The reasons to vote for right-wing AfD are the problems, not the AfD itself.
On one hand, the elections to the Bundestag on September 24 2017 in Germany were somewhat boring. The programmes of the parties in charge and designated parties, CDU and SPD, look similar. Too gibberish and far from facts were the appearances of Martin Schulz, designated candidate for chancellor of the social SPD.
Too “mum-like” and an encumbrance to people the statements of Angela Merkel. Most other parties were toothless. On the other hand, the “Alternative für Deutschland AfD” (Alternative for Germany) – a party at the far right – was able to attract the attention all the time. Politicians and even more the media picked up each deliberately or undeliberately failed statement from AfD, ripped it apart, attacked the sourcing politician of AfD and embarrassed them, issued opposing items and questioned the AfD in general. If foreign media were interested at all, they joined this round dance and supported the local media on giving the AfD a much larger platform and more airtime for distributing their programme, than it would have deserved taking its relevance in account.
Condemning, stereotyping and ignoring
The AfD was and will be denounced for its right-wing national and xenophobic statements. This image is created particularly by Alexander Gauland, and – after her withdrawal as leader and recent leaving of Frauke Petry – by Alice Weidel. In venturesome staggering walks along the cliff to criminal offenses, both agitators made the Media work for them.
The journalists appeared being the servants in the slightly random media tactics of AfD. The media boil the AfD down to the subjects Racism and Refugees and in immediate reflex cover merely these two topics. In parallel, the commentators and TV hosts tend to distort the subject under discussion with AfD, adding their own personal opinion on these subjects. It appears the bashing of AfD being some sort of substitutional to wipe off the guilt resting on the shoulders of the Germans after World War 2.
The throughout biased representation of the AfD in the media classifies the party in a fixed place and the politicians happily join in. In doing so, they ignore all those positions of the AfD that made the excellent 12.6% election result possible. The projections for AfD stated just 9.5%. However, a non-representative survey by the Counter Narco-Terror Alliance Germany unveiled just about 60% of the voters for AfD dared to confess openly in doing so. Therefore, our projections were between 11% and 15%.
Germany – a class society?
It seems worthwhile to approach the AfD in order to understand how this acceptance was accomplished – something the media neglected and they still neglect it. As soon as a hot topic was risen – such as the “left- behind” people – the media quickly execute surveys and cites studies, and based on this information they try to rectify the issue and to put the AfD’s position and statements into perspective. This happened and happens with lots of indignations and sound.
This is well known from Austria where the politicians and the media had chosen to apply this procedure against the right-wing national FPÖ and their former chairman Jörg Haider. The media and the politicians opened unhesitatingly the stage for them and tried to support the governing party by attacking the right-wing politicians. However, this proceeding didn’t serve the purpose – in contrast, the FPÖ, its politicians and their programme became well known among the voters.
Prior the elections to the Bundestag 2017 it was the liberal German-French thematic TV channel “arte” wanting to find the people in Germany left behind by the politicians and most media – if they exist at all. The verdict of the German-French media people as well as the numerous fates of people living in Germany are upsetting, just like the title of the broadcast: “Being poor in a rich country”. A similar perception of Germany was transmitted out of Switzerland. The Gini coefficient – it describes the wealth distribution in a country – issued by the Swiss bank Credit Suisse states unpretentious and mathematically a high wealth inequality in Germany. Many rich, a few very rich people and broad base of people with minimal to no wealth live in Germany. Similar to Argentina and Morocco – truly not a glorious chapter for a country with such a big self-conception in social and economic life. This, however, never was brought to the attention of the Germans and the parties packed it into set phrases such as “Time for more equity” („Zeit für mehr Gerechtigkeit“, SPD) without giving any idea how to materialise it.
The same applies to the poverty rate in Germany rising from an already high 14% (2006) to an even higher 15.7% (2016, source: Paritätischer Gesamtverband) – with a high number of unreported cases since particularly elderly people not applying for social welfare out of shame. This rating puts the highly praised country between two countries with a heavily struggling economy and therefore a comprehensible poverty rate: France and Spain. Associations bringing this issue out several times already were respected with minimal coverage.
“But the unemployment rate is at an all-time low for decades” politicians like to state. 5.5% truly is a low figure but looking behind the raw number might be sensible here as well. For instance, an increasing quantity of contracts are for temporary work, today close to one million of the 43 million employees have no permanent appointment. All of them not being able to plan ahead – e.g. to start a family – due to the uncertainty of their employment. Not to overlook the multitude of jobs with low salaries. In many cases, it includes job groups the citizens of Germany rely on, such as personnel in care, education, upbringing but also employees in middle- sized businesses and the industry. The grandparents had only one income and this was sufficient to feed the family, cover the cost for education and to build a house. Today, this is out of reach for a rising number of particularly young people, even with double-income. Quietly, a new class society has been established.
Export surplus and the workforce
In spring, Donald Trump approached Angela Merkel bluntly regarding the high export surplus of Germany. Infamous for his attacks, the Donald included some true word within his rumbling. The export surplus of Germany is respectable – and it hurts the United States as well as other countries and foremost Germany’s European partner countries. Angela Merkel often is perceived as the Chancellor or Economy, particularly for the automotive industry, and the whole economic engine Germany is running smoothly. But the close relation to the economy and the panic-fuelled “angst” of the loss of jobs seduces many politicians including Winfried Kretschmann of the Green Party to react extremely tolerant on the recent criminal activities of the industry. This proximity to the economy is perceived as distant to society by various organisations, some parties and the voters.
The export surplus of Germany is made possible by the low salaries in relation to the cost of living of the majority of the society. This circumstance was denounced by the left media and left parties for some time now, but with no sign of change. The low salaries of a large part of the society shows the first signs of an erroneous trend: Due to the minimal salaries, many citizen can no longer build up a decent retirement pension plan. Even today, many pensioners have to live on 400 Euros per month – this is for one of the richest countries such as Germany simply shameful. Poverty among the elderly will struck more than 20% of the people, with an increasing trend. Particularly women are affected if they are a single mother, divorced women or if they do not live with their married partner – they slip from low income into poverty among the elderly.
The Unions fight and deal ever single year with the industries and employers to improve the situations of the employees. Given the noble goals, the results are eminently pitiful. For instance, last year the kindergarten teachers went on strike to get a reasonable rise of their salaries to cover the real cost of living. Today and depending on their wage bracket, they get not even 100 Euros more per month, with employees in part-time – the majority – not even being able to notice the difference at the end of the month. The improvement in their situation of living and appreciation of their work has been missed by far. The Unions like their power and this has caused several fights among competing Unions. For the kindergarten teachers the Union obtained a homeopathic rise of the salaries hesitatingly touching or even leaving out the real problems of the employees. If the Unions pursue proper solutions, the Unions afterwards would be needed for few cases only, thus their comprehensive power would fall apart. Therefore, the Unions in their inactivity mutate towards servants to the employers, on the expense of the employees and the future generations. The Unions faced an alarmingly insight after the Bundestagswahl: According to the Forschungsgruppe Wahlen (senior researches in the election) about 15% of the union members voted for the AfD – where they usually voted for SPD, and some for CDU. A verdict not being a surprise to political observers. The moaning of the IG Metall Union Head of Baden- Württemberg, Mr. Roman Zitzelsberger, unmasks much: „… it is frustrating to see the actual not so bad politics of the past years being punished so mercilessy” („… frustrierend zu sehen, dass die eigentlich nicht schlechte Politik der vergangenen vier Jahre so gnadenlos abgestraft wird“). How shortsighted such statements are still seem not to be within the scope of the guiding people, politicians and Unions. As a member of the AfD stated figuratively during the survey held by the Counter Narco-Terrorism Alliance: “They haven’t heard the shot yet”.
A society splitting itself
It’s a popular opinion xenophobia of the recent times in Germany being an invention by the AfD – but this is past the reality. With the Fall of the Wall and the reunion of the Germans, many East Germans faced the first time xenophobia. Despite the noble promises by the politicians and after the first euphoria, they were not welcome at all in many places. The history repeats itself today with the refugees coming from war zones. Angela Merkel stating „Wir schaffen das!” („We can make it!“) was good for the motivation and well said. But it is indisputably the government, the many voluntary workers and the society being massively overstrained by the rush of refugees. The terror attack on the Weihnachstmarkt in Berlin by Anis Amri was just the visible part of the failing of the government on many levels.
Even more dangerous are the nearly invisible tensions within the society not being related to refugees and terrorists – even if the real threat by refugees and terrorists are belittled by the government, the Verfassungschutz and the secret service in a negligent manner. It is the increasing trench in the society being the real danger. Noticeably those enjoying some wealth and/or occupying a hierarchical higher position fight with exertion for limiting those in lower positions. This has many causes and they neither are racist or xenophobic – but racism and xenophobia could become the symptoms of diverse causes in the medium term. Often, it is just the fear to loose status or coming close to poverty or even to slip into poverty. Furthermore, the German mentality – in contrast to many others – does not know “failure” or not “working”. The intensely believe in hierarchies, the strive to climb up and the circumvention of the ones in lower position/status in all areas of life are the objectives. The overestimation of the own values, the contemptuousness of other or foreign values and the low esteem towards others in general (not just towards certain jobs) doesn’t make it easy for the society to cope with the upcoming complex times. Such concepts will not work if digitization expands into all areas of our life, they will be knocked down.
This fight in defence for the own position and the own life in the German society is omnipresent, but not yet truly visible. The established parties face difficulties to sense these subjects and to adjust themselves to these pestering problems – in the contrary. Instead of fighting low salaries the call for a better rental price limitation and more social house building arose right before the Bundestagswahl. Such measures would be complex, though ineffective and would increase the split in the society and stigmatisation. This politics of symbolism conveys the message of helplessness; it brought the AfD many protesters votes. It also means many AfD voters are not right-wing by far. At the other hand, more than a few voters could be easily radicalized if their difficult personal situation and their social periphery continuously will be neglected. This latent instable condition of an increasing part of the society should force the elites in politics and economy to rethink and act accordingly. Terror doesn’t always come from the outside world, it of course can rise straight out of the middle of society. Moreover, this kind of terror is one of the toughest challenges for society and government. Germany faced it already once, about 40 years ago.
As of today, it is unclear what the AfD wants and can achieve for its voters when sitting in the opposition in the Bundestag. On one hand, the AfD must find itself after the leaving of some of its politicians. On the other hand, the government and the opposition have to consolidate first. Despite the indication the AfD moving to the right– based on the departure of some of its politicians –, the effect of “domestication” of the Bundestag should not be underestimated. Fuss and doing the right-wing rabble will not convince most of the moderate AfD voters. It is safe to say the previous flimsy consensus, waving through of resolutions and the numb debates will become more lively. The new government has the chance to discard the ignorance and lethargy of the past years and focus on the pestering issues lying ahead.
Who did fight for liberation of Bulgaria in 1877-1878?
Russian professor, Doctor of History Sergey Perevezentsev has touched upon a hidden historical and political motive of the scandal caused by the speech of the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow at the celebration of Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman oppressors.
It would seem that Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said everything correctly in his speech – he called to keep memory of the warriors of many nations killed on the fields of those old battles: Russians, Romanians, Finns, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Polacks, Lithuanians, Serbians and Montenegrins. “Historical tolerance” is preserved, and principle of “multiplicity of truths” is not broken.
However, as the historian explained, in 1874 military service became obligatory in Russia. In regular military units comprised soldiers of different nationalities, but a regiment included mainly Russian soldiers. In addition, very often the name of the regiment would not match its permanent location.
Some subjects of the Russian crown, in particular the habitants of the Great Duchy of Finland and the North Caucasus at the beginning of the Russian-Turkish war were free from military service. But in these regions there were military units comprised of volunteers from the locals.
So a question arises: why is the number of the nationalities mentioned in the Bulgarian president’s speech so limited? In fact Chechens, Avars, Kumyks, Kabardians, Ossetians, Ingushes fighting in the Russian army brought a big contribution in that victory over the Ottoman Empire. And if we recall that the officers of the Finnish battalion were Swedes, then it is necessary to add them too to this list. And also Baltic Germans, in the large number represented in the officer corps of the Russian army. And many others.
Then another question: why is there self-contradiction in this list? In fact besides Polacks battling with Turks in the Russian army, there was the Polish Legion that, vice versa, participated in fights on the side of the Ottoman Empire.
So why was it necessary to distinguish certain nationalities, ignoring the merits of others? Why was it impossible to say the simply “multinational Russian army”?
Answer for these questions Sergey Perevezentsev finds not in the past, but in our times: the Bulgarian president mentioned exactly those people that once were a part of the Russian empire, but today are title nations of independent states. Otherwise speaking, this list has a hidden “anti-imperialistic” meaning: commemorated should be only those people, who “broke out” of the “Russian imperial burden”. Historical events are used first to underline the rightness of the “European civilization choice” and, second, to minimize the role and value of the Russian state in history and in today’s events.
As Doctor of Political Sciences Alexander Shchipkov noticed in his article Bulgarian speech of Patriarch, the western politicized historiography constantly promotes the idea that “not Russia took part in all its important historical victories, but individual nations being a part of it”. And the aim of such a manipulation with history is to “deprive Russia of its right on its own great history and, as a result, the rights on the modern big politics”.
His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill also stood against this hidden anti-Russian rhetoric. “Russia did not look at Europe: moved by her love of the Bulgarian people, still weakened by the previous war and having no political support in the world, she began her struggle for the liberation of the Bulgarians. It was a great example of how spiritual, cultural and religious solidarity overcomes political pragmatismBulgaria was liberated by Russia, not Poland, nor Lithuania, nor any other countries but Russia. I would like to say frankly that for me it was difficult to hear references to the participation of other countries in the liberation of Bulgaria. Neither the Polish Sejm, nor the Lithuanian Sejm made the decision to start a war against Ottoman Turkey. We stand for historical truth; we won it by our blood and there can be no political and pragmatic reasons for which this truth should be hushed up or interpreted falsely “, he said
According to Professor Perevezentsev, the polemic flamed up after these words, and the speeches of some Bulgarian politicians saying loathsome and embarrassing things unacceptable for a decent person only confirmed the presence of that hidden meaning.
The foreign policy proposals of the various Italian political parties
While, in the so-called “First Republic”, Italian foreign policy was an essential tool in the practice and activity of the various political parties, exactly the opposite happens in the current so-called “Second Republic”.
After the Cold War, it seems there is no longer a need for foreign and defence policies – a bit like that US senator who asked for closing the CIA after the USSR fall.
Just think that – as the former Italian President of the Republic, Francesco Cossiga, used to say – 50% of voters rooted for the East.
Aldo Moro was the leader who actually led the intelligence services politically – the services with which, for example, we could afford to secretly deal with Arafat and the countless movements of the Palestinian insurgency to be spared terrorist actions on our national territory.
It is also worth recalling that the so-called “Lodo Moro” -an unwritten agreement introduced by Aldo Moro while Foreign Minister, which permitted Fatah and the other Palestinian resistance movements to move personnel, arms and explosives through Italy on condition that the Italian territory was spared attacks – was well-known also by Israel, who appreciated the Lodo and used it.
A diplomatic and intelligence masterpiece that the current childish leaders in power would not even be able to understand, let alone conceive and put in place.
Currently the Italian politics has seen the materialization of the play written by Roger Vitracin 1929, namely “Victor, or Power to the Children”.
In the programs of the 42 political parties that run for the 2018 general elections, there is obviously much talk about migration, but no one even thinks that this problem is related to foreign policy.
There are also apparently specific and analytical programs on international cooperation but, once again,the link between development cooperation and foreign policy is not understood – and indeed, even a child could understand it.
Do the drafters of many electoral programs probably think that there is no connection at all?
“Second Republic”, or rather parochialism, provincialism and demagogic incompetence.
In fact, one of the typical features of our current Republic is moralism, i.e. the evaluation of national or international political phenomena according to the distorting lens of supposedly superior ethical standards.
Precisely in his own country Machiavelli is definitely dead and buried. Vacuous political narratives – often originated in North America -are rife on Kim Jong-Un being “crazy” or Putin manipulating the US elections won by Donald J.Trump.
Putin is also supposed to make his “populist” friends win in Italy, too.
Whoever, like us, read the CIA-NSA-FBI documents on the issue of Russian pressure on the US elections can hardly not understand how the alleged Russian manipulation of the US presidential election is a huge fake.
A power like the Russian Federation certainly has its agents of influence and its specific relations with the American power, but the issue is not as the intelligence documents tell us.
What if all this happened to us? What would happen with the heirs of Vitrac? In fact, Italy no longer has a foreign policy. Neither right nor wrong.
Obviously this huge issue of Italy’s future foreign policy is not at the core of the average voter’s interest, butit is anyway the soul of a State’s practice, even though it is still hard to be turned into empty propaganda.
Let us now analyse the programs submitted to voters before the general election of March 4 last.
Deafening silence on the United Nations, which is also called into question at every turn, when needed.
There is no mention of the United Nations in the centre-right coalition program, while the Democratic Party (PD) speaks about Italy’s one-year mandate in the Security Council as non-permanent member in 2017, where it has been replaced by the Netherlands in the current year. Italy had not sat on the Security Council since 2008.
However, Italy’s presence in the Security Council is regarded by the Democratic Party only in relation to the conflict in Syria and Libya.
For the time being,as far as we know, no miraculous results have been reached thanks to Italy’s mandate in the Security Council.
The Five Star Movement calls for the full implementation of the UN Charter, as well as of international law that is not as unambiguous and unequivocal as the draftersof the Five Star Movement’s program may think.
Conversely, More Europe, the liberal and pro-Europeanist coalition led by Emma Bonino, thinks about the establishment of a National Autonomous Agency for the Protection of Human Rights.
It should be noted, however, that there is already an organization known as European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, established in 2007 and based in Vienna.
No electoral programmentionsthe Council of Europe, OSCE (except for a minor reference in the program of Free and Equal, the left-wing coalition led by the former Speaker of the Senate and anti-Mafia prosecutor, Piero Grasso) and other international organizations.
Hence we wonder what prospects and guidelines our future representatives will have in those structures.
With reference to torture, the centre-right coalition proposes a law putting aside this type of crimespossibly perpetrated by the law enforcement agencies, but torture is an international crime that is precisely so if it is perpetrated by public officials.
Furthermore the rule published in the Official Journal in July 2017 has been criticized by the United Nations itself.
Hence a foreign policy that seems to be the result of a rock concert, devoid of any realism and continuously having a guilty conscience: we are the “rich” (but you can rest assured that soon this will no longer be the case) who exploit the “poor” – without considering the impact of Article 11 of the Constitution.
Rules and regulations that would not allow our “peace-keeping missions” abroad – not even in strictly legal terms – or probably not even the reaction to an attack.
While the “repudiation of the war” enshrined in Article 11 of the Constitution is the foundation of Republican Italy’s adhesion to the UN and the other international peace alliances, Article 11 does not distinguishes between defence war, resistance to the forces of a possible invasion, Italian action taken jointly with allies, defence of the territory and, even worse, defence of national interest.
Former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema shall be given credit for having considered this constitutional tenet “outdated and old-fashioned”.
Even the repression of terrorism can hardly fall within the scope of Article 11.
In the Constituent Assembly of 1948, Luigi Sturzo said that war was a crime in itself and obviously the Communists skilfully manipulated the Constituent Fathers’ strategic ignorance and the fully specious union between Fascist warmongering and ordinary and effective military defence.
The wording of Article 11 was good for a Constitution at a time when the Communist Party and the Catholic and liberal forces gloweredat each other with hostility, but certainly not today, when the rules and regulations pursuant to Article 11 jeopardize even our participation in actions in Libya.
A treatment implicit in the “repudiation of war”, which implies reducing a country to the servile state.
In fact, before Italy, it was put in place only with the Japanese Constitution, dictated by General Mac Arthur in 1946 after two nuclear bombs being dropped on the Japanese territory.
Indeed, also Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution speaks about “renouncing the sovereign right of belligerency”, but since 2013 Shinzo Abe has developed the Japanese Self-Defence Forces significantly, so as to clearly oppose China.
The United States haseven been happy with this new proactive Japanese pacifism combined, however, with a resurgence of national pride and imperial traditions.
Still today, albeit secretly, young officers of the Japanese “Self-Defence Forces” go to the Yasukuni Shrine to worship not only their ancestors, but also the heroes who fought against Westerners (and the Chinese).
Still today, the red-ray flag that General MacArthur had forbidden – is secretly sold.
If the Cold War ends, you must also think that there is no longer the Big Brother rescuing you from an invasion.
Hence you prepare for not giving in and for creating a strong deterrent.
If you are still a State and you have a just decent ruling class.
Incidentally, it is worth recalling the sibylline, but witty remark by former prime Minister Giulio Andreotti when he was accused of having declassified “Operation Gladio”.
“If I had not declassified it, the others would have done so”.
Which others? Easy to imagine. But here we are still in the Republic of Adults, not in the Republic of Children – just to paraphrase Vitrac’s play.
However, let us revert to the electoral programs: in Silvio Berlusconi’s opinion, common defence would make us “save billions of euros” and the EU go back into the mainstream of world’s great powers.
Unfortunately, defence is not made only of money, but also of doctrines, technologies and political will – and I doubt that this pot pourri of European defence could develop a common policy line.
France looks to a European Army because it takes Italy’s weakness and the new alliance with Germany into account.
Let us also think about the role played by France for peace in Libya, with a truce declared during the meeting held between Macron, Fayez Al-Sarraj and Haftar at the end of July 2017.
A role stolen from Italy, but Italy has no one to blame but itself.
Therefore Berlusconi thinks that NATO should be strengthened and that we should side with the new Franco-German axis.
A defence policy that does not necessarily combine our economic interest with the interest of the new Franco-German axis.
In the foreign policy program outlined on January 18 last, the current Forza Italiaparty also speaks about rising military spending, to 2% of the GDP,which has long been a key political goal of NATO and the United States led by Donald Trump.
Nevertheless, unlike what happens in Hegel’s philosophy – quantity does not automatically turns into quality.
More Europe, the coalition created by Emma Bonino, believes that Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defence(PeSCo) – which inevitably leaves a great deal of autonomy to national governments – must be strengthened significantly.
More than this? And how? Where is Italy’s national interest in this choir of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9?
More Europealso wants the denuclearization of the whole Europe and the universal abolition of nuclear weapons.
Military inventions, however, can be never disinvented and we wonder what would happen if terrorist groups or minor States were to use “dirty” nuclear bombs or threaten the use of a nuclear weapon – albeit small – to reach a specific political or economic goal.
In the Mediterranean region alone, which should be the perfect theatre for testing PeSCo, the countries which plan to have nuclear weapons are currently Algeria, Egypt and probably Morocco.
Are we sure that, in this case, it is enough to sing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, “You millions, I embrace you”?
Obviously Brexit is a unique opportunity to build a new hegemony in Europe, but everyone is playing a new national role. Only Italy is stuck to the old Cold War and asks for others’ help, which is never disinterested.
The Five Star Movement does not even talk about a specific electoral program for foreign and defence policy.
Nevertheless, considering their Parliamentary positions, we must mention the difference existing between the group in the House of Deputies and the group in the Senate with reference to Italy’s NATO membership: the former is quite favourable while the latter is fully opposed to it.
With specific reference to the mission in Niger, someone said that we are going to “patrol the desert”, not considering the fact that the desert there is currently very populated.
The Free and Equalcoalition deems it necessary to further reaffirm the constitutional principle of repudiation of war, also in relation to international terrorism, and to sign the Nuclear Weapon Prohibition Treaty. Also the More Europe coalition agrees on this latter point.
The aforementioned Treaty was adopted on July 7, 2017 at the United Nations and was supposed to come into force after 90 days with the ratification of at least 50 States.
Fifty-three States have already ratified it and it was already adopted – God forbid -by the Italian Parliament on July 18-24, 2017.
God forbid we miss the new Manzoni-style edict described in his novel, The Betrothed,boiling down to empty gestures, as well as all talk and no action.
Hence there is no need to include it in an electoral program.
In short, a collection of platitudes and ultra-pacifist clichés typical of the late 1968 protest movement.
Is Croatia Closing the Gender Gap in Science?
Today, on International Women’s Day, we would like to introduce you to four Croatian women. These women are inspiring, because they spend their days pushing the boundaries of knowledge in artificial intelligence, IT, reproductive biology, ecology, biochemistry and enzymology. They are female researchers working in the male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – fields where women account for onlyjust 28% of the world’s researchers.
While some of these scientists are already recognized beyond Croatian borders, others are just starting out their careers. What they also have in common is that their research is being financed through World Bank loans that support the Unity through Knowledge Fund (UKF). This fund finances collaborative projects for Croatian scientists, and scientists of Croatian origin, who are working for international research institutions, focusing on the career development of young scientists and researchers.
The UKF provides an excellent example of how employing an unbiased, transparent, and competitive selection process can allow women researchers to excel. Of the 130 grants, awarded, 64 were given to women applicants.
Dr. Gabriela Vuletin Selak, of the Split Institute for Adriatic Crops, has dedicated most of her scientific research to the reproductive biology of olives. She is currently studying the Olea europaea L. – one of the most commercially important fruit species in the Adriatic area of Croatia. With its growing commercial importance, olive cultivation has been increasing over the past three decades, while the genetic structures of orchards have been undergoing changes with the constant introduction of foreign varieties.
Through her work, Gabriela is providing invaluable information to Croatian olive growers about which cultivars to plant together, so that their mutual pollination and fertilization provide optimal results. Her work is so appreciated by olive growers that the Association of Olive Growers and Olive Oil Producers of the Split-Dalmatia County gave her an award for scientific research and publishing in the area of growing olives.
Gabriela’s love for science started at a young age. She was a curious girl, spending hours exploring the outdoors and the shores of the Adriatic to see what wonders she could find. She loved asking questions about the world around her. For her, science is about working hard and playing around with the most interesting “toys” in order to answer those questions. The Mediterranean landscape played a decisive role in her career path. Olives have become her scientific choice; olive orchards her lab.
The Zagreb-based professor, Dr. Bojana Dalbelo Bašić, shapes intelligent systems through inspiration from human reasoning and learning patterns. Bojana leads several international and domestic projects in the field of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data and text mining, and has published over 100 scientific and professional articles and papers. Her research landed her a spot on the list of the 50 most influential women in the Croatian IT industry.
Bojana, who works at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, is leading the UKF financed project “Event Retrieval Based on Semantically Enriched Structures for Interactive User Tasks (EVERBEST),” together with another female researcher – Prof. Nataša Milić-Frayling from the University of Nottingham.
Through EVERBEST, the two researchers and their team are focusing on researching event-focused information needs of the general public and professionals. With the availability of tremendous amounts of news online, the technical challenge lies in providing event-oriented search and recommendation capabilities that meet diverse information needs. Bojana’s team has developed novel techniques and models for event-oriented searches and recommendations grounded in event consumption habits – which will ultimately change information-seeking task models and will provide a valuable service to journalists, news analysts, and the general public.
“Science gives you an opportunity to remain a child and continue exploring with wide open eyes, asking questions and seeking answers each day, hoping that one day this will lead you to new discoveries perfecting the picture of the world as we know it.” This is the motto of young Dr. Daria Ezgeta Balić, from the Split-based Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries.
Daria is passionate about the biology and the ecology of mollusks (marine bivalves). Daria and her all-female team of six researchers are working on the UKF-funded project, “Competition between native Ostrea edulis and invasive Crassostrea gigas oysters in the Adriatic Sea – effects on the ecosystem, fisheries and aquaculture.”
The Pacific oyster – C. gigas – entered the Mediterranean sea in the 1960’s as a response to a decrease in the production of the native Ostrea edulis, caused by parasitic diseases. The non-native, invasive C. gigas started reproducing and spreading outside aquaculture sites, endangering the native O. edulis. The research of these seven young women is the first step towards the establishment of management strategies for C. gigas in the Adriatic Sea and will help estimate the economic impact of the invasive oyster on fisheries and aquaculture.
Prof. Ita Gruić Sovulj, Associate Professor at the Chemistry Department, Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb, tells us that she has a great love for enzymes, since, to her, they are “the marvelous molecules that provide the foundation of life and are the enduring motivation in my scientific life.”
Currently, Ita is leading a project concentrated on how the cellular error-correction mechanisms evolved to ensure accurate protein synthesis (translation). She works on enzymes aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRSs), that attach amino acids to their cognate tRNAs. This is a crucial step in recruiting amino acids for building proteins.
She explains that errors in protein synthesis are toxic to bacteria and are related to neurodegeneration in mammals. Understanding how cells control the fidelity of this process and prevent translational errors, as Ita attempts to do through her research, is therefore highly relevant. Ita’s work provides clues on how to create antibiotics that will compromise the fidelity of protein synthesis and kill bacteria.
Ita’s research was published in seven papers in respectable journals. For her achievements in strengthening the understanding of aaRS error-correction mechanisms, she received the National Annual Science Award of the Republic of Croatia for 2014 in the Field of Natural Sciences (Chemistry). Ita’s scientific knowledge and enthusiasm are shared with many students while she teaches biochemistry and enzymology courses for students of both chemistry and molecular biology.
In summary, the experiences of these inspirational women show that the STEM fields, which, globally, are still mostly dominated by men, are now increasingly becoming a place for women as well. Statistics corroborate these improvements, as Eurostat data shows that Croatia’s distribution of engineers and scientists by gender was almost 50 percent each in 2016, while the EU average is 40 percent female.
Nonetheless, much remains to be done with regard to gender balance in science. There are still great barriers that discourage women from entering these professions and obstacles continue to block progress for those already in the field. Women have to work harder to get recognition. Hopefully, by talking and spotlighting accomplished women in STEM fields, more young women will be inspired to take on this challenge and become scientists who may change the world through their research and discoveries.
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