Category Archives: Europe / International

Anything to do with European / international issues

Only liberals can stem the tide of ethnic nationalism in Bosnia

International Office_with textOn the surface of it, you couldn’t be blamed for feeling pretty grim about the results of the recent local elections which took place on 2 October in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In both semi-autonomous regions, the biggest winners were the large, ethno-nationalist parties who managed to maintain and entrench their positions as the major political force in their region. Perhaps most symbolically of all, the city of Srebrenica, where the infamous genocide of over 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks by the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska took place in 1995, has elected its first Serb mayor since the end of that conflict, triggering alarm amongst the Bosniak population and a resurgence in public expressions of Serbian nationalism.

Bosnians were voting for mayors and municipal councils in Bosnia’s two semi-autonomous regions – the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation. These regions have their own governments, presidents and parliaments, although they remained linked by shared federal institutions. The regions were empowered to largely run themselves after the end of the Bosnian War to maintain relative peace between the two largest ethnic groups in Bosnia.

In Republika Srpska, the Serbian nationalist party, the Independent Social Democrat’s Party (SNSD), successfully shored up their support through a nationalistic – and since declared illegal – referendum campaign for keeping the date of January 9th as the national day of the Republika, which took place just days before the election. The SNSD’s pro-Serb rhetoric has only strengthened, with incumbent President Milorad Dodik campaigning on a promise of Republika Srpska’s secession from Bosnia. The results show that such nationalistic rhetoric still holds a lot of power, with the SNSD winning 11 more mayoral posts and 30% more municipalities since the 2012 local elections.

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Is sovereignty just another source of likely disappointment for the Brexiteers?

Whilst there is a suspicion amongst the more ardent Remain supporter that Brexit was simply about immigration, there were those who claimed that, by voting to leave the European Union, we could reclaim our sovereignty, taking back control, as they put it.

Now, I’m in a sense relaxed about that, in that if that was their genuine wish, then it is at least philosophically consistent. Yes, the question of cost was never really discussed – like the Scottish independence campaign, the supposed benefits were in the headlines, the price in minuscule type, if it was ever mentioned at all. Fair enough, one might suppose – there is yet to be the political salesman that raises the relative drawbacks of their product.

But the problem is that sovereignty is a concept that, in a complex, inter-related world, is becoming increasingly blurred. Do nation states have the ability to “take back control” any more?

In his recent Ditchley Lecture, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer spoke of the increasingly complex nature of jurisdiction, noting that the United States has signed more than 800 international agreements, most of which defer supervision of some element of our lives to transnational, unelected, unaccountable bodies – the internet being the most universal of its type – yet which go virtually unnoticed by the general public.

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International Relations Committee report

Editor’s Note: This report was actually filed just after the meeting ended at Conference but we waited until we were all home to put it up.

Amidst the talk of Brexit and of our future place on the world as a nation, International Relations Committee met in a spirit of determination to do our part.

At the top of the agenda were opportunities to discuss the impact of Brexit beyond our shores, courtesy of Kerstin Lundgren, the Foreign Affairs spokesperson for Sweden’s Centerpartiet, and Joseph Garcia, Deputy Chief Minister of Gibraltar and Leader of the Gibraltar Liberal Party. It was apparent that, whilst our Government is attempting to work out what its negotiating stance might be, there are parallel processes going on already within other national governments.

Naturally, from the Gibraltarian perspective, concerns about the border with Spain, crossed by 12,000 Spanish workers onto the Rock each day, are uppermost, along with the implications for the flourishing financial services industry. Indeed, there has been talk of entry into Schengen for Gibraltar.

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Zambia: one too many close calls for democracy?

Zambia 1Democracies in the developing world must often overcome a number of hurdles on the road to maturity and development as a stable state. Peaceful elections, a vibrant civil society, regular transfer of power, and fair service delivery are all key indicators of democratic development. No doubt, differences in the maturing of democracies should be considered based on local realities, and a so-called Western roadmap must not be the only lens through which we view this development.

But has the southern African country of Zambia, rich in copper and with plentiful tourism potential, had one too many close calls in its democratic development? Does Zambia and its people need to rethink their political path?

The most recent August 11th elections certainly give that impression.

This year’s General Elections resulted in the incumbent Edgar Lungu (Patriotic Front – PF) winning the presidential race by just over 2.5%, enough to avoid a second-round run-off. The liberal opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), led by Hakainde Hichilema, also lost the last presidential by-election by a mere 27,757 votes. Those early presidential elections were called after the passing of former President Michael Sata in 2014. On the surface, these results appear to be a sign of political maturity, with an election called upon President Sata’s death and an apparently democratic process in place for political succession.

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What would you do if you were the Mayor of Calais?


Inside the Jungle in Calais

I was part of a Local Government Association delegation last week to the ‘jungle’ in Calais.

The ‘camp’ is essentially a shanty town with tents and shacks (including ‘restaurants’) built from scrap materials. It is set in sand dunes next to an industrial estate and alongside one of the key roads heading towards the Channel Tunnel. Its occupants are mainly male and there are over 800 residents classed as children – including many teenagers. The bulk are Afghan, fleeing Taliban conscription and in places combat zones. There are some Syrians as well as Eritreans and Somalis.

The authorities are clearly hostile to the camp: residents feel that the inhabitants are responsible for nuisance and crime. The response to this in March was partial demolition –which meant that 127 children simply disappeared. Meanwhile the CRS (the riot police in other circumstances) harass the inhabitants – confiscating phones, destroying SIM cards – and using plastic bullets, which can cause life-changing injuries.

The camp does not officially exist. Nevertheless, provision has been made for some inhabitants to go into adjacent freight containers – adapted to provide a form of accommodation, aimed at women with younger children, because of the dangers posed by people traffickers in the main camp.

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Tom Brake calls for Turkey to be suspended from NATO

As the human rights situation in Turkey worsens, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Tom Brake has called for Turkey to be suspended from NATO and for the refugee deal between Turkey and the EU to be scrapped.

He said:

Erdogan’s ongoing purge of newspapers, academics, teachers and judges has nothing to do with Turkey’s security and everything to do with blocking any opposition to his increasingly authoritarian rule. Today’s news that dozens more media outlets have been shut should send shivers down the spine of any person who believes in a free and open society.

The preamble to NATO’s founding treaty refers to it being “founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law”, all of which are under threat in Turkey currently.

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Tom Brake fights for the rights of EU citizens in the UK

The 3 million EU citizens currently resident in the UK must not be bartered over in this country’s exit negotiations with the EU. They must not be treated as political pawns, or like children caught up in their parents’ divorce. So said Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake as he introduced his “EU Citizens in the UK (Right to stay) Bill to the Commons this week. The Bill has support from MPs from Labour, SDLP, SNP and Greens.

I’m glad to see Lib Dems calling the Brexit vote for what it is – a disaster. Someone needs to point out that we are on the edge of a massive precipice and the tanking of the pound is just the start. Already business is starting to feel the pinch as investors delay investing in the UK. The collapse of the travel firm Lowcostravel is just one example of jobs being lost as a result of the Brexit vote. People haven’t yet even begun to experience the effects of Brexit and when they do, they need to see who was speaking out from the start.

I’m very proud that it is our lot who are working to preserve the rights of people who are already worrying about their future. It is only fair that those who have made their lives here are allowed to stay and not have the goalposts moved. Imagine if you have moved here, fallen in love, established a social network, a family, a career, in this country. Would you like to be treated that way?

Here is Tom’s speech in full:

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarJ Dunn 27th Oct - 9:25pm
    This is excellent news. Didn't realise that Ukip had endorsed Zac Goldsmith. I might even consider renewing my lapsed Ukip membership for a couple of...
  • User Avatarpaul barker 27th Oct - 9:03pm
    I was there this afternoon & its a lovely place, lots of autumn leaves, clouds of parakeets & a gorgeous sunset. I reccomend it to...
  • User AvatarPeter Chambers 27th Oct - 8:59pm
    @Kim Spence-Jones Well done for noting that the first referendum was long ago, and the second was this year. Do you think Gove, Farage et...
  • User AvatarRoger Billins 27th Oct - 8:36pm
    Zac Goldsmith is the ultimate handsome rich boy but their time has passed-people are no longer interested in celebrity qualities in their politicians. He should...
  • User AvatarJ Dunn 27th Oct - 8:14pm
    "The party political use of the once in a generation referendum where no one seems to know the rules of information accuracy and what to...
  • User AvatarLorenzo Cherin 27th Oct - 8:03pm
    Chris , an excellent article ,but well done to Ben ,on this Bosnia parallel or aping of Boris Johnson comments, highly irrelevant and inappropriate ,...