Strasbourg plagued by COVID19

Anna van Densky, Brussels 25.09.2020 The opening of October European Parliament session in Strasbourg does not look promising for the Members of the European Parliament, while the significant for the city business event for 2.200 participants has been cancelled today over sanitary situation #360GrandEst.

The planned September Plenary in Strasbourg was cancelled and took place in Brussels, and it is highly likely the similar situation is awaiting for both October sessions scheduled in the hauntingly beautiful capital of Grand Est region of France.

As is clear to us all, we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 emergency. We had hoped before the summer break that we would be returning to some degree of normality. Unfortunately, this is not the case and we find our countries still greatly affected by the pandemic. The rate of infection has increased, leading to the adoption of new containment measures by national governments.

“For this reason, and on the basis of information provided by the French medical services and authorities, I regretfully took the decision not to hold the plenary session in Strasbourg for this September session”  wrote David Sassoli, the president of the Europarl.

“…I am grateful to the French authorities for their understanding and their constant collaboration in these difficult months. On behalf of all our members, I extend a warm greeting to the mayor and people of Strasbourg, where we hope to return soon.”  Sassoli concluded, however it the sanitary situation in France does not look encouraging for travel to host the MEP “soon”.

1992 decision formalised a situation that already existed at the time and which reflected compromises arrived at over a number of years.

When the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was set up a few years after WWII, in 1952, establishing joint management of the steel and coal reserves of six countries, including Germany and France, its institutions were located in Luxembourg. The Council of Europe (an intergovernmental body made up of 47 countries championing human rights and culture was also set up in the immediate post-WW2 period), was already based in Strasbourg and it offered its plenary chamber for meetings of the ECSC’s “Common Assembly”, which was to develop into the European Parliament. Strasbourg gradually became the main home of plenary sessions of the Parliament, though additional sessions were also held in Luxembourg in the 1960s and 1970s.

After the creation of the European Economic Community in 1958, much of the work done by the European Commission and the Council of Ministers came to be concentrated in Brussels. Since Parliament’s work involves closely monitoring and interacting with both these institutions, over time Members decided to organise more of their work in Brussels. By the early nineties, the present arrangement was more or less in place, with committees and political groups meeting in Brussels and the main plenary sessions taking place in Strasbourg. A major part of Parliament’s staff is based in Luxembourg.

Mali: EU-ECOWAS democratic dogmatism

Brussels, 20.09.2020 Anna van Densky, OPINION: An extraordinary pressure on Mali officers to transfer power to civilians without delay paves the way to one more failed state on the map of the world. During the anti-government protests, which led to the coup d’état, ousting of President Keita, there has been no single political force able to offer a comprehensive programme to reform the Sahel country and direct it firmly to the democratic future. Moreover, there is not such a clear path to democracy for Malians, plagued by extremism, sectarian conflict, ethnic divisions, and endemic corruption.

The European Union (EU)- the avid supporter of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) efforts in Mali- actively promotes a model of the democratic institutions, run by the civilians, without any consideration of the context, and previous failures of the similar kind – the state-building in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Libya. Nowadays the ECOWAS, flanked by the European diplomacy, is pushing Malians towards pro-forma return to the “Constitutional” order, denouncing the idea of the country run by the military for the next 18 months. However the energetic push is performed in absence of a coherent strategy in dealing with corrupt and ineffective state structures, and detached local communities doomed to isolation in absence of adequate infrastructures. Last, but not least is the factor of the general instability in the region, aggravated by rise of Islamists in Sahel, affiliated with Al-Qaeda and Islamic State aiming to restore the legendary Caliphate of Sokoto.

Sadly the list of problems does not end here, the Tuareg dream of creation of an independent state in the north of Mali – Azawad – has never faded, but retreated for time being under pressure of the overwhelming French army, while the experts unanimously admitted that there is no military solution to the ethnic conflict, and invited the belligerent parties to resolve the conflict at the negotiation table defining the region future status within Malian state. So far in vain.
Back in 2012, while declaring the independence, Azawad leaders claimed that Mali was an “anarchic state”, and Tuareg liberation movement has opted for a military transition period, to ensure the protection of their land and conducting the transition to the democratic institutions. The massacre (2014) of the Tuareg civilians by Fulani-Islamists has been too recent to be forgotten. Not least are the tensions between Tuareg and Chadians, caused by massacres of the civilians by Chadian army in the North of Mali in the region of Kidal.
In short, not only a clear path to democracy is absent, but also there is no path in view for national unity, allowing to construct a functional political system producing a corruption-free credible government, leading way to economic recovery, and well-being of regular Malians.
Struck by multiple systemic conflicts, causing a permanent state of crises, Malians are not able to rise out of poverty, in spite of the remarkable natural wealth.
The profound misunderstanding of capacities of a new born protest movement of 5 June (M5) to become a constructive political force over night will result in further turmoil in political life, and cause even more resent of the citizens, searching for responses to their justified claims. Being the prime victims of the ECOWAS blockade, the regular Malians will turn to an available alternative, finding warm welcome by the anti-Occident militant groups, and the extremists will rise again, feasting on poverty, and frustrations of communities.
The five thousand strong French military corps, fulfilling the counter-terrorist operation Barkhane in Sahel region has limited capacity to deal with the consequences of the ongoing failed state drama in Mali, and it would be too naive to expect them to defeat jihad, in absence of the state-building process.
The EU is a major donor of assistance in Mali, providing more than €350 million in humanitarian aid in the country since the beginning of the crisis in 2012, adding to €23 million in 2020. However the Europeans contribute without any pragmatic plans for the future of the country, preferring in the current crisis to support the ECOWAS blindly, joining the pro forma claims of civilian government, without any consideration of its notoriously poor quality, leading to the current state of affairs, while under President Keita 40% of state purse vanished in pockets of corrupt civil servants.
The ECOWAS-EU strategy of pressure on the Malian army by imposing border and financial transactions blockade, will destroy the relations with Malian patriotic officers, and cause further impoverishment of Malians, pushing them into the arms of extremists of various calibre.
Mali is far too significant to the West Africa to allow the Europeans to leave it alone, watching it’s descending to chaos, but it is far too big as a challenge to resolve the complex of state-building and security problems, through simplified linear punitive measures.
Recent Ursula von der Leyen sanctions policy concept will create nothing but remorse and discontent among Malians, who today still regard Europe as a friend. The enduring threat of Islamic extremism requires elaborate and flexible European diplomacy, navigating the country to effective forms of governance. Further escalation of tensions in name of democracy and “Constitutional order” will produce exactly the opposite effect – an explosion. An explosion, throwing Malians into hands of kleptocratic clans of war-lords, descending into chaos.
Instead of fearing of a hypothetical dictatorship led by Colonel Hassimi Goita as deviation from the imaginary path to democracy, the EU should embrace the co-operation with the patriotic and secular Malian army as the constructive force in disposal of capabilities to introduce reform, and allowing the political process to thrive towards the meaningful free and fair elections concluding the suggested transition period.
Let us not forget that Kemal Ataturk, and General de Gaulle were military man, however their remarkable contribution to democracy is ways more significant, than of many other statesmen in civilian suits. Rejection of enthusiasm of young generation of Mali officers, aiming at reforming their country and nation-building will end in one more fiasco, making Mali to follow the path of the other failed states. It is clear there are not simple answers to Malian crisis, and the obsession with the civilian rule, achieved by imposing de facto sanctions, will result in a huge bill for the European tax-payer for the humanitarian aid, and ever-growing burden for the French army, combating extremism in Sahel, transforming into another Afghanistan.
The EU diplomacy, led by Josep Borrell needs to regard the context, abandoning dogmatism in promoting of democracy and rule of law in Mali, and become flexible and adaptive, formulating short, medium and long-term goals, working on achievement of them in stages, with a focus on long-term stability of both Mali and Sahel.
Moreover, the EU needs to built genuine partnership with the Malian armed forces, investing in development of their capabilities to defend Malian state, and combat extremism. The essential element of the EU success in promotion of the democracy, is the demonstration of a genuine interest in problems of Malians, and readiness to compromise in search for attaining long-lasting common goals, as stability, prosperity and lasting peace.

However, today, when the Malian state is in a profound crisis, and its future is in peril, nothing is so detrimental to promotion of the European values in Sahel, as dogmatism and forceful imposition of European concepts within fragile Sahel context. Mali is on the crossroads, it is up to the EU to decide if it wishes to contribute to the push of the Malians down the slope, following Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, direction of the failed state, fanatically exporting European concepts to vast spaces of African Savannah.
Will the EU diplomacy in Mali adapt or become obsolete? The ability of the bloc to change, adapt and experiment will become far more significant in Sahel, than the capacity to punish and sanction. Above all, it makes little sense from the EU behalf to appeal to legality and return to the constitutional order – “Necessitas non habet legem” – Necessity has no law.

#SOTEU: Leyen formal debut

The traditions September State of the Union Speech (#SOTEU) of the European Commission president has been the first one for Ursula von der Leyen. The address before the European Parliament took place in Brussels, instead of Strasbourg, because of the coronavirus restrictions.
On 16 September in her first #SOTEU speech, she shared her vision for a stronger Europe and a better world after the coronavirus pandemic, radiating obligatory for her status enthusiasm over the EU radiant future.
However if in tone the speech did not deviate from the EU classical tradition of depicting the project as the ever-growing and successful endeavour in essence it broke with the tradition,because COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination of humanity, and related issued became the major focus, causing compression, and sidelining of many other policies – international relations became one of these areas of shrinking attention.

The overview of the EU external relations started with China, and ended with Africa with Enlargement and Neighbourhood policies squeeze in between, and complimented with haphazard mentioning of human rights. The compression of the foreign affairs chapter was striking,leading to frantic dashes from Uyghurs to Magnitsky Act, from Salisbury poisoning of former Russian secret service agent to migrant camps in Turkey.

President von der Leyen has been mixing the issues and problems with vague promises, and warnings of international politics as a disc jokey (DJs) mixes melodies, weather forecasts and advertising. The speech has been delivered on time, and almost entirely in English language in spite of the fact it is used only in two of the bloc members – Malta and Ireland – which constitute one per cent of the EU population. This Anglophilia was largely misplaces, taking into consideration the recent British Prime Minister consideration to opt for no-deal exit.

According to British press Boris Johnson will present an ultimatum to negotiators in coming days, demanding the UK and Europe to agree a post-Brexit trade deal by 15 October or Britain will step out without any agreement at all. Under the circumstances von der Leyen choice of English language looked rather submissive, and even masochistic, dissonating with major tones of the oratory, mixing cheerful slogans and staccato warnings.
“And the band played on…”

Mali political crisis

Mali’s political crisis deepened further when the opposition M5-RFP rejected the Charter negociated by the officers led by Colonal Assimi Goita and the ECOWAS. The stalemate is about than whether a civilian or a soldier should lead the transition. What looks like a crisis of confidence, in reality is a wrestling for power, while interests of Malians go begging. The country is suffering from block of the borders, and freezing of financial transations as a reaction of Mali neigbours to coup d’etat of August 18. Here is my comment for the Eye on Africa TV.

EU «wahsed hands» of Belarus

#Belarus #Lukahsenko #BelarusProtests
Anna van Densky OPINION Today, on August 19, an extraordinary meeting of the Council of the EU on the situation in Belarus took place by teleconferencing.

The feeble answer has surprised many. The EU leaders have not pronounced the name of the genuine elections winner Svetlana Tikhanovskaya even once (!)While being so ardent about Ukraine integration into the bloc, why showing so little engagement towards dramatic events in Belarus?

First of all the context has entirely changed for the Europenan Union as an internationl organisation, transcending a profound systemic crisis itself. The bloc is in a difficult economic and financial situation because of the pandemic and because of the Brexit. The UK, the second largest contributor to the EU’s coffers, has left the organization and there is no trade agreement yet, and most likely will be none, which will create a considerable number of the economic problems in short, medium and long term.

At present the economy of Belarus is integrated into Russian and it is also orientated to the former Republics of the USSR, exporting there machinery. What is especially lucrative is the export of agricultural products to Russia, while it would be not easy to find the replacement for clients at the EU market, which has a surplus of agricultural products to an extend that the farmers receive funds not to produce, and not to develop the arable lands.

The dependency of Belarus on Russian hydrocarbons (Yamal gaz pipline) is a common place, and does not need any additional clarifications; the machinery, produced for former Republics either.

Regarding political transition to democracy from Lukashenko authoritarian rule, the major riddle is how to integrate the country into the EU politically, while it’s economic foundation is firmly intertwined with Russian Federation, and former Soviet bloc.

The defence issue is not less problematic: joining the CSTO, Belarus became a military ally of Russia. Certainly it can cancel the CSTO membership, but the maximum of what can be achieved afterwards from the army and the people is military neutrality. Due to its history, the country will opt for neutrality policy, since the people do not sympathise with NATO and, unlike Ukraine and Georgia, there has never been any talk of joining the North Atlantic Alliance for Belarus.

And here the geopolitical level of the issue is reached: there is no point in integrating a country into the EU which will not host military bases of the United States, and even less so joining the the North Atlantic Alliance. If the Belarussians keep Lukashenko in disdain, it does not mean that they are ready to join the “belt of infidelity” and serve Western interest, regarding Russia as a foe, as Ukrainians and Georgians are eagerly doing.

Taking into consideration mentioned above one should not expect active political support and financial assistance to Belarus from the EU similar the one they offer to Ukraine and Georgia.

A policy of sanctions against Lukashenko’s entourage has already been chosen by the EU, which is related to the policy of sanctions againstRussia and will be further harmonized with it. De facto, what looks like support to Belarussians will be an additional package of sanctions against Russian economy.

Subsequently further retention of Lukashenko in power by allies in Moscow is not only meaningless, but frankly detrimental to the economic interests of Russia, because they will be used by the West as a tool for expanding sanctions. Lukashenko life-long presidency will also significantly deteriorate image of Vladimir Putin in domestic politics, and deepening of the Belarussian crisis will have a negative impact on the entire range of Russian interests at home and abroad.

In their best interest Russians shouldn’t hold on to the political corpse of Lukashenko, but should arrange his swift and humble funeral and turn their attention to the other contemporary political players preferred by Belarus people:

The king is dead! Long live the king!”.

Inauguration of incumbent President Lukashenko one more time will take place in two month, Russian TASS new agency reported. He has been Belarus authoritarian ruler for 26 years, who came to power as a “new type of leader” in last millenium and stayed due to his “clinch” with power for almost three decades, erasing smallest signs of dissent.

Belarus future and EU aid

Anna Van Densky OPINION #Belarus #Minsk #Lukashenko #BelarusProtests #Tikhanovskaya

The proposal to facilitate the engagement into “political dialogue” between the discredited Lukashenko regime and people of Belarus the EU has announced, looks like a stillbirth already, because the entire crisis is created by the blunt refusal of compromise between the authoritarian model, and democratic pluralism. Moreover it is impossible for Lukashenko to accept any compromise, because it will mean the definitive dismantling of his rusty “last dictatorship of Europe”.

Reacting upon the political crisis the president of the EU Council Charles Michel delcrared the start of the work on creating of the sanctions lists of the leading figures from the government responsible for repressions of the protestors, however they will remain a higly symbolical gesture in absence of the real political process of democratic transformaiton of Belarus.

The stubborn refusal of Lukahsnko to leave, his clinch with power, creates new, but predictable trubles, and a substantial challenge to the EU diplomacy, claiming ambition of being a global player.

However there are effective ways for the EU to promote democracy and political pluralism in Belarus instead of focusing on the punitive symbolism of sanctions. While the opposition leader, and the major challenger of the incumbent President Lukashenko, Svetalana Tikhanovskaya expressed her readiness to become a national leader in the transition period in order to organize new free and fair elections, the EU could give an unequivocal political support to her plan.

The proposal of leading the country towards new elections means that Svetlana Tikhanovaksya submits her personal victory in order to create opportunities for Belarus political Renaissance, opening the way of participation to all political prisoners and other candidates who were barred from the elections process at the intent of Lukashenko, who was announced an absolute victor of the elections, with the 80% of vote. The result has been widely considered considered as falsified not only by Belarus people, but also by the EU foreign ministers.

The question is if the European Union will support Svetlana Tikhanovakaya the same way as they supported Roza Otunbayeva, the President of the transition period in former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan 10 years ago, after they overthrew of their dictaror. Then the top EU diplomat Baroness Ashton proposed to support Kyrgyzstan “politically, financially, technically” in order to ensure fundamental rights and freedoms to Kyrgyz people.

The role of the EU insitutions will be crucial in overcoming the political crisis and conducting democratic reforms in Belarus, establishing genuine pluralist political system, representing broad spectrum of interest and arbitation. The void, the absence of meaningful offer for practical aid from the behalf of the international community, reducing the EU role to the punitive measures as sanctions, will certainly allow the crisis to become protracted, and costly in all the senses to Belarussian people.
Moreover it might deteriorate further, creating conditions for chronic confrontation between people and Lukahsnko apparatchiks, and part of the police and military, still defending the discredited regime. This will lead to general fatigue, and loss of opportunities for promotion of genuine democracy. (Formally Belarus Republic is a democratic state).

In this context plagued by refusal of the authoritarian Lukahshenko regime to accept the justified demands of the people of Belarus, the EU aid to opposition, led by Tikhanovskaya and supported by the majority of citizens, is becoming pivotal in introduction of the democratic change to ensure definitive collapse of the last dictatorship of Europe. However the time is crucial to avoid new victims in the ongoing struggle between antipodes without any perspective of compromise. Instead of attempting to reconcile irreconcilable in the best interest of Europe is to invest in Belarus progress without delay.

Belarus: Lukashenko poisoned chalice

Anna van Densky OPINION Isn’t it time for Alexander Grigorievich to book one-way ticket to Dushanbe? He is very fond of mountain landscapes there, and, he himself has repeatedly stated that he «loves» Tajikistan for «similarity» to Belarus. No wonder – Tadjik President Rahmon will soon face the challenge of the fifth re-election, however in less lively political context.

Anyway, from the common sense perspectvie one way ticket to Duchanbe is much better than spending time in a prison cell in The Hague. And after what Lukahsenko has done, there is no chance of a quiet and serene old age, enjoying Belaveja forest in his native Belarus.

Ordering crakdown on peaceful protestors, claiming they are «people with criminal past and unemployed», Lukashenko demonstrated to what extent he lost touch with the reality, conducting Stalinist repressions in the digital age. Opressing the citizens of the Republic for their refusal to believe that his 80% eelction victory was genuine, he slided along the downspiral of self-destruction. However his poisoned chalice of elections triumph turning into a disaster was entirely self-inflicted, and rooted in his Europe Last Dictator dramatically outdated authoritarian style.

Nowadays the images of Belarus police violence, causing bruises, wounds, broken heads and arms, and videos of complainants of torture under arrest, all these images are floating across social networks around the world among four billion users!

The EU had no choice but start preparing “strong measures” in response to Lukashenko massive abuses of fundamental rights of the citizens of Belarus, addressing an old problem of the «Last Dictator of Europe».

However, not only the West is shocked by Lukashnko assault for life-long preisdency after 26 years of uninterrupted autoritarian rule, but appartnely Moscow is also concerned about the revolution he provoked by brutal power grab. After all Kremlin is also obliged to think about the image in the global world, and is not eager to convert Russia to a grave-yard for the political corpses of failed dictatros.

So the only way out is a ticket to Duchanbe (Stalinabad). And with some luck Alexander Grigorievich gains some prominence there, advising President Rahmon whether to run for the FIFTH TIME in October, or maybe hand over the post to his eldest son, or even someone else …

Once upon a time just a chairman of a collective farm in a poor village in Belarus Soviet Republic, nowadays Lukashenko has such a rich experience of a statesman that he can easily capitalize on his services to other presidents for life, willing to keep the grip on power for long. He can advise them on mistakes to be avoided, using his own scandalous affair of falsifications of elections, causing his downfall.

Surely Lukashenko advice will be in high demand, and even a commercial success, and when the list of the dictators will come to the end, he could buy a farm and start doing what he does best – raising chickens 🙂

Cock-a-doodle-do!

E-Tourism: long-term work and leisure fusion..

Anna Van Densky OPINION The latest edition of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) – World Tourism Barometer concluded that the near-complete lockdown imposed in response to the pandemic led to a 98% fall in international tourist flows in May when compared to last year.

The Barometer also indicated a 56% year-on-year drop in tourist arrivals between January and May. This data signified a fall of 300 million tourists and US$320 billion lost in international tourism profits – more than three times worse than during the Global Economic Crisis of 2009.

However the dramatic disruptions of the traditional tourism caused by pandemic, can also conceive new forms and incentives for travellers, venturing advantages of long-term «e-tourism».

Nowadays the new cyber-age technologies enable travelers to work from any hotspot providing broadband internet, the opportunity transcending the traditional forms of vacation built on antithesis of work-leisure, and integrating work into classic leisure environments, creating fusion of both.

«Telework tourism» opens new perspectives for individuals, couples, families, and groups, who are interested to combine a possibility of a new format of
remote office work, and leisure in a foreign country for a basic period of three months (in some cases up to six months with a relevant insurance).

Taking into consideration the most immediate and lasting lifestyle changes caused by the pandemic, the major trend – a remote work tourism, can become a must and vogue for «office people». The opportunities are equally open for employees, and self-employed, who have reformatted their modus operandi to tele-communications; and certaliny for representatives of intellectual and free professions as authors, writers, editors, publishers; not least those who are in education and academia system, as lecturers, instructors, tutors, researchers, Ph.D students, who have had already a sufficient level of autonomy and capabilities to realise their work remotely. As a result we will soon witness the birth of the entire Nomadic e-communities venturing resorts on six continents.

Within the new pandemic context the toursim sector might develop new concepts to broaden the spectrum of services, offering to the potenial travellers ideas and models of new, adapted e-lifestyle, discoveering positive sides of teleworking, moving to different settings, and environments, combining work and leisure for a significanly longer period of time, which previously has been a luxury available for senior citizens only.

Before the pandemic disruption the European tourism has been going through a period of intense development also as a result of the status of ‘industry’ it was attributed in the EU, creating jobs and generating impressive profits.
One of the achievements of these developments is the highest level of quality of the services in products offered by the industry of hospitality responding to the diversity of demands, and scale of financial opportunities of the travellers, which nowadays with a broadband can be enjoyed for a significantly longer period of time.

And after all, may be new age technology offers us much more interesting ways of spending life than we could have ever imagined before? The nascent trend for long-term «teleworking tourism» in the setting of traditional resorts is shaped by download speeds of 2.8 Mbps for HD quality, providing modern standard tele-conferencing for the working travellers, enjoying wonders of the Cyber Age.

In today’s rapidly changing world invaded by volatility the working e-travelling is the long-term trend to stay: bon voyage!

Khabarovsk: Russians protest against Putin

#Khabarovsk #Russia The protestors started with the demands of release of their governor Sergei Furgal, who was abdicted, they believe, because of his refusal to falsify the results of the Constitution referendum, which aimed at crowning Putin lifelong President of Russia.

The Far East region of Khabarovsk showed very little support to a plan of leaving Putin at power to 2036, with 36,64% of «NO» votes among 44% turnout, and after that failure Sergei Furgal «lost confidence» of the President, and was literally kidnapped, and transported to Moscow prison.

The abdicated on July 9 governor denies all accusation of plotting murders of businessmen committed in 2004-2005, claiming his innocence.
People in Khabarovsk insist the entire Furgal affair is fabricated, being the revenge for his independence, and democratic attitude towards the plebiscite, letting the vote happen without manipulations.

Nowadays the citizens are not only demanding his liberation, but also the resigantion of Putin, and respect of democracy, being indignant by the foul play around Constitution, with one single aim of continuation of Putin’s presidency.

They are chanting «Putin’s thief!», «Putin resign!», «Putin out!», «Crime against Constitution», «Russia without Putin!». National Guards sent to the central square said they will not act against people, in case of order to use force, they will surrender uniforms and quit.

Remarkable, that Khabarovici use method of Catalans and Yellow Vests, manifesting on Saturday, and working during the week to keep movement going for a long period of time.
It is also special that people went out in the streets in spite of the summer heat: + 31 C°
Cases of heat stroke were reported, and at least one woman received medical assistance.
Citizens-journalists claimed there were 100 000 people in streets today, more than last Saturday.
The protests started shortly after arrest of Sergei Furgal, and became massive from July 11.

Reacting upon the situation, Putin has appointed a new governor Mikhail Degtiarev from the same Liberal party, however he was not accepted by the citizens, even as deputy to revolve the situation temporarily.

At present the authorities try to play the COVID-19 card, demanding everyone «STAY HOME-STAY SAFE», but it is obvious that they are concerned about FREEDOM – “the most contagious virus known to man” spreading all over Siberia, already showing discontent with Putin’s authoritarian rule, absence of genuine political competition causing endmemic corruption.
Following Bolshevik Revolution the Far Est Republic was established in 1920-1922 in Siberia by Social-Democrats, but after the failure of White movement requested joining Russia. However nobody in Siberia has forgotten the legendary years of independence.

Review by Anna van Densky

Hagia Sophia: Turkey move towards Sultanate

Anna van Densky OPINION Today visit of the European Union top diplomat Josep Borrell to Ankara would be also highly emblematic, demonstrating the capacity of the bloc to stand for the European values, namely the human rights and freedom of religion. The wish of the President Erdogan to transform the emblematic Byzantine temple into mosque, caused vivid concerns of 300 million of Orthodox believers across the world, who consider their rights to be violated in case the building to be converted to a place of worship.

City of Istanbul Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) monument has rich, centuries long history, but nowadays it has also an immense political significance for both the East and the West, symbolising the crossroads of two civilisations. The situation of cultrual balance has changed recently, when an association started pursuing the cancellation of the 1935 decision that transformed the emblematic temple into a museum, and demanded the re-establishing of the Muslim cult, and group prayers. Not without sympathy of the President Erdogan himself, who said it is an internal issue, and any expression of an opinion from outside would be considered as attack on Turkey “sovereignty“.

A court decision is expected within fortnight mid-July.

The former Orthodox Byzantine cathedral, later converted to mosque is at the center of a modern dispute between Turkey’s secular Ataturk heritage, and President Erdogan attempts to include religion into basement of his autocratic rule. The argument that surfaced at court in reality reflects the entire process in Turkish society, representing two Turkeys, one looking inwards, and the other outwards. The opportunity to pray in the UNESCO World Heritage monument is more that an argument between a possibility to convert a museum into mosque, it is a historic battle between secularism and striving for the EU membership urban part of Turkish society from one hand, and from the other hand religious conservatism, shifting the country further and further away from the European values.

The Council of State – the highest legal authority – listened to arguments of lawyers for the Association for the Protection of Historic Monuments and the Environment on July 2, the group claiming for the Hagia Sophia to be transformed to mosque.

If the court decides in the NGO’s favor, it will impose the entire transformation of the historic building of Byzantine times, which has been a symbol of the city’s status as a meeting point between the East and the West, and the Muslim and the Christian worlds.

Constructed as a temple, after it was completed in 537 the Hagia Sophia was immediately central to early Christianity and its vast cathedral dome was admired by generations as a marvel. In 1453, when the Ottomans conquered the city previously known as Constantinople, it became a mosque by force. However 500 years later it was converted into a museum soon after the choice of the Turkish society for of modern and secular state was made.

Constructed as a Byzantine architectural masterpiece, Hagia Sophia was completed in 537. Today, it is one of the world’s most popular attractions, and UNESCO World Heritage, with millions visiting every year, the magnet of the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul. At present there is no clarity on how this monument would function in case transformed into place of Muslim worship.

Lately hardline President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who made Islam an integral part of his political agenda, has set his sights on the building. In a campaign speech ahead of local elections last year, he said it had been a “very big mistake” to turn it into a museum.

However Hagia Sophia’s mixture of religion belongings made it so symbolic for Turkey, predominantly Muslim, but founded in the early 20th century on secular ideas of separating religion and state.

Erdogan, and the Turkish association in the court case, certainly have many supporters, especially in the country-side.

Some experts presumed that the there should be shields, covering Byzantine Christian mosaics which are not compatible with the Islam cult. The other big issue is the building maintenance, and monitoring of the artefacts by specialists. In case it becomes the worship place, the jurisdiction would change, creating uncertainty for the restauration specialists examining the site to ensure its conversation.

However there is little doubt what the Court decision will be, after last month announcement President Erdogan made, while meeting ruling party officials:

“Allah willing, after the decision by the council state, we will pray in the Hagia Sophia”.

The European Commission, the guarding of the treaties, and the counterpart of Ankara in accession talks considers that the monument should be regarded as UNESCO World Heritage, the emblematic place for tolerance and dialogue.