Can Italy’s “Government of Change” Change All of Europe?
March 1st marks nine months to the day since the new Italian “government of change” came to power. Few in Europe would have believed that Italy, one of the EU founding states which had been governed by centrist cabinets for over 30 years, would end up with a coalition of right- and left-wing Eurosceptics, who would be calling for a revision of the fundamental principles of European integration. Even fewer believed that this coalition would hold out for more than six months while continuing to enjoy the support of over 60% of Italians. Today, Paris and Berlin refer to the new Italian government as Europe’s new leprosy, and Brussels is bracing for the European Parliament election this coming May, where the “Third International” represented by Eurosceptics, populists, nationalists, and “sovereigntists” from Poland, Hungary, and France, led by Italian agents provocateur, is expected to stage a European revolution. The Italians are undermining European solidarity from within by questioning the rules of financial discipline, the EU’s ability to tackle migration, and the advisability of sanctions against Russia. They are also damaging the EU’s reputation outside the union’s borders by publicly criticizing Brussels’ helpless policy in Africa and France’s “neo-colonialism”, by openly supporting the protest movement within France, by vetoing the EU’s common stance on Venezuela, and by allowing the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which are not recognized elsewhere in the EU, to open representative offices in Italy. Now, nine months on, it appears that the EU has its own enfant terrible…
Nine months in power: migration stemmed but economy in technical recession
The main election slogan of the “government of change” was that Italy should become more independent in resolving its domestic problems and securing its interests in the international arena. The key domestic issues were economic development and migration. The primary foreign issues were ensuring border security and building economic relations with countries outside the EU based on the interests of Italian business. This agenda was largely dictated by actual public demand. According to research, between 2013 and 2017, the share of Italians who view border security and curbing migration as the key national objectives ballooned from 30% to 66%. By the time the new coalition came to power, a majority of Italians disapproved of the migration policy being pursued by the previous center-left government and perceived a direct link between illegal migration and terrorism. The number of persons deported on suspicion of extremism had skyrocketed, from just two in 2002 to 106 in 2018. Polls conducted in 2017 and early 2018 indicated that 82% of the population did not believe that Italy could have any influence whatsoever on the drafting of a common European policy.
Ever since coming to power, the “government of change” has been persistently trying to influence changes to the EU migration policy. On the eve of the June 28–29 EU summit in 2018, Italy stopped allowing ships carrying rescued migrants to enter its ports and issued an ultimatum to Brussels, which included several specific proposals for creating “joint responsibility” for migration within the EU. The demands included a revision of the Dublin agreement; the maximum responsibility of the country of first entry; setting up EU-run migrant reception centers in coastal countries; and revising the rules of migrant resettlement between EU countries, among other things. After the summit, Giuseppe Conte stated: “Italy is no longer alone!” However, after a while it became obvious that the agreements that had been reached were as far from being implemented in practice as they had been in June 2018.
Then, in the autumn of 2018, the new government began to go it alone. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini closed Italian ports to non-governmental organizations, accusing the latter of smuggling people into the country. In addition, the so-called law on security (Decreto Sicurezza) was adopted in October, which revised the rules for granting asylum, the reasons for denying refugee status as well as the rules and terms of detention at refugee reception centers. This independent behavior on the part of the Italian authorities caused outrage not only in Brussels, Paris, and Berlin but also in the UN, as the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the Italian security law failed to comply with international law.
Nevertheless, surveys conducted in late 2018 suggested that the new Italian government had achieved its objective: only 16% of the respondents still believed that immigration posed a key threat to the country, even though 43% were still worried about it. Salvini regularly reports decreasing numbers of newly arrived migrants and growing numbers of those deported. The agency Frontex reports that only 150 migrants arrived in Italy in January 2019, down 96% year-on-year, and that the number of persons deported has already exceeded the number of new arrivals.
The Ipsos statistical survey published in January 2019 indicates that one out of every two Italians (51%) supports the government’s hard line on migrants, including the closure of sea ports, and only 19% of the respondents are not opposed to migrants making landfall in Italy. In fact, 60% of those polled believe that the migration policy is the prerogative of the Italian people and not the EU. That said, society remains split as to the safety law, with 43% supporting Salvini and 38% opposing his move. In addition, 55% of the population sees a difference in the approaches to migration of the Five Star Movement and Salvini’s League, with only 25% considering them to be similar. In other words, Italians tend to mainly attribute the resolution of the migration crisis to Salvini, which certainly boosts the popularity of his party. According to surveys published on February 11, 2019, the League’s approval rating stood at 33.8%, whereas the rating of the Five Star Movement was at 23.3% and continuing on a downward trajectory. Salvini has promised to propose a new migration bill this coming spring, this one dealing with migrant labour and seasonal workers.
In the economic sphere, however, the new government cannot yet boast about any breakthroughs. It came to power at a time when the country’s national debt amounted to a record 132% of GDP. The neoliberal course imposed on the country by EU financial institutions, Paris, and Berlin since 2011 had failed to help Italy overcome the 2008 eurozone crisis, which had effectively stripped Greece of its economic sovereignty. The 2016 and 2017 economic indicators are illustrative of why Italians chose a different course in March 2018 by supporting the Five Star Movement and the League. According to ISTAT, 46.1% of Italians could not afford a week’s leave in 2016; 16.5% could not afford heating in their homes; 14.6% could not afford to buy fish or meat every other day; and 32.4% said they were having difficulties making their monthly salary last until the next paycheck. The intra-regional imbalance that is so characteristic of Italy has also refused to go away. In 2007, the difference in per-capita GDP between the southern and northern provinces stood at EUR 14,255; by 2015, it had grown to EUR 14,905. The unemployment disparity also grew, from 20.1 percentage points in 2007 to 22.5 in 2016. In 2015, 42.7% of those residing in the south of the country were living just above the poverty line.
Italy’s national debt dynamics (as a % of GDP)
Italy’s per-capita GDP (in USD)
Budget deficit dynamics
Unemployment in 2018
2017 per-capita GDP by region in current prices (EUR)
2011–17 per-capita GDP dynamics by region (EUR 1,000)
In this situation, the “government of change”, having garnered the support of about 60% of the electorate, began to revise the fiscal austerity measures imposed by Brussels and implement de-facto Keynesian policies primarily focused on social and economic support for the vulnerable strata of the population as well as for small- and medium-sized businesses. It should be noted that their election promises had been much bolder. In particular, while still forming the yellow-green coalition, the proposal for Italy pulling out from the eurozone was taken off the agenda, and Giuseppe Conte has since repeatedly stated that Italy is not considering this move. This is precisely why Paolo Savona, who had described the euro as “a noose around Italy’s neck”, was never appointed economics minister in the new government. Conte has also repeatedly stressed that Italy is not pondering an “Italexit”.
Despite the significant backwards step taken on the euro and Italy’s presence in the EU, the protracted confrontation with Brussels that run from October through December 2018 resulted in the “government of change” adopting a 2019 budget which still fitted the logic of the coalition’s election promises. Even though Brussels did not allow Italy to set the acceptable budget deficit at 2.4% (the EU demanded 2.04%), the government still allocated financial reserves for introducing a guaranteed basic income for citizens, conducting a pension reform (the so-called Quota 100), and revising the taxation system, even in smaller amounts than originally planned.
It is obvious, however, that these measures of economic support for the population will not yield quick results by way of stimulating economic growth. In addition, society is split on whether the steps that have been taken can contribute to economic development. Surveys indicate that only four out of ten Italians are happy with the planned introduction of the basic income, while 55% do not support this measure.
Meanwhile, Italy is now in a technical recession based on the negative GDP dynamics seen for six months in a row (GDP stood at -0.2% for 4Q 2018). EU officials immediately reacted along the lines of “I told you so!”; in February 2019, they issued an even more pessimistic forecast for Italy’s 2019 GDP, predicting growth of no more than 0.2%, the lowest figure among all EU countries. Pierre Moscovici, the EU European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, promised that Brussels would be closely monitoring Italy’s economic dynamics. He added that the country’s economy was not yet demonstrating any signs of recovery, despite the new government’s measures to support domestic demand. Moscovici also noted that the EU had effectively rescued Italy from an even worse-case scenario by prohibiting it to adopt the original budget, which implied a deficit of 2.4%.
The economic measures introduced by the Italian government at the very end of 2018 were not the main cause of the GDP slowdown in the third and fourth quarters of that year. Rather, it was caused by the economic policies that had been pursued by the previous governments. Nevertheless, the protracted conflict with Brussels over the budget plan and the threat of EU sanctions against Italy for its failure to comply with financial discipline rules certainly played a part in international rating agencies downgrading Italy’s ranking as well as in the increased volatility on financial markets in 2018. One thing is clear: if the economic situation in Italy does not begin to improve soon, this will give Brussels additional leverage in its fight not only against the Italian “sovereighnists” but also against Eurosceptic forces in other countries who are calling for a revision of the EU financial discipline regulations. Within Italy, people are seriously concerned about the economic situation: in late 2018, 55% of the population cited the economic crisis as the main threat to the country. A lack of positive economic changes soon could seriously affect the government coalition’s standing both inside and outside the country.
Whatever the case, the EU will still have to rescue the Italian economy. This is understandable: if the UK leaves, Italy will become the EU’s third largest economy, accounting for 15% of the Union’s total GDP. However, Brussels is growing ever more reluctant to save Rome: the EU has built up too much criticism of Italy over the past nine months: not only over the country’s failure to observe financial discipline and its stern migration policy but also because Italy has been discrediting the EU in the international arena.
Italy in the global arena: massive turmoil
During its first nine months in power, the Italian ‘government of change’ caused Brussels numerous headaches with its ‘sovereign’ foreign policy.
Conte became U.S. President Donald Trump’s greatest supporter in Western Europe. Trump’s first visit to Europe began in Italy. In 2018, Conte and Trump met at the G7 and NATO summits. Trump visited Italy in May, and Conte visited the White House in July. The U.S. president described his Italian counterpart as a “really great guy” who “will do a great job,” adding that “the people of Italy got it right”. It is no secret that the two leaders share a common view on migration: Trump has repeatedly expressed his approval for the border security measures taken by the Italian authorities. Conte supported Trump’s calls in the summer of 2018 for Russia to be accepted back into the G7, although none of the other G7 member states supported the idea. Trump also delegated to Italy the authority to manage the Libyan settlement, which understandably annoyed France, Italy’s long-standing rival in that country. It is no secret that Paris, Berlin, and Brussels view the new Italian government and Trump as the same breed of leprosy, which must be fought at any cost.
Italy’s relations with France had been steadily deteriorating under the yellow-green coalition. Things hit a diplomatic rock bottom on February 7, 2019, when Paris recalled its ambassador from Rome, citing months of “groundless attacks” by the Italian authorities. The last time such a thing had happened between the two countries was back in 1940, when Fascist Italy entered World War II against France and the UK on the side of Nazi Germany. This time around, the last straw came in the form of Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio meeting with the leaders of the French yellow vest movement, who continue to protest the national authorities’ policies. France accused Italy of interfering in the country’s domestic affairs, but this came after Rome’s repeated allegations to the effect that France was violating Italy’s own national sovereignty. In March 2018, the actions of French police in an Italian refugee camp in Bardonecchia resulted in a major controversy. The countries continue to attack each other over migration issues. Macron described Italy’s refusal in June 2018 to accept refugees from the vessel Aquarius as “cynical and irresponsible”. Italy, for its part, regularly accuses France of deliberately returning migrants to the border with Italy near the town of Ventimiglia. The ongoing squabbling affects bilateral economic cooperation: for example, Italy has been dragging its feet on a project to build a high-speed motorway between Lyon and Turin. Most importantly, the scandal between the two EU founding states threatens pan-European solidarity on the eve of the European Parliament elections and is damaging the international image of the EU. By publicly accusing France of a “neo-colonial policy” in Africa, and by urging Brussels to intervene, Italy is undermining the EU’s authority as an international actor. Now that even the core EU member states prefer public conflicts to compromises, such behavior may soon catch on elsewhere across the Union, and all the differences that have been resolved quietly up to now may become widely known outside the EU. In addition, with the conflict rhetoric escalating within the EU core, the Paris–Berlin tandem is finding it increasingly difficult to promote its model of European integration as a more appealing option to the existing national-level sovereignty ambitions.
At the February 1, 2019 meeting of the EU foreign ministers, Italy once again demonstrated its special position by refusing to support a proposal to recognize Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela. The proposal was also blocked by Austria, Finland, and Greece. For several days preceding the meeting, Italian politicians and Foreign Ministry representatives had been voicing somewhat differing positions on the recognition of the self-proclaimed Venezuelan president, which reflects the historical complexity of the process involved in formulating a common stance in Italian politics. The final verdict stated that Italy could not recognize someone who had not won a legitimate election as president, but that incumbent President Nicolas Maduro has also lost his legitimacy in the eyes of the Venezuelan people. Therefore, Italy called for holding a runoff election in Venezuela as soon as possible. Thus, Rome once again sabotaged European solidarity in front of the international community.
Brussels perceives Italy’s relations with Russia as another sign of the new government’s deviant behaviour. The new Italian authorities had begun calling for the lifting of EU sanctions against Russia even during the election campaign. Then they promised to bring the issue up at the EU summit in June 2018. However, even now, after the December vote to prolong the EU sanctions, Italy has not yet attempted to veto them. This is understandable: both in June and December 2018 Italy had to address much more important issues in terms of the country’s future development than relations with Russia. In the former case it was negotiating with the EU on migration, while in the latter Brussels was deciding on Italy’s 2019 budget. In both instances, Italy could not have possibly used its veto on the sanctions without losing bargaining chips on the other issue. Nevertheless, Conte’s high-profile visit to Moscow on October 24, 2018 resulted in the signing of new agreements on economic cooperation. Prior to Conte’s visit, Salvini had paid a visit to Moscow, where he met with Italian businesspeople operating in Russia. Italy is trying its best to return to the Russian market despite the sanctions, including by actively using the Made with Italy concept, which involves the launching of joint ventures and localization enterprises in Russia. However, these efforts to date have only resulted in mutual trade being restored to half of the pre-sanctions level, and the Italian government is very much annoyed by the fact that France and Germany – consistent supporters of the sanctions – effectively hold a much greater portion of the Russian market. It has been recently reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin will make an official visit to Italy in the first half of 2019 at Conte’s invitation. Should the visit take place prior to the EU parliamentary election, then Russia may well come under criticism for its alleged attempt to once again meddle in the EU’s internal affairs, divide the Union from the inside, and provide support to European pro-sovereignty forces ahead of the polls.
Another topic of extremely high relevance to Rome is energy cooperation with Russia, which supplies 40% of all gas consumed in Italy. Gazprom’s 2018 exports to Italy exceeded the volume supplied to Turkey and ranked only second to deliveries to Germany. The possibility of extending the TurkStream pipeline to Italy via the Balkans will most certainly be discussed in 2019, which could provoke a new confrontation with Brussels, which seeks to reduce dependence on Russian energy while preserving the share of transit via Ukraine.
Italian exports to Russia
Another irritating factor for Brussels is the northern Italian regions’ interaction with the authorities of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics (DNR and LNR) as well as visits by northern regional delegations to Crimea and Russia’s Krasnodar region. Back in May 2016, the council of the Italian region Veneto, whose capital city is Venice, recognized Crimea as part of Russia. The DNR’s second Italian representative office opened in Verona on February 9 this year (the first was had opened in Turin in 2016), and another Italian delegation is expected to visit the Krasnodar Territory in the spring of 2019.
What to expect from the enfant terrible
Political turbulence and frequent government changes have become integral features of the Second Italian Republic, with both Europe and the world now accustomed to these factors. Little wonder, therefore, that even before the new “government of change” actually came to power, people both in Italy and in the EU started wondering how soon the yellow-green coalition would collapse, the assumption being that a political coalition cemented by a common aversion to the EU could not possibly form a reliable foundation for any long-standing cooperation between the right- and left-wing populist forces.
The coalition partners have indeed been manifesting differences since coming to power, and the Italian media have repeatedly highlighted these discords as possible reasons for a split. The first nine months have in fact resulted in the parties swapping places in terms of popular support: the Five Stars Movement’s approval rating stood at 32% in May 2018 versus 24% for the League, whereas the current situation is exactly the opposite. The ongoing series of regional elections could result in another conflict: in the recent gubernatorial polls in the Abruzzo and Sardinia regions, the League candidate won by a landslide, leaving the Five Stars rival far behind. The leaders of the ruling parties have reportedly disagreed on such issues as budget planning, the introduction of a basic income, the Lyon–Turin highway, refugees, and the security law. However, each time the two parties would make statements emphasizing the government’s unity and their readiness to negotiate on all key issues. By all appearances, Salvini, Di Maio, and Conte all understand that if the coalition collapses, they will not be able to stand against Brussels on their own, which would convince the EU leadership of the sovereignty supporters’ inconsistency, egoism, and inability to reach an agreement even amongst themselves. The coalition’s collapse would bury the idea of a broader, pan-European coalition of Eurosceptics, whose positions in the European Parliament would be weakened. In the meantime, a survey published on February 14 clearly indicates that the coalition of the European People’s Party and the Party of European Socialists will not secure a majority in the new European Parliament for the first time in EU history and that the “sovereignists,” or Eurosceptics, stand a good chance of securing a combined total of up to 130 seats. In fact, the Five Stars Movement’s share of the vote could prove decisive in forming the new European People’s Nationalist Party plus “sovereignists.” In this situation, the Italian leaders are much more interested in strengthening their coalition than splitting it. Should they succeed, the yellow-green coalition could truly become a “government of change” for all of Europe…
First published in our partner RIAC
Genocide, Serbia and the Ukraine War: Geopolitics Matters
The Serbia genocide, commonly known as the Bosnian genocide or Srebrenica massacre, is considered one of the heinous vestiges of ethnic cleansing and genocidal acts led by the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) and Scorpions paramilitary group. Srebrenica, a small town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, has become notorious as the site of one of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II, which took place in July 1995 during the Bosnian war between 1992 and 1995. By the way, in the Bosnian case of genocide, it is discerned that geopolitics played a crucial role in which NATO and the West were wholly against the Bosnian Serbs since they broke international law and repudiated the decisions of NATO for maintaining a no-fly zone in Bosnia, while Russia has been in a shrewd stance due to their identical similarities and geopolitical interests of thwarting the influence of the West.
Over the years, Serbia has been maintaining a strong alliance with Russia. However, Aleksandar Vucic, the president of Serbia is strategically hedging between both the West–NATO and EU– and Russia, retaining a close rapport with Moscow, at the same time, gradually improving its ties with the West. On one side, Vučić claims to have a genuine interest in joining the EU and encouraging regional integration via schemes like ‘Open Balkan’, on the other hand, the country continues to reject calls from the West for imposing sanctions against Russia and cutting ties with the country. Despite its pro-Russian leanings, this Balkan nation claims neutrality in the Ukraine war and promises to join the EU.
With regard to the notable developments in the Balkan region, the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Brussels comes up with a very critical inquiry. The country, which has been carrying the blemish of one of the most notorious genocidal and violent acts in human history, is nowadays considered to be an ally of the West. Why are NATO and the EU becoming closer to the Balkan country while it maintains intimacy with Russia and is accused of conducting the infamous Bosnian genocide? The Western nations which had played a robust role in ensuring the penalty of Serbian leaders like Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Slobodan Milosevic, forgetting and wiping out history, why is the West now keen on developing ties with Serbia? The clear-cut and outspoken answer is–the Ukraine war and the geopolitical interests of the West in the Balkan region.
A Synopsis of the Bosnian Genocide
After 40 years of coexistence under Yugoslavia’s communist rule, things started to shift as the nation began to implode in the early 1990s, coinciding with the fall of communism. After Serbia’s provinces of Croatia and Slovenia gained independence, a conflict broke out between the two countries and Serbia. Previously peaceful neighbours turned on one other and took up guns as racial tensions came to light. Slobodan Miloevic’s Serbia attacked a secessionist Bosnia under the pretence of “freeing” Serbian Orthodox Christians residing in Bosnia. Serbia began its ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Bosnian land in April 1992, with the deliberate expulsion of all Bosnian Muslims, often known as Bosniaks. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was encircled by Serbian and ethnic Bosnian Serb forces armed with weapons from the former Yugoslavia. Thousands of Bosniaks were forced into torture cells, and concentration camps, in which they were subjected to torture, starvation, and murder at the hands of the camp guards and other inmates.
Sarajevo, Goradze, and Srebrenica, along with other Muslim enclaves, were designated as safe zones in 1993 by the United Nations Security Council and assigned to be guarded by UN forces. However, in one of these regions—Srebrenica—Serbs perpetrated the worst murder in Europe since WWII in July 1995. About 8,000 Muslims were jailed and executed, while 23,000 women, children, and the elderly were horridly tortured and oppressed. In 1994, NATO launched air strikes on Bosnian Serbs in an effort to put an end to the violence. However, more than 160 people have been prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague since the conclusion of the war. There have been convictions of Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks, with the preponderance of accusations being levelled against Serbians and Bosnian Serbs. The Serbian top leaders like Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Slobodan Milosevic were charged with conducting ‘genocide, mass killing and crimes against humanity.’
Bosnian Genocide and Serbia’s Rift with the West
The genocide marked the height of the brutal Bosnian War, significantly squeezing the relationship between Serbia and the Western world, particularly with NATO and the EU. During the Bosnian War, which stemmed from the disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, NATO assumed a pivotal role in attempting to mitigate the crisis. Initially, NATO imposed a ‘no-fly zone’ in Bosnia to prevent the Serbian air force from conducting airstrikes on civilian targets. However, as the situation escalated, NATO’s involvement expanded to include air campaigns against Bosnian Serb military installations and infrastructure. Operation Deliberate Force, a concentrated NATO bombing campaign, was instrumental in pressuring the Bosnian Serbs into accepting a peace agreement. Therefore, the Bosnian Genocide caused a sea change in how the West saw Serbia and hence, resulted in the deterioration in ties between Serbia and the West.
The extent and cruelty of the genocide startled the world, prompting worldwide criticism of Serbia’s conduct. Reports of torture, rape, and forced relocation, together with the systematic death of thousands of innocent people, sparked widespread anger and cries for justice. Recognizing the genocide as a breach of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide severely damaged Serbia’s reputation abroad. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) came into being as a direct result of the genocide and several high-ranking Serbian politicians and military officers faced charges of war crimes and genocide. As a result, Serbia’s ties to the West and NATO were severely strained after the 1995 Bosnian Genocide.
The Bosnian Genocide and Serbia’s Rapport with Russia: A Geopolitical Viewpoint
During the time of Soviet involvement in the Balkans, connections between Serbia and Russia were strengthened further, but it is important to remember that both countries are significant Slavic states with a long history of cooperation. However, Slobodan Milosevic, the former nationalist leader of the Republic of Serbia, aimed to centralize authority among ethnic Serbs throughout the newly independent republics. Serbian forces pursued acts of ethnic cleansing against non-Serbian populations, resulting in the tragic loss of thousands of lives. In this respect, Russia has pursued subtle policy toward Serbia due to the two countries’ common Slavic culture, religious faith and more importantly, geopolitical interests of the country in the Balkan region.
Regarding this development, geopolitical factors have significantly played a critical role in moulding this relationship as Russia wanted to maintain its global clout in the Balkans and counteract the growing EU and NATO involvement there. Russia had been in the position of favouring political and diplomatic assistance to Serbia throughout the genocide and used its veto power multiple times to prevent stronger international penalties on Serbia at the United Nations Security Council. It is also worth noting that Russia’s backing for Serbia was not constant; there were times when they encouraged Miloevi to call off military operations and negotiate peace. However, Officials in Russia, on the other hand, have said that their backing was motivated by a desire to head off a Western intervention that they think would have only made things worse. Some academics argue that Russia’s backing unintentionally aided in the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia and Herzegovina, adding to the complexity of this relationship.
The Ukraine War and the Shift in the Serbia-West Relationship: Geopolitics Matters
Serbia has not been a grim enemy of the West, nor an eternal friend of Russia, rather different regimes in the country tried to balance both powers. Things remarkably started shifting after Serbia applied for EU membership in 2009 while continuing its moral support for Russia in every aspect of world politics. In this regard, the recent developments given rise by the Ukraine war are gradually heading Serbia to be a closer ally of the EU, although the country did not impose any embargo on Russia and is still maintaining a sound rapport with Putin. Since Vucic’s ascension to power a decade ago, Serbia has pretended to be on neither Russia’s nor the EU’s side. He has effectively used the rivalry between the two groups to bolster Serbia’s position in negotiations over energy, security, and EU membership, and to keep five EU nations to prolong their recognition of Kosovo. Serbia, the largest receiver of EU assistance in the Balkans and a leading candidate to join the EU by 2025, has benefited greatly from this strategy.
But the intriguing matter is the West is now craving for becoming a stronger and time-tested ally of the Balkan country. Is not it very thought-provoking to experience the moral shift of the West? The EU and NATO, which have always been vocal against Serbia regarding the Bosnian genocide, are now gradually pursuing closer ties due to the rise of geopolitical dynamics posed by the Ukraine war. Although the Balkan country has long been awaiting EU membership for its geopolitical interests, the West also nowadays seems to be more inquisitive in seizing the geopolitical interests in the region. As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the European Union is now more aware of the importance of the Western Balkans and the potential that Moscow could leverage against the West. The EU, however, has exhibited fewer concerns and pursued a policy of distancing itself from the Balkans for years. In this respect, the Ukraine war is working out as a catalyst factor to make the parties feel the need of strengthening the ties with a view to securing geopolitical interests in the Balkan region keeping aside all the previous stains imposed on the country. In a nutshell, geopolitical matters have become the core drivers to bring about the shift, in which the moral stance of the West regarding the genocide, is likely to be lost to the geopolitical gains of them in the region.
Norway Takes Over Chairmanship of the Arctic Council
Norway takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in May 2023 during the international organization’s 13th session held in Salekhard, a far-northern town in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug in Russia. Norway will hold the position for the next two years (2023-2025). Russia took this position of the Arctic Council since May 2021 at a ministerial session in Reykjavik.
The Arctic Council consists of Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States. The Arctic is a strategic region. The permanent participants represent a unique feature of the Arctic Council, and they make valuable contributions to its activities in all areas. This territory is of global importance and for intensifying international cooperation.
Observer status is open to non-Arctic states approved by the Council at the Ministerial meetings that occur once every two years. Observers have no voting rights in the council. As of September 2021, thirteen non-Arctic states have observer status. Observer states receive invitations for most Council meetings. Their participation in projects and task forces within the working groups is not always possible, but this poses few problems as few observer states want to participate at such a detailed level.
According to the report, Russia has met all its obligations within the framework of the Arctic Council in full. The primary attention was focused on four key priorities: The People of the Arctic, Including Indigenous Peoples, Environmental Protection, Including Climate Change Issues, Socioeconomic Development and Strengthening Arctic Cooperation.
Over the two-year period, Russia held roughly 90 different events, including forums, conferences, roundtables, championships, festivals, and sports competitions. The chairmanship events were held in 24 cities and towns of Russia, including all nine regions of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation.
“I am certain that all the events that took place and all the decisions that were made at them will support the development of the Russian Far North,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Plenipotentiary Representative of the Russian President in the Far Eastern Federal District Yury Trutnev said.
A cross-cutting priority of Russia’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council was to ensure responsible governance for the sustainable development of the Arctic. Based on its respect for international law, Russia contributed to the promotion of collective approaches for the development of the Arctic with a social, economic and environmental balance. The events Russia organized were held as part of 11 thematic pillars that encompass all promising areas of the development of the northern latitudes.
In particular, last year the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum featured a stand booth to the Arctic and Russia’s chairmanship for the first time, while the House of Indigenous Peoples at the Eastern Economic Forum was highly popular both among representatives of these ethnic groups and other guests of Vladivostok.
“During Russia’s chairmanship, issues concerning the sustainable development of the Arctic became an integral part of discussions at the key business platforms of our country. Now our main job is to preserve and enhance the valuable legacy of this chairmanship. We will continue to implement ambitious projects in the Arctic in accordance with our main priorities and will promote the results of this work on a regular basis as part of major international congress and exhibition events,” said Anton Kobyakov, Adviser to the Russian President and Executive Secretary of the Organizing Committee for Russia’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2021–2023.
The thematic pillar ‘Development of Human Capital in the Arctic’ included events at which the participants discussed the organization of medical support for the inhabitants of the Far North, ESG trends, ways to establish a partnership between the state and business for the benefit of citizens, as well as training and scientific support.
A separate thematic pillar ‘Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic’ highlighted ways to ensure sustainable development and preserve the heritage of ethnic groups who traditionally reside in the northern territories. Russia’s chairmanship showcased such events as the Arctic Indigenous People’s Summit (21 November 2022, Moscow), the Russian North Indigenous Youth Forum (22–25 November 2022, Salekhard), the International Seminar on the Preservation and Promotion of the Languages of the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic (16–18 March 2022, St. Petersburg), and the International Traditional Reindeer Herding Championship (14–19 March 2023, Neryungri).
“In the Russian Arctic, world-class projects are being created to make a breakthrough in the technological, environmental, and energy markets. They will not only fill the Russian treasury for decades to come, but will also claim significant shares of world markets in the most promising sectors of the economy. Cargo from the Arctic mega-projects will fill the Northern Sea Route, via which cargo traffic should grow six times by 2030. All the measures to develop the Arctic economy aim to improve the quality of life of all residents of this strategically important region for our country,” Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic Alexei Chekunkov said.
The events of the pillar ‘Climate Change and Ecology of the Arctic’ were devoted to issues on the environmental agenda. The experts and specialists who took part in these events discussed the problems of handling waste and microplastics in the northern latitudes, lifting flooded radioactive and hazardous objects from the seas of the Arctic Ocean, melting permafrost, and the bioremediation of the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems of the Arctic coast. Participants in the large-scale Safe Arctic exercises in 2021 and 2023, for their part, worked on ways to prevent emergency situations in the Arctic.
During its chairmanship, Russia paid special attention to issues concerning the socioeconomic development of the territories of the Far North. During the conference ‘Investment and Trade in the Arctic’ which was held in September on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum, experts considered prospects for cooperation between Russia and its foreign partners in the Arctic and opportunities for developing the Northern Sea Route, while building new logistics chains. In addition, the events held as part of this pillar included a discussion on the modernization of the telecommunications sector and digitalization in the Arctic, as well as the creation of a tourism industry in the North.
Cultural events were also a key part of the chairmanship programme. The following festivals were held over the last two years: Teriberka (16–17 July 2022, Murmansk Region), Bering Strait (2–7 August 2022, Anadyr), The Power of Colour (6–7 May 2023, Kirovsk), as well as the Gastronomic Festival of Northern Cuisine (10–11 December 2021, Moscow).
“In March 2022, the Arctic states of the West initiated a politicized and counterproductive temporary freeze on the Council’s full-scale activities. Amidst these conditions, Russia continued to responsibly perform its functions as chairman and consistently implement the activities of the programme of Russia’s chairmanship (except for official meetings) and repurposed the chairmanship mechanism during the period of this forced freezing to search for effective solutions to practical problems related to the development of our country’s northern regions, which are enshrined in the Fundamentals of the Russian Federation’s State Policy in the Arctic for the Period until 2035 and the Development Strategy for the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation and Ensuring National Security for the Period until 2035,” said Nikolay Korchunov, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials and Ambassador-at-Large for Arctic Cooperation of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Starting from May 2021, during Russia’s chairmanship, discussions were initiated for the first time via the Arctic Council about the protection of the intellectual property rights of Indigenous Peoples amidst globalization, the social responsibility of entrepreneurs, as well as public-private partnerships for the sustainable development of northern ethnic groups. Russia proposed numerous projects and initiatives, in particular, related to the digitalization of the cultural and linguistic heritage of Indigenous Peoples, the development of creative industries and traditional Arctic medicine, the creation of an international Arctic scientific station that runs on carbon-free energy, ensuring biosecurity in the region, and the creation of a unified digital museum platform.
Improving the efficiency of research activities and developing scientific cooperation was also one of Russia’s main goals as chairman of the Arctic Council. In particular, based on an initiative from Moscow State Institute of International Relations, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed an agreement on the formation of the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Legal Research in the Arctic in 2022. The creation of this structure is a step towards forming an all-Russian consortium of Arctic Universities that is open to international partnerships. In addition, during the Northern Sustainable Development Forum, an agreement was signed on the establishment of the Russian-Asian Consortium for Arctic Research, as more than ten organizations became members of this organization.
The plan for Russia’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council was calculated until August 2023 from the very beginning, so Russia will hold a number of events that aim to promote socioeconomic development, preserve the ecology of the northern latitudes, and conduct scientific studies of the Arctic. Some 20 events will take place in the coming months, including: the International Conference on Biodiversity in the Arctic and the International Forum on Specially Protected Natural Areas in the Arctic during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2023, the ‘Arctic Breaking the Ice’ second Russian Forum and Festival of Volunteers, the Teriberka Arctic Festival, the Bering Strait Festival, and the International Maritime Arctic Educational and Scientific Expeditions ‘Training-through-Research’ on Research Vessels. The chairmanship events are managed by the Roscongress Foundation.
The Arctic States issued a statement recognizing the historic and unique role of the Arctic Council for constructive cooperation, stability and dialogue between people in the Arctic region. The statement acknowledges the commitment to work to safeguard and strengthen the Arctic Council. It further recognizes the rights of Arctic Indigenous Peoples, their special relations to the Arctic and the importance of cross-border and people-to-people cooperation in the region.
The statement refers to the Arctic Council Senior Arctic Officials’ Report to Ministers adopted in Reykjavik in May 2021, the Reykjavik Ministerial Declaration and the Arctic Council Strategic Plan (2021 – 2030) and recognizes that these documents will form the basis for continuing Council activities in 2023-2025. The statement was issued in accordance with the Rules of Procedure of the Arctic Council and in recognition of the objectives and commitments expressed in the Declaration on the Establishment of the Arctic Council and subsequent Ministerial Declarations.
Music and Politics: Connecting the Incompatible
“Music can change circumstances” (Josipović, 2023).
Thinking in the realm of politics, dialogue and choice tyranny, introspection of different angles and interpretations is more than welcome. Rarely one can witness highlighting ideas, rushing into the mind as a wind of change or new opportunities, transferring the old into something sublime. It is true; what we focus on, that flourishes. Where is the concentration of mental, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional power, there is our now, our reality. Our guest in May showed us perception not commonly used in politic. Yes, music can be the answer to so many inner and outer quests facing.
Last gathering, music as a wow moment
Adding to his years-long series, in early May 2022, prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic conducted and moderated two distinguished days of fresh insights, noble ideas, and stamina by believing in the power of dialogue. Excellency Ivo Josipovic, President of Croatia was opening the 9th Geneva round 2022/23 as a part of the Executive program that invites academicians and practitioners from the field of politics, education, and diplomacy, vocalized in special theme, involving music.
Our prestigious guest, H.E. Ivo Josipović (1957), a Croatian academic, jurist, and politician who served as President of Croatia from 2010 to 2015, a fruitful and marvellous lecturer, storyteller, and presenter of another approach to politics.
Josipović entered politics young, actively participating in the democratic transformation of the League of Communists of Croatia (SKH) into the Social Democratic Party (SDP), as the author of its first statute. He left politics in 1994, but returned in 2003, winning a seat in the Croatian Parliament, running as an independent candidate on the SDP party list. He won re-election to parliament as a member of the SDP in 2007. In addition to politics, Josipović has also worked as a university professor, legal expert, musician, and composer, and holds a Ph.D. in Law and advanced degrees in music composition. Following the end of his first term in Parliament in January 2008, he ran in the 2009–10 presidential election as the candidate of the Social Democrats, which he had re-joined in January 2008. In the first round he topped eleven rivals with 32.4% of the vote and entered the run-off with independent conservative populist candidate and Mayor of Zagreb, Milan Bandić, who had secured 14.8%. He won the election with 60.26% of the vote in the second round of the election.
His campaign was titled “Nova pravednost” (New Justice), calling for a new legal framework to address deep social injustice, corruption, and organised crime.
Two realms, one code
In this manner our guest portrayed a series of musical and interpretive arguments, supporting his main message. Both realms are subjective, artistic and intangible. Whoever is entering the doors of such majestic vocal wave, needs to correspond to momentum coherence. Nothing is solid though; only the tones and words are stringing one beside another, and artist need to predict the right tone in current situation. To the wholeness of harmonies, given by each speaker e.g. musician, one needs to bow, and there the real Art begins. We can equate the dyad music-politics as music is politics and politics is music:
“Politics and music: both lead and seduce and both can be useful and dangerous at the same time” (Josipović, 2023).
“The very nature of politics is, like music, rooted in conflict and harmony. The heart of music is the interplay of the physical and the mental, as the compromise between them forms a cohesive whole. Compromise is also the heart of the political process, trying to find common ground and consensus solutions to problems of society through open communication” (Thomson, 2016).
How language of subconsciousness binds
H.E. Josipović stated some facts about the two realms under our scrutiny. In both cases we can agree that listening is a precondition of success; in politics we ought to listen not with the sole aim to reply but mostly, to understand. Understanding requires analysis and inner readiness to accept the strange, the foreign and the outer. As in music, we must listen to accept tones and melodies and create sounds, describing deeper or intended emotions – our guest stressed to him both realms do offer creativity and visions, where especially in communication with the audience he cocreates balance between enthusiasm and reality.
He as well portrayed cases, how discipline and freedom tackle both politics and music, and how a strong, trustworthy person with integrity soothes the clashes and possible sidewalks. For him, both realms are adventures of the spirit. And the inner voice, connecting us to the subconsciousness and ethical, is louder in silence than in perfect harmony. That is the reason why compromise needs to be sought in silence after the fireworks of harmonies and disharmonies, tones, voices, words, and accords. Where one phase is concluded, another one yields its shelter: (inner) silence should be the center of political reflections. In this manner we can finally comprehend how discontinuities knit the thread of continuity. And the necessity of pauses and out of the box thinking, for which mental and cognitive indolence is ruinous, can only burst in the open and supportive setting.
Our guest has given us cases, historic reflections and shown how bright ideas and music can be misused (Wagner in Hitler’s Third Reich) or given as a spiritual glaze (John Lennon and Imagine).
In general, the connection between music and politics, particularly political expression in songs has been envisaged in many cultures. Through centuries music touches the symbolic expression, which lays deeper in our subconscious mind, having the tendency to bind stronger and hold as a glue of inclusions, especially in the times of sorrow, trials, and other tests of life.
Music can unite in the fight against fear (war songs, battle songs, motivative songs). As well it mobilises to fight in the interest of the group (battle trans, preparing soldiers to sacrifice their own life); music can also hold as a means of cultivating new fear through noble visons and identification of other and outlaw. Certainly, it can be corresponded as a catharsis for societies of recent trauma.
Music can as well express anti-establishment or protest themes, including anti-war songs. Although music influences political movements and rituals, it is not totally clear how or to what extent general audiences relate to music on a political level. Since we cannot measure all the correlated variables in complex situations in which each conflict is embedded, the symbolic, as music is, remains one of the most mesmerising moments one can experience.
Songs can be used to portray a specific political message. Our guest has shown his own example of his political query when he ran the president elections. What is surprising and uncommon, he was supported by many distinguished singers and artists of his homeland Croatia. In the intro song of his party “Nova pravednost” they sing about truth, values, and norms they are willing to live by.
“However, there may be barriers to the transmission of such messages; even overtly political songs are often shaped by and reference their contemporary political context, making an understanding of the history and events, that inspired the music, necessary in order to fully comprehend the message” (Josipović, 2023).
Later, we discussed the dyad politics-psychological reflections of a leader (including the use of emotional charge in politics). Our guest was struggling for the right expression of patriotism as well:
“Patriotism cannot be shown in laud singing of national songs, waving with flags, and screaming key words. It should be shown by the act of paying taxes, respecting the rule of law and democracy” (Josipović, 2023).
Most inspiring stories on music diplomacy from all over the world, bringing together experiences and reflections from musicians, scholars, experts, diplomats, activists, and journalists working in the field. Music diplomacy as a particular form of cultural diplomacy, is full of potential. As a universal language, music breaks down language barriers and cultural differences, with promoting cooperation, understanding and mutual respect among people, communities, and nations.
Josipović has been a visiting researcher at several prestigious institutes including the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg in Breisgau, Germany, the Institute for Criminal Law of the University of Graz, Austria, as well as the HEUNI Institute (European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control) in Helsinki, Finland. He has also spent time as a private researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and Private International Law in Hamburg, Germany as well the Yale University in the United States. As member of several domestic and international legal and artists’ associations he published over 85 academic and professional papers in domestic and international journals. In year 1994, he co-founded the independent Hrvatski pravni centar (Croatian Law Center).
Josipović helped to save 180 Croatian prisoners of war from Serbian detention centres and has represented Croatia before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
He participated in several international projects and acted as a Council of Europe expert in evaluation of prisons in Ukraine, Mongolia and Azerbaijan.
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