New Canadian Media

by Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia

The establishment got another burning in the French elections on Sunday, revealing again that there is no level of voter disgust that will not find some voice in the current range of elections.  The terror for pollsters and the establishment now is whether Marine Le Pen will realize her anti-Euro project and drag the French nation kicking and moaning into a new, even more fractious order. In her way will be the pro-European Union figure of Emmanuel Macron.

The French example is similar to others of recent times: parties with presumed tenure were confined to a punitive dustbin, rubbished for stale, estranged obsolescence.  The Gaullists got what was a fair drubbing – 19.9 percent for François Fillon of the Republicans, a figure crusted and potted with corruption. 

It did not, however, mean that both candidates in the first and second positions were political virgins.  In that sense, the U.S. election remains an exemplar, a true shock.  France retains a traditional appearance to it, albeit a violently ruffled one.

Macron, with his 23.9 percent, supposedly deemed outside the establishment, still held office as minister for economy, finance and industry but flew the Socialist coop in opportunistic fancy.  Blooded in traditional harness, he has managed to give the impression that he has shed enough of the old for the new, notably with his movement En Marche.  He is blowing hard from what commentators have termed a “centrist” position.  (To be at the centre is to be in the middle, which is not necessarily a good thing in current times.)

Just to weaken the sense of Macron as outsider, both establishment parties – the Socialist, led by Benoît Hamon, and the Republican – urged voters to go for the centrist option.  This all had the appearance of a gentleman’s seedy agreement, plotted in a traditional smoking room to undermine an unlikable contender.  The losers wanted to be vicarious winners.  The tarnished Fillon urged voters to “reflect on your conscience.” In effect, Macron as a quantity is being sanitised for stability, the firebreak against the Le Pen revolution.

Le Pen herself speaks to a particular French and nationalist sensibility, tutored to a large extent by her father, who also ran in the 2002 Presidential elections and lost to Jacques Chirac.  She is hardly one to be unfamiliar with the political argot, which has retained a reactionary punch in more measured guise.

Le Pen kept her approach punchily traditional, milking the killing last Thursday of a policeman on the Champs-Elysees with old apple and oranges comparisons on security and immigration.  Having her in the Presidential office would see the stop of “mass immigration and the free movement of terrorists.” 

For Le Pen, the May 7 runoff election would enable a choice to be made between “savage globalisation that threatens our civilisation” and “borders that protect our jobs, our security and our national identity.” 

Macron provides an attractive target for the Front National: having worked for Rothschild, he supplies the front for corporate interests, and is “Hollande’s baby” uninterested in French patriotism.  He certainly promises to be friendlier to companies in France, with a policy envisaging a cut of the corporate tax rate from 33 percent to 25 percent, while also permitting them to re-negotiate the sacred 35-hour week.  His vision of the European Union, in short, is business as usual.

Under Le Pen’s particular tent lie appeals to critics of globalisation, a force that has rented and sunk various industries while also seeking to reform the French labour market.  But this nostalgic throw back entails barriers and bridges, building fortifications, holding firm and wishing for the best.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon proved to be another dark horse, the spicy left-wing option to Le Pen, and a candidate who experienced a surge of popularity prior to the poll.  His result is a story that has invigorated the left while gutting the socialists, providing us a reminder of the time of a greater radicalism. 

“Len Pen,” claims Roger Martelli, “was counting on turning this election into a fight with the Socialist party government, but she had to compete with a radicalized right-wing opposition and socialist opponents who had moved more sharply to the left than she had expected.”

Nor were things pretty for Hamon, with a devastating result to compare to Gaston Defferre’s 5 per cent showing in 1969.  The socialists reformed by the 1971 Épinay Congress in the wake of that electoral catastrophe, have been well and truly buried.

What Mélenchon’s popularity suggests is that the European system, at least the model as it stands, needs reform and a degree of disentangling vis-à-vis the state.  Nor has he told his supporters to vote for Macron, a paternalistic ploy that can irritate voters. 

“None of us will vote for the far-right,” went the consultation to 450,000 registered supporters of the France Untamed movement.  “But does it mean we need to give voting advice?” As Der Spiegel opined with characteristic gloominess, “The presidential election in France is becoming yet another end game over Europe’s political future.”

Much will depend on voter turnout come May, and the seasoned opportunism of Le Pen.  Her latest play is to place herself above partisan considerations by stepping down from the leadership of the National Front.  “So, this evening, I am no longer the president of the National Front.  I am the candidate for the French presidency.” 

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Published in Politics

Commentary by Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia

While the shattering Brexit vote of June had a deservedly chilling impact in Brussels and other European capitals, the grey suits have been busy pushing various lines on the consequences Britain faces for leaving the European Union. The technocrats in Europe will be making sure they make things as difficult as possible. 

Back in London, rhetoric and deflection is in heavy supply. Canada may offer a model, especially in the area of immigration. 

Various multinational companies find the notion of uncertainty certain economic death.  Japanese and U.S. firms, for instance, have sought clarity on what passporting arrangements will exist in a post-Brexit order.  So far, they have gotten little other than poorly minted assurances. 

The defect of those assurances lies in the inability on the part of officials in London to know exactly what the EU will do. The EU, in turn, is also wondering what that position will manifest.  To make war, it is always wise to know the strategy of your opponent.

As the Economist reports, the view in Europe on Britain’s logistical quandary has become “the sexiest file in town”. It is daring, it is challenging, and it seems to some, near hopeless.  The hopeless element is not incurred because of pessimism; it merely seems that all sides are having each other on, mixing the bag of seduction with that of indecency.

Everyone is accusing the other of feeding uncertainty.  EU officials have been accused of creating it for not clarifying the position of British expats in Europe; Donald Tusk of the European Council has said in kind that the British decision to leave the EU was the cause of all the headaches, in turn causing EU expats in Britain troubling concern.

“Would you not agree,” he claimed supremely in a note released on Twitter, “that the only source of anxiety and uncertainty is rather the decision on Brexit?”  When officials need a worthy scapegoat, the unruly outcome of the democratic will always be there.

Theresa May’s government has been telling the British public that there will be no “soft” or “hard” Brexit, but a “red, white, and blue Brexit.”  That particularly statement, made during a visit to attend the Gulf Co-operation Council, was a weak retort to the mooted idea that a “grey Brexit” was circulating as an idea. 

The idea of a more ambiguous greying Brexit has its roots in the offices of the chancellor, Philip Hammond, and Brexit secretary, David Davis.  (The May cabinet these days is an uncertain one.)  In what started looking like projections from a set of colour crayons, variants of Brexit were being thrown around from the lightest form (“white Brexit”) which would supposedly not defeat the referendum’s aim while keeping Britain in the EU market system, to that of the darkest (“black Brexit”), which would terrify those providing financial services.

The greyer variant would entail an analogous arrangement with that of Canada:  limits on immigration favouring skilled migrants would take place alongside access to various parts of the free zone.

May’s response to the crayon version of Brexit was to steer the cause back to the bromides of false patriotism, and perhaps false hope.  “I’m interested in all these terms that have been identified – hard Brexit, soft Brexit, black Brexit, white Brexit, grey Brexit – and actually what we should be looking for is a red, white, and blue Brexit.”

Such flag-driven terms are meaningless, vacuous, even silly.  The consistency of what May’s version of Brexit is vague, and again suggests a different message for a different audience.  There is no need to define the strategy, merely the outcome.  “That is the right deal for the United Kingdom, what is going to be the right relationship for the UK with the European Union once we’ve left.”

On that score, the Labour opposition did, at the very least, secure a promise from May that her government publish the Brexit plan before the formalities of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty are triggered.  That plan is bound to spawn a new industry, creating specialists on how to evacuate from a tightly bound, financial and social compact.

The plan, for the moment, remains shrouded.  As Italy’s Europe minister, Sandro Gozi, explained, the case in London seemed “far from clear”.  As was the starting basis for negotiations.  “It seems there are disagreements and divisions within the cabinet. There are many uncertainties.”

May’s message to Michel Barnier, charged with the task of Brexit from the EU side, will be a different one from that directed to British audiences. There are few choices on the table, with Barnier insisting that “time will be very short” for the negotiation period.  “It’s clear that the period of actual negotiations will be shorter than two years.  All in all, there will be less than 18 months to negotiate.”

Barnier’s promises have verged on threatening, though they have been delivered with tepid calm.  For one, he is busying himself identifying a common position with all of the 27 remaining members in the EU towards Britain. This should be completed by the end of January.  

The unmistakable emphasis here is that of inferiority: the British decision to leave, Barnier promises, will be saddled with consequences, placing the country in a position worse than it would be if it remains.  “Being in the EU comes with rights and benefits.  The single market and its four freedoms are indivisible.  Cherry picking is not an option.”

Barnier might have also reflected on the other side of the European problem: the populist challenge to grey, bureaucratic technocracy; the need for institutional reform that does more than utter financial messages and praise the God Market or Civil Servant King.  The May government may well be struggling with its strategy on exit, but the mandarins on the continent should be equally troubled by a strategy that is failing to curb a far deeper, inner rage. 

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Published in Commentary
Monday, 04 July 2016 12:49

The Bad and Ugly Brexit

Commentary by Bhupinder Liddar

Most divorces end bad and ugly, needlessly. Brexit's fate is no different. 

After almost four decades Britain decided to walk out of a relationship with Europe.

However, one must recognize that Britain was always the problem child in the European Union family. With one foot on the island and the other on the continent, it was going to be difficult to juggle the strained “long distance” relationship.

In the end, Britain decided to walk away from the EU home.

France – not once, but twice – advised against entering into such a relationship. In 1963 and 1967, France’s President Charles de Gaulle vetoed United Kingdom’s entry into what was then known as European Economic Market.

He alluded to the British sense of arrogance and self-importance. It was only after de Gaulle’s fall from power in 1969, that the U. K. applied and became a member on January 1, 1973.

Straightforward question

The referendum question was straightforward and simple, as were the two choices:

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?" 

  • Remain a member of European Union
  • Leave the European Union”

So, where was the confusion? Was the decision to walk away based on economics, social, political, or some other reason? No one really knows, including those who voted to exit and now want to change their minds.

The British facade of a tolerant, inclusive society, cracked, flaked and crumbled. Thanks to social media, the insular British island’s latent, long-simmering, ugly underbelly surfaced immediately after the vote to leave the EU. 

The British facade of a tolerant, inclusive society, cracked, flaked and crumbled.

Brexit turned bad and ugly!

The reaction to the exit vote quickly led to xenophobia, racism, and intolerance. Coloured Britons were verbally and physically abused. There were reports of their businesses torched. A Polish Cultural Centre was vandalized.

Issues that were not on the referendum question reared their head: latent racism and xenophobia, hallmarks of British society in 60s and 70s, suddenly manifested in ugly acts of violence and hate. Britain’s police reported a 57 per cent increase in hate crimes after Brexit vote.

Intrusive EU bureaucracy

Britain’s population has been frustrated by dictates from EU headquarters – from regulating the size of bananas, to incursions into what the British consider their private lifestyles. Britain, too, was cautious in moving too close to Europe.

For instance, it stayed away from the Euro monetary union and constantly spurned EU regulations citing a threat to British sovereignty. It resisted moves to implement the free movement of peoples across Europe’s borders, so it could pick and choose those who could get in.  

As a requirement of the free movement of goods and people, a significant number of immigrants from former Eastern European countries, such as Poland, headed to Britain to work and live. Like all immigrants, they worked hard, but the British were always suspicious, accusing them of taking away their jobs.

Britons forgot that the borders of other 26 European Union countries were open to them, and that many of their fellow-citizens had moved to work there.

On the other hand, zealous Eurocrats perhaps moved too fast, dreaming up of a Euro army and one Euro foreign policy.

The British were told of millions being siphoned off from the National Health Service to be spent on immigrants and refugees. The media carried horror stories of immigrants and refugees being housed in luxury hotel-style accommodations. Anti-Europe/Eurosceptics, right-wing politicians, jumped at the opportunity to whip up hysteria among the public against perceived waste.

Lesson on referendums

Unfortunately, not-so-recent newcomers also joined the anti-immigrant wave. They bought into the argument that the relative latecomers were stealing jobs, tha there was no room in the country left for any more immigrants and refugees. They were a burden on health care and social security and other social services.

Ironically, the British could go, conquer and impose their lifestyle on countries on all continents during the days of their empire, but do not wish to see the faces of their former subjects in Britain.

Ironically, the British could go, conquer and impose their lifestyle on countries on all continents during the days of their empire, but do not wish to see the faces of their former subjects in Britain.

There was also an element of anti-Muslim bias too. Right-wing British politicians promised to save the island nation against the hordes from Europe and elsewhere. Leading up to the referendum, Leave side politicians made covert references, equating leaving the EU to putting an end to immigration and stopping the flow of refugees.

So, what transpired was a carefully calculated political manipulation. 

If anything, the Brexit exercise has proved that referendums are the lowest form or instrument of democracy. The public is manipulated and swayed by politicians on emotional matters, issues that may not even be central to the basic issue.

It is not the end of Britain. It will find its own way forward.

But, Britain will never learn to drive on the right side of the road!

Bhupinder S. Liddar is a former Canadian diplomat and founder-publisher/editor of Diplomat & International Canada magazine. www.liddar.ca

Published in Commentary
Friday, 24 June 2016 11:22

UK Bids Cheerio to the European Union

It was a long night fuelled by Horlicks and Jaffa Cakes that kept the Brits in Toronto crew going as the UK voted to leave the European Union.

We are stunned and think it is a huge mistake.

The fallout has already started, with stock markets and the value of the pound plummeting, asecond Scottish independence vote already being called for and Prime Minister David Cameron to step down by October.

Brits in Toronto

Read Full Article

Published in Commentary
Thursday, 27 August 2015 14:02

A Modest Proposal for Europe's Migrants

by Hadani Ditmars (@HadaniDitmars) in Vancouver, British Columbia

What would Jonathan Swift, author of Gullivers Travels, make of the current migrant crisis?

Might I suggest my own modest proposal in light of a suggestion by François Crépeau of McGill (and special UN rapporteur for refugees) that Europe should open official channels and their labour markets to migrants.
 
Daily news reports show migrants trapped at borders, desperately seeking asylum in Europe; Syrian children caught between Macedonian police shields and crowds of refugees, or migrants washed up on Mediterranean shores after harrowing sea journeys that only the lucky survive -- only to absolutely ruin the vacations of beach going tourists from England -- are all most distressing.
 
Economic opportunities from military interventions
 
Whereas the crises in Libya, Iraq and Syria, to name a few countries, have contributed to the displacement of millions of people, and whereas the thousands of unwashed hordes arriving at the EUs doorstep threaten to de-stabilize Fortress Europe, not to mention distract television viewers from more pressing stories about Kardashians and lions in safari parks, and whereas said hordes have the nerve to try to invade sovereign countries in a manner most illegal, I propose a solution.
 
Namely that a humanitarian corridor be opened for refugee families fleeing war torn countries, one that would insure both gainful employment for the miserable migrants, (who obviously lack the work ethic necessary to survive war zones and in the case of Syrians and Iraqis, seem to actually enjoy flitting back and forth to each others countries, depending on which situation is the most dire) as well as contributing to the global economy.
 
Whereas the U.S. and the U.K. remain the top arms exporters globally, and whereas Syria, Iraq. Libya and the Horn of Africa are all emerging markets for the weapons trade (with Israel creating its largest naval base outside the country in Eritrea, where it also dumps nuclear waste and turns a blind eye, along with the UN, the U.S. and the EU, to rather brutal human trafficking rings that lure victims with promises of jobs in Tel Aviv -- and where Russia arms both Ethiopia and Eritrea).
 
Whereas so many refugees remain deeply ungrateful for the economic opportunities allowed to them by frequent military interventions by foreign powers in their homelands, here is the solution I propose.
 
Munitions factories
 
Why not open special areas in economically disadvantaged regions (Bradford, perhaps? Or sites of derelict munitions factories in the U.K.? Perhaps Detroit in the U.S.?) where migrants can get special working visas as employees in new arms factories. With 51.2 million people displaced by conflict in the world, Im frankly surprised that no one has thought of this before. Top arms exporters in the U.S. and U.K. could lead the way, but theres no reason competitors in Russia and China shouldnt also follow suit. Even Saudi Arabia and Qatar could contribute to such a program.
 
With war and conflict zones being such obvious make-work opportunities for international arms manufacturers, aid agencies, venture capitalists, and anti-terror legislators, and with so many migrants seemingly oblivious to the abundant economic opportunities afforded to them by their privileged positions as actual residents of war zones, and with their deeply held entitlement mentalities  (the belief, for instance, that they have the right to live free from aerial bombardment, or say foreign funded mercenaries destabilizing their nations) they should be relocated to said areas, and employed in the manufacturing of armaments. Thus, they would be contributing  giving back as it were  to the very agents of their new economic opportunities.
 
Age should be no barrier to employment, and indeed whole families  from children to grandparents -- could benefit from such work. Should the migrants have any free time after daily 12-hour shifts in arms factories, they could be educated in neo-liberal theory about the new opportunities available for cross-border trade.
 
Opportunity of sorts
 
They might also benefit from lectures on the war on terror and learn about cases like  Bherlin Gildo, the Swedish man living in London who was accused of terrorism in Syria. That is until his case fell apart when it turned out that British intelligence had armed the same groups he was charged with supporting.
 
Or they might also enjoy learning about how M16 and the CIA collaborated on a rat line” of arms transfers to the Syrian rebels from Libya, after Gaddafifall (or rather his bayoneting in the streets of Sirte by rebels after a NATO bombardment -- or humanitarian intervention which in turn lead to many economic opportunities for new armed-to-the-teeth militias.)
 
And they might even enjoy reading back issues of Vogue magazine, like the one that featured a glowing profile of Madame Asma al-Assad, as the chic wife of a dictator, whose role as a villain seems to depend on whether we were farming out torture to his prisons or arming his adversaries. (Fashion can be so fickle!)
 
So my friends, a solution is at hand to the current migrant crisis (really an opportunity of sorts). And if all goes to plan, soon distressing scenes of unwashed migrants rushing policemen will be banished from our television screens and we can all go back to worrying about the possible alien origins of Donald Trumps hairpiece.
 
Call me a dreamer if you like, but please, consider my modest proposal.

Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and is working on a new book about ancient sites in Iraq. She has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades and is also a singer and musician. 
 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 
Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 23 September 2014 19:24

Scots are Better Off in a United Kingdom

by Zoran Vidić in Toronto

The referendum for the independence of Scotland from the U.K. is behind us, but the fallout has yet to settle. 

The pro-independence party has been getting thousands of new members since the vote and disappointed Scottish nationalists are crying foul over the easy-given and even-easier-forgotten promises by the leaders of the major British parties to cede more control to the Scots over their own affairs.

Just to the south of Britain, Catalan nationalists are marching in hundreds of thousands asking for the same right as Scotland – to vote for the independence of Catalonia from Spain.

And this is just the beginning. There are many independence movements all over Europe and the world, including our own in the heart of Canada: Quebec. 

Having been born and raised in a country that no longer exists thanks to the explosion of viral nationalism followed by bloody disintegration, I constantly fail to fully understand the desire to become a citizen of a smaller and less significant country than the one you currently live in.

Also, I am still flabbergasted by the irresponsible, cynical and vengeful support for the separation of Kosovo from Serbia by the Western powers. Following some very confused and highly inconsistent logic, their act has opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box and evil spirits are out, wreaking havoc over international laws and norms.

And this is just the beginning. There are many independence movements all over Europe and the world, including our own in the heart of Canada: Quebec.

Yugoslavia as superpower

As a citizen of the late Yugoslavia, I was proud to live in a country that included different religions, cultures, languages and even histories. It was a country of roughly 25 million people, four religions, five major languages and dozens of minority ones. It stretched from the Alps and Adriatic Sea to the valleys and mountains of Macedonia. Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks, Albanians and many other “nations and nationalities” (as it was stated in the Constitution), living in a state of “brotherhood and unity” (Sic!).

Yugoslavia was a founding member of the UN, leader of the Non-alignment Movement and an important buffer between the East and the West. We all rooted for the Yugoslav national team consisting of players from Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, and we revelled in their victories. Yugoslavia was a superpower in basketball, water polo, handball, volleyball, and we had a respectable soccer team and internationally-renowned coaches.

Insignificant statelets

Fast forward 25 years and all these federal republics are now independent states, including a few stillborn statelets such as BiH and Kosovo. None of them has even a fraction of significance, respect or power the mother country had. Slovenia was relatively fortunate to avoid bloodshed and managed to maintain a high standard of living, but hardly anyone has heard of Slovenia, and those who have, frequently confuse it with Slovakia (to add to confusion, they have very similar flags, too).

Despite the promises of “democracy” and instant membership to the EU offered by Croatian nationalists in the 1990's, it took over 20 years for Croats to gain their EU passports. In these two decades, Croatia went through a civil war, extreme nationalism, economic decline and ethnic cleansing of nearly 240,000 of its citizens of Serbian origin.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, it ended up much worse than that. After four years of a bloody civil war between the indigenous Serbs, Croats and Muslims, almost 100,000 dead and with the economy teleported back to 1950, it is a dysfunctional, corrupt and inefficient state, split in two-and-a-half entities and governed by inept leaders.

None of them has even a fraction of significance, respect or power the mother country had.

Serbia as pariah

Serbia ended up as a pariah state and is generally blamed for everything that happened, although it was the only ex-Yugoslav republic that was against the disintegration of the unitary state. Unfortunately, the leaders at the time were Slobodan Milosevic and his clique, and their stupidity and inability to keep pace with changes in the world around them led them straight to The Hague and an early grave. Except for those who survived and are now “pro-western democratic leaders.”

Montenegro remained as insignificant as it has always been, and is more or less, private property of the cigarette smuggling ringleader Milo Djukanovic and his cronies.

Kosovo, the latest gem in the crown of American geopolitical engineering, is a failed statelet whose political leaders are indistinguishable from drug lords. Members of the government are being investigated for kidnapping and killing Serbs and selling their organs, and over 60 per cent of the population is unemployed, while the birth rate is among of highest in the world.

The only people who profited from nationalism are local chieftains, who aroused the masses with cheap slogans and makeshift history in order to seize power locally, because deep down they knew that was their limit. No great vision, just narrow-minded self-interest.

I constantly fail to fully understand the desire to become a citizen of a smaller and less significant country than the one you currently live in.

A mini EU

Today, almost a quarter of century after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, one of the main promises the politicians make to their electorate is that “by 2025, we will have the standard of living we had in 1990.” Every sane person who remembers Yugoslavia agrees that it was a “mini-EU”, a peaceful, safe, beautiful and colourful country, admired by then less-fortunate Eastern Bloc countries for high living standards and unprecedented freedoms they could only dream of.

So, where were we? Aha, independence. Answer to all out problems? Not at all.

Scotland, Catalonia, Quebec, Texas … will not be better countries on their own. They will be small, insignificant corners of the world, vulnerable to the geopolitical changes and whims of history. It takes an effort to build and maintain. Demolishing is the easy part.

So, yay or nay?

Eh?

Zoran Vidić is a communications expert and journalist. He began his career in 1997 as a reporter for a major daily in Belgrade, Serbia, and moved to Canada in 2001.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 09 February 2014 10:13

A Canadian at Euromaidan in Kyiv

by Mark Semotiuk

I had seen the reports. Riot police indiscriminately beat innocent women and children. Tanks were shipped into the city. 20,000 people were transported into the Kyiv and paid to attend a pro-government rally. Provocateurs were paid to start fights so that a state of emergency could be declared. The National Security Agency raided opposition offices with machine guns and closed subways due to terrorist bomb threats. Reports of Russian Special Forces, who were loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and had no national ties to the protestors, landed in Ukraine. People talked of an impending civil war. I was afraid to go to the Maidan.

The moment I arrived, my fear melted. Tens of thousands of people greeted me to the largest cultural festival imaginable. On stage they played modern pop songs. In the crowd people grouped together and sang classic folk songs. Both the pop songs and the folk songs were about love of country and love of people. Every half hour the entire crowd burst out into the national anthem.

Grandmothers stood in the square until 4 a.m.; students would not leave. People were draped in Ukrainian flags and traditional clothing. Volunteers passed around free food and tea and manned medical tents. Young couples came here on dates. Friends shared stories, sang songs and read poems around fires to keep warm. The people were united against fear.

Through casual conversations, I learned that the people were protesting because President Viktor Yanukovych’s “democratically” elected government lost its legitimacy through corruption. Its power relies on a system of political patronage where supporters are paid with bribes or political favours. Its influence depends on propaganda and fear of economic or physical consequences. Members of the Yanukovych government embezzled money. As if that was not enough, when the Yanukovych government tried to control the people’s protests with fear, the government became undisputedly illegitimate.

Illegitimate government

The protesters told me that words of the Yanukovych government do not match its actions. The Yanukovych government claims that Ukraine cannot strengthen its ties with the European Union because of the short-term economic consequences. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that failed to implement the reforms necessary for Ukraine’s economy to grow. Supporters of the Yanukovych government claim that the West is illegitimately intervening in Ukraine. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that is illegitimately paying people to attend pro-government rallies. The Yanukovych government says that the riot police are necessary to protect the security of the country. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that is beating, torturing and killing the Ukrainian people. Through these actions the Yanukovych government has rendered itself illegitimate.

The protestors know that even after the illegitimate Yanukovych government falls there is a long and difficult road ahead. They talk about how Ukraine must crack down on corrupt practices; reform the pension sector; create an independent judiciary; implement fiscal, exchange rate, and monetary policy reform; and provide for more capital investment.

Will to reform

The protestors aspire to modernize the Ukrainian economy so that it can grow. They want to become more economically sophisticated and diversify into different markets. They no longer want their financial well-being to rely on turning under-priced Russian materials into world-market-priced commodities. They point to Poland and other post-Soviet countries that have blossomed due to reforms implemented in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Through an immense outpouring on the streets of Kyiv, the Ukrainian people have shown the political will to bear the cost of these reforms. If the reforms are implemented, they believe Ukraine’s economy will flourish.

For Ukraine to thrive there is one reform that must be made above all. It must be united. The Yanukovych government has a political base, part of which is legitimate. But, in December, as I walked through the barricades separating pro and anti-government rallies, I saw that it was government soldiers who prevented fellow countrymen from interacting. Like Stalin the Russian despot, members of the Yanukovych government recognize that ideas are more powerful than guns.

As EuroMaidan burst out into the national anthem, the government protestors could hear them. Hundreds of the paid protesters stop listening to the political programming so that they could sing along. They longed to be united.

It is a beautiful thing. Every time Ukrainians sing the national anthem they send a message to the illegitimate Yanukovych government. In particular, they finish with the final line:

Душу й тіло ми положим за нашу свободу. І покажем, тобі Віктор, що ми, браття, козацького роду.

We will lay down our soul and our body for our freedom. And by doing so we will show you that we are brothers of the Ukrainian family.

Mark Semotiuk is a Ukrainian Canadian who has been an international election observer in Ukraine on multiple occasions.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Eastern Europe
Saturday, 08 February 2014 23:15

A Canadian at Euromaidan in Kyiv

by Mark Semotiuk

I had seen the reports. Riot police indiscriminately beat innocent people. Tanks were shipped into the city. 20,000 people were transported into the Kyiv and paid to attend a pro-government rally. Provocateurs were paid to start fights. A state of emergency might be declared. The National Security Agency raided opposition offices with machine guns and closed subways due to terrorist bomb threats. Reports of Special Forces, who were loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and had no national ties to the protestors, arriving in Ukraine. People talked of an impending civil war. I was afraid to go to the Maidan.

The moment I arrived, my fear melted. Tens of thousands of people greeted me to the largest cultural festival imaginable. On stage they played modern pop songs. In the crowd people grouped together and sang classic folk songs. Both the pop songs and the folk songs were about love of country and love of people. Every half hour the entire crowd burst out into the national anthem.

Grandmothers stood in the square until 4 a.m.; students would not leave. People were draped in Ukrainian flags and traditional clothing. Volunteers passed around free food and tea and manned medical tents. Young couples came here on dates. Friends shared stories, sang songs and read poems around fires to keep warm. The people were united against fear.

Through casual conversations, I learned that the people were protesting because President Viktor Yanukovych’s “democratically” elected government lost its legitimacy through corruption. Its power relies on a system of political patronage where supporters are paid with bribes or political favours. Its influence depends on propaganda and fear of economic or physical consequences. Members of the Yanukovych government embezzled money. As if that was not enough, when the Yanukovych government tried to control the people’s protests with fear, the government became undisputedly illegitimate.

Illegitimate government

The protesters told me that words of the Yanukovych government do not match its actions. The Yanukovych government claims that Ukraine cannot strengthen its ties with the European Union because of the short-term economic consequences. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that failed to implement the reforms necessary for Ukraine’s economy to grow. Supporters of the Yanukovych government claim that the West is illegitimately intervening in Ukraine. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that is illegitimately paying people to attend pro-government rallies. The Yanukovych government says that the riot police are necessary to protect the security of the country. Yet it is the Yanukovych government that is beating, torturing and killing the Ukrainian people. Through these actions the Yanukovych government has rendered itself illegitimate.

The protestors know that even after the illegitimate Yanukovych government falls there is a long and difficult road ahead. They talk about how Ukraine must crack down on corrupt practices; reform the pension sector; create an independent judiciary; implement fiscal, exchange rate, and monetary policy reform; and provide for more capital investment.

Will to reform

The protestors aspire to modernize the Ukrainian economy so that it can grow. They want to become more economically sophisticated and diversify into different markets. They no longer want their financial well-being to rely on turning under-priced Russian materials into world-market-priced commodities. They point to Poland and other post-Soviet countries that have blossomed due to reforms implemented in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Through an immense outpouring on the streets of Kyiv, the Ukrainian people have shown the political will to bear the cost of these reforms. If the reforms are implemented, they believe Ukraine’s economy will flourish.

For Ukraine to thrive there is one reform that must be made above all. It must be united. The Yanukovych government has a political base, part of which is legitimate. But, in December, as I walked through the barricades separating pro and anti-government rallies, I saw that it was government soldiers who prevented fellow countrymen from interacting. Like Stalin the Soviet despot, members of the Yanukovych government recognize that ideas are more powerful than guns.

As EuroMaidan burst out into the national anthem, the government protestors could hear them. Hundreds of the paid protesters stop listening to the political programming so that they could sing along. They longed to be united.

It is a beautiful thing. Every time Ukrainians sing the national anthem they send a message to the illegitimate Yanukovych government. In particular, they finish with the final line:

Душу й тіло ми положим за нашу свободу. І покажем, тобі Віктор, що ми, браття, козацького роду.

We will lay down our soul and our body for our freedom. And by doing so we will show you that we are brothers of the Ukrainian family.

Mark Semotiuk is a Ukrainian Canadian who has been an international election observer in Ukraine on multiple occasions.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in International
Wednesday, 15 January 2014 03:08

Birth of a Nation

 

No amount of live video feeds or news stories can convey the essence of EuroMaidan.

Published in Eastern Europe

by Raphaël Girard

I was in Italy on Oct. 3 when news broke about the overloaded ship that foundered off Santorino in the Mediterranean, resulting in the death of several hundred asylum seekers. Most the passengers were fleeing from Eritrea and Somalia.

A week later, a vessel carry another 250 asylum-seekers sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa, killing 39. They were Palestinians, Syrians and a few Egyptians. According to the UN's refugee agency, more than 3,400 refugees have attempted to make the crossing from Egypt to Europe since August 2013, and the Mediterranean has been turned into a cemetery for many of those seeking a better future within the borders of the European Union.

Following global headlines, the chair of the St. Egidio Foundation at the Vatican urged European governments to open a safe corridor so that people who feel compelled to use this form of migration won't find themselves at the mercy of inclement weather or rickety vessels. A plea by the director general of the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM), Lacy Swing, for Italy and fellow Mediterranean nations to work together to prevent this slaughter at sea appeared to fall on deaf ears.

“Renewed dialogue and cooperation should be underpinned by a shift in public discourse on migration, recognizing that migration is a process to be managed and not a problem to be solved,” the IOM director general pleaded.

European indifference

This continuing influx of people is a very thorny dilemma for the Europeans. I fault them mainly for not having a rational immigration policy that would allow managed migration in a way that would not jeopardize those who seek a better life through migration to the developed world.

The vast majority of the people who are arriving in Italy are not from Tunisia, Egypt or Libya. They are from Somalia, Ethiopia, Syria and sub-Saharan Africa. I would be the last one to defend most of the governments in that region based on their human rights records, but these spontaneous movements consist primarily of working age males or the families of working-age men who have successfully established themselves in Western Europe having previously used the same means themselves to obtain legal residence in Europe.

In my view, they have little to do with the so-called Arab Spring that has unleashed aspirations of democracy across the Middle East region.

The organizers of these refugee vessels tend to be what we would call criminal organizations who transport anyone who can pay their exorbitant fees.  After drugs and the international arms trade, people smuggling is the most lucrative business operated by these people.

What the Europeans are doing in tolerating risky spontaneous movements and then using a refugee determination mechanism to sort survivors -- who can stay and who can be sent back -- is morally indefensible in my book. They really need to tackle the problem at the source.  It would be better for all concerned if the EU and its constituent countries could decide on a policy for legal migration of both economic and humanitarian categories and then work in the source countries of the boat departures to curtail them as much as possible.  The spontaneous movements more than anything benefit the smugglers.

The Canadian example

Canada has a rational migration policy which works assiduously in foreign ports and airports to interdict spontaneous migration.  The argument that Canada is preventing would-be asylum seekers from arriving at our borders has to be measured against the reality that any channel open to spontaneous migration will be used by any number of people and probably not by that many who are in immediate need of international protection pursuant to the 1951 Geneva Convention and Protocol of 1967.

There is some evidence to suggest that intervention at source-nations has worked. The last refugee vessel to hit Canadian shores was in Aug. 2010, when the Sun Sea arrived off the B.C. coast, with 492 people on board. This vessel had originated in Thailand, but was carrying Sri Lankans of Tamil origin. Just 10 months earlier, another boatload of Tamils had arrived aboard a barely seaworthy Ocean Lady, setting off a debate across Canada about how the government should be treating these refugees fleeing a nation that was then in the throes of a fullblown civil war.

The Canadian debate resulted in the government drafting tough rules around who could be granted asylum and putting in place measures that would discourage such trafficking. Of the 575 people, including women and children, who filed refugee claims, only 130 have been successful. The rest are suspected to being supportive of the Tamil Tigers, a militant group that championed Tamil independence through extremist means.  

In light of this, I maintain that Canada is as close as any country in trying to serve both the need to manage immigration and to reach out to some in need of resettlement on humanitarian grounds. Improvement is always possible, but I think Canada is on the right track.

Raphael Girard retired from the federal government in 2003 after a 40-year career in Immigration and Foreign Affairs. He headed the Refugee Determination Task Force that created Canada's refugee determination system in 1989.  He served as Assistant Deputy Minister of Immigration Operations until 1997, following which he was named Canada’s Ambassador to Yugoslavia.  He was Canadian delegate to the European Security Pact in 1999 and Ministerial Delegate for Reconstruction in the Balkans in the same year.  He was appointed Canada’s Ambassador to Romania and Bulgaria in 2000.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

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