Showing posts with label Europe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Europe. Show all posts

February 1, 2017

Trump Seen as Threat to Europe also Prince Charles Statement

BRUSSELS — The president of the European Council warned Tuesday that President Trump was a potential threat to the European Union, including the American leader’s bellicose pronouncements with major geopolitical challenges like Russian aggression, China’s assertiveness and international terrorism.

In a letter sent to European leaders, Donald Tusk, the council president, wrote that those factors and “worrying declarations by the new American administration all make our future highly unpredictable.” He appeared to question whether the United States would maintain its commitment to European security under Mr. Trump’s leadership.

“For the first time in our history, in an increasingly multipolar external world, so many are becoming openly anti-European, or Eurosceptic at best,” Mr. Tusk wrote. The letter was released ahead of a European Union summit meeting in Malta on Friday; Mr. Tusk is responsible for setting the agenda for the meetings.

“Particularly the change in Washington puts the European Union in a difficult situation; with the new administration seeming to put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy,” he wrote. 
The European Union has been struggling to contend with fractious internal forces. Among them: the vote by Britain to leave the bloc, the organization’s failure to establish a unified response to the arrival of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers and the debt crisis that has driven many Greeks into poverty. And then there are external pressures like Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Before the election and since taking office, Mr. Trump has lauded the vote by Britain, known as Brexit, and said the country would thrive outside the European Union. He met with Nigel Farage, a populist leader of the campaign to leave the bloc, before seeing Prime Minister Theresa May. And at one point he went so far as to suggest that Mrs. May appoint Mr. Farage as Britain’s ambassador to the United States.

Mr. Trump has also praised President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and indicated he would pursue friendlier relations with Moscow, even as Russia encourages chaos on the European Union’s eastern border.

Mr. Tusk’s letter does not reflect a new policy for the European Union, and member states of the 28-nation bloc are not required to act on Mr. Tusk’s advice when they meet on Friday. But many European leaders have made their differences with Mr. Trump known.

After the United States said it was temporarily blocking refugees from entering the country, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany felt compelled to point out to Mr. Trump the obligations of nations under the Geneva Conventions to protect refugees of war on humanitarian grounds. And President François Hollande of France said he had reminded Mr. Trump that “the ongoing fight to defend our democracy will be effective only if we sign up to respect to the founding principles and, in particular, the welcoming of refugees.”

Mrs. May, of Britain, sought in a meeting with Mr. Trump last week to confirm his commitment to NATO; he was dismissive of the alliance, the bedrock of European security, during his campaign.

Now, the sentiments expressed in Mr. Tusk’s letter are pushing European leaders’ exasperation with the American president further into the public view. 
Mr. Tusk has sounded the alarm about the existential crises facing the bloc before, but never with the urgency he displayed in the letter. And he has never before included a longstanding ally like the United States in the list of challenges.

“An increasingly, let us call it, assertive China, especially on the seas,” he wrote, “Russia’s aggressive policy toward Ukraine and its neighbors, wars, terror and anarchy in the Middle East and in Africa, with radical Islam playing a major role, as well as worrying declarations by the new American administration all make our future highly unpredictable.”

Much of the frustration Mr. Tusk displayed in his letter stemmed from what Guntram B. Wolff, director of Bruegel, a research organization in Brussels, said was Mr. Trump’s “de facto supporting” of populist forces that could further upend the European order.

Far-right populist challengers in France, Germany and the Netherlands have adopted some of his anti-establishment rhetoric in their own campaigns.

Still, Mr. Wolff said it was unwise to enter into a war of words with the Trump administration. “We need to uphold our values here, but does it mean that we need now a declaration where we put the United States on the same level as ISIS?” he said. “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think it that would be helpful in any way.”

The trans-Atlantic volley of opprobrium on Friday included an accusation by Peter Navarro, the director of Mr. Trump’s new National Trade Council, that Germany was manipulating its currency to gain a trade advantage. Mr. Navarro told The Financial Times that Germany was using a “grossly undervalued” euro to “exploit” the United States and its partners in Europe.

That did not sit well with Ms. Merkel, who defended the European Central Bank’s independent role at a news conference on Friday: “Because of that we will not influence the behavior of the E.C.B. And as a result, I cannot and do not want to change the situation as it is.”

The value of the euro is near a 13-year low compared with the dollar, allowing German carmakers and other manufacturers to sell their goods more cheaply in the United States. But German firms also employ around 670,000 people in the United States, including many in a BMW factory in Spartanburg, S.C., the carmaker’s largest in the world, and a Mercedes factory in Tuscaloosa, Ala. These are the sort of manufacturing jobs that Mr. Trump says he wants to keep in the United States.

Jan Techau, director of the Richard C. Holbrooke Forum in Berlin, a research center dedicated to diplomacy, said Mr. Tusk’s letter was less a warning to the American president than it was a message to Europeans not to be lured away from union, or to be tempted away from the bloc by favorable bilateral ties offered by the Trump administration. “He is encouraging everyone to fall into that trap,” Mr. Techau said of the American president.

Mr. Tusk, by contrast, is making the case for Europeans to stick together for their own survival. “He wants to remind them that there is something bigger at stake than just what they are going to be talking about in Malta,” Mr. Techau said.

Prince Charles:

“We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive to those who adhere to a minority faith. All of this has deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s," he said. 

“My parents’ generation fought and died in a battle against intolerance, monstrous extremism and inhuman attempts to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe.”

Citing UN statistics, he added that a "staggering" 65.3 million people abandoned their homes in 2015 — 5.8 million more than the year before.

“The suffering doesn’t end when they arrive seeking refuge in a foreign land," he said. "We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive towards those who adhere to a minority faith."

January 29, 2017

The Only Friend Trump is Leaving US with is Putin and Netan

 For their own selfish reasons these two are with Trump

A global backlash against US President Donald Trump’s immigration curbs is gathering pace as several countries including long-standing American allies criticize the measures as discriminatory and divisive.

On Sunday governments from London and Berlin to Jakarta and Tehran spoke out against Trump’s order to put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily ban travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries, which he said would help protect Americans from terrorism.

In Germany - which has taken in large numbers of people fleeing the Syrian civil war - Chancellor Angela Merkel said the global fight against terrorism was no excuse for the measures and "does not justify putting people of a specific background or faith under general suspicion", her spokesman said.
She expressed her concerns to Trump during a phone call and reminded him that the Geneva Conventions require the international community to take in war refugees on humanitarian grounds, the spokesman added.

Merkel's sentiments were echoed in Paris and London; "Terrorism knows no nationality. Discrimination is no response," said French Foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, while his British counterpart Boris Johnson tweeted: "Divisive and wrong to stigmatise because of nationality".
Along with Syria, the US ban affects travelers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Trump said his order, which indefinitely bans refugees from Syria, was "not a Muslim ban", though he added he would seek to prioritise Christian refugees fleeing the war-torn country.
Washington's Arab allies, including the Gulf states and Egypt, were mostly silent.
The government in Iraq, which is allied with Washington in the battle against ultra-hardline Islamist group Islamic State and hosts over 5000 US troops, also did not comment on the executive order.

But some members of the parliament said Iraq should retaliate with similar measures against the United States.
In Baghdad, influential Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said American nationals should leave Iraq, in retaliation for the travel curbs.

There was no immediate reaction to the curbs from Islamic State, although in the past it has used US monitoring of Muslim foreigners to stoke Muslim anger against Washington.
The Tehran government vowed to respond in kind to the US ban on visitors from Iran, but on Sunday Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that Americans who already hold Iranian visas can enter the country.

In Jakarta, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the Muslim-majority nation deeply regretted Trump's plans for "extreme vetting" of people from some Muslim countries.
The Danish, Swedish and Norwegian governments all registered their opposition, with Danish foreign minister Anders Samuelsen tweeting: “The US decision not to allow entry of people from certain countries is NOT fair."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country welcomed those fleeing war and persecution, even as Canadian airlines said they would turn back US-bound passengers to comply with an immigration ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries.
"To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” he tweeted.

Maher Chmaytelli and Lin NoueihedReuters

JERUSALEM — On Saturday evening, Israel's prime minister tweeted his praise of President Trump's decision to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

“President Trump is right,” Netanyahu wrote. “I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.” He accompanied the tweet with emoji flags of Israel and the United States.

Washington post

February 2, 2016

Same Sex Unions and Gay Marriage in Europe

Italy is the only major western European country that does not recognise any form of same-sex union. However, this could change when the Italian Senate votes on Thursday on a bill which, if passed, would allow for same-sex civil unions for the first time.
Legal recognition of same-sex partnerships is far from uniform across Europe. 

Even within the EU laws differ significantly. The bloc’s website describes the differences between the 28 member states as “huge”. 
Denmark was the first country in the world to give legal recognition to same-sex couples, who could register as domestic partners from 1989.
In the 1990s, various forms of civil unions were introduced in Norway (1993), Sweden (1995), Iceland (1996) and France (1999). Belgium offered limited rights to same-sex couples through registered partnerships from 1998 onwards. 
In Germany civil partnerships have been in place since 2001. However, Europe’s largest economy has yet to introduce equal marriage.
Other countries that have opted for civil partnership arrangements include the Czech Republic (where they were introduced in 2006), Switzerland (2007), Hungary (2009) and Austria (2010). After the introduction of civil partnerships in Andorra, Malta and Croatia in 2014, comparable unions were introduced in Greece and Cyprus last year.
At the turn of the millennium the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, giving same-sex couples the right to marry, divorce and adopt children. Equal marriage legislation followed in Belgium in 2003 and Spain in 2005. Norway and Sweden both legalised same-sex marriage in 2009.  
After a review by its constitutional court, Portugal followed suit in 2010. Later that year Iceland introduced same-sex marriage legislation. 
In June 2012 it was the turn of Denmark, which passed a bill legalising gay marriage 23 years after it became the first country in the world to legally recognise same-sex couples. Denmark had also enacted a law in 2010 allowing gay couples in registered partnerships to adopt children.
In France, a court in 2013 rejected a challenge brought by the centre-right UMP party, which has since rebranded itself as Les Républicains, paving the way for the legalisation of equal marriage while also extending adoption rights to gay and lesbian couples. 
The first same-sex marriages took place in England and Wales under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act in March 2014. Same-sex marriage came into effect in Scotland later that year, with the country’s first same-sex marriage ceremoniestaking place on New Year’s Eve.
Northern Ireland is the only country in the UK not to have introduced same-sex marriage after a vote in April 2014. However, civil partnerships are permitted and about 100 such unions have been carried out in Northern Ireland since legislation came into effect in December 2005.

Luxembourg legalised same-sex marriage on 1 January 2015, while Ireland became the first country to do so through a popular vote after a referendum on the issue last May. 
In Finland same-sex marriage is due to come into effect in early 2017.

July 7, 2015

On Post VEDay Germany Again Polarizes Europe

Ms. Merkel won unanimity among EU members to sanction Russia over the Ukraine issue, going up against President Vladimir Putin, with whom she is seen here meeting on May 10 of this year. PHOTO: SERGEI KARPUKHIN/REUTERS
  Under the glass Reichstag dome in Germany’s parliament last week, left-wing opposition leader Gregor Gysi lit into Chancellor Angela Merkel for saddling Greece with a staggering unemployment rate, devastating wage cuts, and “soup kitchens upon soup kitchens.”
The chancellor, sitting a few steps away with a blank expression on her face, scrolled through her smartphone.
Ms. Merkel’s power after a decade in office has become seemingly untouchable, both within Germany and across Europe. But with the “no” vote in Sunday’s Greek referendum on bailout terms posing the biggest challenge yet to decades of European integration, risks to the European project resulting from Germany’s rise as the Continent’s most powerful country are becoming clear.
On Friday, Spanish antiausterity leader Pablo Iglesias urged his countrymen: “We don’t want to be a German colony.” On Sunday, after Greece’s result became clear, Italian populist Beppe Grillo said, “Now Merkel and bankers will have food for thought.” On Monday, Ms. Merkel flew to Paris for crisis talks amid signs the French government was resisting Berlin’s hard line on Greece.
“What is happening now is a defeat for Germany, especially, far more than for any other country,” said Marcel Fratzscher, head of the German Institute for Economic Research, a leading Berlin think tank. “Germany has, at the end of the day, helped determine most of the European decisions of the last five years.”
Greeks opposed to terms demanded for further bailout aid put up a poster of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble before Sunday's referendum, in which a majority voted to reject the terms.ENLARGE
Greeks opposed to terms demanded for further bailout aid put up a poster of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble before Sunday's referendum, in which a majority voted to reject the terms. PHOTO: ARISTIDIS VAFEIADAKIS/ZUMA PRESS
Senior German officials, in private moments, marvel at the fact that their country, despite its weak military and inward-looking public, now has a greater impact on most European policy debates than Britain or France, and appears to wield more global influence that at any other time since World War II.
Berlin think-tank elites, diplomats and mainstream politicians generally see the rise of German power as a good thing. They describe the stability, patience and rules-based discipline of today’s German governance as what Europe needs in these turbulent times. Germany—with its export-dependent economy and history-stained national identity—has the most to lose from an unraveling of European integration and is focused on keeping the union strong, they say.
Ms. Merkel’s popularity at home has remained strong through the Greek crisis, holding about steady at 67% in a poll at the end of June. She now must weigh whether to offer additional carrots to Greece to keep the country in the euro and preserve the irreversibility of membership in the common currency—at the risk of political backlash at home and the ire of German fiscal hawks. Only 10% of Germans supported further concessions for Greece in another poll last week.
U.S. officials generally see German leadership as crucial geopolitically, praising Ms. Merkel’s push last year to get all 28 European Union countries to adopt sanctions against Russia over Ukraine. But across Europe, Germany’s power is also straining unity in the EU, an alliance forged as a partnership of equals that now is struggling to accommodate the swelling dominance of one member.
With every crisis in which Ms. Merkel acts as the Continent’s go-to problem solver, the message to many other Europeans is that for all the lip service about the common “European project,” it is the Germans and faceless bureaucrats in Brussels who run the show. 
The pushback against German power in Europe is likely to grow if the eurozone crisis worsens or if Berlin’s policies grow more assertive.
In Greece last week, it was the stern face of 72-year-old German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble that appeared on some of the posters urging voters to reject Europe’s bailout offer. “He’s been sucking your blood for five years—now tell him NO,” the posters said.
“They want to humiliate Greece to send a warning to Spain, Portugal and Italy,” Hilario Montero, a pensioner at a pro-Greece demonstration in Madrid recently, said of Berlin and Brussels. “The message is you are not allowed to cross the lines they set.”
Split verdict
Similar to America’s global role, German power polarizes Europe. Ms. Merkel is popular in the European mainstream, even as populist politicians say she is building a “Fourth Reich” dominated by German capitalism.
In Spain, for example, a June poll found Ms. Merkel to be the most disapproved-of foreign politician after Russian President Vladimir Putin, with 54% disapproval. But she also drew one of the higher approval ratings, 39%, besting the leaders of Italy, the European Commission and the United Nations. 
The dynamics are similar in France. While more than half of French in a poll last week disapproved of Ms. Merkel’s handling of the Greek crisis, two-thirds of adherents of the main center-right party approved. Now Greece presents the most direct test for Ms. Merkel’s Europe. Her government played the biggest role in shaping the austerity-and-reforms conditions for eurozone bailouts and was the most influential voice resisting debt relief for Greece.
After Greece asked for a bailout in 2010, the heads of the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund traveled to Berlin to exhort German lawmakers to approve one. A year later, Ms. Merkel pushed for rules establishing greater fiscal rigor across the eurozone. In Spain, the press dubbed her la inspectora.
Last September, then-Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras flew to Berlin and appealed to Ms. Merkel. Unpopular economic measures Greece was required under bailout terms to enact—including changes to pensions and taxation as well as the rules involving labor, banks and the public payroll—were feeding the rise of a radical left-wing movement, Syriza, he said.
Ms. Merkel held firm and pushed back against offering debt relief. German officials advised the Greeks to tackle tough reforms right away.
Mr. Samaras, amid rising Greek anger over economically stifling austerity measures, lost the election to Syriza leader Alexis Tsiprasin January. As the crisis intensified under the new government’s tougher negotiating style, German influence grew even more unmistakable.
In February, just hours after Athens sent eurozone finance ministers a letter asking for an extension of its aid program—and before the ministers had the chance to consult one another on it—the German Finance Ministry emailed reporters a brief statement. “The letter from Athens is not a substantive proposal,” it said, quickly stifling discussion of the letter.
Early last week, while some European officials including French President François Hollande publicly held out hope of a deal before Sunday’s referendum, Ms. Merkel quickly signaled there would be no talks before the vote. Her view prevailed. 
Then a string of developments—including widespread opposition to the Iraq war, former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s 2003 market-friendly economic reforms and the taboo-breaking summer of flag-waving when Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup—started to instill a more confident sense of national identity in a country still living in the shadow of the Nazi era. Economic problems in France weakened the country on the European stage, while British politics grew increasingly inward-looking.
In November 2011, Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats gathered on the grounds of the centuries-old Leipzig Trade Fair in eastern Germany for an annual party convention and remarked on Germany’s new influence. It had been just over a year since Greece asked for its first bailout. Some Europeans, including the French, initially resisted pushing for heavy doses of austerity in exchange for aid. But Ms. Merkel—the former physicist who grew up under communism and now oversaw Europe’s largest economy—had won the argument.
“All of a sudden, Europe speaks German,” Volker Kauder, the leader of Ms. Merkel’s conservatives in parliament, said in a speech at the convention. “Not in the language but in the acceptance of the instruments for which Angela Merkel fought so long and so successfully.”
Ms. Merkel’s approval rating at home shot up, from around 40% in 2010 to 70% in 2013, a range where it has remained. A yearslong refrain from German politicians helped keep German voters behind Ms. Merkel even as it estranged Europeans elsewhere: Countries seeking help must also do their Hausaufgaben—their homework.
Facing Putin
In March 2014, Ms. Merkel put her domestic political capital on the line and established Germany as a key European geopolitical power: She took on Mr. Putin. With him on the verge of annexing Crimea, the typically soft-spoken chancellor warned that Russia faced “massive damage,” economically and politically, if it continued intervening in Ukraine. And, as it had at the peak of the eurozone crisis, the German-inspired consensus hid further strains on European unity.
On the EU’s eastern periphery, Germany’s leadership on Ukraine stirred discomfort. Even as Berlin pushed for sanctions, it urged hawkish Western diplomats to avoid provoking Russia by such steps as stationing more NATO troops closer to Russia.
Poland and the Baltic states said troops were needed for their security. The dispute over how to deal with Russia prompted a senior Polish official to exclaim, in one meeting last summer, that Germany was again toying with Poland’s existence—alluding in part to the 1939 Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact that effectively divided Poland between Russia and Germany.
Other countries, from Italy to Hungary, have chafed at having to put their close ties to Russia on ice amid Ms. Merkel’s push for sanctions.
But to Germany’s south, it is the eurozone crisis that has been the biggest factor in fostering discomfort with Germany’s dominant role on the Continent. In Italy and Spain, opponents of Ms. Merkel have referred to her as the leader of a “Fourth Reich.”
In France, Berlin’s shaping of the crisis response has spawned bitter criticism of Germany, now a popular theme for far-left and far-right alike in a country whose influence used to exceed its neighbors’. In a French poll last December, 74% said Germany had too much sway in European Union politics.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, founder of the left-wing Parti de Gauche, in May published “Le Hareng de Bismarck—Le Poison Allemand” (“Bismarck’s Herring—the German Poison”), a 208-page denunciation of German supremacy in Europe. Last year, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine Ms. Merkel “wants to impose something on others that will lead to the explosion of the European Union.”
With the crisis in Greece worsening, cracks have started to show in the mainstream. Mr. Hollande, a Socialist, faces a domestic rebellion from members of his parliamentary majority who say he has signed up to German-inspired austerity and abandoned his 2012 election pledge to push pro-growth policies in Europe. Last week, he called on Greece’s creditors to try to reach a solution more quickly.
Within Germany, many politicians and leading commentators say a more assertive German role in Europe is the responsible thing to do. “Politically and economically stable countries cannot hide,” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said earlier this year. “Germany is a little too big and important to comment on international affairs from the sidelines.”
In March, a prominent Berlin political scientist, Herfried Münkler,published a book, “The Power in the Middle,” that captured the German elite’s foreign-policy Zeitgeist. Germany, he wrote, had the duty to lead Europe because neither Brussels nor another EU country was strong enough to do so.
But in an interview last week, Mr. Münkler said Germany leading Europe alone was “no long-term solution.” For one thing, polls continue to show Germans don’t want more international responsibility. For another, he said, the potential rise of a successful populist party in Germany—as has happened in just about all of Germany’s neighbors, from Poland to the Netherlands to France—would sharpen nationalist rhetoric in Germany and increase Europeans’ aversion to German leadership.
“Germany is in this hegemonic role in Europe because we have no relevant right-wing populist parties,” Mr. Münkler said.
That is why Europe’s current showdown with Greece is critical for the future of Germany’s place in Europe, analysts say.
If Ms. Merkel approves a new lifeline for Athens after weeks of vitriolic debate, she is likely to face a furor from Germany’s right and stoke the country’s incipient euroskeptic movement.
If Greece careens out of the euro, Ms. Merkel will face blame for an episode that has further polarized Europe at a time when controversies over the U.K.’s EU membership and how to treat migrants and refugees are adding to the tensions wrought by the Ukraine crisis.
Claudia Major, a security specialist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said: “If Greece were to leave the eurozone, this may someday be seen as the beginning of the end of the project of European integration—when the Germans were not in the position, as the leading power in shaping Europe, to be able to resolve things with the Greeks.”

October 31, 2014

There is Plenty of Outrage in Europe towards Russia, Ukraine and a France in Silence

A young girl was one of but a handful of participants in a demonstration in Saint-Nazaire in June against the sale of French-built Mistral warships to Russia.
A young girl was one of but a handful of participants in a demonstration in Saint-Nazaire in June against the sale of French-built Mistral warships to Russia.

Bernard Grua, a financial auditor and amateur photographer from the Brittany region of northwest France, was never interested in activism. 
But that changed this year, when he watched with dismay as his government moved forward with plans to deliver two Mistral warships to Russia despite the Kremlin's intervention in Ukraine. 
Since then, Grua, 52, has helped organize global demonstrations against the Mistral sale -- including a fresh round of protests on September 7 that will proceed as planned despite a move by French President Francois Hollande to postpone a final decision on whether to deliver the ships.
"When you look at Putin's politics, you understand that this man is really showing aggressive behavior, and we were going to deliver the best tool to support his new aggressions," says Grua, a former naval officer with expert knowledge of the Mistrals, massive helicopter carriers built specifically for amphibious land invasions.   
"It's a big issue not only for Ukraine but also for Georgia, Moldova, Romania, and the Baltic countries," he says.
If Russia continues to build its naval capabilities, he adds, "it could also be very, very serious for Western European countries." 
In a summer of heated European protests, however, the conflict in eastern Ukraine -- where Russian troops have joined separatist rebels in fighting Ukrainian troops -- has attracted barely a flicker of public attention.

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators spilled onto the streets of England, France, and Germany to protest Israel's recent bombardment of Gaza, with a record 45,000 people gathering for a single protest in London on August 26. More than 6,000 demonstrators turned out in Berlin on August 30 to call for greater protection from federal surveillance. 
Grua's anti-Mistral protests, by contrast, have drawn several dozen people at most. Individual protests against Russian actions in Ukraine have drawn even fewer. A demonstration held in Newport, Wales, to coincide with the September 4-5 NATO summit was sparsely attended, despite the summit’s focus on Ukraine. 
Fear, Resentment 
Alina Polyakova, a sociologist and researcher with the University of Bern, says she's been dismayed by the relative silence on Ukraine, a conflict that has coincided with a rise in European far-right politics as well as a resonant series of anniversaries tied to both World War I and World War II.
"It's been to me very disappointing to see the lack of protests and the lack of outrage over Russian intervention in Ukraine," says Polyakova, who documents growing ties between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the European far right in the latest issue of "World Affairs" journal. "I think it comes from a fear -- given Europe's history and the new wars of the 20th century -- of getting engaged in a long, drawn-out military conflict with a military power like Russia. We don't see that kind of fear when it comes to the Israeli-Gaza conflict."
Other observers suggest that both the pro-Palestinian protests and the relative dearth of concern over Ukraine reflect a larger trend -- growing European disaffection with the United States. 
"When you look at Putin's politics, you understand that this man is really showing aggressive behavior, and we were going to deliver the best tool to support his new aggressions," says Bernard Grua, a former French naval officer.
"When you look at Putin's politics, you understand that this man is really showing aggressive behavior, and we were going to deliver the best tool to support his new aggressions," says Bernard Grua, a former French naval officer.
Dimitri Halby, a Normandy-born computer engineer helping to coordinate the Mistral protests, says he grew up listening to neighbors still embittered by the Allied bombing of his city in the waning days of World War II, when many Nazi occupiers had already withdrawn. Even now, he says, many French instinctually blame Washington for everything -- including the current conflict in Ukraine. 
"What's happening in Ukraine, they don't see it as something really Ukrainian, for some reason. Maybe because of Russian propaganda," says Halby, 39, who now lives in Ireland with his Ukrainian-born wife. "But the thing is, they more or less see it as a big fight between the U.S. and Russia. So they forget that Ukrainian people and Ukraine are in the middle, and they forget that the country is fighting for itself and its survival. And when you talk about what's happening, very often some French people will say the real aggressor in all the mess that's going on in the world is the U.S."
Trump Card
Fear and memories aside, analysts admit it is Russia's formidable hold over the European economy that keeps most objections at bay. Despite the strong anti-Russian rhetoric coming out of the Wales summit, most NATO leaders are ultimately driven by pragmatic concerns heightened by a sluggish economic recovery and Europe's dependence on Russia for one-third of its gas supplies. 
Dimitri Halby and his wife, Oksana, are helping to coordinate global protests against the sale of Mistral warships to Russia. They are shown here participating in Euromaidan protests in Kyiv in February.
Dimitri Halby and his wife, Oksana, are helping to coordinate global protests against the sale of Mistral warships to Russia. They are shown here participating in Euromaidan protests in Kyiv in February.
Even the suggestion of Russian involvement in the July 17 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over rebel-held Ukraine may not be enough to raise a groundswell of opposition to the Kremlin. Former Dutch diplomat Barend ter Haar, whose country lost 193 of the 298 people killed in the crash, says "short-term" economic interests may continue to dominate decision-making in the Netherlands -- even if it has cooled many Dutch to Putin personally. 
"The disaster of the airplane has awakened many Dutch citizens to the fact that we cannot just take peace and stability for granted," says ter Haar, who recently argued  that an emphasis on "economic diplomacy" had weakened the Netherlands' influence over Russia.  
"Before the accident took place, there was some support for [Putin] because he is the type of the strong man, I would say, that some at least admire," he added, in a reference to far-right groups like the Party for Freedom, founded by anti-immigration lawmaker Geert Wilders. "But now after the plane accident -- and also because it's unclear, to say the least, to what extent he is responsible for what the [separatist] groups are doing -- nobody in the Netherlands would dare to defend him under the current political circumstances."  
Tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators held mass rallies in London throughout the month of August.
Tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators held mass rallies in London throughout the month of August.
In France, official criticism of Russia has been almost completely muted -- a silence many attribute to economic deals by powerful officials like far-right politician Philippe de Villiers, who recently met with Putin to finalize plans for "historical" theme parks in Crimea and Moscow -- and whose brother, Pierre, is chief of staff of the French Army. (Philippe's son, Guillaume, has sold and rented out luxury property on the French Riviera to more than two dozen Kremlin insiders.) 
Even Hollande's headline-making decision to delay the Mistral deliveries until a cease-fire and a political settlement are in place in Ukraine appear little more than a stalling tactic. 
Grua and other protesters believe that the first of the vessels, the "Vladivostok," may attempt to circumvent the delay and sail quietly to Russia this week during open-sea training exercises for the more than 400 Russian sailors currently based in the port of Saint-Nazaire.  
Protesters this weekend will call for the September 10 exercises to be canceled, for the $1.7 billion sale to be nullified, and for the Mistrals to be sold to a NATO member instead. Grua, who says his Saint-Nazaire protest will bring him face-to-face with the visiting Russian sailors, says he'll be satisfied if even a small, international crowd of protesters stands with him. 
"Size is not the problem," says Grua. "You can make a demonstration with 500 people in Paris; nobody will care. But to have European, Ukrainian, Georgian, Polish, French flags in front of Russian military people, well, you don't need 1,000 people. You just need a couple of people to say ‘Yes, we are here.'"
By Daisy Sindelar

May 23, 2014

Clashes of Europe’s Tolerance of LGBT people

EUROPE stands accused of many failings in recent months, including weakness, internal division and naivety. But to hardline Georgian churchmen, the continent’s greatest sin is depravity. Europe’s promotion of tolerance for homosexuality, they say, threatens the very foundation of Georgian society.
The discussion became more heated after the government’s adoption of an anti-discrimination law on May 2nd. The law is central to further progress towards visa-free travel in Europe, and lays the basis for the Association Agreement with the European Union, which Georgia is planning to sign on June 27th. Although human rights activists had hoped for stronger enforcement mechanisms, they see it as a significant step in the right direction.

The inclusion of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as unacceptable grounds for discrimination aroused the passions of the Orthodox Church. The Patriarch (pictured), who is by far the most respected public figure in Georgia, thundered that “believers would not accept” a law that “legalised illegality”. Individual clerics went further in addressing parliament, warning politicians of the perils of confronting the church. Excitable protesters worried about the “genocide of the nation”. Whether the EU’s ambassador’s reassurancethat reading Plato had not made him gay had any impact is unclear.
A year ago, on the international day against homophobia (IDAHO), a massive, church-led counter-demonstration in Tbilisi broke up a small gay rights demonstration and left demonstrators in fear for their lives. This year, Georgia’s beleaguered gay rights activists declined to rally on that day. Instead, they registered their invisibility with an imaginativeart installation of 100 empty pairs of shoes left on Tbilisi’s Pushkin square.
The church, meanwhile, moved to re-claim IDAHO as a national family day. A few hundred churchmen and supporters marched through Tbilisi’s streets and protested against the anti-discrimination law outside of the former parliament building. This suggests that homophobia has triumphed in Georgia but polls taken just before the eruption of the controversy over the anti-discrimination law show that 24% of Georgians surveyed said that gay rights were important; in June 2013, only 16% did.
This has an unlikely bearing on the country’s foreign policy, as Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, is trying to harness homophobia in Russia’s “near-abroad” in his bid for leadership of the anti-western world. Yet that may not sway ordinary Georgians. Their inclination towards the EU and NATO is stronger than their rejection of homosexuality, according to polling data.
Davit Usupashvili, the parliamentary speaker, said that the anti-discrimination bill represented a choice between Russia and the EU. After frantic negotiations behind the scenes, parliament adopted it unanimously. To shore up ties, a flurry of European bigwigs have visited Tbilisi in recent weeks, including the French president, the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and the UK, and Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council.
Even so, Georgia’s western allies are alarmed by the prosecution of former officials of the opposition party, the United National Movement, as they fear a political witch-hunt. These worries came to the fore when the prosecutor summoned the former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, for questioning on March 22nd. Whatever the legal basis for the move, it was politically short-sighted: Georgia’s closest allies within the EU, such as Poland and the Baltic countries, are also Mr Saakashvili’s firmest supporters.
The path towards Europe remains full of pitfalls. The potential for pressure from Moscow highlights how much Georgia needs unity. Yet Georgians have a talent for in-fighting: during the anti-gay rights rally on May 17th, two homophobes started beating each other up, each accusing the other of being gay.

May 13, 2014

Anti gay Russia Unleashes Assaults at Eurovision Song Contest over”bearded lady”

IT’S the place where homophobia goes to die - but not this year.
After taking home the coveted title at the Eurovision Song Contest, Austria’s “bearded lady”, aka Conchita Wurst, has copped a slew of abuse for her less than traditional performing style.
In a bitter aftertaste, the singer’s stunning victory has been branded “the end of Europe” by Russia’s anti-gay lobby.
The hirsute alter ego of Austrian performer Tom Neuwirth took out the competition in Copenhagen with Rise Like a Phoenix, an anthem reminiscent of classic James Bond theme tunes.
Social media went into overdrive overnight after BBC Eurovision’s page posted in honour of the “gender neutral” performer.
But in an unexpected twist, users instead posted shocking grievances against the performer, calling to “wake up Hitler” and “kill it with fire”.
“I believe in future without “things” like these”, wrote one user.
“Go and kill yourself”, said another.
“The most messed up thing I’ve seen on TV. I can already tell the Eurovision 2015 winner. It’ll be a song about love between an old woman with a 6-year-old boy and they’ll end up kissing on stage. Easy win. Or a gay couple kissing. The world’s changing. Going so wrong.”
Among the posts were calls for the BBC to ensure homophobic abuse “is not tolerated”, but it took other users to step up in Conchita’s honour.
“I’m disgusted by the comments on this post honestly,” wrote Jordan Jon.
“Just when you think the future is getting better with LGBT, this comes up.”
Excited .... Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst beams after making a triumphan
Hair I am ... Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst beams after making a triumphant return home to Austria.Source: AP
But the “bearded lady” received a heroine’s homecoming in Vienna after winning the Eurovision Song Contest.
After the win, hundreds of excited fans gathered at Vienna’s International Airport to welcome Conchita — who was clutching her Eurovision trophy tightly — back to home soil.
But in Russia, some branded Wurst‘s win as an example of the West’s decadence.
New friend ... Australian singer Jessica Mauboy, who appeared in a guest slot at the comp
New friend ... Australian singer Jessica Mauboy, who appeared in a guest slot at the competition, posted this picture with Wurst on Instagram. Source: Instagram
After the victory, Russian state television broadcast a debate on Conchita, with anti-gay MP Vladmir Zhirinovsky calling the result “the end of Europe.”
“There is no limit to our outrage,” he said.
“It has turned wild. There are no more men or women in Europe, just it.”
Homecoming ... Austrian singer Conchita Wurst arrives with the trophy at the airport in V
Homecoming ... Conchita Wurst arrives with the trophy at the airport in Vienna. Source: AP
The competition was marred by controversy over widespread persecution of gay people by Russia’s vocal anti-gay lobby, and its apparent sanctioning by the gonvernment.
Wurst’s inclusion adding oil to that fire even before the show; and during the final there was loud booing in the Copenhagen arena whenever Russia’s act received a vote. 
Afterward, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s vice-premier Dmitry Rogozin tweeted that the Eurovision result “showed supporters of European integration their European future — a bearded girl”.
The drag queen, who was initially written off as too provocative for some socially conservative countries, was the favourite to win the contest.
Eurovision victory ... fans welcome Austrian singer Conchita Wurst at Vienna's Schwechat
Eurovision victory ... fans welcome Wurst at Vienna's Schwechat airport. Source: AP
The act proved so popular that Austria was declared the winner after 34 of 37 countries had given their votes on Saturday evening.
After being announced as the winner, Wurst said: “This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom.”
She added: “We are a unity and we are unstoppable”.
Conchita’s inclusion in the Eurovision Song Contest had earlier angered some of the more conservative nations.
In Russia, Belarus and Ukraine petitioners demanded that the 25-year-old drag artist be dropped from the competition, while the leader of Austria’s right-wing FPOe party called the act “ridiculous”.
Shocked ... Conchita Wurst, representing Austria, who performed the song 'Rise Like a Pho
Shocked ... the singer listens as points are announced during judging at the final of the Eurovision Song Contest. Pic: Frank Augstein Source: AP
“I have very thick skin,” Wurst told AFP. “It never ceases to amaze me just how much fuss is made over a little facial hair.”
Much like the title of her song, the singer on Friday rose to second place in the odds table after winning over viewers with her performance in Thursday’s semi-final.
Earlier in the week the frontrunner had been Armenia’s Aram MP3, who stirred controversy when it was reported that he had said Wurst’s lifestyle was “not natural” — a comment the stand-up comedian later claimed was a joke.
“I have to say that if it’s a joke it’s not funny ... but he apologised and that’s fine for me,” Wurst said.
Since the first votes were cast in 1956, Eurovision results have been closely intertwined with politics and the 2014 competition is no exception.
Audiences in Britain and France routinely complain that their countries suffer from a lack of European voting allies and tend to take the competition less seriously than the countries of the former eastern bloc that joined in the 1990s.
  “Everything could be political but we don’t really care, because we are artists and what we are doing is music,” said Lorent Idir from France’s Twin Twin.
The mainstream appeal of the Eurovision Song Contest has grown over the past two decades after strict rules on singing in the national language and performing with an orchestra were scrapped.
It has also benefitted from the popularity of TV talent shows, and several of this year’s artists have previously competed in programs like The X Factor.
And Australia’s love affair with the show was honored this year, with the inclusion of Jess Mauboy singing Sea of Flags as a special guest at the second semi-final.
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