Shifting Eastern Mediterranean Alliances
Shifting Eastern Mediterranean Alliances
The exploitation of energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean has drawn together hitherto estranged states.
The Eastern Mediterranean is changing fast with its estimated 122 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas reserves (the equivalent of 21 billion barrels of oil) already having an impact on regional patterns of amity and enmity. With Israel and Cyprus well underway to becoming gas exporters, the problematic Israeli-Lebanese and Cypriot-Turkish relationships have been further strained. At the same time, energy cooperation has been the driving force behind the nascent Greek-Cypriot-Israeli partnership, manifested in rapidly growing defense and economic cooperation. Clearly, the development of energy resources and their transportation will have far-reaching geopolitical implications for the Eastern Mediterranean and its nations.
Natural gas is the fastest growing source of energy in the world, currently accounting for 22 percent of total global energy consumption. It is both affordable and more environmentally friendly than other commercially feasible options, resulting in an increasing demand even in an era of dropping oil prices. That demand seems likely to be met in large part by the newly discovered gas reserves of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Israel has the potential to become an important regional producer of liquefied natural gas. Its Tamar field, with estimated reserves of 9.7 trillion cubic feet (tcf), came online in 2013 while its Leviathan gas field (above), with a potential of 16 tcf, is slated to be ready for production in 2017.
Israel, for one, has the potential to become an important regional producer. Its Tamar field was confirmed to have estimated reserves of 9.7 tcf while its Leviathan gas field has the potential of producing up to 16 tcf.
Meanwhile, in November 2011, U.S.-based Noble Energy announced a major gas discovery south of Cyprus: The Aphrodite field was estimated to contain 7 tcf. In February 2013, a seismic survey south of Crete indicated that rich hydrocarbon resources may soon be found in Greek waters. Most recently, the Italian company Eni announced the discovery of a huge gas field off the coast of Egypt.
For reasons of geographical proximity, these Mediterranean energy resources concern first and foremost the European Union—the world’s third largest energy consumer behind China and the United States. While oil is still the dominant fuel, accounting for 33.8 percent of total EU energy consumption, natural gas comes in second at 23.4 percent. The Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves have three distinct advantages for European governments (and companies) and are thus viewed by them as a strategic priority. First, due to their smaller sizes and populations, the needs of Israel and Cyprus are relatively low and most of their gas could be exported. Second, Eastern Mediterranean gas could partly cover Europe’s energy needs and thereby decrease its dependence on an increasingly volatile Russia. Finally, since both Israel and Cyprus lack the capital and the offshore drilling technology to develop gas reserves on their own, foreign energy companies have identified them as investment opportunities that could generate significant financial returns.
As the Middle East implodes, security of energy supply has become an important policy objective for the EU. Indeed, there is a consensus among European governments that new initiatives are needed to address energy challenges. The EU is already directly involved to some extent in Eastern Mediterranean energy affairs because Greece and Cyprus are member states while Turkey is a candidate for membership and has a customs union with the EU. Although the governments of the EU and Israel are often at odds politically, economic relations between Jerusalem and Brussels are close and multifaceted.
The U.S. administration views Eastern Mediterranean gas as an alternative source for its European allies who depend heavily on Russian supplies.
Given the prominence of the Middle East for U.S. energy policy, it is hardly surprising that the gas finds in Israel and Cyprus have drawn Washington’s attention as well. Although the U.S. is likely to become the largest gas producer in the world as a result of increased use of shale gas, the administration views Eastern Mediterranean gas as an alternative source for its European allies who depend heavily on Russian supplies. Within the private sector, the American company, Noble Energy, has played a leading role in the exploration process; it has a 40 percent stake in the Leviathan fields, a 36 percent stake in Tamar, and a 70 percent stake in Aphrodite.
Not surprisingly, these discoveries have attracted Moscow’s interest as well due to a potential, adverse impact on its gas exports to European markets. Russian energy companies, which often act as the Kremlin’s long-arm, are particularly active in the region. In February 2013, for example, Gazprom signed a 20-year deal with the Israeli Levant LNG Marketing Corporation to purchase liquefied natural gas exclusively from the Tamar field. Then in December 2013, the Russian company SoyuzNefteGas signed an agreement with the Assad regime to explore part of Syria’s exclusive economic zone. One month later Putin signed an investment agreement with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to develop gas fields off the Gaza Strip.
Despite past support for the Palestinians, newly-elected Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras (left) of the left-wing SYRIZA party, here with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has sought to strengthen ties with the Jewish state. Greece’s location makes it a natural bridge between the energy-rich Eastern Mediterranean and energy-consuming Europe while Israel is now poised to become a major natural gas producer. Thus, Greece and Israel share significant energy interests.
Energy considerations have a long history of influencing the course of relations between states, and the new gas discoveries are no exception to this rule, affecting Israel’s relations with both Greece and Cyprus.
Greek-Israeli relations have been frosty for decades. The postwar Greek governments typically followed a pro-Arab foreign policy in order to protect the large Greek community in Egypt, secure Arab support on the Cyprus dispute in the United Nations, and maintain access to cheap Arab oil. While there was de facto recognition of the Jewish State in 1949, legal recognition needed to wait until 1990 under the right-wing Mitsotakis government. But the formation of a Turkish-Israeli strategic partnership in the mid-1990s provoked a strong backlash with Athens reverting to its pro-Arab policy.
This policy, too, has changed with the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalk?nma Partisi, AKP) in Turkey since the early 2000s. With Athens alarmed by Ankara’s growing regional assertiveness, and Jerusalem disturbed by the new regime’s fiercely anti-Israel approach, Greek-Israeli relations improved rapidly with the two countries signing a string of agreements in the fields of security, energy, trade, and tourism, and exchanging official visits at the ministerial, presidential, and prime-ministerial levels. In March 2012, the air-naval exercise Noble Dina, involving U.S., Israeli, and Greek forces, was conducted in the Aegean Sea while, a month later, a joint Greek-Israeli air exercise was held in central Greece. Most recently, Minister of Defense Panos Kammenos stated that “[Greek] defense planning should take into account friends and allies who seek defense cooperation in the region. And I clearly mean eastward toward Israel.”
Athens’s new Israel policy has been largely unaffected by the frequent change of governments in recent years. The last three prime ministers before the current one—George Papandreou (2009-11), Loukas Papadimos (2011-12), and Antonis Samaras (2012-15)—all met with Israeli officials and concluded agreements, all the more striking given the political and ideological differences among them: Papandreou is a moderate, left-of-center politician; Papadimos is known as a liberal technocrat, and Samaras, a right-wing politician.
In the wake of the economic crisis that has roiled domestic Greek politics and the austerity measures that the EU has sought to impose on Athens, Greeks took to the polls in January 2015 and brought to power the left-wing SYRIZA (Greek acronym of the Coalition of the Radical Left) party, in coalition with the small, right-wing party, the Independent Greeks. This caused considerable alarm in Jerusalem as many senior SYRIZA officials have strong pro-Palestinian sympathies: European Member of Parliament Sofia Sakorafa, for one, is a self-proclaimed friend of Hamas while Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has participated in pro-Palestinian rallies. In late December 2015, the Greek parliament passed a non-binding resolution recommending recognition of “Palestine” as a state.
And yet, the SYRIZA-led government has not distanced itself from Jerusalem. Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias identified Turkey as a source of threats while Minister of Defense Kammenos, leader of the Independent Greeks, harbors strong pro-U.S. and pro-Israeli views. In late November 2015, Tsipras visited Israel and, yet again, on January 27, 2016, together with six members of his cabinet when they held a joint meeting with the Israeli government. So it seems likely that the Greek-Israeli partnership will continue.
Athens is seeking bids for an Eastern Mediterranean pipeline to carry Israeli and Cypriot gas to Europe.
Beyond common concerns about Turkey’s intentions, Athens and Jerusalem share significant energy interests. Both countries want to implement the 1982 U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to facilitate the exploration and exploitation of the seabed; and both maintain that the Eastern Mediterranean could be unilaterally developed through its division into exclusive economic zones of 200 nautical miles. In contrast, Ankara has not signed on to UNCLOS and favors a settlement in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean that would take perceived Turkish interests into greater account.
Moreover, Greece’s location makes it a natural bridge between the energy-rich Eastern Mediterranean, including Israeli fields, and energy-consuming Europe, and Greeks see the country as a hub for bringing Eastern Mediterranean gas to European markets. In March 2014, Athens announced an international tender for a feasibility study of the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline to carry Israeli and Cypriot gas to Europe via Crete and the mainland. While the proposed pipeline would be rather expensive and pass through disputed waters, Russian intervention in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine has given new momentum to the project as the EU looks for alternative sources of natural gas. The European Commission has included the proposed pipeline in its list of “Projects of Common Interests” that could receive financial support.
If Jerusalem and Nicosia decide to opt for liquefaction of their gas resources, then Greek-owned shipping could also play an important role in transporting liquid gas to the international market. During his visit to Israel in November 2015, Tsipras stated,
One of the main issues in our discussions today was [sic] the opportunities arising in the fields of energy in the Eastern Mediterranean … We are examining ways to cooperate in research, drilling, and the transportation of gas from Israel to Europe.
While energy is not the sole factor contributing to the improvement of bilateral relations, it has certainly played a crucial role in the convergence of Greek and Israeli interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The development and exploitation of Eastern Mediterranean energy resources have also given a boost to Israeli-Cypriot relations. Despite geographical proximity, the two countries have largely ignored each other for years. For most Israelis, Cyprus is either the site where Holocaust survivors were forcibly interned by the British (1946-49) as they sought refuge in mandatory Palestine or the closest place where couples unable or unwilling to contract a religious marriage in Israel are able to enter into a civil marriage.
For its part, Nicosia traditionally took a pro-Arab line in diplomatic settings that differed little from neighboring Greece; and just like in Greece, the AKP-induced chill in Turkish-Israeli relations had a warming effect on Cypriot-Israeli relations. In March 2011, Israeli president Shimon Peres hosted his Cypriot counterpart, President Demetris Christofias, who reciprocated this hospitality in November. Both sides came to view each other as potential counterbalances to Turkey’s presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Cypriot defense minister Dimitris Iliadis signed an agreement on the “Mutual Protection of Confidential Information” in January 2012 with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, and a month later, Netanyahu paid a visit to Nicosia, the first ever by an Israeli prime minister, to discuss energy and defense cooperation. According to press reports, the Cypriot navy is planning to buy two Israeli-manufactured hi-tech offshore patrol vessels in order to patrol its exclusive economic zone.
The energy dimension of the nascent Israeli-Cypriot relationship is particularly strong. Nicosia has announced plans to build a liquefied natural gas plant in its Vassilikos industrial area to process its gas. Since the current gas finds are not large enough to make this multi-billion dollar project economically viable, Nicosia has suggested to Jerusalem that the two countries pool their gas reserves to form a single producing unit. In 2013, Minister of Energy Yiorgos Lakkotrypis declared:
[W]e feel that through a close collaboration with Israel, we will be able to be a major player in the world energy market, something that might be too hard for each country to achieve individually.
The future of the Israeli-Cypriot partnership will also depend on the export route of the Israeli gas. Jerusalem has examined a number of options for the optimum utilization of its gas fields but probably prefers to export gas westward in order to improve its relations with European countries. From the Israeli perspective, energy cooperation with Greece and Cyprus could build a new web of alliances with the EU that would help Jerusalem to break out of its increasing geopolitical isolation. The Netanyahu government even lobbied on behalf of Greece in Europe and the United States for an economy recovery plan. In late March 2012, during an energy conference in Athens, then Israeli minister of energy Uzi Landau spoke of “an axis of Greece, Cyprus, and Israel and possibly more countries, which will offer an anchor of stability.” In August 2013, the three countries signed an agreement to install a 2000-megawatt underwater electric cable to connect their power grids—the first of its kind to connect Europe and Asia.
Most recently, in December 2015, a series of trilateral consultations was held in Jerusalem in which a set of issues were taken up and discussed, with energy development topping the list. The parties agreed to further promote trilateral consultations and to meet on a regular basis, beginning with a meeting of their heads of state in Nicosia on January 28, 2016.
While revenues from the sale of oil and gas can bring wealth and prosperity to societies, they also have the potential to upset regional balances of power. In the Eastern Mediterranean, where countries have been locked in conflicts over territory for decades, gas discoveries seem likely to increase the stakes. Contested ownership of gas resources has, in fact, destabilized already strained relations between Israel and Lebanon as well as between Turkey and Cyprus.
Although a delimitation agreement between Lebanon and Cyprus was signed in January 2007, the Lebanese parliament has refused to ratify it to date, and Hezbollah declared the agreement
null and void because the Lebanese side that signed it had its official capacity revoked … The sea, like land, is a one hundred percent legitimate Lebanese right, and we shall defend it with all our strength.
When in December 2010, Nicosia signed an agreement with Jerusalem demarcating their maritime borders, Beirut accused both states of violating its maritime rights. The following year, in a televised speech marking the fifth anniversary of Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel, the group’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Israel with a strike against its energy infrastructure:
We warn Israel against extending its hands to this area and steal[ing] Lebanon’s resources from Lebanese waters … Whoever harms our future oil facilities in Lebanese territorial waters, its own facilities will be targeted.
These are not hollow threats. Hezbollah has the military capacity to attack Israel’s offshore gas platforms should it choose to do so. The 2006 war revealed that its vast arsenal of missiles and rockets includes Chinese-manufactured C-802 anti-ship missiles (range 75 miles) and Zelzal-2 rockets (range 125-250 miles). For its part, the Israeli navy is acquiring at least two 1,200-ton patrol-class vessels, along with additional unmanned aerial vehicles and missile-armed, remote-control gunboats. In this way, Jerusalem seeks to deter possible raids from Lebanon. The protection and exploitation of gas reserves is thus seen by the Israeli leadership as a matter of national security.
The relationship between Turkey and Cyprus is yet another example of a long-standing conflict with few prospects of imminent resolution, and the AKP’s rise to power has only exacerbated the situation.
Turkey’s strongman, Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdo?an (left), seen here at the World Economic Forum, Davos, in 2009, publicly berating Israel’s then-president Shimon Peres for alleged Israeli misconduct, has managed to alienate—and alarm—Eastern Mediterranean neighbors with frequent outbursts and occasional saberrattling. This has led Cyprus, Israel, and Greece, the area’s potential energy producers and transporters, to seek closer ties that would have been inconceivable a decade ago.
In Erdogan’s increasingly paranoid worldview, the possible economic and diplomatic revival of Cyprus as a result of gas development poses a clear and present danger to Turkish national security. In September 2011, Ankara signed a continental shelf delimitation agreement with the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,” and shortly afterward, the Turkish state oil company (TPAO) started its first drilling near the occupied Cypriot city of Famagusta.
While Ankara has invited foreign companies to explore its Mediterranean coast for energy resources, only the Royal Dutch/Shell has thus far expressed interest. In late October 2014, a Turkish research vessel entered the Cypriot EEZ to collect seismic data. Nicosia viewed this as a violation of its sovereign rights, since it had already licensed parts of its EEZ to foreign energy companies.
Israeli and Turkish officials have recently concluded secret talks about bilateral reconciliation.
The energy factor has also internationalized the “Cyprus Problem,” creating a new point of friction between Ankara and Jerusalem. The Turkish government did not anticipate the rapid improvement of Israeli-Cypriot relations and fears that the bilateral cooperation will not be limited to the energy sector. Even before this development, Erdo?an had threatened Jerusalem over its gas exploration initiatives, warning that while “Israel has begun to declare that it has the right to act in exclusive economic areas in the Mediterranean…[it] will not be owner of this right.” For its part Jerusalem has not remained passive, requesting Cypriot permission for the use of the Paphos air base by Israeli fighter jets. In early November 2015, the two countries conducted the second Onisilos-Gideon military exercise in the western part of the island.
The internationalization of the “Cyprus Problem” extends well beyond the region. Chinese companies have already bid for gas exploration and liquefaction projects in the Eastern Mediterranean and are negotiating an agreement with the Cypriot government to purchase LNG by 2020. Consequently, Beijing has closely followed the Cyprus peace negotiations.
The Eastern Mediterranean energy boom has helped warm traditionally chilly bilateral relationships between some countries while aggravating already strained relations with others. Can it also become an engine for promoting regional cooperation?
While the last few years have seen a great deal of saberrattling out of Ankara, the likelihood of a military confrontation between Cyprus and Turkey, or Israel and Turkey, seems small. The construction and operation of energy infrastructure (e.g., pipelines, refineries, natural gas plants) is a costly business requiring political stability, and Ankara may not wish to undermine its role as an energy transit state. Indeed, Israeli and Turkish officials have recently concluded secret talks about bilateral reconciliation that covered, among other items, the laying of a natural gas pipeline between the two countries. This would allow Turkey to reduce its energy dependence on Russia (relations with which have worsened following the downing of a Russian fighter jet in November 2015) as well as to open up a new market for Israel’s natural gas projects off its coast.
In addition, Ankara has offered to build a “peace pipeline” to transport Cypriot gas to European markets via Turkish territory. Nicosia has not rejected this plan provided there is a resolution to the “Cyprus problem,” including the reunification of the island and the withdrawal of Turkish troops from the northern section. This bolsters the argument, advanced by the U.S. State Department among others, that gas profits could contribute to the island’s unification as both Greek and Turkish Cypriots would have major additional incentives to accept a peace deal. It is no coincidence that the special representative for regional energy cooperation for the newly-established State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources is based in the U.S. embassy in Nicosia.
This optimism is rooted in the long-held, liberal view of international relations positing that economic benefits resulting from energy transportation can help resolve political conflicts. Yet if history offers any guide, an economic boom attending hydrocarbons exports can just as often lead to ethnocentrism and economic nationalism as to goodwill and shared prosperity. The production of large quantities of oil and natural gas in the North Sea, for example, has strengthened Scottish nationalism and may eventually lead to Scotland’s secession from the United Kingdom. Likewise, the Clinton administration’s promotion of a “peace pipeline” to carry Azerbaijani oil through the contested area of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia to the Turkish market failed because Armenia did not wish to make the necessary territorial concessions to Azerbaijan. Then again, in 2004, Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili floated the construction of a Russian-Georgian oil pipeline through the breakaway republic of Abkhazia to facilitate a solution to the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, only to be rebuffed by both Russia and Abkhazia. The proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline had the same fate in 2009 when the Indian government announced its decision not to participate in the project for security reasons.
Evidently, such pipelines have failed to materialize because states were neither willing to surrender territory nor comfortable depending on hostile neighbors in return for possible economic benefits. Those who envisage the prospect of a “peace pipeline” positively affecting the current negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots for the resolution of the “Cyprus Problem” may find themselves seriously disappointed.
The new substantial gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean are rapidly transforming regional orientations. Energy interests have brought Israel closer than ever diplomatically to Cyprus and Greece and have played an important role in the apparent thaw in Israeli-Turkish relations. At the same time, energy has generated new tensions between producing countries and countries that feel excluded from the regional natural gas development opportunities. Relations between Turkey and Cyprus as well as between Israel and Lebanon, poor at best, have come under further strain.
U.S. and European interests will be well served by the emergence of the Eastern Mediterranean as a gas-exporting region.
Undoubtedly, U.S. and European interests will be well served by the emergence of the Eastern Mediterranean as a gas-exporting region. However, this will only be possible if there is a resolution to the ownership issue that can accelerate the pace of private investment in the regional gas industry.
Without a region-wide legal agreement, energy companies may not be able to secure the necessary funding to develop and implement gas projects. Washington, which enjoys good relations with all Eastern Mediterranean countries, could act as a broker in hosting multilateral regional talks to defuse tensions and promote mutual understanding between countries in the region.
Emmanuel Karagiannis is senior lecturer at the department of defense studies, King’s College, London, and author of Political Islam in Central Asia (Routledge, 2010) and Energy and Security in the Caucasus (Routledge, 2002).
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From pro-American to pro-Russian? Nikola Gruevski as a political chameleon.
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.
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.
From one neocon to another:
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 pendulum shifts: Fluctuating geopolitics and disillusionment with the West
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.
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.
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.
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.
Related Articles: The deep roots of Macedonia’s current turmoil – and the way forward – Heather Grabbe -the same source.
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.
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.
Catholic Poland going into the EU Parliament elections has a problem with the Conchita Wurst reality of much of the EU. So do Orthodox Metropolits and Muslims of the Balkan – they even think that it was heaven’s punishment with storms and floods that came about because of the diversity being cellebrated by the modern society. To these people it is not all just “Wurst.”
Eurovision and Euro elections: the final straw in Polish gender wars.
How is the victory of Conchita Wurst being politicized in Poland? What is the connection between Eurovision and the upcoming European Parliamant elections?
The Polish political scene was electrified following the Austrian win in the Eurovision song contest. Right-wing parliamentarians and candidates in the upcoming elections to the European Parliament held numerous press conferences in order to complain about this ‘new’ Europe, which allows the victory of a ‘woman with a beard’. Also Polish social media exploded with homo- and transphobic comments and memes.
‘Europe takes away our shipyards and sugar factories and gives us bearded weirdoes instead!’ a
The victory of the Austrian singer Conchita Wurst (drag alias of performer Thomas Neuwirth) politicized Eurovision for Poland (to see how political Eurovision has always been in other parts of Europe, it is enough to follow voting patterns in the Balkans or the Caucasus). Politicians and commentators alike were going out of their way to deride the debauchery they saw. ‘Conchita Wurst is a symbol of the direction, in which Europe is heading (…) a symbol of Europe I don’t want. My Europe is based on Christian values’, said the spokesperson of the main Polish opposition party, Law and Justice (currently polling first for European elections).
‘Very disquieting things are going on in Europe, things that show decadence, downturn and we would like to reverse this trend’ Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Law and Justice, pointed out. ‘Any propaganda aiming to efface differences between men and women is the road to decay (…) we should definitely not celebrate such things, these events do not bode well’ he added.
The Polish Catholic Church lost no time in putting their two cents in as well: ‘This is another form of promoting groups that sneer at human dignity (…) another confirmation that backgrounds priding themselves on sexual licentiousness are protected by the dominant media and “politically correct” authorities’ said priest Marek Drzewiecki. ‘It seems that the victory of Conchita Wurst was a result of the propagation of genderism. And here we should have concerns, because in the long run this destroys the family’, commented the Polish media go-to priest Dariusz Oko.
It has to be said that Polish commentators were outdone only by the Russian nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who stated that this was the end of Europe and that the Soviet army should have never left Austria 50 years ago…
Polish gender wars:
Trolling and hate speech are a common blight of internet memes and fora. But the Polish political and social media reaction to this year’s Eurovision winner is part of a larger war which has been waged against the term ‘gender’ in Poland. As outrageous as it sounds, for the past two years or so, mainstream conservative and right wing forces (which dominate the Polish political scene) have constructed and maintained a discursive fight over the meaning and application of the seemingly obscure academic concept of gender. The virulent attacks were mostly aimed at feminist and queer academia, gender equality programs and policies especially in school and kindergarten education.
The ‘war on gender’ discourse originated in the catholic church and quickly spilled over into parliamentary and local politics. By conflating and mixing terms and phenomena this discourse attempts to hammer the message home that ‘gender’ (or ‘gender ideology’ and ‘genderism’ as used by the proponents) destroys traditional Polish family values (through divorce and same-sex relationships), promotes and ‘spreads homosexuality’, causes child sexual abuse (gender equality education is supposed to ‘sexualise children’), and turns everyone into transvestites. There is no knowledge or education on the differences between sexual reassignment, cross-dressing or transgender and queer identities and essentially no awareness on issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Hence, the ‘war on gender’ in Poland is intensely trans- and homophobic and plays into the wider anti-feminist and anti-LGBT moods within Eastern Europe. According to the 2013 ‘EU LGBT Survey’ by the Fundamental Rights Agency, 57% of people self-identifying as LGBT felt discriminated against in Poland (EU average – 47%), with only Lithuania and Croatia ranking higher (61% and 60% respectively). The lack of improvement in the social position of sexual minorities paired with attempts to roll back women’s rights (restrictions on abortion law, lack of civil partnerships legislation, problems with the implementation of anti-discrimination clauses) are a wider feature in the region. After the fall of state socialism, Eastern Europe has seen waves of growing religious and nationalistic intolerance. The rhetoric of ‘return to tradition’ (where ‘tradition’ stands for normality and nature, meaning mono-ethnic patriarchy) has become an ever-present image and dominant component of the revived and mythologized national identities in Poland, Russia, the Baltic states, the Balkans, Slovakia and Hungary.
‘We are Slavs’ vs. Wurst
According to such narratives ‘women are women and men are men’, because there are undeniable biological differences which give the two sexes specific gender roles, since men and women must have inherently different emotional and psychological qualities. This gender essentialism emerges most strikingly if you compare the Polish Eurovision performance – the song ‘We are Slavic’ and Conchita Wurst’s ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’. Eurovision is a proud feat of kitsch, but the two performances give a perfect illustration of competing gender perspectives. Conchita Wurst embodies everything that conservative Eastern Europe fears from the EU – subversion and transgression in terms of gender roles, gender ambiguity and flexibility in gender expression (translated in Poland into moral decay, rampant trans- and homosexuality, as well as going against nature or god’s law). What about ‘us, Slavs’? The song depicts perfectly the Polish heteronormative natural and traditional vision of gender roles: ‘We Slavic girls know how our charms and beauty work/We like to shake what mom gave us in our genes/ This is Slavic blood!/(…) What’s ours is best, because it’s ours!’ Whether you think the performance was pastiche, soft porn or just good fun, the not-so-subtle message was that Slavic women know ‘how to use what mother nature gave them’ and half-dressed do the laundry and churn butter by hand in sexually inviting ways for their men.
War on gender and European Parliament elections
The Polish ‘war on gender’, which had somewhat died down in the past couple of months, reached another apogee this week thanks to the Eurovision song contest. The amount of bile, hate speech and trans- and homophobia that spilled from Polish political elites and social media in response to the event shows how dominant the ‘gender war’ thinking has become as a comfortable rhetoric tool in debates. It also gave conservative Eurosceptics an image to point to before the European Parliament elections later this month. Given the already extremely low interest and weak voter turnout (never exceeding 25% so far) in European elections, the Polish right wing gained an emotive picture to scare people with and to rally against. An image that plays perfectly into the political game they have been playing since mid-2012, when they took on fighting ‘gender’ and trying to curb gender equality, women’s and sexual minority rights even further. Image of a woman with a beard.
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Mr. Martin Nesirky, the Spokesperson for The UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, speaking to the UN accredited PRESS, Monday July 15th, ended his daily briefing by saying:
“This morning, the Deputy Secretary-General spoke to a large group of representatives from non-governmental organizations and the private sector on international migration and development. He emphasized the need to establish sustained and strong partnerships between different actors to harness the benefits of migration and improve the situation of migrants. He also commended the role played by civil society in building such partnerships.
He said that the General Assembly was meeting on international migration and development in October, and that this was an opportunity for member States to lay the foundation for improved local, regional and international migration policies.” That’s what I have. Questions, please? Yes, Pam?
This statement relates to full three days of activities right here at the UN Headquarters in New York and across the street in the Church Center – which followed a full year of preparations outside the UN in a process that was started in 2006 when there was a UN General Assembly mandated first “High-Level” Dialogue on this topic and was succeeded by yearly meetings and further regional meetings.
At Rio the recommendations included the removal of the non-producing Commission on Sustainable Development and its replacement with a High-Level Panel that will look into the creation of a system of Sustainable Development Goals that will follow in 2015 after the expiring Millennium Development Goals – and this allows for an unusual opportunity to try for making the avoidance of the need of Migration into a Sustainable Development Goal. But the UN seems to oppose this by all the means it has – and I will explain.
You see – when I walk the streets of New York these days I bump into people. This is because the daily temperature reaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit and people do not walk in a straight line. You must try to anticipate which way they will deviate – and I am as guilty as anyone else – this because global warming and Climate Change are already here with us. Relating to our topic here – MIGRATION occurs now not just because people are attracted by magnets of freedom from dictatorships, from religious or sexual oppression, or because of a chance to better education, but now – more and more – there is the push of hunger – climate change has made it impossible to support populations in their country of origin and this migration has become the highest security issue in our days. If heat and Climate Change is impacting New York, just think what this has done in Mali or Darfur!
The UN is not blind to this. The UN Secretary-General was supposed to be the opening speaker at the Monday, July 15, 2013 event at the meeting at the UN General Assembly with Mr. Vuk Jeremik, President of the General Assembly as Chairman of the session. But Mr. Ban Ki-moon chose to be on a July fact finding tour of Europe that took him to see the effects of glaciers melting in Iceland, and a visit in Paris on Bastille Day with the French troops fighting in Mali.
Both above visits, as well as the meetings in-between, would have made a great story had the UN Secretary-General returned to New York and told on Monday July 15th his impressions to the meeting here. But this seemingly did not cross his mind, and surely this is no reflection on the way Mr. Elliason presented the case. It must be said that seven years ago – at the first dialogue – Mr. Eliasson presided because it was his position of President of the UN General Assembly, so he is well versed with the issues – the roles of Civil Society, Labor Unions and Employers’ organizations, diaspora organizations, and academics. He stressed that the challenge is to reach to the help of the media – “Knowing the facts is the source of wisdom” he quoted.
Mr. Eliasson said he wants to see as a post 2015 program a five year action program in five areas of priority:
What he did not mention is the right of people to avoid migration that was pushed upon them because of changes in the local environment.
Mr. Jeremik reminded us of the Rio vision for the post-2015 as an aspiration to strive for equitable approaches to overcome poverty and inequality.
At the meeting on Monday participated over 200 Civil Society organizations and 80 UN member States.
I sat through the full three days and saw that very good people from all over the globe were present – but by no means was this an objective success.
Starting with the strong Swiss presence I must say that as Migration means Emigration from one place and Immigration to another – this except Migration within the same country, Switzerland is a country of poor record as it does not allow citizenship except when the candidate is weighed in gold – and I am not abstract on this – Just think of the Agha Khan and his Swiss based Foundation. So, when A good looking lady presented herself as a migrant from El Salvador to Switzerland, with dual nationality and diamonds sparkling from her earrings, spoke about the Global Economic Forum backing the economic advantages that come from migration – I had to wonder about what I was hearing. Then let us not forget that simple mortals could not stay in Switzerland when their life was in peril. In general – I was more impressed by the people in the room then by some of the presenters, as in UN fashion – the good turns easily into the trite, and good ideas can produce easily flying meetings that are not free to the introduction of ideas born outside the initiating circle. Trying to introduce the notion that the UN is changing and that MDGs are ending with new SDGs taking their place, and the fact that the UN just opened this month the office for Sustainable Energy – the SE4All concept, and that right now there is an opportunity to talk of migration in context of Climate Change – all that was beyond the interest of the organizers and the moderators – but very much of interest of many of the participants.
Civil Society is surely a mixed bag, and the stress on remittances from the Migrants back to their families in the homeland become very important part of the economies of some oppressive governments – so, indiscriminately stressing the economic value may not be any better idea then using military from countries in trouble in order to beef up the troops of UN Peace-Keeping forces in other countries in trouble, when the pay for this service is income for the government that sends these troops. This comment may have nothing to do with the subject at hand but is important to the understanding of the depth of the problem when you work in he UN context.
Without delving further in depth of what was said, this because the meetings were just an interactive exercise that will generate its own papers, the real news this Monday were not the Civil Society NGOs that were allowed to participate – but rather those organizations that were excluded in total lack of transparency and thus gave a blue eye to the UN institution as a whole.
The subject came up when the United States pointed out that three NGOs were eliminated from participation this last week by being BLACKBALLED by some secret member State. These were three organizations – one registered in the UK and two in Israel and the UN does not release the names of the countries that objected to their participation. TO ME THIS WAS THE REAL NEWS OF THE MEETING – COVERING ON ALL THE GOOD THINGS THAT WERE SAID AT THE MEETING.
After the US, spoke also Israel and the EU, and eventually this became an important part in the summary of the meeting, when at the end it was presented by the Chef de Cabinet to the UNGA President, Mr. Dejan Sahovic, who is also from Serbia like the UNGA President.
Mr. Sahovic explained that this had nothing to do with the organizers of the event but is a UN given. Whenever there is an event at the UN, after Civil Society makes up the list of registered NGOs, these lists are distributed to all governments which have then the veto right against any line on that list.
OK, we knew that China will take out any NGO that is based in Taiwan, but how is it that an observer organization at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), that is competent in the subject matter and is very active, could be eliminated? To make it sound even worse – the UN does not release the name of the blackballing country and the delegate for the EU said clearly that the EU is worried about the lately decreasing importance of Civil Society at the UN.
In this case it was with two NGOs with interest in Human Rights of Women – specifically women in Arab lands – even more specific – in Saudi Arabia – they DID SPEAK UP.
1. The Institute for Human Rights and Business Limited (IHRB) is the British organization.
2. Microfy – “Microfinance for African refugees and migrant workers in Israel” – an Israeli based NGO that provides assistance to African refugees and asylum seekers, many of them who fled the genocide in Darfur. www.microfy.org Clearly a highly ethical organization that might have difficulty being listened to by despots.
3.”The Center for International Migration and Integration (CIMI)” advises governments and NGOs around the world on migration and integration.
UN Watch was never enthusiastic about the UN – it took RITA to show that the Great Hall can also be a place of Peace. Mr. Ahmedine-Nejad – watch the video and enjoy – RITA is an exponent of your Culture and could be an envoy of your Civilization. Why did nobody think of bringing her to Vienna last week for the meeting of the Alliance?
WE WERE AT THAT CONCERT IN NEW YORK CITY TOWN HALL, and in the nearby Bar, NOVEMBER 2012, WHEN AMBASSADOR PROSOR SAW RITA SING AND DANCE IN FARSI, HEBREW, and ENGLISH, and DECIDED THAT THIS OUGHT TO BE SEEN AT THE UN AS WELL. SURELY, HE WAS NOT NAIVE TO THINK THAT IT WILL BE EASY, BUT HE DID IT!!!
THE ISRAELI MISSION MAKES HISTORY AT THE UN WITH A CONCERT BY ISRAELI POP ICON RITA, SINGING IN BOTH PERSIAN AND HEBREW FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER IN THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY HALL.
by Irith Jawetz, reporting from the UN Headquarters in New York.
On March 5, 2013 the Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN has hosted a special event and first of its kind in the UN General Assembly hall – a concert by the world-renowned Israeli-Iranian singer Rita Yahan-Farouz. The performance was titled “Tunes for Peace” .
Among the attendees were Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic, ambassadors, celebrities, and Jewish and Iranian community leaders.
H.E. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was the first to speak and he started his speech by greeting everybody with the Hebrew word “Shalom”. He said there is no room like this one and it serves to seek peace among nations, preserve Human rights, but sometimes also for concerts. He praised Rita for her desire to reach many cultures through her music, connect people and he hopes this concert will inspire people to strive for peace, justice and Human rights. He thanked the Government of Israel and especially Ambassador Rom Prosor for enabling this important event.
The next speaker was H.E. Mr. Vuk Jeremic, President of the 67th Session of the UN General Assembly. He also thanked Ambassador Prosor and mentioned his personal special friendship with the Ambassador. He announced that he will be going to Israel soon and will be visiting Yad Vashem, since a few members of his family, who saved Jews during the Holocaust will be honored as righteous among Nations. This announcement brought a huge applause from the audience. He mentioned that music has a very important tool for connecting people and nations since biblical times. Music is a universal language and he shares Rita’s hopes that it will bring cooperation between nations.
After the speeches the General Assembly Hall transformed completely and the concert began. Rita came on stage and the audience welcomed her with huge applause. She has a terrific personality and projected it throughout the whole evening.
The album, which has received widespread international acclaim, interweaves the Iranian melodies of Rita’s childhood with the rich tapestry of contemporary Israeli music. She introduced herself by saying that she was born in Tehran and emigrated with her parents at the age of eight. She credited her mother for her remarkable singing career by telling us that her mother used to sing the whole day long, even while cooking or doing chores around the house.
The concert lasted about an hour and brought the hall to its feet. The audience definitely following Ambassador Proser’s closing words in his speech ”Let’s Rock the Hall”.
Let us all hope that politicians will follow Rita’s example!
Some of our older postings on RITA in NEW YORK:
Feb 22, 2013 – Matthew writes: Israel Plans UN Concert by Iranian-Born Singer Rita, … the Viva Vox choir, invited to perform a concert at the UN by General …
Nov 14, 2012 – RITA from Israel, last Sunday night at the Town Hall in New York City, … Such as In 2006, Rita put on a show called One (in English) which ran …
From a new IISD Newsletter – “Sustainable Development in Action” (First year – Third issue).
Co-facilitators for Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals appointed.
The President of the General Assembly has appointed the Permanent Representatives of Hungary – Ambassador Csaba Korosi – and Kenya – Ambassador Macharia Kamau – as co-facilitators to prepare for the first meeting of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In addition, as facilitators, the President of the General Assembly has also appointed H.E. Amb. Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil in order to facilitate the transition from the Rio+20 or the June 2012 meeting that was run by Brazil, and Ambassador Dejan Sahovic as a Special liaison to Mr. Vuk Jeremic of Serbia – now President of the UN General Assembly. Last position before joining Mr. Jeremic in New York – Mr. Sahovic served as Ambassador of Serbia to Hungary (2008-2012)
Initially, they will facilitate consultations on the group’s leadership, agenda, and program of work and methods.
The first meeting of the OWG is currently expected to take place in mid-March 2013 -
In UN fashion – this process, started last Mid-June having not led to a UNGA decision at the 2012 General Assembly meeting is now being pushed to bring forward suggestions to the September 2013 UN General assembly meeting, but rather then establishing directly a committee of specialists – the above decision leads to a group of diplomats that will in turn have to bring in the specialists – thus guaranteeing the continuation of the non-functioning UN Commission on Sustainable Development, rather then replace it with a better functioning body. We tend to bet that eventually the dead CSD will be asked to show the way; above pace is a disappointment to those that thought finally there will be action at the UN on Sustainable Development.
Establishing SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals to replace the MDGs that run out in 2015, is laudable but it seems also pre-ordained that the time till 2015 is intentionally not put to good use.
One of the main outcomes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, was the agreement by Member States to launch a process to develop a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Rio+20 did not elaborate specific goals but stated that the SDGs should be limited in number, aspirational and easy to communicate.
The goals should address in a balanced way all three dimensions of sustainable development and be coherent with and integrated into the UN development agenda beyond 2015.
A 30-member Open Working Group (OWG) of the General Assembly is tasked with preparing a proposal on the SDGs.
The Open Working Group was established on 22nd of January 2013 by the decision of the General Assembly.
The Member States have decided to use an innovative, constituency-based system of representation that is new to limited membership bodies of the General Assembly. This means that most of the seats in the OWG are shared by several countries.
The Rio+20 outcome document The Future We Want states that, at the outset, the OWG will decide on its methods of work, including developing modalities to ensure the full involvement of relevant stakeholders and expertise from civil society, the scientific community and the United Nations system in its work, in order to provide a diversity of perspectives and experience.
As Jeremic (Former Foreign Minister of Serbia) Talks Sovereignty, What of Egypt and Kosovo, Budget from Serbia?
By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, October 3 — The UN seems to make even articulate people bland, and to turn everything into buzzwords and cliches. So it seemed at Vuk Jeremic’s first press conference as President of the UN General Assembly.
His deputy spokesman chose only five question — by the end of which, the obvious word “Kosovo” had not once been said.
Only on the seventh and last pre-drinks questions was the word broached. Jeremic answered indirectly, saying that just as he fought “for five and a half years” as Serbian foreign minister for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia, now he would fight for those things for the whole world. Is that a message to the proponents of Azawad in Northern Mali? Inner City Press has covered Mali’s on-again, then off-again recognition of Kosovo.
More pertinently, is it true as buzzed at the UN that the “new” Egypt may move to recognize Kosovo? What if anything could a PGA (President of the UN General Asembly) try to do?
Inner City Press covered — and called — Jeremic’s election as General Assembly President, and when the media in Serbia contacted it for stories about Jeremic’s budget, Inner City Press also asked Jeremic’s predecessor how much Qatar had spent (this was never answered).
But now one wants to know if it is true that the request to and contribution of Serbia is down to $1.5 million, and what will be the actual budgets of the office.
Wednesday these questions were not taken, nor more generic ones about mediation and the G-20. Team Jeremic offered drinks and cheese cubes to the correspondents, but that time might have been better spent on answering these questions. Perhaps in the future they will be answered.
UN Statement Calls for Restraint From Turkey and Syria, SC Prez Tells ICP
By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, October 4 — On the UN Security Council’s press statement on Akcakale in Turkey, what changed in the 22 hours between the silence procedure being broken by Russia and the statement’s read-out by Council President Gert Rosenthal on Thursday evening?
Mostly the inserting of nine final words: “The members of the Security Council called for restraint.”
Inner City Press asked Ambassador Rosenthal, once he had read out the statement, whether it would be fair to read this as a call for restraint by Turkey as well, or just Syria.
“Both,” Rosenthal said. He confirmed that a separate draft press statement on bombings in Aleppo is under the Council’s “silence procedure” until 10 am on Friday. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the press that one Council member had extended silence until then. But would it be further extended?
There were a few other minor changes from the initial Azerbaijani (or “Ottoman”) draft and the one agreed to: the first draft expressed condolences first to the Government of Turkey then to the families of the victims; this was reversed in the final statement. Also a reference to “international peace and security” was removed.
Some drew a link from the negotiations to an upcoming visit to Turkey by Russian president Putin on October 14. Others speculated about some other deal being reached.
In the run-up to the passing, a well placed diplomat told Inner City Press of passing the press statement, “If they can do it to keep Turkey quiet, good.” But will it?
As France Spins 2-Step on Mali, ECOWAS Frustration, What of Algeria and Chad?
By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, October 4 — When Thursday’s Mali consultations of the UN Security Council broken up near 5 pm, French Ambassador Gerard Araud emerged and confirmed that France would circulate a draft resolution shortly (in a day or two) but NOT yet to deploy ECOWAS forces.
Why the delay? Araud twice said, we’ve been waiting for some time for details from ECOWAS. He said the resolution might specify, deliver the delays in 30 days or as soon as possible.
Inner City Press asked Araud, what about Mali neighbors which are not members of ECOWAS, like Mauritania and Algeria?
Araud replied that any and all countries are invited to be involved. He mentioned the European Union, then circled back to Chad.
But again, what about Algeria? The country has long opposed interventions, especially involving former colonialism France. While pretending not to take the lead or play any special role on Mali, it was Araud who came to the stakeout; it is France which is drafting.
Then again, MUJAO in Northern Mali last month executed an Algerian diplomat. Araud said that there is unanimity in the Council on Mali, and afterward Cote d’Ivoire Ambassador Bamba, who was not allowed in the meeting, emphasized to the press that at the Sahel meeting at the UN during General Debate week, there was a strong political demand a resolution authorizing force.
But what about the neighbors, which are not members of ECOWAS?
At UN, Syria Praises Jeremic as Heavyweight, Critiqus Qatari Ex-PGA
By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, October 4 — Syria UN Ambassador Bashir Ja’afari had many duels with Qatar’s Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser while the latter was President of the General Assembly, culminating in UN Television being turned off when Ja’afari spoke.
On October 4, on UNTV, Inner City Press asked Ja’afari about new PGA Vuk Jeremic and about Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser. Video here, from Minute 14:09.
Ja’afari lashed out at Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, and praised Jeremic as a “heavyweight.” Later it was noted that Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser repeatedly offered UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a private jet to travel for free.
Ban has since named Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser as High Representative on the Alliance of Civilizations.
By contrast, Ja’afari told Inner City Press:
“I think the former PGA harmed his personal reputation, the credibility of his country’s policy and the United Nations by misusing his mandate and the very important podium of the General Assembly. I think that he tried to use the national agenda of his country and to dictate this national agenda on the Member States as a whole…
“You may remember the procedural and political mistakes he made towards the point of view of my country as well as toward myself. In these wrongdoing, procedural and political, he crossed the line. He wasn’t diplomat. He didn’t act responsibly.
“In one of these meetings, the former PGA stopped the translation one time, and stopped recording the session, for the first time since 1945. He on many occasion manipulated the rules and procedure of the session and meetings of the General Assembly.
“The new PGA will be by all means different in his approach, his analysis, from former PGA. He is a real heavyweight, a trouble shooter, a professional diplomat… I guess that he will not fall in the same trap in which the former PGA had fallen.
My minister met with the new PGA and they discussed the best ways to help Syria, Government and people, to achieve national dialogue and to implement the Kofi Annan Six Point Plan as well as other instruments adopted by consensus with regard the Syrian crisis. We look forward to working with him very closely.”
Matthew Russell Lee writes in relation to the election of the new one year President of the UN General Assembly – Vuk Jeremic’s party is now out of power in Belgrade and his political opponents at home divulge the unnoticed facts of how a UN election is won.
As Jeremic Accused by opponents in Serbia of “Bribes” To Be PGA, Witness Qatar, WEOG, Ban …
By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, July 9, 2012 – Presidents of the UN General Assembly usually campaign for and stealthly gain the position with the unequivocal support of their government.
In the case of monarchies – Qatar and Bahrain – this of course was no problem. Nor for Joseph Deiss of Switzerland, or long-time Daniel Ortega ally Padre Miguel d’Escoto of Nicaragua.
But with Vuk Jeremic it is different. His Democratic Party is now out of power in Serbia, and opponents internal and external are leaking information about Jeremic’s campaign and prospective funding of his year atop of the General Assembly. (Click here for Inner City Press’ July 6 story.)
Now in Serbia it is alleged that part of the $2.4 million Sebian first allocation is for “bribery” to help Vuk gain the position. The irony here is that this is how UN elections are contested and won.
Witness the current Western European & Other Group race of Finland, Australia and Luxembourg for two Security Council seats. Finland gave out chocolates (and more, including trips to a mediation conference); Australia through a reception in the “Ambassadors’ River View” tent facing the East River; Luxembourg is working the field.
One might also compare it to what Qatar spent a year ago to beat Nepal for the Asia and Pacific Group nomination, or what Lithuania spent this year in unsuccessful opposition to Jeremic. Or even to what South Korea and Ban Ki-moon spent to win the Secretary General post.
But Vuk’s party is out of power, and the present mayor of Belgrade is gunning for him. How much will be spent on his office this coming year?
As noted, Inner City Press has reported on Switzerland paying for the housing of PGA Joseph Deiss (despite the oath nearly ubiquitous in the Organization to serve the UN and not one’s country), and has inquired into the fundraising of Srgjan Kerim (beyond the $1 million from his government.)
Now incoming PGA Vuk Jeremic of Serbia, whose election Inner City Press predicted with 97 votes (he got 99) is under some fire at home, for a reported $7 million request.
Jeremic’s rival in the Democratic Party (DS), Belgrade Mayor Dragan Dilas, has put the figure at $7.5 million and called it disgraceful. For now, it’s said that only $2.9 million have been approved, prior to the vote for PGA, but running only throw December.
In order to asses Jeremic’s reported estimate, Inner City Press asked the office of the current Qatari PGA:
“This is a press request to know the budget of the current President of the General Assembly for his year in office, both from UN and non-UN sources.
“To explain, there is now a controversy in the press in Serbia about the incoming president’s proposed budget from his country… in this context, and generally for UN transparency, I am asking you for the total PGA budget for his year, broken down as much as are willing to.”
The answer that came back so far did not have the number from Qatar, only from the UN:
“Dear Matthew, The Office of the PGA receives $250,000 for each presidency from the regular UN budget. This amount has been set in 1998 by Member States. The national government of the PGA may contribute to the funding of the operations and activities of the PGA/OPGA.
“There is also the Trust Fund established in support of the Office and used to cover the costs of PGA initiatives such as specific thematic debates. Member States can make voluntary contributions to this Fund – but during this session the Fund received no contributions.”
There is another wrinkle, raised to Inner City Press by another UN source: beyond the now-outdated $250,000, the UN pays for some of the PGA Office’s posts, and others are seconded by other countries. Still, it has become harder and harder for poor countries to be PGA: witness Nepal losing out to Qatar. Now there is Serbia. Inner City Press has reiterated its request for the actual Qatari number. Inner City Press promises to stay on the case.
The Consideration of Sustainabilty as a possible concept mandated by a UN responsibility for Future Generations suggestion moves on to the informal-informals that will start April 23, 2012 at New York headquarters.
As we wrote in our posting www.sustainabilitank.info – the ZERO DRAFT text for the RIO+20 outcome document included a paragraph (#57) in its form that went into the informal-informals March 2012 meeting wording as follows:
“57. We agree to further consider the establishment of an Ombudsperson, or High Commissioner for Future Generations, to promote sustainable development.”
It also had two versions of Paragraph 49 – one titled “Commission on Sustainable Development” – the other titled Sustainable Development Council.
These paragraphs are to be found PART IV of the draft — INSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT.
The draft left the March Informal-informals with the wording as follows.
- – - – - – - -
57. We agree to further consider the establishment of an Ombudsperson or High Commissioner for Future Generations, to promote sustainable development.
[57. We agree to further consider the establishment of [an Ombudsperson, or / the position of - Liechtenstein] High Commissioner for [Future Generations / Intergenerational Solidarity - Holy See]. to promote sustainable development [at global, regional, and national level - Bangladesh]. – G77, Japan, Russian Federation, New Zealand delete; Canada, Norway reserve; EU delete and propose language in 49 alt quint; Montenegro, Liechtenstein move to para. 49 alt sext]
We like the addition by Liechtenstein – “the position of” because it makes it clear that this should be a small body.
We are neutral about the inclusion in the outcome document the recommendation to have similar positions at lower levels as we think that is going to be the task of those other levels to decide on this.
Obviously we are shocked by the opposition to the paragraph by groups like the G77 minus Bangladesh – ( but most probably many more member States of the G77 that did not go on the record yet ) Japan and New Zealand that have not yet understood that it should be a small office like Liechtenstein is proposing and thus not have major monetary implications, and the Russian Federation.
Now let us see the EU and the Montenegro suggestions for Paragraph #49:
[49 alt quat (former para 57) [We support the establishment of an Ombudsperson, or Higher Commissioner for Future Generations, to promote sustainable development and the integrated approach at the highest level of decision, policy, and program making within the UN. We call upon the member states to establish similar institutions in their own national laws, which would be independent from the executive and have a mandate to consider petitions from the public and advocate for the interests and needs of future generations. -- Montenegro]
[49 alt quint We agree to further consider the establishment or appointment, of a High-level Representative for Sustainable Development and Future Generations, possibly to be held within an existing office as the high-level voice called upon to promote an integrated and coherent approach to sustainable development through continuous dialogue with policy-makers, the UN system and civil society. -- EU, former para 57 as amended]
We find the Montenegro version stronger as it does not have the added wording of the possibility of placing the position within an existing office. Independence must be the ground rule, and if it is not guaranteed this new position can not succeed. On the other hand, if this is what it takes to get on board those that want to make sure that the creation of this position will not carry large financial burdens, we feel, mandating it to be small should answer these fears.
The Burgtheater, Vienna is these days busy in developing an archaeology of memory – the guides are Umberto Eco and Peter Handke – The latter just finished a three day run of “Immer noch Sturm” (“Still storm” which is taking us on an expedition to Handke’s own family history) and Eco who will be presenting on October 19, 2011 his first German Translation of – “The Cemetery in Prague” – in a long awaited book reading and podium discussion.
This posting is a work in progress and its main intention is to point out for now the particular event with Umberto Echo, to be held at the Burgtheater, Vienna, on the night of Wednesday, October 19, 2011.
Also, I want to put on notice our readers that having seen tonight the latest play by Peter Handke, I feel a relationship between the play and the Umbert Eco novel which I am sure has in it material that will eventually have it produced as a play as well. I would not be surprised if the two plays will not eventually be seen as complimentary to each other. In the meantime – I will just say that for 2011, it is Handke’s play that might be the most significant production of this season in the Vienna theaters, and the Umberto Eco book presentation the most important all around literary event of the year
Umberto Eco is one of the world’s best selling authors due to his novel The Prague Cemetery – published in October 2010. The book is a worldwide bestseller (being the best selling book in Italy, Spain, Argentina, Mexico and others) that sold millions of copies as of 2010 – now, a year since the first publication in Italian, we will hear him in Vienna release the German translation.
The characters of this novel are not imaginary. Except the main character who is imaginary so the plot can evolve, all others lived in reality and include – Sigmund Freud, Léo Taxil, Diana Vaughan, Eugène Sue and Maurice Joly, as well as Umberto Eco’s own grandfather – that gave a mysterious message to abbot Barruelo that gave rise to all modern anti-Semitism”. These were the the forgery known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that inspired Hitler’s extermination of the Jews.
Eco deals with the Dreyfus affair and endless intrigue spun by the secret police of different countries, the Masons, Jesuit plots, and other events whose accuracy can’t ever be authenticated, but that serve as fodder for feuilletons 150 years later.
Eco, as philosopher, is intrigued by the vision of things – real and fake and the potential strength of the untrue. We see how history is affected by the untrue. It took Eco six years to release this work – six years since his 2004 book “The Secret Flame of Queen Loana.”
In “The Cemetery of Prague” the fictitious central figure is Captain Simone Simonini who does an archaeologists work, as if he were using tiny brushes to release the memory from the debris that stuck to it.
The Burgtheater event includes a podium discussion with Alexandra Foederl-Schmid of Der Standard and Michael Kerbler of Oe1 – Austrian TV – that promises wide media coverage.
The Peter Handke play is done like a dream with memories drifting from above like leaves falling from a tree and with reality and photo-memories intermingling so that Hanke’s stand in just moves in and out from the pictures of the past. What evolves from all of this is the story of a Slovenian family from Kernten State in the South of Austria and the neighboring Balkan States starting with pre-WWII and moving through the third Reich into the following Jugoslav State. The play is hard and in order to do it justice I got the text and will follow up in depth.
But, before I close this first piece, I must note the terrific and maddening Balkan dance of the whole family – those that were still around and the dead ones – affirming their personality – or if you wish their cultural identity – or even a form of Nationalism. From that moment it went down-hill sadness and resignation with the fate.
One more comment – and this in private to Flora who saw the Handke play. If you read this – please go to the Umberto Eco event as well to try to view this as a follow up.
Climate Change: Adaptation and Mitigation in Mountain Regions – We learned that there is much more to it then the Three Polar system we used to write about. Terrific work is being done as the CLISP Project of UNEP, Austria, the EU, and Switzerland, in the three component regions of the Alpine Areas – the Alps, Balkans and Carpathians. Pity more is not known of this work by the environmental community.
We were informed of a Press Briefing
at the Vienna International Cenre, Thursday, September 8, 2011, 1:30 p.m. on
Adaptation to Climate Change by Spatial Planning in the Alps.
This was to be about: The main results and outcomes achieved under the CLISP Project “Adaptation to Climate Change by Spatial Planning in the Alpine area” will be discussed at the CLISP international final conference organized by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Federal Environment Agency Austria, held at the Vienna International Centre at that date – on 8 September 2011, at which the Head of the UNEP Vienna Office, Harald Egerer, stressed the importance of the particular study as a platform for the development of an integrated, transnational approach toward adaptation to impacts of climate change in the highly sensitive area of the Alps.
It also said at the margins of the Conference, high level representatives from the European Union, the Alpine Convention and Austrian agencies will take part at the Press Briefing with the purpose of illustrating present and future strategies to tackle negative effect of climate change in the Alpine space.
Rosario Bento Pais
Having shown interest, later we also received a Press Release:
Climate Change Adaptation by Spatial Planning in the Alpine Space.
VIENNA, 8 September (UN Information Service) – One hundred participants from the Alpine States have gathered today at the Vienna International Centre to discuss the main results and outcomes achieved under the Adaptation to Climate Change by Spatial Planning in the Alpine Space Project (CLISP). Organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Federal Environment Agency Austria, the CLISP Final Conference was opened with a video-message from UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner.
Climate change is expected to affect spatial development in the Alpine Space, including land use, socio-economic activities and life-sustaining ecosystems services more severely than in other European regions. Temperature increase, decreasing snow cover and more severe weather extremes could cause a variety of adverse climate change impacts. Growing risks from water scarcity, heat waves and natural
hazards might threaten settlements, physical infrastructure, utilities, material assets and human lives.
Funded under the EU Alpine Space Programme, the CLISP Project in its three years focused on the challenges to spatial planning in the face of climate change. The 16 CLISP partner organizations have analyzed ten Alpine model regions according to their vulnerability to climate change. Results have shown that regions, which are already sensitive to the climate extremes, are expected to be the most vulnerable regions also in the future. Even though technical measures are mostly well implemented “soft” adaptation strategies like a proper “climate-proof” spatial planning, better coordination of actions within institutions, and better risk-communication are often missing.
Climate change fitness of spatial planning systems analyzed:
The investigation of the “climate change fitness” of spatial planning systems has shown that there are already strong formal planning instruments and important informal practices at hand that could be used to respond to climate change and to coordinate cross-sectoral adaptation activities. Nevertheless, climate adaptation needs to be addressed more directly and defined as an objective of spatial planning in legislation and other frameworks.
Transnational Planning Strategy:
One of the main outcomes of the CLISP project is the Transnational Planning Strategy (TPS) that is mainly aimed at policymakers, decision-makers and political actors in spatial planning in the Alpine space as a decision-making tool for the development of suitable adaptation strategies and actions in response to climate change.
Strategic project in the field of climate change adaptation and spatial planning:
The findings of the CLISP project as well as the pan-European perspectives of climate change adaptation have been discussed with representatives from the European Commission – Directorate General for Regional Policy, Directorate General for Climate Action, the Alpine Convention, the European Environment Agency as well as with participants from other international institutions attending the CLISP final conference.
CLISP Project is a pioneering project in the field of climate change adaptation and spatial planning. Its outcomes are not only of strategic relevance for the coordinated development of climate change adaptation policies in the Alpine region, but with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme the CLISP results and experience can also be shared with other mountain regions, such as the Carpathians, Balkans and the Himalaya region.
The CLISP project can be found at www.clisp.eu
For more information please contact:
At the Press Conference there were just two journalists – myself and the Vienna editor for an industry magazine 4C, Ms. Margarette Endl who came as a guest of the organizers of what turned out to have been the “graduating” event – the release of the final documents of this stage inthe CLISP Project.
Other people in the room were part of the conference and thus asked no questions. Ms. Endl asked questions on the basis of her attendance at the morning session.
Coincidently, years ago, I was present when Ambassador Dr. Irene Freudenschuss-Reichl introduced for Austria and UNIDO the subject of Mountain Regions to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. At the UN Mountains were always a synonym to the Himalayas like deserts, arid and semiarid lands are a synonym to Africa – but she was already then speaking about Austria and the Alps. Now the subject has evolved and we speak of regions within this large area previously included in the Alpine region.
I mentioned the three poles where the Himalayas are the third pole – and asked if we should talk now of five poles – including the Alps and the Andes – while leaving out the lesser areas like the mountains of New Zealand – because the region is rather small or Africa where the melting of the snows of Kilimanjaro has sort of eliminated the problem. I knew this was a rather provocative question and got a very good answer from Mr. Pier Carlo Sandei where he explained that the mountain regions are not just about the disappearance of the glaciers – but rather about the moving up of vegetation lines – thus a general changing in the nature in the mountains because of Climate Change and other reasons. This is a general UNEP interest and the subject has progressed through a series of Conventions.
I stayed for the afternoon sessions that were chaired by Ms. Sabine McCallum, the department head for the subjects of Environment Impact Assessment & Climate Change of the Austrian Department of the Environment. she was actually the head of the project and her Minister – Helmut Hojesky, Federal Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment, and Water Management, was the main speaker at the High-Level Panel Discussion: “Taking action towards climate-proof spatial development – What is the way forward?”
Others on the panel were Thomas Probst, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment; Rosario Benito Pais and Jose Ruiz de Casas, both from the European Commission one from Climate Action and the other from Regions; Andre Jol, Head of group Vulnerability and Adaptation, European Environment Agency; and Marco Onida, Secretary General of the Alpine Convention.
What happened here was that the area of the Alpine Convention has been divided into 10 regions that the study dealt with separately. It is obvious that the problems of the Swiss Alps that are dedicated mainly to tourism are very different from the problems in the newer members of the EU from the Balkans and the Carpathian regions where there are also States that do not belong to the EU altogether. The project did not just reshuffle data – but produced data and starts proposing plans of action – this being the ultimate goal of the project that after being absorbed by the States involved – will then be continued in order to come up with further plans of action.
We were told not to forget mitigation. While adaptation is a defense for the countries here – if there are no tangible results on mitigation here and elsewhere – there will be need for more adaptation in the future.
The European Commission told us that CLIMATE ACTION is now a new DG (that means a Department with Department Head and Stuff and a mandate to act). All these studies and Plans of Axtion will be under this department.
THE minister said that his people learn the Swiss and German experience – AND WE HAVE TO ADAPT TO CLIMATE CHANGE – BECAUSE IT WILL HAPPEN – WHATEVER WE DO.
UNEP declared that they are here because they want to learn from the A-B-C … the Alps, Balkans, Carpathian regions. The countries that were parts of Yugoslavia and Albania have lot of historic experience but having become independent of each other, whatever centralized poiicy there was it is now worse – there is no communication between them. Cooperation is needed and this project provides a unified platform and future regional adaptation. The Balkan region is actually a Balkan and Dinaric Arc Region that covers the Adriatic Coast.
So far as Vienna goes – as always – it finds itself in the middle – this time in the middle between the Alps and the Carpatians with the “B” region to the South.
There was the need for a Carpathian Convention in addition to the Alpine Convention. The Carpathian Convention includes The Ukraine and Serbia that are not part of the EU. 66% of the Carpathian region is still covered with forests – this provides extra-potential to preserve biodiversity, landscape and quality of air.
Pier Carlo Sandei spoke of SUSTAINABLE GROWTH in the context of the 21st Century – rather then the 20th Century. He gave me the feeling that Sustainable Growth as understood earlier is a no=no today when we must think of TRANSNATIONAL REGIONS that will aim by 2020 to be sustained by 20% Sustainable Energy.
He also used in the summary the conclusion: MITIGATION IS GLOBAL – ADAPTATION IS LOCAL & REGIONAL. One will have to look at climate costs – if you invest or you do not invest. This reminds us of the situation that compares the way industry looks at their strategy to answer CO2 emissions decrease requirements.
If you do something overseas – you get the credits and you can apply the full amount right now – but if you reduce your own emissions at home, you do not get the immediate full credit – you rather get the credit apportioned for the long range of the project – and that is what sends corporations to buy credits overseas. AHA! You Kyoto Protocol; affectionados – hear it from us = we warned you that the system never made sense!
Looking at the nice collection of material I took along – I would like to give here references for the benefit of our readers:
A – ALPINE CONVENTION, 2nd efition, January 2011, Permanent Secretariat of the Alpine Convention, Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse 15, A-6020 Innsbruck, Austria with a branch office in Bolzano-Bosen, Italy. www.alpconv.org
B – BALKAN VITAL GRAPHICS – Environment Without Borders. Published by UNEP/GRID=Arendal in 2007. It was backed by Austria and canada and was used as part of the Belgrade October 10-12, 2001 Ministerial Conference on Building Bridges To The Future Environment For Europe. It deals with mining, water and nature.
C – A COLLECTION ON THE CARPATHIAN CONVENTION, material prepared for the Second Convention of the Parties, Bucharest, June 17-19, 2008. Published in
The Automotive industry in the US came up with the old gimmick of saving money on the assembly line at a time the Europeans put forward the small 100% Electric Car and laws to promote Green Electricity. Is there hope for the US economy in such conditions? Please see the display of the Peugeot iON which is being promoted by the Conservative OEVP party in Austria. Will Croatia produce small electric cars for the EU market?
From the US we got – Small Car, Big Changes: When full-scale production of the Chevrolet Sonic begins in August at General Motors Corporation in the USA, it will be the only subcompact car produced in the United States.
They say: “To make it profitable, General Motors created a two-tier pay structure in which 40 percent of the entry-level workers are paid less, and revamped the assembly process. The assembly line for the Sonic is about 500,000 square feet, which is about half the size of a typical plant.”
How wrong can GM be, and how hopeless the US economy is in its steps?
See – all what they did was reduce the size of the assembly line, the size of the car, and the salaries they pay their labor force. I bet that these innovations will increase the cost of the car. That is very dandy according to old time economists – but it will not fly in a market in which consumers have a right to buy or not to buy.
Will Washington have to close the US doors to better imports – more desirable to knowledgeable consumers?
When I read this, I just came back from seeing a vehicle that was parked in front of the Maria Hilfer Church on the Mariahilfer Strasse in Vienna’s 6th district. The vehicle was a really small Peugeot iON – it says that it is iDEAL for the new urban mobility. Why so? This is because it is 100% electric.
This little car can do 130-150 Km on a charge that takes 10 minutes on fast charge or 3 hours if you do it by yourself from the regular electric outlet. For these purposes the car has two different electricity intakes that you can use at will. It will cost you just 2.5 Euro if you do it yourself – if you do it at a charge station fast – it will cost you more, but as said – if you do it by yourself it will cost you one tenth of the cost of gasoline.
Sure, these are prototypes and as such cost much money – I was quoted 35.000 Euro for the vehicle – but then all sort of incentives are being contemplated and if you drive a lot your gains will be from the gas you save – our gains will be from the CO2 that you do not spew into the air.
In Europe, governments do think of air quality as a common good and consider savings in health costs part of the National governing plan. So much as we must point out that the 100% electric Peugeot – no hybrid gimmick please – is being shown off in Austria by the OEVP Party which is the minor member of the rulling coalition in the Austrian government.
The OEVP holds onto the Foreign Ministry (Mr. Michael Spindelegger), the Environment Ministry (Mr. Nikolaus Berlakovich), the Energy Ministry (Mr. Reinhold Mitterlehner), and the Science and Research Ministry (Mr. Karlheinz Töchterle) – all important in the sponsorship of improvement of mobility in Austria. They do not hold on to the portfolio of Transportation Ministry – but how can that Ministry behave in any other way then accepting pro-electricity arguments when these are interrelated to an Eco-electric Power law that promotes enhancement of solar and wind energy in Austria. Such a law was just past last Thursday in the Austrian Parliament – so the electric cars have indeed a future here and Austria will help paving the way for the increased introduction of electric mobility in other places as well.
The OEVP campaign’s motto is “JA, E” or YES to Electric Cars and the EKOSTROM LAW.
The poster picture shows a little car that has a long wire with an electric plug at its end. POWER TO THESE AUSTRIANS!
Strange as it may seem – the OEVP which is the more Conservative – the Black Party – in the Austrian Coalition they have with the Socialist centrists of the OESP – or the Red Party, come through as trying to “out-greene” the opposition Austrian Green Party.
For further references: www.agenda-wien.at - www.peugeot.at
But I do not end here, this morning I was at an event at the Austrian Diplomatic Academy where the two Foreign Ministers of Austria and Croatia, Messrs. Michael Spindelegger and Gordan Jandrokovi?, both holding also onto the positions of Vice Chancellor and Vice Prime Minister in their specific countries, where celebrating the agreed upon track for Croatia’s accession to the EU.
In the process I heard that the bilateral discussions will deal also with the environment and climate change.
Then I learned from Vjekoslav Majetic, Director General of a Croatian firm DOK-ING that makes industrial equipment they sell globally – that they contemplate making small electric cars. Would this not be an ideal case of leap-frogging?
Croatia come to the EU with the outlines to build an assembly line for small electric cars?
UPDATED: Poland takes over EU presidency can it help save the EU from its Member States? Prime Minister Donald Tusk says – Warsaw wants to work towards solving the debt crisis/€ crisis. Focal points of its EU Presidency Half-Year will be energy security, the security and defense policy of the EU, and the deepening of economic ties within the EU and with the neighboring states of the European Union. Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski promised to be second to Catherine Ashton but intends to lead on Croatia, Ukraine and Moldova – wants to leave a Warsaw legacy. On the EURO – Poland is a non-member that was considering joining will study the inside data very closely and in public.
Poland takes over EU presidency can it help save the EU from its Member States?
Poland takes over first day July for the second half of 2011 the rotating EU presidency. Poland is one of the largest EU Member States and should be seen at par with Germany, France and the UK in the leadership of the Union – but Poland has a very hurting history – it was the historic sacrificial lamb when Western Europe tried to talk to Russia – it always dealt with the partition of Poland. Today Poland, basically still an agricultural State, is still on an industrialization path that plays very well with the potential for strengthening the EU economy.
Warsaw wants to work towards solving the debt crisis/€ crisis. Focal points of its EU Presidency Half-Year will be energy security, the security and defense policy of the EU, and the deepening of economic ties within the EU and with the neighboring states of the European Union. Prime Minister Donald Tusk is strongly opposed to a return to nationalism.
The Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk wants his country to be the driving force of the EU – He also opposes a return to nationalism and national thinking. Given the debt crisis in Euro-countries Poland tries to work on a solution, although it is not a member of the Euro zone. Having been on the East side in the European divide and still on the East frontier, Poland understands well the importance of a strong EU.
Focal points of the Presidency will be energy security, the security and defense policy of the EU, and the deepening of economic ties within the EU and with the neighboring states of the European Union. Also it can be expected that Poland will be closer to working with the US then some of the other EU leaders. Moreover, there will be a new focus on growth and EU enlargement. The way to achieve this will be to complete the internal market arrangements, especially in services and Internet commerce, says the Polish government.
Poland takes over the EU Presidency from Hungary – Thus for the first time in the same year, two new EU Member Countries (one considered small and the other large) are holding the rotating presidency.
Poland takes over EU presidency can it help save the EU from its Member States? From Poland itself?
Polish minister pledges loyalty to EU’s Ashton.
by ANDREW RETTMAN, 02.07.2011
EUOBSERVER / WARSAW - Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski has promised to be EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton’s “loyal deputy.” But his outspoken ways could upstage her despite his best intentions.
Sikorski made the pledge at a press briefing in Warsaw on Friday (1 July) as Poland took over the rotating EU presidency.
Sikorski and Ashton in Brussels: Who will stand out as the top EU personality on foreign affairs in the next six months?
Under the Lisbon Treaty, Ashton became the official figurehead for EU foreign policy. But she has found it hard to assert her role as big EU countries take the lead on major developments such as Libya and amid grumbling that she is not cut out for the job.
Sikorski in deference to Ashton on Friday declined to say if Poland would back the Palestinians if they apply for UN membership in September. “We [EU foreign ministers] have agreed to withhold our national positions to help Cathy Ashton reach a consensus. There is a need for the EU to speak on this with one voice,” he said.
He also defended her against criticism that she is not active enough.
“She has an impossible portfolio. She has taken over the portfolios of two previous commissioners. She’s trying to co-ordinate the positions of 27 countries on difficult issues such as the Middle East and she is trying to create her own ministry from scratch. On any given day, she should be in five places at once.”
His deputised tasks are to include a trip in Ashton’s name to Afghanistan and India. He will also help her put together EU aid for post-war governance in Libya and new ways of funding NGOs in repressive countries.
Minor tension has already emerged on the Middle East, however.
An EU diplomatic source said Ashton asked Poland not to call an informal EU foreign ministers’ meeting in September in case ministers go off message on the Palestine question at a sensitive moment. But Poland called the meeting anyway, to take place one week before the UN event.
Meanwhile, Ashton’s cautious approach to media could see the more flamboyant Polish minister put her in the shade over the next six months.
Reacting to press questions about Libya and Belarus on Friday, Sikorski could not resist making risque jokes.
On whether Colonel Gaddafi should step down, Sikorski said: “If he were to ask for transit over Polish territory to seek asylum in Belarus, we would be helpful … I think he [Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko] and Gaddafi would get on like a house on fire.”
With Ashton’s attention on the Middle East, Poland is also likely to play a leading role on EU relations with post-Soviet countries.
Ukraine’s EU ambassador recently complained that he has been asking Ashton to come to Kiev for the past year to no avail. When asked by EUobserver about prospects for ending the frozen conflict in EU-aspirant Moldova, a diplomat in Ashton’s service said: “Frankly, we don’t care.”
For his part, Sikorski on Friday noted that the Polish presidency is looking to clinch an EU association pact with Ukraine and to make progress on a similar deal with Molodva as two top priorities.
He also made clear that Poland wants to make a historic mark on EU affairs during its six-month tenure.
Looking to plans to sign an accession treaty with Croatia in autumn, the minister said: “The options [for a venue for the treaty ceremony] are Brussels, Warsaw and Zagreb. We like Croatia but we wouldn’t mind the accession treaty for Croatia being known as the Warsaw Treaty.”
AND WHAT ABOUT POLAND HEADING THE EU AT A TIME THERE IS A NEED TO DEFEND THE EU FROM THE EURO CRISIS AND POLAND IS NOT A MEMBER OF THE EUROZONE? HOW WILL THIS WORK OUT IN WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE A UNION BETWEEN EUROZONE STATES AND THOSE THAT HVE NOT OPTED YET FOR THE EURO?
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) says it has a membership of 57 States on four continents with a total population of 1.3 billion people. Having seen its map we realize it has also at least three “blocked States” – India, Thailand, and The Philippines though it has the Moro National Liberation Front as an observer State, a withdrawn State – Zimbabwe, and at least one non-State – Israel that was replaced by Palestine as a member State. Cote d’Ivoire was the last member to enter – it joined in 2001. Russia became an Observer in 2005.
Afghanistan was suspended during the years of Soviet occupation 1980 – March 1989 and Egypt, the fifth largest Islamic population, was suspended May 1979 – March 1984 when it tried for peace in the Middle East.
The flag of the OIC has an overall green background (symbolic of Islam). In the centre, there is an upward-facing red crescent enveloped in a white disc. On the disc the words “Allahu Akbar” (Arabic for “The Almighty God”) are written in Arabic calligraphy.
The OIC attracted attention at the opening session of the meeting in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on 16 October 2003, where Prime MinisterMahathir Mohamad of Malaysia in his speech argued that the Jews control the world: “They invented socialism, communism, human rights, and democracy, so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power.” He also said that “the Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.” The speech was very well received by the delegates, including many high ranking politicians, who responded with standing ovations.”
India, a country that has 161 million Muslim, only Indonesia with 203 million and Pakistan with 174 million have larger Muslim populations then India, was not welcome even as an observer to OIC – this because of its conflict with Pakistan where India would like to have a referendum of the local population as a means to decide the future of Kashmir.
Most OIC member countries are non-democratic. There are no OIC countries which are rated as a “Full Democracy” under the Democracy Index guidelines, and only 3 of the 57 members are rated as high as a “Flawed Democracy.” The rest are rated either an “Authoritarian Regime” or a “Hybrid Regime.”
Reporters Without Borders in its 2011 Press Freedom Index rated only Mali and Suriname among the OIC members as having a Satisfactory Situation. All other members had worse ratings ranging from Noticeable Problems to Very Serious Situation.
Freedom of religion is severely restricted in most OIC member states. In 2009, the US Department of State cited OIC members Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan as being Countries of Particular Concern, where religious freedom is severely violated.
On August 5, 1990, 45 foreign ministers of the OIC adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam to serve as a guidance for the member states in the matters of human rights in as much as they are compatible with the Sharia, or Quranic Law www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/cai… )
OIC created the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam. While proponents claim it is not an alternative to the UDHR, but rather complementary, Article 24 states, “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah.” and Article 25 follows that with “The Islamic Shari’ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.” Attempts to have it adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council have met increasing criticism, because of its contradiction of the UDHR, including from liberal Muslim groups. Critics of the CDHR state bluntly that it is “manipulation and hypocrisy,” “designed to dilute, if not altogether eliminate, civil and political rights protected by international law” and attempts to “circumvent these principles [of freedom and equality].”
Human Rights Watch says that OIC has “fought doggedly” and successfully within the United Nations Human Rights Council to shield states from criticism, except when it comes to criticism of Israel. For example, when independent experts reported violations of human rights in the 2006 Lebanon War, “state after state from the OIC took the floor to denounce the experts for daring to look beyond Israeli violations to discuss Hezbollah’s as well.” OIC demands that the council “should work cooperatively with abusive governments rather than condemn them.” HRW responds that this works only with those who are willing to cooperate; others exploit the passivity.
The OIC has been criticised for diverting its activities solely on Muslim minorities within majority non-Muslim countries but putting a taboo on the plight, the treatment of ethnic minorities within Muslim-majority countries, such as the oppression of the Kurds in Syria, the Ahwaz inIran, the Hazars in Afghanistan, the Baluchis in Pakistan, the ‘Al-Akhdam‘ in Yemen, or the Berbers in Algeria.
The formation of the OIC happened shortly after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Leaders of Muslim nations met in Rabat to establish the OIC on September 25, 1969.
OIC is run out of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, its first Secretary General was
Cameroon · Chad · Comoros · Côted’ Ivoire · Djibouti · Egypt · Gabon · Gambia · Guinea ·