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Serbia: Parliamentary elections for the NATO/EU’s membership

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On April 24th, 2016 Serbia faced three-level elections: for the national parliament, local municipalities and Vojvodina’s autonomous provincial administration. The elections did not cover Kosovo province as current Serbia’s pro-NATO/EU’s government already two years ago de facto recognized in its negotiations with the EU and Pristina’s government that this province is not any more an integral part of the legal and administrative system of the Republic of Serbia. Nevertheless, these elections were in the real sense of the meaning the historical once as it had to be finally clarified which “empire” Serbia is going to join in the coming future: the NATO/EU’s one or the Russian.

Kosovo

Serbia’s PM Aleksandar Vučić (originally from municipality of Bosnian town of Bugojno) had informed the nation on December 17th, 2015 after the session of the General Board of his ruling (and dictatorial western-backed) Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) that Serbia will face in the spring 2016 all three-level elections at the same time: the extraordinary parliamentary, the local and Vojvodina’s provincial. The purpose of the extraordinary parliamentary elections, according to the PM, was to obtain a full mandate for his SPP until 2020 in order to finish all designed “progressive” reforms in the country which is on the “stable and safe road”. However, the fundamental question was and is: what is the stable and safe road of the present-day Serbia?

One can ask why A. Vučić opted for the extraordinary parliamentary elections if it is known that his party has controlling the parliament with an absolute majority in coalition with (Slobodan Milošević’s established) the Serbian Socialist Party (SSP) and there are no any serious tensions in the society or any significant opposition to his in fact personal and party’s authoritarian regime which is overwhelmingly supported by the west?

01NikolicThe answer can be only one and simple: it is de facto decision by the main sponsor and even establisher of the SPP – the US embassy in Belgrade. A decade ago, the party was suddenly established by two top ex-radicals: Aleksandar Vučić – a Secretary General and Tomislav Nikolić – a vice-president of the Serbian Radical Party (SRP) which was in the 1990s in governmental and parliamentary coalition with Slobodan Milošević’s SSP. From that time up to now the party’s main political course is the pro-western one, with the cardinal aim for Serbia (without Kosovo) to become a full Member State of the European Union (the EU) and of course of the NATO. The NATO’s membership is, however, not openly advocated for the only reason not to alienate the ethnic Serbs from Serbia (as a majority of population) from the western course of the party and now the government. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that these two memberships have to go together and even that Serbia, like the FYR of Macedonia or Montenegro, firstly has to join the NATO as the open doors for the EU’s membership. The practical problem for both the US and the EU administrations is that overwhelming majority of the ethnic Serbs from Serbia oppose Serbia’s membership to the NATO. According to many investigations of the public opinion during the last decade, it is clear that absolute majority of Serbia’s citizens do not want to see their country as a NATO’s member and even more, they will not support the EU’s membership if the NATO’s membership is a necessary condition. It is also clear that recognition of Kosovo’s independence has to be a crucial political condition for Serbia’s EU’s membership that is originally scheduled by Brussels to happen in 2020 or very soon after this year.

As the western client state of Serbia already started on December 14th, 2015 the final phase of the negotiations with the EU, the very practical problem for the western bosses of quasi Serbia’s independence is how to avoid national dissatisfaction and even possible revolution when Serbia will finally and de jure recognize Kosovo’s independence as a technical precondition for a full membership to the EU? Obviously, Washington decided to make as stronger as position of the SPP in the parliament after the new elections hoping that the party will form the government without making any parliamentary coalition. The hope was a real and realistic having in mind at least three fundamental facts:

All Serbia’s mass media (excluding only part of the internet that is not making any serious influence to the electorate) is under a full Vučić’s (i.e., the US) control.

The citizens of Serbia, including primarily the ethnic Serbs, are during the last 15 years of “democratic” regimes quite well bombed by the pro-western governmental and the NGO sector’s controlled media that the Uncle Sam could believe that their minds are already well prepared (washed) for the final decision to join the western (anti-Russian) train.

The Russian factor in Serbia, due to such media situation and governmental-NGO’s anti-Russian propaganda, is already not serious obstacle for the realization of the crucial western political plans with this Balkan country (likewise with the FYR of Macedonia and Montenegro).

Russia

Obviously, Russia was and is the only great global power which historically was and still is protecting the national interests of Serbia and the Serbs and for that reason for Washington, Berlin and Brussels is clear that the Russian influence in the region, but above all among the Orthodox Serbs, has to be as much as minimized in order to totally transform Serbia and the Republic of Srpska (still part of Bosnia-Herzegovina) into their classical 19th century oversea political, economic and financial colonies as it was already done with all ex-Socialist Central European nations who joined both the EU and the NATO. The western long-term designs with the Serbs are, as well as, clear: to dismiss the Republic of Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to separate territories of Vojvodina and Raška (Sandžak in Turkish) from the rest of Serbia. In this case, Serbia will have state borders as it was already at the time between the Berlin Congress (1878) and the Balkan Wars (1912−1913). Nonetheless, with such post-2000 October Revolution Serbia’s governments and the Russian not proper political activity in the region such scenario is quite possible.

02serbiaeuThe Uncle Sam was realistically expecting that coming Serbia’s extraordinary parliamentary elections are going to be won (with absolute majority) by its client Vučić’s SPP due to expected absence of approximately half of Serbia’s electorate and already enough pro-western and anti-Russian washed brains of the majority of those who will vote. In this case the SPP will form extremely stable government in the parliament with an absolute majority of the seats. In fact, finally, it happened: Vučić’s SPP won 48,23% of the votes (electoral activity was 55%) and in a coalition with its traditional parliamentary collaborator Milošević’s SSP (10,98% of the votes) or even alone can continue with its authoritarian governmental practice for the next four years that is quite enough to irretrievably hook up Serbia’s wagon to the NATO/EU’s train composition.    

The consequences are going to be drastic and even catastrophic for Serbia’s territorial integrity and national interest of the ethnic Serbs but for Russia as well, as the Russian influence in the region is going to be totally eliminated.

Finally, a great part of guiltiness for such situation is on the Russian side itself as Russia simply left the Serbs on the western mercy in 2003 when the Russian peace-keeping troops left both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. It is not also understandable why Russia is not financing and politically supporting any serious pro-Russian political party or NGO in Serbia, or at least why such party and/or NGO (if exists) is not profoundly supported by Moscow as it is openly done by Washington, Brussels and Berlin with their own client political parties and NGO’s sector. Vučić’s SPP is currently the most successful western financed and sponsored story in Serbia and Moscow very well know that party’s official policy of “and Europe and Russia” is only a great bluff for the people’s masses especially at the time of electoral campaigns. The SPP’s “stable and safe road” is a road to the NATO and the EU.

But why Russia left Serbia to go on this road? The only reasonable and logical explanation seems to be that according to some secret deal between Washington and Moscow achieved even before Kosovo’s independence proclamation in February 2008, the Balkans is left to the western areal dominance at the exchange for the Transcaucasus and the part of East Europe (the East and South Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova) which are included into Russia’s sphere of influence.

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Europe

Enlarge views – Europe is en/large enough

Audrey Beaulieu

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The first July day of 2020 in Vienna sow marking the anniversary of Nuremberg Trials with the conference “From the Victory Day to Corona Disarray: 75 years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System – Legacy of Antifascism for the Common Pan-European Future”. Organised by the Modern Diplomacy Media Platform, International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES), European Perspectives Scientific Journal, and Culture for Peace Action Platform, with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna that hosted the event in its prestigious historical premises, the highly anticipated and successful gathering, was probably one of the very few real events in Europe, past the lockdown.

The conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers and audience physically in the venue while many others attended online. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century; on the importance of culture for peace and culture of peace – culture, science, arts, sports – as a way to reinforce a collective identity in Europe; on the importance of accelerating on universalism and pan-European Multilateralism while integrating further the Euro-MED within Europe, or as the Romano Prodi EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”.

(For the full account of speakers and side events, see: and the full conference video is available.

The event sought to leverage on the anniversary of Nuremberg to highlight that the future of Europe lies in its pan-continental union based on shared values but adapted to the context of 21st century. Indeed, if Nuremberg and the early Union were a moment to reaffirm political and human rights after the carnage of WWII, the disarray caused by C-19 is a wake-up call for a new EU to become more aware of and effective on the crisis of socio-economic rights and its closest southern and eastern neighbourhood.

At the moment the EU lacks the necessary leadership that dragged it outside of WWII almost eighty years ago and that nowadays needs to overcome the differences that prevent the continent to achieve a fully integrated, comprehensive socio-economic agenda.

On that matter, Lamberto Zannier, OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities and, the previous OSCE Secretary-General (2011-2017), delivered highly anticipated address.

In his highly absorbing speech, the well-known European diplomat highlighted the milestones in the history of the European continent’s security system in recent decades and told how, in his opinion, the European Union, its partners and neighbours could overcome confrontation and other negative moments that have become obvious in recent years.

“In the 1980s, the NATO and the Warsaw Pact held negotiations that were considered a good form of dialog between the two enemies. But in the years that followed we have not really moved an inch. We were talking, but we were not communicating… In late 1980s, in the CSCE there was a new starting point, the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, a new vision of a new Europe for stability.

The key point in this debate is how will NATO relate to Russia in the future. In the first half of the 1990s, there were those who were thinking that we need to build a new relationship with Russia as a first step and then we can really develop relations on the basis of that. But, of course, the agendas did not really match. On the NATO side, the Americans were repositioning themselves on their global agenda as the only remaining superpower projecting stability through the promotion of democratic institutions. And they promoted a rather conservative view of what NATO should be.

On the Russian side, there was a big internal debate. Russians still saw NATO as the former enemy, and so they were saying that there was no need for NATO today. But others, especially the leadership, were willing to open a discussion, but the discussion about the future of NATO itself. They were basically saying that they would consider joining NATO, but then NATO would have to change.

It would have to turn into a collective security instrument, into something similar to what the OSCE is today. This failed because there was no way to reconcile the two sides. This failure which led to NATOs progressive expansion was seen by Russia as aggressive, as a development that was a threat to Russia. In response, Russia started to establish its own area of influence.

[…] From the late 1990s, the division between Europe and the Russian community has been expanding. The UN Security Council was divided on the Kosovo issue. We managed to pass a decision, but that took quite an effort. Then we had crisis in and around Ukraine and the Crimea. Every step seemed to increase the distance between the sides and to bring more geopolitics on the table.

[…] Today we face the situation where we have a lot of potential instability and we lost the tools that would allow us to address these problems.

By early of 2000s we started facing global challenges which kept unfolding last 20 years (terrorism, transnational organized crime, climate change, migration crisis, demographic crisis): countries react on them by closing up. We have seen on the migration crisis, EU entered the crisis itself, lack of common policy, lack of solidarity. The pandemic has also led to the real renationalization, closure of boarders, everybody is looking for itself. It’s fully understandable, but global problems need global solutions. It’s very difficult to work on global strategies and sustainable development we very need today, geopolitical divisions make it impossible. The renationalization of the policy leads to progressive disinvestment of countries on multilateral framework. In OSCE for instance we have a shrinking budget all the time, we need to cut back all the time as a result mainly of the lack of interest of countries to invest in the frameworks like this. We need to stick together, to address challenges that affect us all… “

Closing his note, High Commissioner invited all to think, reconsider and recalibrate: “What can we do? Creating coalitions, involving youth because they great interest to make things work, we must involve young people in everything we do. Secondly, we must start talking about the need to invest in the effective multilateralism.”

While the diversity of speakers and panels led to a multifaceted picture, panellists agreed, from a political viewpoint, on the need for more EU integration but also pan-European cooperation, a better balance between state and markets that could put the state again in charge of socio-economic affairs in order to compensate market failures; greater involvement of the Union for the Mediterranean in the implementation of EU policies, and the overcoming of Washington Consensus, among other things.

From a strategic perspective, two important points emerged: Firstly, a more viable EU Foreign Policy needs to resolve tensions that still create mistrust between the West and Russia, with a particular attention to frozen conflicts. Secondly, it is essential that European states reaffirm a long-term, forward-thinking policy agenda that can prepare them for future strategic challenges.

Having all that in mind, the four implementing partners along with many participants have decided to turn this event into a lasting process, tentatively named – Vienna Process: Common Future – One Europe. This initiative was largely welcomed as the right foundational step towards a longer-term projection that seeks to establish a permanent forum of periodic gatherings as a space for reflection on the common future by guarding the fundamentals of our European past and common future.

As the closing statement notes: “past the Brexit the EU Europe becomes smaller and more fragile, while the non-EU Europe grows more detached and disenfran-chised”. A clear intent of the organisers and participants is to reverse that trend.  

To this end, the partners have already announced the follow up event in Geneva for early October to honour the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco Conference. Similar call for a conference comes from Barcelona, Spain which was a birth place of the EU’s Barcelona Process on the strategic Euro-MED dialogue.

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Origins of Future discussed – Vienna Process launched

Zeno Leoni

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image credit: IFIMES

The first July day of 2020 in Vienna sow marking the anniversary of Nuremberg Trials with the conference “From the Victory Day to Corona Disarray: 75 years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System – Legacy of Antifascism for the Common Pan-European Future”. This was probably the first conference in Europe of large magnitude after the lockdown. It gathered numerous speakers and audience physically in the venue while many others attended online.


The conference was organised by four partners; the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES), Modern Diplomacy, European Perspectives, and Culture for Peace, with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna that hosted the event in a prestigious historical setting.


The day was filled by three panels focusing on the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century; on the importance of culture for peace and culture of peace – culture, science, arts, sports – as a way to reinforce a collective identity in Europe; on the importance of accelerating on universalism and pan-European Multilateralism while integrating further the Euro-MED within Europe, or as the Prodi EU Commissioned coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”. The event was sealed with traditional central European music and famous Viennese delicatessens.


Among 20-some speakers were: Austrian President (a.D) and current co-chair of the Ban Ki-moon center; the European Commission Vice-President; former Secretary-General of the OECD and Canadian Economy minister (under PM Trudeau); former EU Commissioner and Alpbach Forum President; former OSCE Secretary General and current OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorites; Austria’s most know Human Rights expert; Editor-at-Large of the Washington-based the Hill; Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean; Honourable Justice Constitutional Court President, and many more thinkers and practitioners from the UK, Germany, Italy and Australia as well as the leading international organisations from Vienna and beyond.

Media partners were diplomatic magazines of several countries, and the academic partners included over 25 universities from all 5 continents, numerous institutes and 2 international organisations. A day-long event was also Live-streamed, that enabled audiences from Chile to Far East and from Canada to Australia to be engaged with panellists in the plenary and via zoom.(the entire conference proceedings are available: https://www.facebook.com/DiplomaticAcademyVienna )

The event sought to leverage on the anniversary of Nuremberg to highlight that the future of Europe lies in its pan-continental union based on shared values but adapted to the context of 21st century. Indeed, if Nuremberg and the early Union were a moment to reaffirm political and human rights after the carnage of WWII, the disarray caused by C-19 is a wake-up call for a new EU to become more aware of and effective on the crisis of socio-economic rights and its closest southern and eastern neighbourhood.

From a political viewpoint, while the diversity of speakers and panels led to a multifaceted picture, panellists agreed on the need for more EU integration, a better balance between state and markets that could put the state again in charge of socio-economic affairs in order to compensate market failures; greater involvement of the Union for the Mediterranean in the implementation of EU policies, and the overcoming of Washington Consensus, among other things.


From a strategic perspective, two important points emerged. On the one hand, the EU in order to develop a more productive foreign policy agenda needs to resolve tensions that still create mistrust between the West and Russia, with particular attention to frozen conflicts. On the other hand, it is essential that European countries go back to a more long-term, forward-thinking policy agenda that can prepare its members for the strategic challenges of the future.

Above all, at the moment the EU lacks the necessary leadership that dragged it outside of WWII almost eighty years ago and that nowadays needs to overcome the differences that prevent the continent to achieve a fully integrated, comprehensive socio-economic agenda.

In order to make the gathering more meaningful, the four implementing partners along with many participants have decided to turn this event into a lasting process. It is tentatively named – Vienna Process: Common Future – One Europe. This initiative was largely welcomed as the right foundational step towards a longer-term projection that seeks to establish a permanent forum of periodic gatherings as a space for reflection on the common future by guarding the fundamentals of our European past.

As stated in the closing statement: “past the Brexit the EU Europe becomes smaller and more fragile, while the non-EU Europe grows more detached and disenfranchised”. The prone wish of the organisers and participants is to reverse that trend.

To this end, the partners have already announced the follow up event in Geneva for early October to honour the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco Conference. Similar call for a conference comes from Barcelona, Spain which was a birth place of the EU’s Barcelona Process on the strategic Euro-MED dialogue.

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Turkey in the Balkans: A march westward

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The Balkan Region is becoming attractive for a wide spectrum of foreign players – from Beijing to Washington, and from Brussels to Riyadh. Also, it presents considerable interest for Ankara.

For Turkey, the Balkan Region is important historically, culturally, politically and economically, playing the role of a “bridge” into Europe. In addition, the Turkic-Islamic foreign policy paradigm stimulates Ankara into action: nearly 17 million or more than one third of the population of Turkey are Muslims, while Recep Tayyip Erdogan is positioning himself as the main “advocate” of Islamic world. Significantly,  his authority as a patron of  the Balkan umma is on the rise.

Muslims make up the majority of the population in Albania, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sanjak (in Serbia), in Macedonia and Montenegro the proportion of Muslims is 33% and 17% accordingly. Moreover, the peninsula is home to some 1.5 million Balkan Turks, even despite the fact that many of them emigrated to Turkey and that Turkey and Greece carried out an exchange of population after the Second World War.

Ankara began to demonstrate an ever increasing interest in the Balkan Region after the disintegration of Yugoslavia, but what gave the Balkan direction a new impetus was the arrival in 2009 of Ahmet Davutoglu, who announced that Turkey would assume the role of mediator between the EU and countries of the region, thereby contributing to rapprochement and integration of the  latter into Euro-Atlantic structures.

Since then the Turkish-Balkan foreign economic ties and military and political cooperation have demonstrated progressive growth.  Countries of the region have become involved in NATO programs and have reformed their armed forces in accordance with NATO standards. Since 1995 Ankara has been taking part in all NATO operations in the Balkans and has dispatched its servicemen to serve with international security forces in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. And it has no intention to stop – Turkish military schools provide classes in Serbian, Croatian and Albanian.

In recent years many experts have noticed Turkey’s “soft force”, and the  Balkan Region is no exception. The Balkans have become a venue for dozens of educational, healthcare and cultural projects, with Turkey financing humanitarian campaigns and investing hefty sums in educational and medical projects, and in infrastructural and energy facilities. Under development is a plan to publish history textbooks in tandem with Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the Internet edition Balkan Insight, the popularity of Turkish soap operas in the Balkans boosts Turkey’s authority, simultaneously making it possible for Turkey to “re-write history”.

Unlike in the 1990s, when Ankara’s policy in the Balkans was oriented, first of all, at ethnically and religiously close countries and groups, now, Turkey is set on “covering” all countries of the peninsula. For Turkey, the main partners are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Rumania, and “second level” counteragents are Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia. Incidentally, the significance of the latter has been growing steadily in the eyes of Turkish diplomats.

Erdogan, who visited Belgrade in October last year, has described Serbia as “a key country for peace and stability in the Balkans”. Cooperation with Serbia, he said, has reached an “ideal” level.

The opponents include Bulgaria (to a less extent) and Greece – countries where anti-Turkish moods are strong. Particularly, Greece. According to the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, Ankara and Athens “have conflicting views on a number of points”, including the land border, the Aegean Sea, Cyprus and the entire East Mediterranean, where the natural gas – rich continental shelf and marine borders are still issues under discussion. The dispute over developed and prospected gas reserves narrowly escaped spilling into an open confrontation: Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos threatened to “take up arms” in an interview broadcast by the Greek TV channel Star. His Turkish counterpart replied accordingly: «… we are persistent and resolute when it comes to protection of our interests and our rights, and we have the power needed for it». However, both sides softened their rhetoric soon afterwards.

In the Balkan Region Turkey has to compete, first of all, with the European Union, which looks at the region, not without grounds, as a “natural” zone of its interests. This competition becomes more intense as relations between Ankara and Brussels get cooler. 

The Euro-Atlantic direction currently dominates foreign policies of nearly all Balkan countries, despite the fact that the happy expectations of expanding cooperation with the West rarely come true. «European solidarity does not exist», – the Serbian president announced sadly as he declared a state of emergency in connection with the coronavirus pandemic.  Nevertheless, Bulgaria, Rumania, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North  Macedonia joined NATO; Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Croatia are members of the EU, Serbia and Montenegro are holding talks on their joining united Europe, and Albania and North Macedonia have received a green light to do so from Brussels.

However, EU officials acknowledge that they have so many internal problems that they cannot take in new members.

But the EU persists with its activity as, in the opinion of a whole number of western analysts, hopes of countries of the region for membership in the EU is all but the only factor that contains a new “Balkan explosion”. In addition, Europe is concerned about the growing activity of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the region. In 2017 Austria’s Defense Minister Hans-Peter Doskozil expressed concern over the “slow Islamization of the Balkans”. Also, the EU is doing its utmost to reduce the influence of Russia and China.

Washington demonstrates complete agreement with Brussels. In May 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, addressing the International Affairs Committee of  the House of Representatives, said that Russia (and also Turkey) were as he put it involved in “destabilizing the situation” in the Balkans. Hence the build-up of American military presence (US military bases are located on the territories of three countries of the region) and the involvement of Balkan states in NATO programs. Though, according to an official statement of the State Department, the US policy in the Balkans pursues the one and only  purpose of “assisting the states of the region in their efforts to strengthen peace, establish stability and create conditions for progressive development”. But the Balkans remember the Yugoslav crisis and the role of NATO in the aggressive destruction of this state.

Given the situation, friction with Ankara pushes Washington into building its own military infrastructure with the support of Rumania, where elements of the US missile defense shield are deployed, and Bulgaria, where four American military bases are located. Two years ago the United States announced the creation of several more bases on the peninsula, primarily in Greece.

At present, the Balkan Region presents an important chapter of the Russian foreign policy. A number of countries, first of all, Serbia, continue to request Russian presence. According to the author of the report “Where do Balkans go? New cooperation paradigm for Russia” (2018) at the Valdai Club, Russia ought to exert efforts to expand  the range of partners in this region, simultaneously fostering cooperation with external players. One instance of such cooperation  could be an extension of the Turkish Stream into Europe.

As for Turkey, this region is of importance within the framework of “neo-Ottomanism”, which envisages the spread of economic, cultural and political influence to former territories of the Ottoman Empire. Even though this doctrine has not been declared at the official level,  it de facto constitutes the ideological basis of the country’s foreign policy.

In the 1990s, on the peak of euphoria at the appearance of a whole number of Turkic states, Turkey proclaimed the creation of a “Turkic world” a major point of its foreign policy agenda. In the opinion of the country’s political elites, leadership in this “world” would boost Turkey’s value on the international scene and would thus facilitate its joining the European Union. Now, the agenda has become more ambitious: as part of this ideology, Turkey positions itself as an equal partner to  entire Europe and deems presence in the Balkans vital.

The “Turkic world” did not come into being for many reasons – it received no support from the West, and Turkey lacked the resources and influence to translate it into life unassisted. Likewise, the West does not need Pax Ottomana in any form, while efforts to create it may in the long run  prove too heavy a burden for the Turkish economy.  

From our partner International Affairs

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