Making Sense of Trump’s Foreign Policy After the First 100 Days

By Mark Narusov

After his first 100 days in office, Donald Trump is maintaining the established trend of continually not meeting the expectations of both his critics and supporters alike. He did not decrease American commitment to NATO, undermine traditional alliances, or try to reduce the tensions with Russia by handing over unilateral concessions. Steve Bannon, far from becoming the éminence grise of this White House, is losing influence over the president’s actions, while the more “establishment” figures like Mike Pence have become more powerful[1]. On the other hand, some features of Trump’s foreign policy could be — and were — predicted before he took office. The beginning of the new presidency did mark a break with the Hamiltonian tradition of upholding free trade arrangements as an important pillar of the world order, as well as the Wilsonian idea that democracy promotion should be at the top of the foreign policy priorities of an American administration.

No strings attached

It should be obvious to any honest observer that Trump did not turn out to be a Russian puppet. He would not have supported Montenegro’s accession to NATO or punished the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons if he was. It is nonetheless equally obvious that the Kremlin had a significant role in getting Trump elected, but there is no contradiction between the two. The most plausible scenario is that the Russian regime simply did not attach any strings, nor set conditions for the amount of PR help they delivered through Wikileaks, social media bots, and media outlets. The story of a dictator making a misjudged bet on a democratic candidate and suffering the negative consequences is not without precedent. It is a well-established fact that the now deposed tyrant Muammar Gaddafi contributed €50 million to Nicolas Sarkozy’s election fund in 2007. It did not stop the recipient from being the initiator of the NATO campaign to depose his sponsor, and a solid case could be made that these allegations created an incentive for Sarkozy to act in such a way that would disprove the claims of his critics.

“A true friend of Muslims”

In dealing with the Middle East, the Trump administration has demonstrably dropped democracy promotion as a priority. In a very emblematic act, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dropped human rights-related conditions on the sale of $3 billion worth of arms to the authoritarian monarchy of Bahrain that the Obama administration had set due to the regime’s crackdown on its Shiite minority. The Egyptian strongman El-Sisi, whom Trump called “a fantastic guy”, hasn’t gotten any pressure so far from the current administration concerning his regime’s systematic abuse of human rights. The meeting between Trump and his aides and the Saudi delegation left the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman utterly ecstatic and led him to non-ironically proclaim that Trump is “a true friend of Muslims”. The United States’ change of policy on democracy promotion among allies in the Middle East, as well as the new administration’s more hardline approach to Iranian expansionism in the region, has already led to the strengthening of the bilateral relationships between the US and its non-democratic allies in the regions. While these regimes will be less constrained in their abuses of human rights, it is also very likely that they will be more willing to cooperate on counter-terrorism, potentially offering more assistance in the ongoing campaign against ISIS in particular.

Consistently inconsistent

The pretty glaring and relatively unprecedented level of incompetence and ignorance of the American president has created a number of problems for American foreign policy. The most obvious one is, of course, the fact that he does not have a clear set of beliefs, goals and principles that would guide his decisions and define his strategy. While Trump has established the credibility of his threats early on in the term — by punishing the Assad regime for its chemical weapons attack —  the predictability of American power under Trump may well be in danger.

Whatever one thinks of Trump’s final decision to strike the Shayrat airbase, what pushed him to consider it was not a thought-out calculation of the long-term costs and benefits in terms of upholding the Chemical Weapons Convention, pleasing allies, or threatening enemies. Rather, it was a quite impulsive and emotion-driven decision based on the anger he felt after seeing the images of children injured by  chemical weapons. Trump’s aides transformed Trump’s reaction into a rational and, in the end, well thought-out act, but there is no guarantee that they would be able to do so at another time.

This is exactly what averted the disaster of a Trump-like person being in charge of the foreign policy apparatus — a disaster that many, including me, anticipated — the highly professional and competent team that the president has assembled around him, in addition to Trump’s willingness to ask questions and fill in the gaps of his understanding [2]. The top executive’s incompetence, however, has distinct negative consequences. In the aftermath of the Syrian strike, for example, American representatives struggled to cohere and offer a consistent message on American policy towards Syria. Haley, U.S. ambassador to the UN, said that there can be no political settlement while Assad is still in power and that “Regime change is something that we think is going to happen”, while Secretary of State Tillerson said that the campaign against ISIS is “being coordinated somewhat with the Syrian regime” and “We are hopeful we can work with Russia” to achieve peace in Syria. Some progress is being made on the problem of message discipline, but the administration is a long way from the relatively consistent positions their predecessors took on issues at hand.[3]

Even after the first 100 days, one cannot distinctively define what a Trump doctrine would look like, if clearly laid out. The same was relatively true of his predecessor — Obama did not come into office with a well-detailed plan for dealing with the outside world, but he did espouse a firm belief that the U.S. should become less embroiled in the Middle East and must restrain itself to diplomatic means of action when its core interests are not threatened. This firm attitude was manifested through, among other things, inaction in Syria, lack of commitment to the post-revolutionary future of Libya, rapprochement with Iran, and a “reset” with Russia. Obama’s actions as president were very much predictable. Trump, however, has very few, if any, solid guidelines for operating on the international arena. We can only wait and see what factors will shape the rather remarkable continual change of Trump’s foreign policy views in the future.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/vice-president-pence-is-quietly-becoming-a-foreign-policy-power-player/2017/03/05/e347c394-0048-11e7-8f41-ea6ed597e4ca_story.html

[2] http://www.politico.com/story/2017/04/trump-syria-strikes-debate-237025

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/27/world/americas/state-department-united-nations-ambassador.html

 

Refugees, Le Pen & Polls

By Megan Evershed

On the first day I went to go visit the refugees, there was a dead bird desiccating on the pavement outside of their apartment building. I turned to Lili, the girl who I was volunteering with, and made a face at her.

Before getting on the bus to a part of town I had never been to before, we had been given strict instructions not to give the refugees our phone number, not to tell anyone else in the apartment complex what we were doing there, and to keep a low profile. Needless to say, I was nervous and the rotting bird corpse was not helping my peace of mind. Nonetheless, we rang the doorbell to their apartment and were buzzed through the door.

Climbing four flights of stairs, I didn’t know what to expect. I had signed up to Interagir on a whim. I had never had any experience working with social justice issues, but I felt that I needed to do something to get outside of my campus bubble. Now here I was, notebook in hand, heart in my mouth, knocking on the door.

In 2016, there were 85,244 applicants seeking asylum in France. Out of these, there were 18,555 people claiming refugee status. The majority of these refugees are from Sudan, Afghanistan, Haiti, Albania, and Syria. About 150 of those with refugee status have settled in Champagne-Ardenne. Noor and Mustafa and their two daughters are four of these refugees, and are the family who I work with.

Over the nine months I worked with them, they quickly became staple figures in my life. Noor welcomed us each week with a warm “Bienvenue,” Mustafa following with a jolly “Ça va?” As we built up a friendship with them, they became more comfortable with us. Noor would pray in the room while we were there, which Lili and I took as a profound display of trust. We would talk about laïcité in France, the upset Noor felt at having to remove her hijab to take a government photo, and the strange looks they got from neighbors.

In a country where Islamophobia and xenophobia have gripped the ongoing presidential election, the wariness Noor and Mustafa’s neighbors felt upon a Syrian family moving in next door isn’t that surprising. France has been in a state of emergency since late 2015 when the Paris attacks took place, and terrorism and immigration have been central topics in tabacs, kitchens, and cafes ever since then. Marine LePen, presidential candidate for the Front National, has made crushing terrorism a vital part of her platform. And the French are responding to her calls.

In a historical election where none of the mainstream political parties were elected to the second round, it’s safe to say she’s gotten her message through. The vote followed the death of a policeman on the Champs Elysées, who was killed by an “Isil-inspired” French national. Following the news of the attack, Le Pen called for the reinstitution of border checks and the expulsion of foreigners who are on watch lists. Many of her critics feared the attack would increase her voting percentage in the first round, which she passed with 21.7% of the vote.

In fact, she seems to be increasing her popularity. On April 27th, Presitrack recorded that Marine Le Pen would likely garner 41% of the vote in the second round, which was up one percent from just the day before. It’s plausible that with the intense atmosphere of xenophobia already bubbling in France, Le Pen’s percentages could grow before the May 7th voting date.

Of course, it’s not just France where we’ve seen presidential candidates capitalizing on fear and Islamophobia. In Trump’s America, where two travels bans have been passed and the government is attempting to fulfill the campaign promise of banning all Muslims, we need openness more than ever. I have lived in the US for ten years and became a green card holder only a few years ago. The first travel ban included a restriction on the entry of green card holders. Going to school in France, it struck me that if I came from Iran instead of the UK, I wouldn’t be allowed to go home.

More importantly, however, a family like Noor and Mustafa’s would not able to seek refuge in a country purportedly devoted to liberty and welcoming the “huddled masses.” For the sake of Noor and Mustafa, I hope we won’t see a repeat of the US presidential election. They’ve already suffered enough, and having Le Pen in the Palais Elysée would be an insult to their struggle.

One Last Chance

By Dalton Fischer-Linnett

Five years ago I sat chewing dressed olives in a café behind the Boulevard Saint- Germain in Paris’ ritzy-bohemian sixth arrondissement. As the sun sank into balmy spring air, casting a long shadow from my glass of mint water, a great clatter erupted in the thoroughfare around the corner. Television screens facing out to the street from inside the many cafés began to bounce and flicker to news broadcasts. A hologram of a short man with a cactus of retreating hair and thin, frameless glasses stood, smiling faintly, in buzzing television studios among real-life presenters. Below him the announcement: François Hollande elected president of the Republic.

Paris’ sixth district, and its nearby Latin Quarter, are thick with students. Although today the Rive Gauche boasts some of the priciest property in Europe, its traditional association with artists and thinkers has preserved a leftist heritage. Revelers, mostly young, emerged seemingly from nowhere to stuff the famous boulevard. Banners unfurled and rose over the crowd, bearing the Socialist Party’s pink rose. Cries of “Vive la Republique!” ricocheted off limestone walls and set café parasols trembling.

I stood and joined the thickening throng, undulating slowly but with growing purpose eastward. As the sun set, we marched to the Bastille, where many a leftist demonstration has reached its head in the centuries since the French Revolution was born there in 1789. Late into the night, celebrating cries – many increasingly slurred as the hour dwindled – riddled the streets of the city. The warm spring air seemed to bubble.

Five years later, that same air seems to have frozen stiff. France’s political conversation has been pulled so taut that a word might bring the whole atmosphere shattering down. The jubilation I joined that day in 2012 has evaporated; the man in whose name it had mobilized is now the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic, and the most unpopular head of state in the whole of Europe.

What did Mr Hollande do to fall so spectacularly from public approval? How could a man who inspired such excitement become the object of such bitter disdain? The truth is, for all his flaws, Mr Hollande was not the author of his own demise. Something changed forever in the years that passed between my evening on Saint-Germain and my return to France in the summer of 2015. We all know, by now, of the tide of populism swelling in Europe – indeed, it is stronger in France than almost anywhere else. But something has been broken besides. France is not merely a victim of the “Brexit-Trump” phenomenon. If she were, Marine Le Pen and her National Front might have hoped to garner more than 21 per cent of the vote in the first round on April 23.

More than simply succumb to the siren call of populism, France has grown ill of its stale combat between the centre-left and the centre-right; between two conglomerate parties that seem to condescend, to serve themselves, and far too often, to break their promises. Mr Hollande’s early reforms did not go as far as his voters had been led to believe; in 2014, with the appointment of the liberal Emmanuel Macron to the Ministry of the

Economy, the president showed himself ready to U-turn on the economy, pleasing his prime minister’s centre-liberal wing of the party at the expense of the traditionalist cohort. Mr Hollande would never be the socialist Messiah as he had billed himself in 2012. His unprecedented decision not to run for reelection, and the trouncing of former prime minister Manuel Valls in the party’s presidential primary, spelled a dark electoral future for France’s traditional left-wing power constituency. In the event, the traditionalist Benoit Hamon would be roundly rejected by his party’s voters and his country, winning less than seven percent. The party of Francois Mitterrand could face a rout in the legislative elections in June.

The same Mr Macron, branded a “traitor” by the Hamonite wing of the Socialist Party, will contest the runoff on May 7 against Ms Le Pen. The battle lines will be two diametrically opposed visions of the French and European future – Mr Macron’s an urban, intellectual, and integrationist France; Ms Le Pen’s an agro-industrial one with stiff borders, closer to its traditional roots.

But how did that Mr Macron – the “traitor”, the “opportunist”, the “banker”, “elitist”, “novice”, “boy” – rise so high so quickly? His only experience with government is a two- year shift as the unelected Minister of the Economy – a job where his liberalizing reforms made him a hero to many but a villain to millions of others, particularly to left- wing socialists who felt duped by their president, who had nominated him. Until the opening of investigations into Republican François Fillon’s parliamentary payment scandal, most pundits gave Mr Macron, at best, an outside chance at the second round, let alone at the Élysée Palace.

But it is clear that Mr Macron is something of a remarkable individual. Comparisons have been drawn with Barack Obama in 2008, and the Nick Clegg phenomenon in Britain in 2010. When he speaks, he maintains a piercing gaze with the camera and his audience. His eyebrows often lifted, he looks always to be thinking, calculating, and considering. His youth in a field populated mostly with quinqua- and sexagenarians endows him with an appearance of energy and optimism that Mr Fillon and Mr Mélenchon can do nothing to imitate. His movement, En Marche! capitalizes on this gender of personality cult – its logo is written in handwriting and its initials, conveniently, are his.

I have believed since last April, when Mr Macron launched his movement, that he would succeed Mr Hollande as president. This view was held by very few until very recently. Centrists often do not fare well in European elections – especially when unaffiliated with any major centre-left or centre-right party. But the direct mandate of France’s presidential election permits Mr Macron to do something Mr Clegg never could in Britain. The presidency is an individual office, occupied by a person, not by a party. Like Mr Obama, France’s own centrist has built his campaign around an almost-celebrity image. His decision to remain unaffiliated enables him uniquely to attract voters from other parties who would balk at the idea of voting for a rival party, but are less afraid of voting for the man himself if his ideas seem promising. The Macron campaign operates a high-definition, flattering Instagram profile, which often portrays its candidate with his face raised slightly to the sky, his arms outstretched – an invocation, a vindication, a blessing. It is the image of a man with the dynamism and the optimism to bring real change to a country begging for a revised future.

Whether this is true of Mr Macron is anyone’s guess. If he wins on May 7, as he is expected to, his presidency will be a merciless test from its very first day. The voters, who will have coalesced around him – many reluctantly, after the elimination of their preferred candidate – will scrutinize the every move of an inexperienced, thirty-nine- year-old president promising to redefine French politics – “neither right nor left”, a “France for everyone”. What is certain is that the French will not tolerate another president who fails to bring the change he promised. For better or for worse, President Macron – if indeed that is who he is to become – will survive his first term only if his “revolution” bears tangible results, like new jobs, a faster-growing economy, and national security in the wake of repeated terrorist strikes.

If it does not, the consequences for French politics could be grave. Even if defeated this year, the National Front is not going away. Beating populists will not eliminate them. The defeat of both of France’s major parties in the first round of these elections, which is unprecedented, has given numerical proof to the sentiment that French voters will stand no longer for deception and disappointment. Mr Macron must recognize this. He may be liberal France’s last chance.

The Forgotten Ones: The Feminist Exclusion of Indigenous Women

By Anjeola Salami

On the backs of the ‘Women’s March on Washington’ and the ‘Day Without A Woman’ strike, women of all backgrounds are demanding to be heard and recognised for their enormous contributions to society and for effective solutions to the variety of issues faced by women.

One group of women, whose experiences are routinely ignored and swept under the carpet, is that of Native American women across the continent. Like many minority women before them and presently, there seems to be a lack of progressive interaction with the issues peculiar to Indigenous women.

The 10th of March saw thousands protesting in Washington DC against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and for the recognition of indigenous rights. Many carried banners reading “Native Lives Matter” noting the undue rate of police brutality towards Native Americans. Marchers insisted on the rights of Indigenous people to have a voice on the usage of native lands.

Although the protest mirrored many that had taken place just weeks before with a high influx of organised people – especially women – there is one distinct difference: the media coverage. Historically, the attention given to Indigenous people’s issues is abysmal and this was no different. The 2014 ‘Am I Next?’ online campaign by Aboriginal women in Canada asked the government for action on over 1,100 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women. The campaign got little or no attention from the media, or the Canadian government.

Back to the present, and we see little change in the treatment of Indigenous people’s issues. The White House is yet to comment on protest demands in the wake of Trumps executive order calling for the “expedited approval” of construction.

Dozens of Indigenous Canadian women have been murdered or disappeared near British Columbia’s Highway 16, which has been dubbed the Highway of Tears by residents. Although Aboriginal Women make up only four percent of the Canadian female population, they account for sixteen percent of female homicides.

This disproportionate violence towards native women has historically been met by indifference by the police. The cases of these women are often treated with high levels of sexism and racism. In a high number of cases, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) dismissed the deaths as suicides, accidents, or overdoses with little or no investigation.  

On this, Keisha Roberts, a member of the Nehiyaw Cree First Nations said: “Many people who speak about feminism without looking at Intersectionality and our positioning on Turtle Island (the name Indigenous people use for North America) often forget that colonizers brought patriarchy to this continent…also imposing gender binaries on the land and erasing identities. That being said, the social phenomena of missing and murdered Indigenous women has been hundreds of years in the making. From the onset of colonization, the sterilization of Indigenous women to the theft of our children and overrepresentation in foster care; the violence against our bodies is directly related to the violence on Mother Earth…the less Indigenous people there are, the less the government has to deal with us and the more access they have to the resources.”

Groups like the Native Women’s Association of Canada have repeatedly called on the government for an inquiry and reformation of police policies. By ignoring the calls of these advocacy groups, the conservative government of Steven Harper mirrored his predecessors, whom implemented policies like the state-financed residential school system that increasingly marginalised Aboriginal peoples. Many of the children, who numbered over 100,000, sent to residential schools were victims of sexual and physical abuse in the hands of the church-affiliated system.

The turbulent relationship between Aboriginal people and the RCMP did not start with them forcibly taking children from their families to residential schools, but has definitely not improved since then. The 2015 CEDAW report by the United Nations condemned the limited and “inadequate” measures conducted by the Canadian government to protect Aboriginal women.  

Fast forward to 2016, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a national inquiry into the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women. The inquiry comes with a promise of complete renewal of Canada’s relationship with its Indigenous people.

Many are skeptical as to whether these initiatives will amount to any substantial change. As Oy Lein Jace Harrison, an Ontario native, points out: “Trudeau has made several promises to Aboriginal peoples, like relief in Attawapiskat and funding for poverty alleviation, but nothing has come of it”. As the government continues to pledge reform, Indigenous women are continuously mobilising and calling for the world to hear them.

The question still remains: why are Indigenous women’s issues not a solid part of recent Feminist movements?

“There is a negative misrepresentation of Indigenous people in the media, in addition when it comes to binaries of who is a settler and who is indigenous to this land, there is a lot of settler guilt and privilege that people do not want to recognise…there is also the issue of visibility, education about Indigenous people and a lack of communication with Indigenous people,” Roberts said.

As we move into what some are calling the fourth-wave of Feminism, it is disappointing to see that this new wave is mirroring many of mistakes of old. The continuous erasure and silencing of Indigenous women has prevailed through the various waves of feminism. Our heightened focus on Intersectionality should not forget or undermine the forgotten ones of North America. It is time we all paid attention.

Jusqu’ici, tout va bien

By Nayanka James.

steluce1

Avant de commencer quelques notes d’amour pour cette terre qui coule dans mes veines : « Lagwiyann to bèl, bèl, bèl ti koté dan lamazoni, Mèm si yé di sé la jungle savé an mo tchô to sa mo paradi » Lovajah (La Guyane tu es belle, belle, belle. Un beau bout d’Amazonie. Même s’ils prétendent que tu n’es que jungle, sache que tu es dans mon cœur, tu es mon paradis)

J’ai tenté d’écrire un article neutre, factuel, dénué de partis pris. Mais comment peut-on être neutre quand il s’agit de toi ? De vous ? Comment peut-on être neutre quand il s’agit de la terre qui t’a portée, nourrie, abritée ? Comment peut-on être neutre quand on voit la manière dont ils vous traitent ? Comment peut-on être neutre quand TF1 résume votre mobilisation à la violence qui ravage notre Guyane ? Puis enchaîne sur le sida qui décime (apparemment) notre jeunesse?

La neutralité n’existe pas, nous le savons, vous le savez, ils le savent. Les mots ont un sens. Un poids. Nous devons les choisir avec parcimonie. Alors pardonnez-moi, pardonnez ma subjectivité. L’inquiétude, la colère, la frustration qui pourraient transparaître derrière mes mots. Mais jamais de haine, de rage. Parce que notre cause est juste, nous vaincrons.

La Guyane c’est 83 846 km2, pour un peu plus de 250 377 habitants. La deuxième plus grande région de France et la seconde moins peuplée, qui abrite en son sein la forêt amazonienne, poumon du monde. Incroyablement protégée, au prix du dynamisme économique guyanais. L’Etat possède 90% du foncier en Guyane, situation étonnante puisqu’en Hexagone il possède d’ordinaire qu’une infime part des terrains. Obtenir une parcelle agricole en Guyane relève du parcours du combattant, l’Etat se cachant derrière la nécessité de protéger la forêt. Mais quand il s’agit de protéger les Amérindiens de la pollution des fleuves, criques, rivières, et autres cours d’eau si ce n’est la pluie elle-même ; rongés par le Mercure ; fruit de la chasse à l’or qui a court chez nous ; personne ne réagit, non ! Bien au contraire, on construit un pont avec le Brésil, parce que c’est la fraternité, après tout, on se rejoint dans le dédain des peuples premiers !

La Guyane c’est 20% de jeunes entre 16 et 25 ans, soit la part la plus importante en France. Mais aussi 40% de jeunes qui quittent les bancs de l’école sans formation, sans diplômes. Que faisons-nous pour vous ? Essayons-nous de comprendre ? De proposer des alternatives ? D’une maman enseignante, j’ai appris depuis bien longtemps, que ce ne sont  pas les enfants qui doivent s’adapter à l’école mais l’école qui doit s’adapter aux enfants. Ce n’est pas fait, mais bien à faire !

Ces jeunes, perdus, à l’abandon, vivotent, magouillent pour s’en sortir. Beaucoup nous quittent pour trimer sangs et eaux là-bas en « métropole », beaucoup partent avec caché au creux de leur ventre la promesse d’une vie meilleure et reviennent avec des pépites d’or, mais une honte, une hantise dans les yeux. Etre une mule, ce n’est pas gratifiant.

La Guyane c’est le département le plus violent en France, au vu de son nombre d’habitants. Vivre en Guyane c’est vivre enfermé dans sa maison entre quatre murs, de peur d’être agressé. C’est se faire tuer pour une chaîne en or, un portable, un regard, un scooter. Vivre en Guyane, c’est se faire violer par des gamins.

Simple coïncidence, entre jeunesse laissée à l’abandon, et montée de la violence chez les jeunes ? Je ne crois pas au hasard. Vous n’y croyez plus non plus ! Certains d’entre vous ont même commencé à tendre la main, aider, écouter, comprendre ces enfants. Les enfants, ça se corrige, il ne suffit pas de punir, il faut éduquer. Que font les parents ? Sont-ils démissionnaires ? Que fait notre Mère à tous ? Celle qui nous nourrit chaque année de milliers d’euros en aide sociale ? Celle qui nous voit comme une pompe à fric ? Que font nos Frères d’une autre mer ? Certains proposent de nous jeter à la mer, parce que nous ne servons à rien. Tapant sur leur clavier, derrière leurs ordinateurs, profitant du réseau offert par le satellite envoyé depuis chez nous, mais il est vrai, pas « par » nous.

La Guyane, ce sont des coupures d’électricité incessantes, qui entraînent des coupures d’eau, et des coupures internet. A cause d’iguanes, de serpents, de grenouilles peut-être ? Ce sont des poteaux électriques de la couleur des arbres que l’on perd dans la jungle. La Guyane, c’est le noir complet, pendant de longues heures, et des gens qui s’organisent pour célébrer à la bougie, le développement qui n’est pas encore là. Des enfants qui se racontent des histoires qui font peur : « Et si la maison prenait feu ? ». Et puis la lumière revient, et la vie reprend comme si de rien n’était -vraiment ?

La Guyane, c’est un hôpital qui ferme parce qu’il n’est plus rentable. C’est un désert médical qui s’agrandit. Des médecins de plus en plus dépassés, que l’on doit supplier pour rester. La Guyane c’est maintenant la peur d’avoir besoin de soins lorsque l’on est à Sinnamary, et que le prochain hôpital se trouve à 100 km à l’Est ou à l’Ouest. Que fait-on, on crève ? Pire encore, lorsqu’on habite à Camopi, aura-t-on du réseau pour contacter l’hôpital à plus de 300 km, le seul hélicoptère disponible sera-t-il libre ? Ou devra-t-on choisir entre sauver deux habitants ? Dur, dur, quand on a fait le serment d’Hippocrate ; dur, dur, quand on a juré de sauver des vies. Hippocrate, Hypocrite ? Nous vous faisons grâce de ce jeu de mots facile.

La Guyane, ce sont des blindés face à des mères de famille qui militent. Des gaz lacrymogènes lancés à la figure d’élus pacifistes, essayant d’apaiser la foule. La Guyane, ce sont des grands frères désarmés, qui deviennent une milice aux yeux des médias.

Mais maintenant, la Guyane, c’est aussi des Guyanais qui se révoltent contre des mois et des mois, si ce n’est des années de médiocrité. Nous vous blâmons tous, élus et non-élus. Nous nous blâmons aussi de ne pas avoir réagi plus vite. Mais l’erreur est humaine. On a voulu discuter, personne n’a entendu. Alors on a bloqué la seule chose qui vous intéresse chez nous : Pourtant « vitrine économique de la région » selon TF, quelles retombées économiques pour nous ? Des miettes. Nous ne voulons pas d’une vitrine économique, nous voulons pouvoir accéder à nos terres, faîtes-nous confiance, nous aimons la Guyane plus que vous, on prendra soin de sa forêt. Nous voulons notre or exploité respectueusement, nous voulons nos diamants. Nous voulons que tous les Guyanais soient pris en compte et protégés de la même manière. Nous voulons que notre jeunesse ait sa chance, donnez-nous notre chance ! Nous voulons de l’électricité, nous ne devrions même pas avoir à le demander ! Nous voulons un système de santé à la hauteur de nos besoins ! Nous ne voulons ni plus, ni moins que les autres, nous voulons être traités comme des égaux, parce que c’est ce que nous sommes.

Vos appels au calme incessants, au retour à la raison, ne nous atteignent pas. Nous ne voulons pas nous calmer, parce que nous avons la raison derrière nous. Nous voulons être écoutés, respectés. Donnez-nous au moins l’impression que vous essayez, donc déplacez-vous.

Cet article n’est ni factuel, ni neutre, et parce que nous avons grandi bercé par Damas et Dante, concluons par le second pour éviter au premier de s’insurger trop violemment : « Les pires recoins de l’Enfer sont réservés à ceux qui sont restés neutres en temps de crise morale ».

What’s Erdogan Up To – Again?

By Simay Cetín

As you may know, Turkey has been under the rule (or de facto sultanate) of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for a while now. On April 16th, a constitutional referendum will be held that is aimed at transforming the existing parliamentary system of the country into an executive presidential system. I will try to give you a little more insight into those proposed amendments, and briefly explain why we should not give executive powers to a man who prosecuted an innocent citizen for comparing him to Gollum from the Lord of the Rings. And yes, Peter Jackson did get involved. In defense of Bilgin Çiftçi, he claimed that the pictures depicted the benign alter ego of Gollum, known to us as Sméagol (for more information on this case you can Google it, or check out the picture that I posted below).

o-GOLLUM-ERDOGAN-570.jpg

Here are a few articles that raised concern among Turkish citizens. Above all, the office of the prime minister will be abolished and all power from the ministers will be transferred to the president, who at this point, will be able to remain affiliated with a political party — even as a party leader. Considering that the candidates of the parliamentary elections are chosen by the party leaders, this would give the president control over both the executive and the legislative (RIP checks and balances). Moreover, the president will be able to appoint one or more vice presidents, who are going to be non-elected officials, replacing the president in case of death or disease. And what’s more, new impeachment procedures will be introduced, making it impossible that a president will ever be removed. A simple majority suffices to initiate the proceedings, but then a three-fifths majority is required to set up an Inquiry Commission. If the decision is in favor of sending the president to the Supreme Court (which is the Constitutional Court of Turkey), a two-thirds majority will be needed to back it up. Not to mention the fact that the president will be able to dissolve the parliament without providing any reason. For those who stopped reading after the first paragraph because they saw something funny on Sciences Po Memes Collective, or got stuck investigating the Erdoğan v. Çiftçi case, here’s a brief summary: the whole constitutional reform is designed to extend the powers of Erdoğan arbitrarily, so that the world’s “biggest jailer of journalists” (shoutout to BBC for the special title) can start issuing decrees and execute them at the same time.

Am I worried about the referendum? Most certainly. Do I think a “yes” vote is probable on April 16th? Not really, and here’s why: as many people oppose Erdoğan as support him, that is to say, Turkey is split 50/50. His success in the previous elections lies in the fact that he had the power to bring together his own supporters. The opposition, on the other hand, remained divided on religious, cultural and ethnic issues. Erdoğan may be an authoritarian figure with a touch of mild narcissism, but he is not a complete moron. His divisive rhetoric was aimed at strengthening the ties between his supporters and keeping the opposition disunited. The referendum, however, may bring the supporters of CHP, which is the main opposition party, and HDP, which is the pro-Kurdish party, together, eliminating ideological differences. On top of that, the AKP voters are surprisingly unsure about voting “yes.” They do not doubt the impeccable administrative skills of Erdoğan, but what if somebody else is elected as president in the future? What if it’s someone from CHP or HDP? The AKP voters are caricatured as being uneducated and brainwashed, yet some of them are aware that they are not voting for a man, bur for the empowerment of an office. I personally think that the Justice and Development Party is aware of that, which would explain their insistence on overseas campaigning. On January 23rd, university students who were campaigning for “no” on a commuter ferry were almost arrested for insulting the president. These measures are far from being moderate and seem to be driven by fear.

Then again, I also said that Brexit wouldn’t happen, and that Trump would not be elected. Therefore, in case of a “yes” vote, you are free to print this article and hang it around campus as a form of public humiliation.

How Sciences Po’s Administration Lied to its Students and Gave in to Intimidation from the Russian State

By Mark Narusov

Part I: The Lie, the Cover-up

“I seem to hear the stench of appeasement. <…> A rather nauseating stench of appeasement”  — Madam Thatcher proclaimed[1] in the British parliament at some point during Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait. It was the response to a call from a Labor MP to find a “negotiated solution to the Gulf Crisis”. The Iron Lady apparently had no tolerance for proposals to conduct a policy that would in part legitimize an annexation of a U.N. member state and appease a regime whose leader spared little blood for oil. And good for her.

Quite a few of observers seriously concerned with Russian imperial revanchism since the dissolution of the Soviet Union can sympathize with the sentiment expressed by Thatcher. The peculiar and distinct stench of appeasement, in this case stemming from attitudes to Russian belligerence, can be sensed across Western capitals, permeating informational spaces of the forces of both the anti-American left and the populist right. It is nonetheless surprising to discover this accommodationist attitude taking triumph over the principle of academic freedom in an institution no other than Sciences Po, specifically in its Centre de Recherches Internationales (CERI).

The American journalist David Satter was scheduled to speak at CERI on the 19th of January, to present his new book “The Less You Know, The Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin”, published in 2016. Having also presented the book at Cambridge and Oxford, Satter was surprised to find out, roughly two days before the scheduled event, that his lecture was cancelled. According to David’s account[2], he did not receive apologies or explanations from CERI. He added that the person organizing the event — Thornike Gordadze, associate researcher at CERI — was told that the event had to be cancelled due to the possibility reprisals from the Russian side, namely the possible disruption of partnership relations with Russian universities.

It has to be noted that Satter was the first foreign journalist to be expelled from Russia since the end of the Cold War. According to the author, a statement from the Russian embassy in Ukraine, dating back to December of 2013, read as such: “The competent organs have determined that your presence on the territory of the Russian Federation is undesirable”[3]. As he explains in the already mentioned book, “The phrase ‘competent organs’ is used in Russia to refer to the Federal Security Service (FSB). The formula ‘your presence is undesirable’ is used in espionage cases. I had never before heard it applied to a journalist”. Given Satter’s prior works, however, it should have come as no surprise. He was one of the first people who, upon investigation of 1999 apartment bombings in Russia, officially blamed on the Chechen rebels, arrived at the conclusion that the FSB was the culprit. In his new work, Satter references the mysterious deaths of at least four people (Yuri Shchekochikhin, Sergei Yushenkov, Anna Politkovskaya, and of course Alexander Litvinenko) all of whom, except Litvinenko, David regarded as friends. These four people investigated the role of the FSB in the terrorist attacks. It is entirely plausible that it is only Satter’s foreign passport that saved his life.

On January 27th, Buzzfeed France published[4] a piece confidently alleging that Satter’s talk at CERI was indeed cancelled out of fear of retaliation from the Russian side. The author cited an anonymous source within Sciences Po’s staff who confirmed Satter’s version of events and added that “The most likely scenario is that they feared for the academic exchange agreements with Russia <…> I think that they also feared that their on site students might be expelled”. The employee also recalled that Satter’s is not the first incident of this sort and that it follows a trend established by a dangerous precedent: “A few months ago, the Center refused to welcome the Ukrainian Prime Minister who is not in the good books of Moscow,” they told BuzzFeed France. “After a conference on Chechnya [in May 2016], the Center received complaints from the Russian embassy [emphasis added]. This time, they have censored themselves in advance. It was brutal.”

The article also cited Jean-François Bayart, director of CERI between 1994 and 2000, as saying “I’m outraged! When I heard CERI’s justifications, I couldn’t believe it.”

It ends by pointing out the fact that the Dalai Lama’s talk was cancelled in a remarkably similar manner[5] — without explanations or an official statement — fearing the Chinese side.

Following the accusations publicized by Buzzfeed, roughly fifty[6] CERI students complained to the administration, demanding explanations and questioning the school’s commitment to open debate.

Le Figaro and Le Monde gave more publicity to the story on February 1st. The next day, I — along all others who have written to the administration about Satter —  received an official statement by the current director of CERI, Alain Dieckhoff.

Mr. Dieckhoff called the allegations “ill-founded and malicious” and contradicted Buzzfeed France’s reporting with the claim: “This event was not cancelled due to political pressure having been put on CERI. Nor was the cancellation inspired by a fear of potential interference by the Russian authorities [emphasis added]. In no way, therefore, does it correspond to any form of self-censorship.” The following is Dieckhoff’s explanation of why the conference was cancelled: “…Yet the talk planned by Thornike Gordadze, an academic advisor at IHEDN and associate researcher at CERI, which was to feature David Satter and be held on our premises, did not meet the criteria set out in our academic policy. Associate researchers are entitled to organise events at CERI but, for academic reasons, they must do so in collaboration with one of the laboratory’s permanent members. In this instance, such was not the case.” Baptiste Ledan, chief of staff of Frédéric Mion, also reassured us by saying that “You shall be sure that our institution would not cancel an event due to political pressure.” (It did — at least three times.)

Unfortunately, the claims put forward by Dieckhoff have been later exposed as flagrant lies, the statement itself turning out to be little more than a sloppy attempt at a cover-up.

On the 17th of January, Le Monde published[7] a follow-up on the story that included a leaked email written by Ewa Kulesza, executive director of CERI:

“[Translated from French[8]] In the present tension-filled context, even as there are numerous students and Ph.D. students [doctorants] of Sciences Po engaged in exchange programs in Russia, to invite to CERI an author, whatever the quality of his works, who was expelled from Russia and hence necessarily always on the radar of the ‘organs’ [FSB] seems very imprudent. We both know very well that which they are capable of, in terms of retaliation, including against the institution of Sciences Po [emphasis mine]”.

As I have demonstrated, Ms. Kulesza has solid grounds to claim that Satter most likely does occupy a few minds at the FSB. She is also right to write that in this case, the threat of retaliation needs to be taken seriously. What she got wrong is the correct course of action in this situation.

In this context, I consider it important to discuss the three main Russian universities with which Sciences Po has exchange programs — MGIMO, HSE, and MSU. Given that the Kremlin has used these partnership relations as leverage to pressure Sciences Po’s administration, it is useful to assess their fruitfulness.

Part II: The Leverage

The Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) is considered as the most prestigious Russian institution of higher education in the field of international relations. On the surface, it is similar to Sciences Po in its function — to educate the future national elite in the matters of diplomacy and policymaking. As to be expected, the difference between the nature of French and Russian political regimes is reflected in the approach these institutions apply to achieve this goal.

MGIMO is officially run by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which in practice results in a significant degree of censorship, self-imposed and not. For example, on March, 4 of 2014 the liberal-minded professor Zubov was fired from the university after he expressed his outrage at the Russian annexation of Crimea. MGIMO’s official statement accused Zubov of having “repeatedly and consciously violated MGIMO’s charter” and the norms of “corporate behavior” defined by “its affiliation with the MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs]”. The institute would have been in its right to do so if Zubov had not been a member of a Moscow district’s electoral commission. He was reinstituted on April, 11, only to be finally dismissed in July.

Openly accessible[9] “exchange year reports” of students who decided to spend their 3rd year of the Sciences Po bachelor program at MGIMO damningly and clearly illustrate the nature of the institution. Almost all students whose reports are referenced on the Sciences Po website write that they did not regret having made the choice — as, I assume, one does in a formal report — but give reasons other than the academic quality of MGIMO as the cause.

Julia Friedrich claims that “The general level of the majority of the courses is well below that of Sciences Po, from the scientific requirements of some professors to the discussions and remarks of the significant portion of the students”. She explains that “In part, it is the result of the fact that one doesn’t study political science at MGIMO, one receives training to become a diplomat. As a Russian diplomat, it is evidently better not to ask too fundamental questions”.

Ioana Barbulescu remarks that one professor pushed “almost-conspiracy theories that I cannot even recall”.

Octave Nitkowsi points out that “even if the diversity of points of view is always presented to the students in an objective manner, it is usually the position of the Kremlin that is ultimately defended by the university’s professors”. He continues by saying that “…the courses, even if they are sometimes interesting, always lack significant intellectual rigor, as plans and PowerPoint seemingly don’t exist in Russia”. Octave also says that MGIMO is an institution where “the purchase of notes or even diplomas is possible by simply calling a telephone number drawn on lamps, bus stops and sidewalks next to the university”.

Karla Petrac says that she “understood that the professors are often corrupt or simply do not wish to enter into a conflict with students and their parents so that they do not lose their job (a situation completely unimaginable at Sciences Po)”. She adds that “… reflection almost does not exist among the Russian students. Moreover, it is neither demanded or required by the system”.

Moscow State University (MSU) is an educational institution that is perhaps the most prestigious in Russia. Because of its public nature, one should not be surprised to find that even professors with the most egregious and horrific views — well beyond the adjectives of “illiberal” or “anti-Enlightenment” — do not lose their jobs if they enjoy the liking of those in power. The example of Alexander Dugin stands out. The person in question is a fascist in the narrowest sense of the term[10], as well as a former professor at MSU (2008-2014) and Head of the Department of Sociology of International Relations of Moscow State University. As David Satter pointed out[11] in an interview, the first step to understanding Russia is really “accepting the unacceptable and believing the unbelievable”. Dugin was only dismissed from MSU shortly after he explicitly called for a Ukrainian genocide. Even in this case, it took an online petition to MSU’s rector Victor Sadovnichiy signed by 10,000 people to pressure him into firing Dugin.

The three student reports available on Sciences Po’s website on the year abroad at MSU are not nearly as damning as those written about experiences at MGIMO. Still, Katarína Lukačovičová recalls that “During seminars, Russian students were asked to prepare a presentation about the chosen topic. I was shocked and surprised at the same time, when they just opened a site of Wikipedia, and started to read information, step by step. Not just that it is a plagiat, therefore, complete academic dishonesty, but this kind of exercise is not really improving their skills, knowledge and critical thinking”. She bluntly adds that “To be honest, such a presentation would never obtain a sufficient number of points at SciencesPo.”

Monika Vavríková validates Katarína’s claim, writing that “…the quality of student work, such as presentations or reports, is sometimes poor. In many cases they are worthless due to inadequate information relying on inappropriate academic sources, such as blogs or Wikipedia. In addition to it, some students tend to read their presentations directly from the Wikipedia web site, which seems to be an inadequate academic performance and preparation.” She continues, saying that “… the Russian university model is mostly founded on learning of a large amount of information and facts, not promoting independent thinking, problem solving or analyzing the issues.”

The National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) is a remarkable exception to the general rule. It is widely regarded as liberal due to the beliefs of its professors and progressive because of its approach to education. As to be expected, there are quite a few influential people dissatisfied with the existence of such a university in Russia. To cite an example: one of the most popular propagandists of the Russian regime, Vladimir Soloviev  (second probably to only Dmitriy Kiselyov[12]), accused HSE’s department of political science of being a cover for “organized terrorist groups” that plot an uprising similar to the one that happened in Ukraine in 2013-2014.

According to a few of my former schoolmates now studying at HSE, there is little to no evidence of censorship in the institution. One of them, Kirill Belyaev, comments that “professors as well as students are absolutely free to express themselves in any way they like, and they do so”.

The publicly available Sciences Po student reports about exchange programs with HSE are distinctly more positive. For instance, Stilyana Tasheva writes that “… HSE is an example of the change that is little by little appearing in Russia, as well as of the reforms in Russia’s educational system. Its system is more open and liberal compared to the classical Russian model and is continuing to develop in this direction”. She adds a caveat: “despite the positive aspects, I find that there is still progress to be made. The students are not yet motivated enough to analyze and develop a critical attitude [esprit critique]”.

Alice Woda assesses her experience at HSE as such: “… student evaluation consists of tests of the lycée type, containing questions that lack personal reflection and analysis, and that do not require anything but learning by heart. On the other hand, in the field of economics and finance, the level is very high”.

To return back to the main point, these three exchange programs are the main reason why the authoritarian Russian regime has a say in the matter of who can come to speak to Sciences Po and who cannot. As can be seen from the information provided above, MGIMO and MSU are great venues to spend your 3rd year if you’re feeling tired from the emphasis on analysis of Sciences Po’s model and the overall workload, want to just lay back for a year, and spectate exactly how dumb and servile a nation can become towards its authoritarian government, or have an experience that would stop you from taking liberal democracy in the West for granted. It is only legitimate, however, to ask whether these exchange programs are worth the cost that they are de facto inflicting on the openness of debate at Sciences Po.

It is safe to say that as of now, the Russian side doesn’t have significant incentives to stop their business of intimidation. And why would they, given that apparently a single call from the embassy has led to the cancellation of two events —so far, that is to say — that would have had a negative impact on the Russian state’s soft power.

Everyone affiliated with Sciences Po needs to ask themselves: where should one draw the line? If two cancelled events are not worth getting rid of the leverage — or at least taking a more principled stance — are four sufficient? Maybe six, nine, or fifteen? How far is one willing to go to avert the possibility of conflict?

Though this may seem like a platitude, the world does not lack bad actors that do not accept common norms of behavior and who have objectives that render them unappeasable. A display of weakness only emboldens such actors to further pursue their course of action. The sooner Sciences Po’s administration realizes that, the better.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoUW93Buv_4

[2] http://ru.rfi.fr/rossiya/20170130-devid-satter

[3] https://www.amazon.fr/Less-You-Know-Better-Sleep/dp/0300211422/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487880373&sr=8-1&keywords=the+less+you+know+the+better+you+sleep

[4] https://www.buzzfeed.com/paulaveline/sciences-po-annule-une-conference-sur-poutine-par-peur-des-r

[5] http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/monde/20160911.OBS7827/le-dalai-lama-en-france-annulation-suspecte-d-une-conference-a-sciences-po.html

[6] http://www.lemonde.fr/campus/article/2017/02/01/sciences-po-annule-une-conference-sur-la-russie-de-poutine_5072473_4401467.html

[7] http://www.lemonde.fr/acces-restreint/campus/article/2017/02/17/ee33f8dd669781a7e5a5943db17de2d7_5081186_4401467.html

[8] This quote, as well as most of the others in this article, was translated from French by myself, with the invaluable help of Allie Chtioui, a fellow Sciences Po undergraduate studying in Reims.

[9] http://www.sciencespo.fr/international/fr/universite/moscow-state-institute-international-relations-mgimo-6

[10] http://inosmi.ru/politic/20120622/193954633.html

[11] https://rufabula.com/articles/2016/06/17/david-satter-accept-the-unacceptable-eng

[12] https://newrepublic.com/article/118438/dmitry-kiselev-putins-favorite-tv-host-russias-top-propogandist