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Europe of the human face… with a little help from Greece

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Days after the last parliamentary elections, something is eventually moving in Greece. People are hesitant and restrained, do not want to get too excited. However, one can see that a humble smile, between hope and faith, is on faces of Greeks. For the first time in the post-dictatorship period, a leftist government took over the leadership of the country, insisting on its pre-election commitments to overthrow the corrupt political system and reverse the economic disaster.

 During the pre-election campaign, voters were bombarded with terrifying messages concerning the day after Syriza’s victory, describing more or less a socio-economic chaos, with banks with no liquidity, a paralyzed public sector and markets out of stock. However, the overall propaganda of terror and intimidation of citizens by the predominant political Parties not only failed to limit the social impact of SYRIZA’s actions, but it also seems that the will of determination of the new government somehow managed to positively affect the rest of Europe.
The negotiation process is still ongoing but what Syriza has achieved so far is that its well prepared anti-austerity plan today gives the impression not of just a grand-standing utopic program but of a specific project built on realistic bases.

What is of high importance though is that this political change in Greece has stimulated a great wave of active support from various European leftist political parties, helping Syriza to immediately avoid the risk of diplomatic isolation. Furthermore, for different reasons of geopolitical importance both the US and Russia have a very positive attitude towards the new Greek government, strengthening its negotiating power against EU lenders.  On the one hand, a closer cooperation between the two orthodox countries would benefit the development of Greek energy sector, even set Greece as a major strategic player in the international negotiations field about energy and at the same time provide Putin with a valuable European ally. Besides, Greek refusal to approve an EU statement aiming to expand sanctions against Moscow is a first good step in that direction. On the other hand, Washington couldn’t but respond to this diplomatic game by supporting the end of austerity, recalling US bad fiscal experiences and expressing its concerns about EU, which is currently lacking a tangible plan for growth in Europe.

Another significant issue is that for the first time people gather on the streets neither to protest against strict measurements of the government nor to express their anger and indignation – remember the major Movement of ‘’Aganaktismenoi’’ meaning ‘’Indignants’’ . People today, are actively present because they need to vividly demonstrate their great support to the government’s efforts to tackle the so-called European ‘Goliath’ and honor their will. In fact, this unprecedented situation, where thousands of people gathered on the 5th of January in Athens, Thessalonica, Patra and Chania to support the anti-austerity government, goes far beyond national boundaries, as similar social demonstrations took place in various central squares of major European cities.

So, it is clear that Greece has lots of important allies right now coming from different points of the international political scene. Additionally, both public opinion and the Press, valuable motivating factors of socio-political pressure, recognize the seriousness of the effort and the need to put an end to this major humanitarian crisis, which concerns the whole of Europe and challenges the foundations of the EU project. The question is whether this tough stance of both the European Central Bank and the European Commission is the first step in a tough negotiation process or indicates that the decisions are already taken against Greek interests.
We’ll just have to wait and see as the following days will be certainly crucial. We can only hope that the smiles on people’s faces won’t freeze and hopes for a better, decent future won’t vanish into thin air…

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The future of Brexit: Where will Boris Johnson’s “fatal strategy” lead Britain to?

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will attempt to negotiate a new deal with the EU on Brexit in the course of early parliamentary elections in the UK scheduled for December 12. If the Conservatives take upper hand, then, according to Johnson, Great Britain will leave the EU no later than January 31.

How will the upcoming elections affect Brexit? How Boris Johnson’s agreement with the European Commission could be assessed? The answers to these questions were provided by the participants in an expert discussion at the Valdai Club.

Stewart Lawson, member of the Board of Directors of the Russian-British Chamber of Commerce, head of UK Business Center in Moscow, Ernst & Young, has said that the current situation in the UK can be described as a scene in a bar where an Englishman, a Scot and an Irishman drink to forget the concept of Brexit “. Lawson made it clear that leaving the European Union without conditions would be a disaster. Nevertheless, the expert said that the UK had managed to avoid a situation in which there would be no deal at all, and also, with the arrival of a new agreement which Boris Johnson has reached with the EU, the situation has improved. “This deal is the best option for now,” – the expert remarked. However, he said, Brexit seems to be a story with no end and what is happening around it now is not even its first chapter yet.

Brexit continues to produce uncertainty, which, Lawson said is a big problem. In his opinion, the persisting uncertainty in connection with the UK leaving the EU affects business. On the one hand, the expert said, although Brexit will set Great Britain free from the US control, on the other hand, it will greatly affect the business climate, which continues to suffer amid the political uncertainty. The expert mentioned Nassim Taleb’s concept of the “black swan” according to which any forecasting may not take into account random, unknown factors. “We live in a world in which there are factors unknown to us. So it is necessary to have sufficiently flexible organizations capable of responding to situations that are in the process of development, ” – Lawson emphasized.

According to Alexander Kramarenko, Director of Development at the Russian International Affairs Council, Boris Johnson’s new agreement on Brexit is a major achievement for the British Prime Minister. Kramarenko attributes the success of Boris Johnson to his choice of a “fatal strategy” which allowed him to keep the stakes high until he won. With the help of this strategy, he managed to “cut open” the agreement on Brexit which had been signed by Theresa May. In addition, the “fatal strategy” has prompted the EU to concede on several issues.

The failure of Theresa May’s strategy is attributed to the fact that the former prime minister was a staunch supporter of a policy which required satisfying both parties, the UK and the EU. It was necessary to look for ways out of the EU instead of trying to stay there. “You cannot leave the EU and at the same time remain in the EU. And her agreement boiled down to just that, ” – Kramarenko said.

According to Theresa May’s agreement, by leaving the EU formally, Great Britain would lose the right to vote. Boris Johnson said that such an agreement perpetuates the “vassal” dependence of Great Britain on the European Union. “For a country with such a history as Great Britain, a position of this kind is not suitable. Either the UK is a member and takes part in all decisions, or it comes out and agrees on  something special. As argued by Boris Johnson, this special agreement is a free trade agreement of varying range of coverage, intensity and depth, but it would be an agreement of sovereign Britain, ” – Kramarenko emphasized.

First and foremost, Johnson’s agreement solves the problem of maintaining the status quo on the land border of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The fact is that under the agreement, Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, is to withdraw from the EU, while Ireland remains part of the European Union. Thus, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and the establishment of a clear-cut border between Northern Ireland and Ireland would jeopardize the Irish peace process. The EU, the UK and the Irish Government pledged to maintain this border under a deal that ended the civil war in Northern Ireland. The EU insisted that Britain remain in the Customs Union until this situation is settled. This would de facto keep Britain within the EU.

Under a new agreement proposed by Boris Johnson on which he secured the approval of the European Union, the UK will have to leave the EU’s Customs Union, and the customs border between Britain and the EU will pass via the Irish Sea. However, this threatens the unity of the country and could be an important step towards unification of Ireland, the expert believes.

Boris Johnson’s strategy has led to serious concessions from the European Union, Kramarenko said. Exiting the Customs Union will also allow the UK to clinch trade agreements with third countries. Moreover, the provision on “equal conditions of competition” will no longer be valid in the future, since it was moved from the text of the agreement to the Political Declaration, which is not binding.

What creates a major obstacle to Brexit is the current state of the British constitutional system of government, the expert said. “The opposition has deprived the government of the majority, thereby stripping it of the opportunity to rule the country or adopt new laws,” – Kramarenko said. Johnson’s achievement is precisely due to the fact that despite the opposition, he was able to cope with the opponents and postpone the date of Britain’s exit from the EU. “Now there is a significant degree of confidence that Brexit will take place and, perhaps, it will come as a gift for the New Year,” – Kramarenko said.

From our partner International Affairs

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Bulgarian far-right to shut down largest human rights NGO in Bulgaria

Iveta Cherneva

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“Why don’t they defend those who get robbed? Why are they only defending those that have trouble with the police? Why are they defending minorities? Do you know how many policemen are being investigated because of them?”

This is what you hear when the Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister, Krasimir Karakachanov and others speak about the human rights organisation, The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. It is the largest and oldest human rights organisation in Bulgaria.

And now it is facing the threat of closure after the deputy prime minister – who is also Bulgaria’s Minister of Defense – called this week for the shutdown of the NGO. Members of his party, the Bulgarian National Movement (IMRO) – a Far-Right party participating in the ruling coalition – have filed a request with the Bulgarian Prosecutor General for a review of the activities of the human rights NGO, asking for it to be closed down.

Make no bones about it. This is an attack on our freedom.

This is why I have notified the relevant authorities at the United Nations about what is taking place in Bulgaria. Activities of this type directed against human rights defenders have no place in a rule of law state, let alone an EU state. As a prominent government official, Krasimir Karakachanov has a particular obligation to respect human rights defenders.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticised his and his party’s actions this week. Over 70 Bulgarian NGOs stood by the Helsinki Committee, having sent a public letter of support condemning the attack on the NGO.

While my signal to the UN is currently being looked at, it is worth discussing why the deputy prime minister and others have such a huge problem with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, and organisations of this type.

The concept of human rights – by its very definition – protects citizens against the State and its organs, including policemen. That is one of the issues for Karakachanov. Well, welcome to the 21st century, Minister.

Policemen being investigated for misconduct is something we have to applaud, not something which shows how far things have gone. Bulgaria, with its post-communist baggage, has had a police system which traditionally has gone over and beyond what is allowed by law. Things of course are changing but you’ll always have policemen who abuse their legal limits. It happens in virtually every country. That’s why we need human rights organisations to watch for these things. And that’s a good thing.

When policemen catch an alleged criminal, they don’t get to beat them up or lock them up indefinitely. Period. These are the kind of cases that human rights NGOs like the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee look into. And they, by definition, will be focused on the actions of policemen and the State. That’s the name of the game; that’s what human rights are about. This is a concept that Karakachanov is not comfortable with; why should anyone be allowed to criticise the police forces? This to him is rather unpatriotic.

“Why don’t they instead look at and help the victims of robbery?” Well, human rights are not about the victims of robbery — if only it was that convenient. They protect citizens from their own state when that state violates their rights. Policemen do not get investigated for no reason, without any evidence of wrongdoing. Defending human rights is a very uncomfortable task because – by definition – the NGO has to go against the State. And for some, like Karakachanov, that shouldn’t be done because it leads to punishments for policemen when they step over.

Working for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights where I reviewed human rights complaints from around the world, I learnt that every country violates human rights – only the scale and extent differ. This is why it is crucial to have human rights defenders like the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee who can help victims on the ground. Having international organisations like the UN is not enough.

Let us turn now to the request to the Prosecutor General to look into the activities of the human rights NGO, with a view to closing it down for allegedly “interfering in the judicial system.” Interference with the judicial system is what lawyers and prosecutors both do, by definition. By presenting facts to push their own case, the judicial system is a place of interference. Justice is not static. Of course, human rights defenders advocate for, interfere, push for and defend their clients. This is their job. Karakachanov’s Far-Right party is uncomfortable with such a strong voice for human rights in the process. Prosecution is prosecution; human rights defense is, well, interference.

Next, we should discuss the role of the Prosecutor General who would have to opine on the request for the close down of the NGO. Euronews readers should be told at this point that Bulgaria is facing a scandal with the selection of the next Prosecutor General. Ivan Geshev, who is currently the number two in the Prosecutor’s Office, is nominated to become Bulgaria’s next chief prosecutor. The capital Sofia witnessed protests by thousands of people marching on the streets against Geshev’s selection as chief prosecutor, because among other things, he is the only candidate in the process. That is never a good sign. Questions are also raised about which oligarchic power circles Geshev would be serving.

Geshev, the deputy in the Prosecutor’s Office, is important in this case because his attitude towards this human rights NGO is well known. When he receives the annual report about the human rights situation in Bulgaria penned by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, he famously sends back literary works about the Bulgarian struggle for independence, in my view trying to educate the NGO about being pro-Bulgarian. Of course, criticising the system does not make an NGO anti-Bulgarian. The job of patriots is not to shut up.

A similar reaction has been noted by the current Prosecutor General who will be looking at the case. When he receives the human rights report about the situation in Bulgaria, he simply sends it back. The message by both is clear: they see no value in a report that reviews the shortcomings of the system. And they are the people who will be deciding whether this human rights organisation is closed or not.

Human rights violations are uncomfortable. They push officials to take a look at themselves and their colleagues, often loudly pointing out the injustices. Human rights are not about robberies; if only it was that convenient. Human rights are about what is wrong with the system. And the current top prosecuting duo are not interested in that.

Living in Bulgaria, I don’t want to see the country follow the example of Hungary where human rights NGOs and universities are pushed so hard by the authorities that they have to close and move. That is not the right path to follow.

The closing down of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee would be a blow to Bulgarian leadership and its human rights record. This will be not only a test for the Prosecutor’s office, but for Bulgarians and the EU.

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What Motivated Russia’s Participation in the Battle of Navarino?

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On October 20, celebrations in honor of the 192nd anniversary of the Battle of Navarino with the participation of President P. Pavlopoulos were held in Greece. The President, in particular, addressed his speech on the importance of unity in protecting international law to the EU and Turkey. In addition, during the celebrations, he met with the Russian Ambassador to Greece Andrey Maslov.

It is worth noting that Russia, not being an EU member, has the greatest opportunities to influence Turkey’s policy towards Greece and Cyprus while the negotiations on Turkey’s accession to the Union were frozen on February 20, 2019.

As it is known, the first independent Greek state in modern history – the Septinsular Republic, was established with the participation of the Russian Admiral Fyodor Ushakov, later venerated as a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church.

The trust that existed between the Russians and the Greeks at that time is evidenced, for example, by the long-term friendship of Admiral Ushakov and the Greek captains Sarandinakis and Alexianos who were the best in his squadron. Thanks to his skill, captain Stamatis Sarandinakis (“Yevstafiy Pavlovich”, as he was called by the Russians), a son of an archon from Monemvasia who died for the freedom of Greece, took charge of Ushakov’s flagship, and aboard this ship he bravely fought against Turkey and France. At the same time, their relationship was not limited to service and joint combat operations: Ushakov’s respect and trust in his Greek friend was so great that he entrusted him with the education of his nephew Ivan, whom Stamatis personally taught the art of navigation. In 1803, the hero of the Greek Liberation War, captain Sarandinakis retired and settled in the Crimea: he grew grapes, headed the provincial court of conscience (which used to perform the same functions as ombudsmen and human rights activists nowadays), but he certainly did not forget his homeland – he bequeathed most of his fortune to charity in Greece.

It is not surprising that later it was Ushakov’s figure, his role in the liberation of the Ionian Islands and the openness of the Russians to the co-religionist Greek people, as seen in the example of Stamatios Sarandinakis, that led Ioannis Kapodistrias, the future Secretary of State of the Republic, to the conviction that without reliance on Russia as the only Orthodox Empire, Greece would not be able to gain real independence from the Ottomans.

Russia definitely wanted to liberate the Orthodox Greeks from the Ottoman rule by creating an independent state. For some time Russia had neither opportunities nor resources to directly support the heroic efforts of the Pontic Greek Alexander Ypsilantis, but sympathized with him and made every effort to stop the violence against the Greek people. Thus, when the Ottoman Porte restricted the vital freedom of navigation for the Greeks and began cruel repressions, the Russian Ambassador Grigory Stroganov, with the consent of the Tsar, repeatedly met with the Grand Vizier, issued an ultimatum against the violent treatment of Orthodox Christians, and then left the country in protest and in sign of the rupture of relations.

The Russian Emperor Nicholas I, who succeeded Alexander I, was aware of the various opinions of the advisers inherited from his predecessor, and generally held the same position. Taking into account its then military capabilities, he considered impossible Russia’s unilateral participation in the war with the Ottoman Empire, because it would have to fight both with the Turkish and Egyptian fleets. And the Greek people, in view of the fierce and uncompromising reaction of the Porte to the rising liberation movement, needed only victory.

To stop the atrocities against the Greek population by the Porte, in the spring of 1826, Russia and Great Britain signed the Protocol of St. Petersburg on joint actions for the settlement of the Greek War of Independence. According to this document, it was supposed to work together to the autonomy of Greece under the supreme authority of the Ottoman Empire.

In 1827, taking the St. Petersburg Protocol as a basis, representatives of Russia, Great Britain, and France concluded the Treaty of London to assist Greece and to outline its future structure. As it is known, Britain and France sought to weaken the influence of the Ottoman Empire in Europe. Therefore, assuming Russia had the same goals, they also feared that Russian influence will increase as a result of the country’s participation in the war on the side of Greece. However, Russia was so willing to help the co-religionist Greece that in order to attract the necessary allies, it defiantly refused commercial benefits, which was recorded in the Treaty.

In the end, the capitulation of the Porte and the subsequent establishment of a completely independent Greek state (not autonomy) were the result of the Russo-Turkish war of 1828-1829: in September, 1829, the Russian army stood 40 km from the Sultan’s Palace.

Meanwhile, in the fight between the different parties (“Russian”, subsequently “National” and constitutionalist “English” or “French” parties supported by the Phanariots) in the years of liberation war, the only respected figure who could lead the young state was Ioannis Kapodistrias, a former Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, brilliant diplomat and humanist, one of the genius creators of the Swiss Constitution, honorary citizen of Lausanne, and a close friend of the greatest Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.

Ioannis Kapodistrias did not fear for his position and was perhaps the only one who truly cared for the welfare of the nation, while his opponents were only capable of imprisoning the heroes of the Greek Revolution. It was Kapodistrias who insisted, though unsuccessfully, that the Greek people should choose their own king at people’s assemblies. He fought international corruption that had infiltrated Greece along with the influence of other European powers. He refused his salary and gave his estate to the needs of the young Greek state. To him the British Admiral Edward Codrington, who had also taken part in the Battle of Navarino, said that England intended to look after its own interests only in Greece; but Ioannis continued to defend what mattered to the Greek people.

The case of the Ioannis Kapodistrias’ murder is still classified in the British Foreign Office. However, it is clear that when the Western liberating powers sought to force their influence upon the young independent Greece, such a faithful son as he could hardly expect any other future than to give his life for his Homeland.

No wonder the German diplomats said that Kapodistrias could not be bribed, and that elimination of him was the only way to stop him. Today, anyone can come to the place where he was murdered – the Church of Agios Spyridon in Nafplio– and make sure of it. At the same time, it’s a chance to think whether nowadays we have got politicians about whom we could say the same. And can we, looking at the figures of Kapodistrias and Ushakov, doubt the sincere love and sympathy for Greece from the Russian people?

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