// archives

European Union

This tag is associated with 57 posts

Europe’s Refugee Crisis: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Refugees from the wars of the Middle East are pouring into the European Union at an unprecedented rate. So are economic migrants from Africa and non-EU countries in the Balkans (Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, etc.), and some of them claim to be refugees too. They are coming at the rate of about 3,000 a day, mostly through Turkey into Greece or across the Mediterranean to Italy, and the EU doesn’t know what to do about it.

It’s not really that big a refugee crisis: one million people at most this year, or one-fifth of one percent of the European Union’s 500 million people. Little Lebanon (population 4.5 million) has already taken in a million refugees, as has Jordan (pop. 6.5 million). But while a few of the EU’s 28 countries are behaving well, many more have descended into a gibbering panic about being “overrun”.

It really is a case of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and the best of the Good is Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel put it bluntly: “If Europe fails on the question of refugees…it will not be the Europe we imagined.” She has put her money where her mouth is: two weeks ago she predicted that Germany would accept asylum claims from 800,000 refugees this year.

She also said that Germany is suspending the “Dublin regulation”, an internal EU rule that says refugees must seek asylum in the first EU country they reach. This is manifestly unfair to Greece and Italy, so Berlin will now allow all Syrian refugees to apply for asylum in Germany regardless of where they entered the EU. Moreover, it will regard Syrian citizenship as adequate evidence that people are genuine refugees.

France, Italy and the Netherlands have also been fairly generous about granting refugees asylum, and quiet, gallant Sweden is accepting more refugees per capita than anybody else in the EU. But the good news stops here. Most other EU countries are refusing to take a fair share of the refugees, or even any at all.

Let us define the Bad as those governments that really know they should be doing more, but are shirking their responsibility for domestic political reasons. The most prominent are the United Kingdom and Spain, which played a key role in sabotaging an EU meeting last June that was trying to agree on a formula for sharing the refugee burden fairly among EU members.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s problem is that overall immigration into Britain is high (330,000 last year), which has infuriated the right-wing media. In fact, more than half the newcomers were citizens of other EU countries (who have the right to cross borders in search of jobs), and only 25,000 were refugees – but such fine distinctions have little place in the public debate. And in Spain, there’s an election coming up.

Then there are the Ugly: the countries that simply don’t want to take in refugees because they are different from the local people. Like Slovakia, which said that it might take a few hundred refugees, but only Christians, or Hungary and the Czech Republic, which are both talking about deploying armed forces on their borders to keep refugees out.

All these countries lived under Soviet rule for two generations, which was almost like living in a cave. They have almost no experience of immigration, and it’s commonplace to hear people make racist or anti-Semitic remarks without the slightest sense of shame. In a way, they are still living in the 1950s. It’s not an excuse, but it is an explanation.

So how, in these circumstances, is the European Union to agree on a common policy for sharing the burden of caring for the refugees? “We must push through uniform European asylum policies,” Angela Merkel says, but the EU operates on a consensus basis, and there is little chance that that will be accepted. In practice, therefore, the burden will continue to be borne by the willing.

In an attempt to lessen the burden, the German chancellor has proposed a list of “safe” countries (like the Balkan ones, which account for 40 percent of asylum claims in Germany), where it may be presumed that most claimants are really economic migrants. Arrivals from “unsafe” countries like Syria, Libya and Afganistan, where real wars are underway, would be treated as genuine refugees. But even then, each case must be investigated individually.

“Germany is a strong country and the motto must be: ‘we’ve managed so much, we can manage this’,” Merkel said, and no doubt she can get through this year without changing course. But there is every reason to believe that there will be another million people risking everything to make it across the EU’s borders next year, and probably for many years thereafter. It may even get worse.

In the long run it is almost certain to get worse, even if the current wars in the Middle East all miraculously end. Coming up behind the current crisis is the inexorable advance of climate change, which will hit the Middle East and Africa very hard indeed. Nobody has the slightest idea how many refugees that will generate, but it is likely to be many times the current flow.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 11. (“She…refugees”; and “In an…individually”)

Reunification of Cyprus?

It was not so much a straw in the wind as a cheese in the wind. It’s a chewy, salty cheese that is delicious grilled: halloumi, as they call it in the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus, or hellim, as it is known in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus.

This week, the island’s two rival governments jointly applied to the European Union to give halloumi/hellim “Protected Designation of Origin” status, like French champagne or Greek feta, so that no other producer can use the name. It was a small miracle.

Cyrus has been divided since 1974, when a bloody coup backed by the generals’ regime in Athens, intended to unite the island with the “mother country”, was answered by a Turkish invasion to protect the Turkish-Cypriot minority. Turkey ended up holding the northern third of the island, and Greek-Cypriots who lived in that part of Cyprus fled south while Turkish-Cypriots in the southern part of the island fled north.

When the dust settled, there were two Cypruses: the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, now almost exclusively Greek-speaking, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognised by nobody except Turkey. Forty-one years later, Cyprus is still divided – but maybe not for much longer.

The Greek-Cypriots have done much better since the split. With a legitimate state that is now a member of the European Union, they can trade and travel freely, and per capita income on the Greek side is twice what that of the Turkish side. But it hasn’t all been roses: the Greek-Cypriot banks ran wild during the boom years, and the country is just emerging from an EU-backed bail-out that hurt a lot.

For the Turkish-Cypriots, time is running out. There are only 120,000 of them, and they are already outnumbered by the Turkish immigrants, most of them ill-educated and unskilled, who have flooded in since 1974. In the past ten years, with a conservative Islamic government in Turkey, they have also been facing the creeping Islamisation of their traditionally secular society.

So the Turkish-Cypriots have good reason to seek a deal that gives them their own state within a reunited, federal Cyprus. For Greek-Cypriots a deal is less urgent, but with 30,000 Turkish troops still on the island and neighbours whose identity is becoming more Turkish and less Cypriot their future is uncertain. The problem is that presidents come and go, and there are rarely presidents on both sides willing to make a deal at the same time.

Now there are. Mustafa Akinci was elected president of the TRNC in April, and immediately asked to start reunification talks with his opposite number, President Nicos Anastasiades – who immediately agreed. “The passage of time is not helping a solution,” said Akinci. “The more time passes, the more the division becomes consolidated.”

After three months of talks, including seven personal meetings between the presidents, the talks seem to be going well. Well enough, in fact, that they both showed up on Tuesday night, together with 700 guests from both sides of the divide, for an evening of Cypriot music performed by the bi-communal group ‘Kyprogenia’ at the Othello Tower in Famagusta.

There was a lot of symbolism in this, because Famagusta was a Greek-Cypriot city, famed for its beaches, that ended up empty and on the wrong side of the ceasefire line in 1974. It has been quietly crumbling away ever since, but the Othello Tower, a 14th-century fortress, has just been renovated by a group of Greek and Turkish Cypriots working together to restore the island’s shared heritage.

There is much optimism about these talks, because both leaders understand that there can be no going back to the good old days before 1974 (good for the Greek-Cypriots, at least, although many Turkish-Cypriots were living under siege in barricaded ghettoes). Most of the refugees of 1974 (or their descendants) will not be going “home” again. Too much has happened, and even now Turkish-Cypriots would not feel safe in a unitary state.

But a federal republic with two states, each largely but not exclusively communal, is perfectly possible. It would free Turkish-Cypriots from their long isolation, and expand economic opportunities for people in both communities. The Turkish army would go home, the barbed wire and entrenchments of the “Green Line” would vanish, and Nicosia, the world’s last divided capital, would be one city again.

It is just good sense, and Presidents Akinci and Anastasiades will probably make the deal – Akinci reckons they will be there before the end of the year. There is just one problem. A very similar reunification was negotiated in 2003-04 with the help of the European Union and the blessings of both the United Nations and the United States.

In the 2004 referendum, the Turkish Cypriots voted for it by a two-to-one majority, but the Greek-Cyriots rejected it by a crushing three-to-one majority. After all, they greatly outnumber the Turkish-Cypriots and they are far richer. Things are peaceful right now, so why should they compromise?

Because Cyprus lives in a very dangerous neighbourhood, and it’s a really bad idea to keep the old domestic hostilities going as well.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5, 9 and 10. (“The Greek…lot”; and “After…heritage”)

The Hardest Word to Say

It’s hard to say sorry, but it’s even harder to say you’re sorry for a genocide. The word just sticks in the throats of those who should be saying it, as the Turks have been demonstrating for the past hundred years in the case of the Armenians of eastern Anatolia. And the Serbs have just shown themselves to be just as tongue-tied in the case of the Bosnian Muslims slaughtered at Srebrenica.

Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the murder of between 7,000 and 8,000 people when Srebrenica was taken by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995. The town’s population was swollen by refugees who had fled there to escape the “ethnic cleansing” that was being carried out against Muslims elsewhere in eastern Bosnia, because it was a United Nations-designated “safe area” defended by NATO troops. Or rather, not defended.

When the Bosnian Serbs, having surrounded Srebrenica for three years, finally moved to take it in July 1995, the UN and NATO commanders refused to use air strikes to stop them. And the Dutch troops who were there to protect the town decided they’d rather live and let unarmed civilians die.

So all the Bosnian Muslim men and boys between the ages of 14 and 70 were loaded onto buses – the Dutch soldiers helped to separate them from the women and children – and driven up the road a few kilometres. Then they were shot by Serbian killing squads, and buried by bulldozers. It took four days to murder them all.

The crime has been been formally declared a genocide by the UN war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia. Both the Bosnian Serb president of the time, Radovan Karadzic, and the Serban military commander at Srebrenica, General Ratko Mladic, are awaiting verdicts in trials for directing genocide. You would think that even the Serbs cannot deny that it was a genocide, but you would be wrong.

There are certainly some Serbs, like journalist Dusan Masic, who are willing to call it what it is. His idea was to have 7,000 volunteers lie on the ground before the National Assembly in Belgrade on Saturday, symbolising the approximate number of Muslim victims at Srebrenica. “On July 11, while the eyes of the whole world are on the killing fields near Srebrenica”, he said, “we want to send a different picture from Belgrade.”

“This will not be a story about the current regime, which has failed to define itself in relation to the crime that happened 20 years ago,” he continued, “or about a place where you can still buy souvenirs with images of Karadzic and Mladic. It will be a story about…a better Serbia.” But the better Serbia has not actually arrived yet.

Serbia’s interior minister, Nebojsa Stefanovic, didn’t like the picture Masic wanted to send. When right-wing groups threatened to disrupt the demonstration last Thursday, Stefanovic banned it in order to guarantee “peace and security in the whole of Serbia.” And the Serbian government had already asked Russia to veto a UN Security Council resolution describing the Srebrenica massacre as a “genocide”.

Russia was happy to oblige, and vetoed it on Wednesday. Maybe Moscow was just sucking up to the Serbs, whom it would like to steer away from their current ambition to join the European Union – but maybe President Vladimir Putin was also thinking that he didn’t want any precedent for some future attempt to describe what he did during the second Chechen war in 1999-2002 as a genocide.

Words matter. Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandr Vucic, who seems to have changed his mind about Srebrenica since his early days in Serbian politics, still cannot bring himself to use the word “genocide” when he talks about it.

Back in 1995, Vucic was a radical nationalist who declared in the Serbian National Assembly, only a few days after the Srebrenica massacre, that “If you kill one Serb, we will kill 100 Muslims.” By 2010, however, he was saying that a “horrible crime was committed in Srebrenica.”

Vucic even traveled to Srebrenica on Saturday to take part in the commemoration of the events of 20 years ago, a brave gesture for a Serbian prime minister who must contend with an electorate most of whom do not want to admit that Serbs did anything especially wrong. But he still doesn’t dare say the word “genocide”. The voters would never forgive him.

Most Serbs would acknowledge that their side did some bad things during the Balkan wars of the 90s, but they would add that every side did. They will not accept the use of the word “genocide” – whereas that is the one word Bosnian Muslims have to hear before they can believe that the Serbs have finally grasped the nature and scale of their crime.

That’s why, when Vucic was at Srebrenica paying his respects in the cemetery, some Bosnian Muslims started throwing stones at him. His glasses were broken, and his security detail had to hustle him away.

It was a stupid, shameful act, and the Bosnian Muslim authorities have apologised for it. But like the Turks and the Armenians, the Serbs and their neighbours will never really be reconciled until the Serbs say the magic word.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 9. (“Serbia’s…genocide”)

Standing Up to Russian Aggression

Just before he sat down to a traditional Bavarian meal of sausages and beer with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the start of the G7 summit on Sunday, US President Barack Obama told the media that one of the meeting’s priorities would be discussing ways of “standing up to Russian aggression in Ukraine.” Which begs the question: what kind of aggression are we talking about here?

There are unquestionably Russian troops in the rebel provinces of eastern Ukraine, and that is certainly an act of aggression under international law. (The Russian troops there are definitely not just volunteers lending the rebels a hand while they are on leave, as Moscow maintains. How can we be sure? Because soldiers on leave do not take their tanks and artillery with them.)

But is this a prelude to a Russian invasion that would take over all of Ukraine, as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko recently alleged? If it is, it would require a whole different level of response, and the result could easily be a new Cold War.

Is it also the first step in a Russian campaign to take back everything that used to be part of the Soviet Union, and before that of the Russian empire, as many in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Georgia and other former “Soviet Republics” fear? If so, “standing up to Russian aggression” would be an even bigger task, involving a major NATO troop build-up in Europe and probably a new nuclear arms race.

Might Russian President Vladimir Putin actually be the next would-be world conqueror, out of the same mould as Napoleon and Hitler? In that case, get ready for the Third World War, because it’s unlikely that anything less would stop him. So exactly what kind of aggressor Putin is matters quite a lot.

Here’s a clue: Putin was first elected president of Russia in 1999, and for his first fifteen years in power he didn’t attack anybody. (He responded very toughly to the cretinous Georgian attack on Russian peacekeeping troops in South Ossetia in 2008, but he didn’t start that war.) On the whole, would-be world conquerors don’t wait fifteen years before making their first move. They get started as soon as possible, because it’s a big job.

After three months of non-violent demonstrations against Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, in the winter of 2013-14, and after a day of shooting on Independence Square (the Maidan) in Kiev that killed at least fifty protesters and three policemen, Putin agreed to a deal on 21 February that promised new elections in Ukraine within a month.

It was always puzzling why the demonstrators went out onto the square and spent three bitterly cold months there demanding that Yanukovych quit right away, given that elections were due in Ukraine within a year. Why not stay warm at home and vote him out next year? He couldn’t do anything irrevocable in the meantime.

Never mind that. The representatives of the protesters definitely did agree to the deal hammered out by Russian and EU negotiators on the evening of 21 February 2014. Yanukovych was to resign and there would be new elections IN ONE MONTH. Yet only hours later the demonstrators attacked the presidential administration buildings and Yanukovych had to flee. Why couldn’t they wait even one month?

Maybe because they were afraid that they would lose the election. Kiev is in western Ukraine, where most people are strongly pro-Western and would like to join the European Union, even NATO if possible. It certainly looked to people watching it on television as if all Ukrainians wanted Yanukovych out.

But Yanukovuch had won the 2010 election fair and square with a 52 percent majority, thanks to the votes of eastern Ukrainians. Their ancestors had lived in the Russian empire for more than three centuries, unlike those of western Ukrainians. Most eastern Ukrainians speak Russian, share the Orthodox religion of Russians, are actually pro-Russian in general.

What’s more, eastern Ukraine is the home of almost all of the country’s heavy industry, and it was Russia that bought most of the coal, steel and industrial goods produced by eastern Ukrainians. It was their votes that elected Yanukovych in 2010, and there was no reason to believe that they would vote differently in 2014. There really was a coup in Kiev in 2014, and Putin was quite right to feel deceived and betrayed.

He was wrong to respond as he did, taking back the province of Crimea (which had an overwhelmingly Russian population but had been bundled into Ukraine in a Communist-era decision in 1954). He was very wrong to back the rebellion in the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk. If he actually encouraged them to rebel (which is not clear) he is even more in the wrong. It is all being done in defiance of international law.

But he is not setting out down the path of world conquest. He is not even planning to take over Ukraine. “Standing up to Putin” is an invigorating moral exercise, but it is not strictly speaking necessary.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 6. (“Is it…race”; and “Here’s…job”)