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Will Germany end up as NATO’s “weak link”?

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In a series of recent comments in US and British media, their authors appear increasingly alarmed by the prospects of maintaining the unity of NATO and, on a broader scale, of the West as a whole. Not as a result of US President Donald Trump’s “subversive” actions many Western media outlets and experts like to talk about but, rather, due to Germany’s changing policy. Let’s take a closer look at what has been going on.

The imbalance of geopolitical forces in Europe has for many centuries been a major trigger of continental and global conflicts.

According to US and British experts, the political and economic edge that Germany has enjoyed over other European states during the past 150 years has been a major destabilizing factor – something many German politicians, albeit with some reservations, tend to agree with. German ex-foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel insists that “neither the United Kingdom nor France is able to put pressure on Germany when it comes to plotting a course for the EU.” 

Some experts believe that the United States is the only country that wields enough political and economic influence to do this. However, Donald Trump’s anti-German rhetoric could push Berlin to “distance itself from the transatlantic alliance and focus instead on forging an EU-wide alliance.”

Germany has repeatedly reiterated its status as an independent power center “with a political philosophy all its own.”

The more radical expressions of German “independence” during the 20th century twice ended in disaster. After the end of World War II, Germany adopted a raft of military and geopolitical limitations and restrictions – initially under Allied pressure, and later on mostly a voluntary basis. In the wake of the country’s reunification, Berlin sought to convince the NATO and EU allies that it remained true to its commitments of the previous decades.

However, European and US fears of “German instincts” lingered on.

Meanwhile, memories of the fact that Anglo-Saxons were the main opponents, either open or secret, of the 1989 German reunification are still fresh on the Germans’ minds. Today too, it is US and British analysts who lead the chorus of fears that “the handcuffs that Germans voluntarily put on themselves may just as voluntarily be cast away.” They also wonder how long it will take new generations of Germans to want to make their country a fully sovereign state again.

Well, America does have reasons for concern. Since the early 1990s, the Germans have been talking about “the need for greater equality in relations with the United States,” and Berlin has consistently been working to strengthen the EU’s role as a global player. Including in terms of military capability – a factor that found its way into the 1992 “Fundamentals of German Defense Policy.”

In 1998, many Social Democrats and the Greens who had just won the elections, but had not yet formally taken up government posts, spoke out against the country’s participation in the NATO operation against Yugoslavia. Still, the outgoing government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl supported the allies.

Over the course of the 2000s, the “Atlanticists” were getting more and more reasons to be concerned about the so-called “German Question,” and this is exactly when the idea of a “European army” started getting traction. In 2002, Germany (though backed by France) caused the first major split in NATO, speaking out against the US-led invasion of Iraq. Time magazine then feared that Germany could eventually become a European superpower, mistreat its neighbors and shift towards a “national” policy over a “European” one.

By 2015, the British had concluded that the old imbalance of forces that destabilized Europe following the German unification of 1871, had come to the fore again after Germany reunited again in 1989 and the establishment of the Eurozone made Germany a dominant force in Europe again.

Finally, soon after Donald Trump took office, many members of the European and even US segments of the global Western establishment started mulling the possibility of naming the German Chancellor Angela Merkel the leader of the Western civilization as an alternative to a newly-isolationist America. And it was Merkel who, after the May 2017 NATO summit, the first one attended by Donald Trump, said that Europe could no longer rely on the United States. The outcome of the 2018 NATO summit only added to Europeans’ fears that with the Cold War now over, Washington was now all set to undermine the EU’s global competitiveness. Washington responded by making Germany the butt of wrathful attacks, accusing Berlin of virtually sabotaging NATO’s 2014 decision to increase its members’ defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024. President Trump complained that by failing to honor its commitments to the alliance, Germany, as the leader of the European Union, was setting a bad example for other NATO members.

With all this being said, because Germany in its present state is not in a position to singlehandedly play a leading role internationally, it prioritizes continued European integration and strengthening the EU’s global role. Including in terms of security and defense. Meanwhile, a realization of the fact that without US participation NATO virtually loses its combat capability, is turning Europe into a hostage of America, denying it the chance to act more independently even right here on the continent, let alone in the world. Therefore, the issue of “European sovereignty” is becoming a topmost priority for Brussels, and this is where Germany comes in as a leading proponent of “an independent and strong Europe.”

Washington, for its part, is showing a clear desire to undermine European unity with all the talk going on there about the impending collapse of the European project. Meanwhile, the United States is being advised to push NATO for the role of a new unifier of Europe. Some members of the Intermarium coalition  go even further and are now seeking direct military cooperation with the United States – even outside the framework of NATO’s formal mechanisms – in a bid to “deter” not only Russia, but also Germany. In response, in the fall of 2018 Germany (again together with France) pitched the idea of creating a full-fledged European army. During the Munich Security Conference held earlier this year, Angela Merkel “unequivocally confirmed Germany’s clam to European leadership, and even more importantly, Europe’s bid for “strategic autonomy from the US.”

The problem is, however, that Germany remains torn between the need to address mounting problems at home and the need to demonstrate a firm stand in the face of new foreign policy challenges. On the one hand, Berlin is facing “the most serious” security challenges “since joining NATO and the EU.” From the outside, Europe is coming under increasingly “strong pressure from Russia and China,” and now also from the United States. From within, the very fundamentals of European unity are being challenged by “populists and proponents of authoritarianism.” Even countries still embracing liberal values, including France, Spain and the Baltic states, disagree about the future of the European project. Under the circumstances, Germany objectively needs a more “thorough” defense policy in order to be “taken seriously” both in Europe and elsewhere in the world. On the other hand, any dramatic military buildup could only add to fears of a revival of the “German diktat.”

One way to solve this problem could be a full-fledged implementation of a strategy to create a European army. “The Germans build tanks, the French produce planes and the Italians build ships. However, a political decision is still a long way off.”

The idea of Europe’s greater autonomy within NATO could get a new boost if a German candidate is put at the head of the European Commission. The CDU and the CSU have for the first time ever agreed to nominate a common candidate who has “fairly good chances” of leading the European Union’s executive body.

However, the EU lacks the authority and power it needs to make sure that a united Europe can really become a major global player. Berlin’s “tandem” with Paris is plagued by a maze of incongruities and compromises, which do not really sit well with wide circles of the German political establishment. European politics is becoming increasingly factional and fragmented, and the addition of many new member states has made it even less manageable and harder to reach a consensus on a joint policy, above all in international affairs. Just how and if all these structural constraints can be overcome is probably the hardest task the EU is facing today. As well as its economic powerhouse, Germany. Many German politicians wonder just how much longer Berlin will have to bear the brunt of tackling Europe’s systemic challenges and crises amid a mounting wave of accusations and bad blood from a growing number of its neighbors.  

The intractable dilemma Berlin is facing now is which way to go with the situation being as it is. Support a policy that threatens to further destabilize a project of European integration that is seen as being of paramount importance for Germany’s future? Or go for a course designed to minimize the damage caused by the policy of outside powers that threatens the country’s fundamental interests? Would the latter option necessarily “undermine NATO” or would it gradually erode the alliance’s leading role in European affairs? Paradoxically, the policy being currently pursued by the EU and Germany means that Berlin’s activity or passivity can be equally detrimental to the Pan-European project, potentially resulting in its fragmentation or even disintegration. As is evident from the case of the Nord Stream 2 project, Berlin is capable of standing up to pressure, even from the US, when it comes to defending the country’s vital interests. Ultimately, it is up to the Germans to decide to what extent Germany will be ready to subordinate their interests to those of other countries.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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Marine Le Pen’s Nationalist Ideology and the Rise of Right-Wing Parties in Europe

Mohamad Zreik

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“When you decide to stand against injustice, expect that you will be cursed and then betrayed and then atoned, but do not keep quiet about injustice in order to be told that you are a man of peace.” Marine Le Pen stood in the face of injustice and said the word of truth without hesitation. As the truth hurts, Le Pen has faced much criticism, insults, and opposition campaigns. Marine Le Pen, the candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, lost to Emmanuel Macron, a moderate centrist young man who believed in economic and political openness to Europe, and her loss was an expression of democracy and freedom.

What will change in France and Europe after Macron takes office? Had Le Pen come to power, what would have happened? Why was this powerful campaign against Le Pen?

Marine Le Pen is the president of the National Front and the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the extreme right-wing political party in France. Since French society is a mixture of different civilizations, cultures and religions, Le Pen has not won many votes and was not accepted by the society because her project was France first, not Europe first, and the fight against terrorism was one of its priorities, without the support of anyone or the consent of religious and political groups to carry out this process. Le Pen’s experience is not new. When her father ran in the past, he called for the reinstatement of the French franc, the restoration of French identity instead of the European one and the implementation of a French national policy without referring to the European Union.

Many political analysts believe that if Le Pen was able to reach the presidency, Europe would enter a phase of wide change, since Germany and France are the two pillars of the European Union, the departure of France will lead to an imbalance in the European Union and to a weakness in its structure. Le Pen’s proposed program did not impress many advocates of freedom because it negatively affects the rights of refugees and works on a harsh policy with foreigners coming to France. As an Arab citizen and human rights defender, I will not accept Le Pen’s proposals at the beginning, but I meet with her on many things and concerns. The European continent has become a place for the export of large numbers of people who are doing terrorism in the world and the great margin of freedom in Europe has made it a tool for making evil and to strengthen the role of ideologically unclean groups, all due to the issue of human rights and the right of opinion and expression.

The European continent is witnessing a widespread campaign against the EU, the BREXIT in Britain was no accident, as well as the rise of right-wing parties to take power in Denmark and the Netherlands and demand a firmer policy, and it is noticeable that the right-wing European parties are growing in France, Italy, Spain, Hungary and Austria. The project demanded by Le Pen has become necessary on the European continent, especially with the financial crises in the European Union and the many terrorist acts that threaten European security.

From the Treaty of Westphalia to the founding of the European Union to the present Europe, the situation has changed a lot. The idea of a civilian state was necessary to end the 30-year war and the founding of the European Union came to unite the European continent after it was divided during the Cold War. Today, in the era of globalization, openness and freedoms, the economic crises that hit the world in general and Europe in particular, and the incidence of terrorist acts are increasing rapidly, and I am afraid that Europe will become a place of terrorist acts and a center for terrorist group. Therefore, the world today needs leaders such as Le Pen to control human insanity and restore stability to the international community.

The success of the experience of democracy in a certain part of the world does not mean that it is the ideal system and that it can easily be applied to the rest of the world. Many peoples of the world are not suited to democratic regimes, and the failure to implement a democratic system does not mean that the regime that will govern this country is oppressive and unfair, but one that suits the form of the state and the needs of the people. Henry Kissinger acknowledged that the idea of the European Union could not last forever because European countries since ancient times were not based on the doctrine of unity and participation.

I still dream of the beautiful Europe of the 1980s, when it was the center of international economy and trade and when the international political decision was linked to Europe. Europe today is a mass of endless economic crises and a center of attraction for terrorist acts that threaten European and international security, without forgetting the US decision, which often affects European sovereignty. Le Pen’s project is to reject American hegemony, return to French roots and adhere to French identity. The idea of a closed door policy and a strict policy with foreign expatriates is an internal French affair.

The situation in France will not be better after the arrival of Macron and terrorism will not stop, Emmanuel Macron is trying to give more economic, social and cultural freedoms and more integration with the European community. Of course, economic and political cooperation will have a positive impact on France and Europe. But in return for this cooperation, what special benefit will France gain, knowing that Macron has put forward the idea of establishing an EU military force, which means that the EU’s role will be not only economic and political but also joint military action.

The series of terrorist operations has not ceased after Macron’s arrival, and is increasing day by day. From France to Britain, Belgium and Germany, the target is Europe, which is the victim of terrorism. Terrorism wants Europe to become unstable and panic and make it a “New Land of Jihad”. Of course, Macron’s European policy plays an important role in strengthening the position of terrorist groups and creating fertile ground for them. Terrorism needs freedom and open borders to turn the impossible into reality.

When Le Pen raised the voice and said that we are French and wanted to rearrange the French house, she knew that France was the target and if it was not immunized, Great France would become just an idea in the “Museum of History”. Le Pen, an ultra-nationalist, does not scare me as an Arab Lebanese. Why would I be afraid of someone who wants to fight terrorism and oppressive ideology? We all love unity and freedom, but on the other hand there are some emergency circumstances that push the political system in a country to take an unusual path. Today, right-wing approach can make a difference, which some describe as extremism and lack of respect for human freedom.

The world today needs leaders like Marine Le Pen in every corner of the globe. The world today is ruled by force, and is afraid of those who say the word “no” to every stranger and outlaw. Le Pen has lost and the French will regret this option sooner or later because the European future does not bode well!

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France: Chaos or a New Social Compact?

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At the end of the parade, a few dozen people release yellow balloons into the sky and distribute leaflets saying “The yellow vests are not dead.” The police disperse them, quickly and firmly. Moments later, hundreds of “Antifa” anarchists arrive, throw security barriers on the roadway to erect barricades, start fires and smash the storefronts of several shops. The police have a rough time mastering the situation, but early in the evening, after a few hours, they restore the calm.

A few hours later, thousands of young Arabs from the suburbs gather near the Arc de Triomphe. They have apparently come to “celebrate” in their own way the victory of an Algerian soccer team. More storefronts are smashed, more shops looted. Algerian flags are everywhere. Slogans are belted out: “Long live Algeria”, “France is ours”, “Death to France”. Signs bearing street names are replaced by signs bearing the name of Abd el Kader, the religious and military leader who fought against the French army at the time of the colonization of Algeria. The police limit themselves to stemming the violence in the hope that it will not spread.

Around midnight, three leaders of the “yellow vest” movement come out of a police station and tell a TV reporter that they were arrested early that morning and imprisoned for the rest of the day. Their lawyer states that they did nothing wrong and were just “preventively” arrested. He emphasizes that a law passed in February 2019 allows the French police to arrest any person suspected of going to a demonstration; no authorization from a judge is necessary and no appeal possible.

On Friday, July 19, the Algerian soccer team wins again. More young Arabs gather near Arc de Triomphe to “celebrate” again. The damage is even greater than eight days before. More police show up; they do almost nothing.

On July 12, two days before Bastille Day, several hundred self-declared African illegal migrants enter the Pantheon, the monument that houses the graves of heroes who played major roles in the history of France. There, the migrants announce the birth of the “Black Vest movement”. They demand the “regularization” of all illegal immigrants on French territory and free housing for each of them. The police show up but decline to intervene. Most of the demonstrators leave peacefully. A few who insult the police are arrested.

France today is a country adrift. Unrest and lawlessness continue to gain ground. Disorder has become part of daily life. Polls show that a large majority reject President Macron. They seem to hate his arrogance and be inclined not to forgive him. They seem to resent his contempt for the poor; the way he crushed the “yellow vest” movement, and for his not having paid even the slightest attention to the protesters’ smallest demands, such as the right to hold a citizen’s referendum like those in Switzerland. Macron can no longer go anywhere in public without risking displays of anger.

The “yellow vests” seem finally to have stopped demonstrating and given up: too many were maimed or hurt. Their discontent, however, is still there. It seems waiting to explode again.

The French police appear ferocious when dealing with peaceful protesters, but barely able to prevent groups such as ‘Antifa’ from causing violence. Therefore, now at the end of each demonstration, “Antifa” show up. The French police seem particularly cautious when having to deal with young Arabs and illegal migrants. The police have been given orders. They know that young Arabs and illegal migrants could create large-scale riots. Three months ago, in Grenoble, the police were pursuing some young Arabs on a stolen motorcycle, who were accused of theft. While fleeing, they had an accident. Five days of mayhem began.

Democracy receding 

President Macron looks like an authoritarian leader when he faces the disgruntled poor. He never says he is sorry for those who have lost an eye or a hand or suffered irreversible brain damage from extreme police brutality. Instead, he asked the French parliament to pass a law that almost completely abolishes the right to protest, the presumption of innocence and that allows the arrest of anyone, anywhere, even without cause. The law was passed.

In June, the French parliament passed another law, severely punishing anyone who says or writes something that might contain “hate speech”. The law is so vague that an American legal scholar, Jonathan Turley, felt compelled to react. “France has now become one of the biggest international threats to freedom of speech”, he wrote.

Macron does not appear authoritarian, however, with violent anarchists. When facing young Arabs and illegal migrants, he looks positively weak. He knows what the former interior minister, Gérard Collomb, said in November 2018, while resigning from government:

“Communities in France are engaging in conflict with one another more and more and it is becoming very violent… today we live side by side, I fear that tomorrow it will be face to face”.

Macron also knows what former President François Hollande said after serving his term as president: “France is on the verge of partition”.

Macron knows that the partition of France already exists. Most Arabs and Africans live in no-go-zones, apart from the rest of the population, where they accept the presence of non-Arabs and non-Africans less and less. They do not define themselves as French, except when they say that France will belong to them. Reports show that most seem filled with a deep rejection of France and Western civilization. An increasing number seem to place their religion above their citizenship; many seem radicalised and ready to fight.

Macron seems not to want to fight. Instead, he has chosen to appease them. He is single-mindedly pursuing his plans to institutionalise Islam in France. Three months ago, the Muslim Association for Islam of France (AMIF) was created. One branch will handle the cultural expansion of Islam and take charge of “the fight against anti-Muslim racism”. Another branch will be responsible for programs that train imams and build mosques. This autumn, a “Council of Imams of France” will be established. The main leaders of the AMIF are (or were until recently) members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement designated as a terrorist organisation in Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — but not in France.

French President is aware of the demographic data. They show that the Muslim population in France will grow significantly in the coming years. (The economist Charles Gave wrote recently that by 2057, France will have a Muslim majority). Macron can see that it will soon be impossible for anyone to be elected President without relying on the Muslim vote, so he acts accordingly.

Macron apparently sees that the discontent that gave birth to the “yellow vest” movement still is there. He appears to think that repression will be enough to prevent any further uprising, and so does nothing to remedy the causes of the discontent.

The “yellow vest” movement was born of a revolt against exorbitantly high taxes on fuel, and harsh government measures against cars and motorists. These measures included reduced speed limits – 90 km/h on most highways — and more speed-detection cameras; a sharp rise in the penalties on tickets, as well as complex and expensive annual motor vehicle controls. French taxes on fuels recently rose again and are now the highest in Europe (70% of the price paid at the pump). Other measures against the use of automobiles and motorists still in force are especially painful for the poor. They were already chased from the suburbs by intolerant newcomers, and now have to live — and drive — even farther from where they work.

Socio-culturally disenfranchised

President has made no decision to remedy the disastrous economic situation in France. When he was elected, taxes, duties and social charges represented almost 50% of GDP. Government spending represented 57% of GDP (the highest among developed countries). The ratio of national debt to GDP was almost 100%.

Taxes, duties, social charges and government spending remain at the same level now as when Macron came in. The debt-to-GDP ratio is 100% and growing. The French economy is not creating jobs. Poverty remains extremely high: 14% of the population earn less than 855 euros ($950) a month.

“How else to explain that the post-WWII come-and-help-our-recovery slogan Gastarbeiter willkommen became an Auslander Raus roar in a matter of only two decades. Suddenly, our national purifiers extensively shout ‘stop über fremdung of EU, we need de-ciganization’ of our societies, as if it historically does not always end up in one and only possible way– self-barbarization. In response, the socially marginalized and ghettoized ‘foreigners’ are calling for the creation of gastarbeiter partie. Indeed, the first political parties of foreigners are already created in Austria, with similar calls in Germany, France and the Netherlands. Their natural coalition partner would never be any of the main political parties. We should know by now, how the diverting of the mounting socio-economic discontent and generational disfranchising through ethno engineering will end up, don’t we?” – warned prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic years ago in his brave and farsighted essay ‘Denazification urgently needed in Europe’.

Consequently, our top executives pay no attention to the growing cultural disaster also seizing the country. The educational system is crumbling. An increasing percentage of students graduate from high school without knowing how to write a sentence free of errors that make incomprehensible anything they write. Christianity is disappearing. Most non-Muslim French no longer define themselves as Christians. The fire that ravaged the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris was officially an ‘accident’, but it was only one of the many Christian religious buildings in the country that were recently destroyed. Every week, churches are vandalised — to the general indifference of the public. In just the first half of 2019, 22 churches burned down.

The main concern of Macron and the French government seems not to be the risk of riots, the public’s discontent, the disappearance of Christianity, the disastrous economic situation, or Islamization and its consequences. Instead, it is climate change. Although the amount of France’s carbon dioxide emissions is infinitesimal (less than 1% of the global total), combatting “human-induced climate change” appears Macron’s absolute priority.

A Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, age 16, — nevertheless the guru of the “fight for the climate” in Europe — was recently invited to the French National Assembly by members of parliament who support Macron. She delivered a speech, promising that the “irreversible destruction” of the planet will begin very soon. A Baby-revolutionary added that political leaders “are not mature enough” and need lessons from children. MPs who support Macron applauded warmly. She received a Prize of Freedom, just created, which will be given each year to people “fighting for the values ​​of those who landed in Normandy in 1944 to liberate Europe”. It is probably reasonable to assume that not one of those who landed in Normandy in 1944 thought he was fighting to save the climate. Such minor details, however, seem beyond Macron and the parliamentarians who support him.

Macron and the French government also seem unconcerned that Jews — driven by the rise of anti-Semitism, and understandably worried about court decisions infused with the spirit of submission to violent Islam –continue to flee from France.

Kobili Traore, the man who murdered Sarah Halimi in 2017 while chanting suras from the Qur’an and shouting that the Jews are Sheitan (Arabic for “Satan”) was found not guilty. Traore had apparently smoked cannabis before the murder, so the judges decided that he was not responsible for his acts. Traore will soon be released from prison; what happens if he smokes cannabis again?

A few weeks after the murder of Halimi, three members of a Jewish family were assaulted, tortured and held hostage in their home by a group of five men who said that “Jews have money” and “Jews must pay”. The men were arrested; all were Muslim. The judge who indicated them announced that their actions were “not anti-Semitic”.

On July 25, 2019 when the Israeli soccer team Maccabi Haifa was competing in Strasbourg, the French government limited the number of Israeli supporters in the stadium to 600, not one more. A thousand had bought plane tickets to come to France to attend the match. The French government also banned the waving of Israeli flags at the game or anywhere in the city. Nonetheless, in the name of “free speech”, the French Department of the Interior permitted anti-Israeli demonstrations in front of the stadium, and Palestinian flags and banners saying “Death to Israel” were there. The day before the match, at a restaurant near the stadium, some Israelis were violently attacked. “The demonstrations against Israel are approved in the name of freedom of expression, but the authorities forbid supporters of Maccabi Haifa to raise the Israeli flag, it is unacceptable,” said Aliza Ben Nun, Israel’s ambassador to France.

The other day, a plane full of French Jews leaving France arrived in Israel. More French Jews will soon go. The departure of Jews to Israel entails sacrifices: some French real estate agents take advantage of the wish of many Jewish families to leave, so they buy and sell properties owned by Jews at a price far lower than their market value.

Fighting the ghost

Macron will remain as president until May 2022. Several leaders of the parties of the center-left (such as the Socialist Party) and center-right (The Republicans) joined The Republic on the Move, the party he created two years ago. After that, the Socialist Party and The Republicans electorally collapsed. Macron’s main opponent in 2022 is likely to be the same as in 2017: Marine Le Pen, the leader of the populist National Rally.

Although Macron is widely unpopular and widely hated, he will probably use the same slogans as in 2017: that he is the last bastion of hope against “chaos” and “fascism.” He has a strong chance of being elected again. Anyone who reads the political program of the National Rally can see that Le Pen is not a fascist. Also, anyone who looks at the situation in France may wonder if France has not already begun to sink into chaos.

The sad situation that reigns in France is not all that different from that in many other European countries. A few weeks ago, an African cardinal, Robert Sarah, published a book, Le soir approche et déjà le jour baisse (“The evening comes, and already the light darkens”). “At the root of the collapse of the West”, he writes, “there is a cultural and identity crisis. The West no longer knows what it is, because it does not know and does not want to know what shaped it, what constituted it, what it was and what it is. (…) This self-asphyxiation leads naturally to a decadence that opens the way to new barbaric civilizations.”

That is exactly what is happening in France — and Europe.

Earlier version published by the Geterstone Institute under the title France Slowly Sinking into Chaos

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Serbs disappointed with EU

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A top-level meeting scheduled to take place in Paris in September with the participation of President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, the head of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, President of France Emmanuel Macron and German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel may well be disrupted, which could lead to a new wave of tension in the Balkans. As the summit draws nearer, the differences between the parties involved show no signs of diminishing, while the Serbian leadership is demonstrating ever more opposition to any agreements with Pristina.

A few days ago Chairman of the Serbian People’s Party and Minister of Innovation and Technological Development of Serbia Nenad Popovic called for walking out of talks with Kosovo leaders under the patronage of the European Union. He said that the 2013 Brussels agreements on normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina was “not working”. According to the minister, Serbia ought to “challenge the pseudo-state of Kosovo” at any costs and under any conditions.

“After all the events that took place last week with the participation of Western countries: the simulated summoning of the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, to the Hague-based Special Court for interrogation in connection with the crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army, new accusations against Serbia for committing genocide against Kosovo Albanians, arrests of Serbs – all this adds to the fact that we have nothing to gain from European integration, and that the Brussels agreement is dead,” – Nenad Popovic emphasized. In his words, the political course of Serbia should follow a balance: “What I mean is that Serbia should develop step by step and strengthen political, economic and military cooperation only with countries that build equal relations with it, revering its sovereignty and territorial integrity in relation to Kosovo”.

Nenad Popovic is one of the key figures on the Serbian political landscape in the context of relations between Kosovo and the Albanians. In diferent years, he was responsible for building economic relations with the region, and for Belgrade’s policy in the three southern Serb communities of Bujanovac, Medveda and Presevo, adjacent to the Kosovo border. It is these areas that Hashim Thaci proposes to annex to Kosovo in exchange for passing to Belgrade the control over the northern Serb-populated areas as part of a “package agreement” on the exchange of territories. Nenad Popovic used to be one of the closest associates of the former President of Serbia Vojislav Kostunica, who called for more intensive cooperation with Russia, including within the framework of energy and infrastructure projects. It was during his term Russia and Serbia concluded a range of bilateral agreements, which enabled Serbia to become a key partner of Russia in the purchase and processing of energy resources.

The visit to the Hague by the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, which triggered so much criticism from Nenad Popovic, does look strange. However, according to reports, all this could involve a more complicated political scenario. On learningthat he was summoned to the Hague court, Ramush Haradinaj immediately announced his resignation from the post of head of the Kosovo government. The former chief of staff of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) explained that he had no intention of jeopardizing the honor of the self-proclaimed state and its institutions. He remarked that his government’s ministers would continue to fulfill their duties and called on the president of the republic to announce early parliamentary elections.

“I was summoned for questioning to the Special Court in the Hague as a suspect. The honor of the prime minister and the state must be preserved,” – he said on his Facebook page.

According to Haradinaj, since he does not want to tarnish the reputation of Kosovo in any way, he will appear before the Hague Court, which was set up to investigate the activitgies of the KLA during the war, as a private person. Simultaneously, he expressed confidence that a new inquiry would not shake his innocence, confirmed by two acquittals of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague. His case was run by Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte in person. However, in spite of all her efforts, in 2008 the Tribunal acquitted Ramush Haradinaj of charges of committing crimes against the Serbian population of the region. In 2010, the ruling was cancelled, but in 2012 a new acquittal came into effect.

The unexpected summoning of Ramush Haradinaj to the Hague anew is in fact not connected with a sudden desire of the Western powers to finally punish the Kosovo prime minister for bygone anti-Serb crimes. For Brussels and Washington, his fierce opposition to agreements between Belgrade and Pristina is much more relevant. Over the past few months, this politician has been lashing out at Hashim Thaci for his “compromising” stance and for his intention to concede part of Kosovo’s territory to Serbia. To this end, he regularly organizes mass protests in Pristina. And given the popularity of the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, of which he is the leader, there is a real possibility of Ramush Haradinaj assuming the post of Kosovo president, which is de facto could block any mediation efforts on the part of the European Union and which, of course, does not suit the EU leadership.

Such a development is fraught with unpredictable consequences, such as a crisis of European integration plans in Serbia and a reorientation of Belgrade’s policy from Brussels to Moscow and Beijing.

The American Wall Street Journal quotes Dan Coats, the outgoing Director of National Intelligence of the USA, as saying that Russia and China, “these two super-giants of Eurasia, are as close to each other as they were in the 1950s. Both Moscow and Beijing have been seeking to undermine the interests of the West, from Venezuela and Syria to Serbia. In addition, they have been stepping up cooperation in Africa south of the Sahara and have already found ways to lessen their rivalry in Central Asia. ”

Meanwhile, support from top Western powers continues to be a major factor determining Kosovo’s sustainability – both political and economic. Recently, there has appeared a trend towards a gradual rejection of the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo by states that previously recognized it. According to the Serbian side, a few days ago the Central African Republic (CAR) recalled its recognition of Kosovo, thus becoming the 14th country that has done so. Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said in a program broadcast by the radio and television of Serbia that the CAR “cannot assume a position that is at odds with international law” and that it “supports the sovereignty of Serbia and the rule of law”.

Ivica Dacic also said that unlike in 2015, when 92 states voted in favor of Kosovo joining UNESCO, in 2018 the number of such countries dropped to 73. “Undoubtedly, they cannot become members of any international organization, in which they would vote like they do in the UN”, – the head of the Serbian Foreign Ministry pointed out.

Given the situation, a further widening of the gap between Belgrade and Brussels amid the West’s inability to make Kosovo authorities more cooperative will naturally lead to the erosion of the pro-European direction of Serbia’s foreign policy and will strengthen the positions of forces that advocate more ties with Russia and other “centers of power” outside the Euro-Atlantic space. 

From our partner International Affairs

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