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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 29th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Coming Clean – The blog of Executive Director Michael Brune, The Sierra Club.
July 23, 2015


Obama’s Arctic Error: A Bad Call on Shell


The Obama administration inched a little closer to disaster yesterday when it issued almost-but-not-quite final approval to Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer. Because Shell’s capping stack (a critical piece of emergency response equipment) is currently on its way to Portland, Oregon, aboard a damaged icebreaker that requires repairs, the oil company is allowed to drill only part way into the seafloor — stopping short of where the oil is. If and when the capping stack gets to the proposed drilling site, Shell could then reapply for permission to resume drilling the rest of the way.


Last week, I wrote about why letting Shell into the Arctic makes no sense. It’s a case of taking huge risks to get something we don’t need. In fact, not only do we not need that oil and gas — we can’t even afford to use it if we want to meet the urgent imperative to limit climate disruption.

So why has the administration allowed things to go this far? If this were a wedding with a reluctant bridegroom, we’d be listening to the minister clear his throat and gaze out over the congregation. I don’t know. Maybe, even though they know this is a bad idea, they just don’t have the guts to call it off.

But you know what? That’s the wrong analogy. What’s about to happen in the Chukchi Sea is more like a blind date than a shotgun wedding. Even if Shell manages to get its act together with its exploratory drilling this summer, it will still need approval for commercial drilling, and it will be even harder to make a case that such drilling can be done safely. Shell would also need to install hundreds of miles of pipeline, both on the seafloor and dry land. The process could take a decade or more, and every step along the way, we have opportunities to make the case that clean energy is better for our country and our planet. And the longer this drags on, the more obvious it will be that drilling in Arctic waters is an unnecessary invitation to disaster.


When Shell’s damaged ship arrives in Portland, we’ll be there. When Shell cuts corners or takes dangerous risks, we’ll be there. When this or any other administration flirts with selling more oil leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, we’ll be there, in the courts and on the streets. We’re in this for the long haul, along with the hundreds of thousands of Americans who’ve already joined the growing #ShellNo! movement. We’re in it for the Arctic, for the wildlife, for the Native Alaskans, and for the climate. And we’re in it to win.

We will not rest until President Obama cancels all drilling and future leases and protects the Arctic Ocean.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 21st, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


De Blasio, After Diverted Flight, Joins Climate Conference at Vatican

By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM – JULY 21, 2015 for the New York Times

VATICAN CITY — Leaders from around the globe, settled in their seats as a Vatican official approached the lectern.
A rare gathering of mayors, beckoned to this holy city by Pope Francis from as far as away as Johannesburg, was about to begin.

One participant, however, was missing: the mayor of New York. Scheduled to arrive in Rome on Tuesday morning for a two-day conference on climate change, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York instead found himself in Milan, thanks to fog that forced a brief diversion of his overnight flight from Kennedy Airport.

The mayor arrived at the Vatican about 80 minutes after his scheduled speaking slot. When he finally did speak there, he was unfazed, delivering an impassioned charge to his fellow mayors to resist “powerful corporate interests” and to aggressively battle climate change.

“Is it not the definition of insanity to propagate corporate policies and consumer habits that hasten the destruction of the earth?” Mr. de Blasio said.

He pledged that his administration would work to reduce the city’s carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

The Vatican event is part of an effort by Francis to focus world leaders on environmental causes, and mayors from across Europe, South America, and the United States were in attendance. The pope had been expected to address the gathering on Tuesday morning, but his appearance was changed to take place in the afternoon — a stroke of good fortune for Mr. de Blasio.

The mayor has taken pains recently to fight his reputation for tardiness, arriving more promptly at events in New York. But the vagaries of international travel can be trickier than a traffic snag on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Mr. de Blasio, who is expected to be in Rome for less than 48 hours, opted for an overnight flight that was scheduled to arrive about two hours before he was due at the Vatican. (Aides to Mr. de Blasio, aware of criticism about his frequent travels, had emphasized last week that his Vatican visit — his fourth European excursion in a year — would be kept short.)

But his plans were foiled by Roman fog, according to an American Airlines spokesman, who said the pilot of the mayor’s flight “elected to divert to Milan as a precaution.” The flight continued on to Rome after about an hour’s delay, once the fog was “burned off by the increasingly warm sun,” the spokesman, Ian Bradley, said.

Mr. de Blasio was not the only person to miss a scheduled slot for speaking. Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston was present but Mayor Eduardo Paes of Rio de Janeiro sent an aide in his stead, citing unrest in his home country.

The gathering at the Vatican was prompted in part by a recent papal encyclical warning of the destructive effects of climate change. In his remarks, Mr. de Blasio said the encyclical “burns with urgency,” and he praised the pope, saying he had “awakened people across the globe to the dangers we face as a planet.”

“The encyclical is not a call to arms,” Mr. de Blasio said. “It is a call to sanity.”

Mr. de Blasio is scheduled to attend an official dinner at the Vatican on Tuesday evening and to speak again on Wednesday morning. The mayor is expected to leave for New York on Wednesday afternoon — weather permitting.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 13th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Reported by Irith Jawetz from Vienna
July 12. 2015

On Friday, July 10, 2015 – a very timely – at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna.
Since the Iran talks are being held in Vienna, the panel discussion was very appropriate and although many people have left the City for the Summer, or at least for the weekend, this round table – and the room were full.
I will try to give a somewhat concise reporting of that event.

The event was called: Iran und der Westen nach den Verhandlungen (Iran and the West after the talks).

The participants were:

Dr. Christian Prosl, Austrian Ambassador to Washingtion 2009-2011

Dr. Walter Posch, Institut für Friedenssicherung und Konfliktforschung an der Landesverteidigungsakademie Wien
( Institute for Peace Support and Conflict Management, Vienna).

Dr. Arian Faal, Journalist, APA (the Austrian Press Agency) and Wiener Zeitung

The excellent moderator was Dr. Werner Fasslabend, President of the Politische Akademie und des AIES, former Austrian Minister for Defense.

—————————–

Dr. Fasselabend opened the discussion stating that only 99.9% of the talks are completed.

He continued by by displaying historic and current maps of the Region, giving us a broad historic overview of Iran and its influence on the region. He stressed that because of Iran’s geographical location it was and still is a very large regional power and stability in the Middle East without Iran’s cooperation is impossible.

Dr. Arian Faal, Journalist for APA (Austrian Press Agentur) and Wiener Zeitung gave us an inside look from the perspective of the journalists covering the talks.

He recalled that after 17 days, 12-16 hours of work, 600 journalists and at a cost of about $1 million for the stay in Vienna by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his delegation at the famous Imperial Hotel, there is still no deal. There have been many improvements since the beginning of the talks, but still no deal. Mr. Kerry has prolonged his stay yet again and said a deadline will not be a factor as long as an agreement can be achieved. The new deadline to be breached is Monday July 13th.

The three major problems that stand in the way of an agreement are:

1) The sanctions on Iran – the Iranian delegation insists those have to be lifted right away;

2) The UN Arms Embargo that includes conventional weapons;

3) Political readiness by President Obama and Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran. Both have to agree to a deal which will be accepted at home.

Dr. Faal said he is an optimist by nature and is still hopeful that an agreement will be reached.

Ambassador Dr. Christian Prosl addressed the matter from the US point of view. He said that for the US the stability of the region and the security of the State of Israel are the main factors and the two problems which the US faces are with Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Both countries, though for different reasons, are against any deal with Iran since they do not trust the Iranian regime.

As for the supply of oil, this is not anymore a factor for the US because of the fracking industry. However, the strained relationship between President Obama and the Republican party may be a factor. The Republicans have tried for a long time now to see that President Obama fails, and they may try to fail him also in this endeavor. Mr. Netanyahu’s speech in Congress against the Iran deal, which was prompted by the invitation of Speaker of the House John Boemer, did not help. However Ambassador Prosl said that he cannot imagine that the Republicans will fail the agreement if it is iron clad and the treaty will be safe for the US.

Dr. Posch addressed the matter from the Iranian point of view and concluded that although the problems are being viewed from different perspective, i.e. US, the EU and Iran, the will is there. Regional security, oil supply and human rights in Iran all play a part in the talks. He also was hopeful that a deal will be signed

At the end of the panel presentations, Dr. Fasselabend invited to the podium Dr. Massud Mossaheb, General Secretary of the Austro-Iranian Society in Vienna.

Mr. Mossaheb said that there is mutual mistrust between the West and the Iranian Government.

In spite of the fact that the Iranian nuclear position has not changed in the last 40 years, there is still mistrust. The people of Iran hope for the lifting of the sanctions so they can have a better quality of life. They suffer from high inflation and lack of supplies, especially in medications. Dr. Mossaheb also hopes for a deal to be reached.

As the end, the consensus was that the talks will go on, of course not for ever, but without the threat of an immediate deadline, and an agreement, which will be safe and beneficial for all participants will be reached.

——————–

From the US MEDIA – I will add to the above
that the personal insistence of President Obama and Secretary Kerry, the opinion is that the White House investment in these talks is so high that a failure to obtain an agreement is unthinkable.

The fact that the Iranians see this deep involvement of the Americans has in itself weakened the position of the United States in these negotiations. But then, the Iran Supreme leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei – whose position is still strong as he is still blindly followed by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) who are in charge of the Nuclear Program – may be using tough talk now just to make sure that his agreeing to an agreement is not viewed as weakness. The Iranian people want an end to the sanctions provided it is not seen as a cave in (the CNN/GPS program of Fareed Zakaria).

The current round, now in its 16-th day, was supposed to conclude on June 30, but was extended until July 7, then July 10 and now July 13. The sides had hoped to seal a deal before the end of Thursday in Washington to avoid delays in implementing their promises.

By missing that target, the U.S. and Iran now have to wait for a 60-day congressional review period during which President Barack Obama can’t waive sanctions on Iran. Had they reached a deal by Thursday, the review would have been only 30 days.

En route to Mass at Vienna’s St. Stephens Cathedral, Kerry said twice he was “hopeful” after a “very good meeting” Saturday with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had Muslim services Friday.

Kerry noted that “a few tough things” remain in the way of agreement but added: “We’re getting to some real decisions.”

A senior State Department official also said Sunday that the department will not speculate about the timing of anything during the talks and that key issues remain unresolved.

Iran’s state-run Press TV cited Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday as calling the U.S. an “excellent example of arrogance.” It reported that Khamenei told university students in Tehran to be “prepared to continue the struggle against arrogant powers.”

His comments suggest Tehran’s distrust of Washington will persist whether a deal gets done or not. Khamenei’s comments also have appeared thus to be a blow to U.S. hopes than agreement will lead to improved relations with the country and possible cooperation against Islamic rebels.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, like Kerry, indicated talks could go either way. “We behaved so skillfully that if talks won’t succeed, the world would accept that Iran is for logic and dialogue and never left the negotiating table … and if we succeed by the grace of God, the world will know that the Iranian nation can resolve its problems through logic,” his website quoted him as saying.

The supreme leader’s comments also come after it was learned Saturday that the Islamic Republic’s spies have been seeking atomic and missile technology in neighboring Germany as recently as last month.

Iran’s illegal activities have continued since talks between Iran and the P5+1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as rotating member Germany – began with a Joint Plan of Action in 2013, according to German intelligence sources. The JPOA was intended to stop Iran’s work on a nuclear weapon until a comprehensive agreement is reached.

“You would think that with the negotiations, [Iranian] activities would drop,” a German intelligence source said. “Despite the talks to end Iran’s program, Iran did not make an about-turn.”

With a final agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear program set for Monday, the intelligence data from Germany raises disturbing questions about the success of the deal.

Tehran has sought industry computers, high-speed cameras, cable fiber, and pumps for its nuclear and missile program over the last two years, according to German intelligence sources. Germany is required to report Iran’s illegal procurement activities to the UN.

Iran is unlikely to begin a substantial rollback of its nuclear program until it gets sanctions relief in return.

But then the Russian and Chinese Foreign Ministers said they will come to Vienna for the signing of the agreement – and the news are that Mr. Sergei Lavrov has said he will be there on Monday.

An Iranian diplomat said that they have a 100 pages document to study and that logistically it cannot be done by Sunday night with parallel meetings going on.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 29th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Pope Francis’ Message on Climate Change Is Extraordinarily Important

By Robert Reich
Readers Supported News – June 28, 2015


Pope Frances’s message this week on global climate change is extraordinarily important (that it comes out the same week Donald Trump declared his candidacy exposes a human continuum extending from bombast and narcissism to grace and humility). The Pope finds morally deficient an economic system that degrades the environment and worsens inequality; links environmental decline to poverty; attributes it to the growing concentration of greenhouse gases brought on human activity; and rejects the idea that economic growth alone can solve the problem. No Pope in living memory has so poignantly and powerfully cast the problems of inequality and the environment in moral terms that everyone, Catholic and non-Catholic, can understand.

But I wish the Pope hadn’t rejected an important means of reducing carbon in the atmosphere: putting a price on it. By broadly condemning “market forces” the Pope suggests the answer is to give up on the market rather than reorganize it to meet human needs. In this respect he plays into the hands of those who see the fundamental choice as between the “market” and the people, when the real choice is between a market system organized for all people or one organized primarily for the rich.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 23rd, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

From pro-American to pro-Russian? Nikola Gruevski as a political chameleon.
Vassilis Petsinis, 22 May 2015, openDemocracy, London

A former staunch ally of the US-led War on Terror, Macedonia PM Nikola Gruevski has gradually turned his country away from the west towards Russia – all the while keeping his neoconservative ideology intact.

Following the unrest in Kumanovo and the massive anti-government protests, FYR Macedonia has captivated the interest of the international press. The most recent mobilization has been the peak of a wave of discontent that commenced with the countrywide student protests some weeks ago. In the domestic front, opposition circles have issued a series of charges against the government led by the conservative VMRO-DPMNE such as: promotion of nepotism, unwillingness to combat corruption, illegitimate surveillance of political opponents and, on top of all, growing authoritarianism.

Meanwhile, political analysts have detected a certain rift in the relations between Skopje and the West which has resulted in the Macedonian government’s more decisive reorientation towards Moscow.

Russia has pledged its political support to Nikola Gruevski’s and the two sides have extended their cooperation in energy issues and other areas of economic concern. Without neglecting the crucial impact of shifting geopolitics, this brief piece mostly concentrates on VMRO-DPMNE’s, predominantly, neoconservative agenda under the leadership of Nikola Gruevski. It also sets in a comparative context how this neoconservative platform has remained intact despite the gradual readjustment of the state’s foreign policy from Euro-Atlantic institutions towards Moscow’s orbit of influence.

From one neocon to another:

In 2003, Nikola Gruevski succeeded Ljub?o Georgievski in the party’s leadership. An ambitious young politician back then, Gruevski’s main ambition was to centralize decision-making within VMRO-DPMNE and modernize the party’s structures.

The latter objective was achieved via the recruitment of a younger pool of cadres. Following a widespread trend all over Southeast Europe (e.g. Albania’s Edi Rama and Serbia’s Vuk Jeremi?), the party’s central committee and later the Cabinet of Ministers consisted of young, aspiring and, often, Western-educated individuals (e.g. the Foreign Minister between 2006 and 2011, Antonio Milošoski). Moreover, Gruevski maintained the central aspects of Georgievski’s strategy of rapprochement vis-à-vis the ethnic Albanian community.

Despite this, Gruevski’s term in office has been marked by the emphatic endorsement of Neo-Macedonism to the detriment of the modernist narratives over the Macedonian ethno-genesis in the nineteenth century. The adoption of Neo-Macedonism became further institutionalized through the endorsement of grandiose architectural projects, largely inspired by classical antiquity, which commenced in 2010.

On the domestic front, the Socialists/SDSM and other opposition circles accused the government of investing a disproportional percentage of the state’s budget on these projects. In foreign policy, the emphasis on Neo-Macedonism further complicated relations with the southern neighbour, Greece.

Since the early days of Nikola Gruevski’s term in office, the ‘new’ VMRO-DPMNE drew inspiration from the rather influential trend of neoconservatism among policymaking circles in the US. As it was the case with various other statesmen in Central and Southeast Europe (e.g. Romania’s Traian B?sescu), Nikola Gruevski underlined his firm commitment to Euro-Atlantic institutions and opted for the rapid liberalization of the economy along post-Keynesian lines.

Meanwhile, Gruevski constantly stressed his deep faith in God and highlighted the significance of Eastern Orthodoxy and its system of moral values as a fundamental pillar of the state’s identity. In the field of foreign policy, Nikola Gruevski soon emerged as a staunch supporter of George W. Bush’s policy-doctrine on the Middle East. Throughout the 2000s, FYR Macedonia had dispatched military personnel to Afghanistan and Iraq under the auspices of the US-led ‘Coalition of the Willing’.

The NATO summit in Bucharest (April 2-4, 2008) was a landmark. As a gesture of gratitude to its small Balkan ally, the US delegation elaborated possible ways to include FYR Macedonia in the NATO enlargement round irrespective of the state’s dispute with Greece. However, the Greek PM, Kostas Karamanlis, vetoed this proposal on the basis that any outstanding issues with the northern neighbour must be previously resolved in order for Greece to grant its assent.

The Greek veto was met with discontent in Washington and infuriated Skopje. Especially in the light of Karamanlis’ opening to Russia, Skopje-based policymakers and think-tanks did not simply charge Athens with ‘parochial and introverted nationalism’. They went a step further and accused Greece of acting as a ‘Trojan horse’ in Moscow’s service with the aim to destabilize NATO and sabotage its enlargement in Southeast Europe.

The pendulum shifts: Fluctuating geopolitics and disillusionment with the West

Barack Obama, who succeeded G.W. Bush to the US Presidency in 2009, watered down various aspects of his predecessor’s ‘hawkish’ foreign policy. Instead, the new administration in the White House opted for a doctrine of appeasement in regards to their regional competitors (e.g. Russia and Iran).

Meanwhile, the simultaneous advent of the economic crisis made European policymakers more introverted and reluctant to the prospects of the EU’s wider enlargement. With specific regard to FYR Macedonia, European policymakers and political analysts soon stroke a critical stance towards Nikola Gruevski and his apparatus. The main areas of concern were symptoms of nepotism and authoritarianism as well as accusations over the relentless propagation of ‘ethno-kitsch’.

This shifting landscape in global and regional politics had direct ramifications on the government circles in Skopje. Several commentators have argued that delaying the state’s accession to Euro-Atlantic institutions runs detrimental to FYR Macedonia’s stateness and it is largely to account for Skopje’s disillusionment with the West. From a more ‘ideological’ angle, though, the change of guard in the White House and the subsequent adoption of a new US foreign policy doctrine are not to be overlooked either.

In other words, Nikola Gruevski’s government has lost much of the patronage that it enjoyed during George W. Bush’s tenure in office. Moreover, we are currently experiencing the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world order. The last few years have witnessed the consolidation of semi-authoritarian models of governance among emerging regional actors (e.g. Recep Tayyip Erdo?an in Turkey and Vladimir Putin in Russia). The latter development has encouraged the, if only subtle, admiration of certain statesmen throughout Central and Southeast Europe towards the above-mentioned models.

For instance, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán recently coined the concept of illiberal democracy. According to the Hungarian PM, ‘it is not an imperative that contemporary democracy must be structured along the ideological frame of Liberalism…there can be numerous other models of democracy in Europe, nowadays’. Moreover, Viktor Orbán has also positioned Hungary’s foreign policy more solidly within Russia’s orbit of influence.

In particular, both FIDESZ and VMRO-DPMNE converge along a common axis. Both are post-Communist parties that commenced their engagement in politics as, anti-establishment, umbrella-initiatives that hosted a wide range of conservative as well as liberal standpoints. However, in the long run, local adaptations of neoconservatism evolved into the dominant intra-party trend.

Nikola Gruevski and/or Viktor Orbán are not merely unhappy with the outlook(s) of Euro-Atlantic institutions on their respective states or the way(s) that their rule has been portrayed in the Western press. They have also isolated specific elements in Vladimir Putin’s leadership which they deem rather akin to their brand(s) of neoconservatism. These are, namely, Russia’s leader-centred and strong government, the promotion of national and Christian values, and the safeguarding of ‘naturally ascribed’ gender-roles.

Especially in the light of a multipolar international system, one might contend that the neoconservative, ideological, core in parties such as VMRO-DPMNE and/or FIDESZ has remained intact despite the, apparent, foreign policy readjustment towards Moscow.
What next? Skopje amidst political polarization and fears of ethnic radicalization

In addition to the decline of popular confidence, the government in Skopje may also have to face the challenge of resurgent ethnic radicalization. During the last couple of weeks, a militant group, allegedly consisting of ethnic Albanians, became active in the northern town of Kumanovo. The apparent resurgence of militant Albanian ethno-nationalism triggered a series of conspiracy theories.

Pro-government circles have hinted at the involvement of ‘foreign decision-making centres’ who are not particularly content with the bilateral cooperation between Russia and FYR Macedonia. In the other end of the spectrum, opposition circles have suspected the government of engineering the Kumanovo troubles in an attempt to play the card of ‘national unity’ as a last resort. A third assumption that has not been examined to an adequate extent is the possibility of a peculiar, yet amorphous, blend between Albanian ethno-nationalism and elements of Islamic fundamentalism along the lines of the ‘Chechen precedent’.

Russia, on its part, has been quick to point the finger for both the Kumanovo incidents and the anti-government mobilization at the West. The US and the EU have been accused of orchestrating one more ‘Maidan-style’ coup with the aim to destabilize the government and obstruct cooperation with Russia in energy issues.

Russia Today and other pro-Kremlin media outlets dedicated considerable time to the coverage of pro-government demonstrations where Russian flags also featured among the crowd. Quite a few Western political analysts have expressed the wishful thinking that Nikola Gruevski may be forced to resign under popular pressure and be replaced by a coalition government with a Euro-Atlantic orientation.

Setting regional geopolitics aside, Nikola Gruevski’s opening to Russia reveals an additional pathology of Post-communist politics. Even back at the time when parties such as VMRO-DPMNE and FIDESZ had adjusted their foreign policy more firmly towards the West, their political activity and decision-making had been shaped by local adaptations of the neoconservative narrative. Within the context of their political development, such parties replaced their admiration for certain aspects of American neoconservatism with the endorsement of selected elements found in Vladimir Putin’s semi-authoritarianism while their (neoconservative) ideological core remained intact.

Apart from nominally right-wing parties, centre-left statesmen in the region have also detected, albeit more subtly, some ‘positive’ aspects in Vladimir Putin’s pattern of governance (e.g. the Bulgarian Socialist Party/BSP and Slovakia’s SMER). Therefore, in order to grasp such chameleonic mutations more adequately, one should also pay close attention to political culture among post-Communist parties in Central and Southeast Europe and its evolution.

—————————
Dr Vassilis Petsinis is a Visiting Researcher at the Herder Institute (Marburg, Germany). His main areas of specialization are European Politics and Ethnopolitics with a regional focus on Central and Southeast Europe. His academia.edu profile can be found here.

WE SUGGEST TO THINK ALSO THROUGH THE ELECTION RESULTS IN THE UK WHEN READING ABOVE ARTICLE – THIS SO THAT THE MAKINGS OF A EUROPEAN UNION ARE CONSIDERED WHEN LOOKING AT CENTRIPETAL MOVEMENTS LIKE THOSE APPEARING IN CENTRAL AND SOUTH EASTERN EUROPE.
ALSO, PLEASE DP NOT FORGET THE GREECE/MACEDONIA NAME DISPUTE AND EUROPE’S INCAPABILITY TO TELL THE GREEKS OFF IN THIS MATTER. WHAT A SHAME!

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Macedonia

Related Articles: The deep roots of Macedonia’s current turmoil – and the way forward – Heather Grabbe -the same source.


The deep roots of Macedonia’s current turmoil – and the way forward.

Heather Grabbe 13 May 2015, openDemocracy, London

The country must avoid just replacing the driver in the seat of a captured state machinery – by increasing inclusion and pluralism in governance. This will be impossible without EU and NATO assistance.

For nearly two decades, Macedonia has been a pressure cooker of public anger at corruption, deteriorating governance and chronic unemployment. Now the valve has blown. This year, union-organised strikes were followed by student protests against flawed education reforms. Then the opposition party released recordings of conversations that exposed government wire-tapping of more than 20,000 citizens. Quickly dubbed “bombs”, these recordings were released over the last three months by the main opposition party leader at press conferences. On them appear the voices of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, senior officials, journalists, judges and security officials conspiring in electoral and judicial fraud, and organising systemic corruption. On the latest, released on 4 May, the prime minister discusses with interior ministry officials a cover-up of the murder in June 2011 by one of his bodyguards of 21-year old Martin Neshkovski, a student who supported the ruling party.

These revelations have led to a new wave of protests, led by grassroots networks of civil society rather than the opposition party. The young activists have become more radical in their demands under sustained attacks by riot police and government infiltrators, who provoked the protestors for five nights in a row. Last Friday, they pledged to come back to demand the resignation of the prime minister. Then the population awoke on Saturday morning to news of what the government called a “terrorist attack” in an ethnically mixed neighbourhood in Kumanovo, a town near the Serbia/Kosovo border. The results were the deaths of police officers and arrests of alleged terrorists. The government-controlled media called for unquestioning support for the government, and labelled as a traitor anyone who disputed the official interpretation of events. What is going on? Is this a security crisis or a consolidation of power by the ruling party in the face of mounting opposition?

High stakes – but for security or politics?

The shootings in Kumanovo have woken up the rest of the world because they are reminiscent of the security crisis fifteen years ago, when ethnic Albanians took to the hills with their guns to demand rights, representation and jobs. The country narrowly escaped a full-blown civil war thanks to the Ohrid Agreement, which gave the Albanians greater political and economic inclusion, including quotas for public-sector jobs and parliamentary seats.

It was NATO and the EU that took responsibility for Macedonia’s security in 2001, with Javier Solana, as EU High Representative for Foreign Policy at the time, and George Robertson, then NATO Secretary-General, as the main negotiators at Ohrid. But the current crisis is not primarily driven by ethnic tensions. The security framing by the government obscures a much deeper crisis in the body politic, and a looming one for the economy.

After 24 years of independence, Macedonia’s model is crumbling. The ruling party has held onto power by controlling the state and media, and borrowing on international markets to keep the economy going. This has undermined the country’s fragile democracy – despite the promises made at Ohrid, which are still not fully implemented – and failed to build rule of law and a sustainable economy. Prime Minister Gruevski won power nearly a decade ago on promises of clean government and economic development. But he then perfected the system of clientelism and state capture begun by Branko Crvenkovski, his predecessor as opposition leader and prime minister, and later president. Gruevski has used snap elections twice to keep his party in power, and his leadership has become increasingly coercive. The wiretap recordings have confirmed that his VMRO-DPMNE party has captured all vital areas of the economy and established complete control over media, even imprisoning critical journalists. Macedonia’s ranking has fallen from 36 to 136 in the freedom of media index produced by Reporters Without Borders.

The government dispensed with parliamentary debate at the end of 2013. Faced with a short deadline to approve the next loan to pay pensions before the Christmas and New Year holidays, they forcibly expelled the opposition and media from the parliament during a debate over the state budget rather than find an agreement.

The public is scared. More than half of Macedonians believe they cannot freely express their opinions. A staggering 81 percent believe that fear of consequences for them and their families prevent them and others from speaking out. Their political fears are heightened by their economic vulnerability.

The chronic economic malaise underlying acute political crisis.

The Macedonian economy appears to be financially stable. The government nurtures an image of business promoter and responsible borrower. Until recently, it was the region’s poster child for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. European banks were happy to earn good returns on Macedonian state bonds. Macedonia’s average GDP growth of 3% in the last three years is the highest in the region, completing this picture of prosperity.

But the economy is not sustainable. The government has used debt financing to invest in grandiose infrastructure projects, including the flagship “Skopje 2014” project, which erected statues and faux-classical buildings in the capital at a cost of over 600 million euro. Between 2008 and 2014, Macedonia’s public debt quadrupled, rising from 23% of GDP in 2008 to around 46% in 2014. Debt is projected to reach the 60% ceiling prescribed by the international financial institutions by 2019. The state budget increased by a third over the same period (from roughly 2 to 3 billion euro). Inflows of foreign direct investment averaged only 2.8% of GDP per year between 2009 and 2014, low even by regional standards.

Life for citizens has become more precarious. Around a third of the workforce is unemployed, the second highest rate in Europe after Kosovo. Without the heavy borrowing, the fragile economy could not sustain more than 300,000 pensioners, who rely on the state budget for half of their needs. Nor could it afford to pay the huge number of state employees. The last official number was 140,000 in 2008, and latest estimates range from 200,000 to 255,000. The total number of people employed in Macedonia is 700,000 – meaning that the state employs nearly a third of the workforce. No wonder people are leaving to seek better prospects abroad. A census has been postponed by the government, but Gallup estimates that more than 300,000 people have left the country. According to Deutsche Welle, most of the 120,000 Macedonians who acquired Bulgarian passports have already emigrated to the EU or elsewhere. Macedonia seems to have more registered voters (at 1,780,128) than residents.

VMRO-DPMNE has kept its hold on power in this unhappy state by resorting to strident nationalism and intimidation of its opponents, increasing the divisions in a multi-ethnic country. Ethnic Macedonians are understandably aggrieved by the lack of a solution to the dispute with Greece over the country’s name, which already blocked entry to NATO – and Gruevski has adroitly used the issue to rally nationalism in support of the government. Meanwhile, the ethnic Albanian political parties have been co-opted by their share in the spoils of mis-governance, even though their people remain even more alienated and poorer than the rest of the population.

The divisions are deepening right across society. Three-quarters of ethnic Albanians still firmly believe in EU and NATO accession as the way to a better future, but by now over 62 percent of other Macedonians think badly of joining the EU. Three-quarters of the ruling party’s supporters see the name dispute with Greece as the key reason for Macedonia’s now bleak EU accession prospects; but only 20% of opposition supporters agree. The biggest divide is between rich and poor, especially along party lines. The poor are undoubtedly getting poorer: resources available to the poorest fifth of citizens fell by 38% between 2008 and 2012. But business profits have grown by almost two and a half times since the year 2000. Nearly 80% of all Macedonians believe it is unfair that employment in state institutions and general prosperity is based on political party membership.
The way forward: a unity government with EU and NATO support

Macedonia is once again becoming a security threat on the EU’s borders. But this time it’s different: a non-partisan civic movement has taken to the streets for the first time to change the country. There is a real opportunity to use this energy to build democracy and a market economy in this multi-ethnic state.

No party is doing well in Macedonia: the secret recordings have lost the government all credibility, but the public has little faith in the leaders of the opposition and ethnic Albanian parties either. The immediate solution lies in collective action first by all those who have created the problem.

Now that three of the prime minister’s key allies have tendered their resignations, Macedonia should turn again to the solution that averted the civil war in 2001: a unity government composed of the four main parties. To foster the necessary compromises and offer a fresh start. it would not include the current prime minister, public prosecutor or speaker of the parliament – but opposition parties must be involved in open and credible oversight of the intelligence agencies, and take responsibility for the discredited interior ministry.

The most promising scenario is a government of national unity that lasts for 12-18 months, to prepare the country for free and fair elections, and create an independent commission to investigate all the events since the opposition was violently ejected from the parliament in 2013. And it should agree on a common negotiating platform on the name dispute with Greece. Macedonia’s newly reinvigorated civil society should also contribute to the work of the parliamentary commissions and monitor the new government’s progress in restoring the accountability of public institutions. The country must avoid just replacing the driver in the seat of the captured state machinery, by increasing inclusion and pluralism in governance.

As so often in the Balkans, such a scenario will be impossible without EU and NATO assistance. The default position among EU foreign ministers is to expect sovereign countries to sort out their own political problems through democratic institutions. But after a decade of unconsolidated democracy and state capture, Macedonia does not possess those institutions. Therefore, other levers of influence are needed. NATO could offer a tangible incentive to all parties by offering a possibility to re-open membership talks. EU accession negotiations are far off because so much time has been lost on necessary reforms, but the enlargement process is vital to offer hope, especially to the ethnic Albanians, and guidance to reformers who are seeking to take back captured parts of the state. The support of EU institutions, member-states and banks is vital for the country’s macroeconomic stability. Neighbouring governments could also exert more pressure, as their own security is at stake. Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov was the first to request Gruevski to step down.

The EU can no longer afford to indulge a model of governance in Macedonia that has been far more aggressive in its authoritarian zeal than nearby Montenegro or Turkey. The European People’s Party has a particular responsibility to get involved, having accepted and protected VMRO-DPMNE as a sister party for all these years. Now it must act to uphold the standards of democracy on which it was founded, by putting pressure on VMRO-DPMNE to relinquish its grip on power and join a unity government. The time to move is now, as the costs of inaction will continue to rise.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 20th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Russian civil society deemed ‘undesirable’

Tanya Lokshina 20 May 2015, the openDemocracy website, London

Tanya Lokshina is Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, based in Moscow.

A new Russian bill on ‘undesirable organisations’ has been endorsed today which will allow the government to ban foreign NGOs. But are they the real targets?
 www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/…

Today, Russia’s upper house of parliament endorsed a bill on ‘undesirable organisations,’ passed by the lower house just a day earlier, on May 19. The bill will let the government ban the activities of foreign or international nongovernmental groups deemed to undermine ‘state security,’ ‘national defense,’ or the ‘constitutional order.’ There is little doubt that this new piece of repressive legislation will be now swiftly signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
The real targets

Meanwhile, my phone is ringing off the hook: ‘So, this new law the State Duma has just adopted, is it about you? Do you think they want to use this to close down the Human Rights Watch bureau in Moscow?’ Well, to be sure, the bill has the potential to severely damage our work in Russia. The ‘undesirables’ bill is a cause of grave concern for all international rights groups operating in the country.

‘Do you think they want to use this to close down the Human Rights Watch bureau in Moscow?’

Nevertheless, I am genuinely convinced that it’s not about us. The intended targets of this new legislation on foreign and international organisations are actually Russian activists and Russian groups. The bill is aimed at cutting them off from their international partners, further isolating them, and squeezing the very life out of Russian civil society.

Just think about it. Why would the government need new legislation to close down Russia-based offices of foreign groups when the Justice Ministry can do this in one swift move simply by de-registering any organisation, no strings attached? And if Russia wants to stop representatives of foreign groups from entering the country, the authorities can simply blacklist them with no explanation whatsoever.

The bill on ‘undesirables’ not only allows the authorities to ban specific organisations’ activities on Russian territory – it also provides for sanctions against Russian citizens and Russian groups for ‘involvement’ in the activities of ‘undesirable’ organisations.

The bill does not specify what ‘involvement’ might include. So anything goes. Distributing — including by posting online — the statements, reports, or other materials of an ‘undesirable,’ participating in international events jointly with ‘undesirable’ organisations, or even simply communicating with staffers of ‘undesirable’ organisations could be all interpreted by the authorities as ‘involvement’ in their activities and result in punishment of the Russian groups and individuals. Sanctions include hefty administrative fines for the first two offenses, and more than two offenses in one year can result in criminal prosecution and up to six years in prison.

Selective implementation

The bill appears to be designed for selective implementation. The definition of ‘state security’ under Russian law is vague. The prosecutor general’s office can designate an organisation as ‘undesirable’ without judicial review based solely on materials from law enforcement and security services. The Justice Ministry is designated as the keeper of the ‘undesirables.’

There is no requirement for the authorities to give a potential ‘undesirable’ any notice – an organisation may only discover its ‘undesirability’ after it has been already included on the list. Once the law enters into force, any foreign non-governmental group that criticises the Russian authorities, conducts independent activity, and supports civil society in Russia will be under threat of being pegged ‘undesirable.’

The bill appears to be designed for selective implementation.

An ‘undesirable’ organisation must terminate its presence in Russia and stop participating in any projects on Russian territory. Moreover, it won’t be able to reach out to the public through Russian media or websites – all its information will effectively be banned. And any Russian friends, partners or sympathizers of these organisations should know better than to go near them.
Spreading the trend

These new harsh restrictions follow in the footsteps of the ‘foreign agents’ law passed in July 2012, which has been used to demonise in the eyes of the public close to 60 local non-governmental organisations, including the country’s leading human rights groups, as anti-Russian saboteurs. Several of these organisations chose to shut down rather than bear the ‘foreign agent’ stigma.

The new bill on ‘undesirables’ is indubitably part of the Kremlin’s trend of repression against independent voices but takes it even further. While supposedly focused on preventing foreign and international groups from undermining national security, it is evidently meant to deliver another hard blow to Russian groups and activists. Once the authorities have free rein to bar Russians from ‘involvement’ with their ‘undesirable’ foreign counterparts, the authorities can leave critics of the government in an airless limbo and eventually suffocate them.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on May 1st, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

The Rise and Fall of a Modern ‘Devshirme’ in Erdogan’s Turkey

by Burak Bekdil
The Gatestone Institute
April 30, 2015
 www.meforum.org/5210/turkey-moder…

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Originally published under the title, “How Non-Muslims “Survive” in Turkey.”

Prominent non-Muslims in Turkey, then and now. Left: an Ottoman Janissary officer. Right: the Armenian Christian intellectual Etyen Mahcupyan, who retired as advisor to Turkey’s prime minister after saying “what happened to Armenians in 1915″ was “genocide.”

Last October, Etyen Mahcupyan, a leading Turkish Armenian intellectual, “liberal” writer and columnist, was appointed as “chief advisor” to Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu. At first glance, this was good news in a country where Islamists privately adhere to the old Ottoman millet system, in which non-Muslims were treated as second-class (if not third-class) citizens.

In reality, Mahcupyan was a reincarnation of the Ottoman “devshirme” system, in which the Ottoman state machinery produced several non-Muslim converts who enjoyed a place in the higher echelons of the palace bureaucracy, and the finer things of life, because their pragmatism earned them excellent relations with the ruling Muslim elite.

In a December interview with Turkey’s leading daily, Hurriyet, Mahcupyan said, “Whatever has been a [political] asset for Turkey’s Armenian community (they number around 60,000) is an asset for the Jewish community too. But… there is Israel… As long as the psychology of the Israel issue continues to influence politics in Turkey and relations between the two countries do not normalize…” The line, which Mahcupyan shyly did not finish, probably would have gone on like this: “Turkey’s Jews will keep on paying the price.”

Mahcupyan admitted that if Turkey’s Jews felt alienated, it was the government’s responsibility to do something about that.

What more? “I have lived through this personally for the past 60 years,” he explained. “Among Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities, including Jews and Armenians, there is an opinion about humiliating Muslims.” As Mahcupyan’s statement is not true, it therefore just seems a way to justify Islamists’ intimidation of Jews.

Next, Mahcupyan argued, “Both Jews and Armenians are better-educated [than Muslim Turks] and more open to the West. And this brings in a feeling of superiority complex.” In this view, daily attacks on Turkey’s Jews and other non-Muslims happen because Jews and Armenians humiliate Muslims — they are better-educated than Muslims and hence their superiority complex. The charge is, at best, silly.

As in Ottoman times, just one unpleasant utterance can suffice to end a devshirme’s career in government service.

Only a few months later, Mahcupyan would learn how wrong he was about the Islamist supremacists in Ankara and their inherent intolerance to liberal thinking.

Mahcupyan recently commented on Pope Francis’s remarks on April 12, in which the Pope described 1915 as “the first genocide of the 20th century,” and said that the Vatican had “thrown off a 100-year-old psychological burden.”

If, Mahcupyan said, accepting that what happened in Bosnia and Africa were genocides, “it is impossible not to call what happened to Armenians in 1915 genocide, too.”

It was probably the first time in Turkish history that a senior government official recognized the Armenian genocide. Once again, at first glance, that was good news in a country where outright denial has been the persistent official policy. But it seems Turkey was not quite as liberal as Mahcupyan had thought.

Immediately after his remarks became public, EU Minister Volkan Bozkir expressed unease, saying that “Mahcupyan’s description was not appropriate for his title of adviser.” But that was not the only price Mahcupyan would have to pay.

A few days after his remarks on genocide, Mahcupyan “retired” as chief adviser to Prime Minister Davutoglu — after only about six months in the job.

Officially, Mahcupyan had retired in March after turning 65, the mandatory retirement age for civil servants. But it was an open secret in Ankara that his departure came simply because Turkey’s Islamists were not quite the liberals he had claimed they were.

The “Mahcupyan affair” has a message to Turkey’s dwindling non-Muslim minorities: Just like an Ottoman devshirme, a non-Muslim can rise and become a darling of today’s neo-Ottoman Turks. He can win hearts and minds in important offices in Ankara — and a bright career. But to maintain his fortunes he must remain loyal to the official Islamist line, both in deed and rhetoric. Just one unpleasant utterance would suffice to end a devshirme’s career in government service.

That is the kind of collective psychology into which Turkey’s ruling Islamists force non-Muslims: either become a collaborator, or…

There is another Turkish Armenian columnist who looks more seasoned than Mahcupyan in his devshirme career. Markar Esayan, a writer for a fiercely pro-government daily, recently said in reference to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 2014 statement about the Armenian victims of 1915: “[Erdogan's] message of condolences illustrates how we have achieved the Ottoman spirit in line with this century and its democratic practice. Furthermore, the practices in the last 13 years [of the Justice and Development Party's rule] have positively influenced our [Armenian] community and non-Muslims.”

Apparently Esayan is happy with Turkey’s neo-Ottomans and their Islamist rule, including their rigid policies of genocide-denial, which he claims have done good to Turkey’s Armenians and other non-Muslim citizens. Etyen Mahcupyan may have been punished, but Markar Esayan is being rewarded for his loyalty: he has been selected to run for parliament on the ticket of Prime Minister Davutoglu’s party!

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Burak Bekdil, based in Ankara, is a columnist for the Turkish daily Hürriyet and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Related Topics: Turkey and Turks | Burak Bekdil

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 30th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

The THIRD ANNUAL ARCTIC CIRCLE ASSEMBLY
OCTOBER 16 – 18, 2015
REYKJAVÍK, ICELAND

PRESIDENT OF FRANCE – WILL ATTEND THE ASSEMBLY and Deliver an Opening Speech linked to the Climate Negotiations at COP 21.

At a meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris on April 17th, the President of France, François Hollande, accepted an invitation from President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson to deliver an opening speech at the October Assembly. The attendance by President Hollande is linked to the upcoming climate negotiations COP21 in Paris in December and the relevance of the Arctic to those negotiations.

PRESIDENT XI JINPING – And Offered to host a special CHINA SESSION at the Assembly.

President of China XI Jinping has in a recent letter to President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson endorsed China’s participation in the Arctic Circle Assembly and declared his decision that China will host a special Plenary Session at the October Assembly in Reykjavík.


CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL – suggested a special plenary GERMANY and the ARCTIC SESSION at the Assembly.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has in a recent letter to President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson announced her support for the Arctic Circle and its importance as a venue to present the involvement of Germany in the future of the Arctic. Consequently, the program of the October Assembly in Reykjavík will include a special Plenary Session on Germany and the Arctic.

More Assembly news in the coming weeks.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 28th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Thawing Ice and Chilly Diplomacy in the Arctic.

The Opinion Pages | Editorial
Thawing Ice and Chilly Diplomacy in the Arctic.

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, THE NEW YORK TIMES, APRIL 27, 2015

Photo -The Yamal Liquified Natural Gas project, a Russian-French-Chinese joint venture, in the Arctic Circle. Credit Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

So long as the Arctic was mostly frozen solid, the biennial meetings of the eight-nation Arctic Council attracted relatively little attention with their discussions on ways to cooperate on environmental protection, search-and-rescue operations and the like.

But with melting ice opening up northern shipping lanes and access to vast troves of oil, gas and minerals — and with Russia increasingly alienated from the other members on the council and assertive in its claims to the far north — the past weekend’s council meeting in the far-northern Canadian city of Iqaluit sometimes seemed as frigid as the outside air.

At the meeting, the United States assumed the rotating two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council, whose other members are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden as well as six indigenous groups of the far north. Secretary of State John Kerry declared that protecting the delicate Arctic environment from the consequences of climate change will be a top American priority over the next two years. As important a task will be to prevent the clash with Russia over Ukraine from undermining the cooperation on which the council has operated for the past 20 years.

Russia has steadily increased its military presence in the far north. On the eve of the meeting, a hard-line Russian deputy prime minister, Dmitri Rogozin, traveled to the North Pole to open a scientific research station — and to make clear that Russia intended to protect its claims to the Arctic region, which he proclaimed “a Russian Mecca” on Twitter. In an added provocation, Mr. Rogozin traveled through Norwegian territory on his way, though he is among the Russian officials blacklisted from traveling to much of Europe.

The Obama administration has declared that tensions with Russia will not change its focus on ocean safety, economic development and climate change.

The danger of the Arctic’s falling prey to East-West hostility was sufficiently clear to prompt a group of 45 international experts, government officials and representatives of nongovernmental organizations to meet in Washington in February and issue a unanimous report urging that the region remain outside geopolitical confrontations.

The Arctic Council, never intended to debate military matters, must remain a forum for finding ways to sort out competing claims peacefully.

At the peak of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to ban military activity on the other end of the Earth, in Antarctica. And today, despite all the hostility over Ukraine, the United States and Russia have continued to work together in outer space, showing that cooperation is possible. In the Arctic, it’s essential.

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A version of this editorial appears in print on April 28, 2015, on page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: Thawing Ice and Chilly Diplomacy.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 18th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Environment
How Elves and Dragons Are Doing a Fantastic Job of Protecting Iceland’s Environment
Originally Icelanders used mythological creatures as a way to deter people from coming to their island, now they protect it.

By Sola Agustsson / AlterNet
April 13, 2015

In Iceland, where my father is from, it’s perfectly reasonable for people to think elves exist. Over half the population believes in, or at least entertains the existence of these invisible, magical and often mischievous creatures. I have relatives who are marine biologists, professors and agnostics who will not deny that elves, the huldufólk, or “hidden people,” reside in communities underneath rocks, living in detached harmony with humans and the natural world. For the most part, elves ignore humans until they interfere with their habitat.

When developers try to destroy rocks that are known elf homes or churches, things get spooky. A notorious example is the Álfhólsvegur (elf-hill) road in Kopavogur, which was eventually moved to accommodate the elves after machinery continued to mysteriously break down and construction accidents began to frequently occur in the 1930s. Fifty years later, plans to rebuild the same road were again halted when the same issues resurfaced, and workers refused to go near the hill with any machinery. Similar cases of construction machinery malfunctioning or natural disasters occurring when people attempted to disturb elf homes have led many Icelanders to abandon development over elf sites.

Over the last few decades, elves have gotten political representation in Iceland. An emerging group of elf advocates have formed alliances with environmentalists, and have managed to prevent major roads and homes from being built over rocks where elves are rumored to live.

Elf advocates have not always been successful in defending their invisible friends, as in the case of the Ófeigskirkja boulder, which was eventually moved after an 8-year battle with developers. Some argue that the process of protecting elf territory, and taking elf issues seriously, gives elves time to adjust to leaving their homes. “It cannot be denied that belief in the supernatural is occasionally the reason for local concerns and these opinions are taken into account just as anybody else’s would be…Issues have been settled by delaying construction projects so that the elves can, at a certain point, move on,” the Iceland Road and Coastal administration stated.

It’s difficult to imagine why elves garner so much respect in Norse culture. In America, we think of elves as Santa’s pointy green factory workers. But according to 18th- and 19th-century legends, Icelandic elves are anything but servile. They have been known to seek revenge on people who betray them, but also provide good fortune to those who pay them respect. Roughly the same size as humans, they are invisible, and have been described by scholar Terry Gunnell as “beautiful, powerful, alluring, and free from care.”

Some Icelanders go as far as to allegedly have sex with elves. “Sex with humans is boring,” writes self-proclaimed elf sex expert Hallgerdur Hallgrímsdóttir, who is fed up with dating her own kind. “Elf sex is possibly the safest sex on earth. They don’t carry sexually transmitted diseases and you can’t get pregnant or make an Elverine pregnant unless you both want to, which is not unheard of.”

The island of fire and ice, full of geysers, waterfalls, glaciers, fjords, natural hot springs, and vast mossy fields, is a landscape people want to preserve, and one that fosters the belief in supernatural forces. Elves and other mythological beings came to represent a way of understanding the natural environment, and also human consciousness. “Many things indicate that the hidden people originate in our unconscious: They resemble us in many ways, though they are more spirit-like and invisible, and to see the elves, must to either be given permission by them, or have a special ability. They can have supra-human capacities; and they can be both better and worse than humans,” says Haukur Ingi Jónasson, a theologian and psychoanalyst.

Though defending elf homes is not merely about Icelandic belief in superstition, but also in respecting the natural, non-human world. “Icelanders are few in number, so in the old times we doubled our population with tales of elves and fairies,” says President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. Even Icelandic-born singer Bjork admitted to believing in elves when asked by TV host Stephen Colbert: “It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.”

“Iceland is full of álagablettir, or enchanted spots, places you don’t touch – just like the fairy forts and peat bogs in Ireland. They’re protected by stories about the bad things that will happen if you do. This word of mouth, passed down over generations, is usually more effective than an official preservation order,” says Terry Gunnell, professor of folklore at the University of Iceland.

Iceland’s rising tourist industry could be one factor in maintaining the existence of not just elves, but other Icelandic mythic characters, such as trolls, sea monsters, and dragons.

One example is the Lagarfljótsormur, the Icelandic version of a Loch Ness monster. Resembling an aquatic brachiosaurus, myths of this serpent date back to 1345, though most sightings of the monster have occurred in the 20th century. Stories of the wormlike monster breathing poisonous fire and killing civilians abound, and sightings of the creature are said to foreshadow natural disasters. In 2014, the Fljótsdalshérað municipal council declared that the Lagarfljótsormur exists, though some speculate that this was a ploy to attract monster-seeking tourists.

Originally Icelanders used these mythological creatures as a way to deter people from coming to their island. Thirteenth-century cartographers depicted Icelandic coasts as utterly terrifying, laden with sea monsters, mermen, serpents and other unclassifiable mutants in order to dissuade explorers from settling there. On some ancient maps, the northern region of Dreki is ominously marked “Here be Dragons,” and is rumored to be populated by sea monsters.

Coincidentally, this same area is also thought to have untapped oil resources of interest to private companies who have recently gotten licensing rights to search for oil there. In a 2014 agreement, oil companies agreed to pay 10,000 ISK per square kilometer per year for the exclusive right to search for any useable resources.

While elf activists have been vocal about disturbing elf territory, there have yet to be sea dragon advocates rushing to defend the fire-breathing aquatic monsters of the Dreki region, or the Lagarfljótsormur for that matter. Elves have been known to cause mischief, but sea monsters have been less than desirable residents in Iceland, having been rumored to eat children.

Still, many Icelandic environmentalists are wary of disturbing the arctic region. Though beliefs in these otherworldly characters may seem ridiculous, the traditions have promoted a worldview of existing in harmony with the natural world rather than merely dominating it.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 12th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

CHORNOBYL SONGS PROJECT
SPECIAL CD RELEASE CONCERT
Saturday, April 25, 7:00PM

from: Center for Traditional Music and Dance (CTMD) –  traditions at ctmd.org via ctmd.ccsend

In partnership with the Ukrainian Museum and Yara Arts Group, we are excited to present a special concert of the Chonobyl Songs Project, performed by Ensemble Hilka.

Back in 2011, CTMD worked with ethnomusicologist/singer Maria Sonevytsky (Bard College) to bring renowned vocalist/ethnomusicologist Yefim Yefremov to New York for a series of workshops and concerts with a group of leading local singers (Hilka) that focused on the polyphonic village singing styles of Ukraine’s Chornobyl region which were extant before the nuclear disaster of 1986. The Chornobyl Songs Project CD is now being released on Smithsonian Folkways.

This concert will take place at the beautiful Ukrainian Museum, 222 East Sixth Street (between 2nd & 3rd Avenues) in Manhattan’s East Village.

A reception in the museum concourse featuring music by the Veveritse Brass Band will follow the concert. Admission is $15/$10 members and seniors/$5 students.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on April 6th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Andrei Kolesnikov is a senior Associate, and the Chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program, at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
More from this author…
Why Sanctions on Russia Don’t Work
A Blast From the Past
Russian Opposition “in a Great Depression” After Nemtsov Murder

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The Russian Middle Class in a Besieged Fortress.

Andrei Kolesnikov, Carnegie Moskow Center, Russia.
Article April 6, 2015
 carnegie.ru/2015/04/06/russian-mi…

Summary
There is little reason to believe that the Russian middle class will react to the ongoing financial and economic crisis with protests or renewed calls for change. Instead, it seems almost certain that it will opt for strategies of survival and perseverance.

Introduction

How will the Russian middle class react to the effects of low oil prices, Western sanctions, and deep-set economic problems, a state of affairs that some economists have dubbed the “triple whammy”? Unfortunately, these problems are only part of the broader systemic crisis that plagues Russia today. Yet there is little reason to believe that the Russian middle class will react to the ongoing financial and economic crisis with protests or renewed calls for change. Instead, it seems almost certain that this dynamic segment of society will opt for strategies of survival and perseverance rather than articulating a political agenda that challenges the Russian government or its current policies.

The nature and consequences of Russia’s current crisis cannot be reduced to economic issues. Sberbank President German Gref argued in his January 14, 2015, speech at the Gaidar Forum in Moscow that it is important not to overlook the impact of critical governance shortcomings. But instability or gaps in the quality of the state’s administrative capabilities—however important—are not a root cause. Rather, they are one of the effects of a deeper institutional and values-based crisis. All other aspects of the crisis, including the current political situation, merely stem from it. And there should be no question that Russia is indeed in a political crisis, despite outward manifestations of calmness and the consolidation of society and elites around the head of state.

Unfortunately, the triple whammy is not unleashing the forces of “creative destruction” or disruption that some reformist voices had been pinning their hopes on. In many cases, crises enable states to reform political life and move forward. In this sense, the 2008–2009 financial crisis was a lost opportunity for Russia. The crisis did not change behavior among state capitalism’s elites nor did it spur structural reform. Rather, the struggling economy was simply flooded with money from the state’s reserve funds. The state’s playbook conformed with former U.S. president Ronald Reagan’s old axiom: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

The Economy After Crimea

Russia’s economic problems are certainly significant.

Economic analysts generally agree that Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) will decline by at least 3–7 percent in 2015 while annual inflation will soar. Inflation is forecast by the central bank to peak at 17.0–17.5 percent in the second quarter of 2015.

Headline inflation was 15 percent in January 2015 (from January 2014 to January 2015), and increasing at a rate of 3.9 percent a month—the highest rate since February 1999. The disaggregated components of the inflation numbers also tell a powerful story. Prices for medicine and medical equipment grew 6.6 percent in January (19.4 percent year-on-year). Food prices, excluding fruit and vegetables, were up 3.7 percent in January (18.4 percent year-on-year). Fruit and vegetable prices increased by 22.1 percent in January (40.7 percent year-on-year).

Assessments of the effect of sanctions on overall GDP vary. Experts from FBK Grant Thornton, a business consultancy, suggest that the sanctions will shave off 1.2 percent of Russian GDP by mid-2015.1 The effect of the sharp decline in oil prices on GDP is even greater. Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy experts Sergey Drobyshevsky and Andrey Polbin estimate that a decrease in oil prices to $40 per barrel would translate into a 3.7 percent decline in GDP in constant prices.


Structural problems, for example, state intervention on behalf of favored industries and companies and the blocking of pension reform, are in part linked to the Russian economy’s dependence on oil and gas. They are also tied to the lack of reform in the sectors of the economy (such as healthcare and education) that are human-capital-intensive as well as the lack of resources allocated to these sectors due to inadequate government financing.


As the labor force has shrunk, economists have begun to notice a decline in the skill level of Russian workers. The rector of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Vladimir Mau, has pointed out that “the unemployment rate in Russia is rather low due to the effects of demographic factors. However, a conflict is brewing: on the one hand, the army of retirees is on the rise; on the other, there are young people who are unwilling to fill the jobs being vacated.”2 ?he low-skilled segment of the labor market is also changing. Inflation and a weak ruble have made Russia unattractive even to migrants—the most unpretentious part of the workforce; there was a 70 percent decrease in the number of migrants arriving in Russia in the beginning of 2015.

Another factor contributing to the current situation is the large percentage of workers who are employed in the shadow economy, which, according to official statistics, accounts for 12.5 percent of GDP. According to Rosstat data, in 2011, 22 million Russians—almost a third of the 71-million-person workforce—were employed in informal sectors of the economy. (This sector comprises, for example, many entrepreneurs and their employees, those providing paid services off the books, and agricultural workers.)3 The number is expected to increase as a result of the ongoing decline in real incomes, worsening labor market conditions, employee realignment and reductions at various large-scale enterprises, and other crisis-related factors. Workers in the informal economy pay no taxes and therefore will not be able to contribute to the Pension Fund. According to data from the Russian Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, 20 percent of the able-bodied population is missing from the Pension Fund databases.4
Politics and Policy

While oil price volatility is certainly not a by-product of current Russian economic policy, the other two components of the triple whammy—sanctions and structural problems—have a lot to do with decisions made by the government. Moreover, they are directly related to the nature and content of domestic and foreign policy decisionmaking. In a nutshell, such decisions are increasingly the province of an extremely close-knit and ever-shrinking circle of decisionmakers around Russian President Vladimir Putin, known as “Putin’s friends,” a description that has become increasingly literal.


It is telling that Russia’s economic downturn worsened after the annexation of Crimea in the spring of 2014. Macroeconomic indicators looked dreadful by the end of the year. The ruble was the world’s worst-performing currency against the dollar.5 Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin has suggested that the drop in oil prices only accounts for 25 percent of the ruble’s recent depreciation. Kudrin claims that sanctions account for 25 to 40 percent of the currency’s slide with the dollar’s overall surge contributing an additional 5 to 10 percent. Kudrin also highlights the negative effects of “risks, expectations, and fears,” including investors’ lack of confidence in the government’s efforts to improve the investment climate and support economic growth.6

Economic policymaking is increasingly held hostage by a new and unexpected set of actors. For example, any attempts by the government to mount superhuman policy changes in the economic sphere or complex diplomatic maneuvers could be blown to bits if Donetsk People’s Republic leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko were to order his troops to move on the city of Mariupol. Russia’s investment climate, financial stability, and economic development depend more on the actions of separatist leaders in Donetsk and Lugansk, the chief prosecutor, and the Investigative Committee than the central bank’s official monetary and interest rate policies or deputy prime ministers’ declarations at the Davos World Economic Forum. Amid growing isolationism, nationalism, and anti-Western sentiments, the “Zakharchenko Factor” may not be the sole determinant of current developments, but it plays a very important role.

Taxpayer’s Democracy: An Unattained Ideal

Meanwhile, Russians remain quite passive about their economic situation, even as the consequences of the triple whammy gradually emerge.

Both Hegel and Marx wrote about alienation (Entfremdung), specifically, the mutual alienation of the people and their government. On a conceptual level, governments seek to exploit the benefits from GDP, economic rents, and tax revenues for the sake of self-preservation. This goal in turn leads to unproductive government expenditures on defense, law enforcement, and operations that significantly exceed productive government expenditures in other areas, say, education and healthcare.

In Russia, the clique of Putin-era oligarchs is not constrained by political institutions that would ordinarily help relay public opinion to the government. Of course, the Russian political system has never fully subscribed to the principle of “no taxation without representation.” However, under Russia’s particular brand of state capitalism and heavy dependence on oil and gas profits, closed channels of political representation have practically obliterated it.


The president’s inner circle views economic rent as its personal revenue stream or private property, as evidenced by state-owned oil company Rosneft’s request for substantial subsidies from the National Wealth Fund, which was created in order to accumulate oil-based revenues to compensate for a projected state-backed Pension Fund deficit. This is quite logical for a system in which having power is synonymous with owning property; this so-called power-property relationship is also sanctified by the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church. The church is increasingly playing a role geared toward maximizing the effect of pro-government propaganda and ensuring greater conformity inside Russian society with its socially conservative goals and values. (The persecution of the band Pussy Riot is only the most well-known example of these efforts.)


However, such an arrangement contradicts the Russian constitution, which states that “land and other natural resources shall be utilized and protected in the Russian Federation as the basis of the life and activity of the peoples living on the territories concerned.” Those resources were not intended to be the basis of life and activity for a handful of beneficiaries of state capitalism and their families.


?conomic rent is alienated from the people, and so is the government. People believe that they have no way to advocate meaningful change in their country and thus allow the establishment to make decisions on its own. The classic Putin-era social contract (“freedom in exchange for sausage”) that emerged during the period of high oil prices gave way in 2014 to “freedom in exchange for Crimea and national pride.”

The government is also alienated by virtue of the fact that elections now distort the principles of representation more than ever before. This fact triggered the street protests in 2011–2012, when some in the middle class demanded democracy and fair elections. These demands were perfectly in line with Seymour Lipset’s theory that higher living standards, education, and income are the foundations for a realization by increasingly affluent members of society of the need for greater democracy.7

In 2011, Russia’s urban middle class offered some support for Lipset’s hypothesis by advancing their demands for democracy. Yet in 2014, after failing to achieve their original goal, they set aside such political interests in favor of the “Crimea is ours” (Krym nash) concept. In essence, they agreed that the concoction of hybrid and trade wars was better for the motherland than its presence, to put it pompously, in the family of European nations.

The year 2014 marked the degradation and militarization of state policies and mass consciousness. These policies were a striking contrast to the recent behavior of modern democratic societies, which consider military losses unacceptable and regard appeals to an entity’s sacred status as a relic of bygone theocratic eras.8

Along with the post-Crimean consolidation of Russian society, sociologists have found that Russians stayed true to a core belief: “We cannot have an impact on anything so therefore we do not want to impact anything.” According to a Levada Center poll, about 60 percent of the population agree with the statement that they are unable to affect the situation in the country. Close to 50 percent believe that they can do nothing to influence events in their own city or town.9

Such views give rise to paternalistic attitudes like “let the state decide everything for me.” These attitudes correlate with the relatively insignificant contribution that taxpayers make to federal and local budgets compared with the budget revenues derived from sales of oil and gas.

Kudrin has described the public’s alienation from the decisionmaking process in the following terms. “In the 2000s, the country’s prosperity grew largely due to the revenue from natural resources,” he wrote. “But the people were not the ones benefiting from it. In terms of GDP, out of 37 percent of all collected taxes and other payments, rents constituted more than a third, while individual income tax accounted for only about 3 percent. . . . Officials easily and freely redistributed easy money—as a result, no feedback mechanisms were created.”10

While the Russian citizen is alienated from the rent revenues, he knows that his livelihood depends on them. He is willing to accept them from the state, but at the same time he develops an inferiority complex about his material wealth, knowing that he did not exactly earn the money. This belief allows pro-redistribution coalitions—which divide rent among those close to the authorities’ clans as well as lobbyists and pressure groups—to claim their “right” to “their” share in the redistribution of public funds. This stance seems extremely provocative in the midst of the economic crisis but clearly indicates who holds the keys to the house of Russian politics. For example, Nikolai Podguzov, the deputy minister for economic development, recently announced that “Rosneft requests a total of 1.3 trillion rubles from the National Wealth Fund (NWF) for 28 projects. . . . Rosneft proposes that the NWF finance projects worth over 3 trillion rubles.”11 Not surprisingly, such a state of affairs angers the members of other pro-redistribution coalitions.

Out of this emerges a level of passivity among the public and acceptance of the consequences of the triple whammy as they gradually materialize. It appears that there never was and never will be a taxpayer democracy in the current rentier system—after all, individual contributions to the national well-being are quite small when contrasted with what is received from hydrocarbon-based rents. The public’s impact on government decisions, their own political participation, and their involvement in civic life are just as insignificant. The process of spending taxpayer money does not concern the taxpayers themselves.

But when the oil-oozing, ostensibly collective pie is complemented by the mantra “Crimea is ours,” it destroys both consensus-based and participatory democracy, along with any sense of civic duty or collective effort. Crimea was not a collective effort by any stretch—the Russian public stormed the peninsula while sitting in front of their televisions. Rather, Crimea was a gift from the government.

In their heart of hearts, Russians do not consider themselves creators of national wealth. That further discourages most forms of political participation, which should ideally be directed at achieving a more rational, honest, and equitable distribution of the goods and services produced by the economy.

This reality explains the public’s willingness to tolerate just about everything and its unwillingness to protest. It also explains the lack of incentive for private initiative, for private investment, for innovation, and for the protection of private property. For their part, state investments further discourage private economic activity and fail to spur economic growth. Generally speaking, state-generated investment produces a pool of money that either provokes inflation or encourages capital flight to countries with more attractive investment climates. The Russian economy needs state investment as much as Soviet-era enterprises needed foreign machinery, most of which was never unpacked and rusted away in leaky warehouses.
The Class Pyramid

The triple whammy is a blow to all income levels of Russian society, but it especially affects lower- and middle-income groups who are more sensitive to price increases. The general level of inflation that took off in early 2015 severely impacted the middle class, the major consumer of various services and durable goods. Real disposable incomes fell 7.3 percent in December 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. According to a January 2015 Public Opinion Foundation poll, 62 percent of the population describes the situation as an economic crisis and sees “dreadful inflation” as the main manifestation of the crisis.12

Research on the middle class by the director of the Independent Institute for Social Policy at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Tatyana Maleva, suggests that the social structure of Russian households has not undergone significant change in recent years. According to Maleva, about 70 percent of the population are below the middle class. Approximately 40 percent of households belonging to that group are at risk of poverty, while 30 percent could potentially join the middle and upper-middle class.

The size of the middle class can be measured in a number of ways based on different criteria. A rough estimate of the size of the middle class puts the number at around 20 percent of the population.13 While some other studies have come up with different numbers, an approach based on analysis of 2012 Eurobarometer data supports Tatyana Maleva’s conclusions.14

In a political sense, the group at risk of poverty makes up the regime’s social and electoral base. Not coincidentally, they are also the main recipients of public funds. Even amid the constraints imposed by the triple whammy, the government will therefore strive to ensure that this group does not end up below the poverty line. Humanitarian considerations play a fairly minor role in these efforts, which are based on cold political calculations and the regime’s desire to discourage the creation of social tensions. Social mobility from the middle to the upper-middle class, which has been long stifled by the highly monopolistic economy controlled by a small number of political-business elites, may cease altogether as a result of the current crisis.

Thus, the regime’s social goal is to preserve the class pyramid, which emerged during the oil boom and economic recovery of the 2000s and has enabled the system of power-property and crony capitalism to reproduce itself. Evaporating material gains are being replaced with spiritual appeals, which will involve using cruder and more archaic propaganda, including indoctrination by the top brass of the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the increasingly selective application of repressive laws.
The Estate Structure of the Resource State

This is only a slight correction of the regime’s principal course of action, which Higher School of Economics Professor Simon Kordonsky describes as “the suzerain takes care of his people—the amalgamation of estates—by distributing resources in a way that ensures that the privileged estates don’t get too brazen and the underprivileged ones don’t die from hunger.” Notably, this theory views modern Russian society as estate-based rather than class-based. And, as Kordonsky explains, “The distribution of resources is at the core of estate-based society, in contrast to class society, whose economy is mainly based on converting resources into capital and their broader reproduction.”15 In essence, this is status commercialization.

Status can be acquired by assuming high office (hence all the talk of regime figures buying top positions, seats in parliament, and so on). It can also be bestowed by the suzerain (look at the members of the Kremlin’s inner circle, who share similar security and intelligence backgrounds with Putin), and it can be inherited. Children of high-ranking officials and state capitalists from the redistributional coalitions take charge of high offices and even receive government decorations. Naturally, concludes Kordonsky, “Such a system does not need democracy as an institution for reconciling interests, nor does it focus on the needs of individuals who fall outside of the estate system.”16

Privatization in the 1990s was a way to utilize (and increase) resources within the market framework. The “re-privatization” of the 2000s in favor of state capitalism and figures from the president’s inner circle was a way to escape the market framework and return to a system based on estates.

Instead of encouraging middle-class growth, this type of estate structure actually slows it down. Quite often, one can only join the middle class—at least in terms of income levels—by working in a system dominated by the most privileged estates, for example, state-run corporations and companies that live off of government contracts or tenders.
The Conformist Class: Survival Instead of Change

How will the Russian middle class respond to the triple whammy? How will its political behavior and socioeconomic well-being be affected?

Some researchers point out that the middle class has been “the main actor of socioeconomic adaptation” in recent years.17 At the same time, it is still not large enough, strong enough, or confident enough in its future well-being to clearly formulate a political outlook or to insist on proper representation in government bodies and decisions. Other economists also talk about its “low bargaining power.”18

This bargaining power decreased even more after the failure of the 2011–2012 protests. After Dmitry Medvedev left the president’s office, both society and the loyal, liberal political elite lost incentives to construct political, lobbying, and civic coalitions in favor of modernization. Thus, modernization coalitions were replaced with redistributional, estate-based ones.

The big question is whether the middle class, which is quite adaptable, even wants such coalition-based bargaining power. In reality, its political behavior and positions are far removed from the romantic image that took shape in Moscow’s streets and squares and in the independent media during the democratic illusions of late 2011 and the first half of 2012.

In a 2014 book, Francis Fukuyama argues that the middle class has been the engine behind practically every recent protest in various countries across the world.19 What’s more, even a fairly elected but ineffective or corrupt government does not enjoy sufficient legitimacy in the eyes of the most advanced segments of the population. As Fukuyama writes, “Government actually had to deliver better results if it was to be regarded as legitimate, and needed to be more flexible and responsive to changing public demands.”20

That was exactly the chief motivation behind the 2011–2012 protests. Russians were dissatisfied with the government, and its legitimacy was diminishing as a result of dishonesty and ineffectiveness.

But the political protests that grew out of the public’s stance against the regime’s corruption were mostly limited to Moscow and involved only a very small part of the educated, urban middle class (although some upper- and lower-income segments of the population joined at times). This social stratum was immediately named the “creative class,” which, in turn, led to the shorter and more derisive word, “creatives.” While this concept does have something in common with the term coined by Richard Florida, the Russian meaning of the term does not actually cover people who are engaged in creative work. It refers instead to a small segment of Russian citizens who are dissatisfied with the regime and its authoritarian rule, predominantly for political and ethical reasons. In their beliefs and goals, creatives today somewhat resemble the democratic intelligentsia of the late 1980s.

Nor is the creative class always synonymous with the middle class, especially in terms of income levels (although its behavior does correspond to that of the middle class). In addition, its opposition activities sharply contrast with the conformism exhibited by the majority of the middle class. Contrary to expectations, this conformism will only grow or remain unchanged as a result of the triple whammy. Despite some sporadic protests, the majority will more readily embrace the strategies and tactics of survival instead of protests and demands for change, at least in 2015.

Consider the 2012 Eurobarometer survey of the middle class.21 According to the data, against the backdrop of blatantly dishonest elections that provoked protests in 2011, the middle class actually voted for United Russia—the pro-regime party. And at higher strata of Russian society, the level of support for the regime actually increased. The motivations underlying voting behavior varied: some voters had benefited handsomely during the economic boom of the early 2000s while others became complacent with their lot. Either way, conformism became the overarching trend.

The middle class was only slightly more active in terms of participation in opposition rallies (2.3 percent versus 1.9 percent at lower-income levels). The upper-middle class seemed to be the most active (11.7 percent), but this stratum was also quite active when it came to attendance at pro-government rallies (6.7 percent versus 1.0 percent of the middle class).

The lack of participation by the middle class—either in opposition to or in support of the government—suggests that its conformism is inherently passive. It does not express passionate or unequivocal support for the government; rather, the middle class is simply not ready to struggle for change. (It seems that active support for the regime manifested itself only after the referendum in Crimea and did not diminish much, if at all, as the Ukraine crisis worsened.)

According to the Eurobarometer survey, the middle class was evenly split in its assessment of the political situation (43 and 44 percent were satisfied or dissatisfied with it, respectively). In fact, the majority of respondents wanted no change to the political situation, while 12 percent preferred radical change.

The middle class’s relationship to the European Union (EU) is further proof of its conformism: 18.2 percent of the middle class and 27.8 percent of the upper-middle class wanted Russia to distance itself from the EU as much as possible. It is quite indicative of the mood in the country that the lower-middle class was the biggest supporter of EU integration, at 23.4 percent. These numbers have changed in the direction of greater “patriotism” for the time being. A January 2015 Levada Center poll, for example, demonstrated an increase in negative attitudes toward the United States and EU countries to 81 and 71 percent, respectively.


Conclusion

In his 1997 work “Anomalies of Economic Growth,” Yegor Gaidar, the architect of Russian reform, noted that two main social groups are interested in liberal market reforms in Russia: “The middle class, which needs a level playing field, effective protection of private property, and a government that is not cumbersomely involved in economic affairs; and the intelligentsia—those who are connected to the science, education, healthcare, culture, and other such sectors—to whom the redistribution of resources objectively reflects the economic needs of the country.” Russia’s developmental perspectives depend on the combined resources of these two groups.

In the nearly two decades since Gaidar began his work, by and large, very little social change has come to Russia: those in the middle class are considered the agents of change. The creative class can be considered the new intelligentsia.

Nevertheless, the coalition for modernization that began to emerge under Dmitry Medvedev was never realized. The signal from above that permitted the very existence of such a coalition was unceremoniously cut off, while the politician who had the best chance to launch perestroika 2.0 surrendered power based on his own free will.

The Russian model of change can only work if the demand for modernization expressed from below is noticed and clearly approved from above. In such a case, the notorious middle-class conformism toward official government policy could yet play a constructive role. If the higher-ups allow democracy, this brand of conformism implies that citizens will recognize that it must be supported and taken advantage of. As for the creative potential of the Russian middle class, it may very well serve as the engine of economic liberalization and political democratization, if it receives a level of representation in the government.

However, the creative forces among the agents of change can lie dormant for extremely long periods of time. After all, modernization coalitions in Venezuela and Iran have never really gained momentum, and those countries have experienced their own analogues to the triple whammy. So far, these forces have not yet fully shaken the Russian middle class.

We are now anxiously waiting for the agents of modernization, who have turned into the agents of mobilization, to finally come to their senses. But we probably will need to wait quite a bit longer. Give it a year or two.


Notes

1 “??????? ????? ?????? 1,2% ??? – ???????????? ???????? ???,” [The price of sanctions to Russia—1.2% of GDP: The research of the FBK company] FBK Grant Thornton, January 12, 2015, www.fbk.ru/press-center/news/sank….

2 “?????? ????????? ?????????????? ????? «????????»: ????????????? ?????? ? ?????–2015,” [The discussion club “Academy” first meeting: The economic challenges and risks in 2015] Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy, December 19, 2014, www.iep.ru/ru/19-12-2014-pervoe-z….

3 Maxim Tovkaylo, “???????: 38 ??? ??????? ?????? ‘????????? ??? ? ???,’” [Golodets: It’s incomprehensible what 38 million of Russians are doing and where] Vedomosti, April 3, 2013, www.vedomosti.ru/career/news/1072….

4 Lyudmila Klimenteva, “???????: ????? 20% ????????? ????? ???????? ??? ????????? ??????,” [Topilin: Approximately 20% of the population can remain without noncontributory pension] Vedomosti, January 26, 2015, www.vedomosti.ru/finance/articles….

5 Henry Meyer and Irina Reznik, “The Chilly Fallout Between Putin and His Oligarch Pals,” Bloomberg, January 22, 2015, www.bloomberg.com/news/2015-01-22….

6 Gaidar Institute, 2014.

7 A number of researchers have found empirical evidence for this controversial modernization hypothesis put forward by Seymour Lipset. For instance, Robert J. Barro, Determinants of Economic Growth: A Cross-Country Empirical Study, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997).

8 Michael Howard, The Invention of Peace (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 99.

9 Denis Volkov and Stepan Goncharov, ????????? ???????????? ??????? ? ??????? ?????????? ??????? [The potential of the civic participation in solving social problems] (Moscow: Levada Center, 2014), www.levada.ru/books/potentsial-gr….

10 Alexei Kudrin, “????????? ? ???????? ? ??????? ???????” [Economy and politics in search of a balance] ????? ???????, no. 2-3 (Moscow: Moscow School of Civic Education, 2014). otetrad.ru/article-763.html.

11 Margarita Lyutova, “‘????????’ ????????? ?? ??? 1,3 ???? ?????? ?? 28 ????????” [Rosneft asked for 1.3 billion rubles from the National Wealth Fund] Vedomosti, January 28, 2015, www.vedomosti.ru/companies/news/3….

12 “???????? ? ??????????? ?????????????? ???????” [Russians about manifestations of the economic crisis] Public Opinion Foundation, January 21, 2015, fom.ru/Ekonomika/11919.

13 Tatyana Maleva and Lilia Ovcharova, ?????????? ??????? ?????? ???????? ? ?? ???? ?????????????? ????? [Russian middle classes on the eve and at the peak of economic growth] (Moscow, 2008), 73.

14 Svetlana Misikhina, ?????????-????????????? ?????????????? ? ?????????-???????????? ????????? ???????? ?????? ? ?????????? ????????? [Socioeconomic characteristics and value-political choices of the middle class in the Russian Federation] preprint edition (Moscow: Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, 2014).

15 Simon Kordonsky, ????????? ????????? ????????????? ?????? [The estate structure of the post-Soviet Russia] (Moscow: Public Opinion Foundation, 2008), 28.

16 Ibid., 34.

17 Tatyana Maleva et al., ???????????? ????????? ?????????? ???????? ?????????? ????????? ?? 2050 [The long-term concept of social policy of the Russian Federation until 2050] preprint edition (Moscow: Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, 2014), 43.

18 Alexander Auzan et al., ??????? ????? ? ????????????: ???????? ? ???????????? ????????????? ? ?????????-???????????? ?????????? ? ?????? [The middle class and modernization: Hypotheses on the formation of economic and sociopolitical institutions in Russia] (Moscow: 2009), 264.

19 Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014), 6.

20 Ibid.

21 The data are cited from Svetlana Misikhina, ?????????-????????????? ?????????????? [Socioeconomic characteristics].

Read more at: carnegie.ru/2015/04/06/russian-mi…

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on March 10th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

Argument
The Kremlin Pulls on Georgia

It’s time for the West to stop taking Tbilisi for granted.

By Michael Cecire
Foreign Policy Magazine, March 9, 2015

As Russian forces consolidate their gains in Ukraine over the flat protests of Western leaders, the specter of Russian revanchism is keeping much of Eastern Europe on edge. But lumbering tanks and legions of insta-separatists aren’t the only concern. Ukraine isn’t Russia’s only target.

Perhaps most alarming are the warning signs going off in Georgia, a steadfast Euro-Atlantic partner where a pro-Western political consensus has long been a foreign-policy calling card. A long-standing opponent of Russian military adventurism, Georgia sought escape velocity from Russian regional dominance by courting membership in Euro-Atlantic structures and earned a reputation as an enthusiastic and credible Western partner. But

Western quiescence in the face of Russian territorial aggression is starting to have an effect.

Western quiescence in the face of Russian territorial aggression is starting to have an effect. After decades of acrimony in which Georgians have watched Russian proxies occupy 20 percent of their territory and ethnically cleanse some 300,000 of their compatriots, certain groups are starting to ask if maintaining close ties to the West is worth all the loss. Increasingly, Georgians are beginning to think that it isn’t.

The groups spearheading Russian influence operations in Georgia fly beneath the international radar under the cloak of local-language media and the oft-repeated surety of pro-Western sentiment. But they can be seen protesting in Tbilisi streets, preaching in Georgian churches, and holding improbably well-funded campaign rallies ahead of elections. The evidence shows that Russian influence in Georgia is growing stronger. (In the photo, a Stalin impersonator poses at a memorial service for the Soviet dictator in his Georgian hometown of Gori.)

But at Washington roundtables and in private conversations, Western officials and experts tend to downplay the possibility of Russian-exported propaganda taking root in Georgia. The root of this complacency is tied to regular polling from the U.S.-funded International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) that has consistently showed public support for Euro-Atlantic integration at between 60 and 70 percent. Successive governments have relied on this popular approval to justify their Western-facing foreign-policy agendas.

So support for Euro-Atlantic integration is broad. But is it deep? Those who have spent time with ordinary Georgians say the reality, as is often the case, is far more complex.

There, in a scene in the popular Georgian soap opera Chemi Tsolis Dakalebi (My Wife’s Best Friends), revelers at a wedding reception are interrupted by an announcement that Georgia has just been awarded a long-coveted “MAP” (membership action plan), a prelude to NATO membership. The announcement shocks the crowd into a stunned silence, which then gives way to raucous cheers. One character, while clapping and celebrating along with the others, turns to another partygoer and asks: “What’s a MAP?”

While the scene colorfully illuminates NATO’s outsized social, and even civilizational, pull among Georgians, it also suggests a harsher truth: that Georgian society’s Western moorings may be more emotive than well-informed. The headline numbers from public opinion polls don’t tell the whole story. Look deeper into the data, and the picture is much more worrisome.

According to an NDI poll last August, integration with the West was at best a tertiary issue for Georgians. Instead, “kitchen table” issues dominated respondents’ concerns, with worries about jobs (63 percent) and poverty (32 percent) eclipsing other issues. NATO and EU integration came in far behind at 10th and 17th, respectively. And of 21 issues polled, Georgians picked NATO and EU membership as the top issues the government spent too much time discussing.

But most concerning, buried deep in the survey results, were signs of growing support for joining the Eurasian Union, a Moscow-led EU “alternative.” A full 20 percent favored the idea of Georgian membership. This percentage has risen steadily from 11 percent in late 2013 to 16 percent in mid-2014. Who are these Georgians who would surrender their country’s sovereignty to the same power that keeps a steely grip on Georgian territory and carves other neighboring states with impunity?

Part of the answer can be found in a budding segment of the nongovernmental sector, consisting of innocuously named pro-Russian groups like the “Eurasian Institute,” “Eurasian Choice,” and “The Earth Is Our Home.” Many of these organizations pop in and out of existence as needed — the “Peace Committee of Georgia” one week, something else the next — but they are often tied to the same group of pro-Russian ideologues and policy entrepreneurs who make regular pilgrimages to Moscow and, according to Georgian officials in the ruling party and the opposition, almost certainly receive Kremlin funding. Their common message isn’t high-church Russian apologia or Soviet nostalgia, but rather “Eurasianism” and “Orthodox civilization” — Kremlin shorthand for Putinism. Appeals to Georgian social conservatism, economic vulnerability, and lingering anger over past government abuses are winning converts within a population increasingly impatient with Georgia’s unrequited love affair with the West.

In mid-2014, Eurasianist groups made headlines for their raucous opposition to an anti-discrimination bill making its way through the Georgian parliament. Their opposition centered on language in the bill banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which opponents claimed was tantamount to promoting non-heterosexual lifestyles. But they didn’t come to the protests alone — accompanying the pro-Russian activists were unmistakably garbed clerics from the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The church, too, was nonplussed over the anti-discrimination bill and called for language protecting sexual minorities to be ejected. One of the oldest existing Christian churches in the world, the Georgian Orthodox Church is both a touchstone for Georgian nationalism and reliably polls as the most trusted institution in the country. But the church’s common cause with the Eurasianists was not limited to tactical alliances over anti-gay rhetoric. Although nominally in favor of Georgian membership in the European Union, influential factions within the Orthodox hierarchy openly stoke religious nationalism and express admiration for Russia.

Today, church representatives are increasingly seen as a vanguard for reactionary activity. In mid-2013, clergy members were on the front lines of a horrifying anti-gay pogrom in central Tbilisi. Church officials have justified protests against and attacks on Georgian Muslims. And church leaders have called the West “worse than Russia,” sometimes describing the 2008 Russian invasion as a kind of heavenly intervention against Western integration. Such language is echoed by Georgia’s Eurasianist NGOs.

The growing profile of pro-Russian organizations and the sharpening anti-Western stance of the church is converging with a third leg in an emerging pro-Russian triad: the revitalization of anti-Western political parties.

Since the 2012 change in power, pro-Russian politicians have risen from the darkest margins of Georgian political life into an increasingly viable political force.

Since the 2012 change in power, pro-Russian politicians have risen from the darkest margins of Georgian political life into an increasingly viable political force.

Onetime pro-Western advocate turned pro-Russian political agitator Nino Burjanadze has fashioned a political coalition aimed squarely at breaking Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic consensus. In presidential and local elections in 2013 and 2014, respectively, Burjanadze managed to get about 10 percent of the vote, armed with Eurasianist rhetoric and fueled by massive influxes of what was likely Russian money. And the rapidly growing Alliance of Patriots — a populist party with anti-Western leanings, which recently held a major rally in Tbilisi — won almost 5 percent in June 2014. If these numbers hold, parliamentary elections in 2016 could very well yield a very differently oriented Georgian government. A 15 percent result would be more than enough to send pro-Russian deputies into parliament in force, shattering cross-partisan foreign-policy unity and potentially playing kingmakers in coalition talks.

Irakli Alasania, Georgia’s former defense minister, has Russia on his mind. “There are very active pro-Russia groups and thousands of protesters who are against Western integration,” he told me recently, referring to the Alliance of Patriots rally. He expressed worry that the current government is downplaying a growing Russian threat. With his own Free Democrats now part of the parliamentary opposition, the ruling Georgian Dream coalition’s ranks of solidly pro-Western parties has noticeably thinned, and the leverage of socially conservative, protectionist factions within the coalition has increased.

But this is probably only the beginning. If trends hold, Georgia’s foreign-policy consensus — long taken for granted in the West — could begin to unravel in earnest. Although Georgian Dream, to its credit, has managed to skate the knife’s edge between geopolitical pragmatism and Euro-Atlantic enthusiasm, it is increasingly losing popularity among once-hopeful voters. As things stand, parliament in 2016 looks like it will be very different from today’s parliament. The pro-Western opposition United National Movement will likely see its 51 seats slashed by half or more. In its place is likely to be a collection of openly anti-Western deputies from Burjanadze’s coalition and the Alliance of Patriots. If it stays together, Georgian Dream may well remain the largest parliamentary bloc, but the introduction of large anti-Western groupings into parliament could compel it to dilute, or even abandon, its pro-Western policies out of political necessity.

This trajectory ought to be a cause for deep concern. Even a Georgia that tried to split its orientation between the West and Moscow would likely sink into the quicksand of Russian dominance, as have each of the other paragons of this strategy — Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. This result would mean the consolidation of Russian geostrategic supremacy over the Caucasus and, with it, a complete Russian monopoly over trans-Eurasian energy and trade flows.

There are ways the West could throw a much-needed lifeline to Georgian liberals.

There are ways the West could throw a much-needed lifeline to Georgian liberals. While the association agreement with the European Union signed last June is surely a welcome symbol, and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area has great future potential, the real prize for most ordinary Georgians is the prospect of visa-free travel to the EU. If this is introduced this year, as widely hoped, this could be a real boon for Western credibility. And if not outright NATO membership, other strong gestures, such as U.S. major non-NATO ally status, would be a relatively painless upgrade that would enshrine what is essentially the status quo while recognizing Georgia’s long-outsized dedication and contributions to the Euro-Atlantic space.

What is clear is that the days of taking Georgia’s pro-Western consensus for granted are quickly coming to a close. Russian influence is resurgent across its periphery, from Eastern Europe to the Caucasus to Central Asia, and Georgia remains a long-coveted prize. It may have taken successive military interventions, information warfare, and influence operations, but Moscow looks to be turning a corner in its bid to regain Georgia — both by hook and by crook.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 21st, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


Israel offers to mediate talks between Ukraine, Russia.

by Maxim A. Suchkov – posted February 1, 2015 – Al-Monitor.

Maxim A. Suchkov, a former Fulbright visiting fellow at Georgetown University (2010–11), is currently a fellow at the Institute for Strategic Studies at the North Caucasian city of Pyatigorsk, Russia, and a contributor to the Carnegie Moscow Center’s Eurasia Outlook. On Twitter: @Max_A_Suchkov

Read more: www.al-monitor.com/pulse/original…

Summary? – Print Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman believes his country is uniquely positioned to negotiate with Russia and Ukraine.

On Jan. 26, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman visited Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. While the encounter took place during the 70th anniversary observance of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz, the two diplomats took the opportunity to check up on their busy bilateral agenda. They touched primarily on six main issues — the overall situation in the Middle East, Russia’s role in the region, the course of the “5+1” negotiations on Iranian nuclear program, Lebanon, the situation in Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the eve of his meeting with the Russian foreign minister, in an interview with the Russian media agency RIA Novosti, Liberman said Israel would be prepared, if necessary, to mediate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.

The statement drew mixed reactions from both Israel and Russia, but the very intent, if it is at all serious, could be interesting to think about.

Over the more than yearlong conflict in Ukraine, Israel turned out to be neutral when it comes to Russia’s actions in its neighboring country. Israel’s diplomats were not present during the vote on the US-supported UN resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which made it look as if Israel were avoiding showing its stance on the issue. Although Tel Aviv explained that the vote coincided with a strike of Israel’s foreign affairs workers, few believed this explanation. Later, Israel refused to join the US-led sanctions regime against Russia. In both instances, the Obama administration, which cannot boast good relations with the Netanyahu government, took it as a sign of ingratitude toward Israel’s prime strategic ally at a time when America needed it most.

Essentially, while certainly not an act of support for Russian policies, it also was a sign of no opposition. At the initial stages of the war in Ukraine, in early 2014, the Israeli foreign minister, speaking on a TV program, said that “everybody understands that the situation [in Ukraine] is about standing up for the interests of each party [Russia and the US] in accordance with their own foreign policy courses.” That was a message that Israelis see the situation as a conflict of interests, not a conflict of principles. At the same interview, he declined any meddling with this conflict as a mediator between Russia and the US over Ukraine, saying Israel had enough to worry about with its own challenges.

The Israelis insisted, however, that neutrality didn’t mean inaction. A year hence, Tel Aviv wants to raise its political profile as a peacemaker, not between the Kremlin and the White House, but between Moscow and Kiev.

Indeed, as surprising as it may sound, Israel is uniquely positioned to mediate the conflict and ease the “Ukraine-Russia fatigue” that dominates the European security agenda. In this regard, Israel has three principal advantages. First, it clearly enjoys equally good relations with both Russia and Ukraine — a political luxury few nations can boast in today’s much-polarized context. Certainly, Russian-Israeli relations are far from being ideal, with the majority of the discrepancies lying in different priorities in the Middle East rooted in their own vision of national interests and historic political trajectories. At the same time, the Israeli leadership believes good relations with Russia are a “perceived necessity.”

Second, Israel possesses a key foreign policy resource — the large Jewish diaspora both in Russia and Ukraine. The number of Jews in the two countries is hard to estimate. Due to a well-known history of oppression, many had to flee, while others decline to identify themselves. Current estimates vary: in Russia from 190,000 to 228,000 to 380,000. That represents approximately 0.14% of Russia’s population and 1.7% of the global Jewish population, making Russia the country with the seventh-largest Jewish population. In Ukraine, the Jewish population was historically greater. At present, the figures range from 67,000 to 80,000 (0.16% national share and 0.6% global share). Other accounts say the Jewish population is as high as 300,000.

Most important, many Jewish figures occupy top positions in politics and business and have had significant influence on the two spheres. Therefore, Tel Aviv has a direct interest in their security and peaceful settlement of the crisis. Several influential Israeli public figures and politicians, including some from the Knesset, are actively raising awareness against more frequent instances of anti-Semitism in Ukraine.

Finally, the number of Israelis of Ukrainian and Russian descent in Israel itself is high. Many Israeli natives of the post-Soviet states occupying top political leadership positions have contributed to shaping a balanced stance on the conflict. While opinions on the crisis in Ukraine within this group are split, their expertise and action helped the State of Israel shape a policy that remained firm to outside pressure, including that of the US.

Liberman, a native of the Republic of Moldova, said, “It is precisely because we are from these countries that we can understand both parties. … If someone told me some time ago that Russia and Ukraine would become enemies, I would have told them to see a doctor.” Therefore, for a large group of Israeli policymakers, the crisis in Ukraine has a clear-cut personal connection. Yet at the same time, being foreign statesmen, they take a neutral position that potentially makes them “natural mediators.”

This is the benchmark data. In the end, however, the proposal represents the intent of only a fragment of the Israeli political spectrum and society — those coming from the post-Soviet space — and finds opposition from other Israeli groups.

In truth, taking the mediator’s burden in the conflict that already involves — in one form or another — a dozen actors carries high risks for Israel’s reputation and would engender an enormous, perhaps impossible, responsibility; in other words, it is a thorny path that may bear little fruit. At the same time, when no negotiation format seems to be working, Israel offers a straw that Russia and Ukraine could consider grabbing. Israel’s image as a middleman in a conflict may be something not many are accustomed to, and it does have some legitimate limitations. But what it can do is offer an important channel of communication.

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Bennett, Liberman battle for defense portfolio
Ben Caspit

Read more: www.al-monitor.com/pulse/original…

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 16th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

From: Adriana Troxler  adriana.troxler at oikos-international.o…

 chairpubpol at post.tau.ac.il.

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Adriana Troxler, Program Manager

Email:  adriana.troxler at oikos-international.o…
Skype: adriana.oikos

Mobile: +41 (0)78 631 26 01 I Direct: +41 (0)71 224 25 90

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 15th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ARCTIC – IS IT POSSIBLE?

Author : Kapil Narula
10 Feb 2015
 www.maritimeindia.org/CommentryVi…

The Arctic is a unique region which plays a very important role in the earth’s ecosystem. It regulates the earth’s climate, influences the ocean currents, has rich biodiversity and is home to a substantial indigenous population. Therefore, sustainability should be a prerequisite condition for development in the Arctic.

‘Sustainability’ is the ability of a system to continue a desired behaviour indefinitely. An example of such a sustainable system is tropical rain forests in which the inherent processes continue in a cyclic manner to support life. On the other hand, ‘development’ is the process of growth. When these two words are conjoined it implies ‘continuous growth’. Hence the word ‘Sustainable Development’ is actually an oxymoron because any kind of growth cannot be indefinite.


While ‘Sustainable Development’ is rightly understood as a multi-dimensional concept, having economic, environmental and social dimensions, an extended definition also includes inter and intra-generational equity as well as inter-species equity, as its fundamental principles. However, people often misunderstand it as simultaneous and continued growth in all three dimensions. This understanding is flawed as these dimensions have competing goals and therefore there has to be a trade-off between these goals. As an example, any kind of economic growth has negative environmental externalities and there may be accompanying social impacts which may lead to collapse of societies. Therefore sustainable development needs to be perceived in a way that explicitly conveys the core idea that the growth of the economy and the society is constrained by environmental limits.


If ‘Sustainable Development’ of the Arctic region is viewed from the above perspective, one is forced to define environmental limits prior to looking at economic opportunities in the region. Further, the impact of development in the region on culture, societies and the traditional way of living of the indigenous people should also be minimal. Hence it is important that any activities which are undertaken in the Arctic region should be carefully examined for the foreseeable impacts which they might have on the region as well as on the ecosystem of the earth.

Let us consider two major issues which are threatening the sustainability of the Arctic region: ‘resources’ and ‘routes’. The scramble between Arctic nations to control both these and the intent of extra regional powers to share the trickledown benefits, have resulted in countries engaging in active geopolitics on the Arctic. While some countries like India are keenly interested in science in order to increase their understanding of climate change, other countries such as South Korea are looking at the economic benefits which they can reap as fallout of increased shipping in the region.

Let’s talk about resources first. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the region contains 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 per cent of its oil. These valuable energy resources have been fossilised over millions of years. From the viewpoint of sustainability, the ‘strong sustainability’ condition defines that the ‘economic capital’ (produced capital such as infrastructure, knowledge etc.), and ‘natural capital’ (environmental assets such as fossil fuels, biodiversity and other ecosystem structures) are complimentary, but not interchangeable. This implies that natural capital needs to be preserved sufficiently, as it has to be passed to the next generation and cannot be replaced with economic capital. Hence the amount of fossil fuels and minerals which can be extracted from the Arctic region should be limited to the regeneration rates of these resources. Obviously, this would mean that only miniscule amounts of resources can be extracted and therefore the strong sustainability condition is difficult to meet, in the case of energy and mineral resources. An alternate interpretation for resources can be as follows: the non-renewable resources which are extracted should be replaced by an equivalent amount of substitutes for that resource. This interpretation can however serve as a prerequisite condition for resource extraction, if the Arctic has to be developed sustainably.

The strong sustainability condition is often diluted to a ‘weak sustainability’ condition which allows unconditional substitution between economic and natural capital. This implies that natural resources may be used as long as economic capital is increased. Proponents of this approach claim that the energy which is extracted now, can be used to increase economic capital, so that the total amount of capital for the next generation remains unchanged. However, most often this weak sustainability condition is also violated and the extracted resources are consumed by the existing generation without a thought for the future generations.

On the issue of new shipping routes, the strong sustainability condition in the Arctic region would be met as long as the rates of waste generation from shipping and related activities do not exceed the assimilative capacity of the Arctic eco-system. This condition therefore requires that while the shipping routes may be used, there should be stringent environmental regulations controlling the operation of shipping in the region. Notwithstanding the strict enforcement of rules, the environmental risks remains high due the uncertain nature of floating ice, harsh climatic condition, risk of human or technical failure and the fragile nature of the environment. An oil spill either from offshore drilling or accidents at sea, marine pollution due to leaks and untreated waste disposal at sea are other challenges, which will have an impact on the marine environment in the region. However, as long as the environmental impact on the ecosystem is within the acceptable limits, shipping in the region could be classified as sustainable. But the question is “Do we have enough know-how on the Arctic ecosystem to even attempt defining such limits?” Further, what is the guarantee that there would be no accidents such as those involving the drilling ships, ‘Noble Discoverer’ and the ‘Kulluk’, operated by Shell off the Alaskan coast in 2013 which led to suspension of further drilling in the region. The answers to these questions are not easy and hence prior to allowing navigation of ships through the ice floes infested waters, one must carefully examine the environmental risks which the region is exposed to, if unrestricted shipping is allowed.

It can, therefore, be concluded that there are many challenges to sustainable development of the Arctic region. However, such a possibility exists, provided stringent rules and regulations are followed for shipping and a limited amount of resource extraction is permitted in the region. How would this development unfold, is a question which none can predict, but one can only hope that the Arctic Council adopts some guidelines which imposes certain limits and restriction on shipping and resource exploration activities in the Arctic region.

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(*The author is a Research Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Indian Navy or National Maritime Foundation. He can be reached at  kapilnarula at yahoo.com)

Kapil Narula
Cdr (Indian Navy)
Research Fellow
National Maritime Foundation
Airport Road, NH-8
New Delhi- 110 010
Ph:+91-11-26156520 Extn: 112(O)

AND

PhD Research Scholar
Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research
Goregaon (East), Mumbai

ARTICLE WRITTEN “towards the run up to the Indian National Maritime Foundation Annual Conference.”
The National Maritime Foundation is dedicated to “Nurture India’s Maritime Interests.”

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 11th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)


New opportunity for EU support for climate action in Eastern Partnership countries

from: Zsolt Lengyel –  zsolt.lengyel at climaeast.eu

February 10, 2015

Dear Madam/Sir,

We are pleased to inform you that the Clima East Expert Facility (EF) has a new round for applications for support from eligible organisations involved with climate actions, targeting both mitigation and adaptation in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

In this round we will also accept collaborative applications from two or more beneficiary organizations. This track should enable sectoral ministries, other national or local administration bodies, and in particular civil society organisations, to contribute successfully to the definition, development and delivery of national climate policy and actions.


The Clima East Expert Facility is one of the channels through which the European Commission funded Clima East project provides technical assistance to Partner Countries’ stakeholders to facilitate the development, adoption and implementation of effective and appropriate climate change mitigation and adaptation policies and actions.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 8th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2015 – GENEVA HIGHLIGHTS – First day of the new start-up Session:

On Sunday morning, the ADP opening plenary took place. In the morning and afternoon, the ADP contact group on item 3 (implementation of all the elements of Decision 1/CP.17) convened.

ADP OPENING PLENARY

COP 20 President Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Minister of the Environment, Peru, called on parties to maintain the momentum generated in Lima and work responsibly, efficiently and in a spirit of compromise. ADP Co-Chair Ahmed Djoghlaf (Algeria) called on delegates “to keep the promise made to our children in Durban.”

ITEM 3: Co-Chair Daniel Reifsnyder (US) underscored the objective of delivering a negotiating text on Friday and that the main task of the ADP contact group will be to ensure that the text fully reflects parties’ positions. Parties agreed to the proposed organization of work.

South Africa, for G-77/CHINA, noted that: the elements for a draft negotiating text annexed to Decision 1/CP.20 (Lima Call for Climate Action) are not fully negotiated; streamlining of options must be based on consensus; and parties’ views must be reflected in the text in a balanced manner.

The EU urged progress on: ensuring dynamism in the 2015 agreement through regular review of ambition; clarifying how the agreement will deliver transparency and accountability with respect to mitigation; delivering climate resilience through adaptation and climate finance; and enhancing mitigation before 2020. Australia, for the UMBRELLA GROUP, proposed distinguishing content that needs to be included in a legal agreement from content that is more appropriate for a COP decision. Switzerland, for the ENVIRONMENTAL INTEGRITY GROUP, proposed break-out groups to address specific issues and urged focusing on streamlining the text.

ADP CONTACT GROUP

GENERAL/OBJECTIVE: On Section C “General/Objective” Co-Chair Reifsnyder suggested bracketing it and reflecting that some parties feel that the Section is not necessary.

Parties made suggestions to add text and identified opportunities for consolidation.

The US questioned the need for a separate Section on objectives. BRAZIL identified the Section as necessary to explain why a new agreement is needed. SAUDI ARABIA suggested omitting the Section, but if retained, then reflecting the objective in one to two paragraphs. Several parties suggested focusing the Section on the agreement’s overall objective and including details on how to achieve this objective elsewhere. SINGAPORE called for addressing the relationship between the Convention and the new agreement.

Maldives, for AOSIS, called for a reference to science on keeping the average temperature increase below 1.5 °C. JAMAICA proposed text on ensuring significant and rapid global greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions of at least 70-90% by 2050. The EU underscored the need to reach zero net emissions of CO2 and other long-lived GHGs by the end of the century to ensure consistency with the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. SWITZERLAND agreed on the need to reflect the objective of achieving zero net GHG emissions. BRAZIL warned that references to the IPCC could lead to politicization.

Sudan, for the AFRICAN GROUP, highlighted a new proposal on loss and damage. AOSIS underscored the need for high ambition from all parties; interlinkages between mitigation and adaptation; and addressing loss and damage.

BRAZIL lamented that parts of the text are not in line with the Lima outcome, such as references to “evolving CBDR.” He supported undertakings by all Parties. The US proposed categorizing developed and developing countries into two new annexes.

Malaysia, for the LMDCs, called for addressing adaptation with the same urgency as mitigation. He proposed emphasizing, inter alia, the link between developing countries’ mitigation actions and enhanced support by developed countries; and that developed countries must not resort to any unilateral measures on climate change. SAUDI ARABIA suggested combining text on ensuring resilience and adaptive capacity with text on ensuring that all investments are resilient to climate change.

Several parties supported including text on gender equality. Tuvalu, for the LDCs, identified similarities between the proposals. MEXICO, supported by UGANDA, CHILE and BOLIVIA, also suggested text on human rights. Tuvalu, for LDCs, called for language on universal participation, human rights and rights of people with disabilities.

Co-Chair Reifsnyder indicated that informal discussion on the Section can be reconsidered at a later stage. He expressed satisfaction with progress made and said parties’ proposals together with revised Section C will be made available online promptly.

MITIGATION: In the afternoon, the contact group focused on Section D on mitigation.

Argentina, for the LMDCs, underscored, inter alia, that commitments, contributions and actions should comply with the Convention’s principles and obligations, with developed country parties undertaking quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives (QELROs) that are comparable, verifiable and implemented without any conditions. She added that developing country actions may include REDD+ and joint adaptation and mitigation, in accordance with their specific circumstances and needs.

Chile, for AILAC, suggested text on distinguishing between ex ante and ex post review of INDCs, proposing that all parties make successive mitigation commitments. On the use of market mechanisms in the land-use sector, he suggested including references to: environmental integrity; avoiding double counting; and a levy to support climate change resilience in developing countries.

Panama, for CfRN, called for: the REDD+ framework be reflected and anchored in the new agreement; applying safeguards; and strengthening institutional arrangements under the Convention based on Decision 10/CP.19 on support for the implementation of mitigation activities in the forest sector by developing countries.

The EU, inter alia: emphasized accounting rules and suggested bringing these from the Section on transparency of action and support, into the Section on mitigation. He proposed separating text on land use and market mechanisms. He highlighted the need for parties to periodically review and update their commitments. AUSTRALIA proposed text on national schedules and intended mitigation contributions, including that each party individually update their respective national schedules in accordance with modalities to be agreed by the governing body.

Kenya, for the AFRICAN GROUP, emphasized developed countries’ obligation to provide MOI, and that social and economic development and poverty eradication are first and overriding priorities for developing countries. Maldives, for SIDS, proposed, inter alia, that proceeds from the use of market mechanisms will be used for meeting the costs of adaptation in the most vulnerable developing countries.

Underlying the importance of text on peaking of global GHG emissions as soon as possible, TANZANIA proposed text specifying these efforts be quantitative and time-bound for developed countries and aspirational for developing countries.

The US proposed replacing references to developed or developing countries throughout the text be replaced with reference to new annexes y and x. He proposed text to provide clarity on how parties engage in consultations on future cycles of contributions, specifying that parties should submit INDCs no later than six months before the beginning of each cycle. CANADA proposed text suggesting that all parties prepare national inventory reports in accordance with IPCC guidance.

BRAZIL suggested text on an economic mechanism comprising an emissions trading system (ETS) and an enhanced Clean Development Mechanism (CDM+). He explained that parties with quantified mitigation targets could use ETS and CDM+ to supplement domestic action, and developing countries may participate in CDM+ projects on a voluntary basis. He emphasized voluntary cancellations of Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) to enhance environmental integrity, saying cancelled CERs could be used to meet quantified financing targets or pledges but not mitigation targets.

SENEGAL stated that market mechanisms and actions in the land-use sector should contribute to the sustainable development of the host countries. He proposed a centrally governed market mechanism under the Convention, building on existing market mechanisms. ETHIOPIA announced a new submission clarifying the details of market mechanisms in the 2015 agreement.

SOUTH AFRICA stressed review as an integral part of a dynamic contribution cycle. She proposed text on common accounting rules to be developed by the COP. NEW ZEALAND noted that accounting rules must be more explicitly addressed in Section D, and, with NORWAY, stressed the importance of avoiding double-counting.

BOLIVIA stressed the need for inclusion of alternative, non-market, and joint mitigation and adaptation approaches, and for adding text on “the protection and integrity of Mother Earth.” On a global emission budget, ETHIOPIA proposed including a reference to national per capita emissions and taking into account historical emissions.

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IN THE CORRIDORS

On a cold but sunny Sunday morning, delegates arrived in the historic Palais des Nations for the first of several negotiating sessions leading to Paris. Many felt the meeting got off to a good start. The opening plenary was described as “surprisingly short” and many expressed appreciation for the gesture by many negotiating groups to submit their opening statements electronically in the interest of time.

The ADP morning contact group made good progress and closed ahead of schedule. In the afternoon contact group, the mitigation section of the text grew in length with a total of 52 new proposals made. Regardless, that meeting closed an hour ahead of schedule. Pleased with the progress, Co-Chair Reifsnyder joked that continuing with such efficiency, “we will definitely have an agreement in Paris – or even before.”

Having consulted with the negotiating group leaders, the Co-Chairs proposed to speed things up and collect all new textual proposals on Monday in order to focus the rest of the session on streamlining the text. On that note, many delegates said they anticipated a late evening to finalize negotiating groups’ internal coordinations on new text.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on February 8th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

The eighth part of the second session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Ad-Hoc Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP – Ad-Hoc Durban Platform) will be held from 8-13 February 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland.

From:  unfccc.int/meetings/geneva_feb_20…

Negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the conference is the first conference of several meetings in preparation for the Paris Climate Change Conference that will be held in France in December. The Paris Conference is mandated to adopt “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties.” The agreement will be implemented from 2020 onwards.

The body tasked with developing the Paris Agreement is the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). In Geneva, the ADP will hold the eighth part of its second session (ADP 2-8).

Updated as of 7 February
pdf-icon Overview schedule (110 kB)
pdf-icon Schedule of the contact group work (168 kB)
In Focus: Meetings of the ADP

Scenario note by the Co-Chairs on the eighth part of the second session of the ADP
 CADP at unfccc.int

The Cochairs are: Mr. Ahmed Djoghlaf and Mr. Daniel Reifsnyder and Ms. Yang Liu as the Rapporteur of the ADP, to serve until the conclusion of the ADP session to be held in conjunction with COP 21 in 2015.

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IISD RS @ UNFCCC ADP 2.8 | 8-13 February 2015 | Geneva …
www.iisd.ca/climate/adp/adp2-8

IISD Reporting Services, through its Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB), will cover the Geneva Climate Change Conference – February 2015, from 8 to 13 February 2015 …

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ECO is a daily newsletter published by a group of NGOs active at UN Conferences – not as a reporting service like the ENB of the IISD that is backed financially by several Western governments, but rather as an outlet of several opinionated Civil Society groupings.

We post here the e-mail we received from ECO as posted at the opening of ADP 2.8


Managing the bumps on the Road to Paris.

The dust from COP20 has (barely) settled and now with just 10 months left before COP21 in Paris, Parties need to come together on the way forward to the 2015 agreement.

In Geneva, Parties will start from where they left off the draft negotiating text that is annexed to the Lima Call for Climate Action decision of COP 20 of the UNFCCC. The current draft has many options on most issues, some of them highly divergent.

There are several key issues that need to be grappled with if we are to get a robust and ambitious post-2020 agreement in December. One of the most difficult is coming to a shared understanding of CBDR&RC (differentiation). This is at the heart of many of the divergent areas, and the differences were just papered over with the last-minute compromise of language in Lima.
ECO believes that the earlier Parties attempt to move towards a common understanding on this issue, the easier it will become for the negotiations to make progress towards an ambitious outcome.


The need for a clear and transparent review mechanism within the Paris agreement is another issue. Even though there was no agreement in Lima to conduct a review of the first round of INDCs, an institutionalised review mechanism that not only assesses progress, but also enables countries to plug the ambition gap, is key to the environmental integrity of the agreement.

Civil society needs to be an active participant within this review and it should be conducted in earnest, and in 5-year intervals. The UNFCCC has in the past seen many reviews that only point to the problem without enabling solutions. The review mechanism within the 2015 agreement needs to be different: it should enable and equip countries to bridge the gap between what science requires and what is being put on the table by each country.


This week, Parties should work to narrow down the options in the current text and clarify ideas they had presented earlier in order to produce an acceptable legal negotiating text by the end of the session. As parties start discussing Section C of the draft negotiating text today, here are some suggestions.

First, the agreement should state an obvious fact which even ECO’s uncle and aunt would understand: the lower the level of mitigation ambition, the higher will be the adaptation needs, and the loss and damage from climate change impacts and the associated costs thereof, which will require much higher support to vulnerable countries and people who have not caused climate change. A good basis for addressing this continuum of mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage in Paragraph 4 of the current text. In today’s thematic session, Parties should support this language, and make further efforts to operationalise it.

ECO believes the phase out of fossil fuel emissions and phase in of 100% renewable energy as early as 2050 should be the long-tern goal of 2015 agreement. Language reflecting this option should be added to the text coming out of Geneva. The text should also note that achievement of this goal rests on up ramping mitigation ambition within the pre-2020 period, as well as countries putting ambitious INDCs on the table in Paris. Such timely action will not only reduce costs in the longer run, but can ensure that climate impacts are curtailed early on.

While these bumps collectively might appear daunting, they can be overcome through a mix of political will and good faith negotiating. People, businesses, and local authorities across the world are already showing the way; ECO calls on Parties here in Geneva to do the same.

Pathway to zero: Career coaches assert that in order to be successful, you need to have a clear goal for what you want to achieve, then develop a pathway to get you there.

Today’s negotiations on the long term goal of the Paris agreement are, therefore, critical to help define our ultimate objective. That is: to reduce carbon emissions to zero and achieve a 100% renewable-powered world by 2050.


To have a likely chance to remain within the maximum 2°C warming threshold, the IPCC has provided us with a carbon budget of 1000 gigatonnes (CO2eq). That’s it. It’s all we can spend until we achieve the magic zero by 2050. If current trends continue, we’ll have spent a full third of it by 2020.


A growing number of companies, have endorsed staying within this carbon budget, recognising that the benefits of action far outweigh the costs of climate impacts. Unilever’s CEO is just one of many calling for zero emissions by 2050.


The good news is that economics, as well as climate considerations, are already defining the end of the fossil era. China’s 2014 decline in coal use shows that with political determination and strong targets and measures, the world’s highest emitting country can peak their coal use well before 2020.

The Economist recently reported that Saudi Arabia’s profligate energy consumption means that “the country may have no oil to export by 2030” ? a real spur for domestic innovation and diversification.

Clean energy is already the low cost option. In Jamaica, the price of solar power is the same as that of wholesale fossil-fuelled power and in Nicaragua, electricity from wind is half as expensive as power from traditional sources. Renewables are rapidly becoming cheaper all over the world, making the 100% renewable goal ever more attractive, and the decline of fossil fuels an ever-clearer reality.


And back here in Geneva, much of what needs to be in the text for today is already there. A few changes to C3.1 Option b, so that it requires global GHG emissions to fall by 70% (not 50%) and to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050, gets us to where we need to be. Adding a reminder that we need to transform the energy system so that we have “100% sustainable and renewable energy that meets the needs of all” seems like a goal to endorse.


As Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, put it: going for zero emissions by 2050 “will drive innovation, grow jobs, build prosperity and secure a better world. Why would we wait any longer to do that?”

Human rights protections for all:

As you, dear negotiators, tackle Section C of the elements paper today, ECO urges you to think not just about numbers and principles, but about people. There should be unifying language in the general, operational section of the draft agreement text that recognises the human dimensions of climate change. We suggest:

“Parties shall, in all climate change-related actions, respect, protect, promote and fulfill human rights for all”.

240 organisations endorsed this language in a submission to the ADP co-chairs yesterday. It’s also what each of the 76 independent experts of the UN Human Rights Council recommended in a joint statement to the UNFCCC Parties during COP20.

Looks familiar, right? Yes, yes, it’s a lot like what’s in the shared vision of the Cancun Agreements. Since Cancun, however, we have noticed that this reference hasn’t done the job of ensuring that rights are adequately considered in climate policies. This language in Section C will help ensure that these principles apply to all pillars of the Convention.

Today is the day to make sure it lives on in Paris!

Why, you ask? Well, we can’t escape the fact that climate change has human consequences. The lives and livelihoods of literally billions of people are riding on what comes out of this process, and this language is relevant to every element of the negotiating text.

It’s also nothing new. Parties already have human rights obligations. This language, as in the Cancun Agreement’s shared vision, helps spell that out in the context of climate change. And it helps make sure that Parties are looking out for their own people. No matter what delegation or constituency you represent, you care about your people. ECO knows you do. After all, you are a person too.

So as we kick off this week of negotiations, ECO and 240 organisations call on you to make sure Section C ensures that Parties respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights for all. That shouldn’t be controversial, so just go do it!



When neutrality undermines Integrity:

When ECO thinks of Switzerland we think of skiing, watches, neutrality, delicious chocolate and of course, the Environmental Integrity Group.

ECO appreciates that Switzerland negotiates as part of a group with the stated priority of “environmental integrity”, but we wonder about Switzerland’s own integrity when it comes to its domestic emissions and commitments?

During the Multilateral Assessment in Lima, Switzerland became very evasive when asked why it would not opt for a conditional target of negative 30% emission reductions by 2020. Perhaps it’s because the country, to date, has merely achieved stabilisation of its absolute emissions. Switzerland offers population growth as a cheesy excuse for this lack of ambition. However, there is much more that Switzerland can do—like instituting policies to switch its population off of high-emitting oil heating systems, reducing per capita car ownership, addressing the startling fact that that average Swiss citizen racks up double the annual air miles of people in neighbouring countries.

ECO hopes that Switzerland will admit it has been off piste when it comes to climate ambition, and demonstrate its integrity by delivering on its 2014 United Nations Climate Summit announcement that it will become carbon neutral.

Minister Doris Leuthard, who made that commitment in New York last September, is in a perfect position to deliver on it. How could she not be when she’s responsible for Switzerland’s policies on climate, energy, transportation (including aviation), forestry, environment, spatial planning and (tele)communication. It’s exactly these sectors that need to change for Switzerland to make an ambitious effort in its INDC submission. ECO also seriously hopes the rumor that Switzerland intends to use carbon markets rather than striving for ambitious emission reductions at home is false. How would this fulfill a vision of carbon neutrality?

To top it off, Switzerland’s move in Lima to avoid talking about the next steps for climate finance makes it even harder to see how Switzerland can claim to be a champion of environmental integrity. ECO calls on Switzerland to check its watch and realise how late in the day it is for climate action. On this issue, being neutral isn’t a virtue – rather, it’s time for bold action.

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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on January 29th, 2015
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

From the Offices of George Soros:

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Yesterday, the New York Times carried an op-ed by George Soros and Bernard-Henri Lévy on the remarkable experiment underway in Ukraine. They write, “Maidan’s supporters have moved from opposition to nation building” — launching radical reforms and taking on entrenched state bureaucracy and the business oligarchy. If these reforms are to succeed, the new Ukraine first must survive its ongoing conflict with Russia. To do so, it urgently needs financial assistance from the West.

In today’s New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman quoted George’s view that, “there is a new Ukraine that is determined to be different from the old Ukraine. … What makes it unique is that it is not only willing to fight but engage in executing a set of radical reforms. It is up against the old Ukraine that has not disappeared … and up against a very determined design by President Putin to destabilize it and destroy it. But it is determined to assert the independence and European orientation of the new Ukraine.”

All best,

Michael Vachon

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Save the New Ukraine
New York Times
George Soros and Bernard-Henri Lévy

A NEW Ukraine was born a year ago in the pro-European protests that helped to drive President Viktor F. Yanukovych from power. And today, the spirit that inspired hundreds of thousands to gather in the Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square, is stronger than ever, even as it is under direct military assault from Russian forces supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The new Ukraine seeks to become the opposite of the old Ukraine, which was demoralized and riddled with corruption. The transformation has been a rare experiment in participatory democracy; a noble adventure of a people who have rallied to open their nation to modernity, democracy and Europe. And this is just the beginning.

This experiment is remarkable for finding expression not only in defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity from the separatists, but also in constructive work. Maidan’s supporters have moved from opposition to nation building.

Many of those in government and Parliament are volunteers who have given up well-paying jobs to serve their country. Natalie Jaresko, a former investment banker, now works for a few hundred dollars a month as the new finance minister. Volunteers are helping Ukraine’s one million internally displaced people as well as working as advisers to ministers and in local government.

The new Ukraine, however, faces a potent challenge from the old Ukraine. The old Ukraine is solidly entrenched in a state bureaucracy that has worked hand in hand with a business oligarchy. And the reformers are also up against the manifest hostility of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, who wants at all costs to destabilize Ukraine.

One drawback is that the new Ukraine is a well-kept secret, not just from the rest of the world but also from the Ukrainian public. Radical reforms have been hatched but not yet implemented.

It is instructive to compare Ukraine today with Georgia in 2004. When he became president that year, Mikheil Saakashvili immediately replaced the hated traffic police and removed the roadblocks used to extort bribes from drivers. The public recognized straight away that things had changed for the better.

Unfortunately, Ukraine has not yet found a similar demonstration project. Kiev’s police force is to be restructured, but if you need a driver’s license, you must still pay the same bribe as before.

Mr. Saakashvili was a revolutionary leader who first stamped out corruption but eventually turned it into a state monopoly. By contrast, Ukraine is a participatory democracy that does not rely on a single leader but on checks and balances. Democracies move slowly, but that may prove an advantage in the long run.

The big question is, will there be a long run? Although Russia is in a deepening financial crisis, Mr. Putin appears to have decided that he can destroy the new Ukraine before it can fully establish itself and before an economic downturn destroys his own popularity.

The Russian president is stepping up the military and financial pressure on Ukraine. Over the weekend, the city of Mariupol came under attack from forces that NATO said were backed by Russian troops, undermining the pretense that the separatists are acting on their own.

Ukraine will defend itself militarily, but it urgently needs financial assistance. The immediate need is for $15 billion. But to ensure Ukraine’s survival and encourage private investment, Western powers need to make a political commitment to provide additional sums, depending on the extent of the Russian assault and the success of Ukraine’s reforms.

The reformers, who want to avoid the leakages that were characteristic of the old Ukraine, have expressed their wish to be held accountable for all expenditures. They are passing extensive legislation but also want the International Monetary Fund to go on exercising oversight.

Unfortunately, just as democracies are slow to move, an association of democracies like the European Union is even slower. Mr. Putin is exploiting this.

It is not only the future of Ukraine that’s at stake, but that of the European Union itself. The loss of Ukraine would be an enormous blow; it would empower a Russian alternative to the European Union based on the rule of force rather than the rule of law. But if Europe delivered the financial assistance that Ukraine needs, Mr. Putin would eventually be forced to abandon his aggression. At the moment, he can argue that Russia’s economic troubles are caused by Western hostility, and the Russian public finds his argument convincing.

If, however, Europe is generous with its financial assistance, a stable and prosperous Ukraine will provide an example that makes clear that the blame for Russia’s financial troubles lies with Mr. Putin. The Russian public might then force him to emulate the new Ukraine. Europe’s reward would be a new Russia that has turned from a potent strategic threat into a potential strategic partner. Those are the stakes.

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