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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Kurdistan: On a straight line to independence.

R.I.P. Iraq. The country is no more. Iraq has ceased to exist. That is my conclusion after a short, but intensive visit to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is not the declaration of the “Islamic State" on 29 June that marks the turning point. It will rather be the soon-expected declaration of independence by the Iraqi Kurds which will prove irreversible. Few paid attention two weeks after the parliamentary elections of 30 April 2014 when Masoud Barzani, president of Iraqi Kurdistan, threatened to boycott a new government led by Iraqi PM Nuri Maliki. Barzani said he had enough of the authoritarian way in which Maliki has governed. The dispute between Erbil and Baghdad dates back a long time. One elements is that the referendum on disputed areas such as Kirkuk, promised in the...

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Gay and Furious

So now it is finally clear. Minsk can’t meet the EU half-way and release political prisoners, because it knows what demand will come next: this Gayropa will want Belarus to legalise gay marriages, said FM Makey. Oh no, same-sex marriages, quelle horreur! Lukashenko believes it’s better to be a dictator than to be gay; (bare-chested) Putin says that homosexuals are a threat to national security and compares gay marriages to worshiping Satan. The Russian Orthodox Church (which in Belarus doesn’t say anything against capital punishment) views gay parades as homosexual propaganda. Nato used to be the main worry for Eastern Europe. Now the scarecrows are neo-fascists and gays, two “threats” imposed by the West which undermine traditional Christian values and, while they should be mutually ex...

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A toast for Juncker, Habermas and Bild Zeitung

The designation of the Spitzenkandidat calls for reflection amongst all those pundits, who were so sure it would never happen “That’s an hour and a half you’ll never get back. NONE of these so-called ‘candidates’ will become the next Commission President”, a friend lamented on May 15th reflecting the media sentiment at the time, when learning my excitement about the Eurovision presidential debate; that night outside the hemicycle at Brussels, in a moment the European public sphere found a form and a shape. Journalists encircled Ska Keller – she was the Green star of the evening and the winner of the debate – whilst Martin Schultz stood firm for the emerging democratic selection, if not election, process. So the European public space, which many think is to remain an illusion, conceiv...

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