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Is the new president of Ukraine a populist?
by Alex Norrgren
A comedian with no previous political experience won the election in Ukraine with the incredible majority with 73% of the votes against the sitting president Petro Poroshenko's 24% in the second round of the election. To me, this says a lot about exactly how tired the Ukrainian public is of the governing establishment. But, the question regarding what kind of a politician the new president really is, still remains unanswered. Zelenskij has not yet made any comments about how he will, for example, get rid of the deeply rooted corruption or how he will end the war in the eastern part of the country as was promised to his voters. At first glance, It looks like the Ukrainian people have voted in a populist promising change without any guarantees of that he would be up to the task.
The notion populism has become a widespread word in today’s media landscape and in academia often used in various negatively charged context’s. The true meaning of the notion is often lost both by politicians and the media. There are also often widely different views on what populism means. Recently, I asked a Swedish politician on his thoughts on the use of the word populism and he said to me; isn’t populist nowadays just another word for an opponent?
This was an interesting thought on the notion and suited well into my somewhat corrupt view on Swedish politics, where in my opinion, there are sometimes more throwing pies at each other than debating. In any case, there are scientific definitions on what’s populistic or not. In the book What is Populism? Jan Werner Müller clarifies a definition including 10
different populistic qualities. For example, that populists claim to represent “The true people” and criticize the ruling establishment for being non-legitimate. Even though it is a subjective understanding, a charismatic persona is also a populistic quality. Müller also states that there are more populists in Europe nowadays but reckons that the notion is overused by the European elite in the purpose of ignoring unwanted critic. This suggests that the Swedish politician whom I talked to, made a point with his sweeping comment. The word is overused and it's meaning is seldom grounded in science.
So, is the new president of Ukraine populistic? According to Müller, most likely no, even though Zelenskij has some populistic qualities. He is critical to the ruling establishment and he has promised his voters a lot on no solid guarantees. His rhetoric tells the public that he is a regular guy that claims to represent the people. I also believe that 73% of the Ukranian voters would find Zelenskij charismatic. But in order to become a complete populist according to Müller, Zelenskij will need to step up the totalitarian game by, for example, making legislative changes in order to accumulate more power.
Regarding the question of what kind of politician Zeleinskyj is, there are at the moment only speculations. At a seminar arranged by young Ukrainians in Sweden and Stockholm Association of International Affairs (30/4-19), none of the participants dared to guess what's around the corner for Ukraine. All the participants at the seminar agreed that the Ukrainian election was fair and just except for some irregularities. Martin Nilsson from the Swedish ministry of foreign affairs mentioned campaign financing as an example where Ukrainian democracy failed.
As also discussed in this issue of the journal by Nick Nguyen, we know little about Zelinskyjs politics, and even less about who funded the newly elected president. The closest guess is that president Zelinskiyjs campaign was funded by oligarch Igor Kolomoiskiy. But no one really knows because of the lack of transparency in campaign financing.
Kolomoiskiy is similar to President Zelenskij of Ukranian Jewish origin and listed as the third richest man in Ukraine by Forbes. Kolomoiskiy has played a major role in fighting pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine by funding different paramilitary groups. This is probably why he is accused of murder and the use of prohibited methods of warfare in Russia. He is not only an enemy of the Russian state, but Reuters also reported last month that the FBI is investigating him for money laundering.
Conclusively, Igor Kolomoiskiy, the supposed founder of Ukraine's new president is a pro-Ukrainian and anti-kremlin oligarch which suggest that Europe will find a western ally in president Zelenskij. The question is if the international community will support an elected president, supposedly funded by an oligarch of such an interesting background.
Popular movements in France: students and the revolutionary tradition
by Elis Wibacke
This year’s May Day in France was a violent affair with thousands of protesters on the streets of Paris and other major cities, some smashing shop windows and others throwing projectiles at police officers. However, we have become somewhat used to these images by now, ever since the so-called ‘yellow vests’ (gilets jaunes in French) started their weekly protests in November 2018. The yellow vests movement began as a grassroot citizens’ protest movement against an increased fuel tax but soon became a nation-wide protest movement against the perceived unfairness of the policies of President Emmanuel Macron and the French tax system as a whole. Even though a majority of protesters have been peaceful, the movement has also sparked numerous riots and clashes with police forces.
In fact, France has a long history of popular movements – from the French Revolution in 1789 until today, French citizens have witnessed many types of ‘populism’, and many times has mistrust of the government or the political system itself led to violent encounters on the streets. The yellow vests are the latest example of this revolutionary tradition. They find supporters in many places, especially within the working class and in the countryside, where many people feel abandoned by the politicians. However, a lot of young people – in particular university or high school students – have also joined the protests, directing them towards Macron’s education reforms.
The student population is often seen as a specific group in society, because people tend to be students for only a limited part of their lives. In a way social awareness and the willingness to act is integrated in the academic community, where students learn to be critically thinking individuals. According to at least one popular student identity, discussed by Swedish scholar Crister Skoglund, students even have a responsibility to use their knowledge ‘for the greater good’. Some would argue that students are trained to challenge certain types of populism – for example movements centered around a charismatic individual – but encouraged to take part in popular movements based on ideals and values like the liberté, égalité, fraternité of the revolution (now the official motto of the French Republic). As we have seen, young people have been the driving forces of the protests against climate change in the spring of 2019, in France as well as in the rest of the world. It should come as no surprise, then, that students also have been active in the yellow vests movement and, from a certain point of view, paved the way for it.
Even before the yellow vests movement began students protested against the proposed changes in the education system which they argued would complicate high school and make university admission harder. In the spring of 2018, students in Paris occupied university buildings, unsuccessfully trying to recreate the momentum of the student movement 50 years prior, i.e. the famous student rebellion of May 1968 that had started with similar protests but led to a general strike that affected the whole nation when factory workers all over France backed the students’ demands. Since 1968, France has witnessed major student movements at least once every decade, but they have all been overshadowed by the 1968 rebellion, which was undoubtedly the largest.
In 2018, hundreds of students went on strike for months and dozens of universities in France were in some way affected by the protests. Just like in 1968, the students at the university of Nanterre were among the most active participants, declaring a blockade against the university in the weeks leading up to the final exams. Some former Nanterre students even received prison sentences for attacking policemen during an evacuation of a university building in April 2018.
It is clear that the students drew inspiration from history. The May 1968 revolt was also inspired by, and referenced, previous French uprisings – not just the famous revolution of the late 18th century but also the July Revolution of 1830 and the overthrow of the government in 1848. Not only did the students in 1968 create barricades but 1960s groups like Les Enragés at the university of Nanterre also took their names from the French Revolution, establishing a direct link with the past.
As numerous examples in the 2017 anthology Student revolt, city and society in Europe: from the middle ages to the present (edited by Pieter Dhondt and Elizabethanne Boran) prove, student protests have been common as long as universities have existed. As early as 1229 there was a violent student revolt in Paris, caused by a dispute over the price of wine. Nonetheless, for a very long time higher education was a privilege for the upper classes, such as the clergy or the nobility. Therefore early student protests were never synonymous with popular movements – on the contrary, students often acted against the interest of the population as a whole. Some students have of course always been more radical than others but it was not until higher education became available to the masses in the mid-20th century that student protests had a realistic prospect of developing into popular movements, which was exactly what happened in May 1968.
However, unlike the 1968 rebellion, the student protests of 2018 did not receive much support from other groups in society (in fact, they did not even receive much support from the student population as a whole since many students chose to focus on their education) which meant that they had little chance of success. As we have seen, it is relevant to regard students as a specific group in society, and a movement can only really become ‘popular’ when a sense of unity is created between groups. Even in today’s society, when higher education is available to many, students do not always share the same needs as the general public. As the yellow vests movement illustrates, there was a widespread discontent with Macron’s policies in France at the time of the student protests in 2018 but it was based around the President’s economic policies, not his education reforms. This is why it was not until the yellow vests movement had begun in November that the students managed to win sympathy for their cause. Of significance for this development was the outrage sparked by footage of police humiliating protesting high school students in Mantes-la-Jolie. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the students joined the yellow vests movement and not the other way around.
In conclusion, student movements can tie into popular movements when they share a common goal, as happened in 1968. In those cases they constitute each other. At least in France, they both also rely heavily on the revolutionary tradition. However, students will always be a minority group, in itself heterogeneous, and so the problems that students are facing might not be the same that concern the general public. But when the issues raised are of major socio-economic relevance and the people involved embrace an amount of populism, even a student movement has the potential to become a popular movement. The yellow vests movement has probably benefited from the students already being organised, which might be one of the factors explaining why the yellow vests protests still – in May 2019 – gather so many participants.
Populism - The Great Distractor
by Aram Al Nashéa
Any fan of Noam Chomsky will tell you to dig deeper whenever an issue arrives at the discussion table. “Follow the money, what’s the endgame?” Speaking at the United Nations University Institute on Globalization, Culture and Mobility (UNU-GCM) in 2016, Chomsky brought up the rise of populist right wing parties in Europe while explaining that the reason might be that Europe is more racist than the U.S. Correct as he may be, Europe is not the only populist infested place, as Chomsky needed to dig deeper into the issue too. Since then, a wave of populism has hit the U.S., Brazil and the Philippines, to name a few.
Populism is often described as the people’s vote for discouragement. Populism appears whenever people are fed up with the current political system and wants a change. Their leaders are usually seen screaming, “We need to take our country back” and describe the political system as undemocratic, while they are supposedly the heroes the silent majority wants. Populists exaggerate every issue into a so-called crisis and offer a quick fix that only they can manage. They often describe themselves as anti-establishment and anti-globalization, offering a focus on the nation state. But are they though, and can they?
Ever since Reagan, the U.S. has delved deep into neoliberalism, the very thing everyone confuses with globalization. The U.S. has been going head first into free trade agreements allowing manufacturing to move to wherever is cheapest for corporations and opening up their borders. The U.S. has since Reagan focused on removing regulations in every department and selling trickle down economics like it’s ice on a hot summer’s day. While China has given its middle class a raise, the U.S. demoted theirs. Every economist will tell you that your middle class is the driving force of your economy. Well, the U.S. lost its middle class, and when you lose your middle class, you lose your spot as the hegemon. The disenfranchised American middle class longed for a different system than that of neoliberalism. Enter populism.
A quick look into the recent developments in the U.S. reveals the results of the populist phenomenon. Donald Trump campaigned on the idea of changing the current system. One might think his administration would stop overseas bombings, manufacturing moving from the U.S. and the lowering or removal of corporate taxes. We quickly learned that this was not the case. Factories are still moving from the U.S., the Trump administration introduced more tax cuts to the wealthy and to corporations and as of recently, the president vetoed the bill removing the U.S. from the war in Yemen. The Trump administration continues to walk the path of neoliberalism. Not only that, the U.S. treasury secretary is a former Goldman Sachs employee, the education secretary is a billionaire that supports private education, the EPA administrator is pro coal, and the list goes on.
The same story goes with other populist leaders. Bolsonaro of Brazil panders to large corporations to cut down the Amazon and Duterte of the Philippines cracks down on democracy and human rights. Not only did populism not prove to be anti-establishment and stand up to big money donors and represent the people, but the clear opposite.
Populism proves that nothing changes the self-interest of the state. The U.S. is desperately grasping at straws in the last stage as the global hegemonic power, by attempting to stimulate its economy the only way it knows how. Neoliberalism accelerated. Trump did not change an inch of the U.S. hard power overseas, not in Yemen and not in Syria, disappointing even his own base. The Bolsonaro administration in Brazil takes a page out of the U.S. playbook and panders to corporations and the burning of resources to stimulate its downward heading economy. The Duterte administration in the Philippines displays a hard line against China and will go to war in the name of self-interest.
Populism has proven to be a troublesome and a powerful distraction to what is really going on behind the curtains. The screams of crisis and “I alone can fix it”, is a great puppet show while the actual act is being played on all of us. This way the polarization of populism can distract, while the dropping of bombs and ravaging of resources can continue to enrich the self-interest of the state.
Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) visited Stockholm University.
By Martin Nilsson
Two Swedes have recently visited Bethlehem and Hebron where the two witnessed both hope and tragedy. On 14 March, they came to Stockholm University to share their experience.
There’s a lot of tragedy but also some hope in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That was stated by Elin and Susanne from EAPPI on a lecture that was held at Stockholm University. Susanne visited Hebron and Elin visited Bethlehem on the west bank. An area that has been occupied by Israel since 1948. Elin saw big differences of those who lived in the Israeli settlements and the Palestinians who live outside them. The settlements are civilian communities where only Israelis live. In a village outside the settlements, Elin talked to a Palestinian man who didn’t have access to electricity. Once, he installed solar panels, but after a while, he took them down because he was afraid for reprisals by the Israelis. Electricity wasn't the only problem, the man couldn’t even walk outside his home after 7 pm due to curfew. Elin said that the conditions in the settlements were different than for Palestinians outside them. The Israelis had rights to expand and didn’t suffer from the different night raids made by the Israeli Defense Force. -It can’t be right that two people in the same area have different rights, said Elin when she described the differences of living standard in the settlements and in the villages around them.
Susanne visited the Palestinian city of Hebron on the Westbank. She described Hebron as a microcosmos of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Hebron, there are both Palestinians and Israelis living side by side. But the two have not the same rights. Palestinians are for instance not allowed to drive a car or walk on some streets. Susanne witnessed a lot of harassment from settlers. In Hebron, there are according to Susanne settlements in the middle of the town. Some settlements are on the top of the roofs that are above the city market. The Palestinians must have fences over their stores on the market in order to protect themselves from stuff that is thrown by the people from the settlements above. According to Susanne, there are even cases where Israelis have thrown acid.
Elin and Susanne did also see some glimpses of hope. At the end of the lecture, Susanne and Elin presented an organization that was called youth against settlements. The organization teaches English to youths and travels to different countries, promoting their work amongst other things but most importantly, they educate on how to fight the occupation without violence. During their stay, Elin and Susanne also met an Israeli and a Palestinian that both were members of the organization. One of them said that “if we can talk, then everyone else can”.
A trip by EAPPI
The trip was a part of a programme that the Christian organization EAPPA held. One of the organization's main goal is to keep an established international presence in Israel and Palestine as human rights observers with a mandate to monitor and not to intervene. From the beginning, they were a religious organization, but nowadays the churches only coordinate trips without any religious activities and of course, one does not need to be Christian to be a member of the organization.
On the larger international scene, EAPPI has the important task of making reports when countries violate international law but a part of the daily work is also, for example, to follow children to school in purpose to protect them from harassment. Elin and Susanne say that taking part in EAPPI and to become an ecumenical accompanier has been a fantastic experience.
Closed borders and ignorance.
By Diana Gonzales.
As a reaction to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, states like the United States, Brazil and Colombia have tried to send aid. However, the Venezuelan military has refused to open the gates and rejected international assistance. The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, has been very clear that he will reject any foreign help, warning that it could be the first step towards an American intervention. Looking at the debate in Sweden, it surprises me that the left party’s strategy is to ignore the humanitarian crisis and to feed the anti-Americanism sentiment in Latin America.
Since 2013 the crisis in Venezuela has been deepening. From Maduro points of view, the crisis in Venezuela is rather economical than humanitarian, and he claims that the problems are related to the US’s sanction against the state-owned oil company PDVSA. The majority of the humanitarian aid that tried to enter the country in February came from the US and Maduro claims that the act was a way of removing him from power and he has promised to stop the “false spectacle of humanitarian aid”. The regime has also been making statements saying that the American aid was made to poison the population, describing it as “biological weapons”. The only aid that was allowed to enter the country came from one of Venezuela’s ally - Russia.
In a time where we are constantly fed with news, updates, and pictures from all around the world, it’s near to impossible to not admit that there is a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. According to the Venezuelan national trade organizations, about 80% of the countries medicines and medical equipment are missing and over two million people are fleeing to neighboring countries. If Maduro would let the aid in, he would also have to admit that there is an existing humanitarian crisis in the country, a statement he is not willing to agree to. From his point of view, accepting suppliers from foreigners would be equal to accepting political intervention from the US.
Latin America’s distrust towards the US.
Meanwhile in Stockholm, Sweden, at café Marx, the left party in Stockholm and “Latinos of the left” organized in February talk about the situation in Venezuela. With an interest in the situation in Venezuela, I and my Peruvian dad decided to go. The first thing that struck us were the many signs saying “Trump's hands off Venezuela”. In the very last minute before the start of the event, we were told that the vice foreign minister of Venezuela will attend. The minister gave a 10-minute speech about the situation in Venezuela where his main thesis was that “there is no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela”. The roughly 100 people applauded enthusiastically and Kajsa Ekis Ekman, a leftist journalist, continued by sharing her experience of visiting Venezuela. She stated that “The people that flee from Venezuela are not refugees, they are immigrants that flee to gain a higher wage”. After that, the following speakers focused on two main points: claiming that the media is angling the situation in Venezuela in a non-correct, negative way, in favor of the US and that we have to stand against the US potential intervention in Venezuela. My dad shook his head while he looked at the statistics of Venezuelan refugees on his phone and whispered to me “why are they denying the crisis?”.
My dad came to Sweden at the end of the ’80s and as many other Latinos, he was a dedicated socialist as young, raised up with capitalism and the US as the biggest threat. Latin America’s distrust towards the US has been ongoing for a long time and is still very alive. Given the dozens of times the US has sent troops into Latin America, it’s not surprising. With the fear of spreading communism, the US has inferred in Latin American politics repeatedly during the cold war. According to the Pew Research center survey, only 47% of the Venezuelans had a favorable view of the US. Even the Bolivarian president, Morales, has called the humanitarian aid shipments “a Trojan horse”, arguing that defending Venezuela is defending the sovereignty of Latin America. Pointing finger towards the US and feeding the anti-American sentiment is an easy way to manipulate the people of Venezuela, and is Maduro’s main tool.
However, the ignorance of the left party in Sweden and their perception of the situation is dangerous and is legitimizing the dictatorship in Venezuela. The Swedish left claim that the Swedish media are only blackening the Venezuelan government, in favor of the US. In similarity to Maduro, they view the US’s attempt to send aid to the country as an excuse to intervene in Venezuela, as their flyers say: “Humanitarian Intervention?! Trump’s intention is to create panic and install the new leader, appointed by him under the excuse “humanitarian intervention” Their historical ideological resistance towards the U.S’s foreign policy is making them unable to see the whole picture. It’s dangerous when a journalist that should be neutral and give the correct picture angles her story by her ideological beliefs. Their rhetorics is built on the traditional anti-American slogan, just as the view of Maduro and Morales. Of course, the situation in Venezuela is complex and it’s hard for us to get a full picture of the situation but the left party’s strategy to ignore the crisis is problematic.
The humanitarian aid has become a weapon in the power battle between president Maduro and the opposition. As the act goes on, the people of Venezuela are still suffering. To send help to a regime that doesn’t even admit the humanitarian crisis in its country is truly a challenge. Maduro stands with his statements that the action to bring in humanitarian help is actually a coup against his regime and he’s supported by Russia, China, and Turkey. The border towards the Caribbean islands Aruban, Bonaire and Curacao has been closed to prevent deliveries by boat. As a critic towards Maduro’s actions, over 50 countries, including US and Sweden, has declared the opposition leader Juan Guadidó the interim president. However, Maduro still has a strong foothold in Venezuela.
They say ignorance is bliss but as the left are busy spreading the anti-Americanism sentiment, the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is worsening. Lastly, there are many things to be said about the situation in Venezuela but one thing has to be clear: we have to admit that there exists a humanitarian crisis.
The Final Curtain of The Syrian Civil War.
By Azra Koyuncu.
Turkeys presence in Idlib reveals the contradictoriness in Turkey's foreign policy in Syria. Before the Syrian civil war that broke out in 2011, Turkey and Syria had so close relations that the Al-Assad and Erdogan families came together in Turkey's Aegean resort Bodrum for a family holiday. After the civil war, Turkey´s friendly and close relationship with Syria has been replaced by strained relations. The new policy Turkey adopted aimed to overthrow the Al-Assad regime. Allegedly, Turkey supported armed extremist terror groups in Syria in line with this purpose. The allegements contained that the Turkish state supported the Islamic State (IS) financially and logistically. Delivering weapons to the IS with the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks and treating high-level members of IS at Turkish hospitals were among the blames. Once Turkey delivered weapons to the IS with the MİT trucks, today, it is cooperating with the Syrian allies in order to remove the major obstacle for the Syrian regime to take control over Idlib which will bring the Syrian regime victory. What are Turkey´s underlying interests of the new policy it adopted?
At the current stage of the civil war, Idlib plays a very critical role. Idlib is located in northern Syria, neighbor to Turkey's Hatay region. The city is home to almost three million civilians. A major part of the civilians consists of internal refugees. Idlib province is the last rebel-held region of the seven years long Syrian civil war. In case the rebel groups in the region are eliminated, a new era will begin in Syria. The civil war will technically end and the Syrian regime will be the winning part. As long as Syria and the rebel groups don't arrive at an agreement, it will be a very costly operation to take control of Idlib from the rebels. United Nations warned that the Battle of Idlib could turn into a horrific and bloody war and cause the worst humanitarian crisis of this century. Syria is war-damaged from top to bottom. The civil war resulted in 5.6 million people fleeing from their country, six million people having to internally immigrate, and 400 000 people losing their lives. Another battle will cause more pain in the country.
Turkey met Syria's allies Iran and Russia in Astana in May of 2017 and declared Syria's Idlib province as a demilitarised zone. They agreed on establishing Turkish, Russian, and Iranian military observation posts around Idlib for the purpose of obstructing the clash of Syrian government forces and rebels. According to Astana process agreements, these guarantors have the duty to make sure that violations of ceasefire don’t occur and prevent conflicts between rebel groups and government forces. In September 2018 France, Germany, Turkey, and Russia came together in Istanbul to discuss solutions to the Idlib conflict. They agreed on creating a 15-20 km wide buffer zone around Idlib, and until the 10th of October, the heavy weapons in this zone such as tanks, weapons, and rocket launchers had to be moved away. In these circumstances, the duty to persuade rebels to leave their weapons fell on Turkey. But some of the points the countries agreed on have failed to be implemented. Russia blamed the radical rebel group Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) for launching a chemical attack in Aleppo and bombed the rebels. As a result of Russian bombings, many civilians fled to Turkey from Idlib. Therewith, the representative of Syria at the United Nations charged Turkey with not fulfilling its responsibilities and to have supported terror groups with chemical weapons.
Currently, 60 percent of the Idlib province is controlled by the al-Nusra and al-Kaide linked rebel group Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), led by a former al-Nusra member. At the same time, Turkey-backed umbrella rebel group National Liberation Front, which also gathers radical rebels under its roof, and Hurras al-Din, are present in Idlib. Even though there are more rebel groups situated in the province of Idlib, these three groups make up the main oppositional cluster against Astana-guarantors. Turkey suggests that they need to separate the moderate-rebels from the terrorist first, then defuse the terrorism in the region. Otherwise, civilians and moderate-rebels in the area will suffer. But a reason behind this request might also be that Turkey wants to protect the rebels it supports by introducing them as moderates. However, Syria and Russia do not see any moderate rebels except those who have left their weapons. National Liberation Front (NLF) pronounced that they are not going to hand over their weapons nor leave their region, which made Turkey be between a rock and a hard place. They announced that they will be on guard against possible attacks from the Syrian regime, Russia, and Iran. On one hand, there are the rebels that Turkey supports and, on the other hand, there are countries which Turkey is negotiating with. It doesn’t seem possible that Turkey will succeed to persuade the rebels. “HTS that has control over more than half of Idlib, looks very prepared for war,” said Syria expert Fabrice Balanche. NLF has also announced that they will fight to the bitter end. Though a while has passed after the agreement, they haven’t made progress on this issue. On the contrary, HTS has taken control of more places from Turkey-backed forces. Syria and Iran haven’t started the Idlib-battle yet due to the ongoing dialogues between Russia and Turkey. But it should not be taken guaranteed that they won’t take action later on.
The balance of power in Syria has changed a lot from the beginning of the civil war until today. The current stage of the civil war indicates that the Assad regime most probably will achieve victory over the rebels. While the balance of power has been changed, Turkey reformed its Syria policy. Turkey-supported Salafi and jihadist groups lost control of many places. Among these groups is IS that fights against Kurdish forces. After Turkey-backed groups lost power, Turkey partly changed side and acceded to an agreement with the allies of Syria. One of the most significant underlying reason why Turkey became a part of the Idlib-deal is that they want to passivate the Kurdish forces in the region as much as possible. Kurds are a common interest of Turkey and Syria. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wings People's Protection Units (YPG) and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDG) are holding control over a quarter of the country after four years of fighting against IS. As the civil war is approaching an end, Kurdish forces aim to keep their autonomous region. On the other hand, the Syrian regime wants to regain control of every inch of the country. As the US decided to withdraw troops from the Kurdish-controlled region, the negotiation attempts between YPG and the Assad regime have revived. Turkey sees the Syrian Kurdish fighters as militia forces of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Syria and both PKK and YPG are listed terror groups. Turkey and PKK have been fighting for three decades. Turkey declared a ceasefire in March 2013, but the peace-seeking did not last for long. In July 2015 ceasefire broke down. Turkey is strongly against Kurdish fighter presence in Syria. It doesn’t want these groups close to its border and wants to narrow down the Kurd's room to maneuver. Turkey aims to put leverage on Kurds through the Syrian regime and convince Kurds to consent to very limited autonomy.
The Idlib demilitarization is not Turkey´s first military involvement in Syria. As long as YPG and PKK are present in Syria, Turkey does not seem to be willing to stop its engagements. The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) invaded the Northern Syrian region Afrin in cooperation with The Free Syrian Army (FSA) at the beginning of 2018. The goal with this military offensive, called Operation Olive Branch, was to clear Syria’s Afrin from PKK and YPG. The two months long invasion ended with Turkey taking control of the region.
The Battle of Idlib means a big refugee influx into Turkey. Turkey is already home to more than 3.5 million refugees. A new refugee wave from Idlib will be very costly for Turkey in social and economic aspects. Turkey has increased its border security on its border with Syria in order to prevent the refugees from Idlib. Turkey still has big issues with the integration of the already existing refugees in the country. Accepting more refugees into the country will complicate the current situation. The refugees in Turkey pose also a threat to the European countries as Turkey is used as a gateway to Europe. In 2016, EU and Turkey cooperated in order to stop illegal migration from Turkey to Europe. According to the agreement the EU would allocate six billion euros in financial aid for refugees. But the EU cannot rely heavily on this agreement with Turkey, because the illegal migration cannot completely be prevented and there are cases where Turkey threatened the EU to open the floodgates to Europe.
One of the critical issues of the Idlib-conflict is how the Turkish-backed rebels will be treated after the end of the war. Well, those from the Arabic countries will probably return to their homeland while those who are not safe anymore in Syria will head to Turkey, as Turkey is considered to be the supporter of the rebels. How will Turkey deal with the rehabilitation and integration of so many jihadist people? This will lead to major problems for the security of the country. European countries will also be concerned about the security issues that may be caused by these people.
Turkey pays a heavy price for its failed middle-east policy. The Idlib conflict is a double-edged sword for Turkey. Turkey may be the second most affected and damaged country of the Syrian civil war after Syria. If Ankara had negotiated with the Assad regime from the beginning instead of military involvement in Syria, its pecuniary loss would be less and its reputation in the international area would not be damaged as much. At the moment, the conflict-affected country is stocked between the rebels and the Syrian regime and its allies. They are trying to make them both satisfied and at the same time looking after their own interest. As Turkey's relations with the EU has weakened significantly, having closer relations with its neighbors and creating allies is even more important. Especially, now when the Assad regime re-establishes its authority in Syria.
The policy Turkey adopted in Idlib are playing an important role in creating such relations. Turkey also seals the fate of civilians in the region. In case Turkey succeeds in convincing the rebels to leave their weapons no battle will occur and civilians will not suffer more from the civil war. In the other scenario, the Battle of Idlib will result in a bloody war between rebels and the Syrian regime which will cost many innocent lives. In such a case, civilians will address themselves to the nearby Turkish cities.
The Conflict Between Bolivia and Chile.
The Oldest Border Problem in America?
By Pablo Rodríguez Gallego.
Looking at a map of South America, we find that Bolivia does not have Access to the sea. This is the reason behind one of the biggest diplomatic conflicts in Latin America. All Bolivian international trade has to cross mainly either by Peru or Chile, but this was not the way before the year of 1879. Then the northern part of Chile belonged to Bolivia, and Bolivia still claims access to the Pacific ocean through the region of Antofagasta in today's Chile.
After the South American independence from the Spanish Empire in the mid 19th century, the northern part of Chile has belonged both to Peru and Bolivia. When saltpeter mines were discovered in the region, Chile sought an agreement with Bolivia that gave them rights to exploit those mines. But in 1878, Bolivia increased the taxes for the Chilean mines violating the terms of the agreement. Chile protested against the violations and Bolivia counter matched with an embargo on the Chilean mining industry. One year later Chile invaded the Bolivian region, which was the beginning of The War of the Pacific, sometimes called the Salpeter war. Peru also joined Bolivia’s side in the war due to a secret alliance they had reached. Since the beginning, as a result of the lack of military force, Bolivia did not fight in the war. The conflict lasted until 1883 resulting in the Treaty of Ancón. The Treaty established that Peru who was allied with Bolivia gave the region of Tarapaca to Chile after the capital of Peru had been conquered by Chile. The countries also signed that Peru would give Chile the regions of Tacna and Iquique, but with the condition that in ten years, a referendum should be held in those two regions, asking them whether to remain in Chile or return to Peru. In 1904, Bolivia signed an agreement with Chile, giving them Antofagasta, which had de facto been Chilean since they had conquered it at the beginning of the war. Chile never held the referendum they had promised to Peru. Finally, in 1929, the Treaty of Lima was signed in which Chile gave Tacna back to Peru and Peru recognized Iquique as Chilean. Peru also accepted a Chilean economic reparation for having delayed the solution. Chile came to an agreement with Peru saying they would not give Bolivia any land without Peru´s permission halting Bolivia's ambition. 50 years later, the right-wing dictators of Bolivia and Chile Hugo Banzer and Augusto Pinochet decided in the Treaty of Charaña that Bolivia would be given a small corridor of land in order to access the ocean. Bolivia's problem surged because Peru stated that the land was Peruvian by the Ancon Treaty and Chile on their hand never fulfilled their part due to the prior Lima agreements.
Since the Bolivian government of Evo Morales came to power in 2006, they have been complaining about the Chilean privatization of the maritime ports. Why is this important for Bolivia? Because as they do not have sovereign access to the sea, all their imports and exports have to go mainly through the Chilean ports of Arica and Antofagasta. Since the agreement of 1904, Bolivia has managed their own customs in the Chilean ports, being able to conduct international trade without tariffs. This means that Bolivia has been able to use the Chilean ports without being charged. The problem appeared when Chile privatized its ports, giving the private companies the right to increase some of the non-tariffs costs, that had not been substantially increased when they were public.
Bolivia claims that privatization has continuously increased the price for Bolivian trade with around 55%. On the opposite side, Chile claims that they do not have any obligations to Bolivia and that the compromises reached in the treaty of 1904 have been fulfilled, such as the construction of a railway between La Paz in Bolivia and Arica. They also state that the price increase is not due to tariffs. Operational costs are charged to all other private clients of the ports and are therefore completely legal according to the treaty of The constitution of the Plurinational State of Bolivia which was approved in 2009. Article 267 states that Bolivia has an irrevocable right over the territory that gives them access to the Pacific Ocean and that this objective should be fulfilled by diplomatic and pacific means. (1)
Finally, on the 13th of June in 2013, the Bolivian government formally initiated a demand against Chile in the International Criminal Court (ICC). Bolivia´s view was that Chile had obligations to initiate negotiations due to the agreements signed in the past. They claimed that Chile has not done this and reached out to the ICC with hopes that the ICC would demand them to start negotiations to give Bolivia sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia’s designated representative, the former president Carlos Mesa, stated that the treaty was signed under pressure, not having two equal parts with Chile coercing Bolivia. The Chilean side considered that the treaty of 1904 was correct regarding the borders between both countries and that the ICC had no right to judge on the issue due to the fact that the ICC had been given the right to judge on the border conflict once in 1948, later than the treaty of 1904. The statement was released to the public by the Chilean foreign secretary, Heraldo Muñoz, on the 23rd of May in 2014.
In 2015, the president of the ICC, Ronny Abraham, gave the preliminary sentence of the court, stating that the ICC could judge on the issue. Finally, after years of deliberations, on the 1st of October in 2018, the court gave its sentence. The sentence stated that the ICC: (2)
Finds, by twelve votes to three, that the Republic of Chile did not undertake a legal obligation to negotiate sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean for the Plurinational State of Bolivia; and
Rejects, by twelve votes to three, the other final submissions presented by the Plurinational State of Bolivia.
So the final outcome of the process was that the ICC denied that Chile had the obligation to negotiate as they believed that Chile had never signed or agreed on that they should negotiate on giving Bolivia access to the ocean.
In the future, it does not seem feasible that Bolivia will gain sovereign access to the ocean because of the current strong position of Chile. During the last years, there has been a big decrease in the number of people inside Chile that would accept giving Bolivia direct access to the ocean, meaning that politicians are less likely to negotiate with Bolivia. In addition to this, it is clear that if those territories were given back to Bolivia the people living in that region would probably not accept it, as they would then become a part of a country with a weaker economy than Chile. Also, as Peru is involved in the conflict any agreement reached by Chile and Bolivia should be confirmed by them making it harder if any type of land was agreed to be given to Bolivia. In addition to all this, it is clear that Chile is a bigger power in the international arena as they have a greater economy and military power, as well as a good relationship with the U.S.
Inside Bolivia’s political scene, the issue with Chile could lead to a change of government. Carlos Mesa, the former president, who was designated as representative of Bolivia in the court ruling, has gained a big increase in popularity. For the 2019 presidential elections, Carlos Mesa has announced his candidacy. Some polls have begun to show that he could defeat Evo Morales, who has been governing since 2006. If that change becomes real, Bolivia would have one of the most popular left-wing governments in South America, and probably the best one in terms of socioeconomic results. The conflict between Chile and Bolivia isn't over yet and it is probably the biggest diplomatic problem on the American continent, one that has been ongoing for more than one hundred years. In the future, the involved parties could reach a finalized agreement if there would be a reconfiguration of the geopolitical scene in South America, unfortunately, it doesn't seem likely to happen at the moment.
Bribery, Borders, and Backstabbing.
The Israeli snap election and what to expect out of it.
By Margareta Barabash.
The red hot Middle Eastern sun already shines brightly over the hills of Jerusalem, despite it still being March. But the weather is not the only thing that is heating up. The temperature is rising in the Knesset as the Israeli legislative election approaches faster and faster. And with just a few weeks left, the end to the power struggle does not seem to be near.
So, what is going on? Why did prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announce this snap election as the Israeli general election should have normally taken place in October 2019? Who are the top dogs and side actors? And the million dollar question asked by the international audience: how will the outcome affect the seemingly never-ending Arab-Israeli conflict?
Bribery, fraud, and corruption.
The past four years have not been without political turmoil for Netanyahu and the ruling coalition. However, the tensions culminated in autumn 2018 in the form of a series of scandals that affected his party Likud’s reputation and political authority. Three main scandals, that are also the cause of the snap election, can be identified. First and foremost, bribery or the so-called Bezeq case. Israeli police and the state prosecutor accused Netanyahu of bribe acceptance, fraud and breach of trust. The prime minister is now risking to face charges due to him promoting regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Bezeq telecom company in exchange for positive coverage of the prime minister on Bezeq’s subsidiary news website. Netanyahu, who denied the accusations, calling them off as a media witch-hunt, has been accused of bribery before.
Netanyahu has also attempted to improve his press coverage through illegal dealmaking on multiple occasions and is accused of receiving $200,000 in illegal bribes of Cuban cigars and champagne.
Several Israeli political insiders and pundits claim that this is the main reason to why Netanyahu is in hurry for the polls. If he were to face criminal charges, he would at least be in the position of popular, recently re-elected leader, as a potential hearing would take place in July due to legal formalities. In other words, after the election. And, at least according to the most recent polls, he is heading for the crown.
A fragile coalition.
The two other scandals occurred from internal conflicts within the ruling coalition, caused by the tension created by former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman when he chose to go against the coalition’s agenda on two occasions. One had to do with a draft that allowed young ultra-orthodox men to be exempted from military service, which Lieberman opposed. The other one was regarding the government’s managing of the Gaza ceasefire in November 2018. After the internal conflicts, Lieberman resigned from his post, causing his party Yisrael Beiteinu to leave the coalition.
At that point, Netanyahu had all the right to panic. His coalition was now left with 61 seats - a very slim majority in Knesset, which has 120 seats. This is likely to cause difficulties to the legislating processes, not least due to the coalition consisting of a motley collection of standpoints and ideologies. Issues such as military service for the ultra-orthodox have great potential of shattering the coalition.
The coalition itself consists of, besides Likud, several right-wing parties, ranging from moderate Kulanu whose main priority is to lower the Israeli living costs to far-right United Torah Judaism and Shas, religious traditionalists who wouldn’t oppose a one-state solution if so their lives depended on it.
Netanyahu’s new challenger
On the last day for submitting a party list for the election, a new party arose to the knowledge of the public. Meet Blue and White - the radical centrists who are most likely to become Netanyahu’s main opposition. The party itself is a merge of the Israeli Resilience Party led by Benny Gantz, a former and well respected military chief of staff, and Yesh Atid, the centrist party of the media personality Yair Lapid. Gantz and Lapid claim to have formed the party as a reaction to Netanyahu’s alleged corruption and are now hoping to ally with the moderate parties in order to dethrone the prime minister. As of right now, both parties are tied in the polls, though with a slight tilt towards Netanyahu.
Blue and White’s platform emphasizes global collaboration on security issues, an Israeli democracy that recognizes Israeli Arabs as equal citizens and requires religious Jews to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces.
“But what about the Left?!”
The Israeli Labor party HaAvoda is not expected to do well in the election. The party who was the initial founder of the State of Israel, producing iconic political figures such as David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir, and the classic concepts of the kibbutz and the Israeli social democracy, has for many years been on decline. This is most likely linked to the political lapse that allegedly caused the second intifada in 1999. The party leader Ehud Barak had defeated Netanyahu in the election and was pushing toward a peace treaty with the Palestinians. But the negotiations failed and the intifada began - a wave of terror attacks in Israel that led to a clampdown on Palestinians in the West Bank.
The party has since then tried to rebrand themselves as centrist. But the new party leader and former business executive Avi Gabbay has not managed to recapture the nation’s interest. Former voters of HaAvoda, especially the ones who are more right-leaning, are expected to vote for Blue and White.
How will the outcome affect the Palestinians?
The election outcome is for obvious reasons not only of primary interest for Israeli citizens. As the Arab-Israeli conflict treads onward into its 71st year, many Palestinians wonder what will happen next. Will Netanyahu’s hard line of fighting fire with fire prevail or will there be a shift in tactics in the form of more attempts to peace negotiations? The truth is that there is no answer, at least not before the election. Likud is still heavily in support of the West Bank settlements, and most of its current members oppose Palestinian statehood and the disengagement from Gaza. The party line is unlikely to change since their parliamentary influence is heavily dependent on allies further to the right.
The platform of Blue and White leans to the centre, though not significantly on this specific issue. It included support for a “united” Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, continued Israeli control over the Jordan Valley, and retaining settlement blocs in the West Bank, along with a willingness to enter negotiations with the Palestinians. The party does not explicitly support Palestinian statehood. However, party leader Yair Lapid has expressed support for a two-state solution on one occasion.
HaAvoda claims that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the reason behind the declining welfare in the country and thus, peace talks are heavily encouraged. But since they are most likely to end up with no major influence, their agenda can more or less be disregarded. What is also remarkable is the decline of power held by Arab-Israeli parties, who tend to have a friendlier attitude to the Palestine matter and the two state solution. Israel’s Arab minority has the right to vote, but those votes usually do not mean much. Arab-Israeli parties tend to never sit in Israeli governing coalitions and are usually at odds with both the Jewish-Israeli left and right. But Blue and White has already vowed not to ally with any of Said parties. Likewise with Likud.
Overall, no matter the outcome it seems that the status quo in regards to the Arab-Israeli conflict is likely to be prevailed. If the radical centrists of Blue and White manage to capture the Israeli hearts in such a short period of time, we might end up seeing more attempts to peace talks. That is, if they manage to form a coalition with parties who are interested in the same approach. Otherwise, change is unlikely. But only time will tell.
A Border in Cyberspace.
The restriction of the internet in China.
By Martin Nilsson.
The great firewall of China.
The Chinese internet is an internal type of internet, different from the internet in Europe. The internet is restricted and separated in different ways. According to the organization and independent research institute Freedom house, China's internet is restricted both with censorship and firewalls. But also, with content removals, revoking access, online manipulation, violence and arresting of critics for online posts.
In 2015 the Chinese president Xi Jinping held a speech at Chinas world internet conference.
“We should respect the right of individual countries to independently choose their own path of cyber-development,” said Xi, warning against foreign interference “in other countries’ internal affairs”.
According to The Guardian´s journalist Elizabeth C. Economy, this quote was a manifestation of the thought that “the Chinese internet would be a world unto itself, with its content closely monitored and managed by the Communist party”.
To understand China's internet, we should go back in history to see how they built a border around their internet in Cyberspace. It all started on the 20th of September in 1987. An email was sent to Karlsruhe Institute of technology with the message “Across the great wall we can reach every corner in the world”. The internet developed, but it was first in 1995 that the internet became open to the public. The first restrictions came in the late 1990s when a man called Fang Bixing invented “the golden shield”. The golden shield was a transformative software that made it possible for governments to inspect all data being sent or received. It could also block IP addresses and domain names. In the 2000s Bixing inherited the nickname “The father of the Great Firewall” for his work on the golden shield which still is in use today. The Great Firewall evolved and in 2015 the Great Canon was established. The Great Cannon is able to replace and adjust content on the internet. Apart from the firewall and the cannon, there is something even more powerful. China has its own cyber army. The cyber army consist of 2 million people stated everywhere in Chinese society. Their task is to supervise opinions and to censor material. Together all these parts make bricks in the wall that forms into Chinese internet border in cyberspace.
Today China is according to The New York Times, organizing internet in their own way with their own versions of Facebook, Twitter, and Google. The Google in China is called Baidu, YouTube is called Yoku and for twitter they have Weibo. The smart apps are connected. From those apps you can, for example, order food and message with a friend without leaving the same app. The information on the apps is shared with the Chinese Government. The apps are collecting information about what you talk about, whom you talk with, what you read and how your money is spent. The Chinese authorities are according to “The New York Times” not shy about stalking their own citizens.
Chinese influence in the global cyberspace.
The evolution of the internet began in 1969. Since then, the internet has opened possibilities to communicate globally and given the ability to exchange information around the world. Today the internet is a square for free speech and press, where you can tweet your thoughts or publish clips from a demonstration. There are 7,53 billion persons in the world and among those 7,53 billion persons there are 3,2 billion who had access to the internet in 2015 according to the UN. UN states that a part of Goal 9 of the UN's global goals for sustainable development is to increase the availability of information and to extend the means of communication for the least developed countries by 2020 in order to reach the milestones of Goal 9.
The site Varldskoll.se that is driven by the UN sees a lack of internet as a problem. They say that when everyone is not having access to the internet a gap is created between the rich and the poor parts of the world. A gap where the richer part of the world has easier access to information than the poorer. Varldskoll.se means that without access to information it is hard to make decisions about your life. But all people do not share this opinion. As mentioned, China seems to be interested in restricting some citizens from getting access or to spread information in cyberspace. Vietnam and Thailand are already walking in the Chinese footsteps in cyberspace. But it is not only Vietnam and Thailand. Many governments around the world are trying to restrict their citizens access to the internet and the role model seems to be China.
The independent organization Freedom House, a research institute for politics and democracy, discusses China's influence in cyberspace in their article “The Rise of the digital authoritarianism". According to this article, China has arranged seminars and training camps for countries that have the same internet policies as them. Among the countries who China cooperate with are the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. After a training camp in 2017 in Vietnam, Vietnam legislated an internet law that was close to a copy of the Chinese one. These restrictions raise some questions for the future. If countries are building borders around their information, could we then talk about the internet as a place for a global exchange of information? Only the future can tell. But with governments that are creating walls around their islands in cyberspace one can predict a future where there is no global trade of information and thoughts in the world.
The New Frontier.
On the Wrong Side of Gansu Province.
By Felix Sunna.
The People’s Republic of China covers an area close to 9,6 million square kilometers, and within this vast space, many peoples and cultures have claimed their homestead. There are Mongols in the North, Zhuang in the south, Uyghur in the west and Han in the east. Aside from the mentioned ethnic groups, there are 52 more ethnicities scattered throughout the country. The Chinese population is thusly constituted of 56 ethnic groups, and 10 of those are Muslim. In this article, I will specifically discuss the Hui and Uyghur, two Muslim ethnic groups, and what consequences being on the wrong side of an internal border can bring.
China has a long history of interaction with Muslims, through the rule of the Mongol Yuan dynasty and across the silk road. Historically, Muslims have lived in China since the 7th century AD and Islam is still thriving in the western provinces of China, such as Gansu or Ningxia. An ethnic group called the Hui make up a considerable percentage of the population within these provinces. The group is very diverse, and the term “Hui” was previously used to describe Muslims of foreign ancestry in China, but since 1949 it specifically refers to one of the 10 Muslim ethnic groups.
The Hui generally do not differ from the majority population, Han Chinese, in areas other than religion. They speak the same language and generally observe the same customs. It is worth noting that the Hui usually don’t eat pork, preferring halal food. This is not entirely in alignment with Chinese cuisine otherwise, in which pork is quite prominently used. Some also dress differently, women often observing Islamic dress codes, such as wearing a veil, and men often wearing taqiyahs.
Muslims in China have the freedom to lead their lives in accordance with their beliefs. They are allowed to openly practice their faith. They can build mosques and attend them with their children. Hui people even have the right to embark on religious studies with an Imam after finished secondary studies.
The Chinese government is willing to go considerable lengths to avoid offending Muslim minorities. In 2007, anticipating the year of the pig, imagery of pigs was banned from CCTV, a government television channel, in order to avoid conflicts with the Muslim minorities. To put this in a western perspective, it is like banning Santa Claus on TV for Christmas. The Chinese government also banned the book “Xing Fengsu” for insulting Islam and had the authors arrested. Despite all the rights given and all the efforts to not offend Muslim minorities, there is one region which is an exception.
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is an autonomous region in China’s northwest. As the name suggests it is primarily inhabited by Uyghurs but is also home to many different ethnic groups and a considerable Han presence. The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group quite remote from the Han Chinese, both in matters of history as well as ancestry. Inhabiting the northwestern border region of China and speaking a Turkic language, many Uyghurs believe themselves to be closer both culturally and linguistically to China’s Central Asian neighbors, such as Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. There is also an aspect of faith to consider since the Uyghurs are mostly Sunni Muslims, much like the Central Asians across the border.
Perhaps the likenesses mentioned above contribute to the movement for separatism in Xinjiang. The separatists want to secede from China and found a new, Muslim and Turkic nation, East Turkestan. Separatism in the region might also be fueled by many Uyghurs feeling that their culture and identity are being eroded by Han migration and policies aiming at the sinicization of the Uyghur populace. The World Uyghur Congress reports measures being taken such as imposing Chinese as the language of instruction, burning Uyghur books, and banning Uyghur language schools or merging them with Chinese language schools. Furthermore, they claim that the Chinese government is pursuing a policy of transferring young women to work far away from their hometowns. This is in order to make them assimilate to Chinese culture.
The separatist movement stretches far back into history. The population has revolted and tried to construct their own republic several times since Xinjiang’s annexation by the Qing Empire, being incorporated as a province in 1884. An East Turkestan Republic has been established twice, in 1933 and in 1944, but the republics were short-lived both times, soon being integrated into China again. The limited success enjoyed by these separatists has not seemed to discourage the movement from existing even today. The sentiments for an independent East Turkestan remain.
But the Chinese government claim that the area is and will rightfully remain Chinese soil, and classify Uyghurs not as an indigenous population but a “national minority”, considering the Uyghurs not to be any more native to the region than the Han Chinese.
Ethnic tensions have arisen from this conflict and it has historically been exacerbated by Han immigration increasing the Han population in Xinjiang from 6.7% in 1949 to around 40% today. Following these ethnic clashes and the perceived occupation of Xinjiang, several terrorist attacks have occurred in China by the hands of Xinjiang separatists. An example of this is the 2014 Kunming attack, where the assailants killed 31 civilians and injured 140 using long knives at a train station in southwestern China. Another example is an attack on Tiananmen Square in 2013 which killed five people including the three attackers. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement took responsibility for the attack and warned for more to come in the future. This attack was downplayed by the Chinese government and only briefly reported by Chinese state media.
In response to separatist sentiments and terrorism, the Chinese central government has applied the use of harsh force. The leniency granted Hui Muslims is not granted to Xinjiang Uyghurs. They may not attend or found private Sino-Arabic schools as Muslims in the rest of the country can. Uyghurs employed by the government may not go on fast for Ramadan, unlike their Hui counterparts. Uyghur women are also actively discouraged from wearing veils, which is also in contrast with the Hui.
A quote that was reported by Al-Jazeera to be found in an internal document read as follows:
“Break their lineage, break their roots, break their connections, and break their origins.”
Perhaps this phrase is appropriate to describe China’s goal in the region. Xinjiang is an integral part of the Chinese economy as well as trade. There are almost 22 million people in Xinjiang. Furthermore, Xinjiang has the largest oil deposits in China and is also the gateway to central Asia and Europe. It also bears symbolic importance being the largest of China’s administrative regions. It is absolutely imperative for China to keep this region on a tight leash in order to lessen the dependence on outside sources of fossil fuels, exert influence in Central Asia and not to lose prestige in the eyes of the international community.
The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps or Bingtuan is a paramilitary organization which currently employs 2.6 million people in Xinjiang. Although they are mostly focused on economic development it is notable that 2.6 million soldiers are currently in Xinjiang and that their mission statement includes “ensure social stability and ethnic harmony”. This military presence could be seen as a rather formidable tool of suppression, but one should also consider the fact that organizations such as Bingtuan exist in other border provinces, such as Heilongjiang where they do not need to suppress the local populace. So perhaps they are there strictly for economic development. But nonetheless, they are soldiers.
Also notable and more disturbing are the re-education camps being reported in Xinjiang by numerous sources. Reportedly hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other minorities are held within these camps. There are claims that the people held within these camps are held without trial. On a foundation of these claims Hami Aksoy, a spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry, stated the following: "We invite the Chinese authorities to respect the fundamental human rights of Uyghur Turks and to close the internment camps. We call on the international community and the Secretary General of the United Nations to take effective measures in order to bring to an end this human tragedy in Xinjiang,". The Chinese government in response claim that they are voluntarily attending a “vocational school” which combat religious extremism by teaching Chinese language, vocational skills in addition to legal theory. Chinese state television has reported on the camps and show clean classrooms with grateful students. However, according to BBC the interviews with the students seem to be almost like confessions. One man is quoted saying “I have deeply understood my own mistakes”. The BBC article further argues that whether they are camps or schools the expected outcome and purpose are the same, the sinicization of the Uyghur people. These education camps are supposedly located throughout Xinjiang and satellite photos show the rapid expansion of these camps in the last year as well. These camps have probably been instituted with Chen Quanguo, a hardline party secretary, taking power in the region.
It is interesting to see the difference in treatment between the more sinicized Hui and the Uyghurs. Where Hui are allowed freedoms, Uyghurs are facing restrictions. Where the Hui are considered an integral part of the Chinese nation, Uyghurs may be considered as “the other” by the Chinese central government. Many outside observers would connect the suppression of Islam in Xinjiang as a sign of Islamophobia. But perhaps it is not. The region is of both vital economic and geo-strategic interest. That means that the repression of the Uyghur minority may not be due to intolerance of Muslims but due to the fact that holding Xinjiang is of strategic importance to China, and that the quelling of a historically rebellious population is an unavoidable step in achieving that goal. When one takes into account how the Hui’s religious customs are treated we are forced to reconsider any preconceived notions of specific intolerance against Islam. Perhaps it is an attempt to subdue a population, not because of their religion, but because they do not identify with the ambition of a growing superpower.
Gender on the agenda.
When SIPRI visited Stockholm University.
Two researchers from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) held a lecture on the 6th of February at Stockholm University about Gender perspectives in peace processes. The lecture was a part of a Gender lecture series that will be continuing during the spring, organized by The Stockholm Association of Foreign Affairs.
It is insufficient to quantify women’s participation if you want to explain gender in peace processes. That was what the two researchers from SIPRI concluded in the lecture. The lecture was held by two of SIPRIS research assistants, Yeonju Jung and José Alvarado. They concluded that there seems to be a lack of knowledge regarding how to interpret the gender perspective in peace processes. The statement came from an insight paper which was recently published for SIPRI. This rapport makes insight into the subject and raises new questions. The writers were Yeonju Jung, José Alvarado, and Emma Bjertén-Gûnther and this paper made ground for the lecture that they held.
A Gender perspective
Jung and Alvarado focused on two peace processes. One of them, on the island Mindanao in the south of the Philippines and another in Colombia. Their recent rapport explains the perspective of gender. But, also how a gender perspective can be applied in peace processes. The perspective is, according to researchers, about understanding the social attributes and opportunities associated with having a gender identity.
In the paper, Jung and Alvarado explain that many peace processes have, in order to become inclusive, included more women and excluded groups, with a focus on the gender perspective. Another thing that they said was that the discussion has tended to be about counting women rather than letting them take part in the process. Jung and Alvaro also pointed out the problem with perceiving the treatment of women as the same as having a gender perspective. Jung and Alvarado meant that the problem with those statements is the lack of knowledge about what a gender perspective is and how it’s supposed to be used. Gender is according to Alvarado more than just including women.
Mindanao and Colombia
On the island Mindanao in the southern Philippines, armed conflicts have been ongoing since 1972 between the indigenous Muslim population the Moro, and the government. There have been a lot of agreements in the conflict. One of those agreements was the Tripoli agreement in 1976 that granted a degree of autonomy to the Moro. What was standing out in the peace agreement in Mindanao was that peace negotiator was a woman. The other conflict that was mentioned in the lecture was the conflict in Colombia. In Colombia, there has been a conflict between the Government and the Revolutionary group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. The Final Agreement was signed on the 26th of August 2014. According to the lecturers, the peace process in Mindanao and Colombia had a gender perspective but to different degrees. The Colombian peace processes were looking beyond binary and included LGBTI groups. In the Colombian peace negotiation, women had key positions in both the FARC and the government. They had on both sides a substantial number of women participating. But what made those peace processes reach global attention was the gendered language in the peace agreements. The analysis of these two conflicts by Alvarado, Jung, and Bjertén-Gûnther are two examples of how gender can be incorporated into peace processes.