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Neighbours in Europe

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Thirty years ago, on 18 December 1989, Brussels hosted the signing of the Agreement on Trade and Commercial and Economic Cooperation between the USSR and the European communities. This date became the point of departure for official relations between Russia as the successor state of the USSR and the European Union.

Symbolically, the Agreement was signed slightly over a month after the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event that came down in history as a landmark signifying the end of the Cold War, a period, when the continent was divided into two opposing ideological blocs. The founders of the Russia – EU partnership knew that it would be impossible to erase the centuries-old divides on the continent unless a broad framework for cooperation was created in Europe. Both sides intended to make it mutually beneficial, long-term, and resistant to economic and political fluctuations.

The subsequent years were marked by painstaking efforts to create a multi-level architecture of collaboration between Russia and the EU. A solid legal infrastructure evolved based to this day on the 1994 Russia – EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. In May 2003, during the Russia – EU summit in St. Petersburg, yet another step forward was taken in overcoming the division of Europe, with the parties reaching an agreement on establishing a strategic partnership based on four common spaces – economic; external security; freedom, security and justice; science and education, including cultural aspects. We worked together on long-term projects, which, had they been brought to a logical end, would have yielded tangible dividends to all those who live on our shared continent and substantially enhanced the level of their security, prosperity and comfort. Among other things, the case in point was easing the terms – up to a visa-free regime – of reciprocal travel of Russian and EU citizens, establishing close cooperation between the law enforcement agencies in fighting the terrorist and organised crime threats, coordinating efforts to settle regional crises and conflicts, and forming an energy union. But the sides failed to ensure stability of the declared partnership between Russia and the EU. 

Regrettably, many people in the West looked at the prospects of a common European future exclusively from the viewpoint of “winners” in the Cold War. The principles of equal cooperation have given way to the illusion that Euro-Atlantic security can only be based on NATO, and that Europe can only be associated with the European Union, with everything else as nothing more than the concentric circles around these “centres of legitimacy.”

The practical aspects of our relations with Brussels included instances of increasing priority given to the EU’s supranational norms and attempts to apply them retroactively to all other countries. We were urged to accept off-the-shelf decisions made in the EU, which ruled out any discussion or respect for Russia’s interests. In other words, we were invited to join the mainstream and follow the lead, as well as to accept the interpretation of “common values,” many of which contradict the traditions of the European civilisation based on Christianity.

Our Brussels partners preferred to keep silent about the fact that their concept of four common spaces was based on the understanding that any attempts to force our neighbours to choose between Russia and the EU would be dangerous and counterproductive. Well before 2014, an alarming sign in the Russia-EU relations was the launch of the Eastern Partnership initiative, which was aimed, as it turned out later, at creating a distance between Russia and its closest neighbours connected by centuries-old ties. We are still feeling the negative impact of this egocentric policy.

In short, the EU was not prepared to have equal relations with Russia. In the Brussels vocabulary, Europe equalled the European Union, as if there is only one “real” Europe (the EU member states), and all the other countries must work hard to earn the “high title” of Europeans. They are creating artificial dividing line on the continent and distorting both geography and history. A glaring example of that is the numerous EU resolutions that equate the Nazis who sought to exterminate European nations with the Soviet soldiers who saved these nations from annihilation.

It is a deeply flawed approach, which is not benefitting the European integration project and contradicts its initial unification and peace-building spirit. Russia has always been and will remain an integral part of Europe geographically, historically and culturally. We have a unique identity of which we are proud, but we are part of the European civilisational space. Over a period of many centuries, Russia contributed to the expansion of that space all the way to the Pacific coast. The development of our identity was influenced by advanced European ideas. Likewise, modern European culture would have been different without the process of mutual enrichment with Russia.

Despite our differences, Russia and the EU are important trade and economic partners, as well as neighbours who can share their common responsibility for peace, prosperity and security in this part of Eurasia. By the way, if it were not for the EU’s biased position in the context of Ukrainian developments, Russia-EU trade would have reached $500 billion, becoming a global factor comparable to the EU’s trade with the United States or China.

There is increasing evidence of our EU partners’ realisation that the current situation is abnormal. Russia’s relations with the majority of EU states are being revitalised. We have made the first contacts with the new EU leadership, which assumed office in early December.

The new institutional cycle in the EU history offers an opportunity to relaunch relations with Russia. At the very least, we can ponder what we mean to each other in this rapidly changing world. We hope that the EU decision-makers will opt for strategic thinking and will act in the spirit of the great European politicians, such as Charles de Gaulle and Helmut Kohl, who thought in terms of a common European home. The artificial restrictions imposed on trade to suit someone’s geopolitical interests will not settle the existing problems but will only create more obstacles and will weaken Europe’s economic positions. There is no doubt that European cultures and economies can only protect their identities and competitive ability from the onslaught of globalisation by combining the relative competitive advantages of all countries and integration associations in the common Eurasian space.

Russia – EU relations are not developing in a vacuum. A multipolar world has become a reality. New centres of financial, economic, technological and military power have emerged in the Asia Pacific Region. We are taking this crucial factor into consideration during the process of shaping our foreign policy. The new realities not only entail additional trans-border challenges but also open opportunities for getting resources for our own development where previously we did not even look. In any case, combining efforts enhances our capabilities. Amid the persisting international turbulence, it is important to ensure the rule of international law. No attempts should be made to replace it with the “rules-based order” that the West has invented to promote its interests. It is only then that we will be able to assure the effectiveness of multilateral efforts.

We see the European Union as one of the centres of the multipolar world. We intend to promote relations with the EU in keeping with President Vladimir Putin’s concept of Greater Eurasian Partnership from the Atlantic to the Pacific involving the states of the Eurasian Economic Union, the SCO, ASEAN, and all other countries on the continent. EU – EAEU cooperation can become the economic basis for EU members joining this Partnership. Aligning the potentials of the two major regional markets and harmonising their trade and investment regimes will strengthen the positions of all those involved in global trade. Importantly, this will also help in the future to avoid likely situations, where our “common neighbours” will again be artificially faced with a primitive choice and have to decide whether they are with the EU or Russia.

I would like to repeat once again that the principles of partnership were set out in our common documents, including the roadmap for the Common Space of External Security adopted at the Russia – EU summit held in Moscow on May 10, 2005. It says that “the EU and Russia recognise that processes of regional cooperation and integration, in which they participate and which are based on the sovereign decisions of States, play an important role in strengthening security and stability.” The sides agreed to actively promote these processes “in a mutually beneficial manner, through close result-oriented EU-Russia collaboration and dialogue, thereby contributing effectively to creating a greater Europe without dividing lines and based on common values.”

That says it all. It would be better still if these fine words were translated into actions.

A European security system can only be effective if it is collective. Twenty years ago, on November 19, 1999, the Charter for European Security was adopted at the OSCE summit in Istanbul. The Platform for Cooperative Security, which stipulates cooperation not only between countries but also between all organisations in the Euro-Atlantic region, was appended to the charter at the EU’s initiative. We supported that initiative. Regrettably though, Brussels, which is the venue of not only EU bodies but also the NATO headquarters, later lost interest in the idea. The Western countries that attended the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Bratislava on December 5−6, 2019 blocked the Russian move to reaffirm the above initiative, which stipulates an equal common European dialogue involving the EU, the CIS, NATO and the CSTO. Does this mean that the EU and NATO were confident of their domination when they advanced that idea 20 years ago, but now fear competition from the organisations that are taking shape in the CIS and hence avoid a direct and equal dialogue with them?

We urge the EU to take guidance from the fundamental principles sealed in the documents on Russia – EU relations, rather than from a recent construct about “forced coexistence.” We are facing common threats and challenges, namely, terrorism, drug trafficking, organised crime, illegal migration, etc. Restricted cooperation and continued confrontation with Russia are unlikely to improve the EU’s position in the world.

We are open to mutually beneficial, equal and pragmatic cooperation with the EU that will be in harmony with the interests of our allies and all the other Eurasian partners. Only in this way can we create a viable model of lasting relations that will meet the interests and aspirations of all nations on the Eurasian continent.

Source: Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the European Union

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Europe

Is European humanity skin deep?

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At the border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova at Palanca, refugees stand in line. © UNICEF/Vincent Tremeau

When talking about security the most common line of thought tends to be war and the actors involved in the attack, however, all the people who had regular lives within those territories that are jeopardized are as important. With the increasing tensions and armed conflicts happening within the Twenty First Century, the movement of people searching for shelter has increased. More asylum seekers leave their home countries every single day and contemporary politics is still struggling to find a way to catch up. Europe, history wise, is the zone of the world that deals with more refugees wanting to enter the continent due to different factors: geography, proximity, democratic systems, level of development and more. Nevertheless, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, true sentiments towards refugees are now being put on display.

Even though all refugees are fleeing their countries because their lives are in mortal danger, authorities and government officials do not seem to care. Processes to apply for the refugee status are getting harder and harder. In Europe, to apply for a refugee passport, people are asked for identifications, online questionaries and many other unrealistic aspects that if not answered correctly, the whole process is cancelled. It is ridiculous to believe that when people are scaping in order to stay alive, they will take under consideration all these requirements to receive help, sometimes even from neighboring countries. Which inevitably leads to the following question: why are refugees accepted based on the legality of their applications and not of their status?

By 2016, nearly 5.2 million refugees reached European shores, which caused the so called refugee crisis. They came mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq: countries torn apart by armed conflicts. Similarly, with Russia’s invasion over the Ukraine in 2022, only few days deep within the fighting,  874,000 people had to flee their homes. Nonetheless, the issue seems to be that, for Europe, not all refugees are the same. When the refugee crisis in 2015 was declared, the European Union called for stopping and detaining all arriving refugees for around 18 months. There was a strong reluctancy from Europeans towards offering them shelter. On the contrary, countries such as Poland and Slovakia have said that Ukrainian refugees fleeing will be accepted without passports, or any valid travel documents due to the urgency of the situation. Therefore, stating with their actions, that Ukrainian refugees are more valuable or seem to be more worthy of help than refugees from Asia, Africa, or the Middle East.

Correspondingly, it is true that not all countries inside Europe deal and act the same way towards refugees, be that as it may, with the current refugee crisis it has been proved that they all share strong sentiments of xenophobia and racism. For instance, Hungary is a country that refused to admit refugees coming from outside Europe since 2015. In 2018, Prime Minister Viktor Orban described non-European refugees as “Muslim invaders” and “poison” to society, in comparison with Ukrainian refugees who are being welcomed without hesitation. In the same way, Jarosław Kaczyński, who served as Prime Minister of Poland and is the leader of the Law and Justice party, in 2017 said that accepting asylum seekers from Syria would be dangerous and would “completely change our culture and radically lower the level of safety in our country”. Furthermore, Germany in 2015 with Chancellor Angela Merkel in charged said that they would accept one million of Syrians. Although, as time passed, Europe’s solution was to make a deal with Turkey, who is not part of the European Union, to close the migrant route. Moreover, the promise of letting refugees integrate into German society was not fulfilled since. Seven year later, an impressive amount of refugees are still in camps and centers, with their lives frozen in time. Sadly, most European governments gambled towards the idea of sending them back once the armed conflict was over, without caring for the aftermath of war’s destruction.

The common narrative until now pushed by leaders, politicians, and mass media has been that Ukrainians are prosperous, civilized, middle class working people, but refugees coming from the Middle East are terrorists, and refuges from Africa are simply too different. Despite, refugees are all people who share similar emotions and struggle to grasp the fact that their lives may never be the same; having lost their homes, friends, family and so much more. Plus, being selectively welcomed based on their religion, skin color or nationality by the continent which’s complete rhetoric is universal rights, just adds another complex layer to the issue. Conjointly, the displacement of people due to war displays how regular individuals are always the ones who suffer the most in consequence to the interests of the few that represent larger powers. Hence, greed, envy, and cruelty are stronger than recognized, even in a developed continent such as Europe.

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What Everyone Should Know About Preventing Ethnic Violence: The Case of Bosnia

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Image source: srebrenica.org.uk

When the Balkans spiraled into violence and genocide in the 90’s, many wondered what caused this resurgence in militant ethnic nationalism and how a similar situation may be countered.

***

The 1990’s were a vibrant decade, that is unless you were living in the Balkans. 1995 was especially bad, as the 11th of July of that year marked the Srebrenica Massacre, which saw Serbian soldiers murder over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims over the span of two weeks. This shocked the world, as it was the first case of a European country resorting to extreme violence and genocide on ethnic lines since World War II. After World War II, the idea that a European country would resort to genocide was unthinkable. As Balkan nations continue to see the consequences of the massacre after over 25 years, it is increasingly evident that more needs to be done to curb ethnic violence.

We must first investigate key causes of ethnic violence. According to V.P. Gagnon, the main driver of ethnic violence is elites that wish to stay in power. Ethnic nationalism is easy to exploit, as creating a scapegoat is extremely effective for keeping elites in power. This is exactly what happened in Yugoslavia, which had previously seen high levels of tolerance and intermarriage in more mixed areas that saw the worst violence during the war. Stuart J. Kaufman argues that elites may take advantage of natural psychological fears of in-group extinction, creating group myths, or stereotypes, of outgroups to fuel hatred against them. While they may take different approaches to this issue, Gagnon and Kaufman agree that the main drivers of ethnic violence are the elites.

David Lake and Donald Rothchild suggest that the main driver of ethnic conflict is collective fears for the future of in-groups. Fear is one of the most important emotions we have because it helps secure our existence in a hostile world. However, fear can easily be exploited by the elites to achieve their personal goals. In a multiethnic society such as Yugoslavia, the rise of an elite that adheres to the prospects of a single ethnic group could prove dangerous and sometimes even disastrous. The destruction of Yugoslavian hegemony under Josip Broz Tito and the resulting explosion of ethnic conflict at the hands of Serbian elites in Bosnia underline this because of the immense fear this created.

Regions with high Serb populations in Bosnia sought independence from the rest of the country when they found themselves separated from Serbia by the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Republika Srpska was formed by these alienated Serbs. The leadership and elites in Serbia riled up the Serb population of Republika Srpska by stereotyping and demonizing Bosnian Muslims as “descendants of the Turkish oppressors”. This scared the Serbs in Bosnia so much so that they obeyed the elites of Serbia in supporting and fighting for the independence of Republika Srpska by any means necessary. As was seen in Srebrenica, they were not opposed to genocide.

We know how the elites fuel ethnic tensions to secure power as well of the devastating effects of these tensions reaching their boiling point. But what could be done to address ethnic conflict? David Welsh suggests that a remedy for ethnic conflict could be the complete enfranchisement of ethnic minorities and deterrence towards ethnic cleansing. This means that we must ensure that ethnic minorities are able to have a say in a democratic system that caters to all ethnicities equally. Fostering aversion to genocide is also vital toward addressing ethnic conflict because it is the inevitable result of unchecked ethnic conflict.

There is also the issue of members of ethnic groups voting for candidates and parties on ethnic lines. For example, in the United States, White American voters have shown to prefer White candidates over African American candidates, and vice versa. Keep in mind that the United States has a deep history of ethnic conflict, including the centuries-long subjugation of African Americans by White Americans.

Ethnic violence is horrifying and destructive, but it can be prevented. The first measure would be the establishment of a representative democracy, where members of all ethnicities are accurately represented. Another measure would be to make ethnic conflict and ethnic stereotyping taboo so that the average person would not resort to genocidal behavior once things go wrong. Lastly, making people feel secure is the most important step towards preventing ethnic conflict. If the people feel secure enough, they will not even need to think about ethnic violence. In short, while it is important to consider the differences of the various ethnic groups in a multiethnic society, it is vital that each group is kept represented and secure, free of any fears of subjugation.

While the case of Bosnia was extremely unfortunate, it provides an integral view into what could happen if perceived subjugation and fear of eradication reaches a breaking point. As was seen in Bosnia, ethnic violence can be extremely violent, resulting in untold suffering and death. That is why we must take necessary steps towards de-escalation and remediation of ethnic conflicts. These measures can, quite literally, save millions of lives.

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French Presidential Election 2022 and its significance for Europe

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Eugene Delacroix’s infamous painting “la liberté Guidant le Peuple” reminds the whole world of the July Revolution of 1830 that toppled King Charles X of France. The lady in the centre of the painting with the French tricolour still symbolizes the concept of liberty and reminds the whole world of revolutions and sacrifices made for freedom. France indeed has a long journey from revolting against “if they have no bread, let them eat cake” in 1789 to establishing a modern democratic society with the principles of “liberty, equality and fraternity”.  

France and the United States are rightly considered the birthplace of modern democracy. The French revolution taught the whole world lessons about revolution, freedom modern nationalism, liberalism and sovereignty. In 2022, France celebrates the 233rd year of Bastille Day which led to a new dawn in the French political system. From establishing 1ere Republique (1st Republic) in 1792, France has evolved and is currently under the 5eme Republique (5th Republic) under the constitution crafted by Charles de Gaulle in 1958.

Today, France is holding its presidential elections. As the French believe, ‘You first vote with your heart, then your head’, the first round of voting was concluded on Sunday 10th April and the Presidential debate on 20th April 2022. While the whole world waits for the 24th of April’s second round of elections and their results, this article attempts to understand the French electoral system and analyze Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

French electoral system

France is a semi-presidential democracy; the president is at the centre of power and Prime Minister heads the government. The president of the French republic is elected by direct universal suffrage where all French citizens aged 18 and above can vote, whether residing in France or not. In France, there is a two-round system in which voters vote twice on two Sundays, two weeks apart. This two-round system is widely practised in central and eastern Europe as well as Central Asia, South America and Africa.

In order to apply, a candidate needs 500 signatures of elected officials and they should be at least from 30 government departments. A candidate can be an independent or he or she can represent a political party. There is no limit to how many candidates can run for presidential elections. For instance, in 2002 there were 16 candidates, in 2017- 11 and in 2022 there are 12. While all the candidates have the right to equal media presence, the amount of spending on campaigns is also monitored; for the 1st round, the spending must not exceed 16.9 million euros and for the second round, it has been limited to 22.5 million euros.

This year, the 1st round of voting was concluded on 10th April while the second one is scheduled to be held on 24th April 2022. In the first round, all 12 candidates were eligible but for the second round, only two candidates who got the maximum votes are qualified for the second round.

A brief overview of French presidential candidates

Emmanuel Macron, five years ago at the age of 39, became the youngest French president of the French republic. In 2017, he broke the dominance of the two major French parties- Republicans and Socialists- by running a campaign “neither left nor right”. During the tenure of Emmanuel Macron, a hardcore centrist, France has witnessed a 7% GDP growth, unemployment dropped by 7.2% and the crime rate has fallen to 27%.

A far-rightist, Marine Le Pen is the other presidential candidate who succeeded her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as leader of the National Front (later National Rally) party in 2011. She was also contesting against Emmanuel Macron during the 2017 elections and before that in 2012, against Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. While she embraced the party’s anti-immigration stance, she rebranded the party’s Euroskepticism as French nationalism.

This year, in the April 2022 elections, the current President of France, Emanuel Macron and far-right leader, Marine Le Pen are the two candidates with Macron running ahead with a lead of 4.7 per cent votes (Emmanuel Macron-27.8% & Marine Le Pen- 23.1%).

Why French Presidential elections are important for Europe?

While European defence is primarily assured by the US-led NATO military alliance, of which most EU states are members, French president Macron said,  “Europe needs to finally build its own collective security framework on our continent…”, advocating for a ‘European Security’ framework amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

On the other hand, Le Pen’s party has been looked upon suspiciously that it might have received financing from a Russian bank connected to the Russian President Putin. In an interview with French public radion, Le pen said, “It will be necessary diplomatically, when the war [in Ukraine] is over, when a peace treaty has been signed, to try to avoid this tie-up which risks being the largest danger of the 21st century for us,” she even further added, “Imagine … if we let the first producer of raw materials in the world — which is Russia — [create an alliance] with the first factory of the world — which is China — to let them perhaps constitute the first military power of the world. I believe that it’s a potentially great danger.” These statements only further reinforce the claims that Le Pen is more pro-Russia.

While Macron is anti-Brexit, Le Pen, on the other hand, has been known for her ‘Frexit’ plan, meaning, that she wanted France to leave the EU and abandon the euro. However, during the 2022 elections, it appears that Le Pen has softened her stance on Frexit. Another important issue pertaining to immigration has been significant not only for France but the whole of Europe. This issue of immigration is directly linked with the “economic and cultural concerns” which raises an important worry about immigrants’ socio-political and economic integration into the French society and abiding by the principle of laïcité (secularism with French characters).

As for Macron, he wants to create a “rapid reaction force” to help protect EU states’ borders in case of a migrant surge and is also pushing for a rethink of the bloc’s asylum application process. Macron also said that he urges the EU to be more efficient in deporting those refused entries. On the other hand, Marine Le Pen during her campaign stated, “I will control immigration and establish security for all.” It is pertinent to note that Macron has introduced strict laws pertaining to immigration and controlling Islamic radicalization. For instance, he introduced the bill to ban foreign funding to mosques.

What is more interesting to mention is the concerns about ‘energy’ in the presidential election. Evidently, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has gained more attention on the economic and geopolitical consequences of existing national and European energy supply chain choices. In France especially, there is a major rift between the pro and anti-nuclear power fractions. Interestingly, France has the second most nuclear power stations in the world after the United States.  Besides, in the last week of the elections, Macron has been attempting to win the hearts of the French voters with his proposal for a “complete renewal” of his climate policy. He has also promised to build up to 14 nuclear reactors by 2050 and regenerate existing plants. Meanwhile, Le Pen has promised to build 20 nuclear plants and aim to have nuclear power provide 81 per cent of France’s energy by 2050. While the current president Macron and far-right candidate Le Pen have both committed to the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming, it is evident that their approaches differ particularly on energy. Since France is Europe’s second-biggest economy, France’s climate policy could echo right across the EU.

Besides, in light of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, Macron has played a significant role as he is the bridgehead for Russia and the US. He has also negotiated talks between Washington DC and Moscow and has also condemned the crisis by making the statement, “Russia is not under attack, it is the aggressor. As some unsustainable propaganda would have us believe, this war is not as big as the battle against, that is a lie.” Indeed, he has played the role of Europe’s de-facto leader vis-à-vis the Ukraine crisis. Nonetheless, with a marginal win in the first round against Marine Le Pen, winning the 2nd term is not as easy as it was five years ago.

More importantly, it is pertinent to note that France has the 2nd strongest military and 2nd biggest economy in Europe, further the 5th biggest economy in the world. France is not only the most visited country in the world but also ranks 1st in the global soft power index. It is also the founding member of the United Nations Security Council, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union which makes it an important player in European politics. Consequently, the policies of the French leadership not only direct the political, social and economic lives of the French but also reverberate in Europe.

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