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One in 300 Million: Serbia After Putin

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Authors: Ekaterina Entina, Dejan Novakovic, Georgy Engelhardt

President Putin’s visit to Belgrade on January 17, 2019 was a significant domestic political event for Serbia, and an “empty” one for Russia in terms of its prospects in the country, given the events of 2018 and the content of the meeting itself.

A Simplified Approach to Assessing the Results of Putin’s Visit

The arrival of the President of the Russian Federation did allow Aleksandar Vučić to demonstrate that he enjoys the support both of Washington (which in many ways is doubtful) and Moscow, a city beloved by a large part of the Serbian population. In terms of domestic politics, this position guarantees that the ruling party will score a convincing victory in the snap parliamentary elections, which could be held as early as this spring. The slogan being used to promote Putin’s visit was “one in 300 million” (a reference to a popular Serbian saying that translates “The Serbs and the Russians, there are 300 million of us, but without the Russians, barely enough to fill half a bus”), which turned into a direct response to the opposition’s phrase “1 in 5 million” (which came about in December 2018 as a reaction to the careless statements of the Serbian leader about the opposition’s rallies) and could be used as a “banner” during the election campaign in the country.

On the other hand, the scale of the open part of the visit clearly did not match the qualitative component. In terms of the size and emotional intensity, Putin’s visit to Belgrade had all the trimmings of a grand performance. Seven hundred journalists, 5000 security service officers, a good part of the Russian cabinet, a squadron of Serbian MiGs to accompany the President’s plane in Belgrade, 120,000 Serbs on the square in front of the Church of Saint Sava chanting “Putin! Putin!” and even two small but indispensable additions to the main program – the timely revelation of an attempted assassination and the free Tsarsky bread in the Maxi shops.

At the same time, the main results of the visit were the streamlined statements about TurkStream, the 21 agreements that will be worth a total of 660 million euros in the future (five of which are concerned with providing electricity to Serbian cities) and the Russian leader’s assertion that the “the resolution of the Kosovo issue should be handled by Belgrade and Pristina, but within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.”

The following outlines what may at first appear to be the main results of Putin’s visit to Belgrade.

A Tie

Putin’s visit to Belgrade, dare we say, was an historical event. It will take some time before we see its effects – either as a solid result in the Balkans or as the end of Russia in the region. Why is that?

Following the 2000 October Revolution in Yugoslavia, which led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević, fierce debates raged in Serbia over why Moscow did nothing to prevent the change of power in Belgrade. They also brought up the fact that Russia “did nothing” in 1995 when Milošević visited Moscow. Just like now, the expectations of ordinary Serbs back then (regardless of what social group they belonged to) were off the charts, and the Serbian leaders wanted to use Moscow to further its own domestic agenda. And, as we all know, there is nothing worse than disappointed expectations.

To be sure, it can be stated that, despite its pomposity, Putin’s visit went off without any global breakthroughs or prodigious gestures. Yet there were many fears about it: that attempts would be made to get Russia to achieve an agreement on the recognition by Belgrade of Kosovo’s independence; that the Serbian side would try to draw Putin into the country’s domestic confrontation; or, more importantly, that the whole deal could undermine pro-Russian sentiments within Serbian society.

The Russian leader managed to avoid the main traps rather skilfully. Putin did say that “Russia is in favour of Belgrade and Pristina achieving a viable and mutually acceptable solution,” words that Aleksandar Vučić had longed to hear, but continued by reiterating Moscow’s position that this should be done “within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.” This is precisely what Vučić’s opponents in Serbia are demanding, including the Kosovo Serbs, who fear that “bold and creative” solutions will actually turn out to be a banal form of capitulation and, instead of appeasement, the benefits of European integration will only lead to further crises and the split of the country.

Putin was equally skilful in his refusals to engage in the domestic political struggle in Serbia. Presenting Vučić with the Order of Alexander Nevsky and praising him for his personal contribution to the development of bilateral relations (which is certainly fair, as Serbia is the only European country that does not display a hint of anti-Russian sentiment at any level), Putin made note of other Serbian greats who had the honour bestowed upon them in the 19th and early 20th centuries – the founder of independent Serbia Miloš Obrenović and the famous Prime Minister Nikola Pašić. However, Putin politely refused to take part in a mass rally organized by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SPP) led by Vučić. The SPP chartered hundreds of buses to bring in activists and employees of government-funded organizations from across the country, attempting to use the meeting with the most popular foreign leader in Serbia to offset the mass protests organized by the opposition. Despite Vučić’s persistence, as well as the fact that Putin’s participation in the rally had been announced a week before his visit to Belgrade, the Russian leader merely thanked the people for their friendly attitude towards Russia. Refusing to support either of the sides in the domestic political confrontation helped prevent any damage being done to the Russophile portion of the opposition. It would seem that, in terms of its positions, Moscow did not lose anything from Putin’s Belgrade visit. But did it win anything? That is the question.

In order to answer this question, it is important to understand the regional context in which the official visit took place.

The Regional Dimension

The Macedonian parliament recently passed a vote on changing the country’s name to the “Republic of North Macedonia,” opening the way to NATO and EU membership. The Hellenic Parliament has not yet voted on the issue. It will do so on January 25, 2019.

Two days before Putin’s visit to Serbia, the U.S. administration addressed the request to lift the customs barriers imposed on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to Kosovo Albanians. The pressure on the Kosovan authorities to take part in the hearings on the atrocities of the 1990s is thus increasing. Such actions, as well as the developments of the past six months, demonstrate that Washington sees itself as the main arbiter and future guardian of the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. Donald Trump was candid about this in his December 2018 letters to President of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić.

At the same time, the Kosovan and Albanian authorities bilaterally abolished the border regime between the two countries and implemented joint control over crossings, meaning that the two countries have de facto entered the final stages of the “Greater Albania” project. It would seem that such steps would logically put the issue over other “great” countries (for example, Serbia and Croatia) on the agenda too. But we should not count on this right now, as, unlike the Albanians, Belgrade and Zagreb do not have great power behind them.

The only thing that is new in Serbia–Croatia relations are the reasons for the tensions. Tensions themselves are part and parcel of the relationship between the two countries.

In this context, symbolism surrounded the Russian President’s visit to Belgrade. Aleksandar Vučić presented Putin with a Šarplaninac (also known as a Yugoslavian Shepherd Dog, a Macedonian Shepherd Dog and a Kosovan Shepherd Dog). Does it mean he presented Kosovo to Moscow? Probably not. However, it was almost certainly an invitation to step up efforts and an attempt to shift part of the responsibility for the outcome of the negotiations regarding the region onto Russia.

What is more, in the context of the regional trends mentioned above, Putin’s visit can be interpreted not only and not so much as Russia demonstrating its support for Vučić and Serbia, but rather as a meeting with all the region’s Serbian leaders (the leader of the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik, the leaders of the Montenegrin opposition Andrija Mandić and Goran Danilović, and the leader of the Serbs in Macedonia Ivan Stoilković). For the first time ever, Putin, albeit it in passing, touched upon the issue of the fragmentation of the Serbian people across a number of states: “There was an attempt to pull the Serbian people about and scatter them across different states, but these decisions are unlikely to be durable if they are not fair.”

What Can Russia Get out of Putin’s Visit?

On the one hand, everything we have mentioned so far can be used to marginalize Moscow’s role in the region.

The ruling party in Serbia will, through the state-controlled media, paint the visit as support for its efforts to cut the “Kosovan knot” and one of the main trump cards for possible parliamentary elections in the future. In this sense, it will tear out a part of the pro-Russian opposition’s program, which is actively participating in the “Union for Serbia” movement, and also deprive it of its main argument that “the government pursues the treacherous policy of recognizing Kosovo and acceding to both the European Union and NATO.” In reality, while Aleksandar Vučić consistently rejects the prospect of Serbia joining NATO, it is clear that the pressure on Belgrade continues to grow. Before Putin’s arrival, the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Serbia reported that negotiations on the second phase of the Individual Partnership Action Plans (IPAP) with NATO had been successful.

Both a final solution to problem of Macedonia’s name and NATO pressure on Bosnia and Herzegovina indirectly point to the Alliance strengthening its positions in the region. The only recourse available to Belgrad would be either joining NATO or secession of Republika Srpska and work for the creation of the so-called “Great Serbia” as the Albanians do.

The pompousness with which the President of the Russian Federation was received will, from a moral point of view, allow European bureaucracy and the western media to double down on its campaign to stigmatize Russia in the region and accelerate the integration of the Balkans into NATO. At the same time, the economic results of the visit, which have been described by the well-known saying “the mountain gave birth to a mouse,” open the way to marginalizing Russia’s role in the economic structure of the region and the pedalling of this fact on the part of the European Union. We must admit that Aleksandar Vučić covered all the bases here: in the run-up to the visit, he assured all the European ambassadors that Putin’s arrival in Belgrade was in no way connected to Serbia’s main desire – to become a member of the EU. The fact that Russia and Serbia have not yet managed to complete technical negotiations on the creation of a free trade area between the latter and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which were launched back in 2015, is further evidence of this.

At the same time, the absence of economic breakthroughs indicates that the visit was needed primarily by Belgrade, which had fought so hard for it to take place. The contractual agreements that were reached do, however, demonstrate that Russian business has an interest in the Serbian market. Also, while “digitalization” is seen by many in both countries as a “modern toy of the authorities,” the agreements give IT companies certain opportunities: Russian companies will gain access to the Serbian market and Serbian developers will be involved in Russian projects.

Most importantly, the visit clearly demonstrated to the West that, politically speaking, Russia has no intention of leaving the Balkans, that it understands the intricacies of the domestic political situation and uses them elegantly. Through Serbia (and not only Serbia, like in Slovenia), Russia has influence and weight in all the countries in that region. And the main thing (in terms of it going against the Western concept of economic dominance) is that Russia’s lack of economic influence in the region continues to be compensated quite easily by its historical power and the psychological and emotional communality shared by the Russian and Serbian peoples. It is possible that such a timely visit from the Russian patriarch to the region could bridge the financial void in the Russia–Serbia story.

However, in the short term, all of this default potential may sink into oblivion if Russia does not find a way to become actively involved in the resolution of the Kosovo issue, and in the ethnic issues in the region as a whole. It would be wise for Moscow to include a number of questions on the agenda:

  • Why do the European Union and NATO tolerate this kind of Balkans (stagnating politically and economically, and thus combustible and living exclusively in the past)?
  • Why does the inclusion of the United States and the United Kingdom in the negotiations on Kosovo does not mean inclusion of Russia?
  • Why do both the United States and the European Union turn a blind eye to the growing tension in the region (the emerging split between the Orthodox Church and the radicalization of the Islamic environment)?

Moscow should then propose searching for answers to these questions within the framework of a new international conference on the Balkans.

*Dejan Novakovic President of the Adriatic Council (Belgrade, Serbia), Georgy Engelhardt Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

First published in our partner RIAC

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Disconnecting From SWIFT? No, We Did Not Hear About It

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Photo: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

The European Parliament has adopted another resolution on Russia. It reflects the key political claims against Moscow which have recently been on the Union’s official agenda. These include the aggravation of the situation in Ukraine, the “Navalny case”, the diplomatic scandal between Russia and the Czech Republic concerning the explosion of a military warehouse in 2014. The resolution contained radical proposals. Disconnect Russia from SWIFT and stop imports of energy resources in the event of an aggravation of the conflict in Donbass, reconsider relations between Russia and the EU, develop new sanctions regimes, etc. These proposals generated headlines in the media. However, the stock markets ignored them. The resolution did not cause any fluctuations of the ruble or Russian blue chips. Why did this happen and should the resolution be taken seriously?

At first glance, the resolution confirms that high consensus of one of the key (along with the EU Council) legislative bodies of the EU. It was adopted by 569 votes in favour, 67 against, and with 46 abstentions. Kiev and Prague welcome the resolution. Their political positions are uncompromisingly reflected in the document, although, for example, in the case of the explosion at a Czech military depot, there is no consensus, even in the Czech Republic itself. Not to mention the situation around Donbass, where the military build-up was carried out on both sides. According to an already established tradition, Russia is declared guilty of all obvious and perceived problems. Naturally, the document also reflects the “Navalny case”. Earlier, the European Parliament had already issued two resolutions. One in connection with the alleged poisoning, and the other after the arrest of the Russian opposition YouTuber Navalny. Tough measures against Moscow were proposed in previous resolutions as well. In some ways, their intention is consistent with American bills on “draconian sanctions”, such as DASKA: to designate a “lowest denominator” and possible measures that the European Union could potentially take. The threat of disconnection from SWIFT was the “icing on the cake”, which, as expected, was popular in the media success.

However, the markets ignored the resolution of the European Parliament. There are several reasons for this.

First, the period of aggravation of the situation in Donbass is clearly over. Yes, the problem itself has not been resolved. The conflict will smoulder for a long time, and new rounds of escalation will be still felt. There are no prospects for the implementation of the Minsk agreements. However, the prospect of an open military clash, which loomed on the horizon a month ago, has receded into the background. Ukrainian diplomacy was unable to achieve progress towards the revision of the Minsk agreements, although it temporarily returned the topic of Donbass to the political and media mainstream. Russia has shown that it is ready to balance the military build-up in Donbass without hesitation and to respond to a possible attempted military solution. The next round of exacerbation has so far fizzled out without leading to qualitative changes in the sanctions regime against Russia, or in the political positions of the parties.

Second, the radical proposals of the European Parliament are unlikely to find a response in the European Commission and the EU Council. The head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, has already noted that decisions on restrictions on SWIFT and Nord Stream 2 are not within the competence of the European Union. It is obvious that disconnecting Russia from SWIFT will lead to colossal losses for both Russian business and EU companies doing business with Russia. The refusal to purchase Russian energy resources will also lead to significant costs. The Nord Stream 2 project remains in the interests of the European Union and Germany. Moreover, the disconnection from SWIFT, taking into account its consequences for the Russian economy, can simply be perceived by Moscow as an act of aggression with all the ensuing political consequences. The EU is losing the opportunity to strengthen and promote the role of the euro as a more desirable instrument for international payments. In particular, the share of the euro is likely to grow in trade between Russia and the PRC, ousting the US dollar. Manipulation with SWIFT will hurt Brussels’ plans to promote the euro globally.

Finally, thirdly, the real magnitude of the political contradictions between Moscow and Brussels is clearly not up to such radical steps. Yes, relations between Russia and the EU are in a deplorable state. The political dialogue periodically breaks down amid mutual accusations. There are no ways to resolve the most serious contradictions so far. However, the “level of support” of the existing, albeit bad, relations is still strong and its “breakdown to the bottom” has not yet taken place, even despite a number of recent local shocks. The “warehouse case” in the Czech Republic has not generated a pan-European chain reaction and has mostly damaged bilateral relations between Moscow and Prague. Most of the EU members are not eager to get involved in this scandal. The Navalny case will remain a toxic asset for a long time to come. But it, too, has not yet led to fundamental shifts. As for Ukraine, Moscow is clearly not eager to get involved in a military conflict, although it has demonstrated its force. To a certain extent, such demonstrations even reduce the likelihood of a violent scenario in the resolution of the conflict. At the same time, they do not bring political solutions closer. In general, the existing problems are large-scale. Their cumulative effect will increase. But its weight for the measures proposed in the European Parliament resolution is clearly not enough.

The only innovation that currently has a political perspective is the proposal for a new sanctions mechanism on corruption. A similar mechanism has recently been established in the UK. It involves freezing the assets of persons suspected having ties to corruption. The European Commission may well develop proposals for such a mechanism and submit it to the EU Council for consideration. The chances of its approval are very high. However, even if it is used against Russian individuals, its impact on economic ties between the EU and Russia will be extremely low. This may be the reason for the possible success of such an idea. The European Commission and the EU Council will show that they are loyal to at least some of the requirements of the European Parliament. At the same time, the use of the mechanism will remain in their hands, and the risks for the business will be minimal.

Moscow will also draw its conclusions from the rhetorical exercises of the European Parliament. Despite the fact that the risks of it implementing the recommendations of parliamentarians are negligible, this is another incentive for the Russian authorities to continue working on an alternative financial infrastructure in partnership with their foreign partners, who are also the target of unilateral restrictive measures.

From our partner RIAC

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When diplomacy cannot get the best of geopolitics: Cyprus’s lack of a way forward

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The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) controls the buffer zone between the opposing sides. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

On April 24, people from both sides gather in proximity of the demarcation line splitting the capital, Nicosia, in two. Near this highly-contest frontier, Turk and Greek Cypriots alike demanded their leaders achieved the hoary aim of a united Cyprus. The most common motto protestors had written on their placards was a call for peace and unity across ethnic divides: We are Cypriots. This hopeful, determined appeal was addressed to the then-upcoming UN-sponsored meeting between the leaders of the two communities in Geneve. Three international guarantors partook also in the meeting: the UK as the former coloniser and, obviously enough, Greece and Turkey.

Introduction

Four years have passed since the UN hosted in Geneve peace talks on the future of Cyprus — and their collapse. Failed mediations are also due, in part, to the great power imbalance between the two sides. The so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’s only ally and supporter is Turkey, on which it is “almost completely dependent”. On the other hand, the Greek-Cypriot government is internationally recognised and a member of the European Union since 2003. Yet, Secretary General Antonio Guterres is putting renewed energies in the long-standing issue that thorns the region. But, according to many commentators there were little to no hopes that anything concrete would be achieved. Actually, the positions at the negotiating table seem more divergent they have ever been and peaceful unification farthest than ever.

The Cypriot question is highly internationalised, which makes its resolution easier and harder at the same time. History can reveal why this is the case. and, hopefully, shed a light on the way forward.

A long-standing issue

Commentators and diplomats began talking compulsively about the island of Cyprus as a hotspot in the Eastern Mediterranean in 1974. Yet, any solution must account for the fact that Cyprus’s problematic history goes back well before that year.

The way to independence (1960)

In the modern and early-contemporary period (16th–19th century), the Ottoman Empire’s wider frame of ethnic coexistence guaranteed Cyprus’s stability. Turks and Greek were actually just Rum Christians and Muslims, and the Sultan vied for their diversified rights and obligations. The Porte experienced a deep crisis in the runup to the Great War, accepting to cede many peripheral territories. Thus, the British Empire administered the island of Cyprus from 1878 to the island’s formal annexation during in the 1910s. Nevertheless, the two communities still cohabited peacefully for several decades. If anything, Greek Cypriots started fighting against the Brits using terroristic methods.

Cohabitation started to be a problem when Cyprus became independent in 1960. In order to ensure that the region would not descend into utter chaos, there was the need for an agreement. Hence, Britain sat down with Greece and Turkey to establish the framework within which to establish the Republic of Cyprus. Athens had to backtrack on many of its requests on behalf the Greek Cypriot majority. Eventually, principles of bi-national independence, political equality and administrative partnership the two communities prevailed and became part of the constitution.

More importantly, the three signed a controversial Treaty of Guarantee reminiscent of colonial mandates. According to this agreement, each of the signatories could intervene militarily to defend Cyprus’s status from any sort of threats.

Ethnic conflicts (1963–1974)

Tensions escalated immediately after, with Greek Cypriot leaders making pressing attempts to erode their neighbour’s representation and rights. Finally, in 1963’s Bloody Christmas, Greek elites staged the expulsion of Turkish Cypriot representatives from all levels of government. As a result, about 25% of all Turkish Cypriots had to leave their villages for safer Turkish “enclaves”. That year inaugurated a season of inter-ethnic strife and conflict on the Mediterranean island. The situation was so dire that the UN stationed its blue helmets on a peace-keeping mission in December 1963.

The turning point of Cyprus’s recent history is 1974, when the Greek government organised and carried out an artless golpe. Back then, the colonels who animated the military junta sitting in Athens felt that power was slipping away from them. Clearly, the economy was in ruinous conditions and people started to grow unresponsive to the colonels’ efforts to repress discontent. Thus, they thought Greek nationalist fractions’ victorious insurrection in Cyprus and the island’s annexation would have raised morale.

But the situation evolved for the worse as Athens’s actions violated of 1960 agreement with Ankara and London. In a swift counter-manoeuvre, the Turkish army occupied the island invoking its right of interference under the Treaty of Guarantee. For determined it could be, the Greek junta could not afford the risk of a full-scale confrontation with Turkey. Not least, because they are both formally member of NATO, a cornerstone of the Cold War’s bipolar system of alliances. Therefore, the Turkish-majority northern half of the island was able to seceded from the Greek-dominated south thanks to Ankara’s support.

State of the art

The brief war of 1974 marked the pike in Greek-Turkish tensions and determined the current status quo on the island. Fortunately, both sides have been taking steps towards the normalisation of South-North relations. For instance, since 2003 it is possible to cross the frontier roughly established almost half a century ago. Moreover, the situation has stabilised and the number of inter-ethnic clashes diminished in the last 50 years. Thus, the international contingent in the ‘buffer zone’ dividing the capital Nicosia in two is now thinner than ever before.

Nevertheless, Cyprus is still divided into two parts which find it difficult to talk to one another. Thus, there are not a lot of reasons to be optimistic for those who aspire to the Cyprus’s reunification. In 2004, on the eve of Greek Cyprus’s accession to the EU, two contemporaneous referendums took place on the island. The question voters had to answer regarded the so-called Annan Plan, named after then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The Plan foresaw joining the two current entities in a State federal in name, but de facto confederal.  Cypriots went to the polls en masse: 87.83% of registered voters went to the polls across the island. Of them, about 65% of Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of the Plan, which they approved. Yet, over 75% of Greek Cypriots who voted were against the proposal, which both communities had to approve.

In the last few years, the North has also retrenched in its positions, possibly in response to the Greeks’ ‘No’. Last in order of time, Northern Cypriot elected as head of State Ersin Tatar, a protégé of Erdogan, Turkey’s President.

Conclusion — Peace talks won’t solve the issue

Against this background, Greek and Turkish Cypriot authorities’ approach to these renewed peace talks is unexpected. The Greek Cypriot foreign minister, Nicos Christoduidis, declared that the negotiations’ aimed at “Cyprus’ reunification as a bizonal bicommunal federation.” At the same time, Greek Cypriot President, Nicos Anastasiades, has started to acknowledge the need for a “decentralised federation”. That is, the sort of surreptitious confederal project laid out in the Annan Plan.

On the other hand, Northern Cyprus’s foreign minister Tachsin Ertugruloglu, argued that the “solution is: one island, two states.” President Tatar echoed these remarks arguing that there are two “separate regions and peoples in Cyprus.”Symbolically, Tatar stopped in Ankara to meet President Erdogan before reaching Geneve for the UN’s three-day talks.

Figure 5 Turkey’s planned pipelines in the Eastern Mediterranean cross Greek and Cypriot waters. © Steven Bernard via Financial Times

After several days of fruitless negotiations, Guterres declared that despite “all our efforts, we have not yet found enough points of contact to allow the resumption of formal negotiations.” But he has also proposed a new meeting in the same format “probably in two or three months.”  Yet, these endeavours will fail again unless the situation on the ground changes drastically in or around Cyrus. As a matter of fact, the real power broker in this game in now Turkey’s Erdogan. When he first became Prime Minister, Erdogan looked for a peaceful resolution to the Cypriot issue and accession to the EU. However, since 2011 he has undergone a change of heart turning more illiberal at home and reckless abroad. Most recently, Erdogan’s Turkey has irresponsibly reignited the tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, by claiming gas fields located in Cyprus’s and Greece’s economic areas.

Thus, Cyprus may have ceased to be a piece of the larger puzzle called ‘Cold War’. But the island’s division has found a new raison d’être in this complex, quasi-multipolar 21st century. A new geo-political and geo-economic confrontation has started and Turkish Cypriot authorities are playing their part.

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Covid-19-Policy Contest Between Libertarianism v. Socialism: The Latest Results

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Early in the “coronavirus-19” — subsequently called “Covid-19” — pandemic, Denmark and Sweden were often being compared with one-another because both are Scandinavian countries, but on 13 March 2020, Denmark had started a lockdown and imposed strict recommendations for businesses and personal behavior, whereas Sweden did nothing of the sort, and so the two countries were considered to be especially suitable to serve as being an almost controlled experiment in what the results would be of socialism versus libertarianism in social policy (regulations) regarding a communicable disease.

On 26 March 2020, EuroNews headlined “Neighbours Denmark and Sweden miles apart on coronavirus confinement”. Whereas both countries had socialized healthcare, and were also otherwise generally considered to be similar, Sweden was pursuing Europe’s most libertarian policies on coronavirus or Covid-19, and yet Denmark had a 15% higher percentage of its population who had come down with that disease. On 29 June 2020, I headlined “‘Herd Immunity’ Is a Failed Response to Coronavirus: Comparing Denmark versus Sweden on Coronavirus,” and reported that in early April Sweden’s population-percentage who had the disease had switched (increased so fast as) to become 14% higher there than Denmark’s population-percentage who had Covid-19, and that Sweden’s percentage was also increasing much more quickly than Denmark’s. And, so, at that time, as of 28 June 2020, Sweden had 2.5 times as high a percentage of its population who had contracted the disease, as compared with Denmark’s percentage. There were 131 reader-comments to that news-report, at Reddit, and they were overwhelmingly in denial, and pro-libertarian, anti-socialist, though each comment had a different excuse for their reality-denial.

CNN headlined on 28 May 2020 “Sweden says its coronavirus approach has worked. The numbers suggest a different story” and made clear that, at least up till that moment in time, Sweden’s approach was a failure, not only in competition as compared to Denmark’s, but globally.

Then, on 12 May 2020, Foreign Affairs, the prestigious journal of America’s Council on Foreign Relations, bannered “Sweden’s Coronavirus Strategy Will Soon Be the World’s: Herd Immunity Is the Only Realistic Option—the Question Is How to Get There Safely”, and presented the standard libertarian argument: “There are good reasons for countries to begin easing their restrictions. It will take several years to tally the total number of deaths, bankruptcies, layoffs, suicides, mental health problems, losses to GDP and investments, and other costs attributable not just to the virus but to the measures used to fight it. It should already be obvious, however, that the economic and social costs of lockdowns are enormous.” In other words: the best “regulation” is to let nature rule, not to impose any human-imposed regulations, but just “the free market” should reign.

On 7 January 2021, the Scandinavian Journal of Public health headlined “A comparison of COVID-19 epidemiological indicators in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland” and reported that:

Compared with its Nordic peers, Sweden had a higher incidence rate across all ages, a higher COVID-19-related death rate only partially explained by population demographics, a higher death rate in seniors’ care, and higher all-cause mortality. Sweden had approximately half as much mobility change as its Nordic neighbours until April and followed similar rates as its neighbours from April to July. Denmark led its Nordic peers in testing rates, while Sweden had the highest cumulative test-positivity rate continuously from mid-March. …

Looser government restrictions at the beginning of the outbreak are likely to have played a role in the impact of COVID-19 in Sweden. In an effort to improve epidemic control, Sweden has increased testing rates, implemented more restrictive prevention measures, and increased their intensive care unit bed capacity.

Here are the figures as-of 30 April 2021:

Denmark cases per million = 43,282

Sweden cases per million = 95,909

Denmark deaths per million = 428

Sweden deaths per million = 1,384

Denmark March unemployment rate = 4.5%

Sweden unemployment rate = 10.0%

But Denmark versus Sweden aren’t, by any means, the only indicators that libertarianism was failing on Covid-19.

On 1 August 2020, I headlined “India and Brazil Are Now the Global Worst Coronavirus Nations”, and that statement was forward-looking, predictive, and not referring only to the numbers at that time but to where the various nations were heading, and it was referring only to medium-sized and large nations (for example, not to the worst performer of all, Andorra, which currently has 171,029 cases per million and a population of only 77,367 people). (Andorra has had a total of 13,232 cases, which is 17.1% of its entire population. The only country that has a population of over 10 million and which is among the 9 worst — and America scores as being absolutely the world’s 10th-worst — is Czechia, the Czech Republic, which has 152,046 cases per million. At the end of this article, Czechia will be discussed.)

As-of 30 April 2021, the following are the world’s only nations that have had more than 6,000,000,000 Covid-19 cases:

USA = 33,044,872

India = 18,881,587

Brazil = 14,592,886.

Those are now the Covid-19 giants (the worst-performing major countries), which, back on August 1st, is what I was expecting them to be, by the present time. Ultimately, I expect Brazil and India to be scoring even worse than the United States. All three countries have been exceedingly lax in their anti-Covid-19 policies, extraordinarily libertarian regarding this.

On 20 September 2020, I headlined “All 8 of America’s Worst-Hit Coronavirus States Are Now in the South.” That reported “the worst 11 states … are: Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Iowa, Arkansas, and Texas” — and all 11 of them had voted for Donald Trump, the more-libertarian (and losing) candidate, in 2020. The United States therefore provides overwhelming evidence of the failure of libertarianism regarding coronavirus-policies.

On 14 March 2021, I headlined “Republican States Have Higher Covid Rates than Democratic States” and — ranking all from the best (#1) to the worst (#51) — reported that the average state which had voted for Trump scored 33.3 or two-thirds of the way down the list of the 51 states + DC, and that the average state which had voted for Biden scored 19.5 out of the 51.

The more corrupt a country is, the more libertarian it is, and on 5 May 2020, I headlined “America’s Design Causes It to Fail the COVID-19 Challenge” and reported that because America is an extraordinarily corrupt country (very libertarian, as compared to other nations), “America is designed so as to fail the coronavirus-19 challenge. The power of big-money (concentrated wealth) is destroying this country. It controls both Parties and their respective media, so the public don’t know (and certainly cannot understand) the types of realities that are being reported (and linked-to) here.”

India and Brazil are nipping at America’s heels on this, but, still, the record up till the present moment shows America as still retaining its title as being the worst of all major nations on coronavirus-performance.

Finally, here, will be considered what might be the strongest exception to the general principle that libertarian policies are inferior to socialistic policies in order to control and limit a pandemic: Czechia. Wikipedia’s article “COVID-19 pandemic in the Czech Republic” says:

The Czech Republic was the first[11] European country to make the wearing of face masks mandatory from 19 March onwards.[12]COVID-19 testing was made widely available with drive-through locations from 14 March,[13] and from 27 March anyone with a fever, dry cough or shortness of breath was eligible for a free test.[14] From 13 April onwards, COVID-19 testing capacity significantly surpassed demand.[15] Contact tracing in the country also included voluntary disclosure of mobile phone position and debit card payments data for previous days and the quarantining of identified contacts.[16] By 1 May 2020, altogether 257 COVID-19-related deaths were identified in the Czech Republic compared to 2,719 in similarly populous Sweden, which did not impose a full lockdown. However, Belgium, also with a similar population, had suffered 7,866 deaths at that time, despite having implemented an early and strict lockdown. …

By April 2021, the Czech Republic has recorded the highest confirmed death rate in the world after Hungary. There are some root causes speculated.

None of those proposed explanations of this is any sort of scientific explanation for it. A great deal remains that is important to know but that is currently unknown about Covid-19. Obviously, Czechia is the most challenging case, not because it is the worst, but because it has been a leader in adherence to international guidelines but has nonetheless disastrously failed on this virus. If that’s not a warning for the world to do lots more research on the Covid-19 problem, then nothing is.

NOTICE TO LIBERTARIANS: Libertarian ‘news’-media often try to obfuscate the importance of the Covid-19 results in the various countries by pretending that a Covid-19 “case” means merely someone who has tested positive for having become infected by the virus, but that is very definitely NOT TRUE. Like virtually all libertarian beliefs, that belieff is based upon wishful thinking in order to dismiss and discredit scientific findings which are inconsistent with those beliefs. In fact, the “2020 Interim Case Definition, Approved April 5, 2020” (and still in force as-of 2 May 2020) makes crystal clear that the definition of a Covid-19 “case” is VERY DIFFERENT FROM AND FAR MORE RESTRICTIVE THAN merely having the infection. Libertarians want to be deceived, because they want to continue believing the myths that they cling to, but news-media try to exploit those ‘free market’ myths in order to build their own following (and to please the ‘free market’ winners — the billionaires — who benefit by having as large a percentage of the public as possible be deceived into believing the ‘free market’ myth (that they became so wealthy by virtue of their virtue and genius, instead of by their cunning and psychopathy). Justice in this world is the opposite of natural: it is un-natural and can be imposed only by careful skepticism and scientific human planning, not by any ‘invisible hand’ of anyone, or any group of people, who constitute an actual Deep State. They own and control the mainstream ‘news’-media and many of the non-mainstream ‘news’-media, and also the vast majority of members of Congress and other key government officials, but that’s the opposite of justice; it is, instead, institutionalized injustice. Libertarianism and corruption go hand-in-hand, and always will. (Outside the United States, libertarianism is more commonly called “neoliberalism”, but it’s the same thing.)

Author’s note: first posted at Strategic Culture

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