From a fragmented French left to a fragile coalition: Is the newly united French left ready to take on Macron?

On the heels of the presidential elections and just about two months after Emmanuel Macron won a second five-year term as France’s president, French voters are asked to head back to the polls and cast their ballots once more. The élections législatives are of great importance, as the parliamentary vote will settle the make-up of the government and could also coerce the president into a coalition with a prime minister from the opposition. This power-sharing scenario is called cohabitation and could mean political paralysis for Macron by curtailing his ability to push through his agenda. 

Whereas two months ago, the French left found itself gridlocked in internal squabbles and sniping, the once fractious left decided to join forces with the aim of blocking Macron from getting a majority in parliament. Previous attempts to unite the French left had fallen short, but with criticism mounting, the formerly disarrayed left has recently sprung into action by throwing its hat into the ring under the banner of the five-party coalition “Nouvelle union populaire écologique et sociale” (NUPES) in a last-ditch attempt to bridge the gap between France’s socialists, greens, and communists. The coalition consists of Mélenchon’s party La France Insoumise (LFI), the Parti Socialiste (PS), the Parti communiste français (PCF), Europe Écologie – Les Verts (EELV), Ensemble!, and Génération.s, as well as their respective partners.

But how do the elections even work? And is the united French left ready to challenge Macron? 

Facts and figures about the élections législatives

The election will see 577 députés or MPs elected to the Assemblée Nationale for a five-year term. The legislative elections are held in each constituency, using a two-round majority voting system. After the first round of voting last Sunday (June 12), the run-off vote will happen this Sunday, on June 19. A candidate needs over half the vote as well as a minimum of 25% of registered voters in a constituency to be elected in the first round. Alternatively, the top two candidates in a constituency, as well as any other candidate who got at least 12.5% of votes, go through to face off in the second round, where the candidate who gets the most votes wins. With a record abstention rate of 52.3% during the first round last Sunday (the lowest voter turnout in the parliamentary elections since 1958), the legislative elections are marked by dwindling participation and a disillusionment of French people with political institutions even though the elections are of great importance. As Macron stated in a speech on June 9: “Si l’élection du Président de la République est cruciale, l’élection des députés est décisive.”

While the second round of the presidential elections two months ago was a two-horse race between Macron and Le Pen, the parliamentary elections will be a toss-up between the centrist movement Ensemble citoyens and the left-wing coalition NUPES. The centrist Ensemble alliance consists of three main parties: Macron’s La République En Marche!, the Mouvement Démocrate, the party Horizons and four smaller ones. Since many voters were only backing Macron during the last election to rein in the rise of the far-right rather than because of enthusiasm for Macron’s political agenda, France’s president now had to enter the fray and take it up with other parties vying for seats in the Assemblée Nationale to maintain the majority in parliament that he enjoyed during his last term.

From a divided French left to a united one? Disagreements and policy differences within the freshly-formed NUPES coalition

After a rocky ride in the presidential elections two months ago, the French left has now decided to showcase unity in order to make its voice heard in the public sphere. While the unification of left parties was a necessary first step to increase the French left’s chances in parliamentary elections, one shouldn’t trivialise the fact that NUPES is a fragile coalition with significant differences of opinion on some focal points: Disagreements with regard to the use of nuclear power and the relationship with the EU and NATO seem to have been papered over rather than tackled and resolved:

There are major policy differences on Europe, where the NUPES coalition is determined to “redirect the course of European integration towards more social justice, better environmental policies, and to defending public services”. However, the party’s respective stances on Europe considerably deviate from each other. La France insoumise presents itself as a movement that might “disobey” EU law, should the EU hinder the alliance from carrying out its programme. The EELV claims to “support a federal Europe” and the PS is “strongly committed to pursuing European integration”. Regarding NATO, one can also find staggering differences of opinion when comparing the different party’s stances: La France insoumise remains sceptic of NATO, whereas the Parti socialiste is commited to France’s NATO membership.

Even though the coalition managed to agree on an impressive number of objectives, e.g the ecology and solidarity programme, criticism of the coalition and Mélenchon in particular also emanates from within the left, namely from some of his former Socialist party members (despite the fact that the Parti Socialiste is also part of the NUPES coalition). Mélenchon bowed out of the PS in 2008 to form his own movement, and ever since then, his rise on the far-left has been frowned upon by some in his former party. 

With regard to foreign policy, the coalition’s election programme claims that NUPES is determined to “defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity”. Even though this aspiration is commendable, it is also a claim that remains rather opaque. The election programme dodges concrete strategies the NUPES coalition would implement to defend Ukraine and takes an evasive approach on this matter.

Despite these facts, however, the resurgence of the formerly marginalised French left and the freshly-formed alliance sparked elated reactions in significant parts of its electorate. The wish for a new political dynamic and a breath of fresh air especially in working-class areas and among young people and the determination of the left’s electorate could thus lay the foundations for an impressive return to the political stage. Whether Mélenchon’s aim to become France’s next prime minister was just a pipe dream or could soon develop into an attainable goal, remains to be seen. But after coming out neck and neck with Macron’s Ensemble coalition during the first round last Sunday, it has become clear that the French left has undoubtedly fought its way back into the political limelight and is back on the political stage – regardless of how the situation unfolds on June 19.

It’s Crunch Time for France: A rundown of the upcoming presidential election and why the French left is having a hard time finding its voice 

With the French presidential election just around the corner and campaigns gaining steam, France has been thrust into the limelight. As the fronts harden in the battle for the Élysée and the country is gearing up to vote, the French left finds itself faced with a Catch-22 as it is becoming more and more embroiled in political infighting. While the far-right candidates are pounding out their message and trying to steal each other’s thunder in the lead-up to the election on the 10th of April, the French left is just about managing to keep its head above water.

As the political world turns its attention to the country in Western Europe and campaign trails head toward the finish line, let’s look at how the French voting system works, who the most important candidates are and why the French left is so deeply divided.

How does the French electoral system work?

In order to be allowed to join the ballot and vie for the Élysée Palace, French presidential candidates have to garner 500 signatures (parrainages) from elected officials from at least 30 different French départements, which the Conseil constitutionnel then has to validate. This rule is intended to serve as a measure to rein in fringe candidates and whittle down the number of candidates on offer. This year, would-be candidates had to finish collecting their signatures by the 4thof March. After the contenders get the green light, the government then publishes the official list of presidential candidates (due on the 11th of March this year).

The election itself then uses a two-person runoff system. If no candidate wins an outright majority in the first round of voting (taking place on the 10th of April), the two frontrunners who received the most votes in the first round go through to face off in a head-to-head second round (taking place on the 24th of April). The candidate who manages to get more than 50 per cent of the overall national vote is elected President for a tenure of 5 years.

The election outcome will not only matter for France but also for the European Union, since France took over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU at the start of this year. For six months, France therefore has considerable influence to push forward certain issues – which is why the outcome of the election in April is of utmost importance for the whole of Europe.

Who are the most important contenders vying to unseat Macron and what do they want?

Far-left:

  • Jean-Luc MélenchonLa France insoumise: Mélenchon has already stood for various left-wing groupings since bowing out of the Parti Socialiste in 2008. Mélenchon’s focal points include wanting to grant the right to vote to everyone from the age of 16, introducing compulsory voting, raising the minimum wage to €1.400 net per month, earmarking €200 billion for an ecological transition. Moreover, he suggests abolishing the law that allowed the passe vaccinale, re-employing healthcare workers who were suspended due to not wanting to get vaccinated, extending the deadline for abortion, guaranteeing asylum for refugees and wants to make use of the opt-out regulations of the EU more often. Mélenchon also advocates for the shutdown of power plants.

Left:

  • Anne HidalgoParti socialiste: The current mayor of Paris is best known for her efforts to reduce the number of cars in the French capital. Focal points in her election programme include wanting to grant the right to vote to everyone from the age of 16, allowing companies that wish to reduce working hours to do so and raising the minimum wage to €1,446 net per month. Moreover, she wants to create a ministry for women’s rights and advocates for a more humane and effective migration policy by reforming the Dublin Regulation and doubling salaries of teachers.
  • Yannick JadotÉcologie les Verts: The former Greenpeace militant and current Member of the European Parliament wants France to pull the plug on its nuclear power plants in the next 20 years and blisteringly criticises Macron’s decision to build up to 14 new nuclear reactors by 2050. Jadot also advocates for banning the sale of diesel and conventional thermal cars from 2030 onwards. Moreover, he vouches for changing the income tax by introducing additional levels for citizens who earn more. Jadot also wants an income guaranteed for everyone over 18.

Centre-Right:

Far-right:

  • Marine Le Pen, Rassemblement national: The nationalist Eurosceptic and runner-up to Emmanuel Macron in 2017 peddles an anti-immigration, anti-EU message that seems to appeal to a broad audience, since she is currently polling at around 17%, directly after Macron. Dotted around her programme are ideas like withdrawing France from NATO’s integrated military command, renegotiating the Schengen agreements and re-establishing border controls, exempting under-30s from income tax, letting French people decide by referendum on the migration policy they wish to see applied and promising to halt abuse of the right to asylum. She no longer plans to leave the EU, but intends to prevent the implementation of any European law contrary to the French Constitution.
  • Éric Zemmour, Reconquête: Never a man to mince his words, the political journalist and far-right firebrand is known for waspish and provocative comments and has recently hogged the limelight for spurring racial hatred by calling unaccompanied migrant children “murderers” and “rapists” on CNews in September 2020. Zemmour wants to increase salaries by lowering social taxes, does not want to increase the minimum wage, advocates for the expansion of the number of military forces deployed abroad and vouches for the suspension of the Schengen area and the implementation of border control. 

If you want to find out more about other candidates from the left and right, you can find more extensive lists containing all of the 12 candidates currently declared here.       

Drifting between the left and the right: Emmanuel Macron

Smouldering resentment and mounting criticism over the government’s handling of the pandemic continue to be a real stress test for Macron and have thrown a spanner in the works of his campaign – clearing the way for more right-wing politicians (a phenomenon by no means confined to France only) to thwart his agenda. A vulgar linguistic attack on France’s unvaccinated combined with his government’s efforts to turn the pass sanitaire into the pass vaccinal was met with trenchant criticism. 

However, Macron’s diplomatic efforts in the wake of Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine have led to surging approval ratings and could increase his re-election chances. The invasion has caused a sharp shift in defence policy within the European Union, prompting member states to want to raise defence spending and military co-operation – something Macron had been recommending for years. The incumbent has also gained support for staying in touch with the Russian president and becoming somewhat of an unofficial spokesperson for Europe, since he is the last European leader that Putin still speaks to. The war in Ukraine may have plunged his campaign into turmoil, but to some extent, the incumbent also benefits from the current crisis.

Right now, it is looking very likely that Emmanuel Macron will be re-elected in April (maybe after a close-fought second round against Marine Le Pen or Valérie Pécresse). But even though the final outcome of the election can obviously not be predicted, one result already seems to be certain: The election is very likely to be a disaster for the once dominant French left. 

The race for the Élysée and the deeply divided French left: A doomed race on the road to irrelevance?

While centre-right and far-right politicians are drumming up supporters and are pulling out all the stops in a last-minute scramble for votes, the splintered French left has gotten bogged down in internal squabbles and what has first been dismissed as teething problems has now become a serious problem: Unity seems out of reach for the fragmented French left facing an electorate that is increasingly lurching to the right – which is why the looming election probably won’t pan out according to plan. None of the multiple candidates of the left is currently polling above 12% and the chances of any of them qualifying for the second round are scant.

One of the biggest issues for the French left is that, historically, there has always been a stark political dichotomy between two fractions: On one side of the spectrum, there are the radicals and on the other side, the reformist social-democrats. After the presidency of François Hollande (Parti Socialiste), Macron then completely reshuffled the political landscape in 2017, forged new dynamics and caused even more fragmentation by managing to woo voters who used to vote for the Parti Socialiste (which has been accused of veering increasingly towards the centre and failing to cater to the needs of its working-class electorate). Since the 2017 election, the French left is going through a phase of reorganisation and now, 5 years later, voters are still few and far between.

Right-wing candidates are moreover reaping the results of what has become a windfall for the right and a deathknell for the left: The convergence of party programmes and stark similarities between candidates from the left and their political standpoints have completely torpedoed the campaigns of left candidates and have led to voters veering off to the centre-right and right.

Furthermore, the right and the far-right take up a lot of space in the political and media sphere, with candidates like Zemmour hogging the limelight every day and waspish rhetoric gaining more attention than candidates talking about topics that continually fall by the wayside, e.g global warming and climate protection.

Whether the French left will weather the storm is yet to be seen. One thing, however, is crystal clear: This election should serve as a cautionary tale and should spur the Left to overhaul some of their policies. If not, the French left will gradually fade into the abyss of irrelevance. 

                                 

How the past continues to haunt the present: The troubled trajectory of Myanmar

The chain of events following a general election in November 2020 has dealt a bitter blow to Myanmar: The country in Southeast Asia has been jolted by unrest ever since the army’s seizure of power on the 1st of February 2021. After the National League for Democracy (NLD) had won the election by a landslide, the military claimed that the election was marred by fraud, detained the leader of the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi, arrested her ally President Win Myint and deposed her government. Myanmar is now under the purview of commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing, meaning that he is the country’s de facto leader. 

As the gelid wind of authoritarianism continues to shake the foundations of Myanmar’s society, anti-coup protests are gaining steam: A nationwide civil disobedience movement has erupted, frustration over recent encounters with the military has swelled into a national debate over the role of the military that carries echoes of the protest movement in 2007 (dubbed the Saffron-Revolution), when public ire also turned against the military government. In an attempt to quell the current protests, military rulers have repeatedly clamped down on civilians: According to a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), the coup has claimed the lives of more than 710 people so far (around 100 people were gunned down by Myanmar security forces on the 27th of March alone) and now sees more than 3,050 people in custody: The military coup has roiled the nation and thrust Myanmar into the limelight. But the country’s current developments can only be understood in tandem with its long history of military state building: As civilians continue to fight tooth and nail against military rule today, the legacy of Myanmar’s military rumbles on.

A glance at the past: Myanmar’s military history

Over the course of its years of independence (Myanmar gained independence from British colonial rule in 1948), the country has repeatedly struggled with military rule and violent crackdowns. Myanmar’s rocky path towards the implementation of a democratic system has been shaped by almost 50 years of military rule: Established in 1948, the Union of Burma started off as a parliamentary democracy – but in 1962, General Ne Win led a military coup and formed a military-controlled one-party state (with the Burma Socialist Programme Party/BSPP as the only political party).

Around 20 years later, Ne Win transferred his presidency to San Yu (a former army officer) but remained chairman of the BSPP. The years of Ne Win’s rule were shaped by economic isolation and the strengthening of the military, which caused Myanmar to plunge into an economic abyss. A currency devaluation in 1987 led to many people losing their savings and spawned sprawling anti-government riots, which spiralled out of control in August 1988: The State Peace and Development Council (SLORC) was formed and declared martial law. Staggering levels of violence rattled the nation to its very core: Protestors were imprisoned and killed – and Aung San Suu Kyi, who became a national icon and beacon for human rights at the time, was put under house arrest. 

The Rohingya Crisis and Aung San Suu Kyi’s return to the political arena

Following elections in 2010, the newly elected President Thein Sein (a former military officer) became the spearhead of a series of reforms, which included reprieving political prisoners, lifting media censorship and steering the country out of international isolation. And in the 2015 election, Aung San Sun Kyi (who had been released from house arrest in 2010) and the NLD claimed a resounding victory and set forth big plans to democratise Myanmar.

Running counter to the spirit of optimism was the Rohingya Crisis: The Rohingya are one of Myanmar’s minorities and, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres “one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world”. They constitute the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar and the majority of them lives in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. In 2017, Myanmar’s army launched a violent crackdown on Rohingya villages, triggering the largest refugee influx into Bangladesh.

The UN spoke of a “genocide threat for Myanmar’s Rohingya greater than ever”, but Aung San Sun Kyi denied the allegations of genocide and other amply documented atrocities, claiming that there had been no systematic campaign of persecution. Once the driving force behind a nationwide, pro-democracy movement, thought to be full of fervour for freedom and justice (her efforts to steer a democratic course even won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991), Aung San Sun Kyi ended up at a genocide trial in 2019, rebutting any claims of what the international community called ethnic cleansing. But while her international reputation has been tarnished by her adamant refusal to sharply criticise the military’s actions, her unwavering popularity among the Buddhist majority in Myanmar has not subsided.

Repercussions and reactions

In the wake of the coup in February this year, the military expanded an internet shutdown in an attempt to stamp out dissent by cutting off mobile data service and thus stifling public discourse surrounding the coup: Free speech, which constitutes a fundamental prerequisite of democracy, is now severely curtailed. 

The coup and the military’s iron-fisted rule have unleashed a torrent of criticism alongside a clarion call for consequences. As Myanmar’s military tightens its grip on power, Western countries are trying to ramp up economic pressure by imposing sanctions on the military. Thus far, however, international outrage has been to no avail. The international community should prioritise the support of anti-coup resistance instead of only honing in on sanctions, because sanctions alone won’t propel Myanmar’s military rulers towards democracy – civilians will be the ones who pay the price and fall prey to their economic impact. 


If you want to find out more about the Rohingya Crisis, its root causes and current developments, here are a few links you might find interesting:

“Myanmar Rohingya: What you need to know about the crisis”, BBC, 23rd January 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41566561

“The Rohingya Crisis”, Council on Foreign Relations (cfr), 23rd January 2020.
https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/rohingya-crisis

“UN agencies ramp up response for Rohingya refugees in wake of ‘unprecedented’ fire”, UN News, 31st March 2021. https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/03/1088732

 “Approaching The Rohingya Crisis: CALLING FOR A SECURITY GOVERNANCE FRAMEWORK”, in: World Affairs: The Journal of International Issues, 22 (1), 98-121, 2018. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48520051

“Rohingya emergency”, UNHCR, 31st July 2019. https://www.unhcr.org/rohingya-emergency.html


From a local dispute to a regional powder keg: The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict explained

Almost 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh is grappling anew with the implications of a centuries-old dispute. Under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region in the South Caucasus, to which both Armenia and Azerbaijan lay claim, is part of Azerbaijan – even though the majority of its population is Armenian.

The ethnic-territorial conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is multi-layered and complex. It contains political, socioeconomic and changing geopolitical dimensions – ranging from territorial disputes to ethnic hostilities. In order to understand other stakeholders, root causes, conflict dynamics and peace capacities, we need to take a look at the past.

Skirmishes along the front lines of Nagorno-Karabakh are nothing new

The power tussle between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the region dates back to the 20th century. Even though in 1923, most of the population in Nagorno-Karabakh was Armenian, the region was attached to the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) under Stalin. 

When the Soviet Union began to crumble, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh requested the transfer from the Azerbaijani to the Armenian Union Republic in 1988, which laid the groundwork for the ensuing political turmoil. The request was rejected by both the leaders of the Azerbaijani Republic in Baku and Moscow. Nagorno-Karabakh’s declaration of independence in 1991 also went unheeded. This sparked a bloody war that claimed many lives and caused a stream of people to flee their homes. 

The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh: More than just a Cold-War-era relic

After the demise of the USSR in 1991 and the independence of both Azerbaijan and Armenia, the framework changed. The local quarrel over Nagorno-Karabakh morphed into an all-out war between the two independent states, drew in other powers and turned into a regional powder keg. Although the war officially ended with a ceasefire in 1994, frictions did not simply vanish. 

Peace talks chaired by Russia, France and the U.S. were slowly plodding along and eventually fizzled out completely – which led to new fights erupting in April 2016, lasting just four days and yet claiming the lives of approximately 350 people.

When analysing this conflict, one also needs to take into account that both sides are propped up by powerful backers: Turkey for example has close ties with Azerbaijan and is thus a staunch supporter, while Russia has provided weapons to both sides and wishes to preserve neutrality. But Armenia and Russia are both part of a security treaty of six former Soviet nations, which states that they must support each other in case of armed conflicts. This has led Azerbaijan to argue that Russia favours Armenia in this conflict. 

The peace deal in November 2020

In July 2020, the conflict started to flare up again and in late September, the Six Week War war broke out: 45 days of intense artillery fire, shell bombardments and more than 5000 soldiers dead. In an attempt to damp down tensions, Russia brokered a peace deal – inked on Nov. 9 – which temporarily put an end to the Six-Week War. The ceasefire deal, under the aegis of Russia, also required the exchange of war prisoners, left the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh region under Armenian control, but allowed Azerbaijan to keep broad parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and required Armenia to withdraw from other territory as well. The reaction? Jubilation in Azerbaijan, protests in Armenia.

The ceasefire did not last long: In December 2020, clashes were recorded and both sides started to blame each other over violations of the peace treaty. 

Whether there will ever be a deal that really manages to yield a permanent and full-scale settlement of the crisis over Nagorno-Karabakh remains to be seen. If so, it will end one of the world’s oldest ongoing conflicts. But if not, and if the countries involved are not willing to bury the hatchet, the fighting will go on and we could very quickly witness a seventh week of the Six Week War. 


The Moria Catastrophe and the collective failure of the European Union

COVID-19 and the US presidential election: If you’ve turned on the news anytime in the past few weeks, you will probably have realised that these topics have been dominating the headlines incessantly. Magazines are cluttered with news about the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the world and were littered with coverage of a particularly heated election campaign and a very unusual and rocky transfer of power in the US. 

The current situation on the Greek island of Lesbos, however, scarcely attracts coverage in the news cycle, even though hundreds of people have died and are still dying in the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Europe: More than 1,000 migrants in 2019, 554 in 2020 and already 42 migrants in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya this January. These appalling figures showcase a social crisis and call for a total rethink of both policy and attitude towards immigration. The issue is by no means confined to Greece only, but rather is the most obvious and significant symptom of an asylum policy based on fortifying borders.

Solidarity, tolerance, justice: Europe’s noble but hypocritical values

The conditions under which EU states are housing refugees on Greek islands are nothing new, the final catastrophe had already been brewing for months – if not years. The devastating fire in the Moria refugee camp in September 2020 only highlighted the political deadlock and human cost of the status quo, and laid bare the failure of EU member states. The humanitarian fallout caused fury among journalists and activists, directed sharply towards the EU. Empty words on the part of the European Commission and a tangle of bureaucracy, indifference, as well as a sheer lack of political willpower were met with widespread anger and seemed to typify the EU’s ambivalence towards the issue.

Two weeks after the Moria camp burnt down, the “Kara Tepe” camp was built and the people, who had just escaped intolerable conditions in Moria, found themselves in a refugee tent camp almost worse than the one before: Over 7,500 people are now living in a tent camp originally intended for 1000 people – among the dust and debris of a former military shooting range. Europe’s noble values – solidarity, tolerance, justice – probably sound like cynical mockery to those who are crammed into overcrowded tents and makeshift shelters with little to no access to water, food, sanitation and healthcare. 

But it’s not just Moria. The French port of Calais for example, has become a bottleneck for hundreds of migrants hoping to reach the United Kingdom – a journey now aggravated by Brexit. And since EU states like Hungary have put up border fences, the situation outside the EU has also become rather tense as migrants are looking for new routes: Many now try to enter the European Union via Bosnia. In December 2020, calls for help grew louder as thousands of migrants lost shelter after a blaze broke out at the so-called Lipa camp in Bosnia and had to live outside amid plummeting winter temperatures. Since early 2018, the EU has provided €89 million to Bosnia and continues to criticise the dire circumstances, as well as Bosnia’s dysfunctional migration management system to this day. 

And yet it is still hypocritical for the EU Commission to point a finger at Bosnia – after all, the EU member states themselves have also been unable to agree on a common asylum and migration policy. Especially now, as the EU border agency Frontex is accused of being involved in several illegal pushbacks on the part of Greek coast guards, it’s just duplicitous to call solidarity, tolerance and justice Europe’s values and at the same time tolerate that people are forcibly being prevented from seeking asylum in a country of the European Union – a right to which everyone arriving at the border of the EU is entitled. Passing the entire responsibility on to Bosnia and thinking that money alone will solve the problem will not be of any help. The EU should work with the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to find systemic and long term solutions, since the crisis in Bosnia is simply a consequence of the EU fortifying its borders.

Worse than the lacklustre response to the refugee crisis per se, however, was the EU’s continued refusal to completely overhaul its dysfunctional asylum policy. The two main flaws of the EU’s short-sighted, inhumane, and ineffective asylum policy have been known for years: asylum applications always take too long to process and some European member states simply don’t want to cooperate and still wish to seal off their country completely. 

The EU’s solution strategies: unrealistic, bureaucratic and too late

On the 23rd of September 2020, the European Commission launched the New Pact on Migration and Asylum in an attempt to streamline the EU’s policies in this area. 

Immediately after the pact was announced, it came under fire for allowing EU member states to opt out from participating in the relocation of asylum seekers by offering financial aid. Meaning that member states, which had previously flouted laws and agreements, suddenly had the legal permission to stand idly by. Critics have also expressed their concerns about the fact that border security had been prioritised over access to asylum and that the pact introduced measures that seemed to hamper the process of obtaining protection in the EU. Support, albeit half-heartedly, only came from a few countries – along with a lukewarm remark that the pact was at least a good starting point. 

Until September 2021, the EU wants to have established a new camp on Lesbos together with Greek authorities. For this, a memorandum of understanding between the EU, Greece and the European migration authorities was signed at the beginning of December last year. Once again, the solution comes far too late and is of no help whatsoever to those who are currently suffering. There’s a glaring irony to the fact that the European Union, the Nobel Peace Prize winner of 2012, continuously contradicts the values that the award represents, doesn’t manage to own up to its responsibility and doesn’t live up to the expectations it sets for others.

The EU must revert back to its values, and it must do so as quickly as possible. Because immigration is not something that will die down soon: The crisis is currently on a disastrous trajectory, because for years and years, it’s been categorically deprioritised, normalised and banalised. If the EU is not eager to deal with the grim reality in a human-centred way, this crisis will serve to further divide an already divided Europe, plunge Lesbos into even more turmoil and risk many more lives. 


US meddling in Africa and the Middle East: Does foreign intervention make sense?

It has gone down in history as the most rapid mass slaughter ever recorded: The genocide in the African state of Rwanda in 1994, where up to a million people were slaughtered by ethnic Hutu extremists while the outside world watched what was going on – and did almost nothing to stop it. And yet out of that catastrophe, impetus arose for a new concept called „R2P“ – the “responsibility to protect”. The principle states that, when a state is failing to protect its own people from crimes against humanity, other states have a moral responsibility to protect the vulnerable and use military force if necessary.

The United States have a striking record when it comes to foreign interventions – especially in Africa and the Middle East. But is it sensible to intervene in foreign political affairs? Or does it only add fuel to the fire?

A long history of US interventions in foreign political affairs

Somalia 1992, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003, Libya 2011: Just to name a few events in Africa and the Middle East that show how the US has fiddled with foreign political affairs for years. Even though the reasons for these interventions were not always the same – the conclusion one can draw from all of these interventions, definitely is: Wiping away pre-existing governing structures has always set off civil conflict and the detrimental impact of these interventions is still visible in every single one of these countries today. 

Why? Because the attempt to forcibly democratise a society with military means almost always created a power vacuum which was then filled by violent groups. The result: state decay and militia rule. 

US intervention in Libya: More Harm Than Good?

Let’s take America’s intervention in Libya as an example for the R2P concept: In 2011, Libyan rebels (propped up by a multi-state NATO coalition including the US) toppled their head of state Muammar Gaddafi, who had ruled the country for more than 40 years. In the US, he was considered a very controversial leader under whom freedom of speech was said to have been “severely curtailed” and cases of abuse, torture, and killings by the state were also reported.

But just because Gaddafi was out of the picture, things didn’t get better. Now, almost 10 years after the intervention, Libya is still mired in a violent, domestic conflict: The country finds itself faced with a catch-22 as it is left with warring militias, an economy in tatters, and an infrastructure torn asunder. The icing on the cake: In the wake of the chaos that ensued after 2011, two rivalling administrations emerged in Libya. Khalifa Haftar, warlord and commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) backs one of them: The House of Representatives. The other administration is known as the Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and is internationally recognised.

The US had been silent about the subsequent chaos for years. But then, at the end of his term, former President Barack Obama finally admitted that the US intervention in Libya had not really been as successful as he thought it would be and that he simply underestimated the sweeping scope of unintended consequences that had flowed from the intervention. When asked about his worst mistake, Obama replied with „probably failing to plan for the day after, what I think was the right thing to do, intervening in Libya.”

What the Libyan tragedy has explicitly shown is that acting within the framework of the “responsibility to protect” concept is not always the right way to go. Critics have come up with the principle of the “responsibility to rebuild” – which should definitely be taken into consideration if the US should decide to conduct a regime change in a foreign country again.

Because yes, wanting to protect citizens from atrocities is commendable and yes, humanitarian intervention has the potential to help meet global problems. But the US government’s expectations should be realistic, and ambitions should be bounded – because history has clearly shown that foreign-imposed regime change rarely leads to democratisation. The US should abandon its persistent fantasy of reordering the world – America should not be the world’s police.


A stain on our post-colonial world: The western world’s condescending attitude towards Africa

When we hear the word “racist”, most of us probably think of an overtly aggressive, extremely prejudiced person – maybe a far-right protester marching through the streets with a «refugees not welcome» sign or a person insulting someone with a racial slur.

However, there is also a more subtle form of racism, which is not as obvious: Whether that’s white parents telling their kids to “eat up and think of the poor, starving kids in Africa”, or white, western celebrities pleading for donations “for Africa”. There are numerous ways in which we can see how a generalising and condescending perspective on Africa has taken hold in the western world.
By generalising that all Africans are poor people from an underdeveloped continent in desperate need of help, while all white westerners are rich, kind, and benevolent, we continue to uphold a deeply problematic world view. But why is it, that now, in an allegedly post-colonial world, this patronising attitude towards Africa continues to hold sway?

The White Saviour Complex: What it is, where it comes from and why it is problematic

“White Saviour Complex” describes the phenomenon of white people feeling the need to help people in, for example, African countries. This might not sound problematic at first glance, but it leads to an understanding of Africa as a barren and bleak wasteland, full of poverty-stricken, helpless individuals. The White Saviour Complex is also heavily contested because it can be traced back to European imperialism, one of the main reasons that some African countries grapple with economic instability today.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Privileged people wanting to reach out to the underprivileged – even when the privileged are white and the beneficiaries aren’t – is not inherently bad. But at the very least, the privileged should view the underprivileged as individuals and not one colossal entity. Alaso Olivia, co-founder of the “No White Saviours” advocacy campaign, put it this way: It is not about getting rid of white people, but about raising awareness of the fact that Africans are not helpless. She said: “We are trying to give our children a better education. We are developing our countries. We need aid, but it must not come with strings attached. We are saying that if you want to help, first listen to us and provide what we need – not what you think we need.”

The White Saviour narrative can point to a dangerously backward way of thinking by depicting Africa as one place, uniformly full of dread and fear – which does an enormous disservice to a giant continent with huge linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity. So-called “white saviours” also seem to ignore the fact that some African economies are making rapid progress. In 2018, for example, Ethiopia and Egypt were under the fastest-growing economies worldwide and therefore didn’t have to rely on white westerners to step in and “help”.

Racial colourblindness and its interconnection to the White Saviour Complex

People who do not regard the White Saviour Complex as a problem tend to argue “Who cares whether you are a black or white person helping in Africa? As long as you do good – so what! Skin colour is irrelevant anyway.” But this mindset can also be problematic. Even though well-intentioned, thinking “I don’t see race – I just see people” does not help solve the problem of structural racism.

Think of it like this: Imagine you are walking past two houses in your neighbourhood and you see that one of these houses is burning. Saying “I don’t see a burning house – I just see houses” would be of no help at all, because the house continues to burn even if you are frantically trying not to see it. If you simply ignore the fact that one of the houses is on fire, you are choosing the easy option: To ignore the problem, because it would take a lot of effort to find out where the fire comes from, why the fire started in the first place, who is in the burning house and think of concrete ways in which you could help. And while you ignore all of these things and claim that you don’t see the burning house, the fire is getting worse and worse.

This “no race, no racism, no problem” mindset doesn’t solve the problem of racism. In creating a ‘colourblind’ public sphere, a metaphorical tiny plaster is put on a wound that is actually a deep and bloody one. The problems that accompany the social construct of race do not simply vanish because the category has been removed from public discourse. As the British author Reni-Eddo Lodge once said: “We must see who benefits from their race, who is affected by negative stereotyping of theirs, and on whom power and privilege is bestowed (…) Seeing race is essential to changing the system.”[2]

So, what needs to be done?

We must work together to eliminate Eurocentric as well as Americentric world views from our minds in order to dismantle established power structures in the long term. A beginning can be the continuous engagement with world affairs outside of Europe and America – just as much as reflecting colonial history and connecting it to current circumstances. We need charities that give a greater say to Africa’s trained individuals with the motto “African solutions to Africa’s problems”, as well as – and this is probably the hardest problem to tackle – a profound mentality transformation in the western world.


Pride vs. Prejudice: The struggle for LGBTQ+ equality in Poland

A mosaic of rainbow flags glittering on a grey and grim day, stunning dancers and meticulously designed, colourful costumes: That’s how the 2020 Pride March in Slubice, Poland, on September 5th, will be remembered. But not even the most incredible artistic ability could conceal the gloomy reality behind the glitzy façade …

Polish president Andrzej Duda, whose conservative-nationalist agenda saw him storm to victory in the 2015 and 2020 Polish presidential election, has incited worldwide outrage in light of his stance on LGBTQ+ rights. During his 2020 presidential election campaign, he repeatedly made use of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric to bolster his chances of re-election by wooing conservative voters.

A cultural conflict that has been simmering for years, has resurfaced

Since dismissing the LGBTQ+ community as nothing more than an „ideology“ that is „even more destructive“ than communism, Duda’s inflammatory rhetoric has deepened divisions between religious conservative and more liberal-minded Poles.

This kind of rhetoric was not only uttered by the President, but was voiced in Polish churches and on the streets of Poland: Last year, for example, the Catholic archbishop of Krakow warned Poland of a “rainbow plague”, and tensions boiled over on the streets of Poland when far-right demonstrators interrupted a peaceful Pride Parade in Bialystok.

Now, one year later, several Polish towns have declared themselves as LGBTQ-free, with almost 100 local governments voting to protect solely heterosexual rights. Even though these zones don’t have any legal power and are mostly symbolic, they have become a flashpoint in Poland as they are a jolting reminder that blatant homophobia is not a relic of the past, but is still partly woven into the fabric of Polish society.

Across the country, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment has had a clear impact on the LGBTQ+community. A study conducted by the University of Warsaw found that more than 67% of people identifying as LGBTQ+ in Poland had endured some type of violence, while 70% of LGBTQ+ teenagers had experienced suicidal thoughts due to enormous societal pressure.

A glimmer of hope

Some Poles have now taken it upon themselves to try and replace anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment with tolerance: Polish activist Bart Staszewski, for example, has produced a documentary film („Article 18“) which tackles the struggle for LGBTQ+ equality in Poland.

Moreover, the European Commission has described LGBTQ-free zones as a breach of basic human rights and withholds EU funding from them.

But still: According to Staszewski, Poland itself is far away from quelling its systemic problem with homophobia: As long as there isn‘t a sharp shift in government policy and a fundamental change of beliefs in the whole of Poland‘s society, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment will most likely continue to loom over Poland for quite some time. 


The forgotten war: A breakdown of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen

A fast-mounting death toll, hospitals teetering on the brink of collapse, relatives unable to bid farewell to their loved ones. For most of us, such images are reserved for TV coverage of war or other kinds of catastrophic disasters. For Yemenis in Sanaa and Aden, however, this has become the tragic and sobering reality. The country is in the midst of a humanitarian disaster, yet after five years of perennial fighting, it has been dubbed “the forgotten war.” But how did Yemen even get to this point?

The civil war in Yemen erupted in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring, when Yemenis rose up against the incumbent President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled the country since 1990. Saudi-Arabia intervened along with several other Arab states, forced Saleh out and put Vice President Hadi in charge of the new government. But, due to a debilitated economy, Yemenis continued to suffer – and protests reignited in 2014. The Houthis (a Zaidi Shi’ite Muslim minority group) took control of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and in March 2015, a coalition of states (led by Saudi Arabia) intervened with the aim of restoring Hadi to power.

The beginning of inexorable air strikes

Over the course of five years, the conflict began to engulf the entire country. What started off as „Saudi-led coalition vs. Houthi forces“, very quickly evolved into a proxy war, with several Western powers providing weapons, as well as logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition – and other countries, whose interests push in the opposite direction, supporting the Houthis for geopolitical and power political reasons.

On top of the 112,000 people who are said to have died as a direct result of the war, more than 160.000 Yemeni people have borne the brunt of heavy rain and floodings (which occurred in July and August this year) and are now in desperate need of immediate assistance. Torrential rains have flushed away homes and inflicted significant damage on hospitals. Sanitation infrastructure is also affected: Water contamination has led to cholera, malaria and dengue fever cases spiralling upwards.

COVID-19 starts to wreak havoc across the war-torn country

The spread of Covid-19 is now putting an even bigger strain on Yemen’s already fractured health system: Clean water and sanitation are in short supply and only fifty percent of health facilities are functioning. Hospitals lack basic equipment like masks and gloves, let alone oxygen and other essential supplies to treat the coronavirus and its consequences. Many health workers don’t even receive salaries and 10.2 million children don’t have access to healthcare.

Outcry from international humanitarian organisations has become deafening as the fate of millions of Yemenis is undoubtedly bleak: The UN has warned that the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic could “exceed the combined toll of war, disease, and hunger over the last five years.”

It is safe to say that, regardless of how the situation unfolds in the months ahead, Yemeni civilians will once again shoulder an overwhelming part of the burden.