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Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh-Italy relations: Current trends and future prospects

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Immediately after the independence of Bangladesh, Italy recognized the country on February 12, 1972, and started its official diplomatic relations in 1973. In 1974, Italy was one of the countries that sponsored the admission of Bangladesh in the United Nations (UN). From that time, a number of official visits have been exchanged between the countries to strengthen the bilateral relations. The current Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina paid a number of visits to attend various international events and conferences held in Italy. However, after the visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in Rome to attend the summit of the Asia-Europe Intercontinental Forum (ASEM) in October 2014, the bilateral relations have entered to a new era of strategic and economic partnership. Against such backdrops, it is important to assess the current trends and unearth the untapped areas to explore new avenues of Bangladesh-Italy relations.

Strong Defense Cooperation

Bangladesh was heavily reliant on China for defense purchase for quite a long time. But now, they are pursuing a balanced approach in achieving its military modernization followed by the Forces Goal 2030. EU members especially Germany, France, Italy and Spain have been increasingly showing their interest in supplying high-tech weapons. France with its Dassault Rafale is in a competition with Eurofighter Typhoons jointly manufactured by the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Bangladesh and Italy have been enjoying smooth defense relations in the recent past. The Italian defense giants Leonardo and Fincantieri group have shown their interest in joint ventures with Bangladesh’s air and naval industries. Leonardo got the contract to supply communications equipment, technical support and comprehensive training program for Bangladesh air force along with supplying the Kronos LAND radars.  The Kronos LAND C-band AESA radar is multi-functional radar with an air surveillance range of 250 km. At the same time, the Fincantieri group wants to upgrade the Chattogram Dry Dockyard and help Bangladesh Navy to construct state of the art warships such as frigates and corvettes based on Italian technology. Italy and Bangladesh can usher a new level of strategic cooperation through high tech defense cooperation, training and surveillance.

Economic Ties

Bangladesh from the “bottomless basket” is now one of the economic giants of South Asia. According to National Human Development Report, the country will be the 24th largest economy by 2030. The graduation of Bangladesh to a middle-income country has both opportunities and challenges. Bangladesh enjoys duty-free market access to 52 countries including the EU; Italy is a part of them.  Italy supported Bangladesh in providing the GSP facilities from the European Union. EU has been allowing Bangladeshi exports under the “everything but arms” tariff arrangements. During the last official visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in February 2020, Bangladesh sought Italy’s support in continuing the preferential access of its products to the EU market even after the country’s graduation from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) status.

Italy-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IBCCI) is the formal platform to boost bilateral economic ties. From 1995 to 2019, in 24 years, the exports of Bangladesh to Italy have increased at an annual rate of 7.86%, from $268 million to $1.65 billion. In 2019, Bangladesh exported $1.65 billion to Italy, mostly Knitwears. Agricultural items like frozen food, tea, raw jute, and jute goods have a great promise to diversify the exporting products. On the other hand, Italy exported $610 million to Bangladesh in 2019. The main products that Italy exported to Bangladesh were mercenaries, electronic products, and vehicles. The exports of Italy to Bangladesh have increased at a rate of 7.74% from $102 million in 1995 to $610 million in 2019.

Italy has shown its interest in investing in the leather industry of Bangladesh. On November 14, 2021, the Italian ambassador to Bangladesh Enrico Nunziata expressed interest during a meeting with the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSIC) in Dhaka. Bangladesh has been developing 100 economic zones in different parts of the country by offering a wide range of incentives for foreign investors including 100 percent equity share. With relatively political stability in the last decade, cheap labor facilities, and a huge middle-class domestic market, Bangladesh can be a lucrative destination for Italian companies.  However, the tariff and non-tariff barriers, corruption, and bureaucratic complexities need to be addressed to properly exploit the opportunities.

People-to-people Contact

Another area of cooperation is the diaspora community of Bangladesh in Italy. Italy is the second-largest destination for Bangladeshi migrants after the United Kingdom. As of 2020, there were more than 150,000 Bangladeshis living in Italy. The economy of Bangladesh is largely depending on two sectors—RMG and remittances. During the Covid-19 pandemic period, Bangladesh managed to maintain its economic growth with the constant remittance inflows from the diaspora. In fiscal 2020-21, Bangladesh received the highest $810.90 million remittances from Italy. But concern still exists over the rights of the migrants. To avoid the visa complexities and miseries of the immigrants, the One Stop Service (OSS) need to be facilitated. Along with the labor migrants, Bangladesh has to focus on developing skilled migrants to Italy.

More Areas to look at

Bangladesh and Italy should increase their cooperation on scientific and technological cooperation. The know-how and technology transfer will further strengthen the bilateral partnership. Bangladesh assuming the chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) for 2022-23 and Italy’s outreach activities to the IORA, the blue economy could be a potential sector of mutual interest.  Besides, both the countries should continue their cooperation both bilaterally and multilaterally in supporting the forcibly displaced Rohingyas and finding a durable solution to the crisis. The relations between Bangladesh and Italy are at the tip of the ice berg and still there are lot of possibilities to strengthen the traditional partnership in the strategic and economic sectors. The continual bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Italy will be helpful in maintaining economic growth and sustainable development in the days ahead.

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On international relations, the public is clueless, democracy fails

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Nothing is more important to the people in any nation than international relations, because that includes national security, peace and war, and also includes the nation’s economy, which depends heavily on foreign trade. 

Take, for example, the big issue in Finland and Sweden, the decision whether or not to join America’s NATO anti-Russian military alliance. To join that alliance would cause Russia to target the country as being an enemy nation if there is to be a war between America and Russia — which now seems increasingly likely. These nations weren’t targeted by Russia in the past (neither Finland nor Sweden is), because they weren’t Russia’s enemies in post-WW-II times. So: joining NATO would create an enormous and entirely new national-security threat to the people there. But, apparently, they either don’t know this; or, if they do, then they don’t think it’s important; and, so, it doesn’t affect their opinions on whether or not to join NATO — which their leaders are now determined to do. Apparently, Finns and Swedes are being led into this monumental decision on the basis of ignorance, if not of inattention, to the issue of the potentially grave threat to their national-security that might be entailed by their joining NATO. 

To judge from what is being reported in the press, public opinion on the matter, in both countries, ignores the issue of whether being targeted as an enemy, by Russia, even factors, at all, in their opinions, on whether or not their country ought to join.

Turkey’s AA News agency headlined, on May 23rd, “Swedish public … have mixed thoughts about country’s NATO membership bid”. None of the respondents volunteered that concern (about whether becoming an enemy of Russia might reduce, instead of increase, their nation’s safety and security) when asked “how they feel about the sudden urge of their country to become a NATO member.” The closest answer which was volunteered to that was “if you poke the Russian bear too much, it might react because Putin has totally no regard for any laws of war”; but no preference, one way or the other, was cited from that individual.

Alleged experts on the subject were similarly ignoring the issue. On May 13th, France 24 News bannered “In Sweden, misgivings over rushed debate to join NATO”, and reported that, 

“It’s not Sweden deciding the timeline, it’s Finland, because they share a 1,300-km border with Russia”, said Anders Lindberg, political editorialist at Aftonbladet, an independent social democratic daily.

Sweden is otherwise more accustomed to lengthy government-commissioned inquiries on major issues, aimed at fostering debate and building consensus so that decisions are broadly anchored in society.

In contrast, a security review on the pros and cons of NATO membership prepared by the parties in parliament was pulled together in just a few weeks.

The rapid U-turn is also remarkable given that the country “has built its identity on its neutrality and military non-alignment,” Lindberg added.

Support for NATO membership has soared in both Finland and Sweden since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But while a record 76 percent of Finns are in favour of joining NATO, Swedish public opinion is more divided, with recent polls indicating that between 50 and 60 percent back the idea.

On April 20th, Reuters headlined “Growing majority of Swedes back joining NATO, opinion poll shows”, and reported 

 A growing majority of Swedes are in favour of joining NATO, a poll showed on Wednesday, as policy-makers in both Sweden and Finland weigh up whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should lead to an end to decades of military neutrality.

The poll by Demoskop and commissioned by the Aftonbladet newspaper showed 57% of Swedes now favoured NATO membership, up from 51% in March. Those opposed to joining fell to 21% from 24%, while those who were undecided dipped to 22% from 25%.

The March poll was the first to show a majority of Swedes in favour of joining NATO.

Sweden has not been at war since the time of Napoleon and has built its security policy on “non-participation in military alliances”.

But like Finland, the invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”, has forced a radical rethink. Both countries are now seen as highly likely to join the 30-nation alliance.

The article didn’t even mention the issue of whether becoming targeted by Russia’s missiles might possibly endanger Swedes far more than protect them by NATO.

On March 23rd, Business Insider headlined “Finland’s people now strongly back joining NATO, poll says, a massive political shift that would enrage Russia”, and reported: “A survey of people in Finland found that a majority wanted the country to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine. The survey by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum Eva think tank found that 60% of people supported Finland joining NATO, a massive jump from previous years.” It closed:

Ilkka Haavisto, the research manager at Eva, said of the results: “Russia has shown that it does not respect the integrity of its neighbors. “The war in Ukraine has concretely shown what the horrors of a defensive war on Finland’s own territory would be and made it clear that NATO countries cannot use their military forces to help defend a nonaligned country.”

No mention was made that joining NATO would cause Finns to become targets of Russia’s missiles, perhaps even of nuclear missiles. 

On May 9th, The Defense Post bannered “Overwhelming Support for NATO Bid Among Finns: Poll”, and reported “Around 76 percent of Finns now want the country to join NATO, up from 60 percent in March, according to the poll commissioned by broadcaster YLE and conducted by research firm Taloustutkimus.” The same day, YLE headlined “Yle poll: Support for Nato membership soars to 76%”, and reported that, “Backing for membership in Yle polls has grown from 53 percent in February to 62 percent in March and 76 percent in May. Before the Russian attack on Ukraine, a majority of Finns had long opposed membership.” No mention was made there, either, regarding Finns’ possible thoughts on whether becoming targeted by Russia as being an enemy-nation might possibly create massive new danger for Finns, vastly more than any possible increase in Finland’s national security might result from joining Russia’s enemies.

Also, none of the alleged news-reports mentioned that, when Russia, on February 24th, invaded Ukraine, it was the result of a war which actually had started eight years ago in February 2014, when the U.S. perpetrated a bloody coup disguised as a ‘revolution’, that replaced Ukraine’s neutralist government, by a rabidly anti-Russian government, which then promptly started a civil war against Russian-speaking Ukrainians, especially in Ukraine’s far east and south. Neither Sweden nor Finland is in anything like that situation regarding Russia — at least not yet.

How can democracy work if the public are in the dark, and are being kept in the dark? And are satisfied to remain in the dark? When their government is taking them to war? Maybe even rushing them into a war? Maybe into WW III? Is this really democracy? Who profits from whatever it is? If this is true in Finland and Sweden, then is it true in every country? Is there any way to change it — to produce a democracy that cannot be manipulated so that it is functioning against the most important interests not only of foreign publics, but of its own public? Does anybody even discuss these problems? Why not?

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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.

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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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