Italy and the Belt & Road Initiative
There has been a growing scepticism with regard to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project in many quarters, due to the lack of transparency with regards to terms and conditions as well as the economic implications for countries which are part of the project. A report published by the Center for Global Development (CGD) Washington in April 2018 flagged 8 countries (including Pakistan, Maldives, Laos and Djibouti where the level of debts are unsustainable.
Apart from red flag raised by a number of researchers, the removal of Pro-China leadership in countries like Malaysia, Maldives and Sri Lanka has also resulted in the problems of the BRI project, and China’s economic dealings (which are clearly skewed in favour of Beijing) with other countries drawing more attention.
The most vocal critic of China’s economic links has been by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. During a visit to China in August 2018, Mahathir not known to mince his words while alluding to China’s trade relations with poorer countries could lead to ‘a new version of colonialism’. Mahathir later on denied that his statement was targeted at China or the BRI. The fact is that the Malaysian Prime Minister did scrap projects estimated at well over 20 Billion USD (which includes a rail project, East Coast Link as well as two gas pipelines).
Top officials in the Trump Administration, including US Vice President Mike Pence, have also been critical of the BRI project for a variety of reasons. The major criticism from US policy makers has been the economic ‘unsustainability’ of the project as well as the point that the project is skewed in favour of China.
Italy to join BRI
As the debate carries on with regard to the BRI,no body can ignore the fact, that Italy (the world’s 8th largest economy) is likely to become the only G7 country to join the BRI.
During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Italy, later this month (March 22-24) a Memorandum of Understanding MOU, and could be signed. Senior officials in the government have been cautious, and have emphasised on the fact, that the MOU would be ‘non-binding’. Commenting on the status of the MOU, Undersecretary in Italy’s economic development ministry, Michele Geraci stated:
‘…it is possible that it will be concluded in time for [Xi’s] visit.”
Geraci a Sinophile, who has spent a fair amount of time in China, is said to be driving the ruling coalition’s policy (The Five Star Movement (M5S) and right leaning Lega joined hands to form a government in June 2018) towards China.
Italian PM, Giueseppe Conte while addressing a seminar, in Genoa, made the point, that while joining BRI would open new opportunities and horizons for Italy, Rome was likely to be cautious, and would not do anything in haste.
Current state of Italy-China relations
If one were to look at the state of China-Italy bilateral relations. China-Italy bilateral trade reached nearly 50 Billion USD in 2017. China is Italy’s largest trading partner in Asia. It would be pertinent to point out that ties between both countries are not restricted to the economic sphere. There has also been a rise in Chinese tourists visiting Italy (over 1.5 million annually). Even in the sphere of education, linkages between both countries are rising. As of 2017, there were over 6,000 students Italian students in China and nearly 20,000 Chinese students in Italy.
The current government has given immense attention to China, and there have been 3 high level visits ever since the ruling coalition took over the reigns last June (senior officials who visited include – Italy’s Finance Minister Giovanni Tria, Geraci, and Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio — who also holds the charge of economic development minister). The Italian PM is also likely to attend the second Belt and Road Forum to be held in Beijing in April 2019.
The clear objective of becoming part of BRI, according to senior officials, is to get access for its goods and to also leverage its geo-political location within Europe. During his visit to China in September 2018, the Italian Deputy PM had spoken in favour of Italy joining the project. The Deputy PM who had gone to attend the 17th Western China International Fair had made the point that Italy was identifying the possible avenues for participation in the project, and that the G7 country could benefit immensely, if it successfully harnessed it’s own economic and geographical strengths.
In 2018,the inaugural meeting of Italy’s China Task Force was held in Rome (this is headed by Michele Geraci). The key objectives of this task force are; to give an impetus to bilateral economic cooperation (to give a boost to Chinese investments in Italy, giving a push to Italian exports to China, cooperation in Research and Development) and also to explore how Italian companies could seek financing under the BRI initiative. Italy has also been seeking to expand cooperation with China in Africa (the argument is that African growth will help in putting a check on immigration to Italy). Interestingly, former PM Paolo Gentiloni had urged EU and US to invest more in Africa, and to counter China’s growing influence.
Scepticism with regard to Italy-China economic relations
While the government has unequivocally spoken out in favour of this decision. Many argue, that Italy will need to develop it’s own infrastructure – especially the rail system, if it needs to benefit significantly from BRI. Given Italy’s current fiscal situation, too much investment into infrastructure seems highly unlikely. With China having invested in Piraeus (Greece) it is important that the Venice Port becomes more competitive. This will require not just economic investments, but strategic thinking.
There are those who also argue, that the current Italian government has given too much attention to Beijing, at the cost of relations with other countries. The China policy, it is argued will also have an adverse impact on EU’s common China policy.
Unlike other Western countries, Italy has not given a very strong reaction on the Huawei controversy
Italian Deputy Prime Minister was quick to state that “We are in no way tilting the geopolitical axis,”
Italian PM also made it clear, that while Italy will join the BRI, it will ensure that this benefits both, and that EU norms and values are not forgotten.
It is argued, that by reaching out to Euro skeptics in EU, Beijing is trying to create divisions within the bloc. Countries like Hungary and Greece, which are being increasingly dependent upon China, have taken a different stance from other EU countries on issues such as The South China Sea and Human Rights violations.
The EU has been critical of the BRI..
It has even come up with its own version of BRI. In September 2018, EU’s strategy for connecting Europe and Asia. Senior EU officials including High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini made it clear, that EU’s strategy was to enhance connect between Europe and Asia, and to ensure it was beneficial for both. The project would also take into account financial and environmental sustainability.
US reaction to Italy joining BRI
US also took note of Italy joining BRI. As expected, the US was critical of Italy’s decision to join the BRI. A White House National Security Council spokesperson, Garrett Marquis in a media interview stated:
“We view BRI as a ‘made by China, for China’ initiative,”
As mentioned earlier, senior members of the Trump Administration too have flagged the shortcomings of the BRI project and how the dependence of certain countries in Asia and Africa is rising.
It is important for countries within the EU as well as other countries sceptical of the BRI to adopt a more pragmatic stance towards Italy’s decision. One must also keep in mind the fact, that while speaking about signing an MOU with China it has left room for manouevre. It is also important for countries vary of increasing Chinese influence to themselves stand up for liberal values, and greater economic integration. One of the reasons for Beijing’s increasing economic clout, is increasing the inward looking economic policies being adopted by a number of countries – not just the US. At the January 2017, World Economic Forum (WEF) Chinese President Xi Jinping had warned against the increasing scepticism with regard to globalisation. Said the Chinese President:
‘Some people blame economic globalization for the chaos in our world. Economic globalization was once viewed as the treasure cave found by Ali Baba in the Arabian nights, but now it has become the Pandora’s Box.’
Very few leaders have spoken up on this issue forcefully enough. Similarly, if the US has flagged problems of the BRI it should be willing to invest in an alternative narrative. So far even if one were to look about the narrative of a ‘Free and Fair’ Indo-Pacific, Washington has not made significant financial commitment (In July 2018, the Trump administration did make a commitment of 113 Million USD for areas like energy, digital economy and infrastructure). While it is believed that the US IDFC (International Development Finance Corporation) created through BUILD (Better Utilisation of Investment leading to development act) may be able to give the much required boost to some important connectivity projects, but it’s total budget estimated at 60 Billion USD pales in comparison to China’s budget.
The only country which has attempted to put up a cohesive alternative to BRI is Japan’s ‘Partnership for Quality Infrastructure’ (PQI). Japan along with Asian Development Bank will be providing over 100 Billion USD (50 Billion from Japan and 50 Billion from ADB) for infrastructure in Asia. Japan’s economic presence in Africa is also steadily rising, though it is assisting Africa in a number of other areas like health, education through Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) ( which is co-hosted by the Government of Japan, The World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the African Union Commission and the United Nations).
While it is true, that globalization may not be perfect and some scholars went overboard, but there is also no denying the point that populist policies which have favoured economic isolationism may have helped in achieving political successes, but their limitations are beginning to show in the economic sphere. It is for this reason, that even leaders like Mahathir who are critical of Chinese projects have stated, that if he were to chose between China and an ‘unpredictable US’ he would choose the latter. Italy on its part must be cautious and should astutely balance its own interests and not allow Beijing to have a free run. Differences with the EU, should not lead to Italy and other countries becoming excessively dependent upon China.
There is no denying the fact, that Italy’s acceptance of the BRI has important implications which go well beyond EU.
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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