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The smallest Orthodox Church in Europe converted into a “test-ground” for Ankara’s political technologies

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]s the April constitutional referendum in Turkey approaches Recep Erdogan has promised to “hold Europe accountable” for the unjust attitude towards Turkish emigrants. So now the referendum has taken place. Despite the statements of European observers and politicians about violations during the vote Turkish president celebrates his victory.

But anyway, he has no time to relax: the hype in liberal circles about violation of human rights in Turkey grows bigger while the voters are expecting to see the results of the given promises. Supporters (51,4%) want to see the enemies of Ankara defeated by “the mighty hand of their leader” while the others (48,6%) with even greater impatience anticipate a fail of the government on the international scene which will give them an opportunity to crash AKP on the pretext of their ineffective policy and inability to solve the problems of the nation.

What response will come from Mr. Erdogan? For now we can only observe an exchange of mutual threats between Brussels and Ankara without actual actions: Erdogan threatened to open European borders for emigrants, in exchange Brussels threatened to stop negotiations about Turkey’s membership in the EU, and Turkey finally claimed that it had no big need in that… However there are signs that go unnoticed to the mainstream mass media but they prove that Ankara is confident and ready to start to act.

Erdogan’s hidden leverage surprisingly is Patriarch of Constantinople – Bartholomew, who has a “first among equals” position in the Orthodox world. A “battleground” to try this leverage in action opened in Czech and Slovak republics. The ultimate target for Bartholomew was the autonomous and autocephalous Czech and Slovak Orthodox Church (the CSOC).

Back in 2013, the Constantinople Patriarchate (CP) tried to introduce its two archbishops into the Holy Synod of the CSOC on the pretext of assistance in solving some internal problems and misunderstandings in the CSOC. When this attempt failed, CP tried another strategy: during meetings with CSOC bishops in January and May 2016 CP demanded certain amendments in the CSOC charter that will bring it closer to the “Tomos of autocephaly of CSOC” issued by CP in 1998. It turns out that unlike the Tomos given to CSOC in 1951 and unrecognized by CP (the Russian Orthodox Church Tomos) the CP Tomos of 1998 gives autocephaly to CSOC on certain conditions. In particular, CP demanded guaranties that in case some inner misunderstanding should arise in CSOC they would ask CP for advice and help because CP was their “Mother Church”. A bunch of other amendments implied formal independence for CSOC while placing it under total control of CP.

So, CSOC summoned a special Synod commission that met with CP representatives in Wien on 8-9 March 2017. Then Metropolitan Rostislav (Patriarch Bartholomew settled his conflict with Rostislav before Crete Council and admitted his position of the Primate of the Church in January 2016) appointed an extended Synod meeting on the 5th of April 2017 in Bratislava (Slovenia). It was dedicated to implementation of the new amendments in Tomos of autocephaly in the Church’s charter.

Taking into account that believers of CSOC make only 1% of the population in their countries, the whole event should have gone unnoticed. This is the way of a prudent manager to test a new strategy without taking a big risk in case of failure. And really, still we don’t see the results of the April Synod meeting in Bratislava.

The Holy Synod was to accept the new amendments secretively and thus create predispositions for a future intervention of CP in the affairs of another autocephalous church. In perspective – CP supporters will bring to light any problems and mistakes of CSOC bishops and escalate the situation – this will be a handy tool for manipulating the church under control of protégés bishops from CP “Mother Church”.

However Ankara’s Czech and Slovak “project” of taking control over a foreign religious entity faced a strong push-back from the local bishops and parishioners. Some sort of “CSOC independence” movement started to draw public’s attention to the possible problems of changing the Church’s charter according to CP plans. In response, groups of anonymous activists supporting the changes started to distribute agitation materials criticizing CSOC leadership and claiming that CSOC problems won’t stop without CP’s intervention and help. Thus we see that charter changes are not some trivial standard procedures and the above mentioned amendments are not a simple precaution in case of problems – these are steps of Ankara’s plan of intervention in CSOC with a political interest.

And here some new details came to light – they affect not only Orthodox believers but all people in Czech Republic. Particularly, you should know that after CSOC loses its autonomy and falls under Patriarch Bartholomew, CP will get access to the money that Czech government gives to the Church according to the “restitution law”. By the way, this law is already a subject for social discussions and complaints of taxpayers. The situation will only escalate in case of new obligations to donate money to foreign religious authorities.

Thus, it stands clear that CP (that is experiencing a crisis because of ambiguous attitude of its sponsors – Greek and US business elites – towards Donald Trump) will get a big financial profit by taking control over CSOC: it’s commonly known that Czech government promised to give a symbolic sum of 3 billion Euros back to religious organizations by year 2030. It’s symbolic, because the EU promised to pay Ankara 3 billion Euros as financial assistance for accommodating refugees. That’s not all, Czech Republic also plans to give churches 2,5 billion Euros for unrecoverable property (earlier taken from them or destroyed).

In case of a successful realization of the Ankara’s plan CP will gain not only money but also “reputation points”. CP is already imposing the idea of its sole leadership and ultimate power in the Orthodox world, in fact Patriarch Bartholomew aspires to become an analogue of Pope in “the Orthodox variation”. After CSOC this scheme may be used to partially or totally take control over the following Churches: Church of Greece (about 97% of country’s population), Romanian Church (74%), Albanian Church (25%) and Polish Church (1.5%). Together they amount to a large community that can be used as a political power in Europe, with this leverage Erdogan will be able to exert pressure on the leaders of the countries in question and other EU members. For example: the Orthodox and Catholic parishioners can unanimously claim a better policy towards refugees and the politicians will have to open all boarders. Or another scenario: Orthodox and Catholics will unite to provoke national hatred among local people against migrants saying that migrants are a threat to the Christian identity of Europe. This, in its turn, will lead to a further marginalization of refugees and destabilization of the situation…

No doubt, Turkish president is an experienced politician and plans to set a big political game, predict the future dynamics “on the field”. We see that the present situation with CSOC has a long pre-history. But that’s only a probe of power. Whether it will be successful and set a start to a series of “coups” organized by Constantinople to take control over independent autocephalous Churches of the Orthodox world – this also depends on the actions of EU politicians, relationships of CP sponsors with new US President and believers’ attitude towards all this. Time will tell how effective Erdogan’s plan is and if he succeeds in “punishing” eurobureaucrats this way.

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Europe tells Biden “no way” to Cold War with China

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Amidst the first big transatlantic tensions for the Biden Administration, a new poll shows that the majority of Europeans see a new Cold War happening between the United States and China, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.

Overwhelmingly, 62% of Europeans believe that the US is engaged in a new Cold War against China, a new poll just released by the European Council on Foreign Relations found. Just yesterday US President Joe Biden claimed before the UN General Assembly that there is no such thing and the US is not engaging in a new Cold War. So, Europeans see Biden’s bluff and call him on it.

The study was released on Wednesday by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev at the European Council on Foreign Relations and found that Europeans don’t see themselves as direct participants in the US-China Cold War. This viewpoint is most pronounced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy, according to the study. The prevailing view, in each of the 12 surveyed EU member states, is one of irrelevance – with respondents in Hungary (91%), Bulgaria (80%), Portugal (79%), and Austria (78%) saying that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing.

Only 15% of Europeans believe that the EU is engaged in a Cold War against China. The percentage is so low that one wonders if there should even be such a question. It is not only not a priority, it is not even a question on the agenda for Europeans. Even at the highest point of EU “hawkishness”, only 33% of Swedes hold the view that their country is currently in a Cold War with China.  Leonard and Krastev warn that if Washington and Brussels are preparing for an all-in generational struggle against China, this runs against the grain of opinion in Europe, and leaders in Washington and Brussels will quickly discover that they “do not have a societal consensus behind them”.

“The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a “cold war” framing risks alienating European voters”, Mark Leonard said.

The EU doesn’t have the backing of its citizens to follow the US in its new Cold War pursuit. But unlike the views of the authors of the study, my view is that this is not a transatlantic rift that we actually have to be trying to fix. Biden’s China policy won’t be Europe’s China policy, and that’s that, despite US efforts to persuade Europe to follow, as I’ve argued months ago for the Brussels Report and in Modern Diplomacy.

In March this year, Gallup released a poll that showed that 45% of Americans see China as the greatest US enemy. The poll did not frame the question as Cold War but it can be argued that Joe Biden has some mandate derived from the opinion of American people. That is not the case for Europe at all, to the extent that most of us don’t see “China as an enemy” even as a relevant question.

The US’s China pursuit is already giving horrible for the US results in Europe, as French President Macron withdrew the French Ambassador to the US. The US made a deal already in June, as a part of the trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia, and stabbed France in the back months ago to Macron’s last-minute surprise last week. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it is Macron that is actually arrogant to expect that commitments and deals should mean something: “Back in February, Macron rejected the idea of a U.S.-E.U. common front against China. Now he complains when America pursues its own strategy against China. What’s French for chutzpah?” What Boot does get right is that indeed, there won’t be a joint US-EU front on China, and European citizens also don’t want this, as the recent poll has made clear.

The US saying Europe should follow the US into a Cold War with China over human rights is the same thing as China saying that Europe should start a Cold War with the US over the bad US human rights record. It’s not going to happen. You have to understand that this is how ridiculous the proposition sounds to us, Europeans. Leonard and Krastev urge the EU leadership to “make the case for more assertive policies” towards China around European and national interests rather than a Cold War logic, so that they can sell a strong, united, and compelling case for the future of the Atlantic alliance to European citizens.

I am not sure that I agree, as “more assertive policies” and “cold war” is probably the same thing in the mind of most Europeans and I don’t think that the nuance helps here or matters at all. Leaders like Biden argue anyway that the US is not really pursuing a Cold War. The authors caution EU leaders against adopting a “cold war” framing. You say “framing”, I say “spin”. Should we be in engaging in spins at all to sell unnecessary conflict to EU citizens only to please the US?

Unlike during the first cold war, [Europeans] do not see an immediate, existential threat”, Leonard clarified. European politicians can no longer rely on tensions with China to convince the electorate of the value of transatlantic relations. “Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world”, Mark Leonard added. The study shows that there is a growing “disconnect” between the policy ambitions of those in Brussels and how Europeans think. EU citizens should stick to their sentiments and not be convinced to look for conflict where it doesn’t exist, or change what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears in favor of elusive things like the transatlantic partnership, which the US itself doesn’t believe in anyways. And the last thing that should be done is to scare Europeans by convincing them they live in a “dangerous world” and China is the biggest threat or concern.

What the study makes clear is that a Cold War framing against China is likely to repel more EU voters than it attracts, and if there is one thing that politicians know it is that you have to listen to the polls in what your people are telling you instead of engaging in spins. Those that don’t listen in advance get the signs eventually. At the end of the day it’s not important what Biden wants.

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Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

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In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative in Bosnia occurred for the first time, I published the text under the title ‘Has Germany Lost Its NATO Compass?’. In this text I announced that Schmidt was appointed to help Dragan Čović, the leader of the Croatian HDZ party, to disrupt the constitutional structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and create precoditions for secession of the Serb- and Croatian-held territories in Bosnia and the country’s final dissolution. I can hardly add anything new to it, except for the fact that Schmidt’s recent statements at the conference of Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft have fully confirmed my claims that his role in Bosnia is to act as Čović’s ally in the latter’s attempts to carve up the Bosnian Constitution.

Schmidt is a person with a heavy burden, the burden of a man who has continuously been promoting Croatian interests, for which the Croatian state decorated him with the medal of “Ante Starčević”, which, in his own words, he “proudly wears” and shares with several Croatian convicted war criminals who participated in the 1992-1995 aggression on Bosnia, whom Schmidt obviously perceives as his ideological brethren. The question is, then, why Germany appointed him as the High Representative in Bosnia? 

Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, exercised mostly through the institutions of the European Union, has continuously been based on the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. The phrases that we can occassionaly hear from the EU, on inviolability of state boundaries in the Balkans, is just a rhetoric adapted to the demands by the United States to keep these boundaries intact. So far, these boundaries have remained intact mainly due to the US efforts to preserve them. However, from the notorious Lisbon Conference in February 1992 to the present day, the European Union has always officially stood behind the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be partitioned along ethnic lines. At the Lisbon Conference, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, the official representatives of the then European Community, which has in the meantime been rebranded as the European Union, drew the maps with lines of ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along which the ethnic cleansing was committed, with 100.000 killed and 1,000.000 expelled, so as to make its territory compatible with their maps. Neither Germany nor the European Union have ever distanced themselves from the idea they promoted and imposed at the Lisbon Conference as ‘the only possible solution’ for Bosnia, despite the grave consequences that followed. Nor has this idea ever stopped being a must within their foreign policy circles, as it has recently been demonstrated by the so-called Janša Non-Paper, launched a couple of months ago, which also advocates the final partition and dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a plan is probably a product of the powerful right-wing circles in the European institutions, such as Schmidt’s CSU, rather than a homework of Janez Janša, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, whose party is a part of these circles, albeit a minor one. To be sure, Germany is not the original author of the idea of Bosnia’s partition, this author is Great Britain, which launched it directly through Lord Carrington at the Lisbon Conference. Yet, Germany has never shown a will to distance itself from this idea, nor has it done the European Union. Moreover, the appointment of Schmidt, as a member of those political circles which promote ethnic partition as the only solution for multiethnic countries, testifies to the fact that Germany has decided to fully apply this idea and act as its chief promoter.

In this process, the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, with their extreme nationalist policies, can only act as the EU’s proxies, in charge for the physical implemenation of Bosnia’s pre-meditated disappearance. All the crimes that Serbia and Croatia committed on the Bosnian soil – from the military aggression, over war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide, up to the 30 year-long efforts to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – have always had a direct approval and absolute support of the leading EU countries. During the war and in its aftermath, Great Britain and France were the leaders of the initiatives to impose ethnic partition on the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now Germany has taken up their role. In such a context, the increasing aggressiveness of Serbia and Croatia can only be interpreted as a consequence of the EU’s intention to finish with Bosnia for good, and Schmidt has arrived to Bosnia to facilitate that process. Therefore, it is high time for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon any ilussions about the true intentions of the European Union and reject its Trojan Horse in the form of the current High Representative.  

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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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