Europe’s responsibility to bring back ISIS fighters home

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Following ISIS’ loss of the last sliver of territory in March, US President Donald Trump asked the UK, Germany, France and other European allies to take back the over 800 ISIS members that are captured in Syria and to put them on trial in their home countries. However, European countries have shown to be reluctant to repatriate nationals that have been accused of being affiliated with ISIS or have been involved in the fighting. They claim that bringing them back would pose serious security concerns and they fear that they may have difficulties obtaining enough evidence to prosecute them. They have chosen to revoke their nationality instead, passing on the responsibility to those countries where the fighters are held.

The recent withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the invasion of Turkey have created further tensions in the region, leaving liberated areas unable to contain ISIS fighters in camps, meaning the potential for further activity and radicalization, as many are being freed or have escaped. The Syrian Democratic Forces, in charge of caring for the situation in these camps in northern Syria, have called for an urgent long-term solution as they are struggling to maintain cohesive control over their assigned territories, but European countries are also unable to find a comprehensive way out of the situation. ISIS has lost its territory and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but has readjusted to the circumstances and continues to carry out numerous attacks and to grow in numbers. Therefore keeping ISIS fighters and relatives in the region without being prosecuted will not help the situation and could lead to further recruitment in both the Middle East or Europe.

The issue here is not only the continuing of terrorist activity in the region but also the conditions that these European nationals are living in. Conditions in these camps are inhumane and desperate. Widespread trauma among children subject to abuse, inadequate sanitation, and medical facilities as well as a general environment of lawlessness are present and becoming the norm in the camps, which again is strengthening the risk of further radicalization.

The instability in Syria following the Turkish incursion and the long-term detention of these men, women, and children are problematic for many security and humanitarian reasons. European governments should then address the challenge by accelerating the repatriation of their nationals, but instead, they have chosen to respond with exclusion policies and laws, displacing their responsibility onto others.

Some European officials have been trying to send suspects to be trialed in Iraqi courts or international tribunals but, despite some advantages to this prospect, it has been criticized over the risk of unfair or unreliable trials. Therefore, although it will expect some political courage to do so, European governments will have sooner or later to bring ISIS members home.

It is the fastest way to bring ISIS fighters into accountability for crimes through fairly conducted trials, it will get detainees and their relatives out of an unsustainable security situation and therefore limit the risk of the spreading of ISIS activities in the currently unstable northern Syria.

HAS ANYONE TOLD YOU THAT BREXIT IS ABOUT DISCRIMINATION?

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Brexit is definitely one of the most popular topics at the moment, at the international level. Deal or no-deal, what that means for the EU and for the UK, what can immigrants expect, economy, will the boundaries be closed… It seems obvious, but it is surprisingly not enough and communicated straightforwardly, however Brexit is about discrimination.

Source: UKIP

Brexit campaign has been based on politics of prejudice and discrimination. Eastern-Europhobia has spread across the country before the referendum. Campaign posters trying to raise the feelings of threat among the UK citizens, ‘threat’, that is, threat by Eastern Europeans coming and stealing their NHS money by playing social security victims, threats by the Turks that will rush to the UK when they join the EU and whelm the Holy Kingdom, these posters have achieved their goal. Thirty seven percent of the UK voting population managed to decide about destiny of 66 million people. But that’s democracy.

Thirty seven percent of the voting body is xenophobic? The manipulation with their national identity was successful. They voted against immigration from countries that are even not in the EU. It is not even certain that they will become a part of the EU any time soon. Even if they do, the people that voted for leaving the EU are people who discriminate against other national groups. I can’t even emphasize this process enough.

Source: BBC

Since the beginning of the referendum campaign, the anxiety among migrants and discrimination against them has risen. Many people have been denied visas, but the outburst was the most visible among academics. Researchers from other countries were even denied visas for visiting conferences. Scholars had to leave their already existing positions because they were ordered to. Scholars’ babies were denied visas, hence forcing themselves to leave. Academics have been threatened with deportation to countries they have never visited. Who knows how many more have been denied or deported, but are not so loud to yell about their situation. No-deal Brexit has already started.

The independence of the UK is based on discrimination. It is not a pity then to be denied their visa or residency. Who would want to live in such a society anyway?

A Dire Love Triangle (II): Europe’s Cold peace?

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A climate of “Cold Peace” has been around Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The two major European centers of power, the European Union and Russia have developed two opposing approaches to international politics: the normative and the Realpolitik. It is that confronting vision which has been a determinant factor in handling the situation in Ukraine, particularly in Crimea.

While Russia has exhibited a more assertive foreign policy through its hard power -labeled as a neo-revisionist power in search of great power status-, the role of the EU has taken another turn. It has been pictured as a civilian power whose unification ‘is not directed against anyone, nor is it inspired by a desire for power’. However, this is an ideal depiction, especially regarding its relationship with Russia. Bearing in mind the context and positions, two interrelated factors can be  identified when trying to understand the EU’s response in Ukraine, starting with Crimea.

1.No possible war on European soil

Firstly, the lack of preparedness for conflict within the European territory. Crimea’s annexation was something the EU was not ready for, although some could argue that Georgia in 2008 was a warning sign. The situation in Ukraine and Georgia have similarities regarding their location as post-soviet space, but in Georgia, unlike Ukraine, the conflict ended by a ceasefire promoted by France, and Russian troops mostly pulled back.

2. EU’s dualism of identities

As mentioned elsewhere, the fact that the EU has a dualism of identities reflected in a European vs. State disjunctive has consequences in Ukraine. In this regard, most of the Central Eastern European Countries (CEEC) have pursued a confrontational approach towards Russia, to the point of being labeled as   “new cold warriors”. Furthermore, their push for NATO intervention in the area vis-à-vis other EU countries wanting to pacify the situation has made the EU’s response to Ukraine mostly passive, as reflected in the only cohesive action taken by the EU: sanctions.

Finally, the EU is aware that to avoid conflict in Europe, the situation can’t be solved through military means. It can’t force Russia to give back Crimea. But the EU doesn’t want to participate in negotiation efforts either, such as the Minsk Agreements. The dilemma remains: should we take steps for a European warmer peace or keep dragging the same Cold War dynamics?

Macron’s game of thrones

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Last Thursday, a man who has been starting to play games of power in the EU, with slow withdrawal of Angela Merkel, did not support the opening of accession talks for North Macedonia (and Albania). The European Union has internal issues, he explained, and first has to focus on solving them. ‘Historic mistake’, that was the reaction of the Head of the European Commission. The EU needs ‘a reformed enlargement process, a real credibility and a strategic vision of who we are and our role’, said Macron. The other 27 leaders did not see this as an issue that would prevent this Balkan country from more hard work, but at least with a European vision. Does Macron know better? Or is he trying to square up to Merkel?

Did the French president really make a historic error in his attempt to present himself as the new top dog? His unspoken veto unquestionably has multi-level implications. The hopes and dreams of North Macedonia were thrown into the trash. The country has had one of the most painful periods in its recent history in an attempt to make way for the European path. This Thursday might have been their only window to come closer to the West. Big geopolitical dogs are certainly ready to attack their piece of meat once again. They have, for a short period of time, lost their huge influence over this country, but now they can strike the wounded animal again. Russia? China? First come, first served? One thing is for sure: the playground is open again.

It is, of course, crazy to imagine that North Macedonia is the only one to suffer this defeat. The message that was sent to other (potential and) candidate members in the Balkans is: no matter how hard you try, we can (and will?) bring you down. Why then would they turn to the EU? Also, the question of resolving Serbia-Kosovo case might get another perspective, with Greece-North Macedonia issue resolution being treated like it has. Big actors are in play, but it would be dangerous not to take into consideration the feelings of disappointment and betrayal. In the games of power, they can bite back. The bite-marks are usually in the shape of Russia…

… who signed an agreement with Serbia to start building a nuclear center there. But that’s another story.

THE SHAPE OF IDENTITY – part 3

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As previously explained, the EU created a recategorized nation-type identity which aimed, among others, to help the integration of all members of the Union, invite to cooperation and decrease intergroup bias, by that increasing positive attitudes towards other groups. However, not all national groups feel equally attached to the European identity. One of the reasons why some of them may feel threatened by identifying with this identity lies in the threat to their distinctiveness. Eastern European countries are culturally different from the West, which created the Union in the first place. Their identification with the European identity may be perceived as complying with ‘their’ rules and losing the identity of one’s own group.

Another reason that can hinder the adoption of a superordinate identity is the attitude or belief of one (or both) group(s) that this superordinate category is supposed to bear the characteristics of their identity, that is, to portray their values and qualities. If the groups disagree about these aspects, they may find it hard to identify with the new category. The groups may also feel threatened by potential loss of their identity characteristics, such as Eastern European nations in the area of the EU. This may also be one of the reasons for the migrant crisis. It can even be heard among the spokespeople of the groups that articulate their feelings of threat that the migrants carry the islamisation of Europe with them, meaning that the new society would have to adopt their values and that they will not be integrated into our existing culture.

The right-wing parties that have been rising during the last two years in many European countries and gaining more power often manipulate with this fear of attack on identity. These groups, like Vox in Spain or AfD in Germany, are openly calling for stopping of immigration and ‘salvaging their nations from the claws of evil migrants who are taking over their resources, but also their culture’. Except, globalisation is inevitable and these manipulations damage the society as a whole. Where could this newly-risen toxic nationalism lead?

A Dire Love Triangle (I): the EU, Russia & Ukraine

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I. The path to Ukraine: EU’s overstretching phenomena 

The post-soviet space saw from 1991 the struggle for two different projects in Europe: Wider Europe, led by the EU’s enlargement project, and Greater Europe, led by the Russian Federation, a defeated power knocking on need’s door. As the enlargement project emerged as the only possibility pushed largely in the former Soviet space and ignoring Russia, the country entered the decade of humiliations: ‘stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok’ didn’t become an option.

Within that logic and with the EU’s blessing, the relationship between the former Soviet space and Russia quickly deteriorated. Within Wider Europe, the EU developed the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) as a previous step to membership and launched its most geopolitical branch: the Eastern Partnership (EaP). In 2004, the ‘big-bang enlargement’  gave full membership to  8 Eastern European countries.  However, this expansion effort has had consequences within the consolidation and democratization of EU institutions, particularly regarding Poland and Hungary. EU’s winner complex and enlargement at all costs in Russia’s ‘near abroad’ has made tangible the widening vs. the deepening dilemma in the European Union.

Regarding the ENP, many Eastern countries such as Ukraine have institutionalized the European destiny for decades, fueled by EU’s policy and promises through the EaP and hatred against Russia. Following this path and according to the  Strategy of Ukraine’s Integration to the European Union, Ukraine would have gained EU membership by 2007. However, it didn’t; and today one might wonder if there are any indicators of any EU plan to further integrate Ukraine.

The year 2014 heightened tensions within Europe to a point of no return. Following the events of the Maidan, Crimea’s annexation by Russia and the war in East and Southeast Ukraine, the EU finally realized that it had been overstretching, and thus pushed for a reform of the ENP, acknowledging that ‘the EU cannot alone solve the many challenges of the region (…) there are limits to its leverage’. It has further emphasized, intra-EU, the need to consolidate the democratic principles and common rule of law of those already members.

However, this state of affairs posits great challenges for the EU and the European continent. Is membership still an option for EaP countries? What kind of relationship does the EU want to have with Russia? What do we do with the situation in Crimea? What are the EU failures in relation to the situation in Ukraine?

 

 

THE SHAPE OF IDENTITY – part 2

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Following the definition of the nation, the European Union built (or rather defined) a new form of identity, through the use of historical myths referring to a common Christian heritage, a common political and legal history going back to the Roman period and the tradition of humanism (Jakobs & Meier, 1998). Moreover, different symbols were engaged in developing this identity in people, including flag, anthem, motto and rituals such as the celebration of the Europe Day and European elections. Since a nation is imagined (Anderson, 1983), in order to create the sense of belonging and make it a part of the reality of a group, it needs to be materialized somehow (Finell et al., 2013). These myths, symbols and rituals are serving a purpose of nation building.

Why was it important to build a European nation? Firstly formed as an economic union, the EU outgrew its boundaries and was promoted into a specific political-economic concept, which, among many other goals, set promoting peace and avoiding conflicts within its territory as sine qua non. In order to increase the support and attachment of its citizens, it had to build a superordinate group identity, which would be shared among them. It is well known in social psychology that negative attitudes, and to it related behaviours, towards other groups can be decreased by inducing a shared identity. When people identify themselves as members of the same group, they are readier to cooperate and intergroup bias is reduced. Hence, the European identity was born.

Source: Eurobarometer

As is explained in the first part of this series of texts, a person has multiple social identities. Of special importance in relation to the European identity are very diverse national identities. Since the questions of relationships between national and European identities is of great importance, the EU itself started measuring the attachment to different group identities of its citizens through Eurobarometer. The data for 2018 shows that citizens of different countries feel different level of attachment to the European identity, ranging from 89% in Luxembourg to 51% in Bulgaria. Also, more than a half respondents define themselves first in the terms of their nation, and then as Europeans. In some countries, such as Greece, 47% identify only by their nation. There are also differences regarding education, class, gender and economic situation.

How are these differences related to the ongoing issues of the uprise of nationalist parties and migrant crisis? Read more about what happens when recategorization fails and national identities become threatened next week.

THE SHAPE OF IDENTITY – part 1

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It is in human nature to determine oneself as a member of social groups. Social identity is one of the strongest parts of our being. If somebody asks you Who are you? you will probably answer the question by placing yourself into different groups you belong to. Ethnic or national identity is among the most important social identities, beside class and gender. What makes this complex social identity? Smith (1992) defines a nation “as a named human population sharing a historical territory, common memories and myths of origin, standardized public culture, a common economy and territorial mobility, and common legal rights and duties for all members of the collective”. In this sense, the national identity means accepting the national culture, politics, history, language, territory, conformity with these aspects and acting according to them.

On the soil of Europe, a new identity has emerged with the creation of the European Union – the European identity. It has been a research and discussion topic for some time now, since it is not clear does it refer only to the feeling (and the fact) of territorial belonging to the European continent or is it becoming a specific psychological construct which tends to become very important with entering the EU. The importance of this social group is constantly high, mainly because the EU is not only an abstract construct, but the aspect that affects everyday life of the people. The EU brings its part of history, economical and territorial changes, many benefits, but also its obligations, responsibilities and plans for the future. Smith’s definition of nation could almost entirely be rewritten when talking about the European nation – it is a named human population sharing a historical territory, common memories and myths of origin, a common economy and territorial mobility and common legal rights and duties for all members of the collective. What is obviously still missing, or at least is not well defined, is the cultural component. The reason for this is that the EU is made of the abundance of different cultures, with their own mythology, language, folklore, so it stands united under a name, but is it the same as united under a nation?

What is the reality of the European identity and how is it related to national identities? Read more about it next week on our blog.

Do you believe in life after Merkel?

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Angela Merkel is a name well known to the whole world. The head of the leading Europe’s and one of the top world’s economies and the defender of the free world stepped down from the position of the leader of her party after losing support of her voters in 2018, due to migrant crisis. After 16 years of building one of the most powerful countries in the world, this woman will hand the baton over. What makes it so hard to imagine the world without her in this position?

©Reuters

Since she has been elected chancellor, first time in 2005, the world has faced several serious challenges that impacted many countries, especially the EU. The first of them she had to deal with is the Eurozone crisis that started in 2009, whose handling was most impacted by Merkel. Although the measures taken echoed the most in Germany, she defended them by (probably) the fact – ‘If the euro fails, Europe fails’.

The second huge and still ongoing is the migrant crisis that started in 2015. This time, Merkel had to deal with several nations that pushed back by not wanting to take in refugees fleeing from Africa and the Middle East. After her call for solidarity did not help the situation, Germany alone approved asylum for 140,000 refugees. At first, the migrants were welcomed and helped by German citizens; however, after organized mass sexual assaults in New Year’s Eve 2015-16, the trust in migrants rapidly decreased and the outburst of nationalist movements started, leading to Merkel losing voters support and stepping away from the possibility to be elected chancellor again.

After she became the head of the state, German economy saw rapid increase and unemployment rates dropped, investments in developing countries led to increased export, Germany impacted many EU countries’ economy policies and it was Merkel’s diplomacy and skills to choose competent collaborators that enabled this.

What will happen after the elections in 2021? How will Europe and the world look like after the most powerful woman in the world leaves the stand? The rise of the right-wing parties across Europe certainly threatens its unity. International relations will definitely gain different colours. How is the world preparing for that? Are the pillars she set strong enough to bear the upcoming challenges? One thing is for sure: the world will not be the same after her.

‘No nation can confine itself… to considering only its own concerns… it will sooner or later inflict harm’

Angela Merkel

What is Peace anyway?

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Today is World Peace Day.

Except there is no peace for 69 countries in the world. Four ongoing wars have casualties toll above 10,000 people. Not all of them are soldiers. Some of the wars are intrastate, some are interstate. Many more cold wars are being lead. Armed conflicts or not, they all have one thing in common.

They are the opposite of peace.

Photo by Nowshad Arefin on Unsplash

But what is peace anyway? And how is it achieved? Some authors consider peace to be an outcome of the process of reconciliation. Some consider it to be a process that leads to reconciliation. It is one of the imperatives of international relations. But defining it is so difficult. There have been research that have shown that peace is defined in different terms in different regions of the world. Some of the factors are common across all or most of the regions (e.g. absence of armed conflict), but many are context specific and dependent (e.g. absence of terrorism). That means that we have to abandon talking about peace in abstract terms and create models for building and keeping peace for each specific conflict, society, context.

When Johan Galtung established the first peace research journal in 1964, he went along and defined two types of peace: negative peace, that involves the absence of violence, and positive peace, which is the integration of human society (Galtung, 1964: 2), these being two separate dimensions. For example, in the case of Bosnia & Herzegovina, negative peace is achieved, however positive peace is still lacking. On the other hand, this year Sweden celebrates 215 years without a war. Yet, it scores 18 on Global Peace Index, while, for example, New Zealand proudly takes 2nd place, but their definition of peace has certainly changed in the light of the latest terrorist attack.

We must define how peace feels, smells, looks like, how we would recognize it, what we want from it, in each specific case and context, in order to be able to achieve it. Generic definitions and imposition of abstract concepts cannot lead us to achieving peace. We may call it peacebuilding, conflict resolution, social reconstruction, normalization of relations, conflict transformation, what is important is to know exactly what is meant by it and to be striving for accomplishing it.

Because conflicts don’t work.