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.


50 Years Since the Élysée Treaty

The Treaty of Friendship between France and the Federal Republic of Germany, signed on January 22, 1963, was the culmination of a prolonged process of reconciliation between the two nations, lead by Konrad Adenauer (on the German side), and by Robert Schumann, and then Charles de Gaulle (on the French side). This process and the signing of the treaty reflected the conviction of these actors and of the Franco-German leadership that there must be no way, no possibility, to go back to the horrors of the world war that ended a very few years before, nor to the centuries of enmity and conflict that actually paved the way to those horrors. As they mentioned in the joint declaration that constitutes a sort of preamble of the treaty, the close relationship between France and Germany was not only essential for the two countries, but also necessary for the peace and unity of Europe as a whole:

Convinced that the reconciliation of the German people and the French people, ending a centuries-old rivalry, constitutes a historic event which profoundly transforms the relations between the two peoples,

Conscious of the solidarity uniting the two peoples from the point of view of both their security and their economic and cultural development,

Aware in particular that youth has recognized this solidarity and is called upon to play a decisive part in the consolidation of Franco-German friendship,

Recognizing that increased co-operation between the two countries constitutes an indispensable stage on the way to a united Europe, which is the aim of the two peoples

Have agreed to the organization and principles of co-operation between the two States as set out in the treaty signed today.

The treaty thus signed established several mechanisms of cooperation, in areas  ranging from defense to economy, from culture to education.  Far from being a “soft” reality, the cooperation in these latter fields (youth exchange, education, culture) became key avenues of strengthening and building the deeper foundations of the Franco-German friendship –  since shared and acquainted culture is shared identity. Not that the two cultures have ever being “foreign” or “removed”, fact well-known by anyone with even a bit of knowledge of history, and especially of cultural history; fact also nicely illustrated by  Adenauer speaking  French, de Gaulle speaking German, and by Robert Schuman being a natively German-speaking, Luxembourg-born, several-times Prime  Minister of France.

As an example, here is de Gaulle delivering the famous Berlin speech, in German, with the occasion of his visit in 1962:

Among the tools established by the treaty of 1963, which institutionalized the Franco-German avenues of cooperation, were regular meetings at the highest level (between the German Chancellor and the French President), as well as meetings at quite short intervals at ministerial level (between counterparts in defense, economy etc). These regulated and prescribed meetings became, in the decades since, a natural, daily modus vivendi and modus operandi (even modus cogendi, or way of thinking) of the governments and the leaders of the two countries. Just like today it is normal to move between Germany and  France without even realizing that, at a certain time, there were frontiers to cross between these countries, and without realizing that formally those borders still exist.

It is interesting and most fortunate that this inter-national relationship has also shaped personal-level friendships between those who, at any given time, are the leaders of the two states – despite their eventual different political orientations: from the relationship between Helmut Kohl (Christan-Democrat) and François Mitterand (Socialist), to the one between Angela Merkel and François Hollande (currently called “the Merkhollande”, notwithstanding that the German Chancellor actively supported Sarkozy in the last elections).

The European mindset of the main actors was an essential factor in the Franco-German reconciliation that followed in the aftermath of the Second World War; it is not perchance that the same actors are also among the “founding fathers” of the united Europe.  As was their hope,  today the European Union is unimaginable without – and is driven and guaranteed by – the relationship between these two countries, who are the economic, political and cultural powerhouses of the continent.

To signify and celebrate the importance of the treaty, and of the entire relationship, 2013 was declared the German-French year. The video below provides an insight into the relevance of the reconciliation process and of the treaty, by nicely situating them in the context of all those centuries of miserable enmity and warfare.