Category: Regional (page 1 of 4)

Understanding Israel

This is a guest post from Brent Sasley, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. He tweets at @besasley.

Israel holds a prominent place in the American popular imagination. It’s a major source of news reports, as well as an increasingly partisan issue in American electoral politics. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that American journalists and western journalists more generally seek out American and western analysts and academics for commentary on Israeli politics, such as the recent election.

On Twitter I suggested that western journalists look beyond western academics and analysts for insight into the Israeli election results, and in particular toward women, Arab, Mizrachi, and Ethiopian specialists. Someone then suggested that I compile a list for journalists to access, since most of these scholars and analysts are not likely to be known to western reporters. Below is a list I’ve put together that I hope can be useful. It is surely not a complete list, and the boundaries between the categories are not hard and fast; an analyst of Palestinian-Israeli politics can of course provide effective commentary on Israeli politics more broadly.

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Pakistan’s Proxies: Rising Costs, Uncertain Benefits

This is a guest post from Adnan Naseemullah from is Senior Lecturer in International Relations, King’s College London, and the author of Development after Statism (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

Indian airstrikes near Balakot inside the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on the 26th of February, and Pakistani airstrikes in response, have created anxiety because nuclear conflict lies at the end of a steep escalation ladder. India was retaliating against a Valentine’s Day suicide attack on a convoy of paramilitary forces in Pulwama, in Indian-administered Kashmir, in which 42 were killed.

Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM), one of several Pakistan-based militant groups operating against the Indian state in Kashmir, claimed responsibility. Indian retaliation targeted a madrassa thought to affiliated to JeM in Pakistan. India’s position is that because groups like JeM are proxies of the Pakistani state, crossborder strikes are justified as a means of preemptive self-defense combatting terrorism. 

This dynamic highlights both the uses and hazards of proxies as a tool of crossborder coercive statecraft. It follows a long and ignominious tradition of the use of proxies to weaken strategic competitors that has recent roots in Cold War competition, and has been used by both India and Pakistan. I argue that Pakistan’s use of proxies is becoming increasingly counterproductive as a tool for enhancing its own security by diminishing its neighbor’s, even as recent Indian policies toward Kashmir have created an environment hospitable for these proxies.

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The Politics of Embarrassment: Brand Failure in Canadian Foreign Policy

This is a guest post from Eric Van Rythoven. Eric Van Rythoven recently finished his PhD at Carleton University studying emotion, world politics, and security. His work is published in Security Dialogue and European Journal of International Relations.

The Trudeau government is in crisis.  Yesterday morning Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s former Attorney General recently demoted to Minister of Veterans Affairs, resigned from cabinet.  The resignation comes on the heels of a Globe and Mail report that someone in the Prime Minister’s Office allegedly attempted to influence Wilson-Raybould in her decision to prosecute SNC Lavalin. 

A politically connected and influential engineering firm based in Quebec, SNC Lavalin is currently mired in charges of fraud and bribery in relation to its work in Libya.  As recently as Monday night Trudeau expressed “full confidence” in Wilson-Raybould, saying that her continuing presence in cabinet “should speak for itself”.

By itself the allegation of political interference in a criminal prosecution has the potential to be a major domestic scandal.  But this scandal could come with serious international repercussions, especially given Canada’s increasingly troubled relationship with China.  To understand why, we need to step back and think about the role of brand failure in the politics of embarrassment.

How states manage their public image is a longstanding concern of International Relations.  During the Cold War competitive behaviour was commonly attributed to a desire for status and prestige (Jervis, Gilpin).  Following 9/11 interest in ‘public diplomacy’ surged as Western countries sought to rehabilitate their public image in the Middle East through cultural outreach and savvy social media (Gilboa, Snow & Taylor). 

This literature overlaps with a broader interest in ‘national branding’ and ‘brand command’ focused on how states manage their public image in an increasingly informationally-dense environment (Potter, Marland).  One could also add to this list the study of international activists using naming and shaming tactics to pressure governments on human rights (Hafner-Burton, Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink).

While these literatures are certainly useful, they can also lead to an overly optimistic view of image management.  What’s missing here are how attempts to craft a positive public image are often marred by struggle, ineptitude, and occasionally failure.  For Irving Goffman it’s precisely these situations when an actor presents conflicting public images that moments of embarrassment begin to emerge.  More than a hypocritical mismatch between words and deeds, or the shame of failing to abide by one’s moral ideals, embarrassment is most evident when an imagined competency is never delivered. 

When embarrassment occurs, Goffman recognized that some audiences would be merciful and help the embarrassed party conceal their failures.  Others, however, would exploit cracks in a fractured public image for gain.  The latter would lead to a struggle to regain and maintain composure over self-image—what we can call the ‘politics of embarrassment’.  Embarrassed parties and their allies look repair or minimize the apparent damage; political opponents look to make the embarrassment all the more pronounced. 

We can think of the dynamics of embarrassment as a play in three acts: the brand, the break, and the blame.  The ‘brand’ refers to a period of branding repertoires which projects a distinct image of competency.  The ‘break’ captures the period where a previous public image, and the competency it promises, comes into question through moments of off-brand behaviour.  The ‘blame’ comes when a break becomes apparent and actors formulate strategies to respond.  Here is when we can see various composure strategies, such as denial or deflection, are employed by the embarrassed subject and their allies to repair their public image.  By contrast, discrediting strategies, such as sensationalizing, are employed by political opponents and aim to widen and deepen the appearance of a break.  When taken together the brand, the break, and the blame capture how the politics of embarrassment represents a struggle to regain and maintain composure over self-image.

The Brand

Why does this matter for Canada?  Because the Trudeau government has worked very hard to project a specific brand rooted in respecting the rule of law.  As Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland argued in her signature June 2017 foreign policy speech: “…our values include an unshakeable commitment to pluralism, human rights and the rule of law.”

Freeland is not alone in this branding exercise.  Trudeau himself regularly cites the rule of law whether in discussing the shared values of the Commonwealth, in speeches at the UN, and even in pipeline decisions.

Last December this messaging took on a new urgency as Canada became involved in a serious diplomatic dispute with China.  At the request of the United States government Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Chinese flagship technology company Huawei, while she was traveling through Vancouver.  With the extradition of Wanzhou to the United States pending, the Chinese government has exerted immense diplomatic pressure and retaliated by arbitrarily detaining two Canadians and revising the criminal sentence for a third Canadian to the death penalty.  Throughout the dispute Trudeau has steadfastly maintained that Canada values an independent judiciary and the rule of law.  He even went so far as to criticize China for arbitrarily revising the third Canadian’s criminal sentence to the death penalty.

The Break

Yet now the Trudeau government’s rule-of-law brand appears to be suffering a decisive break.  The first signs of the break came when the Canadian Ambassador to China interfered in the Wanzhou case by suggesting Chinese-language media that she had a strong case against extradition.  Citing President Trump’s comments on using Wanzhou’s case as a bargaining chip in ongoing US-China trade negotiations, McCallum made the case that Trump may have unfairly politicized the process.  McCallum’s assessment about Trump may prove true, but it’s not the place for an Ambassador to weigh in on legal disputes unfolding in an independent judiciary.  McCallum was fired to protect the rule-of-law brand.

The break only deepened on news of allegations that someone from the Prime Minister’s Office allegedly attempted to influence Wilson-Raybould in her decision to prosecute SNC Lavalin.  And although the SNC Lavalin and Wanzhou cases are unrelated, they both signal moments of off-brand behaviour where the Trudeau government failed to deliver on its promised commitment to the rule of law.

The Blame

What this leaves is the question of the blame.  We can already see composure strategies aimed at steadying the government’s image: McCallum’s firing sent a clear signal that he was off message, and Trudeau himself has denied his office directed the Attorney General in any prosecutorial decisions (though the clarity of this denial is in dispute).  These are complemented by a range of discrediting strategies ranging from modest proposals for an ethics investigation to the more sensationalist declarations of a “coverup” by the Trudeau government.  The efficacy of these strategies, including what they reveal and conceal, will determine the severity of the break in the government’s public image and how long it lasts.  Both of these are crucial questions given the looming Federal election in the Fall of 2019.

Finally, perhaps the most important lesson we can take from this moment of crisis is that political branding is never a risk-free proposition.  Off-brand behaviour at home can have effects on foreign relations abroad.  As one columnist recently noted, after the Jody Wilson-Raybould affair “China might be right to wonder if Canadian justice can be bought”.  When the fragile tethers of a public image begin to slip, other states may be right to question who we really are.

Hey, NYT, we need to talk.

I know, democracy dies in darkness (sorry, WashPo put it better) and we need good journalism, but what you publish in the Opinion Section often does not qualify as journalism, like, at all. I am not even talking about “Intellectual Dark Web” (which is neither intellectual, nor dark, but maybe web) or blatant climate denialism; you seriously need a Russia bullshit detector. Because so far, Russia articles are mostly botched Cyrillic wrapped in a cliché inside an Orientalist talking point.

The latest “scary Putin/racist nonsense/KGB/italicized Russian words” piece grazed your pages yesterday and it already caused the Russia Twitter to eye roll off our couches. For starters, who knew that there is a Russian word for “lies”. Like, really. If you actually spent time in St. Petersburg or Moscow (because those authors never go further out in fear of bears and balalaikas) you would know that “vranyo” is hardly a word that would ever be used in the context of whatever “active measures” you are talking about. Which are, by the way, not a thing, as well as the “Gerasimov doctrine”.

So, what’s with the “corruption DNA”, people? Last time I checked, 23andMe doesn’t offer a breakdown on social vices. When the author talked to Volodya back in the 90s, did he also take some of his genetic material? Or tested every single Russian out there? Who counts as a Russian? Just the Russian-speakers or the ones who live in Russia proper? Do you get the corruption DNA if you have a baby with a Western person? So many questions, and, sadly, no bigotry-free responses.

And what’s with the menacing pictures of Putin? At least when I write my posts I preface them with some presidential wardrobe malfunction action, aka the executive nipples. Yes, Putin is watching you, but so is PRISM and that one has way more capabilities and potential for abuse than its Russian analogue. So, Volodya (at least, it’s not Vlad) was fine when he helped you get rich and had beer with you in the 90s but not anymore? As Maxim Edwards remarked, it’s unclear why the contingent of “I made a killing in the nineties and then it went to shit” still needs to be heard. Even though there are a couple of valid points in the piece, they are overshadowed by racism and conceit of a “civilized” Western man braving the borderless wasteland that is Russia and trying to advertise his company that “recovers assets”.

I have to wrap this up before my head explodes from the uncontrollable rage at the stupidity and arrogance of some of your contributors. Do better next time.

The Importance of Recognition in Venezuela

This is a guest post from Elsy Gonzalez, a PhD candidate from the University of Chicago in the Department of Political Science.

Last Wednesday, January 23, President Trump recognized Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaidó’s claim to the presidency. Through this statement, Trump ultimately rejected Nicolas Maduro’s government and hedged his bet on regime change in this South American country. While this behavior is hardly surprising given the recent animosity between Washington and Caracas, many other countries in the region and around the world flocked to support Guaidó as president shortly thereafter. Those that recognized are as interesting as those that have not, and their timing speaks volumes.

What is the background? On May 20, 2018, Venezuela held presidential elections in which Maduro declared himself victorious for a new six-year term amidst a flurry of international condemnation, for what has been deemed a fraudulent election. The following day, the countries that make up the Lima Group declared they did not recognize the legitimacy of the electoral process for not abiding by the international standards of a democratic, free, fair, and transparent election. Following months of uncertainty and domestic turmoil, incumbent Nicolas Maduro assumed power for his new term on January 10. Meanwhile, Juan Guiadó also assumed power as head of the National Assembly, and the group later declared him interim president in lieu of Maduro.

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Under Pressure

Somewhat cranky and slightly under the weather Putin graced the foreign journalists with his presence for almost 4 hours. Starting right off the bat with some optimistic economic indicators (that he used to be able to juggle without any papers), the conference progressed with its predictable pace and predictable plot points: a bunch of questions on economy, token booed Ukrainian question, some dad jokes and good tsar, bad boyars excuses. There was no panache, pizazz or punch. Putin is tired (at some point he was off by 20 million when talking about the Russian population) and his whataboutist rhetoric expected. His cough has got better since last year though.

At the beginning, Channel One gleefully pointed out that all accredited journalists are welcome at the press-conference (not really) and there are absolutely no restrictions. Press Secretary Peskov started with the Kremlin press pool soft ball questions (as though they don’t get enough access to the body of the sovereign on a regular basis). Crimea came up almost right away and kept coming up throughout the press conference. Putin got himself some rally-around-the flag theory ready and angrily pointed out that the only reason there was a “provocation” in the Kerch Strait is because presidential elections are coming up and President Poroshenko was looking to boost his failing rating. Moreover, Russia will increase its military presence in the Azov Sea the way it sees fit, especially given that some governmental officials in Ukraine are threatening to blow up the pained Crimea bridge. Putin forcefully denied that an “annexation” of the peninsula took place (despite having used that word himself several days prior). It was the citizens who came and voted to re-unite with Russia and now they are being punished for their vote by Western sanctions.

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Aid and Diplomacy, Not Tear Gas: How to Address the Central American Migrant Crisis

On Sunday, the US Border Patrol fired tear gas into Mexico at migrants, including children, attempting to enter the US near the San Ysidro border crossing between Tijuana and San Diego. The use of a chemical weapon banned in war against families rightly provoked widespread condemnation (Border Patrol agents also used pepper spray against migrants in 2013, fired tear gas and pepper spray into Mexico in 2007, and have killed rock throwers at the border in the past). Migrants attempting to enter the US are frustrated by the Trump administration’s restriction of the process of seeking asylum, a legal right under US and international law, a situation that won’t be solved by processing asylum seekers on Mexican soil.

Most of those who attempted to scale the border fence were reportedly from Honduras, the country with the world’s second-highest homicide rate. Young people there are caught between murderous gangs, violent and corrupt police, and paramilitary ‘social cleansing’ squads who target young men, while gender-based violence rates are also high. There are similar, if slightly less violent, dynamics in El Salvador and Guatemala, and increasing state repression in Nicaragua. Despite changes in US immigration policy and enforcement under the Trump administration, the US remains for many Central Americans a place of hope for a better, more secure life.

In this environment, deterrence efforts will have limited effectiveness. Continue reading

What the UAE’s detention of a UK graduate student means for Middle East studies

I feel like I should say something about the disappearance—and likely assassination—of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. This tragedy was enabled by America’s permissive stance towards Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US support for other horrific Saudi policies (like its bombing of Yemen). I’ve expressed concern on Twitter and in personal conversations, and have been writing about Yemen for years.

But to be honest, I don’t think I have anything new to say at this point. Most Duck readers will already know, and be upset, about this situation. Instead, I want to raise another concerning human rights abuse by one of our Persian Gulf allies: the detention of UK graduate student Matthew Hedges by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A few months ago, reports spread of a UK man detained in the UAE on espionage charges; he was rumored to be an academic doing research in the country. These reports were later confirmed as the UAE announced it had charged Hedges with espionage for trying to obtain classified information and gain access to confidential archives. Hedges is a PhD student at the University of Durham, and was studying the UAE’s post-Arab Spring foreign policy. He has been held in rough conditions and there are concerns about his physical and mental health. Continue reading

Peacekeeping’s Perverse Effects: Bolsonaro and Brazil’s Remilitarized Politics

In under two weeks, Brazil will have the second round of its presidential election. Former military officer and fan of fascists Jair Bolsonaro looks set after a strong first-round showing to defeat Workers’ Party (PT) candidate Fernando Haddad. If he wins, Bolsonaro will have strong party backing in Congress, though he does not care much for the legislature—in 1999, Bolsonaro said Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship “should have killed 30,000 people more, starting with Congress and [then-President] Fernando Henrique Cardoso.” Bolsonaro’s running mate is retired General Hamilton Mourão, his planning adviser and likely Minister of Transport is General Oswaldo Ferreira, an anti-environmentalist who looks for inspiration to infrastructure projects enacted by Brazil’s military government, and Bolsonaro has promised to stack his cabinet with generals. Current and retired military officers have been prominent backers of Bolsonaro, and Bolsonaro announced that he would not accept any result other than victory, menacingly saying “I cannot speak for military” but that there “could be a reaction by the Armed Forces” if he lost and deemed it due to PT fraud (never mind that the PT is not currently in power).

As Michael Albertus highlighted, the military is returning to Brazilian politics in a big way. While the military in Argentina was punished for its dictatorial Dirty War, elites with ties to dictatorship never faced sanctions or fully left the political scene in countries like Brazil and Chile. In Brazil, civilian leaders managed to weaken the military during the transition to democracy, but it retained a broad scope of activities, including internal security and development, especially in combating the drug trade, a mission with which current President Michel Temer tasked the military earlier this year in Rio de Janeiro. Bolsonaro spent his time as a representative in Congress “interested in helping the military above all else,” and his message that he will restore law and order both resonates with a Brazilian public fed up with high rates of violent crime and with a military keen to reassert itself. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? Developing Countries and Security Cooperation

This post comes from Dr. Fabiana Sofia Perera, Assistant Research Fellow at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies and a 2016 alumna of Bridging the Gap’s New Era Workshop.

Defense Secretaries from the countries of the western hemisphere will convene in Cancun, Mexico next month to talk about the most pressing issues facing defense and security institutions in the Americas. The biannual meeting presents an important opportunity for the US to engage with Latin America as the hemisphere continues to try to work together to address the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and other challenges. After the underwhelming Summit of the Americas, defense seems like a promising avenue for cooperation. Secretary Mattis already met with a number of his counterparts during his first trip to the region in August promising a closer relationship between the US and Latin America.

Security cooperation between the US and Latin America, however, faces one important obstacle: the definition of developing country. Though scholars think of the region as part of the developing world (studies of Latin American countries are routinely featured in journals and conferences focusing on development), most countries in the hemisphere are middle income. Trinidad and Tobago, and Estonia, for example, have about the same GDP per capita; Uruguay is nearly on par with Croatia; Costa Rica and China are within a few dollars of each other. This is where the US runs into difficulties for carrying out cooperation activities.

US Code, Title 10, Section 312 provides that security cooperation money “may be used only for the payment of expenses of, and special compensation for, personnel from developing countries.” US Code further stipulates that the term “developing country” “has the meaning prescribed by the Secretary of Defense [in] the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017.” The current iteration of that meaning is that countries are considered “developing” if they are not “high income” on the World Bank classification of countries. Argentina, Barbados, Chile, and Trinidad and Tobago are all “high income” this year.

The World Bank’s definition is not the only option, and may not be the best one for US purposes.  Continue reading

Take Me to Church

There is a spat of ecumenical proportions brewing in the Eastern hemisphere: Patriarch Krill of Russia stopped praying for the Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. The reason for that is simple: the patriarch of Constantinople is rumored to consider granting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church an autocephalous status that would potentially carve out a third of Russian Orthodox Church curacies  severely damaging Moscow’s status as the third Rome* not to mention financial repercussions.

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Babies R Us

While in the US children are being separated from their parents seeking political asylum and taken to a Walmart prison, some Russian lawmakers are concerned that illegal aliens can enter the country through its citizens’ vaginas during the FIFA World Cup that starts today.

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We are Groot

Today is President Putin’s inauguration day and even Avengers couldn’t stop it, as evidenced by the arrested raccoon in the center of Moscow on Saturday during the unsanctioned rally ““He’s No Tsar to Us.” For Russia watchers, the Saturday protests probably created a sense of déjà vu of May 2012 when much larger protests erupted in Moscow and around Russia. They displayed a high degree of social mobilization around the fair elections narrative, but the protesters paid a high price for it: over 30 were criminally charged and 17 were sentenced to several years in prison, some fled the country.

The scale of the protest in May 2012 was so large that a new legislation on rallies was enacted on 9 June 2012. It increased the fines for the violation of public rallies law to up to a million rubles. One of the authors of the rally law – ‘Just Russia’ member Sidyakin – at first stated that the law was supposed to prevent the ‘Ukrainian scenario’ in Russia . Communist Party and Liberal Democratic party members warned President Putin about the ‘orange plague’ and that nobody ‘wants to go back to the 90s’ and the President should not let an ‘orange revolution’ take place in Russia.

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Cabinet Reshuffling and the Patrimonial Presidency: Lessons from Tunisia

This post marks the return of the Bridging the Gap channel at the Duck after a short hiatus. It comes from Gregory White, Professor of Government at Smith College, who will be attending our International Policy Summer Institute this June.  

How can we understand the Trump administration’s ongoing reshuffles of top tier staff and cabinet officials? Recent changes at the State Department, the National Security Council, the White House Communications Office, Veterans Affairs, and the National Economic Council – and that’s just the last several weeks – are unprecedented in US politics. Some people have been brought down by scandal or near scandal, with others dismissed for no clear reason.

Scholars have sought to understand this turnover as the result of a preference of loyalty over experience, the insurgent nature of the campaign (with inexperienced or no staff), or the chaos of Trump’s policy whims. I propose a different lens for thinking creatively and comparatively about Trump’s behavior as a way of understanding its potential implications.

Throughout all of the cabinet and staff reshuffling I have often thought of Tunisia – in particular its post-independence presidents Habib Bourguiba and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. One might think that comparing the United States to Tunisia is like comparing an apple to a steak – or even an apple to a stop sign. It is hard to think of two countries with more dissimilar political histories and systems. But constant cabinet and staff turnover and (re-)cycling characterized Bourguiba and his successor Ben Ali’s governments, and it had and continues to have profound implications for the North African country.  Continue reading

Does the U.S. Have a North Korea Strategy?

A Presidential summit in May is not a high risk / high reward scenario. It is Russian roulette.

Last November the media poked fun when inclement weather kept Trump from getting his opportunity to stare down the enemy at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. While Trump was reportedly frustrated with being denied this photo-op, it is regrettable for us all that he never made it. Despite the pageantry that comes with these visits, I know from experience that there is something visceral about standing at the world’s most heavily militarized border. There is a certain tension that cannot be faked. And for a moment, you cannot help but think of the consequences if this precarious peace was broken. While no one can claim to know what Trump is thinking at any given moment, I would like to believe that such an experience would inform his decision to either stare down or embrace North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un in a possible meeting between the two leaders.

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Do Populists Kill Democracy? A Sympathetic Extension of Levitsky and Ziblatt

This is a guest post by Lucas Dolan, a PhD Student at American University’s School of International Service. His research deals with the transnational coalition-building of right-wing populist movements. For further information, see his website, or find him on Twitter (@mrldolan).

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (L&Z) have accomplished something impressive. Their new book How Democracies Die (HDD) is a relatively condensed volume that—while clearly written for a popular audience—is also likely to become required reading for scholars interested in authoritarianism and democratic backsliding.  Indeed, my institution’s chapter of the 24 university “Democratic Erosion” consortium assigned the book even before it was released. It is a rare scholarly work that has generated substantial discussion in both the scholarly and policymaking communities immediately upon publication. The book draws from the authors’ extensive research on de-democratization in Latin America and Eastern Europe (as well as some instructive episodes of American history) to identify processes of democratic erosion and derive lessons for resisting such processes. These historical and comparative chapters are then used as benchmarks for evaluating the threat to democracy posed by President Donald Trump. Puzzlingly, the book omits a meaningful discussion of the role of populism in democratic erosion—despite one of the author’s influential work on that topic. In this review, I attempt to reconstruct how deeper engagement with populism might have fit with the book’s core contentions. I conclude that Levitsky’s own mobilization approach to populism lacks cohesion with HDD and that Jan-Werner Müller’s ideational understanding of populism interfaces more naturally with the mechanisms of democratic decline proposed by L&Z.

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Crimea River

One of the most predictable elections is just around the corner: even Google has already proclaimed Putin the winner of the presidential race of March 18th 2018 in Russia. The only marginal hiccup for the authorities might be a low turnout, but a couple of viral videos are already scaring the bejesus out of the electorate: if they don’t show up and vote for you-know-who, somebody else will be elected and they will make each family house a gay man in pink pajamas in their apartment!

Surprisingly enough, Putin will have a wee bit of competition on the ballot after all. Pavel Grudinin [I am very tempted to translate his name as ‘boobilicious’], a candidate from the Communist Party, has managed to gain an unexpected amount of support – around 10%. With other candidates polling between a margin of error and about 5%, Grudinin’s rating seems unexpected. The head of the company “Lenin’s Sovkhoz” is popular not just with Russia’s pre-baby-boomers, but also with millennials! And if the Kremlin wants to blame somebody for this, they should be kicking themselves for Grudinin’s success. Millennials like the communist candidate because of governmental idealization of the Soviet past.

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The legacy of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Why ‘great inspiration’ is not quite enough

A co-authored post by Dr Leena Vastapuu and Dr Maria Martin de Almagro.

The first elected woman head of state in Africa, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has just stepped down from her office in Liberia. Her successor George Weah assumed the position on 22 January 2018.

In a recent interview with CNN entitled “Why Africa owes a debt of gratitude to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf”, President Sirleaf and journalist Chude Jideonwo had the following exchange.

Chude Jideonwo (CJ): You are in your final days as the first female president of an African country. When you step down, there won’t be any more. What does that say to you?  

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (EJS): It tells me that we haven’t worked hard enough for parity, particularly in political participation. It saddens me, to a certain extent, because I represented the breaking of the glass ceiling in Africa. And I think that there are lots of women out there who haven’t quite reach there, but the queue is forming.

CJ: You’ve been a president for 12 years. […] What do you think your gender, your femininity, brought to this particular position, if anything?

EJS: It brought great aspirations. To women, and to girls, in Liberia, in Africa. And going beyond, in my travels in the United States, in Europe and in other places, inevitably there is someone who comes up to me and says: “You’ve inspired me”. Continue reading

Has Sunshine Returned to the Korean Peninsula?

Ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics, the media has become fascinated with a common narrative that the erstwhile “bitter enemies,” North and South Korea, will march under one flag. The identity and political relations of the Koreas are more complicated than the “enemy” rhetoric conveys. Emblematic of this complexity are the families that are separated by the border, with living siblings that pre-date the division of the peninsula. The current thaw in inter-Korean relations is rooted in the late 1990’s “Sunshine Policy” of the former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. Yet, the question remains as to whether direct engagement between North and South Korea has the possibility to fundamentally alter the political situation on the Korean Peninsula.

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You Can Leave Your Hat On

With an avalanche of news about the government shutdown, DACA, CHIP and Stormy Daniels, the American news media did not have too much time to cover Putin’s nipples (this time around), even though it was a great opportunity to update the famous horse riding photograph. On the Russian Orthodox Epiphany night Putin was photographed bathing in ice cold water in the Seliger Lake, displaying both his Orthodox Christian devoutness and manly sass.  Why does he do that? While for some in the West these displays of machismo can seem gay, in Russia they are gobbled up as the ultimate display of virility and strong leadership. Moreover, they have a deeper political meaning for the population that sees Putin as a spiritual leader, a pastor that would guide Russia to a brighter tomorrow.

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