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Biopolitics of Border: EU Security Challenges and the Future of Schengen

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The Schengen system was one of the most unique and post-modern ideas the reimagined borders in the International Politics. The idea of weakening of borders and handing it to a supranational entity where the Nation-States that for centuries had waged wars for its borders seems a newer imagination of taking integration to the next level. The Schengen that came into effect around 1995 had the idea of harmonization of states. Post the Arab Spring, there were concerns by the states especially Italy and France to have temporary mechanisms to have internal borders and have some control and checks over the situation. The crises of Mediterranean and various other challenges like terrorist attacks made the Schengen System precarious. The paper aims to look at the ideas of border migration and security through a theoretical perspective and indulges in the debates of security on whose security is more important and then dives into the concept of biopolitics and irregular migrants and tries to relate it to concepts such as biopolitical borders and EU’s security and the future of Schengen.

Debates on security challenges in European Union, Whose security anyway?

The prominent understanding with regards to Europe’s migration problem is found across the understanding of non-academic and critique through the academic and problematizing the uncertainties amongst the neo-liberal policies of EU towards irregular migrants more of rhetoric of a humanitarian policies than actually understanding the violent realities. In the recent times issues relating to the International migration has been one of the most contested area and is boxed in the idea of ‘New Security Agenda’ and has been under the radar of security studies since the 1980s.  There are debates that are explored on whether migration is considered as a security issue or not. There needs to be a better understanding when talking about Migration as security issues, as it is important to know if it is a security issue to the Nation-State or Humans. Since the times of early civilization, the idea of other always has brought in a kind of suspicions and also hatred, the incoming international migrants to the Europe bring in new lifestyle, culture, values and traditions and it is taken as a threat and they are although associated with crimes, terrorism and health threat and Khalid Koser in his article points out that these threat perceptions are usually overestimated. The Nation-States idea of security threat comes from the managing the borders and things that may weaken the states sovereignty hence the threat to states sovereignty seems like a justifiable reason for large surveillance systems, detention centres and deportation of these irregular or illegal migrants. The two contesting ideas of National Security versus the human security is always debated. Does the security of the state outweigh the security of humans or the irregular/illegal migrants then?  Kerwin contests these ideas and figures out that these debates of National Security and Human Security are not exclusive to each other but a proper policy of national security should only further human security.

The other side of the security debate is of the migration is only from South to North and the idea of most of the irregular migrants ending up in Europe is untrue as most irregular migrants are situated in developing countries as transit or destination and these developing countries take most burden of migrants in the crises of Syria or Iraq. These Eurocentric arguments focus on only developed countries where as the situation of developing countries carrying the un-proportional burden of irregular migrants is ignored. In 2014 the crisis through Mediterranean came into the mainstream, as irregular migrants through the boats tried to seek asylum in the EU. According to European agency on border security reported that almost 90% of irregular migrants came from the Mediterranean and made ways into European through Italy. The response of the European Union towards this situation brought out the discrepancies between the National Security and the Human Security approach.  The changing public opinion and the rise of right-wing governments in the European Union points out to the impact on the balance of the national security versus human security approach towards irregular migrants.

The Biopolitics of Border:

Foucault Biopower and irregular Migrants

Aristotle imagined the spheres of ‘life’ and ‘politics’ as different arenas but the shift to look at life as the primary domain of politics was emphasized by Foucault. Biopolitics marks a significant shift from the politics of sovereignty to the politics of society. For Foucault the power is fluid and it cannot be acquired, it can be seen through the relations in which they function. He argues that sovereign had a right to decide over the life and death, this derived from the idea of patria potestas roughly translated to the power of the father to dispose children and slave in Roman family. So, placing this as central the sovereign has the power to kill, that means to save its own life the sovereign can kill and it derives its power through that. He promulgates two forms of power one is biopower and other is disciplinary power and according to him disciplinary power was needed to enhance the rise of modern capitalism and due to this he suggests that the older idea of sovereign of ‘to kill’ was replaced by either to ‘to make live and let die’. Liberalism at its core has a complex relationship with freedom that means that the freedom is produced but this production of freedom means also production of limitations, forms of coercion etc. This idea of producing the limitations to the freedom is referred by Foucault as security. 

The tools to maintain the equilibrium of the state that does not disturb its produced freedoms. Taking the discussion forward towards the writings of Rose and the concept of ‘biological citizenship’ they infer it as the way through which citizenship is formed through considering the prominent characteristics of human beings. This then brings into the factors like who is a proper citizen and who are non-citizens. The idea of Denizens that derived from ancient Rome where the foreigners who resided in the Rome were not given all rights and their citizenship not limited. A Denizen is someone who has limited range of rights than the actual citizen, the modern Nation-States system has risen a similar rise into a new form of precariousness into the lives of irregular migrants that can be named as Neo-Denizens and they are victims of state violence and have been portrayed as other and the enemy by the sovereign.

Biopolitical Border Security in Europe

The idea of border control before the Schengen agreement was more dependent on the prevention of movement and the changes in this now is focused on indispensable need for capitalism to thrive is on mobility and to govern the then citizens on a never-ending space i.e, European Union. In Foucaultian notions the emerging ideas of these have newer challenges rather than controlling their movement from one place to the other there is cancellation of circulation is ruled out. The biopolitical border is not to limit the territory but to instead govern the de-territorialized. These newer borders function on freedom but it is not without conditions, these are governed by security practices and conditional movements to regulate citizens.

The biopolitical security mechanisms need to get knowledge of the other life in order to properly secure it, in this case it is the irregular migrants. The knowledge of these lives areunknown then it is considered to be danger. The biopolitical idea of security is through the knowledge of the known and therefore subjects unknown or outside this perceived knowledge are considered through profiling of the population. The European idea on biopolitical security tends to intensify the urge to better this knowledge in order to therefore maximize security through attempts of improving the identification of these irregular migrants. The notion of biopolitics is to increase and optimize life through recent biopolitical governance. These notions can be applied in the context of the European Union where there is significant increase of knowledge towards these irregular migrants in order to not only save them but also empower them.

Due to the development of these ideas there is an emergence of humanitarian borders as written by William Walters.  Foucault idea and the biopolitical borders and migrant management policies creates hierarchies in lives between those of irregular migrants and others who are regular migrants. There are although debates where Foucault’s claim if the idea of biopolitics is to further and optimize life then why does the sovereign or the political power kill? Then he notes that there a notable shift in discourse with the rise of the ‘racist state’, where he claims and points out ‘what must live and what must die’. This doesn’t mean that the death to inferior race ensures one’s safety but the death of that race makes one more healthier and purer and this idea of racist biopolitics was furthers by Hitler as written by Foucault. This analysis is furthered by Fassin who understands the idea of life worthy and unworthy. This racist biopolitical notions is now furthered by the deaths of lives in the Mediterranean due to European Union’s rejection.  The Foucaultian biopolitics has its inherent paradoxes like how can the same irregular migrant bodies be a threat to security but also the need of lives to be saved in the same? Esposito furthers this idea where he connects that and talks about immunization and gives the concept of autoimmunity where it seems that Europe like an autoimmune condition starts ‘killing’ in order to protect but functions on the contrary.

Future of Schengen System

The series of debates on the Schengen have emerged especially looking at the refugee crisis, terrorist attacks and Brexit and there are states that have acted on their own to create other internal border the inflicts on the idea of free movement in the European Union. The various crises contributed to raising of internal borders even amongst the states that did not have any border restrictions like Sweden and Denmark. Schengen system have although come into light due to these crises by the European Council of Foreign Relations shows that almost 22 out of the 28 countries in the EU have shown promising commitments towards it. The idea for these promising commitments is due to the economic benefits for the states. Despite of terrorist attacks the notion of borderless zone is strong as states believe that the way to tackling these issues are through a combined effort and as European Union.

All’s not well is paradise as having economic benefits there seems to have consistent increase in checks and rise in internal borders. Austria has introduced checks on all of its borders, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany and Sweden are other states that have introduced some kind of border checks on either side of their border. Emerging from the debates of Biopolitics and the otherization and there has been increase in fear of these irregular migrants as these reflect in the opinions of public as pew research shows that about 82% of the population in Lithuania believes that irregular migrants bring crimes and disturbs the public order, these show 60% in Estonia and 54% in Germany. As the biopolitics of racist states tend to increase and has been reflected in the rise of extreme political ideologs getting into power the near future although seems fine but newer threats like the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors are contributing to a situation that may seem likely changes in the Schengen systems. As Esposito argues that through biopolitics the states turn into immunization and due to these immunization the conditions of autoimmunity becomes real and this condition reflects in the borders and migration policies of Europe where the right to kill and give a death by the sovereign is seen in Europe’s uncertain balance of National security and human security and this imbalance is resulting in costing lives and moving into a phase where humanitarian security needs to largely debated, emphasized and ruled upon. There have been possibilities like Mini Schengens, Small Schengens or remaining with the status quo that has been debated by the academia.

Bio: Bhagya Raj is a post-graduate student of International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.

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NATO’s Cypriot Trick

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UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact died, there was much speculation that NATO would consider itself redundant and either disappear or at least transmogrify into a less aggressive body.

Failing that, Moscow at least felt assured that NATO would not include Germany, let alone expand eastwards. Even the NATO Review, NATO’s PR organ, wrote self-apologetically twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall: “Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the ‘2+4 Treaty’ ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.”

Whatever the polemics about Russia’s claim that NATO broke its promises, the facts of what happened following the fall of the Berlin wall and the negotiations about German re-unification strongly demonstrate that Moscow felt cheated and that the NATO business and military machine, driven by a jingoistic Cold War Britain, a selfish U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex and an atavistic Russia-hating Poland, saw an opportunity to become a world policeman.

This helps to explain why, in contrast to Berlin, NATO decided to keep Nicosia as the world’s last divided city. For Cyprus is in fact NATO’s southernmost point, de facto. And to have resolved Cyprus’ problem by heeding UN resolutions and getting rid of all foreign forces and re-unifying the country would have meant that NATO would have ‘lost’ Cyprus: hardly helpful to the idea of making NATO the world policeman. Let us look a little more closely at the history behind this.

Following the Suez debacle in 1956, Britain had already moved its Middle East Headquarters from Aden to Cyprus, while the U.S. was taking over from the UK and France in the Middle East. Although, to some extent under U.S. pressure, Britain was forced to bring Makarios out of exile and begin negotiating with Greece and Turkey to give up its colony, the U.S. opted for a NATO solution. It would not do to have a truly sovereign Cyprus, but only one which accepted the existence of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as part and parcel of any settlement; and so it has remained, whatever the sophistic semantics about a bizonal settlement and a double-headed government. The set of twisted and oft-contradictory treaties that have bedevilled the island since 1960 are still afflicting the part-occupied island which has been a de facto NATO base since 1949. Let us look at some more history.

When Cyprus obtained its qualified independence in 1960, Greece and Turkey had already signed, on 11 February 1959, a so called ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, agreeing that they would support Cyprus’ entry into NATO.1 This was, however, mere posture diplomacy, since Britain—and the U.S. for that matter—did not trust Cyprus, given the strength of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the latter’s links to Moscow. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote: ‘Membership of NATO might make it easier for the Republic of Cyprus and possibly for the Greeks and Turks to cause political embarrassment should the United Kingdom wish to use the bases […] for national ends outside Cyprus […] The access of the Cypriot Government to NATO plans and documents would present a serious security risk, particularly in view of the strength of the Cypriot Communist Party. […] The Chiefs of Staff, therefore, feel most strongly that, from the military point of view, it would be a grave disadvantage to admit Cyprus to NATO.’2 In short, Cyprus was considered unreliable.

As is well known, the unworkable constitution (described as such by the Foreign Office and even by David Hannay, the Annan reunification plan’s PR man), resulted in chaos and civil strife: in January 1964, during the chaos caused by the Foreign Office’s help and encouragement to President Makarios to introduce a ‘thirteen point plan’ to solve Cyprus’ problems, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home told the Cabinet: ‘If the Turks invade or if we are seriously prevented from fulfilling our political role, we have made it quite clear that we will retire into base.’3 Put more simply, Britain had never had any intention of upholding the Treaty of Guarantee.

In July of the same year, the Foreign Office wrote: ‘The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion […] We have all along made it clear to the United Nations that we could not agree to UNFICYP’s being used for the purpose of repelling external intervention, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFYCYP are to withdraw to the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.’4

It was mainly thanks to Moscow and President Makarios that in 1964 a Turkish invasion and/or the island being divided between Greece and Turkey was prevented. Such a solution would have strengthened NATO, since Cyprus would no longer exist other than as a part of NATO members Greece and Turkey. Moscow had issued the following statement: ‘The Soviet Government hereby states that if there is an armed foreign invasion of Cypriot territory, the Soviet Union will help the Republic of Cyprus to defend its freedom and independence against foreign intervention.’5

Privately, Britain, realising the unworkability of the 1960 treaties, was embarrassed, and wished to relieve itself of the whole problem. The following gives us the backstage truth: ‘The bases and retained sites, and their usefulness to us, depend in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation and at least acquiescence. A ‘Guantanamo’6 position is out of the question. Their future therefore must depend on the extent to which we can retain Greek and/or Cypriot goodwill and counter USSR and UAR pressures. There seems little doubt, however, that in the long term, our sovereign rights in the SBA’s will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion.7

Following the Turkish invasion ten years later, Britain tried to give up its bases: ‘British strategic interests in Cyprus are now minimal. Cyprus has never figured in NATO strategy and our bases there have no direct NATO role. The strategic value of Cyprus to us has declined sharply since our virtual withdrawal from east of Suez. This will remain the case when the Suez Canal has reopened.8

A Cabinet paper concluded: ‘Our policy should continue to be one of complete withdrawal of our military presence on Cyprus as soon as feasible. […] In the circumstances I think that we should make the Americans aware of our growing difficulty in continuing to provide a military presence in Cyprus while sustaining our main contribution to NATO. […]9

Britain kept trying to give up the bases, but the enabler of the Turkish invasion, Henry Kissinger, did not allow Britain to give up its bases and listening posts, since that would have weakened NATO, and since Kissinger needed the bases because of the Arab-Israel dispute.10

Thus, by the end of 1980, in a private about-turn, Britain had completely succumbed to American pressure: ‘The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’ might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of arrival [author’s italics]11.

And so it is today: Cyprus is a de facto NATO territory. A truly independent, sovereign and united Cyprus is an anathema to the U.S. and Britain, since such a scenario would afford Russia the hypothetical opportunity to increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

From our partner RIAC

[1] Ministry of Defence paper JP (59) 163, I January 1960, BNA DEFE 13/99/MO/5/1/5, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, a Modern History, I.B. Tauris (now Bloomsbury), London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2012, p.49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.

[4] British Embassy, Washington, to Foreign Office, 7 July 1964, telegram 8541, BNA FO 371/174766, file C1205/2/G, in ibid.’, Mallinson, William, p. 37.

[5] Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.

[6] In 1964, Cuba cut off supplies to the American base at Guantanamo Bay, since the US refused to return it to Cuba, as a result of which the US took measures to make it self-sufficient.

[7] Briefing paper, 18 June 1964, BNA-DO/220/170, file MED 193/105/2, part A. Mallinson,William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p. 127.

[8] ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.

[9] Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.

[10] Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2020, pp. 87-121.

[11] Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.

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Belarus divorces from the Eastern Partnership: A new challenge for the EU Neighborhood Policy

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The Eastern Partnership (EaP) is the Eastern dimension of the EU Neighborhood Policy adopted back in 2009 aimed at deepening relations between Brussels and six Eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP has been regarded as a strategic initiative based on mutual interests and common values with a goal of strengthening political and economic relations with those countries, helping them enhance their institutional capacity through sustainable reforms. While increasing stability and paving the way for the sustainable development of those societies, the EU’s overall goal has been to secure its Eastern borders.

Since the very beginning the EaP has been suspiciously viewed by Russia as an attempt of expansion of the sphere of influence and as a first step of EU membership of these countries. Russians point to the EU and NATO ambitious expansion eastward as the main reason for complicated relations and in this context the EaP has been regarded with traditional fears and paranoic perceptions. The Russian hard power approach causes serious problems for the EaP which fails to mitigate security concerns of partner countries and to come up with serious initiatives for conflict settlement. Being a laggard in terms of soft power, the Russian ruling elite has continuously used all hard power foreign policy instruments at its disposal trying to undermine the coherence of the initiative. And the very recent démarche of Belarus to withdraw from the EaP should be seen in this context of confrontation.

On 28th of June, the ministry of foreign affairs of Belarus announced a decision to halt its membership in the EaP as a response to the EU sanctions imposed on Minsk accompanied by the recalling ambassadors from both sides. Actually, this isn’t the first case of the EaP walkout blackmailed by Lukashenko. The first escape was attempted in September-October 2011, but the difficulties were soon resolved and Lukashenko revised his decision. This time situation seems very complicated and these far-reaching tensions may have tough consequences for Lukashenko’s regime. This new group of sectoral sanctions which target banking, oil, telecommunication spheres and also ban the export of potash, is a harsh response from the EU against Lukashneko’s scandalous hijacking activity in May to detain a Belarusian opposition journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich.

Lukashenko’s administration not only challenges the EU Neighborhood Policy and shows no retreat, but also goes forward escalating the situation. Minsk takes high risks freezing the Readmission Agreement signed by the EU. This document is a legal basis for bilateral cooperation aimed at struggling against irregular migration flows. It’s not a secret that the territory of Belarus has been used for illegal migration for the groups from the Middle East to penetrate into neighboring EU member states such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Moreover, Belarus territory has served as a transit route for smuggling circles going from East to West and vice versa.  And now closing eyes on all these channels, Minsk hopes to increase the bargaining power vis-à-vis Brussels. However, given the Western reactions, it seems that this time the EU is resolute.

Despite the fact that Charles Michel, the President of the EU Council, described this withdrawal as “another step backwards” and even threatened that “this will escalate tensions having clear negative impacts”, the EU wants to continue working with the Belarusian society  as Josep Borrel stated. The EU’s determination to keep the bridges alive with the Belarusian people, in spite of Lukashneko’s radical stance, is aimed at preventing further isolationism of Minsk which would benefit only Russia.

In contrast to the increasing level of tensions with the EU, the Russian authorities continue to support Lukasheno’s administration, thus trying to deepen the gap and to bring Belarus under their total influence. Russia uses Belarus in its chessboard with the EU and the USA in Eastern Europe. Last year’s fraud elections and brutal crackdown by Lukashenko left him alone with the only source of power stemming from the Kremlin. Thus the withdrawal from the EaP should be understood not only as a convulsion of the Belarusian authorities in response to the sanctions, but also Russia’s employment of the Belarus card to respond to the recent joint statement of the EU-US summit in Brussels, when both parties declared their intention to stand with the people of Belarus, supporting their demands for human rights and democracy simultaneously criticising Lukashenko’s regime and his reckless political behavior and also criticising Russian’s unacceptable behavior.

So, Lukashenko’s step to quit the EaP can be seen as a well-calculated adulatory sign towards Moscow sacrificing the last remnants of sovereignty in order to receive financial and political lifebuoy amid the increasing crisis in the result of sanctions.  And the recent visit of N. Patrushev, the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, to Minsk right after the withdrawal decision shows Russian inclination to strike while the iron is hot and to abuse the vulnerable situation of Belarus. Patrushev stated that the ultimate goal of foreign powers is to change the power in Belarus and he suggested instead of focusing on internal issues, to bring their forces together against external threats as their influence affects internal developments. For this reason, deeper integration of security and military services of both countries are on the table.

The reaction of opposition leader S. Tikhanovskaya was very rough, stating that this suspension will cut the opportunities of ordinary citizens who benefit from the political and economic outcomes of the EaP. Moreover, she claims that Lukashenko doesn’t have a right to represent Belarus since August 2020 and his decisions don’t have legal consequences for Belarus. This kind of approach is shared by the leadership of Lithuania too, whose president and minister of foreign affairs not only refuse to recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate president, but also highlight the role of the Kremlin in supporting the dictatorial power of Lukashenko in exchange for decreasing sovereignty.

The blackmail of Lukashenko to challenge the EU Eastern Neighborhood Policy  in order to have the sanctions lifted may bring about such kind of precedents with other partnering countries as well. First of all, this concerns Azerbaijan which continues to face serious problems related with human rights, freedom of expression, the problem of Prisoners of War and other traits of authoritarian power. It’s well-known that  human rights issues have been the underwater stones in the EU and Azerbaijan relations and they continue to pose new challenges for Aliyev’s non-democratice regime. Another weak ring of the EaP chain is Armenia. Even though reelected N. Pashinyan is eager to pursue a balanced foreign policy, post-war Armenia still faces serious limitations given its vulnerable dependence on Russia. Besides, Pashinyan’s main rival and the former President R. Kocharyan, whose alliance will be the second largest faction in the newly elected Parliament has recently stated that this new parliament can last up to one and half years and nobody can exclude the possibility of new snap elections. His pro-Russian attitude and anti-Western stance are well-known and in case he becomes a prime-minister, there is no guarantee that he will follow the path of Lukashenko. 

Therefore  the statement of the Austrian MFA, that ”we cannot leave South Caucasus to others” during the  recent official visit of the Austrian, Romanian and Latvian MFA under the mandate of the EU High Representative to the South Caucasus, reminds  about the EU presence in the region and also the fact that the ‘normative power’ can be a source of balance and a status quo changer.

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Anti-Macron protests underline classism, as corona protesters and gilets jaune join forces

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photo: Alaattin Doğru - Anadolu Agency

I get it. People in France are fed up with the Covid lockdowns and that’s why they are protesting against the new tightening of the Covid rules. But there is much more to the story.

The new anti-Covid rules by French President Macron came in the middle of the Cannes Film Festival where the rich and famous come out to play for 10 days at the French Reviera. I was there, too, in fact when the new set of rules angered so many ordinary French people. But guess what — the rules didn’t apply to us, those gathered for the Cannes red carpets and parties. Celebrities did not have to wear masks on the red carpet. I did not have to put on a mask at the red carpets. I was not checked even once on the mandatory Covid tests which we took every 2 days anyways. No one at the Cannes red carpets, parties or fashion shows was looking at Covid tests at the entrance, and I attended not one or two things. That’s at the time when the rest of France was boiling. Yes, we were treated differently as the Cannes crowd. That was obvious.

Don’t get me wrong — spending tens of thousands of euros to drink champaigne, walk red carpets and hang out with actors, models, designers and influencers is great. But I couldn’t help but notice that the Cannes elite was being held to a very different standard in comparisson to the ordinary French public. Macron exempted the Cannes crowd from the new rules and that smells of classism and elitism. I can see why the gillets gaune, which I wrote about in my book Trump, European security and Turkey (2020), are angry and want to resume their protests which were put an end to with the Covid lockdowns.

In fact, as soon as you move one or two streets away from the craze and snobbery of the Cannes Festival, you see a very different French picture. Actually, the most pleasant conversations I had in Cannes were with the guy that made my pizza at 2am, a couple of gillets jaune on the street, and the taxi driver who lives in Cannes. These were the pleasant, hard-working French people that represent France so much better than the snotty Cannes Film Festival organizers, the French police or the so-overrated snobbery at the Chopard events. 

From the pizza guy in Mozarella Street I learned that he works two jobs and sleeps 3 hours per night. That’s the reality for many normal French people. Yet, he was the nicest and coolest person I met in Cannes. Somehow I wished that he could trade places with some of the rest I met in Cannes who probably don’t deserve to have an easy life and should be taught a lesson. So I get it. I get the struggle of the gillets gaune and all those that are opposed to Macron’s policies. He is increasingly playing with the far right and that might as well mean that he is looking at his sunset. 

I also get the classism that persists in French society — it’s important to be aware of it even if you’re on the receiving end of a lot of glamor, bemefits and good things. All I can tell you is that next time I am in France, I am joining the gillet jaune protests. Now I really get it. 

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