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?

Chronicle: Conflict Analysis & Foreign Policy Training

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The World Youth Academy alongside the Research & Advisory in International Affairs Group (RAIA) held this past weekend (11th-13th October) and for the very first time a Summit in Madrid, Spain. Notwithstanding its intensity and hard work, the Conflict Analysis & Foreign Policy training has left us wanting more. The training gathered 26 participants from 16 different nationalities (17 women!), from Spain to Ethiopia; from Syria to Germany.

Day 1: Profiling to understand foreign policy

On the first day, Friday, we had the pleasure to be introduced into profiling and foreign policy analysis by Mr. Balder Haeraats. From a fresh approach to decision-making in IR, the participants learned how the personal circumstances and character of key decision-makers can be crucial in order to understand their foreign policy approach and decisions.

During the session, the participants engaged in lively debates among themselves and the lecturer and, to fully grasp the complexities of this kind of analysis, they worked in teams to analyze leaders’ personalities around the world, followed by some role-play as well in which we had to simulate negotiations as the leaders previously analyzed and come to agreements.

It was, overall a very exciting first day in which we had the opportunity to get to know each other, interact and, of course, grab a few drinks afterwards.

Day 2: Approaching to conflict analysis

On Saturday, we had the pleasure to have Mr. Tarik Ndifi, a conflict expert, as our speaker. The participants approached conflict analysis, with a special emphasis on methodology and early warning signs. From a practical perspective, we had the chance to analyze ongoing conflicts, particularly historical Iran-US tensions, and to apply the methodology to a series of group exercises involving practicing Conflict Tree drawing. Although approaching conflict is not an easy job since the topic is complex and requires a great deal of sensitivity and knowledge, Mr. Ndifi’s vast experience and insights helped us understand the ways conflicts can be analyzed to include a variety of perspectives and nuances.

The day included a social gathering post-session in a formal setting that helped us all reset a bit, share impressions and insights and get ready for the final day of the training.

Day 3: An emphasis on rehabilitation 

The last day, Sunday, we gathered once again to continue with Mr. Ndifi’s lecture & team exercises on conflict, this time emphasizing conflict rehabilitation and peacebuilding and the difficulties these processes entail for the everyday of the people living in conflict areas, even after the declaration of formal peace. Thanks to Mr. Ndifi’s experiences in the field, we had the chance to know more about post-conflict situations in Bosnia and Serbia, Germany and Poland, among others.

After this last session concluded, all participants were handed the Certificates of Attendance, symbolizing the final farewell.  Sadly, the training came to an end. But I am sure we will see each other soon, perhaps in Vienna.

Until we do. It has been a pleasure.

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.

Geopolitics beyond the mainstream: how are violence and war normalized?

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War videogame

Coined by Rudolph Kjellén, geopolitics was associated with Nazism throughout most of the 20th century and was only rediscovered within IR scholarship from the 70s.  Renewed, geopolitics reemerged along with the rise of the Realist view of world politics, accepting the connection between geography and power as natural, the geographical writing of the world into bounded spaces as neutral, the state as the only actor, or the inevitability the Rise and Fall of Great Powers. In short, what is commonly understood as geopolitics appears as the field of formal, high politics that has nothing to do with ordinary people.

Against this approach, ‘critical geopolitics’ has gained ground in the past decades with authors such as Ó Tuathail and a focus on reexamining core concepts and definitions of the geo- and the -politics, in order to question classic, Realist assumptions. In this regard, critical scholars developed a typology of the geopolitical aiming at overcoming the formalist understanding of geopolitical thought: the practical, related to the state; the formal, related to groups of states, and the popular, related to artifacts of pop-culture such as video-games, movies or cartoons.

Efforts in popular geopolitics have researched the impact of geopolitical thinking on our most consumed cultural products, enquiring about how geopolitical reasoning has permeated them. Movies such as the James Bond saga have been said to produce liberal ideology in Cold War years but also, recent scholarship has focused on video games. Popular games like Call of Duty or Assasin’s Creed involve playing to -and enjoying- the logics of war and violence, helping in normalizing a geopolitical imaginary of conflict contexts, military interventions or the use of weapons. Within the popular effort, feminist geopolitics has gone further and underlined how this thinking doesn’t stop at pop-culture but is rather incorporated into the everyday of the lives of people across the world in items such as fashion or even food. 

Critical scholarship is clear: the impact of geopolitics in pop-culture is not neutral, as it helps in shaping our interpretations of the international, and of global politics. Thus, popular geopolitics becomes a key to overcome the formalist frame;  to a better understanding from where our cultural artifacts emerge, and, most importantly, to understand how violence or war are perpetually normalized into our lives.

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

International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Ronald Reagan, 1984 State of the Union

 

Nuclear weapons pose a unique threat to humanity. Not only could they destroy a whole city killing tens of thousands of people, cause severe damage to the climate and environment, but also tremendously affect lives of many more as they would suffer horrific injuries and later die from radiation exposure. The best way to avoid such happenings is to completely eliminate nuclear weapons, which the United Nations has been working on since its establishment. A number of treaties has come into existence seeking  prevention of nuclear proliferation.

Hiroshima after the bombing I ©Atomic Heritage Foundation

However, half of the world’s population lives in the nuclear weapon countries. It is certain, that the number of deployed nuclear weapons has been significantly reduced since the end of the Cold War, but around 14000 are still existent and some countries are even eager to modernize and improve their nuclear arsenals. We saw a handful of events in recent months, which witness that the world is not ready to disarm yet. The USA leaving the INF treaty, various nuclear weapon tests of the Democratic Republic of North Korea, Iran nuclear crisis – just to name a few. In addition, the entry into force of the CTBT doesn’t seem to make much progress either.

Therefore, it is indispensable to educate especially the younger generations about the threats and consequences these pose to our planet.  The International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons is observed every year on September 26 across the globe. It was proclaimed by United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) by adopting resolution 68/32 in December 2013 with the main aim to raise public awareness and educate public about the necessity for their elimination.  By doing this,  the UN aspires to mobilize new international endeavors towards achieving the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

Dialogue of Civilizations: a path towards peace?

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Alliance of Civilizations

The United Nations declaration of 2001 as the ‘Year of Dialogue among Civilizations’ saw its efforts diminished as the 9/11 opened the path for global discourses and policies pivoting around the Clash of Civilizations, as discussed in a previous post. Since then, civilizational scholars, intellectuals and activists of all backgrounds have emphasized the political discourse of  a new endeavor, the ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’, posited as a paradigm shift in IR. This Dialogue aims at enhancing an inter-civilizational climate of mutual understanding that might lead to global peace.

The end of the Cold War brought new debates on the next political dimension to define the world to come. Fukuyama’s End of History  (1989) proclaimed that history had reached its peak, as ideological evolution from Western liberalism was deemed impossible. Contra Fukuyama, Huntington’s  Clash of Civilizations claimed that the next conflictual lines would be in civilizations and not in ideologies or states. Huntington warned about the risk of pursuing a Western/liberal order, not to acknowledge and overcome a Western-dominated world order, but to call for Western cultural conservatism as he defined the West as ‘unique’. His views have been therefore considered as essentialist and cultural reductionist he advocates for a civilization-based world while avoiding domestic multiculturalism.

Against the Clash, the Dialogue of Civilizations takes as its premise the paradigm of the ‘multiple modernities’ (Eisenstadt, 2000), in which civilizations despite being different from each other can reach common understandings, cultural exchange, and cooperate, both in domestic and global politics. The Dialogue emerges from an interpretation of our contemporary world as potentially conflictual but nonetheless capable of collaborating in approaching global solutions. It is in this regard that the Declaration of the UN emphasizes civilizational cooperation and initiatives such as the Alliance of Civilizations have taken place within the international community.

As the International Day of Peace this past 21st of September has seen a world heading to more conflictual, uncertain situations and contexts; the rise of far-right politics or a global climate crisis among others, it is perhaps important to recover the politics of the Dialogue of Civilizations and pursue it. In a world marked by a culture of war, weaving a culture of peace is a multidimensional holistic endeavor that must be pursued encompassing efforts within all forms of societies, religions, or cultures.

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.

Selective memory: the Other 9/11

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George W. Bush, first to use 'war on terror' terminology

 

Last week, the world witnessed the remembrance day of the terrorist attacks of the 11th of September 2001 perpetrated by Al Qaeda on American soil.  The attacks brought a new paradigm to the field of IR: war would never be the same. The ‘War on Terror’ was inaugurated by the United States.  This new war has not since followed the traditional rules: it is not a war against a State; it doesn’t have an army as the target; it doesn’t have a location to be waged.

The War on Terror has been enabled through the logics of fear: ‘it can happen anywhere’.  But the statistics don’t agree; terrorism is much more frequent in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria or Syria. Globally, the War on Terror as a consequence of 9/11 attacks has enabled policies targeting particular subjects, toughening borders. It has been further used to justify entering other states’ territories or redefine the concept of torture. Everyone remembers 9/11; everyone remembers the World Trade Centre Towers failing and, of course, the pain of thousands.

However and not as remembered, a previous 9/11 took place in Chile almost 30 years before -in 1973-.  The U.S. provided financial aid and material means to Chile’s Military forces led by Augusto Pinochet to move against the elected government of Salvador Allende. This military movement constituted the 5th Coup d’ Etat in South America, enabling at the same time the rise of Operation Condor articulated by Nixon and Kissinger in order to ‘protect’ American soil from the influence of the socialist wave in South America from the 1950s, in a context of Cold War.

Chile’s 9/11 marked the beginning of a Dictatorship that would last until 1990, in which more than 28,000 people suffered political violence and torture, were executed or disappeared. This 9/11 partially sponsored by the United States is still not yet acknowledged. It is a good example of a selective memory that keeps positing the U.S. exclusively as history’s victim while forgetting its violent involvement in foreign countries, regimes, politics and its overall role as a perpetrator of violence.

Thus, let’s not forget 9/11, the suffering and the victims; but let’s start to remember beyond: the other victims, the other suffering; and to hold the US accountable for its acts in violation of international law, particularly those unlawful interventions that more often than not are invisibilized in mainstream accounts of history.