Applying the rule of law in Georgia

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was recently indicted by the Prosecutor of Georgia for abuse of power, embezzlement of state funds and human rights violations. Saakashvili’s supporters in the West have been quick to defend the former president and his co-defendants and to claim that the charges are politically-motivated. The EPP called them “unjustified”(1); US Republican Senators called them “unnecessary”(2). Back home officials from the opposition UNM, such as David Bakradze, have argued the move “will bring more confrontation and polarization to Georgian society”. As advised by the EEAS, Georgia certainly needs to “move beyond past conflicts and to focus on the country's future,”(3) but in order to move forward and to consolidate democracy and rule of law in Georgia, th...

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Europe has poached Tusk – but what does it mean?

“Wir sind Papst” said the Bild newspaper when a German was made pope, and Poles will react in much the same way to the news that PM Donald Tusk is to head the European Council. This is national recognition, and it marks the completion of Poland's integration into a once-closed West European club. And yet, not everyone in the EU will be convinced. Some commentators are saying Tusk got the job only because of his friendship with Chancellor Merkel, as if German support for a Pole were somehow to be expected these days. It isn't. In supporting Tusk, Berlin has had to overcome deep-seated fears about damaging its neighbour’s democratic development. And it has had to overcome its prejudice that CEE politicians are incapable of Brussels-style consensus-building because of their one-party herit...

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Wanted: an urgent strategy to stop barbaric IS

“We don’t have a strategy yet”. These were the shocking words of president Obama yesterday. Today (30 August) Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz responded by warning that the threat of terrorism will reach Europe and America if the world does not unite to confront it. Sickened by the images coming in daily from the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, citizens from all over the world tend to believe the Saudi King. Differences in origin, conviction or faith vanish in the face of so much barbarism. These extremists much look like the thirteen-century Mongolian incursion in the Middle East and its attempt at wiping out civilisation itself. Much like a new Dzjengis Khan, the self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi instituted a reign of terror sparing nothing and no one. ...

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The Face With No Nose

A Russian immigrant approached me on the metro in Berlin the other day when he heard me speaking Belarusian. He didn’t ask for directions, but rather about my attitude towards Russia. When I asked him if he thinks Belarusians are afraid to be the next nation on Putin’s list of places to ‘protect’, he replied: “Putins come and go; This is about the Russian World, which Belarusians are part of.” The “Russian World” is a term which the Kremlin is successfully promoting to describe the roughly 300 million people in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and beyond, who speak Russian, who are interested in Russian culture, and who share a common understanding of the historic development of the region as well as of its conjoint (sic!) future. In Russian, the concept is called Russky Mir, which, ironically,...

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Turkey Enters Politically Uncharted Territory

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became Turkey's first popularly elected head of state, taking 51.8 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election on Aug. 10. This win came as no surprise. His popularity among Turkey's conservative and devoutly Muslim population, in addition to the fact that he was able to use his position as prime minister to full advantage against his two opponents, guaranteed this outcome. Erdoğan's presidency will be unlike any that Turkey has seen since the days of the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Erdoğan has always been hands-on, calling the shots, and he will want to keep calling the shots as president. During his victory speech, he declared the “start of a new era” and has made no secret of his plans to use executive powers, as the...

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"Silence for Gaza": what the news is not saying

The airstrikes (كاسيف, kassif) had already become a daily, or rather nightly, occurrence when I left Gaza a few days before the full escalation and beginning of the Israeli operation ‘Protective edge’ and Hamas’ response. (The original name in Hebrew is מִבְצָע צוּק אֵיתָן, Mivtza Tzuk Eitan, "Operation Firm Cliff" ). I had seen it before over the past year: the drones and F-16s hovering over and shelling were meant as intimidation, a warning. Still the building would shake and wake me up. The intensity of the airstrikes was limited however compared to the tons of explosives dropped on Gaza since the beginning of the escalation on 8 July.                                Escalation in Gaza: day 31 For the past 31 days my schedule has revolved around checking the news, cross-checking it...

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Cold, Cold War

With the diplomatic rift between the West and Russia growing ever wider after MH17, the rift between Western and Russian societies is also becoming more visible. Meanwhile, the victims are slipping out of view. I don’t believe we will ever know exactly what happened with the Malaysia Airlines plane. What walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and blows things out of the sky will one day be called something by the independent investigators. The rest of the story is already being taken care of by the media in different countries. Everybody lies. Everybody, be it presidents, political parties, media tycoons, corporations - they all have their own, self-serving agendas. And the people? They tend to eat from the hands of their governments and listen faithfully to their favourite media. Most...

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Ukraine’s impact on Russia

The crisis in Ukraine now dominates the Russian foreign and domestic policy agendas. Domestically, Putin has done well out of recent events. According to the Levada-Centre, a polling organisation, just before major protests erupted against former President Yanukovich in Ukraine, Putin’s approval ratings were at their lowest since he came to power 15 years ago. By May 2014, however, they had shot up to 83% – some of the highest levels he has ever enjoyed. There are several reasons for this development. One is the simple fact that Crimea’s – ‘return’ to Russia is popular in its own right. But there has also been a sea change in public option since the 2011 anti-Putin demonstrations in Moscow. Although many Russian citizens remain frustrated by government incompetence and corruption, the p...

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Azerbaijan and the Two EUs

Of the six countries in the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP), Azerbaijan is the only one that has not chosen to definitively align itself with either the EU or Russia. With the signing of Association Agreements with the EU on June 27, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia declared their strategic choice to further integrate with the EU and, despite Russian opposition and aggression, stated full membership as their goal. Meanwhile, Belarus and Armenia have taken another path, choosing Russia's Eurasian Union (EaU). Azerbaijan, as Georgia and Armenia, is located at a very sensitive and volatile geopolitical crossroads, sandwiched between Russia, and Iran. However, unlike its neighbours, Baku has chosen a policy of “choosing not to choose”, having a cautious approach, not wanting to openly confront a...

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Court on Google? No flaw

Well, isn´t this a proper mess! The EU Court ordered Google in a ruling in May to remove links to information on the Internet if the perosn concerned find it "outdated, irrelevant or no longer relevant." The case in question was about a Spanish lawyer who didn´t want info popping up on the Internet on his house having been repossessed a few years earlier when his finances were in rather a bad way. He felt it harmed him in his new career. Google was confused. People actually have this “right to be forgotten” that the EU legislators have been going on about but never managed to get put down properly in a law? Google swiftly removed the links and some others upon request, for example to some articles in the Guardian. But then Google had to put them back after protests from the med...

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