On May 25th, as part of the Geneva Lecture Series concepted and conducted by prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic, a large number of international affairs specialists, faculty fellows, practitioners and diplomats gathered for a special session devoted to Democracy and Human Rights. The lecture given by H.E. Kjell Magne Bondevik, was the highlight of this mesmerizing and content intensive event. Excellency Bondevik served his native country of Norway as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1990s, but also as its longest-serving non-Labour party Prime Minister (1997-2000 and 2001-2005). He was a founder and the first president of the well-known Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights (2006-on).
Opening the day, the Swiss University Rector reminded the audience that “modern day democracy and (respect for) human rights do not have any alternative, since they represent the highest achievement of the human civilisation.”
Opening his talk, H.E. Kjell Magne Bondevik gave a comprehensive analysis of the role that human rights and democracy’s role plays on maintaining peace and stability worldwide. He tackled issues, including recent events, such as Covid and the decrease of democracies, human rights and the many dilemmas which surround them; including the double standards, the relationship between democracy and human dignity, and what the Oslo Center is contributing to this issue.
Excellency Bondevik continued his lecture by stating that, in general, over the past 30 years democracies have been on the rise, but as of recently they have seen a rapid decrease which can be interpreted as a direct threat to peace and stability. This is because as according to him, lasting peace depends on real democracy and human rights as well as inclusive societies.
With this in mind, His Excellency presented two dimensions which are the key in preserving democracy, peace, and stability in future:
“1) Build up strong politically democratic institutions that are sustainable and not dependent on one or few strong political leaders, and
2) create more inclusive societies were different groups are included and the civil society is strengthened”.
Notwithstanding, building this framework is a challenge and it all depends on how local communities and other institutions are organized. His Excellency stated that this issue was emphasized by the COVID crisis because it created a debate concerning national and international institutions and their responsibilities. This concluded that strengthening of international institutions and cooperation is extremely important for the overall well-being.
Then, the Former Prime Minister, addressed human rights and the many dilemmas surrounding them and the disconnect in the international discourse. First, His Excellency stated that abuse of human rights, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, and encroachments of human dignity will consequently lead to uprise and violent conflicts as can be seen in history. Hence, there are 2 dilemmas: 1) the disconnect between human rights as international discourse, and 2) political practices. Moreover, His Excellency specified that the disconnect has 2 further facets: 1) the discourse of the UN, western governments, and academics, as opposed to the experienced reality; 2) which can be seen in regimes that are good at rehearsing their human rights discourse, which is used as a smokescreen for systematic violations. Therefore, “we have to move on from the historical ties of human rights and place them in a contemporary political and human experience context and become much more worried about their universality”.
Furthermore, His Excellency stated that, “human rights are seen to be only relevant and feasible in mature democracies where power holders can be held accountable, otherwise, they may only be seen as theoretical construct and theme for International conferences”. Therefore, the lack of correspondence between discourse and practices that is present nowadays is what has led to a moral and credibility crisis for international human rights. To solve this, His Excellency affirmed that a step in the right direction would be the improvement of effective assessment and credible tools for human rights and the prosecution of their violations and violators.
In Addition, H.E. Bondevik addressed the growing issue of double standards between various nations concerning human rights. In this regard, His Excellency affirmed that the US and Europe have lost credibility as protectors of human rights, “because the standards used to measure them in one country must be the same used in another, even if one is a ally and the other an enemy”. Hence, this constitutes another discontinuity that threatens the universality of human rights, since all states should guarantee freedom to allow societies to change and improve internally. Moreover, His Excellency stated that he believes in human rights but that “it’s also important to address the social and political realities that undermine their universality and critically assess our own discourse, we must relentlessly breach the gap”.
Furthermore, H.E. Bondevik tackled democracy more in-depth and stated that “it is the consequence of the fundamental value that is human dignity”. His Excellency elaborated on the previous statement and described fragile states and weak democracies as having internal conflicts characterized by political, ethnic, and religious divides as well as frail state policy. Moreover, weak states have coalition governments which are the result of political compromises which lack a common political platform, and so, they often have short histories of political cooperation and democratic governance. Thus, “it is extremely important to promote cooperation because it may serve as a pre-condition or successful post-conflict reconciliation”.
Lastly, H.E. Bondevik, as Founder and Executive Chair of the Oslo Center, addressed what the organization can contribute in regard to democracy and human rights as basis for lasting peace. He affirmed that the focus of the organization will be to “provide context-sensitive advice to political leaders, parties, and different government apparatus on power-sharing, coalition building, and enhancement of dialogue and cooperation”. Notwithstanding, it will continue to lead projects in countries such as Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, North Macedonia, and Georgia to create development mechanisms. However, more importantly, the Oslo Center will continue to align its work in the form of partnerships with the main political institutions of each country as these are the individuals actually on the ground and the key to (change and) success.
The former Prime Minister of Norway, His Excellency Kjell Magne Bondevik, confirmed the earlier statement of his host prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic that “confrontation is what you get, and cooperation is what you are fighting for”, by concluding his lecture with following words: “Democracy is about how to share power and respecting the will of the people, it is a continuous and ongoing process about political and public dialogue – and dialogue is the only tool to build better relations between communities and regions. Therefore, respect for democracy and human rights is a conflict prevention and peace tool”.
Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections
The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.
In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.
Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.
Small numbers, big changes
The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.
This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.
In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.
Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists
On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.
The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.
The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.
Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.
Coronavirus, climate & economy
Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.
Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.
The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.
The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.
New (old) government?
The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.
Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.
Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.
The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.
The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.
From our partner RIAC
EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession
On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.
During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.
However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.
Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”
While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.
The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.
This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”
Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.
In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.
German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy
In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.
The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.
Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.
Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.
According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.
To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.
For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.
As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.
The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.
|Issues Coalitions||Trafic Light||Grand Coalition||Jamaica|
1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.
In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.
Did India invade Kashmir?
Pakistan has decided to observe 27th October as Black Day. This was the day when, according to India’s version, it...
Landmark decision gives legal teeth to protect environmental defenders
A 46-strong group of countries across the wider European region has agreed to establish a new legally binding mechanism that...
Plastic pollution on course to double by 2030
Plastic pollution in oceans and other bodies of water continues to grow sharply and could more than double by 2030, according to an assessment released on Thursday by the UN Environment...
Global Warming And COP26: Issues And Politics
The president’s massive social services and infrastructure package is under consideration by Congress. The problem is Senator Joe Manchin, a...
The End of the West in Self-annihilation (Intentionality, Directionality and Outcome)
A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.-Definition of Health,...
Women in leadership ‘must be the norm’
We can no longer exclude half of humanity from international peace and security matters, the UN chief told the Security...
Maximizing Nickel as Renewable Energy Resource and Strengthening Diplomacy Role
Authors: Nani Septianie and Ramadhan Dwi Saputra* The development of the times and technology, the use of energy in the...
Science & Technology4 days ago
China beats the USA in Artificial Intelligence and international awards
Defense3 days ago
American submarine mangled in the South China Sea
Middle East3 days ago
North Africa: Is Algeria Weaponizing Airspace and Natural Gas?
Middle East4 days ago
Breaking The Line of the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Americas3 days ago
Iran poll contains different messages for Biden and Raisi
Americas4 days ago
Gallup: World’s Approval of U.S. Govt. Restored to Obama’s Record High
Americas3 days ago
Biden’s Department of Justice: parents as domestic terrorists
Economy3 days ago
The Blazing Revival of Bitcoin: BITO ETF Debuts as the Second-Highest Traded Fund