Europe

Women leading the Belarus Revolution standing firm against Lukashenko
Europe

Women leading the Belarus Revolution standing firm against Lukashenko

Belarus has been under international spotlight ever since the long-term President Alexander Lukashenko allegedly won the disputed elections in June 2020 enraging the people of Belarus. The people, majority women, have been at the forefront of the mass political demonstrations and protests against the Lukashenko government calling for stepping down of the longest serving dictator in Europe.

Women have been leading the Belarus Revolution demanding democracy to come to the forefront. Leaders, protesters and change-bearing personas are all women who are currently in the limelight of transitionary phase of the country that is hopefully set on the path of ultimate democratic freedom.

Last week a Minsk apartment building had a projected image of opposition leader, Maria Kolesnikova. The image by Anna Redko was given look of The Motherland Calls, the famous Soviet war poster, where Kolesnikova is seen holding a torn passport. This was a reference to her latest encounter with Lukashenko’s forces at Ukraine border where they tried to deport her. Kolesnikova currently is in Minsk’s KGB prison. She is determined to oppose forced exile. That is the ultimate picture of revolutionary defiance in a country facing turmoil.

The revolution in Belarus has been led by women and also largely defined by them. Leading the demonstrations, women have been arrested and beaten up by the masked security men in green uniforms. Many have been detained.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was the opposition leader on ballot standing against Lukashenko. The autocratic leader allowed a woman to contest in election, thinking she wouldn’t pose any harm, and jailed or exiled all the men who intended to contest the election. Three opposition leaders – Tikhanovskaya, Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo rallied across the country before elections and gathered support for their vision of bring in the long desired political change and democracy in the country.

Lukashenko was largely cynical and rejective of women, and that enraged women even more. Kolesnikova said at her Minsk located campaign headquarters last month, “The cynicism with which the current president expressed himself about them and their role, it insulted a lot of women.”

The current momentum of protests in Belarus were facilitated and accentuated by women and it was further rejuvenated after women were inflicted with horrifying violence after Lukashenko claimed victory in elections. After days of bearing brutal attacks by the police, 250 women stood on central Minsk roadside holding white and red flowers, and police didn’t touch them. Next day there were multiple rows of women across the city. Weeks following Tikhanovskaya and Tsepkalo left Belarus and exiled fearing threat to family, and Kolesnikova became the movement’s visible face. She continued to appear in rallies until she was forcibly detained and was tried to forced into exile.

Russia is showing unwavering support to Lukashenko who is internationally not recognized as legitimate president after controversial elections. The women leaders are the face of change in Belarus. Kolesnikova said last month that the protests show that a political change is possible if demanded for, and that women can take the charge when nobody helps.  

UK steps forward to meet Ukrainian arms requirement to address its security concerns w.r.t Belarus and Russia
Europe

UK steps forward to meet Ukrainian arms requirement to address its security concerns w.r.t Belarus and Russia

On Thursday, UK prime minister Boris Johnson met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Downing Street for the signing of UK-Ukraine Political, Free Trade and Strategic Partnership Agreement. The UK government’s press report said, “The two leaders welcomed the new Agreement, which lays the foundation for an intensified bilateral relationship.”

The report added, “The two leaders discussed the importance of working together to counter Russia’s malign influence, both in Ukraine and in the wider region. They also expressed their shared concern about the situation in Belarus.” During the meet, Johnson also emphasized the steps UK took against the recent human rights abuses in Belarus, including the imposition of sanctions.

Ukraine has been battling Russian influence and Moscow-backed militants on its eastern border since 2014 war. With the recent eruption of political unrest in the neighbouring Belarus, its security has been further threatened. The country has been seeking arms help from US and European Union for years but both preferred to avoid any commitment in order to steer clear of offending Russia. Hence, the UK’s confirmation to sell lethal weapons to Ukraine is likely to pave way for a key strategic partnership between the two, especially in the post-Brexit era. UK also committed to loan £1bn to help Ukraine in strengthening its naval defence in the Black Sea,

Andriy Yermak, the head of office to Zelenksy, clarified that his country doesn’t intend to use the arms deal as an excuse to target Russia, but only to strengthen its own defences, He said, “The strategy is not organise large military parades and not to go on the TV to blame the Russians for all our misfortunes – that does not save the lives of Ukrainians. We need to be careful and cold minded to advance Ukraine’s interests and to use all possible platforms for talks, reduce tension and save lives.”

Meanwhile, Yermak strongly expressed his country’s worry about rising tensions in Belarus, where over 12,000 got detained since President Alexander Lukashenko gained power through what was described as rigged elections. He said: “Under a worst case scenario we face a very direct threat to our independence and territorial integrity. We are on the front lines. We should act specifically to counteract such threats without any diplomatic subtleties.”

Yermak also raised the need for fresh rough of talks with Russia, urging the leaders of France and Germany for a peaceful resolution.

Besides, Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said that Zelensky also pushed Johnson to set a timeline for Ukrainian Nato membership, which the nation has been aspiring for years. “Our president was very clear. He said Ukraine needs a Nato membership action plan. Nato membership will contribute to Ukrainian security and defence,” Kukeba said.

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is on Russia’s most wanted list
Europe

Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya is on Russia’s most wanted list

Russia, who openly supports Belarus’s embattled president Lukashenko has put the opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on its most wanted list over criminal charges.

Belarus opposition leader Tikhanovskaya stood against President Alexander Lukashenko in the August disputed presidential elections that were seen fraudulent after Lukashenko declared himself as the winner. The result was nationwide mass protests in the country with opposition and demonstrators demanding stepping down of Lukashenko. But the latter maintains that they are “Western puppets” who want to overthrow him. The majority of Lukashenko can be attributed to the support he enjoys from Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and the charges on Tikhanovskaya are a proof of the same.

Tikhanovskaya recently visited Germany and met Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin along with other German officials and used the opportunity to discuss the current democratic crisis in Belarus with Merkel asking for Germany’s intervention. Lukshenko has been declared illegitimate president by the EU and sees Ms. Tikhanovskaaya as the true winner of presidential elections. EU has slapped sanctions on 40 top Belarusian officials, but not on Lukashenko.

The interior ministry of Russia hasn’t given complete details regarding charges on Ms. Tikhanovskaya except releasing statement of putting her name on the most wanted list. Russia’s Tass news agency reports that Ms. Svetlana’s name was on the wanted list in Belarus. According to the agreement between Belarus and Russia the Belarusian warrant would be applicable in Russia as well.

After the protests broke out in Belarus and the authorities started targeting opposition figures and protestors, Tikhanovskaya was forced to go into exile in Lithuania citing threat to her family. She stood in election opposite Lukashenko only after her husband, a prominent blogger, was sent to jail and was barred from contesting the election. Ms. Tikhanovskaya has been urging the international community and world leaders to step in and pressurize Lukashenko to have smooth democratic transition in the country through negotiation.

Weeks into the anti-government demonstrations in Belarus has witnessed thousands coming onto the streets demanding Lukashenko to step down. Police authorities have beaten up the opposition leaders, detained and charged them. People are demanding release of all political prisoners and fair re-election.

Four EU nations, including Germany have recalled their ambassadors in Belarus showing solidarity with Lithuania and Poland. Belarus is blaming Poland and Lithuania of interfering in country’s internal matters and had called its ambassadors from these nations. In response Poland and Lithuania too recalled their ambassadors from Minsk.

UK: Johnson’s keynote speech was full of assurance but lacked concrete plan to lead through crisis
Europe

UK: Johnson’s keynote speech was full of assurance but lacked concrete plan to lead through crisis

UK prime minister Boris Johnson in his virtual keynote speech delivered on Tuesday, at the Conversation party conference sold his country the rose-tinted image of future with his over optimistic words. He emphasised about life in post-covid era and how his administration would bring in better changes to make UK “the greatest place on Earth”. Unfortunately, he did not share any details of how exactly he planned to reach that prosperous state.

He said, “After all we have been through, it is not enough just to go back to before. We have lost too much, we have mourned too many,” he said. “We have been through too much frustration and hardship just to settle for the status quo and to think that life can go on as before the plague, and we will not.”

Many analysts believed that his plan appeared to be no-plan for Brexit and go-plan for private sector. But both the things contradict his statements, and states the obvious lack of plan, as UK has been facing huge job losses and the country’s businesses depend on Brexit deal, which doesn’t seem to be getting through anytime soon. Labour Party accused the British PM of delivering pure “bluster”. 

We have been through too much frustration and hardship just to settle for the status quo and to think that life can go on as before the plague, and we will not.

Boris Johnson

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: “The British people needed to hear the prime minister set out how he and his government will get a grip of the crisis. Instead we got the usual bluster and no plan for the months ahead.

“We end this Conservative conference as we started it: with a shambolic testing system, millions of jobs at risk and an incompetent government that has lost control of this virus and is holding Britain back.”

Johnson was slammed by his critics for leaning his economic recovery policy way too much on private players. He said that free enterprise would be at the centre of future growth. He added,“There comes a moment when the state must stand back and let the private sector get on with it. We must not draw the wrong economic conclusion from this crisis.”

His assurance to protect private sector falls in vain as the decision on Brexit deal still stood in air. The country is much closer to a no-deal scenario than a deal, which could be catastrophic for UK. During his recent interview with BBC’s Andrew Marr, Johnson said that he can “more than live with” a no-deal Brexit, which would mean UK would have trade with his biggest trading partner, EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms.

Johnson told Marr, that he didn’t “want the Australian, WTO-type outcome particularly, but we can more than live with it”. WTO trading terms would be disadvantageous for UK as it would lead to cross-border disruption, higher prices and a shortage of essential goods. The UK officially exited the Union on 31 January, 2020, and as per the exit agreement it was given a a transition period to settle its trade ties until 31 December.

Why Italy believes cutting down its MP Numbers is a Necessary Move
Europe

Why Italy believes cutting down its MP Numbers is a Necessary Move

It is democracy and then power of the people that reigns supreme. Italy has proven that. Italians have gone all out to decide to have fewer people represent their government. Through a referendum, the people have voted for fewer politicians to represent them in the times to come.

The referendum awaits clearance from the Parliament.

The reform suggested also intends to capped at five the number of presidentially nominated senators-for-life. The referendum, once passed in the Parliament will become a law and does not come into effect until the next election cycle that is to fall in 2023 or a little before that.

The big victory here is that, with the numbers literally being cut down to one third the representation. Sadly, it will not affect the pay packets of the existing politicians. But it will definitely give an equal voice to the common man. The case becomes similar to that in Germany- ratio of voters to lawmakers has come to the same level.

The rule of the powerful and elite seems to be ruling the roost everywhere- be in Iran, Lebanon or Iraq- the common man has been taking to the streets and shouting it out to get fair and equal play in the way they want to be governed.

The constitutional referendum vote that happened between September 20 and 21, sought a cut in the number of MPs. It was indeed a purposeful move.  Supported by the new age coalition of parties M5S, the idea is to reduce public spending and increase parliamentary efficiency.

If the referendum goes through, it would mean decrease in the Chamber of Deputies’ total members from 630 to 400 and the Senate’s from 315 to 200, cutting 230 deputies and 115 senators, respectively. According to figures calculated by M5S, with the cuts in the numbers of MPs, one is looking at saving as much as €80million to €100 per year or let us say almost € 1 billion of the common man’s money which can be used to build 130 new schools, fit out 13000 ambulances or even make for compensation 25000 new nurses for hospitals.

Macron addresses radical Islam in France
Europe

Macron addresses radical Islam in France

The president gave a long-awaited speech about the infiltration of radical Islam in French society, often due to foreign influence, and his plans to counter it.

In addressing the sensitive and divisive subject of radical Islam taking root in France, President Emmanuel Macron had to walk a tightrope. Not unlike French society itself which has to deal with the radicalization of its citizens and residents without tipping into Islamophobia or racism. Ahead of a draft bill on the matter to be tabled in December, Macron spoke about the importance of the fight “Islamist separatism” and social outreach and support measures to get disenfranchised citizens like Muslims to buy into the idea of the Republic.

France has been the victim of several Islamist-inspired terror attacks in the past five years including the Charlie Hebdo shootings in 2015, the multiple attacks in Paris in November 2015 and the Bastille Day attack in 2016. Isolated and fatal incidents like shootings and stabbings continue to claim victims and create fissures in the society. The far-right has capitalised on this opportunity to criticise France’s stand on migration and other racially-charged policies.

Perhaps he disappointed them and many right voters on the fence by not taking a more aggressive line that sought repressive measures against the problem. Instead, he focused on de-ghettoising Islam and reducing the foreign influence on the Muslims in the country. He said that Muslim youths, disproportionately affected by unemployment, are concentrated in neighbourhoods where the “promises of the republic have not been kept”. In such a situation, they start to find hope in radical ideologies.

He also spoke about reducing home-schooling and training Imams within the country instead of importing them from other Muslim-majority countries like Algeria and Morocco. This was the only way to counter the influence of foreign imams, by grooming faith leaders to “build an Islam in France that can be an Islam of enlightenment”. He said there is no place for political Islam in the country if it is not compatible with stability and peace. There was also a need to highlight the teachings of progressive Islamic thinkers from the Middle Ages. These efforts would be carried out with full participation of the Muslim community and indirectly through the French Council of the Muslim Faith.

Europe plans to go Cashless with Digital Euro soon
Europe

Europe plans to go Cashless with Digital Euro soon

Come pandemic and the way we do business has gone through a paradigm shift.  Europe is the first one to take practical steps to ensure they can eliminate all aspects that create chances of contraction of the virus, which has reined its ugly head to infect more than 3 million people across European countries.

Europe has become the first to go cashless in a large way. It has encouraged consumers to make use of the digital form of the Euro currency that is now being released by the European Central Bank (ECB) soon next week. The process of introducing the same into the market has started last week.  This will be in use in alteast 19 European countries to start with.

The Central Bank has issued a comprehensive report outlining the reasons why it might need to take the step. A central bank digital currency could also be used offline, for instance, to transfer small amounts between individuals using digital wallets on their smart phones and a Bluetooth connection.

The idea is not only to make currency use easy and reduce physical cash transactions. It has been seen that many shops, departmental stores, museums etc, have shifted to using cashless modes of transactions. In fact China and Sweden are also exploring the option of cashless currency usage. However, there is risk and uncertainty over privacy, money laundering and consumer protection issues.

Earlier on in the year, Facebook has started off with the launch of Libra, a cashless digital currency option. This digital currency would be backed by existing government-issued money and would not be run by Facebook but by a nonprofit association based in Switzerland. However, the plans were shelved over concerns of cyber theft and lack of security online.  The ECB and experts of the 19 European national central banks of the euro zone still feel that as demand increases for cashless payments, there should be a Europe-wide, risk-free digital system.

Two years since collapse of government, new coalition comes to power in Belgium
Europe

Two years since collapse of government, new coalition comes to power in Belgium

A coalition of seven parties has finally formed a new government, after nearly 500 days on intense negotiations.

A majority coalition government came to power under Flemish liberal Alexander De Croo, ending months of political deadlock in the country that is notoriously difficult to govern thanks to its linguistically divided population. Between the wealthy Dutch-speaking north to the poorer French-speaking south, each with their own political parties, governments and cultures, no party comes close to getting a majority in the national government.

Since the federal elections on May 26, 2019, no party has been able to lay claim to the government, until this coalition of seven parties, called the ‘Vivaldi coalition’ was cobbled together. The new government has brought socialists, liberals and Greens from both Wallonia and Flanders as well as the Flemish Christian Democrats and will replace the caretaker government that had been out in place since October last year. In March this year, it was converted to a minority government in order to better manage the pandemic.

The previous coalition government collapsed in December 2018, unable to agree about the ratification of the United Nations’ migration pact. This new government is even more prone to instabilities, especially with the pressures it is facing from a resurgent far-right movement in the country. With the challenges brought on by the pandemic, it might be difficult for all these divergent parties to continue finding common ground. But first, they need to urgently pass the budget and decide on the COVID-19 recovery package.

Addressing the nation, the new prime minister said that they would do everything in power to control the pandemic quickly and locally and assured that there wouldn’t be another general lockdown as the country can’t afford it. It is inheriting a situation where the country has seen one of the highest per capita fatalities in the world largely owing to the government’s inability to protect the elderly. While the government will inherit a stockpile of 200 million medical masks and the ability to test 45,000 people a day, it will also lose the top people in the government who had been managing the crisis so far.

Meanwhile, the government made history with the appointment of a transgender woman as deputy prime minister. The Green Party’s Petra De Sutter is now the highest-ranking trans* person in Europe.

A No-Deal Brexit Will Come With Dangerous Consequences For Britain: EU Bloc Reps
Europe

A No-Deal Brexit Will Come With Dangerous Consequences For Britain: EU Bloc Reps

There is panic over trade in the European Union and the tension is building up as the deadline for the closing of the Brexit deal comes near.  There are reasons that In recent weeks, many major European exporters to the UK have expressed their anxiety.

Their British counterparts who sell into Europe are also not happy. There are sounds of arming cries to be heard everywhere. While Europe is still trying to recover from the backlash of the pandemic, the uncertainty over Brexit led trade movement is unsettling for the trade community that depends heavily on Britain for their exports.

Britain is a large market for wines, cheese, chocolates, automobiles and much more. With the country having very less of its own production, literally everything they consume is being exported from somewhere nearby or far off like Asia as well.

According to most traders, unless there is a deal, disruptions and higher costs on both sides of the English Channel is going to be the challenge to face. Britain has decided to exit the single market custom union, going against its initial promise not to do so.

Britain is still to agree on exit terms. There is no strategy in place when it comes to tariffs or even terms of trade across the British border to other countries from where it does business.  So, the resulting fear of friction to brew between the various European nations and Britain is not an unfounded one.

The worst effected has been the automobile industry that supplies literally half of Britain’s export needs.  A No-Deal-Brexit is completely out of question. For the meat, vegetable, fruits and dairy industry too, this is a prerequisite to save later days of chaos. Let’s call it wisdom and foresight, which someone seems to allude British PM Boris Johnson for the longest time.

EU figures say it out loud- the UK (indeed) was the top destination for the bloc’s agri-food exports, worth over €40 billion in the year to January 2020. In recent years nearly half of UK imports from the EU have come from the Netherlands, Germany, France and Ireland.

Most players in the market are not in favour of Britain moving out of the Single Market Custom Union. “Our surveys show that the European single market has absolute priority for 85 percent of German companies. In return, the companies are prepared to accept economic disadvantages in trade with the British,” said Volker Treier, head of foreign trade at the German Chamber of Commerce (DIHK).

Britain does not seem to understand the implications of stepping out of the Single Market union. It will not only jeopardize internal business of 27 countries in the bloc, but also hamper returns for those who trade with it regularly.

What worries the EU block most is that with Britain stepping out, without any clear indications of terms and conditions of trade going ahead the final transition period, there is going to be a loss of a “level playing field”. Further, the UK could pursue a more active business subsidy policy, competitive tax regime and competition policy.

‘Strategic autonomy for Europe, the aim of our generation,’ the EU President Charles Michel vision
Europe

‘Strategic autonomy for Europe, the aim of our generation,’ the EU President Charles Michel vision

European strategic autonomy. Or sovereignty? Or power? We all know that concepts and words can take on different connotations depending on the context. The President of the European Council Charles Michel in his speech to the Bruegel think tank focused on on the substance behind the words. “The last three decades, as we have continued to build the European Union, have brought the creation of the single market, the Schengen area, the euro, the great enlargement… And finally, the Treaty of Lisbon, which consolidated our institutional framework”. Michel indicated, stressing that each of these stages has strengthened the European Union and its autonomy.

A cornerstone of the European political agenda has been and remains climate diplomacy. Europe is the vanguard of the fight against climate change. In 2018, a few pioneering countries committed themselves to carbon neutrality by 2050. After that came the struggle to win people over, the mobilisation of civil society and of young people for the climate. And in December 2019, with the support of Ursula von der Leyen’s Green Deal, the 27 member states made the 2050 commitment for the entire European Union. “We firmly conveyed this message to China, including at our recent summit with Xi Jinping”. The president of the European Council explained, noting the Jinping announcement at the UN last week of China’s 2060 commitment crowns a real diplomatic success.

So, why is it more important now than ever for Europe to choose strategic autonomy? “Because the globalised world has changed radically since the end of the Cold War. And because an arc of instability has emerged around us,” Michel said.To the east, the natural and harmless extension of the European democratic space has been brutally halted by Russia in Ukraine. Russia saw it as a major geopolitical threat. That cost Ukraine part of its territory and brought a war in the east that is constantly destabilising the country. Although the context is different, the events in Belarus again highlight the challenge at Europe’s eastern borders.

The president recalled that in the Eastern Mediterranean, Europe faces tensions and unpredictable developments. Libya and Syria are alsosource of insecurity and instability. Greek and Cypriot sovereignty are put under pressure. “Our relationship with Turkey is being severely tested. This is why the next European summit will be dedicated to adopting a strategic European position in relation to the region,” Michel affirmed. The president of the EU Council has recently proposed to hold a multilateral conference on the Eastern Mediterranean to address issues including maritime boundaries, energy, security and migration.

“To the south, Africa. In Europe and among Europe’s leaders, I can feel how much the perception of Africa is changing. Africa’s energy and vitality open up the prospect of an unprecedented alliance. It is up to us, the leaders of Africa and Europe, to make it happen.” Michel continued, affirming that when it comes to alliance of Europe with the United States, beyond common values and historical ties, the EU cannot ignore an increasing number of geopolitical choices that run contrary to its interests, such asweakening multilateralism,withdrawing from the Paris Agreements and pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal.

According to the president of European Council, the strategic autonomy of EU must pursue three objectives: stability, disseminating its standards, and promoting its values. “Stability first and foremost means physical security. It also means environmental security: air quality, access to drinking water, protection of biodiversity, respect for the planet and for the human species,” he explained without forget economic and social security as well. For Michel the second objective is to safeguard the European capacity to set standards such as on the use of chemical substances, the General Data Protection Regulation and on definition of hate speech on the big platforms. The third objective of Michel is to strength the EU economic and social model, which he described as unique, on the bedrock of European values. That gives to the Europeans great legitimacy and makes them hugely attractive in the eyes of many partners around the world.

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