Around the World (February 9, 2013)

Queen Beatrix of Netherlands to Abdicate

After 33 years as the monarch of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (comprising the Netherlands, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and Aruba), Queen Beatrix announced her intention to abdicate in favor of her son, Prince Willem-Alexander (video). The announcement is being greeted with expressions of respect and thankfulness from the majority of the public in The Netherlands. With the prince’s ascension to the throne come April, it will be the first time since 1890 that the monarch will be a male. As in all other constitutional monarchies (that are also parliamentary democracies), the monarch in The Netherlands has only head of state roles, and even those are mostly focused on the ceremonial-representative dimensions. From this point of view, Willem-Alexander’s efforts to build up a respected profile, not only in terms of the public persona, but also as in the field of humanitarian work, were a good laying of groundwork for his future job (given that he had his share of controversy in his younger years).

EU Council Agrees on Seven Year Budget Plan

After a marathon debate, the European Council (the gathering of all heads of state and/or heads of the executive in the European Union), which is in many respects the highest decision-making body in the EU (structure), agreed on a 7-year budget for the Union. After the final decision was reached, all the major players declared themselves very satisfied with both what they gave and with what they took in order to get to this agreement. IN order to come into effect, the budget will still have to be approved by the directly elected European Parliament, and that is by no means  guaranteed, given that it is austerity-oriented; yet it is probable, given the perceived need for decisive action from the EU in these uncertain economic times.

German Leader Resigns Following Accusations of Plagiarism

In another instance of what seems like a never-ending chain of resignations and scandals related to accusations of academic plagiarism in the last 3 years, throughout Europe, one of the prominent leaders of the Christian Democratic Union and a close friend of Angela Merkel, Annette Schavan, recently resigned after losing such a public battle (video). Until then she was the Federal Minister of Education and Research, and this was in fact why, while completely rejecting all accusations, she decided to resign: to guard the authority of the ministerial position and the interests of a CDU that is entering an election year.

Tunisia Opposition Leader Killed – Mass Revolts Follow 

The assassination of Chokri Belaid represents the most troubling event yet in the history of the young Tunisian democracy, after the Arab Spring. Just like the turmoil in Egypt, it shows that building the habits and institutions of a functioning democracy is not a simple, unidirectional process, but a vulnerable and uncertain trajectory. There are two mechanisms that have to be taken into consideration, when looking at these events in MENA:  one has to do with  the normal process of moving from euphoria to disappointment after a revolution; and the other with understanding the specific make-up of the countries of Middle-East and North Africa. Currently, the Islamist-dominated governments that came after the Arab spring in several of these countries are suffering from (inevitably) failing to deliver on the (naturally) exaggerated public expectations regarding the overall quality of life, the functioning of the institutions, and the general pace of change. On the other hand, while the Islamist forces enjoyed significant legitimacy after the Revolution, given that they had always been the most  prominent and well-organized opposition forces during the previous regimes, their ideological make-up does not correspond with the profile and expectations of a significant part of the respective populations.  As the post-1989 history of Central and Eastern Europe has taught us, it would be part of the natural post-revolutionary process for these Islamist forces to lose the next elections; but handing over power and accepting this democratic turn-over might be a difficult fit with their ideology, and it is certainly not something yet part of the political culture of societies that until recently lived under authoritarian regimes.  The mass protests, violence and strike following Belaid’s funeral  are visible manifestations of these tensions.

Failed Attack on an Ethnic Turkish Political Leader in Bulgaria

Bulgarian political leader Ahmed Dogan recently became an internationally known figure, when  footage showing a young man pointing a gun at his head became one of the most watched videos on the internet. What happened? Ahmed Dogan is one of the leaders (and founders) of the main political party of the ethnic Turks in Bulgaria, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS). Besides a large (~ 5%) Roma minority, and other, smaller ethnic/religious groups (such as the Pomaks, who are Muslim ethnic Bulgarians), Bulgaria also has a significant Turkish minority, constituting about 10% of its population. In the 1980s, just like in neighboring Romania or Yugoslavia, the ruling Communist party adopted a nationalist rhetoric, as well as policies directed against the main minority – in this case, the Turks. Obviously these tensions did not disappear with the end of Communism,  transforming this Turkish population into a fairly unified electoral constituency, brought together by a sense of being disenfranchised and oppressed by the Bulgarian majority and the state that serves it. And just like in other formerly Communist countries, many of the “new” political and economic elites that rose to power after 1989 were in fact people with deep-lying connections with the previous Communist regime, and often with the secret police, who benefited after the advent of democracy from this already existing network of power and influence. This is also the case with Ahmed Dogan, who has been profiting in the last 20 years, politically and financially, from both circumstances. In fact, (his attacker) Oktay Enimehmedov’s statements said as much, and the ethnic Bulgarian public opinion’s tendency to both accuse Dogan of orchestrating the attack, and at the same time to  make Ehmedinov into a sort of popular hero. illustrate both the continuation of the ethnic tensions in Bulgaria, as well as a general dislike of the outspoken Dogan and of the post-1989 generation of political and economic elites that he represents. As an addendum, it  has to be noted that this was not an actual “assassination” attempt, as the gun was a gas pistol loaded with two blanks and a pepper load. The footage remains shocking, notwithstanding, which explains its popularity on the internet.

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