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Negotiations on Kosovo 2019: Opportunities and Limitations for Russia

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Authors: Ekaterina Entina and Dejan Novakovic

In early 2018, negotiations on Kosovo seemed to be progressively moving towards their final stage. Brussels, in its turn, triumphantly reported on some kind of a decision (never actually been publicly presented), which by the end of the year would have allowed to reach a final settlement. Nevertheless, starting from autumn 2018, the bilateral dialogue between Serbs and Albanians was gradually replaced by bilateral provocations, with the final decision, which implies territorial swapping and demarcation, becoming less and less acceptable.

Since 2009, the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade has been transferred from the UN mediation format under the jurisdiction of the European Union. In the eyes of the EU politicians, taking the opportunity to independently resolve security backlogs and tackle all their vulnerable elements was vital in order to overcome the perception of the EU inability to resolve major foreign policy issues.

The Kosovo settlement looked promising in this regard summing up all the factors in play: the nearly hopeless negotiating position of Belgrade, the decisiveness of the Kosovar Albanians, the fact that about 100 UN member states recognized the region’s independence, as well as the centuries-old relations of the leading Western European countries with the region. The bet was made on technical negotiations, in other words, on reaching a compromise on a number of issues considered important for the daily functioning of the region. The plan was to neutralize (to a certain extent) the extremely sensitive political component – Belgrade would recognize the region’s independence, and Pristina acquires all attributes of a sovereign state.

The bet on technical negotiations could not stand the test of practice. Series of actions taken by Pristina in autumn 2018 and their perception by Belgrade as extremely unfriendly actions, which directly threaten the Serbs, actually brought Belgrade and Pristina negotiations to a deadlock, simultaneously exposing the EU’s inability to act as an effective mediator of this process. What Pristina did was the introduction in November 2018 of double customs duties on goods from Serbia as well as from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the announcement of the creation of the army of Kosovo, an extremely rigid negotiation platform for further dialogue with Belgrade promoted by the government of Ramush Haradinaj.

Negotiations are de facto in the process of assembling a wider range of actors. The U.S. does not hide its direct participation. The attempts of France and Great Britain to act independently from the EU are also obvious. Within this framework, Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, as well as a participant in all previous negotiations on the Balkans since the 19th century onwards, has obtained the opportunity to get involved in the settlement of the Kosovo issue. At the same time, it was a good chance to ensure its stance and standing in the region, as a minimum, and to restart the stalled engine of European history, as a maximum.

The Reaction of International Actors on Kosovo during September-December 2018

Letters from Donald Trump to Hashim Thaci and Alexander Vucic — Active Return of the U.S. to the Dialogue

The vacuum created by Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections in 2016 and the following gradual “departure” from Europe was replaced by intensified activities of the American administration in the region in 2018. The latest, so far, round of negotiations on the Macedonian-Greek issue became their first target. The elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina were the next one. Despite the fact that Milorad Dodik is on the US sanctions list, Washington expects greater consistency in the presidium than before and openly sends signals about the possible punishment for those who will inspire the “dysfunctionality” of the Bosnian state. And their final target is Kosovo.

Trump’s letters to A. Vucic and H. Thaci contained, on the one hand, a call to continue the dialogue; on the other hand, the US proposal to assume the key role of a mediator. An exceptional overture was made in the message of the American president addressed to the two Balkan presidents: it contained an invitation “to visit the White House and celebrate the historic agreement together.” Active US involvement could reduce the influence in the Balkans not only of the EU, but also of Turkey and Russia. It will lead to the establishment of the one and only dominant force in the region. In addition, such changes in the format of the process could also snatch the negotiations from under both the UN and the EU while weakening the credibility of the international legal systems and the world order, which is what the American president is always keen to do. To a certain extent, this purely regional issue could give Washington the opportunity to regain its status of the “guardian of world order”, largely lost at the beginning of this century.

Brexit and the intensification of the UK policy in the Balkan region

Historically, Britain used its position in the Balkans in such a way as to avoid the strengthening of continental Europe, in particular Germany and Russia. That is why the unstable and moderately manageable situation in the region is more in the interests of London. Therefrom came the unequivocal support for the creation of the Kosovo army, as well as for the Kosovo independence itself and the desire to act as an independent actor in working out the Belgrade and Pristina agreements (according to some sources, A. Vucic and H. Tachi’s secret meeting in the Vatican on the formation of the Kosovo army in early November 2018 was organized by the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Alexander Soros). In addition, the British traditionally and quite reasonably believe that in the eyes of Serbian political class, German and Russian policies are more acceptable, and, therefore, the British prefer to rely on the Albania. Gaining influence among the Albanian population is one of the prime factors which ensure the inviolability of the British zone of interests in Greece and Cyprus. The return of the British fleet to the Mediterranean reflects Britain’s desire to gain a foothold in Africa and Libya. Over the past couple of years, London has been actively expanding its influence in the non-governmental organizations sector (in particular, through Tony Blair’s and several other British politicians’ consultations with representatives of the Serbian authorities) and renders the NGOs support in the framework of KFOR.

Letter from the President of France Macron to Hashim Thaci

The celebrations of the centenary since the end of the First World War were held in Paris. At the event, Hashim Tachi, the head of a country that did not even exist during the war, stood right behind the Russian president, while Alexander Vucic, the head of the victorious nation, was pushed backwards, placed somewhere in the last rows. After the ceremony, and the cancellation of Macron’s visit to Belgrade (due to the “yellow vests” protests), there was a feeling that France had missed a chance to actively engage in Kosovo negotiations, which seemed a priority at the beginning of Macron’s Presidency. Macron’s letter to Hashim Thaci concerning the presence of the latter at the ceremony in Paris looked more like a sign of support, rather than an attempt to “book” a certain role. However, it is Alexander Vucic who was actually counting on some support from Paris. It is important for Vucic to show that the Serbs are not alone in this turbulent moment. Therefore, France will certainly try once again to become an essential actor in the Kosovo process in the near future.

Berlin’s attitude towards Kosovo’s independence

Angela Merkel’s decision to withdraw gradually from the German political scene has a direct impact on the Kosovo process. In fact, it opens up even more widely the avenue for the United States to be actively involved in the negotiations. The role that Germany played in the process of gaining independence not only by Slovenia and Croatia, but also by Kosovo is well known. Besides, being an essential component for the criminalization of German society, the Albanian factor itself plays a significant role in the country’s politics. Originally, Germany was against the territorial demarcation plan, which continues to influence the prospects for reaching an agreement between Vucic and Thaci. However, with personal influence of Angela Merkel declining, the possibility of Berlin’s impact on the outcome of the negotiations is notably reduced.

The Turks keep silent

It is noteworthy that Turkey, an extremely important regional actor as well as one of the first countries to recognize Kosovo’s independence and to establish both diplomatic and economic relations with it, in no way articulated its position this time. Most likely, this is due to the positive progression in the relations between Erdogan and Vucic and also due to the fact that the Turks give the priority to the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean directions of their foreign policy. In any case, there is no reason to expect an independent and more substantive inclusion of Turkey in the Kosovo process. However, in the context of the growing number of its participants, the prospect of Turkey joining the process together with some other player, for example, with Russia, looks both possible and desirable.

Official comments made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia

The comment of the Russian Foreign Ministry, condemning the creation of the Kosovo army, was presented in the Serbian media as an open support for Belgrade from Moscow. Obviously, the representatives of the ruling parties (in particular, Ivica Dacic, the head of the Serbian Foreign Ministry) also used this, saying that if the United States was included in the negotiations on the Pristina side, Belgrade would ask Russia to join in on the Serbian side. Such maneuvers by the Serbian authorities who got used to taking advantage of the “Russian card” whenever possible to solve various domestic political problems, creates the effect of “unrealistic expectations from Moscow.” This effect is reinforced by some Russian expert political circles reporting of the need to strengthen Moscow’s military presence in the region in order to balance American incursions. But it takes place under circumstances where it is evident that the geographical location (the country is cut off from the sea) and the geopolitical environment of Serbia (all of its neighbors are members of NATO) will not allow this to be done without an official request from Belgrade, which is in a state of war.

In addition to the listed above, the pro-Western media are actively taking advantage of the gap between expectations and the actual practices in cooperation between Belgrade and Moscow, highlighting what the expectations of Russian support amounted to for Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Thus, Vladimir Putin’s state visit to Belgrade on January 17, 2019 was backed up with such a basis, that the room for any maneuver was markedly narrowed. There is no one who would doubt that Moscow would actively engage in the negotiation process, or at least declare its intentions. And in doing so, it will definitely take the Serbian side. This circumstance raises the visit of the Russian president to Belgrade to the level of a “historical event.”

Possible Ways of Russia’s Inclusion: Settling Kosovo and Solving Other Balkan Issues

On the one hand, if Moscow supported Belgrade, it would entail nothing but the development of an additional area of confrontation between Russia and the West, while Kremlin’s military and political positions would not be strong enough, and the benefits of representing a particular actor in bilateral negotiations would be unclear. On the other hand, non-participation in resolving the issue, especially in case of receiving a direct invitation from Belgrade, would mean for Moscow the following:

  • withdrawal from the Balkans while leaving the US as a dominant actor in the region;
  • the final and unchallenged NATO establishment in the macro-region;
  • tremendous blow to Russia’s standing and perceptions of its geopolitical influence, which would inevitably affect Russia’s positions in Bulgaria, Greece and, to a certain extent, in Turkey;
  • a de facto recognition that Moscow is unable to have a real impact on European processes.

Alternative inclusion scenario

The US activation in the Balkans is expressed in:

  • the Macedonian–Greek dialogue;
  • Macedonian prospects for joining NATO;
  • messages sent to Sarajevo;
  • letters from Trump to Vucic and Tachi;
  • messages that are openly (through official websites of American embassies, social networks) sent to the region on a regular basis.

All that points to the fact that the United States is becoming the main player in the future settlement of the Kosovo issue. US support for the creation of the Kosovo army also has internal political significance, both for Pristina and Washington. Therefore, the balance of influence between President Tachi and Prime Minister Haradinaj, who has been concentrating in his hands control of the police and other security agencies, is changing. It also establishes a balance between the American security forces in the subregion and the State Department, which is important both for Washington and Pristina and for the Albanian population of the region as a whole.

Correspondingly, in early 2019, the United States is expected to do its utmost to bring the bilateral talks between Belgrade and Pristina to the final point solely through the mediation of Washington. However, even if the mediation is formally preserved for the EU, then, in the face of a change in the administrative cycle in Brussels, this will entail the strengthening of nationalist forces in the region and, as a result, greater destabilization in the Balkans. Thus, Washington, in its turn, will use this kind of situation, both efficiently and with a striking effect, in order to accelerate the pressing inclusion of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina into NATO.

The situation where Brussels preserves the role of mediator (with covert or open participation of Washington) may also become a prelude towards destabilization in Serbia, following the scenario of October 5, 2000. The EU is indirectly showing readiness for such a turn of events, and the current opposition’s protest actions as well as the protests that followed the election of Vucic as President of Serbia two years ago, are demonstrating that this is a possible scenario.

In this regard, within Serbia’s domestic political scene, the visit of President Putin would be beneficial for all sides. It could balance the mounting pressure exerted on Vucic. At the same time, it could lead to the consolidation of the new pro-Russia political forces (National Center of Velimir Ilic and the Conservative Party, a new one within Serbian political arena). If this does not happen, the “Russian vector” will be highly likely marginalized or will completely disappear from the programs of the Serbian political parties in the next elections.

Within the foreign political scene, the main question is, how could Russia get a leading role in final resolution of the Balkan issues’?

In response to the U.S. attempts to engage in the Kosovo negotiation process waiting for support from Belgrade, Moscow can offer to expand the Kosovo issue into a so called “package solution” format modeled on “Peace conference” (Contact Group 2.0) with a number of following external players: the United States, Russia, China, Turkey, France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain. This would take place within the framework of a continuous negotiation dialogue conducted, for example, in Vienna, or in Brussels. Such a format has been long discussed in diplomatic circles in the Balkans because it allows, through a numerous territorial exchanges as well as various political and diplomatic maneuvers, to find a common solution for all post-Yugoslav issues.

Expanding the format is in the interests of not only the Serbs, but also the Croats, as well as the Albanians (theoretically, it makes it possible through official and legitimate means to resolve three main national issues in the region). Creating a permanent and continuous negotiation format in Vienna or Brussels also allows, on the one hand, to preserve formal mediation for the EU, and on the other hand, avoid “kickbacks” due to difficulties in the domestic political arena in all post-Yugoslav republics and also marginalize the influence of regional criminal groups standing in the way of a comprehensive settlement.

Putin–Tachi meeting in Paris in November 2018 was a good starting point for Moscow to launch a number of foreign initiatives that could give Russian policy in the Balkans a multidimensional nature. These are necessary in order to seize the initiative from the Americans, who seek consistent, pressing, but formal solutions on regional issues with the prospect of destabilizing the Balkans at any convenient for them moment. The initiatives could return to Russia its former status of “the creator of a new world in Europe,” and that would be impossible for the force-based scenarios of democratization to compete with it.

*Dejan Novakovic, President of the Adriatic Council (Belgrade, Serbia)

First published in our partner RIAC

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Council of Europe fights for your Right to Know, too

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Authors: Eugene Matos de Lara and Audrey Beaulieu

“People have the right to know what those in power are doing” -Dunja Mijatovic Council of Europe, Commissioner for Human Rights.

Access to information legislation was first seen in 1766 in Sweden, with parliamentary interest to access information held by the King. Finland in 1951, the United States in 1966, and Norwayin 1970 also adopted similar legislation. Today there are 98 states with access laws; of these, more than 50 incorporated in their constitution. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights 2006 and the European Court of Human Rights 2009 both ruled that access to information is a human right, confirmed in July 2011 by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, a sine qua non of 21st-century democracy.

Global civil society movements have been promoting transparency, with activists and journalists reporting daily on successes in obtaining information and denouncing obstacles and frustrations in the implementation of this right. To this end, the Council of Europe was inspired by pluralistic and democratic ideals for greater European unity, adopted the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents recognising a general right of access to official documents held by public authorities. It brings a minimum standard for the fair processing of requests for access to official documents with the obligation for member states to secure independent review for restricted documents unless with held if the protection of the documents is considered legitimate.

The right to freedom of information

Access to information is a government scrutiny tool. Without it, human rights violations, corruption cases, and anti-democratic practices would never be uncovered. Besides exposing demerits, the policy is also known to improve the quality of public debates while increasing participation in the decision making process. Indeed, transparency of authorities should be regarded as a fundamental precondition for the enjoyment of fundamental rights, as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The policy equips citizens and NGOs with the necessary tool to counter refusal from authorities to provide information. The European Court of Human Rights recognized that withheld documents could be accessed in specific circumstances. In principle, all information should be available, and those upheld can also be accessed, particularly when access to that particular information is crucial for the individual or group to exercise their freedoms unless of course, the information is of national security or of private nature.

Access to information in times of crisis a first line weapon against fake news

The COVID pandemic has enabled us to test access policies and benchmark the effectiveness of the right to know during trivial times, as Dunja Mijatovic mentioned. In fact, having easy access to reliable information protects the population from being misled and misinformed, a first-line weapon dismantling popular fake news and conspiracies. Instead, during COVID, access to information has supported citizens in responding adequately to the crisis. Ultimately, transparency is also a trust-building exercise.

Corruption and environmental issues

Information is a weapon against corruption. The Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) is looking at the specific issue of access to official documents in the context of its Fifth Evaluation Round, which focuses on preventing corruption and promoting integrity in central governments and law enforcement agencies. In about a third of the reports published so far, GRECO has recommended the state to improve access to official documents. In regards to the environment, the United Nations Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, commonly referred to as the Aarhus Convention, expands the right of access to information on environmental matters thus complementing the Tromsø Convention. Declaring these policies as the primary tools that empower citizens and defenders to protect the environment we live in.

Good models exist

Most Council of Europe member states have adequate mechanisms regarding the right to information. For example, in Estonia, “the Public Information Act provides for broad disclosure of public information” states Mijatovic. Moreover, “in Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia and several other countries there is an independent oversight body – such as an Information Commissioner – responsible for monitoring and enforcing the right to information, while some other countries entrust Parliamentary Ombudsmen with supervision of the right of access to information”. Finally, “the constitutions of several European countries do indeed guarantee the fundamental right to information.” Nonetheless, there are still in consistent levels of transparency among state institutions or a failure to meet the requirement for proactive disclosure. The entry into force of the Tromso Convention willbe an opportunity to bring back to the table the importance of the right to information and to read just European States practices regarding the enhancement.

Barriers and Challenges

Digitization is still recent, and authorities are not accustomed to dealing openly. There is a sentiment of reservation and caution. Before the advent of the internet, governments enjoyed a level of political efficiency and practical obscurity. Viewing public records required the time and effort of a visit to the records’ physical location and prevented easy access to details of individual files. Openness has made the policy cycle longer, with a more thorough consultation process and debates. The availability of digital documents has caused an unavoidable conflict.

One of the conflicts is a privacy protection and policy safeguards invoked against freedom of information requests. Requirements to provide transparency of activities must be mitigated with national security, individuals’ safety, corporate interests, and citizens’ right to privacy. Finding the right balance is essential to understand how local governments manage the dichotomy between providing open access to their records by maintaining the public’s privacy rights.

Several governments think twice before pursuing transparency policies. Access to information hasn’t been a priority for some of the European States. Mijatovic reported that “filtering of information and delays in responses to freedom of information requests have been observed in several member states”. Although there is a growth in these laws’ popularity, we are always a step behind meeting the supply and demand of information objectives in an era of digitization.

Legal perspectives

Tromso Convention has only been ratified by eleven countries, which are mostly located in Scandinavia (Finland, Norway and Sweden) or in Eastern Europe (Bosnia, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Moldavia and Ukraine). Reading this statement, three questions should come to our minds:

1.    Why not all European states have ratified Tromso Convention?

2.    Why do Scandinavian countries have chosen to ratify the Convention?

3.    Why are most of the Member States from Eastern Europe?

Regarding the first question, the answer resides in the fact that the ones who haven’t taken part in the Convention already have strong national laws protecting freedom of information and don’t need to bother with extra protection and external surveillance. For instance, Germany passed a law in 2005, promoting the unconditional right to access information. Many other European states such as Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France &Poland have similar national law.

Regarding the second question, considering that all Scandinavian countries already have national laws assessing freedom of information, the most likely reason behind their ratification would be symbolic support to the cause or because the Convention’s framework is less restrictive than their national laws.

Finally, concerning the last question, we could suppose that most Eastern countries have an interest in demonstrating themselves as more transparent, more following the rule of law. For example, if we examine Montenegro’s case, we could assume that taking part in the Tromso Convention is a step closer to their accession to the EU in 2025.

As for the reservations that have been made, only Finland, Norway and Sweden have made some noticeable. Regarding Norway, the country declared that “communication with the reigning Family and its Household” will remain private in accordance with Article 3,paragraph 1 of the Convention. This limitation covers something interesting, considering that, as mentioned earlier, access to the data type of legislation was first adopted in order to get access to information held by the King. In parallel, Finland declared that “the provisions of Article 8 of the Convention concerning the review procedure [will] not apply to a decision made by the President of the Republic in response to a request for access to a document. Article 8 provides protection against arbitrary decisions and allows members of the population to assert their right to information. Sweden has made a similarreservation on Article 8 paragraph 1 regarding “decisions taken by the Government, ministers and the Parliamentary Ombudsmen”.

Thoughts towards better implementation

For smoother data access implementation, governments can act on transparency without waiting for legislation through internal bureaucratic policy. These voluntary provisions for openness can be an exercise towards a more organic cultural transformation.

Lengthy debates on open access are entertained by exceptions to access. To be sure, governments have enough legal and political tools to withhold information, regardless of how exemptions have been drafted. Instead, a more productive and efficient process is possible if we concentrate on positive implementation and enforcement, including the procedures for challenges on legal exemptions.

The implementation phase of access laws is challenging due to a lack of leadership motivation, inadequate support for those implementing these requests, especially since they require a long term social and political commitment. To do so, an overall dedication and government bureaucratic cultural shift should take place. Although the implementation of access to information should be included internally in all departments, considering a standardized centralized approach to lead the new regime with authority could send an important message. Record keeping and archiving should be updated to respond to requests with improved information management systems. As such, the goal would be to make a plethora of information immediately and unconditionally available.

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France’s Controversial ‘Separatism’ Bill

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In his very first days at the Elysee Palace, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to detail his views on secularism and Islam in a wide-ranging speech. It took more than three years for this to happen, with the much awaited speech actually taking place in October a week after a teacher was violently killed for revealing the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) during a lecture on freedom of expression. Macron said during his speech that “Islam is a religion which is experiencing a crisis today, all over the world”, adding that there was a need to “free Islam in France from foreign influences”. Mr. Macron and his Parliament allies have described the bill as a reaction to the rise of Islamic separatism, which the President defines as a philosophy that seeks to create a parallel state in France where religious laws replace civil law.  Referring to the cartoons at a citizenship ceremony earlier and before the latest attacks, Macron defended the “right to blasphemy” as a fundamental freedom, even as he condemned “Islamic separatism.”

“To be French is to defend the right to make people laugh, to criticize, to mock, to caricature,” the president said. The proposed law allows religious associations and mosques to report more than €10,000 ($12,000) in international support and to sign a promise to uphold the French republican ideals in order to obtain state subsidies. The bill will also make it possible for the government to close down mosques, organizations and colleges that have been described as criticizing republican values.The controversial bill is blamed for targeting the Muslim people and enforcing limits on nearly every part of their lives. It allows government to oversee the funds of associations and non-governmental organizations belonging to Muslims. It also limits the schooling options of the Muslim community by prohibiting families from providing home education to children. The law also forbids people from selecting physicians on the grounds of gender for religious or other purposes and mandates a compulsory ‘secularism education’ on all elected officials. Physicians will either be charged or jailed under the law if they conduct a virginity test on girls. Critics argue the so-called “separatism law” is racist and threatens the 5.7 million-strong Muslim population in France, the highest in Europe. Its critics include the 100 imams, 50 teachers of Islamic sciences and 50 members of associations in France who signed an open letter against the “unacceptable” charter on 10 February.

A criminal act for online hate speech will make it easier to easily apprehend a person who shares sensitive information about public sector workers on social media with a view to hurting them and will be disciplined by up to three years in jail and a fine of EUR 45.000. The banning or deleting of pages spreading hate speech would now be made smoother and legal action accelerated. The bill expands what is known in France as the ‘neutrality clause,’ which forbids civil servants from displaying religious symbols such as the Muslim veil and holding political opinions, outside public sector workers to all commercial providers in public utilities, such as those working for transport firms.

French Members of Parliament held two weeks of heated debates in the National Assembly. People of Muslim faith interviewed outside the Paris Mosque and around Paris on the outdoor food market before the vote had hardly heard of the rule. “I don’t believe that the Muslims here in France are troublemakers or revolutionaries against France,” said Bahri Ayari, a taxi driver who spoke to AP after prayers inside Paris’ Grand Mosque. “I don’t understand, when one talks about radicalism, what does that mean — radicalism? It’s these people who go to jail, they find themselves with nothing to do, they discuss amongst themselves and they leave prison even more aggressive and then that gets put on the back of Islam. That’s not what a Muslim is,” he added.

Three bodies of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) have unilaterally denounced the “charter of principles” of Islam, which reaffirms the continuity of religion with France. The three parties said that the Charter was accepted without the full consensus of the other integral components of the CFCM, including the provincial and departmental councils and the imams concerned. “We believe that certain passages and formulations of the submitted text are likely to weaken the bonds of trust between the Muslims of France and the nation. In addition, certain statements undermine the honor of Muslims, with an accusatory and marginalizing character,” the Milli Görüş Islamic Confederation (CMIG) and the Faith and Practice movement said in a joint statement. The bill is blamed for targeting the Muslim community and enforcing limits on nearly any part of their lives. It allows for interference in mosques and organizations responsible for the operation of mosques, as well as for the oversight of the funds of associations and non-governmental organizations belonging to Muslims.

It is a difficult time for the nation, which has also accused its protection bill of containing the press freedom. The law introduced aims at making it unlawful to post photographs of police officers in which it is identifiable by “malicious intent” However, law enforcement has criticized the government after the declaration by Macron of the development of an online forum to flag police brutality.

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Why Is Europe Hostile Towards Russia?

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In his seminal 1871 work Russia and Europe, the famous Russian intellectual and Slavophile Nikolay Danilevsky set forth his theory that “Europe recognizes Russia as something alien to itself, and not only alien, but also hostile,” and that Russia’s fundamental interests should act as a “counterweight to Europe.”

One hundred and fifty years have passed since that work was published. The world has changed. No matter what anti-globalists might say, the rapid development of modern technologies and their use in our everyday lives has forced us to re-evaluate many of our beliefs about relations between states and people. The exchange of information, scientific discoveries and knowledge, and the sharing of our cultural wealth bring countries closer together and open up opportunities for development that did not exist before. Artificial intelligence does not know any boundaries and does not differentiate users by gender or nationality. Along with these new opportunities, the world is also faced with new problems that are increasingly supranational in nature and which require our combined efforts to overcome. The coronavirus pandemic is the latest example of this.

It is against the background of these rapid changes, which for obvious reasons cannot unfold without certain consequences, that we can occasionally hear this very same theory that “Europe is hostile towards Russia.” Although the arguments put forward to support this claim today seem far less nuanced than those of Nikolay Danilevsky.

Even so, ignoring this issue is not an option, as doing so would make it extremely difficult to build a serious long-term foreign policy given the prominent role that Europe plays in global affairs.

Before we dive in, I would like to say a few words about the question at hand. Why should Europe love or loathe Russia? Do we have any reason to believe that Russia has any strong feelings, positive or negative, towards another country? These are the kind of words that are used to describe relations between states in the modern, interdependent world. But they are, for the most part, simply unacceptable. Russia’s foreign policy concepts invariably focus on ensuring the country’s security, sovereignty and territorial integrity and creating favourable external conditions for its progressive development.

Russia and Europe have a long history that dates back centuries. And there have been wars and periods of mutually beneficial cooperation along the way. No matter what anyone says, Russia is an inseparable part of Europe, just as Europe cannot be considered “complete” without Russia.

Thus, it is essential to direct intellectual potential not towards destruction, but rather towards the formation of a new kind of relationship, one that reflects modern realities.

At the dawn of the 21st century, it was clear to everyone that, due to objective reasons, Russia would not be able to become a full-fledged member of the military, political and economic associations that existed in Europe at the time, meaning the European Union and NATO. That is why mechanisms were put in place to help the sides build relations and cooperate in various fields. Bilateral relations developed significantly in just a few years as a result. The European Union became Russia’s main foreign economic partner, and channels for mutually beneficial cooperation in many spheres were built.

However, EU-Russia relations have stalled in recent years. In fact, much of the progress that had been made is now being undone. And positive or negative feelings towards one another have nothing to do with it. This is happening because the parties have lost a strategic vision of the future of bilateral relations in a rapidly changing world.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin said that Russia is part of Europe, and that, culturally, Russia and Europe are one civilization. This is the basic premise—one that is not based on emotions—that should underlie Russia’s policy in its relations with Europe.

Russia and the European Union disagree on many things, but the only way to overcome misunderstandings and find opportunities to move forward is through dialogue. In this context, the recent visit of the EU High Representative to Moscow was a much-needed step in the right direction, despite the criticism that this move received from the European side. Nobody was expecting any “breakthroughs” from the visit, as the animosities and misunderstandings between the two sides cut too deep. Yet visits and contacts of this kind should become the norm, for without them we will never see any real progress in bilateral relations.

In addition to the issues that currently fill the agendas of the two sides, attention should be focused on developing a strategic vision of what EU-Russia relations should be in the future, as well as on areas of mutual interest. For example, it is high time that Europe and Russia broached the subject of the compatibility of their respective energy strategies, as well as the possible consequences of the introduction of “green energy” in Europe in terms of economic cooperation with Russia. Otherwise, it will be too late, and instead of a new area of mutually beneficial cooperation, we will have yet another irresolvable problem.

In his work Russia and Europe, Nikolay Danilevsky, while recognizing the good that Peter the Great had done for his country, reproached him for “wanting to make Russia Europe at all costs.” No one would make such accusations today. Russia is, was and always will be an independent actor on the international stage, with its own national interests and priorities. But the only way they can only be realized in full is if the country pursues an active foreign policy. And one of the priorities of that policy is relations with Europe.

From our partner RIAC

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