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Poor but Proud

Elena Alekseenkova

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The next meeting of the European Council, set to take place on June 28, 2018, promises a certain level of intrigue. One reason for this is the expectation that the new Italian government, formed on the basis of the March 4 elections after 80 days of coalition talks and conflict between the president and parliament, will present an ultimatum to Brussels.

The ultimatum is expected to include the following points:

1) The cancellation of Italy’s €250-billion debt to the European Central Bank (ECB);

2) The abolition of the financial and budgetary restrictions established by the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, which Italy and several other EU countries have been ignoring for years. These restrictions include setting the maximum allowable budget deficit, national debt, public bond rates, etc. Even France, which today lays claim to being the main driver of European integration, has gone beyond the allowable level of national debt by 60 per cent;

3) A revision of the Dublin Regulation, which obliges first-port-of-call countries to deal with the registration of refugees and the arrangement of the necessary infrastructure for them, which entails significant financial expenditure;

4) The lifting of sanctions against Russia, which have caused serious damage to European export industries.

The new Italian government also does not support the sanctions against Russia. Giuseppe Conte has repeatedly confirmed the desire to take more active steps towards normalizing relations with Moscow. However, Italy did not officially oppose the sanctions imposed against Crimea, which were extended just last week. This gives cause to believe that it will not oppose the rest of the sanctions package and will likely use it as a bargaining chip for other items on its agenda – items that have far greater significance for Italy than increasing trade with Russia.

At the end of the day, work according the “done with Russia” paradigm is reasonably well established and has made it possible to restore half of the trade that was lost following 2013. But the threat of default, and the risk of being left alone to cope with ships coming in from Africa, are very real.

A sovereign yet unemployed and starving Italy is unlikely to think first and foremost about sanctions against Russia.

The next meeting of the European Council, set to take place on June 28, 2018, promises a certain level of intrigue. One reason for this is the expectation that the new Italian government, formed on the basis of the March 4 elections after 80 days of coalition talks and conflict between the president and parliament, will present an ultimatum to Brussels.

The ultimatum is expected to include the following points:

1) The cancellation of Italy’s €250-billion debt to the European Central Bank (ECB);

2) The abolition of the financial and budgetary restrictions established by the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, which Italy and several other EU countries have been ignoring for years. These restrictions include setting the maximum allowable budget deficit, national debt, public bond rates, etc. Even France, which today lays claim to being the main driver of European integration, has gone beyond the allowable level of national debt by 60 per cent;

3) A revision of the Dublin Regulation, which obliges first-port-of-call countries to deal with the registration of refugees and the arrangement of the necessary infrastructure for them, which entails significant financial expenditure;

4) The lifting of sanctions against Russia, which have caused serious damage to European export industries.

A Country of “Limited Sovereignty”

It would make no sense for Brussels to ignore this ultimatum or to attempt to isolate the new Italian government as a group of radical populists, politicians who do not want to repay their debts and who are under the thumb of their own voters for the sole purpose of strengthening their positions. Italy is not a new EU member state, one that does not yet quite understand the “rules of civilized conduct” within the European family and can thus act like an impetuous teenager. On the contrary, it is one of the original members of the European Union, having laid the foundations for European integration along with Germany and France. Furthermore, the results of the general election held on March 4 clearly demonstrated the legitimacy of the people who have come to power and the level of public support for the ideas they have offered. This is why there is every reason to discuss the issues that have “accumulated” over time, and a serious discussion is now unavoidable. Essentially, the discussion should revolve around the most deep-seated problem of European integration – namely, the problem of sovereignty – because financial and economic policy, the right to carry out independent foreign economic activity, and border security are issues that directly affect the problem of balancing the national and the supranational.

The revival of national sovereignty, understood as the right of a country to pursue its own national interests, has become the main leitmotif of the Italian populists. The most outspoken critic of the policies that have led to the loss of Italy’s sovereignty has been the Federal Secretary of Lega Nord (the “Northern League”) Matteo Salvini. When the country’s president refused to approve the cabinet proposed by Giuseppe Conte, for example, Salvini commented, “I am convinced that we are not a free country and that we have limited sovereignty… We have a principle, which for us is absolutely key, and that is that Italians should decide their own destiny, not the people of Germany, Portugal or Luxembourg. First and foremost, we are talking about the right of the Italian people to employment, security, and happiness. For several weeks we toiled, day and night, to set up a government that is capable of protecting the interests of the Italian people. But someone (under pressure from someone else, perhaps) is telling us ‘no.’

“We will no longer exist in servitude. Italy is not a colony… You must give us our voice back!”

Italians for an Independent Italy and an Independent World

The ideology of this “revival of sovereignty” is underpinned by a relatively solid set of public fears and expectations – fears and expectations that are reflected in the results of opinion polls and which, if ignored by the authorities, would be tantamount to political suicide. According to research, the share of Italians who see the key national interest as ensuring the security of the country’s borders and establishing control over migrant flows grew from 30 per cent in 2013 to 66 per cent in 2017. The majority of Italians do not approve of the immigration policy pursued by the previous government. They see a direct link between illegal migration and terrorism and demand more decisive action on the part of the authorities to stem the flow of migrants.

There is a lack of understanding in Brussels of the fact that, against the background of Italy’s record national debt and youth unemployment levels that are higher than anywhere else in the European Union, the endless stream of refugees flowing into the country is actually a matter of existential significance.

A meeting of the EU Heads of State was scheduled for June 24 at the European Commission, where the issue of migration will surely be at the top of the agenda. The meeting will be attended by the heads of France and Germany (as the two countries most involved in “putting out the fires” related to European integration), Austria and Bulgaria (the co-Presidents of the European Commission for 2018), the four Mediterranean countries that took the “first blow” of the migrant wave (Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta), and the two most popular “secondary destination” countries (countries where migrants eventually head after arriving in the European Union) – Belgium and the Netherlands. The purpose of the meeting is clearly to snuff out the flame before it turns into a fire in the run-up the summit, which is to be held on June 28–29. This will consist of convincing the Mediterranean states to adopt a new plan to reduce the flow of refugees in return for them dropping the idea of repealing the Dublin Regulation. According to the Italian media, the plan involves stepping up control over the external contour of the European Union and “refining” the procedures for arranging the necessary infrastructure in territories outside the European Union (such as Libya, among other countries). The Italian side will have to guarantee greater control over the movement of refugees outside the country – that is, prevent them from moving into other EU countries. We do not know the details of the plan right now, but we can assume that the Italian side is sceptical of the capacity of the European Union to control the external contour and establish order in Libya. The Prime Minister of Italy is determined to present his own plan in Brussels.

The Italian people feel that decisions are being made for them, without their direct participation. According to polls, 82 per cent of Italians believe that the country has no influence on international relations or European policy. This is despite the fact that in the late 1990s, Minister of Foreign Affairs Gianni De Michelis declared that Italy had to become a “global protagonist” and conduct a more independent foreign policy. The growing partnership of France and Germany is calling for deeper European integration and for countries to welcome refugees (although France is in no hurry to accept the refugees it promised to take from Italy). This, along with growing uncertainty in U.S. foreign policy and Washington’s ostentatious disregard for the views of European states in resolving global problems that have appeared during the Trump administration, pours water on the idea of “limited sovereignty” that is firmly entrenched in the minds of the Italian people.

The number of people who believe that Italy and the European Union member states need to develop more independent foreign and security policies while remaining within NATO has grown from 35 per cent in 2012 to 62 per cent in 2017. Italy is becoming increasingly irked by the desire of the Germany–France partnership to speak on behalf of the entire European Union, whether it be on issues of migration, financial discipline within the association, or U.S.–Russia relations.

The new Italian government also does not support the sanctions against Russia. Giuseppe Conte has repeatedly confirmed the desire to take more active steps towards normalizing relations with Moscow. However, Italy did not officially oppose the sanctions imposed against Crimea, which were extended just last week. This gives cause to believe that it will not oppose the rest of the sanctions package and will likely use it as a bargaining chip for other items on its agenda – items that have far greater significance for Italy than increasing trade with Russia.

At the end of the day, work according the “done with Russia” paradigm is reasonably well established and has made it possible to restore half of the trade that was lost following 2013. But the threat of default, and the risk of being left alone to cope with ships coming in from Africa, are very real.

A sovereign yet unemployed and starving Italy is unlikely to think first and foremost about sanctions against Russia.

What Does This Mean for Russia?

For Russia, this means that there is no need to shout about the conflict that is brewing between Italy and the European Union any louder than the Italians are themselves. The temptation to support a friendly country in its rush to fight for its sovereign national interests is more than understandable, especially if we take into account the role of the concept of sovereignty in Russian political discourse. The desire to tell the whole world that one of the founding members of the European Union is actively promoting the idea of lifting the sanctions against Russia is similarly understandable. However, if Russia’s goal is still to patch up relations with the European Union, particularly with Germany and France, then it is worth taking into account just how important European solidarity is for Paris and Berlin and stop counting on a split forming within the Union. It is worth remembering, too, that Italy has something to offer in return for its vote against the Russian sanctions, while Paris and Berlin, in an effort to save European solidarity, could attempt to make Rome an offer it cannot refuse.

First published in our partner RIAC

PhD in Political Science, RIAC Program Manager, Research Fellow at Centre for Global Problems Studies, MGIMO-University

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Colour revolution in Republika Srpska

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On 18 March 2018, 21 year old David Dragicevic went out with his friends around 7 p.m., but never returned home and was declared missing the same day. On the 24 March, his dead body was found in the small Crkvena creek, in downtown Banja Luka, capital of Republika Srpska. Dragicevic was buried on 7 April. Police inspector Darko Ilic claimed that surveillance cameras confirmed that Dragicevic committed robbery that night on the way home and that several stolen items from the robbed house were found in his pockets. According to the police investigation, after the robbery, on his way home, Dragicevic walked across a small bridge over Crkvena creek and fell in the water and drowned. From the start of the investigation, Dragicevic’s parents claimed that their son was brutally murdered and that they possess evidence of that. According to Davor Dragicevic, David’s father, the killer is a well known figure, and police officers Minister of Interior Dragan Lukac, and local police chief Darko Culum, are trying to cover up the crime. His supporters established the “Justice for David” group and they occupied the main square in Banja Luka, and renamed it to “David`s Square”. Initially, their demands were the truth about the murder and justice for David Dragicevic.

On 15 May, a large protests was organized in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Hercegovina, where several hundred people demanded justice for David Dragicevic and Dzenan Memic, a young man from Sarajevo whose 2016 death was also ruled an accident, but whose father and friends claim he was murdered. Soon afterwards, Davor Dragicevic began to make pro-Bosnian stance. Davor Dragicevic publicly announced that Republika Srpska institutions were “criminal” and that he stand for unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina. The most powerful message from Davor Dragicevic, several times repeated, was that the elections on October 7th will not be held. Initially, few considered Davor Dragicevic’s threat seriously, but soon it became clear that these are not empty threats. The peak of the revolution’s attempt took place on October 4th and 5th. Slobodan Vaskovic “journalist and blogger” on 4th October published that Darko Ilic, head of the Organized Crime Directorate, ordered the liquidation of David Dragicevic. According to Vaskovic, Dragicevic was beaten by 15 abusers and than they put him into the vehicle and taked him to  the premises of the Ministry of Internal  Affairs. And in the premises of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, torture began. For his monstrous claims, Vaskovic did not present any evidence. The reason is simple, this shameful lie was published with a goal to provoke fury among the citizens and to send a message that Republika Srpska police is criminal organization.

On October 5th another big protest was organized in Banja Luka with around 10 000 people, of which a significant part were Bosnian Muslims from Federation. The protest was streamed live on BN TV from Republika Srpska, which receives significant donations from the West. Davor Dragicevic led the people to the streets, with the aim of blocking Banja Luka and provoking riots, and ultimately occupying the main institutions of Republika Srpska. However, the small support from Serbs as well as the professional reaction of the police prevented it. Despite the fact that he did not succeed at that time, Davor Dragicevic continued protests with the “Justice for David” movement. They just reduced the intensity and waited for an opportunity to re-coup. Soon Davor openly threatened that he will demolish the constitutional order in the spring. “Maybe I’ll take off the state before April 7th”, was the open threat by Davor Dragicevic. Before long, Republika Srpska Government announced the operational information that the British Embassy invested $ 6 million in a colored revolution in Republika Srpska. Also, it turned out that Robert Cort, the head of the English Security Intelligence Service in Sarajevo, whose representative office was re-opened in Bosnia and Hercegovina in March 2018, was in Sarajevo and that he was involved in the Government overthrowing in Republika Srpska through the “Justice for David” movement.

Since it became clear that Davor Dragicevic and “Justice for David” implement instructions from British agents, and that the preparations for the coup are intensified, on 25 december, police cleared the main square in Banja Luka. And if the police acted according to the law, it sparked anger of pro-Western media in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as various NGOs that are funded by the West. As soon as there is any kind of conflict with police in Republika Srpska, the pro-Western media automatically send their reporters to be on duty at that location. And during the reporting period, the rage of the citizens against the Republika Srpska police was constantly encouraged.

This has resulted in boosted protests and Davor Dragicevic threatened that he will not allow any cultural event in Banja Luka. Soon he  fulfilled the promise. Movement “Justice for David” on December 30 interrupted a concert organized for the citizens of Banja Luka. Protesters broke the stage and continued to make trouble. Among them were opposition politicians. However, it was this savagery that triggered the police for more powerful action, which resulted in the arrest of some members from “Justice for David” movement and the escape of Davor Dragicevic. The media announced, referring to diplomatic source that Davor Dragicevic, after whom Republika Srpska police has issued a warrant, was located in the UK Embassy in capital of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Sarajevo.

British and US interest in “Justice for David”

From the Dayton Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina, the United States of America and the United Kingdom behave towards Bosnia and Herzegovina as a colony. The basis of the Dayton Agreement is the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina (51% of the territory to the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 49% to Republika Srpska), as well as the constitutiveness of the Serbian, Bosniak and Croat nation. In other words, every important decision in Bosnia and Herzegovina requires the consent of this three nations. This particularly refers to the entry of Bosnia and Herzegovina into NATO, against which is Republika Srpska. This primarily emphasizes Milorad Dodik, who is the most powerful politician in Republika Srpska and current chairman and Serb member of the tripartite Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Milorad Dodik is a Serb politician who opposes membership in NATO, wants to have the best possible relations with Russia and is the strongest opponent of migration in the Western Balkans. Dodik has prevented migrant camps in Republika Srpska, openly telling to Sarajevo and the West that he will not allow that. Because of all these, direct attacks are being carried out on Republika Srpska and Milorad Dodik. Because of that Davor Dragicevic attacks only Milorad Dodik, Police and the Government of Republika Srpska, with direct support from pro-Western media in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The “Justice for David” project is a classic intelligence operation, conducted on the orders of British and US  agents in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main objective of this operation is the weakening of Republika Srpska and the remove of Milorad Dodik  from power. That is why Western NGOs do not want the solving  of the case, on the contrary they want unsolved case. They need an outraged father Davor, who directs his constant attacks on Milorad Dodik and Republika Srpska. That is why Davor Dragicevic and “Justice for David” movement does not attack the Prosecutor’s Office which is appointed by the international community, primarily the US. If there were any evidence that Milorad Dodik or Republika Srpska police participated in any criminal act,  they would be sanctioned in an accelerated procedure.

For Western intelligence the basic goal will remain to get rid of Milorad Dodik and his independent policies in Republika Srpska, and to bring to power in Banja Luka a team of collaborationists who will facilitate the absorption of Republika Srpska into centralized Bosnian state. The further goals are to bring Bosnia as a whole into NATO and to integrate it completely within Western Euro-Atlantic structures.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Why Tony Blair is so angry?

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The former British Prime Minister doesn’t have a good time! On the one hand, Tony Blair is witnessing the continuation of the Brexit process, and on the other hand, He’s in no way happy with what has happened inside the Labor Party! Tony Blair is one of the main opponents of the British withdrawal from the European Union.

He has repeatedly stated that another referendum could be held, and, if the British citizens vote against the Brexit, the earlier results of the 2016 referendum can be ignored. He’s gone a step further, and mentioned that the Brexit can never happen, even despite the public’s vote for leaving the EU.

Recently, British Prime Minister, Theresa May, expressed her satisfaction with the positive vote of the House of Commons to her plan for leaving the block. These remarks led to Tony Blair and his entourage taking positions against her. The UK former Prime Minister intended to use the Brexit to return to power in London and the Labor Party. In recent years, he has become the main messenger of the falsification of the Brexit.

However, the London-Brussels agreement on British exit from the EU can once again defeat Blair to in the country’s political circles. The truth is that London’s soft or hard exit from the EU is of no importance to Blair, but he’s after the renewal of 2018’s referendum. For the British prime minister, it does not matter that his country will leave Europe in the form of a “joint agreement” or “disagreement”.

UK’s former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson and some other senior members of the conservative party, however, believe that the House of Commons shouldn’t agree with London’s soft withdrawals from the European Union. They believe that the agreement reached between Theresa May and the EU authorities over the Brexit will be heavily imbalanced and will lead to the economic domination of the United Europe on England over the next decade.

On the contrary, EU leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, have said they’re not willing to offer British officials more advantages in their negotiations. They have emphasized that there would be no more talks on Brexit.

Furthermore, the equation is much more complicated inside the Labor Party! Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition, has emphasized that by holding early elections and changing the government in London, it is possible to re-start the negotiations on Brexit with Brussels.

Beyond the debates that have raised among the conservatives and the Labor Party, Tony Blair is thinking about his own personal and political goals in the Labor Party and the Britain and international equations. Blair believes that if he can provide the ground for another referendum (and to prevent the realization of the Brexit), then his position will be restored among European politicians. It’s obvious that Tony Blair is very dissatisfied with the current agreements reached between the British and EU authorities.

Jeremy Corbyn is trying to make an investigation into Tony Blair for alleged war crimes during the Iraq War, and this issue is seriously threatening Blair’s political future. When Corbin was elected as the leader of the Labor Party, Blair could not hide his deep discontent in this regard. He has said Labor Party has undergone a “profound change” since Jeremy Corbyn became leader and he is not sure it will be possible for “moderates” to regain control of the party. “It is a different type of Labour party. Can it be taken back? I don’t know,” Blair said before.

It should be noted that Jeremy Corbyn had previously called for the trial of George W. Bush and Tony Blair for committing war crimes during the invasion to Iraq. The main question is, what would be Tony Blair’s next step in confronting his failures in the UK’s political scene? Is he willing to use the Brexit as a means to revitalize his already-lost position? This question will be soon answered, but probably the stream of events won’t be to Blair’s benefit in the future.

First published in our partner MNA

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The Rise of Far Right Populism in Europe Ahead of EU Elections

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Authors: Punsara Amarasinghe and Eshan Jayawardane*

Populism in Europe as a civilizational legacy has a deeply rooted history which dates back to Greco Roman antiquity and as it has been recorded by classical historians like Livy, the overarching political structure of Roman republic nailed by populism that arose as a result of the loopholes of the system. The role of Publius Cloudius against Roman nobility during the late republic was a reflection of how populist discourse functioned in classical world. Nevertheless the principles emerged after the post second world war Europe such as social welfare system, social democracy and cultural integration reduced the gravity of populist discourse as a powerful political tool. Moreover the mass migration of political refugees from Eastern Europe to Western Europe during cold war was a phenomenal factor that encouraged west and its citizens to accept refugees or asylum seekers more dearly and it was rather a display of European values. But  as all good things come to an end this wave of immigrations from Non-European countries to Western Europe gradually conceived the seeds of socio economic and political turmoil in the continent that finally paved the path for a greater revival of populist politics in Europe.  Especially the political trajectory created with the Syrian refugee crisis since 2015 in Europe has compelled the people to look for Right wing politics as an alternative. Recent discussion held in Warsaw, Poland between Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini and Jaroslaw Kaczynsi shows the spark of far right populist coalition in European Union against its center right more socio democratic leadership of Germany and France. The significance of this meeting lies in the fact that how EU politics has been changed in the recent years before its troubled policies over the illegal immigration and refugee crisis and this Polish Italian axis seems to create a decisive impacts upon the upcoming elections to EU parliament.

As a matter of fact in the past, it never really mattered much if the Euro election was carried by the left or the right: the result was the same anyway. The parliament has always been keeper of the federalist flame, but the unorthodox political upheavals Europe envisaged for past two years have such as BREXIT in 2016 and Trump’s victory in US presidential elections have upset the center right liberal orthodoxy in EU. Moreover it is a fact not be ignored that how national politics in European countries have taken a populist bend as a consoling since most of the common people in Europe are gutted by the refugee crisis and economic deprivation.  Especially being the undisputed forerunner in EU Germany has faced severe social issues since 2015 as Angela Merkel  decided to not to close Germany’s borders resulting in the arrival of more than one million of people.  Last August in Italy the Migrants mainly coming from former Italian colony Eretria had been stranded at a port in Sicily before Italian deputy premier Salvini finally allowed them to disembarked after Ireland and Catholic Church in Italy agreed to take most of them in. Apart from Italy most of European states have been exposed to the wave of populism mixed up with far right ideological elements. For an example elections held in Sweden in 2018 September dragged the country into a political limbo as the results of the elections did not leave either main parliamentary block with a majority and its far right anti-immigrant party Sweden democrats won 17.6% of the votes. Being a country that has resisted populist politics and far right wing ideology since the end of its notorious dictator Farco’s era, Spain too has witnessed the new wave of populism in its national level politics. The dazzling impact created by Santiago Abascal’s Vox party at the election held in Andalusia by gaining 10.97 % of the votes and 12 out of 109 cannot be ignored despite the fact that his party is still in its infancy stage.

Populist discourse spreading across Europe has not been emerged out of the blue as it is imbued with how common people in Europe perceive the socio economic and political circumstances currently. It was a misconception that many analysts believed that rise populism sprang from the financial collapse and unemployment, because it is evident that the rise of populism has not been solely attributed to the economic crisis. If economic growth had been decisive in Poland, which enjoyed the faster growth rate in Europe between 1989 and 2015, the populist Law and Justice Party would never have become the country’s dominant political force. The bitter truth portraying from the rise populism is non-other than Europe antipathy over mass immigration and their concern for preserving common European values. This aptly shows from how Hungarians have rallied around Mr. Victor Orban as he triumphantly calls himself the defender of Christian Europe. On the other hand such xenophobic notions like cultural preservation, growth of Islam have been clearly captured by populist parties as drawbacks created by the apathy of European Union and its center right liberal democracy. Perhaps the influence coming from Putin’s Russia can be taken as one pivotal factor that has intensified the populist discourse, because president Putin’s knack on ethno nationalism and religious traditionalism seem to have allured the populist movements in Europe.

It is a fact beyond dispute that the rises of populist political parties under its far right ideologies in the backdrop of European Union parliamentary elections have destabilized the continuation of European integration under liberal center right outlook. The populist plan to expand their numbers in EU parliament in 2019 May elections have begun to upset the ostensible stability of EU and its French German leadership or perhaps this year Europe will face the arch encounter between newly emerged far right populism and the social democracy that has been the ruling slogan in Europe since 1968 in an open space.

*Eshan Jayawardne holds BA in Sociology from Delhi University and MA in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He is currently serving as a guest lecturer at Sri Lanka Open University. He can be reached at eshan.jayawardane[at]gmail.com

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