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Diplomacy

Borders, Nations, and Banknotes

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Courtesy of IWM, I recently moved into the ninth district of Vienna. Many notable Europeans have lived and worked in the ninth district. Austrian composer Franz Schubert was born here in1797, Jewish professor Sigmund Freud treated his patients in this neighbourhood until his exile in 1938, German musician Ludwig van Beethoven died here in 1827, and Slovenian writer Ivan Cankar temporarily resided here in 1899. And this is but a small sample from a long and illustrious list.  

Like anyone who had just adopted a new residence, I had to get my geographical bearings. It is good to know the limits of one’s habitat. Alsergrund, as the district is known, is well served in this regard. It has clear and unambiguous borders, delineated by the Gurtel in the northwest, the Danube Canal in the east, and Maria-Theresienstrasse, Universitatenstrasse, and Alserstrasse marking the borders in the south.  

There is a park across from my apartment beside the Lichtental parish church. The children and many of the supervising adults who gather in the park to enjoy the sunny weather of early September probably couldn’t care less about the borders of the district. German, Polish, Turkish, and Croatian idioms float through the balmy air, and I’d wager that many of these weekend strollers, idlers, and chatterers of immigrant background crossed far more significant borders before they even reached Vienna. Indeed, if Europeans are defined as people of a continent that can access more than just their own ethnic and linguistic stock of meaning, then it is precisely these immigrants who are Europeans par excellence.

I sit on a neat green bench, my rented bicycle at rest beside me. I sit and watch, one anonymous European observing his fellow Europeans. I watch. I daydream. I contemplate. Nothing has caused more grief and trouble in the history of Europe than borders and territory, than the land and its guardians. Alas, Europe in this regard is far worse off than urban districts such as Alsergrund with their sharply drawn and unquestioned frontiers.
In order to conceive of Europe’s imaginary totality, one must employ the tools of physical geography, and yet the absence of a strict natural border on the eastern flank of the continent has created the need for another standard, the kind provided by symbolic geography. Europe’s external boundaries have shifted over time with changing political circumstances and social-historical periods. As a rule, however, these shifting borders have always been predicated on the “other” that must remain outside. Over the course of its history, whoever spoke for Europe defined it as “civilised” and thus the antithesis of the “barbaric” regions and religions, tribes and peoples, kingdoms and nations outside the gate. At various times, Europe’s exterior border has run along the Oder and Neisse Rivers, the ridges of the Carpathians and the Ural mountain ranges, the coasts of the Black and Caspian Seas, the Iron Curtain, and, most recently, the Schengen lines.

Fear of the “other”

The smallest common denominator in communal integration is fear. In the collective mind of the peoples claiming membership in Europe, the West and the East have come to acquire polarized values. In the European rhetoric devised by medieval Christianity, Islamic culture was perceived as the “other”.  After the secular Enlightenment, it was Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the attendant communist ideology that assumed this negative role. Today Islam has once again become the “other”, being viewed across much of Europe as an anti-Christian, anti-Western and anti-modern threat. Europe, in short, rambles on in the durable tradition of defining itself via negativa: that is, by pointing a finger at what it is not.

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if Europeans are defined as people of a continent that can access more than just their own ethnic and linguistic stock of meaning, then it is precisely these immigrants who are Europeans par excellence

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But does Europe know what it is in the positive sense? Do we Europeans know what it means to be a European? The feeble nature of contemporary European integration, embodied in the European Union, was not caused by the worst economic crisis engulfing the length continent since 1930s; it was revealed by it.

The primary weakness of the elites who speak for Europe today lies in their inability to offer a coherent collective narrative, the failure to provide an integrative template for the common imagination. In its absence, many offshoots of political populism flourish. Fear mongers in the political class and in the forums of civil society excel at finding effective metaphors for a mentality of besiegement: full boat, fortress Europe, barricaded society. These conservative turns of phrase have only one goal, to hide the pursuit of profit behind the call for purity, to plaster ethnic slogans over economic interests. Appeals to the exclusivist concern for one’s own community seek to cover up the effects of globalization on the distribution of wealth, which has in fact contributed to the tragic erosion of what is arguably the most important European tradition: the tradition of social democracy and the welfare state.

In short, European political elites have proved themselves unable to deal critically with transnational global corporations and complicit financial institutions, and have thus reached for tried-and-true methods of diverting public attention. They turn immigrants, foreigners, and refugees into scapegoats. An enlightened segment of the public still recognizes these methods as “fascism with a smile” and condemns them as unacceptable, but the key issue is that expressions of chauvinistic populism against the “other”, alas, cannot be simply reduced to a deviation from the norm. They are a constituent part of the long-term process that saw during the post-war European integration as focused primarily on economic freedom and an unfettered marketplace. In the 1980s, the economic fundamentalism ushered in the corporate homogenization of everyday life. Today, the political solidarity that was once virtually guaranteed by the welfare state and its social safety nets appears as much a part of ancient history as the Berlin Wall.

For true believers, the invisible hand of the market is trusted to be a remedy for all ills. This became absolute doctrine after the fall of the famed wall. Today, despite the economic devastation of the current crisis, citizens of the European Union for the most part accept the market as the normative condition of life. Although the 1995 introduction of the euro as a new currency was clearly ill conceived, most intelligent commentators insisting that political union should have accompanied economic union for the project to stand a chance of success, the currency stumbles on. The jury is out; our future—and more relevantly, that of our children—lies in the balance.

Missing faces

The crisis of the euro notwithstanding, we have had plenty of time to get used to daily transactions in the currency, usable and valued in the so-called Eurozone regardless of national borders. But while the borders of nations still exist, the borders of currencies magically disappeared. What failed to disappear, however, was a lingering doubt in Europe as a common house of peoples and nations, and yet this being Europe, doubt is self-reflexive and so was cleverly integrated into the design of the banknotes themselves.

Consider: the five euro note features an image of a vaguely ancient viaduct that could have been erected anywhere in the Roman Empire. The ten euro note features a Romanesque portal, while the two hundred euro note features an opaque glass door and an anonymous bridge. Unlike the national currencies it replaced, the euro is too timid to tell a story. Not a single human face appears on these banknotes. These banknotes are utterly incapable of inspiring meaningful identification and fail to deliver on the imperative de te fabula narratur. They are abstractions, perhaps suitably, like money itself.

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The feeble nature of contemporary European integration, embodied in the European Union, was not caused by the worst economic crisis engulfing the length continent since 1930s; it was revealed by it

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But, oh, how I miss the portraits of Erasmus, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Mickiewicz, Velasquez, Newton, Goethe, Andrić. In contrast, the columns and arches on these notes hint at ruined empires, or virtual empires, ones that never actually existed but have been transformed into eerie nostalgia for some sort of real connection and community. They echo something lost in the sands of an irrecoverable past, a place with no foundation, no recognizable landscape. Indeed there is nothing familiar that we Europeans can identify with in these banknotes. They’re useful, at least for the time being, but they’re symbolically empty.

Just spending euros, however, will not make us Europeans. To be a European means to attempt to answer this crucial question: can Europeanism become a viable common collective narrative? We shall see. A European narrative will have to be cross generational. It will have to maintain a common cultural amalgamation of distinct ethnic traditions, reinforced by shared memory and the promise of a common future. It will need to provide symbolic order wherein a centripetal force would be able to counteract, but not abolish, centrifugal forces of primary identification that each of us feels as a member of our nation.

Consolations of the absurd

What is a nation? It is understood as a distinct and self-examining ethnic group, and its Romantic desiderata. It is understood as a political form of collective power that represents a genuine European invention and a dubious contribution to the world’s vocabulary and practices. While the roots of the nation lie in the ancient Greek polis, its modern form was shaped in 19th century, when ethnic groups asserted their distinct identities. In part, these groups were propelled by the idea of bourgeois emancipation, which was developed to counter the aristocratic empires. After the collapse of multi-ethnic Habsburg and Ottoman empires, the nation-state acquired enormous prestige and was elevated into the unit of international political order.

But the nation-state was little more than a machine for ethnic homogenisation. Its dominant ideology was the ideology of a dominant ethnic group, better known as nationalism. It elevated the idea of national unity over all other collective loyalties, identifications, and allegiances. The nation-states that emerged after 1918 rose on the ruins of the “European civil war” and subjected the state administration, education, social, and cultural life to a specific ethnic norm. Nationalism took the culture of the dominant ethnic group to be the supreme public good. Biological membership in the dominant ethnic group thus became the implicit standard for what was to be political citizenship. Those that did not belong to the dominant ethnic group were faced with assimilation at best or extermination at worst.

One would think that the situation would be different today. After all, there is no nation-state in post-imperial, post-WWII Europe, except perhaps Iceland, which does not contain at least one indigenous ethnic minority, not to mention the plethora of more recent immigrant communities. The European Union has become emphatically multinational and multi-ethnic. It is composed of various member nation-states that are, in turn, composed of various ethnic groups.

The absence of nationally specific figures on the banknotes of the euro hints at a consensus about the ancient, the imperial, and the Christian legacy, while the more recent past of Europe is neglected. National diversity is the twin sister of conflict, and conflicts regarding collective memories are particularly painful. It may have been arguably the best course to keep the design of euro banknotes vague and devoid of history, devoid of faces. But this very vagueness bears witness to a worrying truth: that the creation and maintenance of a common narrative that would integrate the paradoxes of European diversity confronts far greater obstacles than the development and facilitation of a mere common market.

The pursuit of a common European narrative may in the end turn out to be a Sisyphean task. But then I think of the wise acceptance of the absurd that Samuel Beckett penned – “I can’t go on, I must go on” – and I am comforted. It is the only good advice in hard times.

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Diplomacy

Soft Power Dynamics in Middle Eastern Conflict

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The Middle East is synonymous with eternal conflict as being at the cross-point between Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The paper intends to understand how the power could be derived from the cultural roots in a world filled with pre-existing biases based on religious values, nationality, and interpretation of history.

Palestine receives strong international support through social media by sharing its pain and grievances increasing its soft power that hampers Israel’s international relations. A new question emerges can the soft power paradigm be used to resolve the problem?  

The roots of the Middle Eastern problem are driven by historical-religious literature which shows the Middle East to be the historic homeland of Jews and they wanted to get back to their original homeland due to two-millennium long suppression that finally ended up as the holocaust.

Israel continues to emphasize and promote stories related to Second World War which help them gain the legitimacy to exist as a state. It is also remarked that the holocaust may have been a decisive condition for the creation of a Jewish state but this action would have occurred sooner or later.

One of the biggest strengths for Israel and its legitimacy comes from the Biblical literature which has some historical stories in it and mentions Israel and Judah in the Middle East providing American Christian Support which seems to be dropping as a result Israel needs to work on its soft power.

A similar strength can be found in Quran for Israeli as Surah Al-Ma’idah in Chapter 5 verse 12 states about the Children of Israel and verse 21 explains that they are “destined to enter and not to turn back else they will become the loser.” These verses motivate Israeli for their cause which raises an interesting phenomenon that some pro-Israeli media would use Quranic verses to gain legitimacy.

History needs to be studied to understand how and where the differences between Jews and Muslims started. Originally there was a peaceful relation between Jews and Muslims but Jews refuse to acknowledge Muhammad a non-Jew as one of the prophets of God which caused the relationship between Jews and Muslims to deplete.

Finally, Banu Qurayza a Jewish community allied with Qurashites against Prophet Muhammad that caused Medina to suffer a war-built hatred towards Judaism.

However, even after looking at the differences Muslims, Christians, and Jews are Abrahamic religions maintaining their base Judaic-monotheistic tradition as both Roman Catholics and Arab previously had polytheistic culture and Israel has indirectly benefitted from this historical fact.

Israel could benefit from various religions by showing show respect to the leaders of Abrahamic religions and even maintain an apologetic attitude on behalf of some of the members of the Jewish community which may have conducted villainous actions as per some stories based on other religious doctrines.

The tower of one’s ego can prohibit supporting the national interest which could only be achieved by becoming softer to gain soft power.

It is argued that the ancient Philistine is related to present-day Palestine. Palestine as a result gets associated with David and Goliath or Samson’s struggle with Philistine. However, the term Palestine is more complicated which had developed in the period.

There are also claims that the Syria Palaestina was constructed as a punishment for Bar Kochba Revolt in 135CE while the name Palaestina given to the region seems to be older than Bar Kochba Revolt and even older than the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

The image of the Israel and Palestine conflict is connected towards mythical combat between David and Goliath. David was an inexperienced youth who later became king of Israel and defeated a giant from ancient Philistine called Goliath.

Some actors who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have also connected Palestine with David who was weak at the beginning of the story while they perceive Israel as an unjust giant and the toughest fighter in the region.

The Middle Eastern conflict goes beyond religion and history as it has multiple dimensions due to multiple crimes against humanity causing people to be refugees that inflict social, political, and economic damages.

A medium to obtain soft power is by resolving the humanitarian crisis and Israel being perceived as a perpetrator tampered with its national image.

Israel as an economically advanced country with large spending power can establish economic institutions to raise funds in providing education, training, and employment to victims of that conflict regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, or political views who have been scattered around the world which would help Israel gain legitimacy.

The economic recovery of the war victims can minimize some damage enforced upon the national image but there is a strong opinion that the Palestinian community lacks legal rights as being in Israeli jurisdiction. So, political rights might have to be secured to the Palestinians while they have to live in Israel for Israel to create a positive national image.  

The Israeli government also create an option for the Palestinian community to have the right to return, granting them protection in Knesset (Israeli Parliament), while promoting Arab Israeli politicians, and can even reflect how they have shaped the Israeli government in the international arena to build Israel’s soft power.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the social affairs which are closely tied to the soft power paradigm.

There is a clear fear that the Jews are eclipsing the social identity of the Palestinian people but in reality, they are closely linked as Arabic language and Hebrew are Semitic languages, their scripts have common Aramaic ancestry, and Halaal and Kosher dietary cultures are also similar.

There should be an effort to study the similarities to build unity and to study unique qualities as to appreciate one another’s differences. Israel could also create Cultural Relations Centers around the world that promote both Jewish and Palestinian language, culture, and cuisine to create respect and solidarity. 

There can also be the production of television programs, movies, digital applications which could allow people to understand the Middle Eastern community.

Tel Aviv is the center for the development of many technological advancements and carries great potential to build creative applications and visual storytelling that could help spread awareness about the Middle East.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority could request the Israeli government to provide scholarships in various Israeli Universities which could enhance their credential for making effort to create a peaceful world as well as proposing exchange programs by inviting Israeli students to visit regular Palestinian colleges and working spaces decreasing bitterness.

The Palestinian Authority could also pursue Israeli investment in core-Palestinian settlements that could create employment as well as mutual dependence allowing Palestine to grow with a greater bargaining power while maintaining a symbiotic relationship.

Culture, history, and institutions can be combined to create harmony. A key aspect to gain soft power and legitimacy is by becoming softer by showing respect to the opponents while appreciating and accepting others’ viewpoints.

Therefore, the study of religion, history has to be conducted from a neutral perspective that can be trusted by all international actors and could serve as a uniting factor while maintaining an apologetic attitude towards historic mistakes. There needs to be an effort to provide economic and political compensation for the victims which have caused notoriety in the international arena and finally the culture of the two competing communities needs to be celebrated through cultural institutions to build trust and harmony.

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Diplomacy

Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva

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19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders. 

18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?

Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit

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Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

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In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

   One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE)  hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).

 Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India,  could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:

, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s  T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’

GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league —  extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021.  Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal  met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.

GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman  — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.

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