignty.

“In this extremely worrying period and serious crisis, France believes that the alliance and understanding with Germany are of strategic importance.  Risking a disagreement would be risking the Eurozone exploding.” – Nicolas Sarkozy, French President

Moreover, the most critical sign of structural weakness and insecurity in the prolonged crisis were the losses sustained by private investors after being told to invest in Greece, despite EU reassurances by the EU for equal return.  The dependency on private investors ed to the volatility of the markets, depicting the EU in a series of chronic debt sales and credit downgrades.  So saying, the Merkozy proposal states that private investors will never again be asked to take losses, as in Greece 50% “hair cut”.  The proposal also calls for the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) of 500 billion Euros to replace the current bailout mechanism, the European Financial Stability Facility, in 2012; rather than the previously agreed upon 2013.  These changes to the ESM would usually require unanimity voting, but Merkozy instead has called for qualified majority voting of 85%. Lastly, the proposal also calls for the Eurozone leaders to meet every month, as long as the crisis continues, to discuss growth.

“We want to have an equal Europe, a Europe on the same footing and playing field.  And we do not want to make mistakes of history where perhaps too many decisions were taken without really taking the consequences into account.” – Nicolas Sarkozy, French President

Despite calls for the creation of a harmonizing debt bond under the idea of Eurobonds, the Merkozy duo have already agreed to dismiss the notion.  The controversial subject has already been ruled out by the European Central Bank (ECB), demonstrating a common idea that Eurobonds are in no case a solution to the crisis.  The creation of the common bond would undermine the significance of the calls for reform, debt restriction and fiscal supervision; as well as demeaning the efforts by France and Germany to cooperate at such great lengths.  Furthermore, the bonds would also be a reminder of the inability of Europa countries to make the effort and struggle to reduce their borrowing and reign in their prolonged crisis.  Similar to the buying of debt by the ECB, the bonds would represent a weakening policy that would only grant a short period of time to the member nations, a slight respite that would only perpetuate the inevitable resurgence of the crisis.

In retrospect, the glimmer of hope delivered by the Merkozy proposal may be short-lived considering the veto powers of the Council members, as well as the comprehensive reluctance to reopen the Lisbon treaty to reform, as desired by Merkel.  Nonetheless, the aggressive dedication and stubborn persistence of the Merkozy duo has allowed the EU to live as long as it had; therefore, such hope may serve as a bolster to EU supporters and defenders, allowing the EU to strive through its crisis and emerge as a stronger knit of interconnected countries bound together by past sacrifices and common ideals.