An Intern's Perspective

Click here to edit subtitle


view:  full / summary

Democracy Abroad

Posted by [email protected] on June 9, 2017 at 7:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Democracy Abroad: Parliamentary Election Missions

by Meghan Lowther

The European Parliament conducts election monitoring campaigns all over the world with the goal of promoting peace and democratic institutions. Th eU election observation activities undertake a number of objectives, including efforts to strengthen respect for human rights, completion of comprehensive assessments of the process, and enhance public confidence in elections. The ultimate goal through these objectives is to support peace and democracy around the world in accordance with EU values and traditions.

The European Union is 'founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law' (Treaty of the European Union, 1992). The EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) holds the promotion of democracy at the core of its operations, and when the EU establishes partnerships with other countries, they include human rights clauses and maintain that a main goal is the promotion of democracy. The EU's missions also have the added benefit of enhancing peace-building in those partner countries.

Since 2000, the EU has observed elections in 41 partner countries. The EU applies the same methodology to all observations, which includes assessment areas such as voter registration, media, and civil society; another objective is to remain unobtrusive and nondiscriminatory. The European Parliament's 2017 priorities constitute 9 elections in 8 countries, including Kosovo and Lebanon, and the 2018 early indicators show that 20 countries and at least 5 follow-up missions will be required.

The European Parliament as an institution of the EU plays a prominent role in election observation and deploys its own delegations to partner countries. Observers must follow a code of conduct, which includes principles such as respecting the law of the land and being aware of relevant information and other observing groups. Despite their commitment to democracy and the workers on the ground, the EU does not interfere with the conduct of the elections, as that is up to the host country.

Last week, the communal elections in Cambodia were held, and the results will be released by 25 June according to election officials. While those elections did not have an official European Observation Mission, Petras and the Informal Group of Friends of Democracy in Cambodia still watched the elections closely under informal means, video conferencing with representatives on the ground about the process and the potential implications. In addition, Petras met with activist Vaing Samrigth, who is currently campaigning for the rights of indigenous peoples in Cambodia. He arranges dialogues with stakeholders to raise awareness and promote human rights defenders in the region.

Citizens have an inalienable right to participate in democracy and support the rule of law in their countries. There must  be access to elections by all citizens without discrimination, and in order to protect those freedoms, the rule of law must also be protected. People have the right to choose their own government, and the EU's missions to monitor elections reflects its commitment to supporting democracy not just within the EU's borders, but in countries around the world.

Ukraine's path to Europe

Posted by [email protected] on May 24, 2017 at 5:55 AM Comments comments (0)

                                                                                 Ukraine's path to Europe


                                                                                     By Karina Savchuk

  The term "Europe" combines in itself different elements such as cultural, geographical and historical. However, Ukraine is one of the biggest countries in Europe and European integration is primary foreign policy goal of Ukraine and through the economic and democratic reforms Ukraine builds its successful "return to Europe". Recently, Ukrainians came on the streets to struggle for democratic values and for the greater future for their country, this called " the Revolution of Dignity". Ukraine now faced with extremely difficult times, considering the occupation and military actions conducted by aggressor State. However, the Revolution of Dignity and hard work of Ukrainian diplomats brought historical change - visa-free regime for Ukraine.

Having the opportunity to be the part of this historical day of 17th of may 2017 in Strasbourg when document in formalising visa-liberalization deal with Ukraine have been signed. The document was signed by the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, and Malta's Interior Minister Carmelo Abela, Malta currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko also took part in the ceremony. In addition, on Monday, May 22 in the official EU bulletin appeared a document, which is the EU decision on visa-free regime with Ukraine. According to the regulations, the document comes into force 20 days after publication. It is published since the beginning of the Nice Treaty, which came into force on February 1, 2003 and  published in 24 official languages ​​of the Member States. Only legal acts published in the official journal are binding.

What kind of benefits Ukraine will receive from visa-free regime? First of all, improvements will affect transport. Considering the fact that European transport companies are now entering the markets of Ukraine, tickets will lose significantly in price. Secondly, the tourism sphere will also get preferences - many Europeans will not mind resting on cheap Ukrainian resorts. This  will not only affect business, but also education and science. For example, in the past, there were cases when business meetings were cancelled, and scientists could not get to the conference because of problems with obtaining a visa. Considering the affects of visa-free regime for Ukraine, the case with Moldova could be a good example. In Moldova, the visa-free regime with the European Union is more than a year and a half. During this time, more than half a million Moldovans visited Europe, which is about 15% of the population. After the abolition of visas for visiting Europe, the flow of tourists from Moldova has increased substantially.

Considering all above-mentioned visa-free regime for Ukraine is undoubtedly historical moment for Ukraine and for European Union, moment when Ukraine returns to its European family.

2016 vs. The Future of Europe

Posted by [email protected] on March 8, 2017 at 9:10 AM Comments comments (0)

By: Jacqueline Dixon

Upon coming to Brussels, there were many changes that occurred in the political world. This being said, these new changes would now be the main focus in European Parliament and would affect the future of the European Union. The first of these changes being the referendum that was held in the UK on whether or not to leave the European Union. The end result came as a shock because the majority (51.98%) voted towards leaving the EU. The second change being the 2016 presidential election in the United States. These two events were some of the top news stories throughout 2016. They also happened in a similar way where the end result was not the expectation the rest of the World had. Both votes were split down the middle and are now have various repercussions within the European Union.

The Brexit vote was one of the most shocking things to have happened in the Europe because no one had the expectation that the UK would have ever made the decisions to leave the EU. Last year I took part in a semester long research project looking into the Britain’s referendum. I went into this project not knowing much about the issue and why the UK wanted to even hold this vote. Throughout the semester I focused on the history of the UK’s relationship with the European Union and tried to predict the outcome result of this referendum. With this research I started with the first referendum that was held in 1975. I saw the issues that the UK had with their membership with European Communities, but it was clear that the UK would not choose to leave the EC because they had the fear of what their future would be if they would have chosen to leave. With this past event, I thought it would have been clear what the vote would be; however, history did not repeat itself.

One June 23, 2016, the fate of the UK had been determined by the people and the people chose to leave the European Union. This is where the world started to see how serious and crucial this vote actually was. Coming into this program, I did understand the severity of this issue, but what I did not realize the impact that it had on the institution as a whole. After being here for over a month I have now seen how the outcome is altering the European Union as a whole and how the remaining 27 Member States have a fear that the future of Europe might be unstable. The UK played a major role in the EU and now with Theresa May announcing that she is in favour of a hard Brexit by removing the UK from the common market and customs union, this is offering a sense of uncertainty within Europe.

Another topic that’s now raising more concern within the European Union is with the new President of the United States, Donald Trump. Since his inauguration, many changes have come about in the United States. These changes not only affect the U.S., but are affecting different countries around the world. Being from the United States it is very alarming to see the backlash going on throughout the world. Trump has made it clear with his stance on the European Union and has discussed how he is in favour of the institution breaking up. He has shown that he does not care for the EU and many have responded back. One that stood out in particular was the response from the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk.

Tusk had written a letter addressing the United States president after he had first announced his proposal on the United States travel ban. Donald Tusk promptly responded to Trump and addressed the issues with refugees from the countries that Trump attempted to ban. Tusk stated that if refugees were turned away from the United States, then there would be a place for them in Europe. Not only did he bring up the issue of refugees coming to Europe, but he also raised the issue with what will become of the US relationship with Europe. Tusk wants Europe’s relationship with the United States to remain the same, but Trump seems to be promoting anti-European views. With Trump being a main political actor in the world, he could possibly increase Eurosceptic views, which poses a threat towards the future of Europe.

Ultimately, what seemed like the impossible actually occurred in 2016. No one had ever thought that Britain would leave the European Union and the thought of Donald Trump becoming the 45th president of the United States was never taken seriously. It is concerning how the outcomes of these elections can impact the future of Europe so tremendously. After studying Brexit so in depth and following the US election constantly, it’s seems so strange to get a first-hand look within the European Parliament. Not many realized what the aftermath would be like after these events. Although these raise many concerns within the European Union, both events can be a way for the remaining 27 member states to unite and become stronger than before.

Article 2

Posted by [email protected] on November 15, 2016 at 3:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By: Alexa Ruotolo

Democracy, the rule of law and fundamental human rights are the cornerstone values of the EU. At the end of October the European Parliament passed a resolution on the creation of a mechanism which would monitor and report perceived breaches of these values by EU member states.  This resolution was created largely in response to the lack of action taken against member states who are not complying with the values stated above, Poland and Hungary. Poland and Hungary have both been called out by the Commission and European Parliament for violating these core values throughout the past year. Most recently, Poland has been in the news for trying to limit women's right to abortion while Hungary has been accused of human rights violations against refugees.

Currently little action is being taken to hold these countries accountable. Article 2 sets high standards for countries to enter the EU yet once a country is a member state there is little done to continue enforcing it. MEP Sofia In’t Veld referred to this as the Copenhagen Dilemma which is the perfect way to describe the situation. Turkey is currently in the process to become a member of the EU, however, one of the major barriers standing in their way is their record of human rights violations, particularly to the Kurd minority. But how can the EU claim to have such high standards in human rights yet allow their member states to openly violate them without any repercussions? Under Article 7 of the TEU the council has the power to revoke certain membership rights if a member state does not comply with Article 2, however, this has never been implemented. This is largely due to politics and countries not wanting to open up a dispute of pointing fingers, as no member state is perfect. The issue here though is not just about double standards, it is about the reputation of the EU. The EU is a beacon for human rights standards around the world and if they want to continue to be the institution that others look up to they cannot allow member states to violate these principles.

Another country considered to be on the forefront of human rights is the United States. Americans like to refer to themselves as the “city upon a hill,” a role model of higher moral standards, but even we are wavering on these ideals. The United States just elected Donald Trump as president. Trump ran a campaign of racism, homophobia, xenophobia and misogyny and he was still voted president. How can we as a nation claim to be the “city upon a hill” when our president has admitted to sexually assaulting women and then dismissed it as locker room talk, or who called Mexicans racists, or who wants to ban an entire religion from entering a country? The West prides itself on it’s values of equality and justice. The right of universal suffrage, gender quality, marriage equality and racial equality are all examples of the core values Europe and the United States share. Even though some might be wavering on these values it is important that the EU and the US continue to uphold these high standards and keep pushing forwards so that we don’t go backwards.

The Brittleness of International Law

Posted by [email protected] on November 3, 2016 at 5:05 AM Comments comments (0)

By Martynas Bagdonas

International law has been a pillar upholding modern civic, civil and social norms throughout the world and lays its roots in the early 17th century. In accordance with abstract human thought and morality, law is the thin thread holding the world together from anarchy, an anarchy in which any side and any individual can act according solely to his interests disregarding the wellbeing and status of external parties. What would happen if that pillar of law would one day crumble, would the building collapse or balance between the remaining stanchions?

After coming to Brussels, more specifically the European Parliament, for my internship, I would argue that the pillar of law, especially international law is already as brittle as the small speculoos cookie served with every cup of coffee here. Before any type of convention for international law was ever set up or even thought about there was one very easy way to end disputes - war. If you thought that someone else’s land should belong to you, you went to war, if you thought that someone else’s people have committed a crime against your own subjects, you went to war, if you thought that your religion calls upon you to take a city, you went to war. But at multiple points in history we’ve tried to discredit war and exchange it for dialogue and diplomacy. The first instance of this occurred in Westphalia in 1648, when the Peace of Westphalia was singed, ending the Thirty and the Eighty Years’ Wars. This document first recognized such terms as sovereignty of states and the strive for a balance of power, these principles then became the central points of the beginning to the concept of international law. Another notable attempt at this world wide system of judicial and diplomatic agreements to prevent further war came in the well-known League of Nations. Yet this attempt failed spectacularly with the outbreak of World War II, for reasons which I will touch upon later. But the end to World War II called upon new initiatives in the field of international law since the wish to put on trial all Nazis, their highest ranks, and any co-conspirators in the Nuremberg trials, had no legal basis. Yes you can trial a person for shooting another innocent person, but how can you try an officer who never truly pulled the trigger, but just gave the commands, this was the biggest dilemma that faced the entire world. The lawyers in charge of the Nuremberg trials had to find a solution, the lawyers of the Eichmann trial in Israel had to find a solution. In the case of Eichmann, it took a staggering 16 weeks of trials to finally find the Nazi officer guilty of 15 counts of criminal indictments. The Nuremberg trials took around four years to get through the whole list of criminals. These trials sent a shockwave around the whole world claiming that from now on no one will be able to commit a crime anywhere and get away with it.

I want to go back slightly to the League of Nations and the reasons it failed. We can compile a very long and tedious list of why such an auspicious idea did not deliver on what it promised. It could be the fact that both the USSR and the United States were not part of the League, but I truly believe it was for one main reason - it had no actual power. The League relied heavily on the hope that all countries will want to settle disputes through discussion and not through the barrel of a gun, but when morality and good will dissipated, so did the League and its hopes; the outbreak of World War II was a testament to that. But later-on leaders saw and recognized the nuanced reasons of the failure of the League of Nations and when they created the updated version of it, also known as the United Nations, they added the Security Council, which gave the UN the power and authority that the League lacked.

It seems that these days almost any conflict and any dispute has the right tools at its disposal to end itself peacefully, yet recent years have shown the complete and utter opposite. Which is why I want to go back and bolster my contention that international law is as useful and as binding as the morality, consciousness, and spectrum of interests of the party. I am not saying that international law should be downright disregarded, because even the smallest piece of cover can shelter you from strong winds, but I am saying that it is disregarded by so many in the modern world. The three big reason, that I mentioned before, for why people would go to war were land, oppression, and religion and all of those wars are happening right now. The religious and land war is happening in the Middle-East where the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State is fighting for, in my opinion, a misinterpreted Islamic doctrine, and is fighting for territory for its caliphate. And in another not so distant region, Vladimir Putin is allegedly protecting the oppressed ethnically Russian citizens in Ukraine. All three reasons to wage war - check.

So where is this international law? How is it not stopping these, at this point, worldwide conflicts? Well it is doing the best it can. Europe and the world have, so many times, threatened Putin and the Kremlin for its actions in Ukraine, legally binding documents have been signed in Minsk on February 11th, 2015, a multitude of sanctions have been set into place, yet everyday people are still dying in Eastern Ukraine. The reasons for this are very simple, Putin and his regime simply do not care about international law and he’s shown this time and time again. Recent developments have only further underlined this disregard, when Putin decided to station nuclear weaponry in Kaliningrad, in range of almost all European capitals. I think this mind set is very well depicted in the words of Mikhail Tolstykh also known as Givi after the death of Arsen Pavlov (Motorola) and how he will avenge Motorola’s death: “They can trial me in their ‘courts’ - The Hague, and that other European b******. Guess how much I don’t give a s***.” That’s where the brittleness of international law comes from: the ability of someone to do whatever he wants as long as he is protected by someone and is incapable of being physically taken to court.

I do not want to discredit international law entirely, but especially after spending sometime in the European Parliament I just want to call for more drastic measures to be used alongside international law when it comes to serious violations. There are so many inter-governmental institutions that have the potential and the capabilities, such as the UN or the EU, to uphold these international regulations and they have to continue to do so with even more fervour. Law, consciousness, morality, diplomacy, these are the pillars that hold up the basis of a society that upholds all human rights and for those pillars to stand tall and resilient is our goal.



State of the Union

Posted by [email protected] on October 4, 2016 at 4:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Junker’s vision for Post-Brexit Europe: More Integration

By: Alexa Ruotolo

  Over the past several decades globalism has been on the rise. Countries have become more interconnected, there is more free trade than ever before and several intergovernmental and suprantational institutions have arisen. Lately however, many have started to turn away from globalization. This is seen through Brexit, Trump’s nomination for President of the United States and the rise of populism in Europe. The West is starting to grow wary of economic and political integration.

From what I have seen and learned about Europe so far, it seems that many Europeans, specifically conservatives, are pulling away from the idea of a federalized Europe more than ever. There has been a rise in anti-european sentiments in many countries, including France and Germany. So when I sat down to watch Jean-Claude Junker addressed the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, for his State of the European Union speech earlier this month, I expected him to heavily address these concerns and be cautious about further integration of Europe. However, this was not the case.

In his State of the Union Speech, Junker showed no signs of the EU slowing down after Brexit. He started his speech with briefly “assuring” the Parliament that Brexit did not pose a risk to the EU and that he hoped the EU and UK could settle an agreement quickly so they could start rebuilding their friendship. Junker then went on to express his concern for the growing populism and lack of cooperation between member states. He stated that Member States need to put European interests before national interests and to integrate even more if the EU wanted to remain a success. While this view is a positive one, I do not believe that this was the way to address the concerns for Europe. Junker’s words on Brexit did little to reassure those who are worried about the UK exiting the EU. This was seen during the debate part of the State of the Union where many expressed their concerns about the situation. Many conservatives are wary of further integration and Junker did not address these issues much in his speech.

Junker spent most of his speech discussing the need for the expansion of technology, youth programs, intergovernmental cooperation, humanitarian aid at home and abroad, and lastly, the need for the EU to have an international presence. While I agree with a lot of his proposed ideas, I believe that by laying out plans for massive expansion and integration, those who were already concerned about the EU becoming too integrated were not reassured.

Over the last few days I have attended many conferences on subjects such as, European identity, federalism and democracy, and every conference expressed that, in order to ensure the future of the EU, Europe must integrate even more. It seems like the European governmental institutions and Junker agree on what the future of Europe looks like, but do the people?



Right To Water

Posted by [email protected] on July 18, 2016 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (0)

By Kornelija Dovydaitytė

It is very common to discuss various sensitive issues and, without any reservations, a crucial one is water shortage. Everyone has heard of this problem, yet many people still waste its resources on a daily basis. What about those, who water their lawns with pure, clean and drinkable water? Those who leave the tap running for a while? We all know the importance of water conservation, but we do not realize what is behind, which looks, a very innocent action. Statistics show that every one out of ten people lacks access to safe water. This frightening number is only the tip of the iceberg that reveals the tragic situation in the world and the desperate need for solutions of this issue.

Every single one of us has heard about the problem of people not having drinking water. Unfortunately, the situation is even worse – many habitants of very dry areas do not have access to water, no matter drinkable or not. We are also familiar with the fact that lack of water is directly linked to severe illnesses and child mortality while its contamination is the number one reason why people die in Africa. What we do not realize though, is that having enough water, for both personal and domestic purposes, is actually a legal right of a person. Not to mention the other rights that come with it, for instance: the source of water must be in close proximity, available for everyone at all times. There are endless legal paperwork done and laws imposed, but the harsh reality is that many people suffer from water shortage and there is not enough being done to facilitate this situation. There are so many places in the world that lack this basic human right and need. For example, a large majority of population is affected by the insufficiency of water in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Chad, Cambodia, Laos, Haiti, India, Rwanda and more.

Though the situation may seem overwhelming, there are solutions to this tragic and urgent issue. First of all, one of the most effective ways to contribute would be to provide water filters. “The Sawyer” water filter costs only $65 and can ensure clean water supply for at least three families. Funds should be raised for this purpose and filters could be distributed in areas where dirty and polluted water could be turned into clean and drinkable one. Secondly, a concept of rain collection system was offered. In areas with enough rainfall, it is a superb idea as it can provide clean drinking water to the entire community. But the suggestion that is of utmost importance is one that encourages people all around the globe to be aware of the issues and consequences, making that change their perception and understanding. If all citizens did their part on conserving water resources, there would be less waste and more would be left to those in need.

In consideration, water shortage is the issue that desperatelly needs attention and solutions. I have researched the internet for the best and most effective ways and there seems to be many reasonably priced and possible ideas. The world has to focus on this extremely large problem before anything else, because the globe cannot afford even one life lost due to innefficiency of this vital liquid.

The unfortunate link between human rights abuses and sporting events

Posted by [email protected] on July 14, 2016 at 5:40 AM Comments comments (0)

By Zachariah Swint

The Olympics and the World Cup are watched by millions of people across the world from different cultures and backgrounds. These games are something that unite humanity to bring about the best in us from cooperation to competition. The sad reality is that the hosts of the Olympics and World Cup are linked with corruption and overlooking widespread human rights violations.

The World Cup and International Olympic Committee’s selection processes for determining the host country is linked with corruption and bribery. In Rio de Janeiro, promises and bargains were made so the largest city in Brazil would be able to host the Olympics when selected in 2009, allowing Brazil to host the world’s two biggest sporting events just two years apart. In 2014, homicides resulting from police operations increased by over 40% in the city. Reports of violations by military police deployed to police the tournament further soured the spectacle. Just in the month of May, 40 people were killed by the police, almost tripling the level in the previous year. Police abuses are not the only negative effect to come about in relation to the games.

Forced evictions and the bulldozing of communities has hit low income groups that are already facing difficult times in Brazil’s tremulous economy. A report claimed that at least 4,120 families have lost their homes and another 2,486 are currently threatened with removal as a result of infrastructure projects for the World Cup and the upcoming Olympics. Thousands of children and families have been displaced without the access to education, healthcare and other services.

In 2014, hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets to protest the World Cup due to discontent concerning increased public transport fees and high public expenditures while there was insufficient investment in public services. The police response was violent and abusive. Tear gas in enclosed spaces, rubber bullets, and beatings with hand-held batons were just some of the tactics used by Rio Police. Hundreds of people were seized and arbitrarily detained under supposed organizes crime laws without any reasonable suspicion of criminal activities. On May 10, 2016 President Rousseff signed the “General Law of the Olympics” imposing restrictions on the right of expression and peaceful assembly which is contrary to international standards.

Brazilian authorities are not only failing to deliver the Olympic legacy of a safe place for all, but also failing to ensure they are meeting the international standards for law enforcement.

Another blatant example of corruption in this area is the 2022 World Cup to the state of Qatar.

The awarding of Qatar the World Cup was met with widespread criticism for the countries obvious income inequality and inability to host the games. Corruption allegations were extensive as committee member Jack Warner was accused of accepting a two million dollar bribe as well as other Football officials to support the Qatar bid, but this was just the beginning of the issues with the location of the 2022 world cup.

Qatar is set to spend over 100 billion USD on infrastructure for the games including a new airport, stadiums, hotels, and roads. Since its successful bid to host the FIFA World Cup, it has become the focus of international criticism of the mistreatment of low paid migrant workers. Labor laws require workers to have their employer’s permission to change jobs or leave the country, basically rendering them as modern day slaves. The message from FIFA is that a football tournament is more important than the lives of the workers, who are largely from South Asian countries. Migrants in construction work long hours and poor working conditions in the extreme heat that reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

A report was issued by John Ruggie, a researcher at Harvard, in April that was extremely blunt and stated FIFA should consider suspending or terminating its relationship with World Cup hosts who fail to fix human rights abuses. This did now sway new FIFA boss Gianni Infantino who visited Qatar in late April and stated, “I can’t see any reason why they won’t host 2022”. The games in Qatar is on the path towards disaster. The population of Qatar is 1.8 million people, and the average attendance to the World Cup since 1998 is 3 million people. The International Trade Union Confederation claimed in 2014 that 4,000 workers could die before a ball is kicked at the 2022 World Cup. In February 2014, the Guardian reported that over 1,200 workers had died in construction.

It is a long road to fix and make progress on these issues, but the path is clear. Sports bodies such as FIFA and IOC need to take responsibility for their promise to uphold human rights in the host countries of their games. Sponsors and the media cannot tolerate blatant violations of human rights and most not continue to support host countries that do not comply with international standards. Politicians all over the world need to speak out and raise awareness of these issues and send a message that human rights violations will not be tolerated by hosts of these games.


Immigration is not an Issue - It is a Solution

Posted by [email protected] on July 6, 2016 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By Kornelija Dovydaitytė

Throughout my time here at the European Parliament, I have witnessed many discussions, conversations and debates about various sensitive topics. However, one of the issues that really stood out for me was migrant inclusion. I had the opportunity to attend a meeting with both migrants and locals from Calabria – a region in southern Italy. And I can honestly say that I have not been in a more genuine and truthful yet very serious meeting. In my point of view, it is an example to the world how one can achieve great results by helping others and transform negativity into positivity. It is truly inspiring.

During this meeting, many issues relating the refugee inclusion process were raised. And there is no doubt about the importance of their proper adaptation to local communities. According to the testimonies of migrants, now fully accustomed to their new homes, getting to the country is merely the first step towards their new future. As a result of wars, tortures and lack of civil rights in migrants’ native countries, they turn to the West in search for a save haven. Many people arrive with desperation, have to overcome the language barrier, get accustomed to the new local culture and way of living. Not to mention, young children who arrive unaccompanied, have no support system, no one to rely on. The practice has showed that it is very common for minors with such background to choose a wrong way of living. That is why locals have to contribute to the adaptation process and everyone will benefit from it.

Although many people may assume that welcoming migrants into countries, cities and communities is only a one-way exchange, it is absolutely not true and the Calabria example is the visible proof. Just a couple years ago, this southern Italy region looked completely different. More than half of the houses were abandoned, there were more cats and dogs in the streets than human beings, ageing population was not able to deal with abnormally high unemployment rate. Since then, the Calabria region has put the miserable past behind and locals, working hand in hand with the newly come refugees, have managed to revive the city. The lack of daily services was addressed, many schools were opened, job opportunities were offered. Consequently, the unemployment rate started to decline and a once doomed city began its gradual journey to recovery. All of this was possible only because of the immigrants joining the local community. Many times people wonder why Calabria is the place where refugees flock. It is not geographical, historical or accidental. It is because the locals in this place, not seeking for anything in return, have showed utmost respect and altruism towards migrants. Rightfully so, they were awarded with a new, revitalized city.

Following the Calabria’s example it is clearly visible that immigration, often associated with negativity, can positively impact a community and completely change the way people perceive refugees. Little by little, a local project became a global one, and, most importantly, a symbol of a unified and peaceful world.

A Soviet Russia

Posted by [email protected] on July 5, 2016 at 9:25 AM Comments comments (0)

By Zachariah Swint

International diplomacy for the West can be complicated, difficult, and perplexing. There is probably not a more problematic diplomatic predicament than the Russian Federation. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to Russia doing some soul searching and cementing its role in the international system over the past 25 years. Putin’s Russia, however, has been very different.

When I came to Brussels, I was honestly not aware of the full extent of the situation in Russia. Putin’s Russia has been reported in American media as competitor to the United States but a rational one. The main grievance the United States has against Russia is the unlawful occupation of Crimea and the ongoing civil war in Ukraine. For this, the West has placed sanctions on Russia and has promised the removal of the sanctions after the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis. Before the Ukrainian crisis Russia was a partner of NATO and diplomatic relations between Russia and the US were amicable. It is expected if Russia vacates Ukraine relations would return to normal. After attending many briefings and conducting research, it is apparent to me the human rights abuses and authoritative measures taken by Vladimir Putin has worsened the democratic situation in Russia to Soviet levels.

Firstly, the real democratic conditions in Russia are non-existent. Since 2000, no election in Russia has been free and fair and this will not cease to be the case in 2016. In regards to the 2016 elections, Putin suddenly shortened the term and moved the election up to September in an attempt to reduce turnout to the polls. However, this is just the beginning of the issues with elections in Russia.

Ballot access for candidates in the opposition is arduous and rigorous so that many candidates cannot even participate in the elections. In the past months, the Duma has passed election laws that mandate harsh measures such as partisan candidates cannot receive endorsements, essentially no coverage in Russian media for opposition candidates, and election monitors have to register at least three days before the election on where they will be; and they are tied to those specific polling stations. These are just some of the draconian election measures taken by Putin to secure his power. Five years ago, it became too obvious that the elections were rigged and hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets in Russia. To prevent this from happening again, Putin has formed a national guard of 400,000 that are directly responsible to him that are allowed to use deadly force in “massive disturbances” meaning protests.

Not only are elections in Russia authoritarian, but even if you are elected, the Duma has become a rubber stamp legislature for Putin. There are no real debates in the Duma, as the political parties support the Putin regime in almost all facets. The Regime blames the opposition for not being represented as they “do not appeal to voters”. United Russia Deputy Vikotr Semyonov says he sees no problem in the Kremlin's control over United Russia. "All parties of power in the world are controlled from above," he says, and maintains the Duma remains an important part of the legislative process.

The most blatant display of Russian authoritarianism is the assassination of an opposition leader named Boris Nemtsov. The assassination occurred on February 27, 2015 in the center of Moscow near the highly secure Kremlin just hours after Nemtsov appealed to the public to support a march against Russia’s war in Ukraine. The assassination was met with widespread international condemnation, a year later there have been allegedly five arrests and no trials.

The anti-democratic nature continues in the category of media and information. The propaganda and disinformation as part of the Kremlin’s hybrid warfare campaigns have become a serious threat to the West. The Lisa case in Germany in 2016 was a blatant use of disinformation from Russia. The highly organized disinformation system from Russia is effective in a number of areas and uses aggressive tactics that vary from distorting information to using scare tactics such as the increase in nuclear rhetoric recently from the Kremlin. The wide use of “whataboutism” is used to justify Russian violations of international law and human rights. If you think of information as an ‘ecosystem’ with many actors and sources of information, if the ecosystem is poisoned by Russian disinformation then it can spread and infect other sources. The Western response must be prepared for how to deal with this threat. Countering propaganda with information and free media is the best option and EU propaganda in response is not the answer. Raising awareness of disinformation and recognizing it when it is present in the public sphere is the necessary and ideal response.

Just recently, the Russian state Duma approved several ‘anti-terrorist’ laws that will no doubt be signed by President Putin. These draconian laws make these ‘crimes’ illegal: failure to report a crime, justifying terror on social media, certain missionary work, recruiting people to mass unrest, extremism, and reducing the criminal liability to age 14. These laws will allow the Kremlin to further crack down on any unrest against the Regime. Why is the western media silent on these authoritarian laws? Should human rights groups not be highlighting these issues so the public can become more aware?

Unfortunately, this situation has been a long time coming as Putin has increased his hold on power more and more over the years. Russia has shown its true colors in Ukraine and other spheres as an authoritarian draconian regime that stifles any opposition and blatantly violates international law. Even if Russia withdraw everything from Ukraine and allowed Ukraine to join NATO and the EU, which it won’t, Russia would not cease to be a problem for the west. Any regime that cracks down on voters and ordinary citizens is no ally of the west. Russia will only get worse and cement itself as an enemy to the West and democracy.

So is there a golden solution to this predicament? In the short term, unfortunately no. However, in the long term there very may be an opportunity for democracy or at least partial democracy to return to Russia. The opposition is preparing for the Putin regime to fall. Almost all authoritarian regimes eventually collapse as they are inherently unstable and people eventually tire of being repressed. When Putin no longer has excuses to hold power and he leaves the picture, his successor whether it is Medvedev or another current Putin puppet will hopefully face enormous pressure both inside and outside of Russia to reform and allow democracy and freedoms to exist in Russia. Democrats in Russia are waiting for the opportunity to voice their opinions and views. When there is freedom in Russia, do not expect the Russians to let it slip away a second time.