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For Veolia, Flint is just the tip of the iceberg

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French multinational Veolia, the largest private water corporation in the world, is going through a rough patch as the world is wising up to its nefarious ways. Involved in numerous scandals across the globe, Veolia first entered the global spotlight in early 2016, when it was implicated as a culprit in the Flint water crisis.

The company was hired a year prior by the city to help improve drinking water quality following complaints regarding taste, odor and discoloration after Flint switched from using Detroit’s water supply to using water from the Flint river as a cost-cutting measure in April 2014. It was later revealed that the river water corroded the city’s lead pipes, causing an increase in lead levels in the water so as to qualify it as “toxic waste” according to EPA classifications.

Despite the obvious negative fallout resulting from the switch, Veolia published a report in March 2015 and even made a public presentation claiming the city’s water was safe to drink in accordance with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. The report only mentioned corrosion control measures to rectify discoloration without once referring to elevated lead levels, despite the fact that the EPA had already identified lead contamination as a serious hazard by then.

In June this year, a lawsuit was issued against Veolia, along with a formal complaint by Michigan’s attorney general Bill Schuette. The complaint stated that due to its negligence, Veolia “totally failed to identify the problem, made no effort to understand the root cause, and recommended measures that made the situation far worse.” In fact, the lawsuit argues the report’s claims were fraudulent, that Veolia knew the findings were false and allowed the situation to worsen. Veolia was quick in refuting the allegations levied against it in a press statement, calling the lawsuit “outrageous” and the allegations “false, inaccurate, and unwarranted.”

With Flint, we are opening a new chapter of corporate malfeasance. If the traditional boogeymen of yore were the likes of Big Pharma, Big Oil or Big Agro, Veolia shows the devil-may-care attitude of a corporation tasked with the most basic on needs: water supply. And make no mistake, Veolia’s crooked ways do not stop in Flint.

While the outcome of the Flint lawsuit is yet to be determined, Veolia’s record of scandals in my home country of Lithuania offers another revealing glimpse into the company and its subsidiaries’ modus operandi. In 2002, Veolia, through its subsidiary Dalkia, won a 15-year lease agreement transferring the heating infrastructure of Vilnius and nine other cities to the French company. When in March 2015 Remigijus Šimašius replaced Arturas Zuokas as mayor of Vilnius, the new administration called foul on the details of the lease agreement and launched an investigation into the past and present activities of Veolia/Dalkia. What they found – Lithuania’s arguably biggest corruption scandal – was harrowing.

That contract was exposed as being the result of corruption and palm-greasing, and was enforced through intimidation and violence in what amounted to nothing short of a parallel state. Then-mayor of Vilnius, Arturas Zuokas, who was supposed to oversee the company’s dealings, was actually on the take from a local Dalkia subsidiary called the Rubicon Group. In what became known as the “black accounting” case, Rubicon was accused of regularly bribing politicians, including Zuokas whose name was listed in illegal accounting books as “Abonentas” (the Subscriber), with sums in the six digit numbers. Although the parliamentary commission involved in the investigation provided an official report asserting that Artūras Zuokas and “Abonentas”were one and the same person, the main investigative body dismissed the report’s findings on the basis that the proofs cited could not be considered “direct evidence.” Thus, after six years of investigation, the case was dropped due to a lack of evidence.

Next, Veolia/Dalkia was found to have manipulated the prices of Lithuania’s biofuel market to artificially increase the price of heating, pad its bottom line and cause direct harm to all Lithuanian consumers. As a consequence, the company was slappedwith a €19 million fine. A Vilnius councilman who called out Zuokas’ cozy relationship with the company was threatened by one of Dalkia’s main people in Lithuania to keep mum or else he would wind up floating in the river “ belly up”.

And when Vilnius decided not to extend the contract (due to expire in 2017), Veolia retaliated by accusing the Lithuanian government of arbitrarily changing the laws and their interpretation. Claiming foul play, the company immediately filed an international arbitration court case, demanding 100 million EUR in compensation for damages.

Whatever may come off Veolia’s demand, it is abundantly clear that the company has spun a web of deceit in its international involvements. Ranging from a blatant failure to fulfill its professional duties in the Flint water crisis to resorting to mob-like practices in the case of Lithuania’s heating grid, the company has proven its unreliability as a service provider and unscrupulousness in the face of opposition.

And then, for all its hard work, Veolia was crowned in July 2016 “Responsible Business of the Year” by Business in the Community, a British charity that promotes responsible business. Commenting on the award, CEO of Business in the Community Stephen Howard said “This year we have seen some profound examples of what business can achieve when it puts responsibility at the heart of its operations. I congratulate Veolia for the practical action it has taken to build a fairer world and more sustainable future.”

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Eastern Europe

Monument Dispute in South Caucasus: Why Should It Be Given More Attention?

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Authors: Farid Shafiyev & Vasif Huseynov*                                         

The global protest movement calling for the permanent removal of memorials that reinforce dangerous or discriminatory ideologies, such as Nazism or racism, express important messages that are, unfortunately, frequently ignored or disregarded. The advocates of the movement rightly argue that memorials are more than historical artefacts: they glorify the past, commemorate a questionable historical figure or policy, send misguided messages about the present and are intended to shape ideas and outlooks. In a nutshell, these types of monuments say how the present and future should look like.

Those monuments that are built as memorials to controversial historical figures, such as the colonialist leaders who played key roles in the enslaving or killing of thousands of people or to Confederacy figures in the United States, “are making their own political statements and promoting a distorted and often whitewashed version of the past.”Commemoration of the people who have committed reprehensible crimes should, thus, be condemned, despite possible counterarguments about their historical context.

Disputes about monuments to question able historical actors are not new to the South Caucasus, a region inflicted with violent ethno-territorial conflicts and military clashes. However, the recent verbal battle between the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia at the summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Turkmenistan’s capital on October 11 has reignited the issue and brought it to the forefront of regional media over the past weeks.

One of the documents adopted at the summit related to the celebration of the 75th anniversary of victory in the Second World War. It was an appeal to the CIS and the international community to recognize the decisive role of the USSR in defeating fascism and the inadmissibility of a revision of history and glorification of Nazism

On this occasion, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev criticized the establishment of a monument to Garegin Nzhdeh, a wartime Nazi collaborator from Armenia, in the centre of the capital city, Yerevan. In response, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan did not shy away from defending Nzhdeh, who had also founded a supremacist ideology called Tseghakronism (the combination of two Armenian words for “race” and “religion”) in the early 1930s.

Pashinyan praised Nzhdeh’s role in the fight against Turkey and Azerbaijan in the context of Armenian nationalist history, disregarding his involvement as the commander of the Armenian Legion of the SS in the extermination of more than 20 thousand people, mostly civilians, and in the massacres against the Azerbaijanis in the Caucasus.

President Aliyev is neither the first nor the only person to have criticized Armenia’s glorification of Nazi collaborators. In February 2018, a senior Russian lawmaker wrote an article for the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta headlined “The Return of Nazism from the Baltics to Armenia,” condemning Armenia’s heroization of the “Third Reich collaborationist Garegin Nzhdeh”. A similar position has been voiced by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

For Holocaust scholar Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the building of the Nzhdeh monument is “an unfortunate mistake and is an insult to the victims of the Nazis and all those who fought against the Nazis”.

Not only did the government build a statue to Nzhdeh, they also gave his name to a village in Armenia’s southern Syunik province and to an avenue, a large square and a nearby metro station in Yerevan. Thus, he has become an extensively celebrated national hero in the country.

Unfortunately, he is not the only controversial historical figure in Armenia’s past whose hazardous legacy is commemorated and propagated by the country’s leaders in a way that sends a dangerous message to the society amid growing right-wing populist tendencies in official policymaking. Most prominently, the members of ASALA, an Armenian association that targeted and murdered Turkish diplomats around the world and, as such, arerecognized by many countries (including the United States of America) as a terrorist organization, are honoured as national heroes in the country.

Monte Melkonian, one of the leading figures of ASALA, is glorified by Armenians for having killed Turkish diplomats and for playing a leading role in Armenia’s war against Azerbaijan. Since Armenia gained independence in the early 1990s, statues have been built in his honour, his name has been given to educational institutions, and a foundation has been named after him. In the cemetery where he is buried, there is a memorial built in honour of ASALA. In 2014, in a live broadcast, another ASALA memorial was unveiled in the Armenian city of Vanadzor with the participation of the priests of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the national church of Armenia.

One of the most recent monuments to a war criminal was erected this year in the Armenian-dominated region of Samtkhe-Javakheti in Georgia. On January 20, the day the Azerbaijani people mourn the victims of a massacre committed by Soviet troops in Baku in 1990, Armenia ceremoniously opened a monument to Mikhail Avagyan, an Armenian military officer who took part in the extermination of hundreds of people in Khojaly village in Azerbaijan in 1992, the largest massacre committed during the conflict according the Human Rights Watch.

Taking into account ongoing conflicts, the erection of statues of “national heroes” which, by international standards, fall into the category of ‘war criminals”, undermines the efforts promoted by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs “to prepare the populations for peace”, an initiative which deals with the resolution of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and, in general, the international efforts for promoting reconciliation in the region. On the other hand, and more dangerously, these types of monuments justify and legitimize terrorist tactics in the pursuit of alleged national causes and encourage the next generation to follow suit.

Ostensibly, the memorials and statues to terrorists and Nazi collaborators do not revive the past in a neutral way; on the contrary, they honour a specific vision of the attitude of society toward the past and shape the collective memory in an unproductive way. 

The removal of these memorials from Armenia, following the example of the removal of statutes to colonialist leaders around the world and Confederate figures in the United States, is necessary to give due respect to thousands of victims. It would also be a good starting point for reconciliation between Armenia and its neighbours, makingan important contribution to the settlement of the violent conflicts in the region.

* Dr. Vasif Huseynov is a senior research fellow at the AIR Center and Adjunct Lecturer at Khazar University, Azerbaijan.

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Eastern Europe

Who really defends the Baltic States?

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About 500 U.S. troops arrived in Lithuania in October. This news is widely discussed all over the Baltic States and Europe. The issue of permanent NATO presence in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia has been discussed for a decade. There is still no legal basis for this step, but NATO and Baltic authorities found the possibility to deploy troops on a long-term basis. The justification for such long deployment becomes participating in military exercises that take place almost continuously on the territory of the Baltic countries.

The U.S. armed forces are among the most powerful in the world. American soldiers participated in numerous wars, operations, missions and exercises. In the U.S. military persons have a lot of preferences and substantial allowances. The occupation of a military person attracts a lot of young men, even those who have criminal records. Unfortunately, the need of military personnel enforces the authorities to turn a blind eye to the criminal history of applicants.

Though some types of criminal activity are clearly disqualifying; other cases require a waiver, wherein the each service examines the circumstances surrounding the violation and makes a determination on qualification. Applicants require a waiver for enlistment.

Applicants with six or more minor traffic offenses, where the fine was $100 or more per offense are required to obtain a waiver.

Applicants who have three or more civil conviction or other adverse dispositions for minor non-traffic offenses are required to obtain a waiver.

Felonies are the most arguable of recruitment offenses.

The problem is the U.S. Armed Forces utilize their own definitions of what constitutes, for example, a felony. Examples of felony offenses include aggravated assault, arson, burglary, manslaughter, robbery, and narcotics possession. Many states allow a felony conviction to be expunged and reduced to a misdemeanor.

All military branches consider felony as a disqualification, but they do make some exceptions. In recent years, it appears that the US Army has issued more waivers when we talk about percentages. Bad conduct and drug waivers in the US Army accounted for 19% of waivers issued in 2016, 25% in 2017, and over 30% in the first half of 2018.

Thus, if a person receives a waiver for such cases of antisocial behavior he could be enlisted regardless of his or her criminal records.

When the authorities of the Baltic States allow U.S. troops to deploy on the national territory, they even cannot imagine the possible consequences. Locals can face alcoholics, traffic offenders, brawlers and other criminals in the U.S. uniform, who even cannot be judged by national courts. And it’s a very complicated question if foreign criminals are worthy of being called defenders of the Baltic States.

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Eastern Europe

Dilemma for the Baltic States: Prosperity or defense

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The Jamestown Foundation, an influential US think tank, published a report in October – “How to defend the Baltic States” written by R.D. Hooker, Jr.

The report examines NATO capability to defend its eastern flank – the Baltic States.

It contains harsh criticisms towards the Baltic States which do less than they can to strengthen their security. It is stated that“stronger NATO ground forces in the Baltics do not seem politically feasible for now. The remaining option is to rely on host nation solutions.”

The author admits that this approach will require significant security assistance to the Baltic States and strong support from key allies, but the Balts themselves must first step up. He insists that “although small in population and GDP, they are capable of much more than they are doing now. With a combined population of some 6 million, only 22,000 citizens are under arms. Most are contract soldiers who serve short tours of duty, although Lithuania has recently reintroduced nine-month limited conscription. Thirty thousand indifferently trained and equipped reservists are also on the books.”

According to the report, the Baltic States can do much more to increase their own defense potential.

The last decade the Balts did their best to convince allies of the need for money. And it should be said that they have already got huge financial assistance. Nevertheless, American experts consider attempts to improve military capabilities by themselves as insufficient.

The more so, the threats have become even stronger. The Baltic States still need more money. The way out is to attract money from the U.S. and EU and NATO partners. The author considers an opportunity to ask for some security assistance from wealthier EU and NATO allies like Germany.

In other words, the U.S. experts insist on strengthening the Baltic States defence by using all possible means: both at their own expense and by attracting other sources of financing.

It should be said that this particular report strongly recommends further increase in defence spending without taking into consideration the difficult social situation in these countries. It is clear that the Baltic States are interesting to the U.S. first of all because of their geographical position which allows the U.S. to use Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to deter possible Russian aggression. To their mind all energies should be directed to deter the U.S. adversary – Russia. And last of all the U.S. experts think about well-being of the Baltic population.

In case NATO and the European Union continue to actively help to strengthen the military defence of the Baltic States, it is logical to assume that the assistance of the European Union on social projects in these countries will be significantly reduced. In some fields this would be even a social “disaster” for them.

The question arises if the Baltic States are ready to develop themselves only in one direction – as military strong countries? Is it really a guarantee of prosperity?

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