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Turkey – EU – Russia triangle: Geometry changed?



The “new Turkey” of the president Erdogan

The past year can arguably be considered a turning point in the political history of Turkey. In August, the president Recep Tayyp Erdogan has been elected president of the Republic, after serving three terms as prime minister, the first directly elected by Turkish citizens.

Such an institutional step marked a substantive strengthening of the very president Erdogan and his party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), as the former foreign affairs minister and Erdogan’s right-hand man, Ahmet Davutoglu, has been named as new prime minister. Since the last electoral campaign, “new Turkey” has become an important concept in the political Turkish lexicon. As an editorial in the pro-Erdogan daily Yeni Safak argues, «if the attack [on New Turkey] is coming from within, this is called betrayal. New Turkey is not a slogan. It’s not a party expression or a political show. New Turkey is a project. This is the redesigning and re-establishing of Turkey after a century».[1] The recent restrictive action of the government against the press seems to match some features of this insight of the State. On December 14, the Turkish police have arrested twenty-five members of the daily Zaman’s redaction and TV station, including its editor in chief, Ekrem Dumanli. Admittedly, the raids can be easily interpreted as addressed against Fethullah Gulen, the US-based islamic cleric, to which Zaman is closely tied. The move has been sharply criticized by the European Union. Additionally, the Turkey’s parliament has been discussing an “internal security” reform that is going to strengthen the powers of the police in handling demonstrations. The organization “Reporters Without Borders” points out that: «If the bill is passed as it stands, police officers will be allowed “in emergencies” to conduct searches of places, persons or vehicles on nothing more than a verbal order from a superior that must subsequently be confirmed in writing. Arbitrary searches of news organizations and journalists’ homes, which are already common, would inevitably be facilitated, at the expense of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.[2]

The socio-economic agenda

One of the most thorny issues the Turkish government has to tackle is constituted by the socio-economic agenda. The question has been strongly raised, among others, on the occasion of the Taksim square’s demonstrations in 2013. The prime minister Davutoglu has recently formulated his economic priorities, as Turkey has been taking the G20’s presidency in 2015. It pivots on inclusiveness, implementation, and investment for growth.[3] Despite of political declarations, growth has lost momentum in 2014. After the high rates registered in 2010 and 2011 (around 10%), in 2012 the economy grew around 2%. In 2014 the target of 4% has been revised by the government. A relevant factor in such a drop is the fall of domestic demands and investments. Turkish economy is highly dependent on foreign capital (the current-account deficit hit 7.9% of GDP in 2013). According to the state statistics agency, Turkey’s unemployment rate stood at 10.9% in December 2014 rising from 10.7% in November. The issues of refugees and its economic and humanitarian implications is worth to be mentioned. Over 1.700.000 million Syrians have taken refugee in Turkey since the war began in March 2011. Nearly 30% of these live in twenty-two camps near the Syrian-Turkish border. In September 2014, attacks by the Islamic State against Kurdish towns and villages close to the Turkish border brought hundreds of thousands of Kurds to flee to Turkey. As the Danish Refugee Council reports: «In Turkey, refugees outside of camps face integration challenges such as language barriers and very few social ties, resulting in higher tensions with local communities and difficulty finding employment. Syrians in Turkey have very few opportunities to access credit with shops, and landlords generally demand rent/utility payments every month without exception or flexibility. Syrian men who do manage to find temporary jobs (daily, weekly, or sometimes monthly) often complain that they are not paid at the end of the work, and they cannot pursue any legal recourse because they have no right to work in Turkey. They say the Turkish employer will just find another Syrian to replace him, and generally not pay him either».

This issue triggers new dynamics in the labour market and in the very Turkish society. The huge increase of labour supply pushes wages down. A sudden upsurge of Turkey’s population by 1 million people has soared rents by 40-50%, especially in the provinces of Gaziantep, Sanliurfa and Hatay. The rising rent and increasing unemployment particularly hit the poorer portions of the local population. The chairman of the Mersin Chamber of Retailers and Artisans, Talat Dincer points out that the «refugees working at wages below the minimum wage and without social insurance cause the increase in unemployment. A solution has to be found soonest».[4]

The next June 2015, the general elections will constitute a significant test in order to assess the real grip of AKP’s power. It will be the occasion to test the institutional Turkish path to a presidential system, with the president Erdogan’s proposal to emend the constitution, and the challenges which the regional panorama presents.

Ankara and Brussels: accession process and common regional challenges

The EU-Turkey relations have recently showed interesting developments after a phase of substantial stalemate mainly registered on the issue of Turkey’s accession to the European Union. Remarkable changes have characterized the political life of the two actors in the last year. While a new Commission installed in Brussels, after Erdogan sworn in as president of the Republic and the new prime Minister Davutoglu took his charge, Ankara published a document containing the new strategy of Ankara toward Europe. It highlighted, among others, that «Turkey and the EU are encountering common challenges that underline the importance of Turkey’s accession process in shaping the EU project».[5] In the last period, EU-Turkish relations have been characterized by a certain diplomatic freeze. The crackdown of the nationwide demonstrations of Gezi Park, domestic scandals of corruption and the issue of press freedom have contributed to hamper a constructive dialogue. Although such elements of contrast, the situation seems to be address toward new scenarios. On December 2014, for instance, the EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini, visited Ankara and held a meeting with Davutoglu. The visit constituted the precious occasion for Mogherini to highlight «the strategic importance EU-Turkish relations and our desire to step up engagement in view of shared interests and common challenges». Then, she added that «we need to improve on the alignment onforeign policy and security policy. It’s never been so low and this is a problem for the European Union, but it is mainly a problem for Turkey». Surely, the essential core of such a renewed European approach toward Ankara has to be found in the increasing threat of the Islamic State. It is a major security concern for the European Union. The reluctance of Turkey in dealing with this issue in a coordinated multilateral effort has prompted the Western leaders to a closer engagement with Ankara. An important in the Turkish-EU relations involves the very perception of Europe by the Turkish public opinion. According to a public opinion survey conducted by the Centre of Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) at the beginning of 2015, Turkey should cooperate with the European Union to have a stronger economy and foreign policy.

Economic and trade ties with EU

With the accession process still alive, some instruments shape the current relations between EU and Turkey.[6] First, they are linked by a Customs Union Agreement, which came in force on 31 December 1995. The agreement covers all the industrial goods and provides for a common external tariff. In the past years, it has been underlined the importance to upgrade the Customs Union into a deeper Union including also the liberalization of services and public procurement. On 9 January, Commissioners Johannes Hahn and Cecilia Malmström met Turkish Minister of Economy Nihat Zeybekçi. During the meetings the functioning and improvement of the Customs Union were discussed. The EU is Turkey’s number one import and export partner while Turkey ranks 7th in the EU’s top import and fifth in export markets. Turkey’s main exports markets are the EU, Iraq, Russia, USA, United Arab Emirates and Iran. Turkey’s exports to the EU are mostly machinery and transport equipment, followed by manufactured goods. In the meantime, with reference to gas supply, Turkey has formally started the construction of the Trans Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP), which when operational by the end of 2018 will carry Azerbaijani gas to European markets and reduce the bloc’s energy dependence on Russia.[7]

Turkey and Russia: competition and cooperation

The aftermath of the crisis in Ukraine entailed a meaningful change in the very relation between Ankara and Moscow, particularly opening a specific dialogue on gas’ dossier between the two countries. On 1 December 2014, Alexey Miller, chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee, and Mehmet Konuk, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Botas Petroleum Pipeline Corporation, signed in Ankara a memorandum of understanding on constructing an offshore gas pipeline across the Black Sea towards Turkey. The agreement marks the end of the South Stream project, which had to transport natural gas from Russia, through the Black Sea, directly to Bulgaria and Europe.[8] «Turkish Stream is now the only pipeline», Gazprom’s chief executive, Aleksei B. Miller, stated. «There are no other variants possible. Our European partners have been notified of this, and their task now is to establish the necessary gas-transporting infrastructure from the borders of Turkey and Greece»[9]. As Alexey Grivach, Deputy General Director of Gas Projects at Russia’s National Energy Security Fund, argues: «This huge project brings the Turkish dream of becoming the huge gas transit hub to Europe closer. But first it was based on the gas from the Middle East and the Caspian, and now it is occurring that this hub will be based on the Russian gas. The first loser is Europe which will not have such a great project for the European economy, and even more importantly for some countries, not very rich countries of the EU, like Bulgaria. And they will lose the investments and transit fees, and this will go to Turkey and enforce the Turkish position in the market, and in the region as well».[10]

In the framework of the December 2014’s last diplomatic meeting in Ankara, Putin and Erdogan agreed on some chapters of the bilateral relations. Despite of disagreements on some foreign policy issues like Syria and Ukraine, the two leaders opted to focus on areas of mutual interests as gas and trade relations. On Syria, for instance, Turkey is critical toward al-Assad regime and pushes for his removal. On the other hand, Putin is convinced that a lasting settlement cannot be achieved without Assad. Also, Turkey raised tough criticisms to Moscow about the annexation of Crimea as well as there are disagreements on border disputes in the Caucasus. Although such contentions, there are sound economic ties between the countries. Turkey is the second trading partner of Russia after Germany. The two governments expect to foster their bilateral trade relations from $33 billion to $100 billion by 2020. Moscow will invest $20 billion in constructing the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, the first project of this kind in Turkey.


[1]Akin, Ezgi, What exactly is “New Turkey”?, Al-Monitor, 26 August 2014.

[2]Reform package would leave police even freer to harass journalists, Reporters without borders, 17 February 2015.

[3] Turkish G20 Presidency Priorities for 2020, For the whole document see:

[4] Cetingulet, Mehmet, Syrian refugees aggravate Turkey’s unemployment problem, 9 July 2014, Al-Monitor.


[5] Turkish Ministry for EU Affairs, “Turkey’s New European Union Strategy,” September 2014.

[6] Turkey assumed “candidate status” during the Helsinki Summit on 10-11 December 1999. At the Brussels Summit on 16-17 December 2004, the Council affirmed that Turkey fulfilled the political criteria and decided to open accession negotiations with Turkey on 3 October 2005.

[7]O’Byrne, Davis, EU energy dream made real as Turkey breaks ground on Azeri gas export route to Europe, Business New Europe Intellinews, 17 March 2015.

[8] Among the obstacles to the realization of the South Stream there was the EU third energy package. It stipulates the separation of companies’ generation and sale operations from their transmission networks.

[9] Reed, Stanley, Arsu, Sebnem, Russia Presses Ahead With Plan for Gas Pipeline to Turkey, New York Times, January 21, 2015.

[10] Kudashkina, Ekaterina,Turkey Hopes to become a Gas Market-Maker Expert says, Sputniknews, 2 December 2014.

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Who did fight for liberation of Bulgaria in 1877-1878?



Russian professor, Doctor of History Sergey Perevezentsev has touched upon a hidden historical and political motive of the scandal caused by the speech of the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow at the celebration of Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman oppressors.

It would seem that Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said everything correctly in his speech – he called to keep memory of the warriors of many nations killed on the fields of those old battles: Russians, Romanians, Finns, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Polacks, Lithuanians, Serbians and Montenegrins. “Historical tolerance” is preserved, and principle of “multiplicity of truths” is not broken.

However, as the historian explained, in 1874 military service became obligatory in Russia. In regular military units comprised soldiers of different nationalities, but a regiment included mainly Russian soldiers. In addition, very often the name of the regiment would not match its permanent location.

Some subjects of the Russian crown, in particular the habitants of the Great Duchy of Finland and the North Caucasus at the beginning of the Russian-Turkish war were free from military service. But in these regions there were military units comprised of volunteers from the locals.

So a question arises: why is the number of the nationalities mentioned in the Bulgarian president’s speech so limited? In fact Chechens, Avars, Kumyks, Kabardians, Ossetians, Ingushes fighting in the Russian army brought a big contribution in that victory over the Ottoman Empire. And if we recall that the officers of the Finnish battalion were Swedes, then it is necessary to add them too to this list. And also Baltic Germans, in the large number represented in the officer corps of the Russian army. And many others.

Then another question: why is there self-contradiction in this list? In fact besides Polacks battling with Turks in the Russian army, there was the Polish Legion that, vice versa, participated in fights on the side of the Ottoman Empire.

So why was it necessary to distinguish certain nationalities, ignoring the merits of others? Why was it impossible to say the simply “multinational Russian army”?

Answer for these questions Sergey Perevezentsev finds not in the past, but in our times: the Bulgarian president mentioned exactly those people that once were a part of the Russian empire, but today are title nations of independent states. Otherwise speaking, this list has a hidden “anti-imperialistic” meaning: commemorated should be only those people, who “broke out” of the “Russian imperial burden”. Historical events are used first to underline the rightness of the “European civilization choice” and, second, to minimize the role and value of the Russian state in history and in today’s events.

As Doctor of Political Sciences Alexander Shchipkov noticed in his article Bulgarian speech of Patriarch, the western politicized historiography constantly promotes the idea that “not Russia took part in all its important historical victories, but individual nations being a part of it”. And the aim of such a manipulation with history is to “deprive Russia of its right on its own great history and, as a result, the rights on the modern big politics”.

His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill also stood against this hidden anti-Russian rhetoric. “Russia did not look at Europe: moved by her love of the Bulgarian people, still weakened by the previous war and having no political support in the world, she began her struggle for the liberation of the Bulgarians. It was a great example of how spiritual, cultural and religious solidarity overcomes political pragmatismBulgaria was liberated by Russia, not Poland, nor Lithuania, nor any other countries but Russia. I would like to say frankly that for me it was difficult to hear references to the participation of other countries in the liberation of Bulgaria. Neither the Polish Sejm, nor the Lithuanian Sejm made the decision to start a war against Ottoman Turkey. We stand for historical truth; we won it by our blood and there can be no political and pragmatic reasons for which this truth should be hushed up or interpreted falsely “, he said

According to Professor Perevezentsev, the polemic flamed up after these words, and the speeches of some Bulgarian politicians saying loathsome and embarrassing things unacceptable for a decent person only confirmed the presence of that hidden meaning.

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The foreign policy proposals of the various Italian political parties

Giancarlo Elia Valori



While, in the so-called “First Republic”, Italian foreign policy was an essential tool in the practice and activity of the various political parties, exactly the opposite happens in the current so-called “Second Republic”.

After the Cold War, it seems there is no longer a need for foreign and defence policies –  a bit like that US senator who asked for closing the CIA after the USSR fall.

Just think that – as the former Italian President of the Republic, Francesco Cossiga, used to say – 50% of voters rooted for the East.

Aldo Moro was the leader who actually led the intelligence services politically – the services with which, for example, we could afford to secretly deal with Arafat and the countless movements of the Palestinian insurgency to be spared terrorist actions on our national territory.

It is also worth recalling that the so-called “Lodo Moro” -an unwritten agreement introduced by Aldo Moro while Foreign Minister, which permitted Fatah and the other Palestinian resistance movements to move personnel, arms and explosives through Italy on condition that the Italian territory was spared attacks – was well-known also by Israel, who appreciated the Lodo and used it.

A diplomatic and intelligence masterpiece that the current  childish leaders in power would not even be able to understand, let alone conceive and put in place.

Currently the Italian politics has seen the materialization of the play written by Roger Vitracin 1929, namely “Victor, or Power to the Children”.

In the programs of the 42 political parties that run for the 2018 general elections, there is obviously much talk about  migration, but no one even thinks that this problem is related to foreign policy.

There are also apparently specific and analytical programs on international cooperation but, once again,the link between development cooperation and foreign policy is not understood – and indeed, even a child could understand it.

Do the drafters of many electoral programs probably think that there is no connection at all?

“Second Republic”, or rather parochialism, provincialism and demagogic incompetence.

In fact, one of the typical features of our current Republic is moralism, i.e. the evaluation of national or international political phenomena according to the distorting lens of  supposedly superior ethical standards.

Precisely in his own country  Machiavelli is definitely dead and buried. Vacuous political narratives – often originated in North America -are rife on Kim Jong-Un  being “crazy” or Putin manipulating the US elections won by  Donald J.Trump.

Putin is also supposed to make his “populist” friends win in Italy, too.

Whoever, like us, read the CIA-NSA-FBI documents on the issue of Russian pressure on the US elections can hardly not understand how the alleged Russian manipulation of the US presidential election is a huge fake.

A power like the Russian Federation certainly has its agents of influence and its specific relations with the  American power, but the issue is not as the intelligence documents tell us.

What if all this happened to us? What would happen with the heirs of Vitrac? In fact, Italy no longer has a foreign policy. Neither right nor wrong.

Obviously this huge issue of Italy’s future foreign policy is not at the core of the average voter’s interest, butit is anyway the soul of a State’s practice, even though it is still hard to be turned into empty propaganda.

Let us now analyse the programs submitted to voters  before the general election of March 4 last.

Deafening silence on the United Nations, which is also called into question at every turn, when needed.

There is no mention of the United Nations in the centre-right coalition program, while the Democratic Party (PD) speaks about Italy’s one-year mandate in the Security Council as non-permanent member in 2017, where it has been replaced by the Netherlands in the current year. Italy had not sat on the Security Council since 2008.

However, Italy’s presence in the Security Council is regarded by the Democratic Party only in relation to the conflict in Syria and Libya.

For the time being,as far as we know, no miraculous results have been reached thanks to Italy’s mandate in the Security Council.

The Five Star Movement calls for the full implementation of the UN Charter, as well as of international law that is not as unambiguous and unequivocal as the draftersof the Five Star Movement’s program may think.

Conversely, More Europe, the liberal and pro-Europeanist coalition led by Emma Bonino, thinks about the  establishment of a National Autonomous Agency for the Protection of Human Rights.

It should be noted, however, that there is already an organization known as European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, established in 2007 and based in Vienna.

No electoral programmentionsthe Council of Europe,  OSCE (except for a minor reference in the program of Free and Equal, the left-wing coalition led by the former Speaker of the Senate and anti-Mafia prosecutor, Piero Grasso) and other international organizations.

Hence we wonder what prospects and guidelines our future representatives will have in those structures.

With reference to torture, the centre-right coalition proposes a law putting aside this type of crimespossibly perpetrated by the law enforcement agencies, but torture is an international crime that is precisely so if it is perpetrated by public officials.

Furthermore the rule published in the Official Journal in July 2017 has been criticized by the United Nations itself.

Hence a foreign policy that seems to be the result of a rock concert, devoid of any realism and continuously having a guilty conscience: we are the “rich” (but you can rest assured that soon this will no longer be the case) who  exploit the “poor” – without considering the impact of Article 11 of the Constitution.

Rules and regulations that would not allow our “peace-keeping  missions” abroad – not even in strictly legal terms – or probably not even the reaction to an attack.

While the “repudiation of the war” enshrined in Article 11 of the Constitution is the foundation of Republican Italy’s adhesion to the UN and the other international peace alliances, Article 11 does not distinguishes between defence war, resistance to the forces of a possible invasion, Italian action taken jointly with allies, defence of the territory and, even worse, defence of national interest.

Former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema shall be given credit for having considered this constitutional tenet “outdated and old-fashioned”.

Even the repression of terrorism can hardly fall within the scope of Article 11.

In the Constituent Assembly of 1948, Luigi Sturzo said that war was a crime in itself and obviously the Communists  skilfully manipulated the Constituent Fathers’ strategic ignorance and the fully specious union between Fascist warmongering and ordinary and effective military defence.

The wording of Article 11 was good for a Constitution at a time when the Communist Party and the Catholic and liberal forces gloweredat each other with hostility, but certainly not today, when the rules and regulations pursuant to Article 11 jeopardize even our participation in actions in Libya.

A treatment implicit in the “repudiation of war”, which implies reducing a country to the servile state.

In fact, before Italy, it was put in place only with the Japanese Constitution, dictated by General Mac Arthur in 1946 after two nuclear bombs being dropped on the Japanese territory.

Indeed, also Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution speaks about “renouncing the sovereign right of belligerency”, but since 2013 Shinzo Abe has developed the Japanese Self-Defence Forces significantly, so as to clearly oppose China.

The United States haseven been happy with this new proactive Japanese pacifism combined, however, with a resurgence of national pride and imperial traditions.

Still today, albeit secretly, young officers of the Japanese “Self-Defence Forces” go to the Yasukuni Shrine to worship not only their ancestors, but also the heroes who fought against Westerners (and the Chinese).

Still today, the red-ray flag that General MacArthur had forbidden – is secretly sold.

If the Cold War ends, you must also think that there is no longer the Big Brother rescuing you from an invasion.

Hence you prepare for not giving in and for creating a strong deterrent.

If you are still a State and you have a just decent ruling  class.

Incidentally, it is worth recalling the sibylline, but witty remark by former prime Minister Giulio Andreotti when he was accused of having declassified “Operation Gladio”.

“If I had not declassified it, the others would have done so”.

Which others? Easy to imagine. But here we are still in the  Republic of Adults, not in the Republic of Children  – just to paraphrase Vitrac’s play.

However, let us revert to the electoral programs: in  Silvio Berlusconi’s opinion, common defence would make us “save billions of euros” and the EU go back into the mainstream of world’s great powers.

Unfortunately, defence is not made only of money, but also of doctrines, technologies and political will – and I doubt that this pot pourri of European defence could develop a common policy line.

France looks to a European Army because it takes Italy’s  weakness and the new alliance with Germany into account.

Let us also think about the role played by France for peace in Libya, with a truce declared during the meeting held between Macron, Fayez Al-Sarraj and Haftar at the end of July 2017.

A role stolen from Italy, but Italy has no one to blame but itself.

Therefore Berlusconi thinks that NATO should be strengthened and that we should side with the new Franco-German axis.

A defence policy that does not necessarily combine our economic interest with the interest of the new Franco-German axis.

In the foreign policy program outlined on January 18 last, the current Forza Italiaparty also speaks about rising  military spending, to 2% of the GDP,which has long been a key political goal of NATO and the United States led by Donald Trump.

Nevertheless, unlike what happens in Hegel’s philosophy – quantity does not automatically turns into quality.

More Europe, the coalition created by Emma Bonino, believes that Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defence(PeSCo) – which inevitably leaves a great deal of autonomy to national governments – must be strengthened significantly.

More than this? And how? Where is Italy’s national interest in this choir of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9?

More Europealso wants the denuclearization of the whole Europe and the universal abolition of nuclear weapons.

Military inventions, however, can be never disinvented and we wonder what would happen if terrorist groups or minor States were to use “dirty” nuclear bombs or threaten the use of a nuclear weapon – albeit small – to reach a specific political or economic goal.

In the Mediterranean region alone, which should be the perfect theatre for testing PeSCo, the countries which plan to have  nuclear weapons are currently Algeria, Egypt and probably Morocco.

Are we sure that, in this case, it is enough to sing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, “You millions, I embrace you”?

Obviously Brexit is a unique opportunity to build a new hegemony in Europe, but everyone is playing a new national role. Only Italy is stuck to the old Cold War and asks for others’ help, which is never disinterested.

The Five Star Movement does not even talk about a specific electoral program for foreign and defence policy.

Nevertheless, considering their Parliamentary positions, we must mention the difference existing between the group in the House of Deputies and the group in the Senate with reference to Italy’s NATO membership: the former is quite favourable while the latter is fully opposed to it.

With specific reference to the mission in Niger, someone said that we are going to “patrol the desert”, not considering the fact that the desert there is currently very populated.

The Free and Equalcoalition  deems it necessary to further reaffirm the constitutional principle of repudiation of war, also in relation to international terrorism, and to sign the Nuclear Weapon Prohibition Treaty. Also the More Europe coalition agrees on this latter point.

The aforementioned Treaty was adopted on July 7, 2017 at the United Nations and was supposed to come into force after 90 days with the ratification of at least 50 States.

Fifty-three States have already ratified it and it was already adopted – God forbid -by the Italian Parliament on July 18-24, 2017.

God forbid we miss the new Manzoni-style edict described in his novel, The Betrothed,boiling down to empty gestures, as well as all talk and no action.

Hence there is no need to include it in an electoral program.

In short, a collection of platitudes and ultra-pacifist clichés typical of the late 1968 protest movement.

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Is Croatia Closing the Gender Gap in Science?

MD Staff



Today, on International Women’s Day, we would like to introduce you to four Croatian women. These women are inspiring, because they spend their days pushing the boundaries of knowledge in artificial intelligence, IT, reproductive biology, ecology, biochemistry and enzymology. They are female researchers working in the male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – fields where women account for onlyjust 28% of the world’s researchers.

While some of these scientists are already recognized beyond Croatian borders, others are just starting out their careers. What they also have in common is that their research is being financed through World Bank loans that support the Unity through Knowledge Fund (UKF). This fund finances collaborative projects for Croatian scientists, and scientists of Croatian origin, who are working for international research institutions, focusing on the career development of young scientists and researchers.

The UKF provides an excellent example of how employing an unbiased, transparent, and competitive selection process can allow women researchers to excel. Of the 130 grants, awarded, 64 were given to women applicants.

Dr. Gabriela Vuletin Selak, of the Split Institute for Adriatic Crops, has dedicated most of her scientific research to the reproductive biology of olives. She is currently studying the Olea europaea L. – one of the most commercially important fruit species in the Adriatic area of Croatia. With its growing commercial importance, olive cultivation has been increasing over the past three decades, while the genetic structures of orchards have been undergoing changes with the constant introduction of foreign varieties.

Through her work, Gabriela is providing invaluable information to Croatian olive growers about which cultivars to plant together, so that their mutual pollination and fertilization provide optimal results. Her work is so appreciated by olive growers that the Association of Olive Growers and Olive Oil Producers of the Split-Dalmatia County gave her an award for scientific research and publishing in the area of growing olives.

Gabriela’s love for science started at a young age. She was a curious girl, spending hours exploring the outdoors and the shores of the Adriatic to see what wonders she could find. She loved asking questions about the world around her. For her, science is about working hard and playing around with the most interesting “toys” in order to answer those questions. The Mediterranean landscape played a decisive role in her career path. Olives have become her scientific choice; olive orchards her lab.

The Zagreb-based professor, Dr. Bojana Dalbelo Bašić, shapes intelligent systems through inspiration from human reasoning and learning patterns. Bojana leads several international and domestic projects in the field of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data and text mining, and has published over 100 scientific and professional articles and papers. Her research landed her a spot on the list of the 50 most influential women in the Croatian IT industry.

Bojana, who works at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, is leading the UKF financed project “Event Retrieval Based on Semantically Enriched Structures for Interactive User Tasks (EVERBEST),” together with another female researcher – Prof. Nataša Milić-Frayling from the University of Nottingham.

Through EVERBEST, the two researchers and their team are focusing on researching event-focused information needs of the general public and professionals. With the availability of tremendous amounts of news online, the technical challenge lies in providing event-oriented search and recommendation capabilities that meet diverse information needs. Bojana’s team has developed novel techniques and models for event-oriented searches and recommendations grounded in event consumption habits – which will ultimately change information-seeking task models and will provide a valuable service to journalists, news analysts, and the general public.

“Science gives you an opportunity to remain a child and continue exploring with wide open eyes, asking questions and seeking answers each day, hoping that one day this will lead you to new discoveries perfecting the picture of the world as we know it.” This is the motto of young Dr. Daria Ezgeta Balić, from the Split-based Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries.

Daria is passionate about the biology and the ecology of mollusks (marine bivalves). Daria and her all-female team of six researchers are working on the UKF-funded project, “Competition between native Ostrea edulis and invasive Crassostrea gigas oysters in the Adriatic Sea – effects on the ecosystem, fisheries and aquaculture.”

The Pacific oyster – C. gigas – entered the Mediterranean sea in the 1960’s as a response to a decrease in the production of the native Ostrea edulis, caused by parasitic diseases. The non-native, invasive C. gigas started reproducing and spreading outside aquaculture sites, endangering the native O. edulis. The research of these seven young women is the first step towards the establishment of management strategies for C. gigas in the Adriatic Sea and will help estimate the economic impact of the invasive oyster on fisheries and aquaculture.

Prof. Ita Gruić Sovulj, Associate Professor at the Chemistry Department, Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb, tells us that she has a great love for enzymes, since, to her, they are “the marvelous molecules that provide the foundation of life and are the enduring motivation in my scientific life.”

Currently, Ita is leading a project concentrated on how the cellular error-correction mechanisms evolved to ensure accurate protein synthesis (translation). She works on enzymes aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRSs), that attach amino acids to their cognate tRNAs. This is a crucial step in recruiting amino acids for building proteins.

She explains that errors in protein synthesis are toxic to bacteria and are related to neurodegeneration in mammals. Understanding how cells control the fidelity of this process and prevent translational errors, as Ita attempts to do through her research, is therefore highly relevant. Ita’s work provides clues on how to create antibiotics that will compromise the fidelity of protein synthesis and kill bacteria.

Ita’s research was published in seven papers in respectable journals. For her achievements in strengthening the understanding of aaRS error-correction mechanisms, she received the National Annual Science Award of the Republic of Croatia for 2014 in the Field of Natural Sciences (Chemistry). Ita’s scientific knowledge and enthusiasm are shared with many students while she teaches biochemistry and enzymology courses for students of both chemistry and molecular biology.

In summary, the experiences of these inspirational women show that the STEM fields, which, globally, are still mostly dominated by men, are now increasingly becoming a place for women as well. Statistics corroborate these improvements, as Eurostat data shows that Croatia’s distribution of engineers and scientists by gender was almost 50 percent each in 2016, while the EU average is 40 percent female.

Nonetheless, much remains to be done with regard to gender balance in science. There are still great barriers that discourage women from entering these professions and obstacles continue to block progress for those already in the field. Women have to work harder to get recognition. Hopefully, by talking and spotlighting accomplished women in STEM fields, more young women will be inspired to take on this challenge and become scientists who may change the world through their research and discoveries.

World Bank

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