In a few days one of the world’s largest sporting events commences: the FIFA Football World Cup, this year held in Russia. With the recurrence of the World Cup in a new city every four years, we find ourselves debating how close or far politics should be from big soccer events.
Putin’s Russia (which is not all of Russia) is many things. Democracy, minority protection and international rule observance would not come to mind quickly when describing today’s Russia.
So when global soccer teams−with media, fans and commercial interests in tow−stream to Moscow and other Russian cities, we should think about how to frame this event:
Are these Putin’s games, or the festival for the youth of the world? Is this a gigantic media event, or will we encounter islands of authenticity? Can we separate the event from the Russian political context, or should we use the opportunity and talk on the spot about Crimea, Syria, and doping? And should political leaders of the world who care about values go to Russia and cheer for their teams, or not?
The current administration of the United States pursues the (not unprecedented) policy of ignoring substituting or bypassing global and international norms to a new level. Recent examples include international trade treaties, the withdrawal from the Kyoto process, the pull-out from the 5 plus 1 Iran agreement, and the ongoing side-effects of these withdrawals.
It matters little whether current foreign policy is a continuation of traditional attitudes of exceptionalism, or if it is designed to win favour with certain domestic U.S. constituencies.
One of the more interesting issues is the phenomenon of secondary sanctions. This means that the U.S. administration does not only decide about which sanctions against who it wants to implement, but also tries to oblige companies from other countries to follow these ‘directions‘. If transnational companies do not accept this, they are threatened by sanctions themselves and may not be able to continue with commercial activities in the U.S., or with American partners.
While the global liberal order established after 1945 may be eroding, certain national regulations are being preserved, or even strengthened, especially in the U.S., China and to some extent, Russia.
This week’s questions are: a) is this acceptable? And b) what strategies and measures can be conceived to cope with this?
The current conflict in Myanmar has broad-ranging effects and side-effects. The core issue is the fate of the Rohingya group, a Muslim minority which in some respects is a leftover of British colonial times and the partition of this empire in 1947. Many Rohingyas are not entitled to elementary citizens’ rights, even today.
Although the immediate cause of Rohingyas fleeing and being expelled is actions by the Myanmar armed forces (or parts thereof), these actions rest on an apparently solid support by the Buddhist majority population in other parts of Burma. Violence is applied from all sides involved – there are armed Rohingya/ Muslim militias, and there is the (much more powerful) Myanmar army. Some aspects of the events in the last two months resemble features of ethnic cleansing. To chase out all of them – so far about 750,000 people – would ‘solve’ the problem from the perspective of the power circles in Yangon and Naypyidaw. It´s not quite clear what the role of the ‘Lady’ is exactly: Aung San Suu Kyi has wasted a lot of her considerable accumulated social capital by making no statements, or only ambivalent once, about this crisis. Obviously, she wants to avoid a situation where she would find herself estranged from the domestic Buddhist majority and from the military, even when, alternatively, she may be appreciated by some Rohingyas and the Western media. China is another factor, watching from the sidelines. More relevant, and often overlooked from our perspective, is the effect of all of this on Bangladesh. This poor country is clearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the crisis, and the financial and political costs of the incoming hundreds of thousands Rohingyas. There are credible reports that the current government, not in a strong position anyway, is increasingly coming under pressure from domestic groups who are calling for stronger action against Myanmar’s policies. This issue also may work to strengthen radical Islamist groups in Bangladesh. All this looks, especially from Europe, like a major tragic disaster, and quite messy.
This week’s question is: Is there anything you may come up with that could be done from the outside, by Europeans or others, except handwringing?
– Klaus Segbers
Over the last 12 months, oil prices in global markets have been volatile. This has been a problem for some (Russia, Saudi, Venezuela), and a blessing for others (China and India). For some governments, the Russian government in particular, falling oil prices pose a serious threat.
The World Cup in Brazil is able to fascinate hundreds of millions of people, despite all facts and rumors on corruption, old men networks, irresponsible labor conditions in Qatar (host of the 2022 World Cup) and authoritarian and aggressive streaks in Russian politics (the site in 2018). The game is easy to grasp (“the round one has to be moved into the square one”), and easy to play. It mobilizes collective emotions second to no other global game, despite the fact that two of the biggest countries are still hesitant to get into it (India), or are not very successful so far (China), while the U.S. is apparently catching up quickly. Is the current World Cup worth being debated in terms of IR? Or are we, the experts, secretly sitting in front of our screens, or anonymously in the crowds of public viewing, hoping to get away with it incognito?
(Paco Rivière/Flickr/Creative Commons)
How can we understand – beyond the differences – the similarities of cases like Catalonia, Crimea, Chechnya, the Karen state in Myanmar, Kashmir, Kosovo, the Kurds, Scotland, South Sudan, Xinjiang and Tibet in China, and most recently Venetia?
(Photo: E. Arrott/Voice of America)