The world is full of small political units aspiring to become full-fledged nation-states, with a government, sovereignty, their own currency, anthem, flag, a seat in the U.N. and in other international organizations, new license plates, inherent country extensions, etc.
In Europe alone it is not only proud Catalonia. Scotland is considering a new referendum, and Kosovo is still striving for full sovereignty, as is Macedonia. Northern Italy and southern Tyrol, the components of Belgium, two eastern provinces of Ukraine, three separatist units in Georgia – all of them are exercising Sinatra’s motto of doing it ‘my way’. Beyond Europe, there is the Rakhine state in Myanmar from which the Rohingyas are currently being expelled, as well as Tibet and Xingiang, there is also the issue of Kashmir, of Aceh in Indonesia, of Quebec in Canada, the recent referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, and so on.
With rare exceptions (the dissolution of old Czechoslovakia), these calls for more autonomy or even secession provoke violent reactions from the host state. One reason is that we do not really have clear guidelines as to, if, and under what conditions, such processes can and should be implemented. The right of self-determination – guaranteed by the U.N. – does not provide criteria and procedural recommendations. The respective host state rarely is cooperative. The international community often looks the other way.
What would be good principles to act in cases where culturally defined minorities (mostly inspired by their elites) want to leave their host states?
– Klaus Segbers
The German elections to the Bundestag did not create much attention (so far). The campaign was a quiet one (some say it was boring), and there were not many emotions invested. Also, most topics raised were not extensively debated. Even the potential outcomes looked predictable: probably, for the first time, seven parties (in six factions) would be represented (and so it came to pass); very likely, Ms. Merkel would earn her fourth term (looks likely); there either would be another big coalition between conservatives and social democrats (now off the table), or a ‘Jamaica’ coalition (black/ conservative – green – liberal). So, limited entertainment value and limited options?
We still do not know if the partially significant arithmetic results (a loss of 13% for the parties of the big coalition; the AfD in the Bundestag with almost 13%, and around 20 plus% in Eastern Germany) will translate into policy changes.
The question this week is: Does the outcome of the German elections have any impact on neighboring countries, the EU, international conflicts and the world in general? Is there an external dimension that matters? Will there be more domestic pressure on the future ruling coalition?
– Klaus Segbers
Apparently, this is the new normal: two terrorist attacks on one day (London and Brussels), the day before another attack in London and a week earlier – London again. In between such events, and not long before them, the world also witnessed attacks in France, Germany, and Russia, not to mention the frequent attacks occurring in Afghanistan and other MENA countries.
Western societies were exposed to domestic terrorism in the 1970s. But since that time, terror attacks seemed to be something that happened in faraway places — until 9/11 sent home a clear message: it can (and will) happen any place, any time. And after the carnage in Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris, in January of 2015, it looks as if terrorist attacks, mostly committed by Muslim-related perpetrators, have become routine. Citizens have developed new ways of screening their environments, knowing that this can produce little more than a symbolic action.
While governments started to increase funding for police and intelligence operations, and CCTV cameras have proliferated, citizens seem to have become more fatalistic, continuing with their usual liberal lifestyles under the pressure ofincreased nervousness.
Is there anything liberal societies can do about this except adapt to new threat levels?
– Klaus Segbers
What actions can and need to be taken to safeguard universities as bastions of free thought and sources of innovation?
Not surprisingly, the growth of populism has been accompanied by shrinking spaces for intellectual life, especially regarding (but not limited to) educational activities in at least in some cases.
In Eastern Europe, the Hungarian government is actively involved in closing the Central European University, funded by the U.S. billionaire George Soros. Prime Minister Viktor Orban does not hide his aversion to Soros’s activities in Hungary. In St. Petersburg, the European University is, once more, threatened with closure, due to inspections by the state agency Rozobrnadzor, which has allegedly uncovered some formal rule violations. The School for Political Science at the second most important Russian University, the MGIMO in Moscow, will be closed due to ‘administrative reorganizations’ as of July 1st.
So what can we, more or less concerned observers and colleagues, do about this? We could accept it as a sign of changing global landscapes. Or we could send or sign protest lists online. Or we could give more or less critical interviews. But when there is a pattern in our observation of increasing harassment of certain, mostly liberal, schools and departments, this trend could sooner or later turn against ourselves.
This week’s question is simple (to ask): What can and should we do about these illiberal incidents?
– Klaus Segbers
To hold a referendum seems to have become the newest way of externalizing difficult issues. For sure, there are countries with a long tradition of directly involving their citizens with all kinds of issues, like accepting foreigners or not, raising taxes or not, or to add a train or not. In Switzerland, people are used to it, and one could make the point that the political system there may be flexible enough to digest it – though a while ago, the almighty people voted in favor of limiting the movement of EU citizens which produced a problem for the de-facto Swiss membership in the common market.
But otherwise, referenda are blossoming, and regardless of whether they create confusion or not, seem to be gaining in popularity. We do not have to mention the Brexit referendum that failed to meet the expectations of their organizers (and subsequently outed them from office), and the consequences of which the UK and EU officials now have to focus on for years to come. But there was however, one referendum on accepting a certain number of asylum seekers in the EU framework in Hungary (that equally failed), which will now be circumvented by the government. There was another referendum on the peace deal in Colombia a few days ago – that one failed too, and both government and the formerly armed opposition, FARC, now have to remedy the damage. In November, Italy will hold a referendum looking for the consent of the people to streamline their so-far awkward decision-making process which is predicted to probably fail as well. Let’s not forget the referenda on planned EU treaty revisions that went down: Ireland rejected Nice in 2001, Denmark and Sweden rejected Europe in 2000 and 2003, France and the Netherlands rejected the EU Constitution in 2005, and so on.
The question for this week is: Why on earth are sane politicians continuing to put complex issues in the hands of voters who decide by whatever criteria, but rarely on the substance of an issue?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
One of the most puzzling developments of the past five years has been the transformation in Myanmar. After decades of an authoritarian form of domestic governance and relative isolation from international relations, the ruling military group, or caste, decided to gradually reform the country, and to open it up. Domestically, a process of democratization was initiated and accepted. The recent parliamentary election produced a landslide result for the oppositional NDL party under Aung San Suu Kyi who now has a defining majority. Externally, the long cooperation with, or rather dependency on Chinese projects in the fields of water management, infrastructure and trade (especially lumber and jade) was reduced, and the country has opened up to Western partners and other neighbors.
The question is this week: How can we explain this shift that was not produced by collapse or external pressure, and what can we learn from this (if anything) for the potential future of other authoritarian systems?