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.

Brexit extension “flex”

The length of Brexit extension is a priority subject in the EU, considering how long should be a new timetable for the UK departure from the bloc.

There are three major suggestions in the air: three months, six months and one year, the last one is propelled by those who hope for the second referendum and derailing Brexit as such.

However Brexit Party leader and Member of the European Parliament Nigel Farage insists on six month extension, explaining that winter months are interrupted by holidays, and six month extension give sufficient time to organise general elections – the only way out of parliamentary Brexit crisis.

Foreign minister of the Republic of Ireland Simon Coveney said that Britain will be offered a flexible extension that could trigger Brexit well ahead of the new deadline but that the opinions of all EU member states were first needed.

“I think that extension will be a flexible one, that will allow the United Kingdom to leave the EU – if they can get a deal done – well in advance of the end of that extension period which looks like it will be the end of January,Simon Coveney told an audience in Belfast on Wednesday.

Brexit paradoxes continue

Anna van Densky OPINION Next week the European Parliament starts the series of hearings to endorse the team of Ursula von der Leyen Commissioners-designate. In one of paradoxes of protracted Brexit the British Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will participate and vote for the candidates, influencing the EU politics in spite of the fact that they did not propose a Commissioner themselves for apparent reasons.

Roughly 10% of votes, 73 UK departing MEPs will influence decisions shaping future composition of the top executives of the Commission – the guardian of EU Treaties, and the initiator of new laws.

However it is not the end of the road. In case there will be one more extension of Brexit beyond October 31, British government has to appoint a Commissioner to Brussels. Will Lord Hill come back? (Joke). Will Sir Julian King stay? If ‘yes’, it will be to the greatest joy of the Remainers,  assessing his marriage to the top EU civil servant Dane Lotte Knudsen (Germany, EEAS) as an ultimate sign of this loyalty to Brussels. Conflict of interests? One can hardly blame it to any UK national amid total confusion the protracted Brexit is causing. (Continuation follows),

Dutch Fauna party leads largest Europarl Intergroup

In the framework of the September Strasbourg Plenary the Animal welfare Intergroup of the European Parliament has elected Anja Hazecamp, Dutch MEP as president of the biggest cross party congregation.

Anja Hazekamp (51) is a prominent Dutch politician, a member of the Party for Animals (PvdD), and a member of the group of the European United Left – Nordic Green Left (@GUENGL).

The PvdD is the first political party across the  world to gain parliamentary seats, including three seats for Senate, with an agenda focused primarily on animal rights, and animal welfare. At her election Hazekamp said she expects from Ursula von der Leyen ‘real change” in animal welfare issues.

Hazekamp was elected unanimously as the only candidate put forward by the MEPs. The former president of the group Sirpa Petikainen has been elected as an Honorary president.

The Intergroup is providing a forum for debate, and initiating actions for animal welfare-related issues in the European Parliament.  An entire spectrum of activities as issuing  reports, resolutions or amendments, formally asking parliamentary questions and sending letters to authorities, organising public awareness events, – all of them resulted in graduate improvements in the animal welfare situation in the EU.

 Next meeting of the Intergroup will take place in Strasbourg during October Plenary to discuss problems of exotic pet trade in the EU (Thursday 24 October, 10:00 – 11:00).

Libyan war crimes and punishment

Anna van Densky OPINION Curiously the European diplomacy started to talk about “war crimes” in Libya in the context of the protracted for a decade conflict ravaging after the West destruction of led by Colonel Gaddafi Libyan state. (Image above: Tuareg, Fezzan)

The failed ‘regime change’ opened a decade of chaos, and fragmentation, resulting in losses of among the civilian population along with the military. However the EU diplomats are not willing to remember who caused the current dramatic situation, neither they are prepared to demand the investigation of the assassination of Mouammar Gaddafi, whose lynching ended the period of the peaceful development of Libya.

Gaddafi killing

“The death of Mouammar Gaddafi, on October 20 in Syrtie, is one of the questions, which should be clarified. There are serious suspicions that it factually was the war crime“, said Luis Moreno-Campo, the General prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (The Hague) on December 16, a month after NATO manhunt, ending in Gaddafi death. Today, almost a decade later, Gaddafi lynching remains unpunished, the 150 tons of Libyan gold vanished and the Libyan state, bombed by NATO air forces, is still in ruins, ravaged by competing militias. The Murzuq air strike is no exception.

The air strike has been reported to be an action upon requests of local people of Murzuq, suffering from Chadian gangs:

The Libyan armed forces’ aviation, under the aegis of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, responded promptly to requests for help from the Murzuq community in southern Libya. The village, on the southern outskirts of the capital in Fezzan, had been overtaken by a group of Chadian rebels who killed at least 20 people on Sunday morning. Residents spoke of members belonging to the Chadian opposition and Tebu, defined as “mercenaries in the pay of the Government of National Agreement“, based in Tripoli. The aviation has achieved a high precision raid that has dismantled the group and its means”, an Italian journalist Vanessa Tomassini reported from Libya.

Degraded to conflict and poverty by NATO bombs, the richest state of Maghreb  now faces the EU tutorials on human rights. The EU threatens with the lawsuits: the acts of “selective justice” vis-à-vis Libyans, while the names of the mega villains, who committed crimes resulting in Libyan tragedy, has been never mentioned.

If the EU top diplomat Mogherini stated on behalf of the EU on 2 August, thosecommitting war crimes and those breaching International Humanitarian Law must be brought to justice and held to account”, the investigation into Gaddafi assassination should be the first. Naturally the international community should protect the International Criminal Court, threatened by the US top officials:

Ukraine: triumph of tele-guided democracy

Anna van Densky, OPINION Election of Vladimir Zelensky demonstrates huge disappointment of the Ukrainians with their political class, even more, than their hopes for a meaningful change of the malfunctioning system. Ukrainian politics, run by a group of oligarchs has been a vaudeville for sufficiently long time to make a comedian look appropriate in the President’s office.

The decadence hit a new low, indicating there is a complete loss of confidence in the establishment, unable to produce any leader with a relevant background convincing enough to be worthy of dropping a ballot. Zelensky wins not because his programme opens new perspectives, but because the Ukrainians wish to trash their political Pantheon, plagued by corruption, and indulging in demagogy.

However change from Poroshenko to Zelensky perceived by many as a revolution, is nothing more than a change of head on Emperor‘s sculpture in times of declining Rome: they succeeded too often, leaving insufficient time to carve the entire figure in marble, and the clever local governors  in provinces adapted by removing the detached heads.

In particular case of showman Zelensky elections, one can conclude the Ukraine is true to itself: predictable in is instability, grotesque, and volatile.

Ascending to presidency due to his popularity as an actor, Zelensky has no political force behind him, – a convenient disposition for clans at power, who are content with a President starring in TV sequel, while they continue business as usual, enriching themselves in reality.

Considered by experts as the ninth most corrupt nation in the world, with almost $50 billion gross external debt, and public debt around 70% of  GDP, Ukrainian kleptocracy is comfortable with a comedian as a head of state – weaker is the president easier is to continue their own way.  Ukraine ‘Semper idem‘ – always the same…

Nevertheless the change is coming,  but not due to the new President of Ukraine, but the context: both the US, and the EU have to revise their foreign policy vis-à-vis Kiev, although for different reasons. While Europe is growing increasingly Euro skeptic, demanding from Brussels to put the EU citizens interests first, before pursuing the Enlargement, and poring  billions on integration of neighboring states. The US has to resolve the problem of contribution to NATO of the European allies: among 29 members, just five meet 2% GDP defence spending target: Greece, Estonia, the UK, Latvia, and the US. 

Without any perspective to enter the EU or NATO, immense debts, endemic corruption, ongoing conflict in Donbass, protracted argument with Russia over gas transit, huge migration rising up to one million a year leaving the country – plagued with multiple setbacks, Ukraine slides into further decline, searching for refuge in a world of illusory – voting a man, who incarnated their dream of an honest president in a TV sequel.  Zelensky victory – is a triumph of tele-guided democracy, fusion of reality and fiction, dreams and frustrations, a political jest, an idle tale. A human comedy…

Video below: Vladimir Zelensky dancing in a show:

 

 

 

 

#Brexit: pessimism reigns in Europarl

Anna van Densky OPINION The European Parliament Brexit negotiator Guy VERHOFSTADT (Belgium, ALDE) cancelled his press-conference, so did his major ally – Esteban GONZALES-PONS (Spain EPP). There are no traces of optimism in the corridors of power in spite of British Prime Minister Theresa MAY the last minute spontaneous visit to Strasbourg, attempting to obtain compromises on the Article 50 Agreement.

However the legally-binding interpretations of Brexit deal will be hardly enough to convince the Westminster to accept it in tonight’s vote.

In case of voting down the Article 50 Agreement the relations between the EU and UK will be entering the uncharted waters, as Prime Minister May has stated already. The extension of the deadline (March 29) is possible in the framework of the agreed Brexit only to avoid legal vacuum. The Remainers already threaten to sue their government in the European Court (CURIA) for breaching the Article 50, which clearly describes the timetable, and does not foresee any prolongations.

Originally there were two fixed deadlines: Brexit date on March 29, and the latest date of its possible extension on May 24 (European elections), before which the UK should leave, or it is obliged to participate, according to the Treaties to ensure the right of the citizens to elect their representatives to the European Parliament. In any case the status of the incumbent MEPs could not be extended beyond July 2, when the newly elected Parliament will be constituted.

However there are very few politicians eager to model possible developments in case tonight of House of Commons will vote down the deal. It will be not only the downfall for Theresa May, and her government, but also considered as a major failure for the EU27 to secure orderly Brexit, preserving from blow economies, jobs, and citizens rights. The  failure will certainly reflect on upcoming European elections disfavoring predominant political forces, unable to preserve mutually beneficial relations with one of major European economies.

 

Congo: EU sanctions failed again

The expulsion of the EU Ambassador Bart Ouvry from the Democratic Republic of Congo is a serious blow to the image of already weakened by Brexit block. In multi-polar world Congo will be not short of friends and those, willing to co-operate with one of the richest African nations. The EU is losing again its positions, due to its outdated foreign policy, inclined to give unsolicited advise and tutorials on democracy and human rights. The price to pay is high – in face of one diplomat, Congolese government turns its back on 28 European states for at least a decay to come.

The EU insistence on prolongation of sanctions on Presidential candidate, Interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary,  who is the incumbent President’s chosen successor, shows a very poor analysis and judgement of the situation in Congo, especially in view of a broader trend of political longevity of African leaders. It is highly likely that Kabila‘s protégé will win the bid, and it is certain, that he will not forgive and forget the position of Brussels diplomacy.

“Africa’s future is also our future,” said the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said recently at high level Africa-EU Forum in Vienna. However, if the course of the EU foreign policy remains unchanged,  and rigid, soon Europe will be excluded from African future without reverse, and Africa’  future will be shared with Chinese, Indians, and Arabs.

So far the EU politics of sanctions failed wherever it was applied conducted at costs of growth and jobs, leading to impoverishment of Europeans, whose despair erupted in Yellow Vests protests in France. But who will criticize French Minister of interior for an excessive use of force against the protectors?..  Who will apply sanctions against the Interior Minister?..  Quod licet iovi non licet bovi… (What is allowed to Jupiter is not allowed to a bull – Latin proverb).

Congo’s most important export partners are: China (24% of total exports) followed by South Africa (22%) and the European Union (4%). Main imports are: foodstuffs, fuel, textiles and machinery, and leading partners: Angola (15%), France (13%) and Singapore (10%).

Yellow Vests: downfall of ‘Jupiter’

Anna van Densky OPINION The fumes of riots of Yellow Vests don’t distort the clarity of the picture – the working France could not bear any more the policy of successive governments pressing them as lemon to fund their ambitious European and international agenda. The plans of the President Macron to go global came in clash with local: the gasoline tax became the last straw that broke the back of many, especially “working poor“.

Following their ‘Jupiter’, or like French say it, ‘the elected King‘, French people had to continue to actively participate in footing the EU cohesion of Eastern Europe, flows of migrants and refugees,  who have right to live in dignity, the aid to the other continents for their development, climate change, and many other noble causes in the world, sacrificing their own needs. “Americans First!” gave them some eyeopening ideas. Are French really responsible for all the grief in the world?..Don’t they deserve to benefit from the advantages of technological revolution?..

Doubtfully the EU aggressive foreign policy added a huge portion of combustible: the Enlargement shifting borders to the East came to its logical end in a Donbass conflict.  The following war of sanctions with Russia had negative effects on French economy, although not direct, but long lasting,  when the exports being replaced without reverse by the other countries like Turkey, Morocco, or Argentina. In spite of the shrinking agricultural exports, and related difficulties the President declared the increase of the 2019 defense budget by €1.7 billion – up five percent from the present year, the move made under pressure of the Pentagon hawks to meet NATO target military spending.

Detached from working France in his gilded office of the impératrice Josephine palace – Elysée in his rigid role of an ‘elected KingEmmanuel Macron looks archaic, like a relic of another epoch, next to the leaders of the other democracies in Europe, framed in their actions by national parliaments. The modernization of the Fifth Republic, shifting powers from President to Parliament could restore the coherence of French society, while conservation of the archaic forms of governance will  continue to provoke the archaic forms of answers – insurrections.

However the uprising of the Yellow Vests is just the first act. The real tectonic shift in politics will take place in upcoming elections to European parliament: the downfall of ‘Jupiter’.

EU wrestles May into II referendum

The EU top negotiator Michel Barnier has put the cards on the table offering British Prime Minister Theresa May to postpone Brexit for one year. However one month would be suffice to launch the second referendum procedure in alliance with the Remaines in the House of Commons, including pro-EU Tory MPs in May’s own camp.

The frankness of Barnier brought certain relieve explaining the outstanding difficulty of the talks – the EU does everything possible to keep the UK ‘in’, making problem of every issue. #PeoplesVote is the ultimate goal of the Brexit talks, which follows the EU logic. If you vote ‘wrong’ you have to vote again until you aline with Brussels interests. Will May accept the EU27 ULTIMATUM tonight? She has 30 minutes of dinner speech to clarify her intentions. Afterwards the world will know if Brexit referendum was just a dressed rehearsal for a II one, or Britons really mean it.