Populism leaves its supporters spellbound, but it’s not sustainable. It’s a powerful explosive charge that sends taboo and politically incorrect, yet critical, subjects flying on to the discussion table. But politics and governance need the persistent drive of a steadily running engine with a set direction to achieve the promised goals.
Despite my initial fervor and admiration for right-wing populist leaders, my confidence in them seems to be fizzling out.
The UK Independence Party (Ukip) was formed on the express platform of getting Britain to leave the EU and reclaim its sovereignty. Nigel Farage oversaw the rise of the party from its scratchy beginnings to becoming a commanding voice that shaped the British mind on the issue of ‘To Leave or To Remain.’ Under his leadership, the party was able to build a platform for popular British issues like immigration, jobs, and culture, and talk people of all stripes around to the central issue of leaving the EU.
A lack of a coherent ideology and the absence of concrete plans on matters of governance didn’t deter Ukip from capturing the minds of the British populace. Nigel Farage’s eccentric moments became sources of amusement and the excesses of other members, like Godfrey Bloom, were met with tolerance, if not tacit acceptability.
Now that Britain elected to break away from the EU, Ukip is like a lost soul looking for new ideas to campaign on. Of note is Mr. Farage’s remark, “We are the turkeys that voted for Christmas.”
Since the Brexit referendum, Ukip’s shepherd and prophet – Nigel Farage – has stepped down; the party is plagued with internal feuds, financial troubles, dropouts, and loses in key elections. It’s not the end of the line for Ukip, but without well-defined positions, strategy, and structure, the Conservatives and Labour Parties are eating into Ukip’s voter base.
Lesson 1: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t build a movement on a few lone issues; and if you do, have a bunch of other issues to pivot to, once you have achieved your primary goal.
Across the English Channel, in France, Marine Le Pen, with her strong French pride and disdain of speaking in English, ran on the ‘French first’ platform raising concerns about sovereignty, immigration, culture, Islam, globalization, and the French working class, and promised to put the interests of French people before everyone one else’s.
Ms. Le Pen’s rallying of French support depended on the principle of social grouping, portraying external entities (out group) as threats to the national culture, integrity, and sovereignty (in group), while positioning herself as the deliverer.
Emanuel Macron, the winner of the French Presidential contest, had a refreshingly optimistic and cheery manifesto. Eschewing the tactic of singling out particular groups and foregoing grievance-based narrative, Macron’s message was a plain and simple one – rebuild France and make it better.
His support for the EU was accompanied with a call for EU reform, which made for a very optimistic message, regardless of its impracticality. Most people would prefer a known hell than undertake an unknown expedition. The unfeasibility of his Europhilic narrative was overshadowed by the comfort and relief it provided. Not to mention, support for EU was steadily growing in the run-up to French elections, which eventually made Le Pen soften her tough stance on the EU.
Macron was also gentle on immigration, especially asylum-seekers, for whom he promised to formulate an integration program. He came out strongly against the veil ban on university campuses, buttressing his position with allusion to France’s intensely secular cultural underpinnings.
As a gentle insinuation to the socialist-minded youth of France, he also promised to outlay £500 on a culture pass for every 18 year old to facilitate cultural edification. These positions were music to French ears and minds, who idolize secularism, welfare state, socialism, and integration.
Le Pen’s entrenchment of her politics in euroscepticism and an ‘us-versus-them’ strategy didn’t pay her the desired returns, as she lost in a landslide to Macron. The constituencies where she held a sway were predominantly working class and poorly educated; she couldn’t conquer the minds of the much sophisticated, economically prosperous, and well-educated Parisians, who seemed to love the gregarious Macron.
Lesson 2: Lead people on with optimism; cut back on finger-pointing.
Lesson 3: Populism works if you are popular. Study your customers, their preferences and likes and dislikes. Getting behind a position, popular only with a minority, isn’t populism.
Cue stateside politics: Donald J. Trump ran on a truly populist platform that sought to end establishment chokehold on Washington, rejuvenate America’s economy, whittle down unthrifty foreign policy, bring back jobs, get rid of the quagmire called ‘Obamacare,’ crackdown on illegal immigration and scale back legal immigration, and cut taxes – every thing that Americans love and nothing they loath.
Regardless of his politically unconventional behavior, his mortifying remarks about rivals and people he disliked, his lack of concrete plans, and his dearth of knowledge on several key policy issues, the vast majority of Americans ate up everything he said.
His shortcoming: he didn’t work his talking points into a dominant ideology. His presidency so far hasn’t been about pulling off an ideological plan; it has been about implementing a personal pledge, upon which rests his image and pride.
A lack of ideology also meant that he surrounded himself with people from across the spectrum with competing interests. His daughter and son-in-law, who are avowed liberals, didn’t get along well with the likes of his ex-chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, a prominent alt-right chum and anti-globalist, who in turn was loathed by the establishment types like the military generals.
A mix of subordinates with conflicting interests and a lack of ideological vetting before hiring meant internal feuds, erratic hiring and firing, flip flopping on campaign promises (most recent of which was the decision to put more troops in Afghanistan), and political gaffes while responding to sensitive events.
More importantly, Trump’s brand of populism and political ineptitude has, not surprisingly, left him at loggerheads with the establishment as he went after his own party members and censured his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who has been his long standing and most loyal supporter.
The alienation and administrative chaos means very little, if any, of his agenda gets underway. Granted that Trump isn’t solely responsible for delays caused by a Republican establishment that resents him, dillydallies on reform, and pretends to be powerless in passing important legislation. But a modicum of political dexterity and sophistication could have helped Trump in rallying the languorous establishment in implementing his agenda. After all, Obama, despite political and public opposition to some of his policies, was able to ram through his manifesto.
Lesson 4: Popular issues need to be co-opted and realized into an ideology to make it marketable to the establishment and to avoid counter-productive administrative decision-making.
Lesson 5: Iconoclasm is good; but it should be kept in check with political skill and diplomacy.
Time to Tackle the Stigma Behind Wartime Rape
The youngest capital city in Europe, Pristina, is the ultimate hybrid of old and new: Ottoman-era architecture stands amongst communist paraphernalia, while Kosovars who lived through the bloodshed of the 20th century share family dinners with a generation of young people with their sights set on EU accession.
This month, the capital’s Kosovo Museum welcomed a new force for change; Colours of Our Soul, an exhibition of artwork from women who survived the sexual violence of the Yugoslav Wars, showcases the world as these women “wished it to be.”
Colours of Our Soul isn’t the first art installation to shine a light on the brutal sexual violence thousands of Kosovar victims suffered throughout the turmoil of the conflict which raged from 1988 to 1999. In 2015, Kosovo-born conceptual artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa transformed a local football pitch into a giant installation, draping 5,000 dresses over washing lines to commemorate survivors of sexual violence whose voices otherwise tend to go unheard. “I started questioning the silence, how we could not hear their voices during and after the war and thought about how to portray the women in contemporary art,” said Xhafa-Mripa at the time.
Victims, and their children, pressed into silence
The silence Xhafa-Mripa speaks of is the very real social stigma faced by survivors of sexual violence in the wake of brutal conflict. “I would go to communities, but everyone would say, ‘Nobody was raped here – why are you talking about it?’”, remarked Feride Rushiti, founder of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT).
Today, KRCT has more than 400 clients— barely a scratch on the surface given that rape was used in Kosovo as an “instrument of war” as recently as two decades ago. Some 20,000 women and girls are thought to have been assaulted during the bloody conflict; the fact that the artists whose work is featured in the Colours of our Soul exhibition did not sign their work or openly attend the installation’s grand opening is a sign of how pervasive the stigma is which haunts Kosovar society to this day.
As acute as this stigma is for the women who were assaulted, it is far worse for the children born from rape, who have thus far been excluded from reparation measures and instead dismissed as “the enemy’s children.” In 2014, the Kosovar parliament passed a law recognising the victim status of survivors, entitling them to a pension of up to 220 euros per month. Their children, however, many of whom were murdered or abandoned in the face of community pressure, are barely acknowledged in Kosovar society and have become a generation of young adults who have inherited the bulk of their country’s dark burden.
A global problem
It’s a brutal stigma which affects children born of wartime rape all over the world. The Lai Dai Han, born to Vietnamese mothers raped by South Korean soldiers, have struggled for years to find acceptance in the face of a society that views them as dirty reminders of a war it would rather forget. The South Korean government has yet to heed any calls for formal recognition of sexual violence at the hands of Korean troops, let alone issue a public— and long-awaited— apology to the Lai Dai Han or their mothers.
In many cases, as in the case of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, the very existence of children born from rape has often been used as a brutal weapon by government forces and militants alike. Official estimates indicate that a mammoth 200,000 to 400,000 women were raped by the Pakistani military and the supporting Bihari, Bengali Razakar and al-Badr militias in the early 1970s. The children fathered, at gunpoint, by Pakistani men were intended to help eliminate Bengali nationhood.
Their surviving mothers are now known as “Birangana”, or “brave female soldier,” though the accolade means little in the face of a lifetime of ostracization and alienation. “I was married when the soldiers took me to their tents to rape me for several days and would drop me back home. This happened several times,” one so-called Birangana explained, “So, my husband left me with my son and we just managed to exist.”
No end in sight
Unfortunately, this barbaric tactic of rape and forced impregnation is one that is still being used in genocides to this day. The subjugation of the Rohingya people, for example, which culminated in a murderous crackdown last year by Myanmar’s military, means an estimated 48,000 women will give birth in refugee camps this year alone. Barring a major societal shift, the children they bear will suffer ostracization similar to that seen in Kosovo, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
Initiatives like the Colours of Our Soul installation in Pristina are not only central in helping wartime rape survivors to heal, but also play a vital role in cutting through the destructive stigma for violated women and their children. Even so, if the number of women who submitted their paintings anonymously is anything to go by, true rehabilitation is a long way ahead.
EU–South Africa Summit: Strengthening the strategic partnership
At the 7th European Union–South Africa Summit held in Brussels Leaders agreed on a number of steps to reinforce bilateral and regional relations, focusing on the implementation of the EU-South Africa Strategic Partnership. This includes economic and trade cooperation and pursuing the improvement of business climate and opportunities for investment and job creation which are of mutual interest.
Leaders also discussed common global challenges, such as climate change, migration, human rights, committing to pursue close cooperation both at bilateral level and on the global stage. A number of foreign and security policy issues, including building and consolidating peace, security and democracy in the African continent and at multilateral level were also raised. Leaders finally committed to work towards a prompt resolution of trade impediments affecting smooth trade flows.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, represented the European Union at the Summit. South Africa was represented by its President, Cyril Ramaphosa. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness Jyrki Katainen and Commissioner for trade Cecilia Malmström also participated, alongside several Ministers from South Africa.
President Juncker said: “The European Union, for the South African nation, is a very important trade partner. We are convinced that as a result of today’s meeting we will find a common understanding on the open trade issues. South Africa and Africa are very important partners for the European Union when it comes to climate change, when it comes to multilateralism. It is in the interest of the two parties – South Africa and the European Union – to invest more. It will be done.” A Joint Summit Statement issued by the Leaders outlines amongst others commitment to:
Advance multilateralism and rules based governance
Leaders recommitted to work together to support multilateralism, democracy and the rules-based global order, in particular at the United Nations and global trade fora. South Africa’s upcoming term as an elected member of the United Nations Security Council in 2019-2020 was recognised as an opportunity to enhance cooperation on peace and security. As part of their commitment to stronger global governance, Leaders stressed their support to the process of UN reform, including efforts on the comprehensive reform of the UN Security Council and the revitalisation of the work of the General Assembly. Leaders reiterated their determination to promote free, fair and inclusive trade and the rules-based multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation at its core and serving the interest of all its Members.
Leaders agreed to step up collaboration in key areas such as climate change, natural resources, science and technology, research and innovation, employment, education and training including digital skills, health, energy, macro-economic policies, human rights and peace and security. The EU and South Africa will, amongst others, explore the opportunities provided by the External Investment Plan. Linked to this, Leaders committed to exploring opportunities for investment, technical assistance including project preparation, and the improvement of business and investment climates to promote sustainable development. Leaders welcomed the conclusion and provisional implementation in 2016 of the EU-Southern African Development Community (SADC) – Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).
Leaders also committed to find mutually acceptable solutions to impediments to trade in agriculture, agri-food and manufactured goods. They agreed to work towards a prompt resolution of these impediments.
Leaders welcomed the new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs put forward by the European Commission. They exchanged views on foreign and security policy issues, addressed a number of pressing situations in the neighbourhoods of both the EU and South Africa, and welcomed each other’s contribution to fostering peace and security in their respective regions. Leaders agreed to explore opportunities to enhance cooperation on peace and security, conflict prevention and mediation.
Leaders confirmed common resolve to reform the future relationship between the EU and the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States. To this end they are looking forward to the successful conclusion of negotiations for a post-Cotonou Partnership Agreement, that will contribute to attaining the goals of both the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the long-term vision for African continent – Agenda 2063.
Macron so far has augmented French isolation
French President Emmanuel Macron has recently criticized the unilateral pullout of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but at the same time expressed pleasure that Washington has allowed France and the other JCPOA signatories to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.
In an exclusive interview with the CNN, Macron said that he has “a very direct relationship” with Trump. “Trump is a person who has tried to fulfill his electoral promises, as I also try to fulfill my promises, and I respect the action that Trump made in this regard. But I think we can follow things better, due to our personal relationship and talks. For instance, Trump has decided to withdraw from the Iran pact, but at the end, he showed respect for the signatories’ decision to remain in the JCPOA.”
There are some key points in Macron’s remarks:
First, in 2017, the French were the first of the European signatories to try to change the JCPOA. They tried to force Iran to accept the following conditions: Inspection of military sites, application of the overtime limitation on nuclear activities, limiting regional activities, including missile capabilities within the framework of the JCPOA.
Macron had already made commitments to President Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push Iran to accept the additional protocols to the deal, and he pushed to make it happen before Trump left the JCPOA.
Second, after the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, although France expressed regret, they had secret negotiations with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the JCPOA.
The result of the undisclosed talks was deliberate delay on the part of the European authorities in providing a final package to keep the Iran deal alive. In other words, after the US unilaterally left the JCPOA, the French have been sloppy and maybe somewhat insincere about making the practical moves to ensure it would be saved.
Third, France has emphasized the need to strengthen their multilateralism in the international system and has become one of the pieces of the puzzle that completes the strategic posture of the Trump Administration in the West Asia region.
Obviously, French double standards have irritated European politicians, many of whom have disagreed with the contradictory games of French authorities towards the US and issues of multilateralism in the international community. Also, France’s isolation and its strategic leverage in the political arena has grown since the days of Sarkozy and Hollande. Some analysts thought that Macron and fresh policies would stop this trend, but it has not occurred.
First published in our partner MNA
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