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"International Affairs - Analysis and Reflections" offers insights into topics and current events in international affairs. The main fields of focus are Sustainable Development, Microfinance, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Peace and Security Studies. Regions/Countries of focus are Latin America (particularly Colombia) and Europe (Switzerland, Spain).

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A Human Chain Towards Independence…Once Again?



ViaCatalana

24 years ago today, on 23 August 1989, approximately two million people joined hands to form a 600 km long human chain linking the three capitals of the Baltic States – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – in their drive for the freedom they had lost 50 years earlier, when the Soviet Union occupied their territories after having gained agreement with Nazi Germany to divide Eastern Europe into “spheres of influence”.

The Baltic Way

The “Baltic Way”, as the human chain became to be known, is an impressive example of a peaceful claim for freedom and democracy. It has also been the inspiration for “The Catalan Way Towards Independence” which the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), a civil society organisation committed to working towards the creation of a new Catalan state, is organising for 11 September 2013 – the same day that, 299 years ago, Catalonia lost its sovereignty and democratic institutions. The aim is to form a human chain of approximately 400 km starting in El Pertús (northern Catalonia), following the Catalan coastline on the ancient Roman Via Augusta all the way to Alcanar in southern Catalonia. But the ANC also wants to extend the “Catalan Way” beyond the borders, with the aim to reach Catalans and friends of Catalonia which are outside of the country and to make the world aware of what’s happening in Catalonia. It has therefore organised small scale human chains which take place between 1 August and 11 September in more than 80 cities worldwide.

After last year’s peaceful mass demonstration, which took 1.5 million people to the streets of Barcelona claiming for Catalonia’s independence, the “Catalan Way” initiative is the second mass participation event organised by the ANC. It responds to the growing disaffection between Catalonia and Spain. Pro-independence sentiment in Catalonia has grown significantly during the past few years, as the Catalan society, the longer the more, does not see fit anymore within the Spanish state. A clear turning point for getting to the current situation was the Constitutional Court’s ruling from June 2010 regarding Catalonia’s autonomy statute, which significantly trimmed Catalonia’s self-rule aspirations in areas such as language, justice and taxation. Other factors, such as the Spanish government’s reluctance to negotiate a new “fiscal pact” for Catalonia, the central government’s language policies aimed at undermining Catalonia’s successful “language immersion” model, and politicians and Spanish army members suggesting that the armed forces should consider invading Catalonia if it attempts to get its independence from the rest of Spain, only reinforce the trend towards a growing pro-independence movement in Catalonia.

On 11 September 2013, a little more than 24 years after the “Baltic Way”, the world will witness a new human chain. It might well help to pave the way for Catalonia to become a new independent state.


Image “Catalan Way”: © carlesvg (found on Flickr.com)
Image “Baltic Way”: © allenalb (found on Flickr.com)


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Catalonia’s Indignation

June 30, 2010 6 comments

Estelada

L'Estelada - the Catalan independentist flag


Substituting the “Statute of Sau” dated from 1979, and after having been democratically approved by the Catalan regional parliament as well as by the Spanish national parliament, Catalonia’s new autonomy statute (the “Estatut”; the Catalan regional constitution) was approved in referendum by the Catalan citizens on 18 June 2006 and enacted two days later by the Head of State, King Juan Carlos I, with the following header: “Know: That the Cortes Generales [Spanish national parliament] have approved, the citizens of Catalonia have ratified in referendum, and I come to sanction the following Organic Law“. But Spain’s main opposition party—the right-wing Popular Party (PP; Partido Popular)—challenged the Estatut’s legitimacy and appealed to Spain’s Constitutional Court arguing that 114 of its 233 articles were unconstitutional and that it would jeopardize the unity of the state.

On Monday, 28 June 2010—more than four years after its enactment by King Juan Carlos I—the Constitutional Court endorsed the vast majority of the Estatut’s articles, declaring 14 of them unconstitutional and changing 23 others. Considering the huge difference between the 114 articles they claimed to be unconstitutional, and the 14 deemed to be so by the Constitutional Court, many commentators see this ruling as a slap in the PP’s face. Nevertheless, Catalan parties don’t see this as a victory for Catalonia. The indignation among the Catalan society is huge, as the 14 articles declared unconsitutional are considered a significant trim in Catalonia’s self-rule aspirations in important areas such as Catalan language, justice and taxation. The president of Catalonia’s regional parliament, Ernest Benach, said that the ruling will lead to a crisis of state, as it ignores the will that the Catalan citizens expressed during the referendum. And considering that there will be elections in Catalonia in fall, the ruling indeed comes in a delicate point in time. Many commentators argue that with the Constitutional Court’s decision of truncating the Estatut, the door for Catalonia’s comfortable existence within Spain was shut, and that there’s only one way ahead—Independence from Spain. The political parties in Catalonia are preparing for the regional elections to be held in fall, and the ruling will certainly influence their campaigns and the results. A rise in independentist and nationalist votes can undoubtably be expected.


Image: © bernatff (found on Flickr.com)


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Regained Liberty – Good News from the Swiss-Libyan Diplomatic Row


Göldi, Calmy-Rey, and Moratinos

Max Göldi (L) with Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey (C) and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos (R) at their arrival in Switzerland at Zurich Airport on June 14, 2009

In Switzerland, the return of Max Göldi, the head of Libyan operations of the leading Swiss-Swedish engineering company ABB who was detained in Libya for almost two years for allegedly violating visa regulations, puts an end to his and his family’s suffering and uncertainty and draws a line under the diplomatic crisis between Tripoli and Berne, which also threatened to harm the relations between Libya and the EU. The following is a short synopsis of the most important points and events of the crisis:

In July 2008, Hannibal Gaddafi—the youngest son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi—and his pregnant wife Aline were arrested in a hotel in Geneva on charges of mistreating two of their servants. They were released on bail a fews days later and charges against them were dropped in September 2008 after reaching a financial arrangement with the victims. In Libya, but also in Switzerland, the circumstances of the arrest—20 armed policemen forced open the hotel suite and led Hannibal away in handcuffs—were heavily criticized as being disproportionate and degrading, given the fact that he did not resist arrest.

In apparent retailiation for Hannibal’s arrest, two Swiss businessmen—Max Göldi and Rachid Hamdani—were detained in Tripoli and prevented from leaving the country. Libyan authorities denied any connection between the two cases and argued that the businessmen were violating visa regulations.

Between July 2008 and August 2009, there were various visits by Swiss diplomats and the Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey to Tripoli trying to find an end to the diplomatic crisis.

In August 2009, then Swiss president Hans-Rudolf Merz travelled to Tripoli where he offered an apology for the “unjustfied and unnecessary” arrest of Hannibal and his wife. Although this was widely criticized in Switzerland as being considered a “diplomatic genuflection“, it nevertheless meant an important turning point in the crisis. Why? Because during that visit, Merz got the oral and a few days later also written assurance from the Libyan Prime Minister that Göldi and Hamdani would be released end of August or beginning of September 2009. And in fact, both of them got their passports back before the end of August and they were asked to post a bail of 1 million dinar (aprox. $800,000) in order to proceed with their clearance to leave the country. The money was ready, and everything seemed to be on track for the return of Göldi and Hamdani, expected for September 5th, 2009. But…

…on September 4th, 2009, the Geneva-based newspaper “Tribune de Genève”—putting a spoke in Switzerland’s diplomatic wheel as being considered an unacceptable provocation by Libya—published leaked police photos of Hannibal Gaddafi taken after his arrest in July 2008. The Swiss government’s aircraft, which was already in Tripoli waiting for Göldi’s and Hamdani’s release, returned to Berne without them. Read more…

Dark Clouds and a Glimmer of Hope over Greece


Image by Theophilos (found on Flickr.com)

Dark Clouds and a Glimmer of Hope over Greece

In this post, guest blogger Dimitris Tsiodras discusses the current situation in his home-country Greece. Mr Tsiodras is a political analyst and journalist for the Greek daily newspaper Eleftherotypia. He is the Head of the Political Desk of its Sunday edition.

“Greek tragedy”, “Greek problem”, “Greek statistics” are only a few of the recent headlines about Greece and its economic turmoil. The economic crisis brought to the surface the problems that laid under the carpet for many years. Before analyzing the recent events, it makes sense to have a look at the roots of these problems.

The main problem of the Greek economy is the lack of competitiveness. In a country where the major part of its economic activity is controlled by the state, businessmen found improving their relationship with politicians and acquiring state contracts more profitable than improving the quality of their products. They did make profits but their products were not competitive in global markets. Their main interest was to maintain the status quo since an open market would endanger their enterprises. The public sector suffered from bureaucracy, lack of meritocracy and extensive corruption. There are only two sectors where the Greek economy is (somehow) competitive: tourism (because of history and natural beauty, not because of the prices and the quality of services) and maritime transports.

The high rates of growth of 4-5% during the recent years—a proof of vigorousness of the Greek economy according to our governments in the past—were due to three reasons:

– Inflows from the EU.
– Public spending through the increase of national debt and budget deficit.
– Private spending because of the reduction of interest rates after the introduction of the Euro.

The participation in the Euro-zone made the situation even worse taking into account that Greece didn’t take measures to encourage innovation and foreign investment, to reduce bureaucracy, to fight corruption and tax evasion and to reform the pension system. In times of economic growth nobody wanted to solve these problems because of the political cost and the reaction by vested interests. Now the situation is different. Maybe the country needed to come to a deadlock before starting to change. The government, under the surveillance of the EU and IMF, is obliged to carry out reforms stagnated for decades. Although Greeks are dissatisfied with the austerity measures, they understand that this is the only way to avoid bankruptcy. They are eager to accept austerity because the alternative is much worse. So the demonstrations are not so big as many expected and extremist groups are isolated. For how long is it going to last? What is going to happen if unemployment rises sharply and the recession deepens? Of course the reactions will be stronger. Read more…

“foraus” – A New Swiss Foreign Policy Think Tank

June 9, 2010 1 comment

foraus – Forum Aussenpolitik – Forum de politique étrangère

An association of young students, graduates, and professionals wants to give a fresh impetus to foreign policy decision making and discussions in Switzerland. The new politically independent think tank is called “foraus“, which stands for “Forum Aussenpolitik” (Foreign Policy Forum), and takes a stand for an open, constructive, and pragmatic Swiss foreign policy. The young organization aims at encouraging an informed dialogue on foreign policy challenges. “[It] advocates for a confident, cosmopolitan, and internationally networked Switzerland. We are decidedly against a Switzerland who’s foreign policy stays on the spot“, says foraus founding member and president Nicola Forster.

The organization currently counts around 150 members and is organized into 10 topical work groups, covering the whole foreign policy spectrum, such as development and cooperation, peace and security, migration, international multilateral organizations, or human rights. These working groups elaborate academically grounded analyses, discussion contributions, and position papers.

The forum was founded in October 2009. When asked for the reason why it only went public yesterday (June 8th, 2010), Nicola Forster mentioned that they “wanted to go public with tangible contributions” to specific foreign policy disucssion topics. And they did—so far, the forum has published three papers: one about climate policy, one about Switzerland’s role in the military task of peace promotion, and one on the current discussion in Switzerland on whether treaties should or not be ratified by the people rather than by the federal council and parliament, as happens today. The young think tank, as it looks, will bring new ideas and dynamics to the foreign policy discussions in Switzerland.


Image: © foraus – Forum Aussenpolitik


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Microschools – Opportunity International’s Contribution for Achieving MDG 2


Microschools of Opportunity™

The United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), established at the Millennium Summit in 2000, consist of eight goals related to international development topics such as poverty eradication (#1), promotion of gender equality (#3), global health issues (#6), or environmental sustainability (#7), and to which all UN member states have agreed to accomplish by 2015.

MDG #2—to achieve universal primary education—addresses the importance of literacy for advancing human development and tackling extreme poverty. Nobel Peace Laureate and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in the foreword of UNICEF’s 1999 “The State of the World’s Children” report, refers to education as “a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”

But although considerable progress has been made with respect to MDG #2 since the year 2000, there’s still a long way to go. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, around 38 million children of primary school age are still not enrolled in any kind of primary education. In developing countries, the cost for education consumes an enormous amount of a poor family’s income, if it sends its children to school at all. Although public schools often don’t charge tuition fees, sending the children there nevertheless involves other indirect costs such as textbook fees or costs for compulsory uniforms. Further, the school might not be in the immediate neighbourhood of the families, resulting in additional expenses for transportation. At the end, all these indirect costs keep school children out of the classrooms. Microschools run by “social edupreneurs” are therefore a viable alternative to public educational systems.

Opportunity International, a leading non-profit organization founded in 1971 as one of the first microcredit lenders and committed to solving global poverty, is also a pioneer in the area of microschools. In 2007, it launched its Microschools of Opportunity™ program that provides loans to teachers who open schools in poor neighborhoods where children, especially girls, would otherwise be unable to access public education. And that’s also where the name comes from—it refers to the fact that the schools are financed through microcredits, rather than to the actual size of the schools. Read more…

Flaws in Spanish Democracy?


The Spanish case is often referred to as a model of a successful democratic transition. After the civil war of 1936-1939 and the subsequent Franco dictatorship until 1975, the Amnesty Law of 1977 and the new constitution of 1978 contributed to a peaceful transition to democracy. But two developments are causing flaws in it: (1) the politically motivated campaign against Baltasar Garzón, the well-know judge of the Audiencia Nacional (the Spanish high court handling terrorism, genocide, and organized crime), and (2) the crusade against the Catalan autonomy statute.

Image by iasecas (Found on Flickr.com)A special peculiarity of the Spanish judicial system is its principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the Audiencia Nacional to pursue cases of human rights abuses, drug trafficking, and terrorism outside of Spain. And although the universal jurisdiction has recently been limited to cases in which there are Spanish victims or those charged with crime are in Spain, Garzón achieved considerable international successes. The most noted one is certainly the indictment of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his arrest in London in 1998, where he remained under house arrest for more than 500 days before returning to Chile following his release on humanitarian grounds. There, he faced legal action for human rights abuses, but was never convicted. Garzón also forced Argentinean President Néstor Kirchner to end a general amnesty for the military junta after investigating human rights violations committed during the “dirty war” of 1976-1983. In Spain itself, he is highly recognized for his relentless pursuit of ETA, the Basque separatist organization terrorizing the country since the early 1960’s. But today, the General Council of the Judicial Power, Spain’s constitutional body governing all the judiciary of Spain, suspended Garzón from his post at the Audiencia Nacional. Read more…

Essay: An Analysis of Colombia’s Democracy


See my essay “An Analysis of Colombia’s Democracy” from November 2008 published on e-International Relations.

This paper focuses on the question whether the emergence of democracy in Colombia can be explained based on the assumptions of the ‘sequentialist’ or ‘preconditionist’ theories as suggested, amongst many others, by Fareed Zakaria or Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder, or if, by contrast, the views of ‘gradualists’ or ‘universalists’ such as Sheri Berman or Thomas Carothers are more indicated to explain and analyze Colombia’s democratic past, present and future.


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Colombian Elections – Antanas Mockus Gaining Ground


Image by ojovisor (found on Flickr.com)

Antanas Mockus

At the end of my post Sweet Sour Colombian Democracy from March 23rd I mentioned that Noemí Sanín, the Conservative Party presidential candidate, can “count on a solid popular support and will certainly challenge Santos in May’s elections”. Well, the situation has now changed significantly in the last few days. Since Antanas Mockus, the Green Party’s presidential candidate and a very popular former mayor of Bogotá, joined forces with Sergio Fajardo, his candidacy is gaining ground and has overtaken Sanín, according to the latest polls. Fajardo, a former mayor of Colombia’s second largest city Medellín, was presidential candidate himself, but now agreed to join Mockus as his candidate for vice-presidency after the polls gave him little hope for success. While the “independent ticket” Mockus/Fajardo is very popular in their respective cities, they are rather “unknown” outside of these. If they make it to the second round, mobilizing support outside Bogotá and Medellín will be their major challenge. They can count on considerable support from young people and students, but they need to mobilize also other strata of the population in order to be a serious presidential contender.
Read more…

From Cuba to Prague, or Walking the Talk


Image by RobbertjanR (found on Flickr.com)

Khrushchev and Kennedy

Nearly half a century has passed since the events of October/November 1962, today known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. This crisis, arguably the most dangerous one of the Cold War, was unleashed when US reconnaissance flights revealed that the Soviet Union was deploying ballistic missiles, military equipment and personnel to Cuba. President Kennedy, interested in de-escalating the crisis rather than in provoking a war, opted for a well-employed coercive diplomacy as the answer to the observed developments on Cuba. While avoiding to give the Soviets a clear deadline for withdrawing the missiles, he imposed a naval blockade on the island and at the same time mobilized U.S. military forces to a higher readiness degree. This was a clear signal from Kennedy to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev indicating that the United States’ priority was a de-escalation of the crisis.

Image by Mika V. Stetsovski (found on Flickr.com)

Obama and Medvedev

The Cuban Missile Crisis marked a “negative milestone”, as it probably was one of the moments of highest tensions during the entire Cold War. Today, almost fifty years later, signing the U.S.-Russia Nuclear Arms Pact can be seen as an important milestone or as a small step: A milestone, because it banishes the ghosts of the Cold War and heralds a new era in U.S.-Russian relations. A small step, because there’s still a long way to go before reaching the goal of “a world without nuclear weapons” as called for by Obama exactly one year ago in Prague—the same place as today’s nevertheless historic event. But the good news is that he is walking the talk. During his Nobel Prize speech, Obama said that he viewed the award as “a call to action” rather than as a recognition of his accomplishments. He has followed that call, and while he received the prize mainly for his discourse, he has now made a further step towards deserving it for his actions.


Image Khrushchev/Kennedy: © RobbertjanR (found on Flickr.com)
Image Obama/Medvedev: © Mika V. Stetsovski (found on Flickr.com)


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