The Emoji React, The Post-Modern and Journalism

You are engaging in conversation against a backdrop of a constantly shifting societal landscape, in turn defining your most relevant subject of debate and your constantly shifting convictions. Epithetical headlines zoom before your eyes as they pierce your thin skin; you grimace, smile, weep, frown in frustration or laugh at what you are being coarsely reported about as the day’s cherry-picked events peak and trough in line with your concentration, fading in and out of focus. You return to a superficial, faceless conversation with a friend, loved one, or unmet acquaintance. This is no Black Mirror plot, but an insight into a profound characteristic of the zeitgeist that is social media.

Facebook remains the uncontested virtual deity of all social media platforms. At around 2 billion users, Facebook’s network share dominates over Twitter’s more than 300 million monthly users.  Facebook’s influence over human interaction, our engagement with information, and the focus on the self have defined this decade and will be the subject of debate for years to come. But it is notably the use of ‘Reactions’ and ‘Likes’ as reactive indicators to Facebook content which I’d like to focus on in this piece as we come to realise how our widespread engagement with information sources and authoritative news providers has simultaneously discredited quality journalism and rendered our encounters with it a gratifying exercise of self-expression.

It all began with the universally recognised ‘Like’ button, kick-started on Facebook on February 9th 2009. This rapidly became the common parlance of all subsequent social media platforms, with those such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram opting not to make any further physical gesture available for users to choose in response to a post. However, in May 2017 Facebook threw in the emotive reactions ‘Love’, ‘Haha’, ‘Wow’, ‘Sad’ and ‘Angry’ for good measure.

The universal ‘Like’ reaction can be seen in several lights, dependant on your role as a passive or active user. While the passive user may note and compare the amount of likes of several posts to see which is received best amongst the wider community and their immediate ‘Friend’ connections, giving a ‘Like’ to a post or comment as an active user can indicate a plethora of thought processes. You could ‘Like’ something through brand or partisan support to a company or party; you could ‘Like’ something because the content of the attached hyperlink appeals to your sensibilities; you could ‘Like’ something because it made you think and question. So as a unit of measurement, the question remains: what does a ‘Like’ represent? At the end of the day, ‘Likes’ remain unquantifiable because they are indefinable. The same applies to the new wave of facial reactions.

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s all a bit too much. Beyond capitalising upon the animated emojis in the breath-taking – in a pinch yourself-kind of way – Emoji Movie, I would go as far to class them as strikingly insidious. Chief amongst this malevolent and bewilderingly abstract paralanguage is the ‘Haha’ react – or the smug prick emoji, as I like to call it.

Ofc, the laughing face is a logical addition to the cache of reacts, since Facebook’s universe of viral funny posts demand a different outlet to express one’s state of ‘rofl’ at, say, a doge meme. Naturally subjective, if you spot a ‘fail’ video you may well lmao; if you’re tagged in a video epitomising the nature of you and the tagger’s friendship, you’re going to pmsl — but if you read the headline of a cautiously analytical and objective news bulletin treating a sensitive political theme, does it warrant you putting a laughing react?

Facebook’s entire raison d’être revolves around user experience and the regurgitation of public information into a form of the user’s own personal narrative. It has evolved to deliver this through not only the ‘reacts’, but also through the ‘Share’ button and the option to comment on said shared posts. But it is the ‘reacts’ alone which transcend personal accounts and friendship networks and leave a demonstrable impact on users across the globe.

As mentioned above, just how the ‘Like’ does not necessarily convey acknowledgement of something based on merit, equally subjective is the ‘Haha’ react, which can be seen as a symbol of derision in a journalistic context. Personally, I no longer count how often a laughing emoji ranks amongst the top three reacts on an Anglophone article dealing with Trump, Brexit, the EU or Russia. In an overwhelmingly sensitive political environment, emotions are very high, and people are prone to use the ‘react’ outlet to vocalise this. But sadly, in this echo chamber of personal thought and expression, we require more than paralanguage to nuance debate on topics of the day.

At the most benign, the use of the laughing emoji as a ‘react’ is simply a futile gesture at the messy state of a presidency, negotiations, political union or aggressive state. At the other, users could be taking a page out of Vladislav Surkov’s book and carrying out a new subversive campaign of disinformation. In any case, I believe the ‘Haha’ react, whether intentionally or not, now discredits serious debate and reporting on the most pressing of subjects. For many, for whom Facebook is the main platform of engaging with the news, their immediate impressions may well be skewed by a combination of cynicism and condescension by other users beyond their own circles.

At the start of this year, Mark Zuckerberg announced an overhaul of the Facebook algorithms for user News Feeds in favour of more ‘personal’ posts appearing from your ‘Friend’ list.  How we interact with information needs to change. Turning away from information sources towards a more inward-looking, friendship-oriented user experience may not necessarily be the solution to the digital echo chamber. Yet the social media truism will remain: it’s all about you.

[Uneditied, original submission to Gryphon Views. Printed (abridged) in Gryphon 26th January]

Mali and The European Project

Germany bears the burden of responsibility for contemporary Europe. We need to be reminded of this. This isn’t a dogma founded in the post-World War pacification of Germany, but the belief of renowned German sociologist Ulrich Beck. He believes that Germany has taken on the role of the European vanguard because of its twice waging war in Europe during the first half of the 20th century. It is therefore now second nature for German politicians to carry out their political engagements within a greater European context. And whether intentional or not, Germany’s multi-faceted foreign policy preoccupations with the Eurozone crisis, the brokering of the Turkey-EU migrant deal, plus the containment of a revanchist Russia through the Minsk accords indicate that the ‘reluctant hegemon’ has long since established itself as a legitimate leader on the European continent. However, we have underestimated the scope of Germany’s foreign policy objectives, and the extent to which it will act in the interest of its European neighbours with greater ambition in mind. This brief explainer therefore occupies itself with the relationship between the German military foothold in Mali and its aims and repercussions for Mali, Germany, and the EU. But context is needed; we’re not talking about a naval deployment similar to the likes of operations off the coast of Libya – considered one of the most troublesome African neighbours as far as European cohesion’s now concerned – but rather feet on the ground in Mali, a former French colony formally regarded as fitting comfortably in the French sphere of influence.


Mali, a sub-Saharan French-speaking republic, has recently experienced a political upheaval. It underwent a Tuareg insurgency in 2012 when militia members returned from Libya after Gadaffi’s removal, establishing strongholds in the country’s northern Sahel region. The country consequently appears to be the latest westwards falling domino across the Maghreb national security pact, the Sahara G5. Consisting of these Salafist Tuareg militiamen, the militant Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in northern Mali and its destabilisation on the state subsequently triggered UN Security Council Resolution 2085 in April 2013, granting the use of force under the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). It has been renewed annually ever since, setting the stage for an international response reminiscent of the American-led coalition in Afghanistan. But while the USA, the UK, Russia and Iran play a long, tedious proxy war in Syria, they appear to be absent in Mali. And consequently, there exists no bolder, more dominant international actors than France and Germany to fill the posts.


What formally began as an international coalition of 50 states alongside UN blue helmets has become a showcase for the extraordinary growing competency of the Franco-German alliance. There’s a somewhat good cop, bad cop dynamic playing out there. While the French head gun-ho to the battle grounds of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao in the Azawad region, Germany’s seemingly pacifist role has been anything but clear. So ambiguous is the role of the German Bundeswehr (national army) in Mali, that one journalist for the Frankfuter Allgemeine compared a 2015 statement from the German defence ministry as painting a bleak image more associated with Afghanistan than a Francophonie member. The news this July of a German helicopter crash in Mali, and two German fatalities along with it, finally brought the dangers and the consistency of the German role to the foreground of public debate.


So, what are the Germans up to? According to the Bundeswehr’s own website, it is serving as a member of the MINUSMA coalition. Germany’s presence does not extend to military confrontations, but instead serves to educate local forces and institutions as they continue to tackle the Islamic insurgencies. This is in line with the UN Security Council Resolution.

But why is Germany involved in a region it has historically overlooked? There are three main reasons which I believe are most telling as to why Germany is again a part of an international military coalition.


The first reason regards geopolitics. Mali is bisected by the highly navigable River Senegal and River Niger, the former of which leads to the Atlantic coast, and the latter of which’s upper course carves out the populous spine of the country. Hence, there appear to be several international concerns regarding its waterways. With the Islamic occupations of Timbuktu and Gaol, the possibility of impacting the river traffic and water supply in the Niger river basin raises the stakes of regional economies’ dependence on the river. Such precedent as the Egyptian dispute with Ethiopia over building its Millennium Dam, potentially leading to Ethiopian leverage over the River Nile’s water scarcity downstream in Sudan and Egypt – in this instance Nigeria, and Africa’s most prosperous economy – suggests this to be a possible factor in the French and German military involvement. Furthermore, with France holding key influence in Mali, one of its West African former colonies, notably, but not exclusively through the use of the CFA Franc currency, Germany has been able to exert its soft, diplomatic power to the benefit of its strong relationship with France. Beyond Mali, however, it is in fact Germany’s foot in the door that is invaluable as it seeks to secure its greater EU ambitions.


This military involvement is an indication of larger pan-European ambitions of independent EU battle groups and the notion of a European army. Following awe-inspiring rapprochement between western Europe’s former Erzfeinde (arch enemies), France and Germany, and the development from the ECSC to EEC, to EU, a major indicator of the modern Franco-German alliance manifested itself through the creation of the French German Brigade in 1989. Now counting 5000 troops, and symbolically based in Müllheim, Germany, a town straddling the Franco-German border alongside the Corps’ Headquarters in Strasbourg, France, the Französisch-Deutsche Brigade is a testament to the neighbouring allies’ commitment to one another’s national interests.
Although a certified NATO Response Force, the Franco-German brigade was later appropriated by the EU in 2014 and rehashed as the EU Battle Group Force HQ. So promising is the potential for the Franco-German Brigade to function as a potential military arm of the EU, that Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg had already been integrated into the Corps by 1996. With the exception of Spain, this counts four of the Inner Six of the EEC, who contestably remain just as loyal to the European project to this day. In the Trump Era, it’s worth reiterating the necessity of all European allies to explore alternative military arrangements – this is equally applicable to the alliance between the ‘pacifist’ German state and nuclear power France.


Lastly, especially in light of the refugee crisis Germany exacerbated through its virtually open door refugee policy, Germany now aims to balance its own national interests (an increase in its labour supply) with the EU’s longevity. This means European stability.
It is awfully difficult to strike the right balance, what the crumbling of the eastern Schengen Zone starkly illustrates. Germany’s concerted role against people smugglers in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya, and its brokering of the Turkey-EU refugee deal, are just two examples of its concerted efforts to stem the flow of refugees. But Mali is a case where Germany intends to prevent the mass movement of African peoples at source through soft power, FDI, and assistance in establishing sound institutional groundwork for the volatile, weakly anchored democracy.


Germany is operating in line with its modern day military deployments in Kosovo and Afghanistan, but with the notable exception of acting outside the remit of NATO. While Kosovo was a European-based conflict with ramifications for stability in the Balkans, and Afghanistan was an arguably fruitless effort to prevent the spread of radical Islamic terrorism in Europe, Germany’s growing confidence to act within its self-defined limits, and outside of traditionally NATO-dictated operations, while pursuing the same causes, demonstrates its growing strategic independence. This marks a shift from its modern military pacifism and limited, US-defined participation, towards its establishment as a legitimate international actor. Considering the USA’s isolationism and growing disregard towards Europe under President Trump, Germany is picking up the reins as Europe’s shining star. Herein lies one of German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen’s grounds for the EU’s Permenant Structured Cooperation (PESCO) joint Franco-German initiative, announced on the 13th November. With Germany, supported by the European Commission, spearheading the case for an Armee der Europäer (army of Europeans), there lie exciting times ahead for the ‘Koalition der Willigen’ (the willing coalition).


It is equally Germany’s intention for the EU and its member states to benefit from the stabilisation of the Maghreb. The refugee crisis was the event which tested the very fundamentals of the European project. There was no political will for its member states to redistribute refugees equally, and Brexit, the first member state departure from the European Union, was contestably secured through the misrepresentation of the refugee crisis. But while Brexit is now being negotiated, the prevention of further Africans fleeing to Europe serves to allay growing Euroscepticism from the Visegrád states, notably Poland and Hungary, the harshest critiques of the crisis, and whose populist Eurosceptic governments are now stirring discord in the EU’s east.


What remains to be seen is, however, plentiful. Will Germany have contributed to the stemming of the flow of refugees from central Africa? Will Germany have been able to avert a further blow to fragile internal EU social cohesion? And will the EU extend what it describes as a ‘European Training Mission in Mali’ beyond May 2018 in line with the Bundestag’s extension and expansion of the Bundeswehr’s missions’ scope? It remains to be seen. With Uncle Sam and NATO’s relevance dwindling, it’s time Germany and the EU put its money where its mouth is and give PESCO its unconditional backing.

[Originally posted in Politik:Perspektive, Autumn 2017. Available from:]

The Single Market and the UK: A Little Bit of Heaven, A Little Bit of Hell

At the 11th hour of Brexit talks between Theresa May and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday 4th December, a veto mightier than the likes of what Johnson, Gove or Rees-Mogg could ever have dreamt of wielding was cast by ten Northern Irish MPs. The Democratic Unionist leader, Arlene Foster, had rung Theresa May to sabotage her underhand play diverging Northern Ireland from Britain, throwing phase one of the negotiations into disarray.

Indeed, the DUP’s scuppering of May’s promise to the EU of Northern Ireland’s forced ‘regulatory alignment’ averted a political, constitutional and potentially existential crisis in the UK. Not only did this majorly embarrassing event again highlight Theresa May’s incompetency to ‘Strengthen the Union’ — which I’d remind the Right Honourable member was one of the points made in the Lancaster House Speech! — but, taking place before the EU Commissioner President in the EU’s de facto capital, it reopened fresh Brexit-inflicted wounds in the UK’s devolved assemblies.

The heads of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and London Assembly stood in solidarity calling for a nationwide ‘regulatory alignment’. But what does this stupefying jargon mean? And what would the implications be of such ‘regulatory alignment’?

The implications are a Brexit ideologue’s nightmare. As a precursor and fundamental precondition to European Single Market access, ‘regulatory alignment’ euphemistically alludes to the upholding of certain EU quality, procedural and regulatory standards to set a level playing field for economic activity in the EU Single Market. Regulation serves both a functional and bureaucratic purpose; the correction of inefficient markets, and the expansion of technocratic bureaucracy – neither of which a staunch Brexiteer would accept in this battle for British sovereignty. But these are the principles they should accept, for the UK’s unity as we know it depends on regulatory alignment across the board.

The Single Market’s function in the UK has evolved considerably from that of the European Economic Community outlined in the Treaty of Rome. No longer will the emphasis be on the ‘lifting of living standards’, but I suggest, on the continuation of internal unity within the UK by avoiding anomalous regional divergence to the European Single Market, as earlier proposed by May. In fact, I believe Single Market membership to be safer than the decision made on Friday 8th to dish out EU citizenship to people born in Northern Ireland, since this preferential treatment will only add fuel to the fire of Scottish independence and London-based financiers.


We are currently at a noteworthy juncture in UK political history. The challenge now arises: the UK government must deliver a Brexit which abides by Theresa May’s Lancaster House Speech, where she promised to ‘restore…our parliamentary democracy, [and] national self-determination’. However, the realisation of such a restoration of sanctified parliamentary sovereignty conflicts with seven of May’s objectives; certainty, control of our laws, strengthening of the Union, maintaining the common travel area with Ireland, control of immigration, a Free Trade Agreement with Europe, and a smooth, orderly Brexit.

Certainty for businesses and the Belfast Agreement will be assured by Single Market access which would prevent a financial sector exodus to the continent and promise to maintain the common travel area with Ireland, avoiding a hard border. This in turn would strengthen the Union by underpinning territorial integrity of Northern Ireland – an action that would also guarantee that of Gibraltar, when that rears its head in the near future. All of this, in turn, would guarantee a smooth, orderly Brexit while ensuring economic certainty.

You may note that ‘control of our laws’ and ‘control of immigration’ were omitted. Since these objectives can be realised through various political interpretations, let’s just say that Brexiteers will be shrugged off through the illusory Brexit taking place before our very eyes. Compromise comes before dogma in the negotiations – consequently redefining the ‘consistency’ of our Brexit; something which is well illustrated by the decision for the European Court of Justice to remain the final appellate court over EU citizens’ rights in the UK for the immediate eight years following Brexit. The managing class is handling Brexit very differently than the self-appointed people’s spokesperson, Nigel Farage.

We may be leaving the EU on paper, but the reality is anything but that. We must continue to participate in EU institutions which serve us not just on a functional basis, where for example the Single Market provides the UK service industry with a £14 billion net surplus in trade over the EU, but limits EU member states’ leverage over UK territorial integrity. The logical incoherence of both protectionist and ultra-deregulation Tories must be bypassed by the Keynesian majority which can find support across the rest of the House.

Our consensus-building, representative democracy is taking back control from a fruitless stint of popular referenda. Now is the time for certainty to be restored, along with our economic and political dignity.


[Originally posted 10/12/2017 in The Gryphon Views online:]

The President’s Big Day Out: Trump Goes to The General Assembly

The stage for this year’s UN General Assembly was still being set up as late as two and a half minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock! And against a backdrop of a major earthquake – of a political nature – in the Anglo-Saxon lands of the Northern hemisphere, the hefty exchanges of nuclear-tinged vitriol, and global migration crises, the precariousness of the global system, upheld by the UN since its post-war conception, hangs delicately in the balance.
But instead of a pair of caring hands of an experienced diplomate to confront the problems of today, international delegates got a Trump rally.

The week-long UN General Assembly is an annual plenum where every internationally recognised sovereign state – key word for this year being sovereign – reiterates its commitment and appraisal to UN-brokered agreements, shared values and goals and the importance of international cooperation in the maintenance of peace and prevention of conflict.

Some nations recount their history and raison d’être in global affairs. And from these often self-indulgent speeches we can analyse the use of national leaders’ rhetoric as they seek to justify their aims and means as national and international actors. That is something we received from President Trump this week.

I’ll start with patriotism. Because it seems as though what Trump’s America is faced with right this moment is the risk of occupation from foreign fascist forces. This was illustrated as Donald juxtaposed the war time resistance efforts of Britain and France with the need for a unilateralist approach. It’s immediately apparent that Trump sees his country as a stand-alone target, and hence plays on patriotic fervour to defend his shifting foreign policy.

What’s to be gleamed from that? Trump personally seems to have both abandoned and denounced institutional opportunism and international organisations and regimes. This will serve to, whether intentionally or inadvertently, cow its Western allies into a rethink of their reliance on henceforth outdated military pacts with the United States. Following US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis’ statement that they have not attempted to shoot down either of the two ballistic missiles recently fired over Japan, as they did not pose a threat to the United States, Japan’s premier, Shinzo Abe, has since found a premise to rush to rewrite Japan’s pacifist constitution, while South Korea began to flirt with possession of its own nuclear arsenal. Hardly in-line with the cheerful notion of peace, cooperation, and altruistic world governance, is it?

But it also underlined Trump’s underlying commitment to his own electoral promises: the restauration and normalisation of patriotism in the United States. Such a rhetorical question employed at the UN in this light sounds like “Are we still patriots enough to protect our sovereignty?”

When you see Trump finally peel himself away from the podium, trot a couple of steps, extend his waiving hand towards a fictitious crowd of fans, (repeat two more times), and shuffle towards the stage exit, you come to realise the importance of this address to his American Trumpistas. His speech was brimming with predictable rhetorical devices and vivid, quotable language that his Twitter followers are already familiar with. Indeed, the use of ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘loser terrorists’ had already proliferated in the Twittersphere before this speech – easy to hashtag and subtly drop into any 140-character-long logic on the nuances of the North Korean problem and domestic terrorism.

And what’s more, such language facilitates an oversimplification of the endless intricacies that international coalitions at the UN aim to overcome. While Trump acknowledges that “Authority and authoritarian powers seek to collapse the values, the systems and alliances that prevented conflict and tilted the world toward freedom since World War Two,” what he doesn’t realise is: first, the irony; but second, his failure to interact within the international community to uphold these values enshrined in the UN.

Contrary to what a Wall Street Journal commentator claimed, Trump is not an adherent of realpolitik. Trump entered an environment in which he personally rejects the constructivist values, and expects to be adorned and respected. The Donald wasn’t at the Security Council on Tuesday. His rejection of institutional structures and processes as instruments, through which one achieves strategic (national) interests, places him outside of the typically observed model of the rational-realist actor of today.

Fiery statements of his such as “Major portions of the world are in conflict, and some, in fact, are going to hell,” and his threat to “totally destroy” North Korea, further allude to the USA’s reassuring might in a world where the good must counter acts of evil.


However, this doesn’t simplify the real negotiations and processes being carried out by international actors and mediators in the Western Pacific, or on the UN Security Council. Real consensus is being built between veto-wielders over North Korean containment, facilitated by the USA’s own Nikki Haley, is a terrific sign of how the establishment upholds continuity and commitment to the UN, while a head of state is completely averse to it.


So this is the inherently contradictory nature of Trump’s America. The alienation effect felt by US allies is forcing them to face their new realities, adapt their realpolitik and continue multilateral processes, while Trump’s America becomes increasingly isolated under its self-obsessed exceptionalism and withdrawal from The Paris Climate Accord and potentially the Iran Nuclear Deal. The tragic irony of it all: his boast to the Assembly “As the president of the United States, I will always put America first.”


[Originally posted 25/09/2017 in The Gryphon Views online:]

Die Linke Greift An! Germany and The Extreme Left

G20 was three weeks ago now, but we still remember it as quite the spectacle. Angela Merkel and Xi Jinping stood steadfast as the defenders of free trade, and our suspicions on Trump’s inward looking self, and that of a warm, suspect relationship with Putin were confirmed. Yet, the summit was most memorable for the host city, Hamburg, as a barrage of anti-capitalist violence festered on the sidelines of the so called ‘Welcome to Hell’ demonstrations. Though there were cases of police brutality, law enforcers overwhelmingly found themselves the targets of senseless violence, despite negotiations between police and demo leaders throughout the weekend aimed to keep the peace. Over 470 policemen were injured over the span of the event, according to Hamburg’s police commissioner, Hartmut Dudde. Meanwhile, Hafenstadt Hamburg and the German state are to foot the minimum estimated costs of €130 million on a fifty-fifty split.

What’s emerged in public discourse in Hamburg’s aftermath has been fractious. Calls from Merkel’s conservative CDU ministers and those of the CSU, its Bavarian sister party, to crush suspected extreme left-wing cells in swathes of alternative, youthful city spaces in Hamburg and Berlin in particular, but also further afield, have proven fractious to current social and political debate. This has not least been immediately apparent in Leipzig, where I’ve just finished studying for a semester.

Leipzig is a naturally left-wing stronghold in line with its history as a socialist state from 1949 to 1989. Many quarters at the extremities of the city consist of areas appearing radically left wing in comparison to British university towns, where the most controversial statements made are, in contrast, fashion-related. In the western districts of Lindenau and Plagwitz you can come across hip and youthful restaurants and bars – upon closer inspection non-profit projects, or communes to you and me.

Just south of the town you find the Connewitz area, and the renowned Conne Island. Now, this is the epitome of left-wing activism in Leipzig. The project doesn’t only put on free open airs – an essentially anti-capitalist phenomenon absent in the UK since the Public Order Bill of 1986 – but it sells itself as a hub for antifa; an Antifa Area which sprout up in other parts of town, too. These are spaces for antifa members to meet and galvanise. But this alone is nothing to be fearful towards, no matter what German secretary of state De Maizière will have you believe. Because what is often missing from the debate in Saxony, the Bundesland in which Leipzig is situated, is the rise of the extreme right, and namely Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against The Islamisation of Europe) in Dresden. By contrast, antifa (Antifascist Action) and the party die Linke (The Left) are ideological partners, with antifa acting as an extension of it somewhat – the social opposition group to fascist, neo-Nazi and nationalist forces in German society.

The left wing communities in Leipzig have reacted defiantly to mud-slinging accusations. While many Germans I’ve spoken to in the past fortnight have joked dismissively of the left wing threat, sardonically claiming ‘Die Linke greift an!’ (‘The left is attacking!’), some anti-capitalists and hard left citizens have made their presence better known. ‘ANTIFA’ and ‘ACAB’ (All Cops are Bastards) graffiti has appeared out the blue in the more finely preserved parts of town, for example on the side of the well-known Feinkosten building; a scruffy ‘ACAB’ etched above the gloriously bland combination of quintessentially East German colours and socialist puppet figures.

ANTIFA - Leipzig Uni

Come to Hamburg / Fight G20 – Taken 8th July 2017 at Bibliotheca Albertina, Leipzig

But not only have the common Leipzigers been making decisive statements, but also their mayor, Burkhard Jung. In the face of growing opposition to the continuation of such social projects in the Saxon state parliament, Jung has reasserted the centre-left voice of tolerance and reason by fully ruling out any closure of the projects. However, Leipzig’s CDU fraction’s chief, Frank Kupfer, warned that: “We must fundamentally inspect so-called alternative youth centres in Saxony, whether in Leipzig, Dresden or Chemnitz,” reitterating the CDU’s sharpened tone. Yet, Tom Mannewitz, a Chemnitz-based researcher of extremism, erred on the cautionary side of the debate, warning that in the worst case scenario many left-leaning activists suddenly deprived of their local projects may turn to radicalisation in reaction to local governments’ direct involvement.

Although there were Brits, French, Spanish, Italians, and Swiss amongst the 186 arrested, pointing to a greater European scope within the extreme left debate, can one say with confidence that left wing extremism is both solely to blame for Hamburg, and also as big a European problem as it’s being made out? Indeed, De Maizière even called for a European database on left-wing extremists. Let’s briefly consider the argument in the German context.

Flora - Das Haus
Rote Flora – Former Hamburg theatre-come-squat since 1989 (Photo credit)

In relation to the G20 event itself, the police deployment in Hamburg consisted of forces from across Germany. Although this wouldn’t prove a problem in the UK due to centralisation, Germany’s federal structure was decisive in the nature of the police deployment and the reception of the events that unfolded. In every state police behaviour varies considerably due to the federal and cultural nature of each Bundesland. A Bavarian policeman is expected to handle a left-wing demonstrator differently than one from Berlin, for example. As such, the different approaches and, arguably, greater tendencies by some policemen to act more violently was exacerbated from what one criminologist was the poor distribution of information, and consequent nervousness and primal behaviour of some policemen. The fractured structure, and the consequential poor planning of the German authorities with various police forces, is one factor that contributed to the loss of civil order. Hamburg’s police president, Ralf Meyer, this week conceded that ‘Policemen make mistakes, like all humans,’ demonstrating the extent to which the authorities hold themselves in part responsible.

On the other hand, politically motivated crime on the extreme left is a well-established phenomenon in Germany, whose former West German state experienced the Red Army Faction and ‘Autonomous’ terrorism since before German unification. There has even been investigations into the Die Linke political party due to a considerable number of sitting extremist parliament representatives. Indeed, political crime has been steadily rising for over a decade now. According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, extreme left violent crime has quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. In December 2013 alone, a total of 170 policemen were injured through far-left acts of violence surrounding Hamburg’s infamous Rote Flora squat; far-left violence against policemen rose by 28% between 2012 and 2013. However, though far left acts of violence are higher than those on the far right, politically motivated acts of crime recorded in 2013 are effectively twice as high amongst the far right (17,042) than the far left (8,673), with extreme right criminals committing a considerable amount of propagandist crimes – 12,219 in 2012, to be precise. Even more serious is the news of rising xenophobic violence committed by the far-right; 478 acts of violence against foreigners were committed in 2013, while hate crimes had risen 11% on the previous year to 3,248. It can’t be denied that politically motivated crimes are on the rise on both sides of the deep ideological divide, with neither side able to defend themselves on the topic.

Yet, cynically, some suggest that the failure of Hamburg conveniently comes less than two months before the federal elections. Criticism towards Hamburg’s SPD (Labour equivalent party) mayor / minister president is pointedly intended to undermine his authority to govern in a city state which delivered four SPD and one CDU Bundestag representatives on a tight vote share of 32.4% and 32.1%, respectively. The CDU already feels invincible following state election wins in the former SPD safe state North Rein Westphalia, with two other wins in Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein so far this year. Although the anarchy of Hamburg is a convenient narrative for the CDU’s proven and popular mode of governance, Angela Merkel remains cautious as not to upset the SPD, her formal coalition partner.

So what can be said? Hamburg has definitely become a hot topic in Germany. The questions it raised are reverberating in every corner of the Berlin Republic and point to an uneasy truth about the rise of far-left extremism. The images of the German Mittelstand’s battered businesses, burnt out automobiles and masked brutes are now cemented in a German consciousness – simultaneously confronted by the xenophobic violence of the far-right. In both cases, however, it seems that the causes could be uprooted locally; state appropriation of Rote Flora in Hamburg to rid Hamburg and Germany of a far-left stronghold, in conjunction with a thorough rethink of how to resolve the problem of violent xenophobia, formerly perpetrated against Turkish ‘guest workers’, and now refugees. In any case, let’s hope neither phenomena are here to stay.

May Got Us into This Mess. Now Let Her Get Us out of It.

These election results are a shambles. There’s no two ways about it. It isn’t just that this £130 million election didn’t give the increased majority the Conservatives had predicted, but the UK now has an illegitimate governing party in both numerical terms, and in light of the Tories’ thoughtless gamble on the social and political stability of this country. And have we yet looked across to the satirical vultures in Europe? We now inhabit a Tory-governed fiefdom which has lost the respect of its citizens and of its neighbours. Unsurprisingly, there are calls from all British parties for Theresa May’s resignation. But – and I know this is a big but, but it can’t be dismissed – we must allow Theresa May to lead us once again.

First of all, let’s get legal. Our constitution stipulates that until May loses control of her majority government on confidence and supply, she has the right to remain prime minister. With the prospect of the DUP settling our current hung parliament with an informal coalition deal, May has the foreseeable confidence of a majority in the Commons. The DUP will of course be listened to as an informal partner. However, as is convention, it will extract only trivial concessions from Westminster, such as pushing for a rehash of the ‘British Olympics Team’ to the ‘UK Olympics Team’. Yep, you read that right.

But in such situations, and those slightly more concerning, rest assured that Ruth Davis and her sizeable Scottish Tory lot will make their voices heard for LGBTQ rights were Arlene Foster to get too ahead of herself. And as for Brexit, for which the DUP campaigned on a hard-Brexit — an exit from the single market which is heralded by both the Brexit God himself, David Davis, and Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer — Arlene Foster wants a frictionless border with the Republic of Ireland and a free trade deal with the EU. Whether or not this turns out to be a case of ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it’, this coupled with Nigel Dodd’s refusal to take up any of May’s cabinet positions should reassure us that the DUP won’t jeopardise Westminster’s unbiased approach to Northern Irish politics since the Good Friday Agreement.

Secondly, calls for a new general election are premature and not what the country needs. We may decry the Conservatives as undeserved in their right to govern, especially with its choice of political partner. But let’s be under no allusion here; with the DUP-Conservative partnership the Tories have effectively achieved a minimum winning coalition. As the opposition, Labour would face a nigh-on impossible task to manage a coalition with the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, and Caroline Lucas. Compromises with three coalition partners would undermine effective governance, and even then the Conservatives would still hold more seats than a fanciful (queue new acronym) Labour-SNP-LD-G coalition.

But okay, let’s say we fork out another £130 million for a preemptive election later this year. The change of government that us on the left are after would not look so certain. We must remember that Labour, despite its incredible performance, is still 64 seats behind a Commons majority. We must also be confident that Labour can retain and increase its vote share in constituencies won recently with a slim plurality, e.g. Kensington (+20), while digging deeper into Tory strongholds.

Though say Corbyn pulls it out of the bag. Another change of government in the next year or two. This brings me onto my third point. What message is this sending to Brussels and what palpable difference will Labour be able to make to Brexit negotiations which at that point may be too far advanced? Any attempts at backtracking on Theresa May’s negotiations will be met with frustration on the EU’s part, and I’m sure we’ll learn very quickly, if not in the many months ahead, that the EU will only be pushed so far. If the EU is to cede anything to May, it needs to know that it can predict and have confidence in the UK’s position. If the talks are made too difficult for the EU, then know that it’ll be harder to shore up a unanimous vote from all remaining 27 EU member states in favour of extending the negotiations.

I know what you’re thinking now; “So what? That’s it? Hand over another five years to the Tories to unleash another unfettered class war? We’re just gonna let them destroy the Union and make what’s left of it a tax haven off the shores of mainland Europe?” Not at all. I believe the opposition now finds itself in an exceptional win-win scenario. There is now support across the political spectrum, even allegedly amongst senior Conservatives, for a cross-party approach to Brexit. Both the ‘Progressive Alliance’ and backbench Tories have May in a corner and will have their voices heard. Her hard-Brexit / no-deal ultimatum is a distant dream. Theresa May well be the face of this government, but we now pull its strings.

Forget class war; the civil service will soon be so overwhelmed by the mammoth task of exiting the world’s largest trading bloc that there’ll be no time to expect radical policy change to be pushed through the ministries. As such, May’s government’s one aim is to ‘make a success of Brexit’. If she loses the confidence of the Commons by the time the negotiations are either concluded, broken off, or inconclusive within the next 22 months, it’s Labour’s turn to step in.

We can take solace in this. When the next election finally arises, we’re already gifted with the rhetoric: All blame will lie on Theresa May and the Conservatives. All shortcomings in this government’s approach to Brexit will lie with this coalition of chaos.


[Originally posted 19/06/2017 in The Gryphon Views online:]

Die EU muss sich gegen die Türkei wehren – Die Beitrittsverhandlungen sind zu Ende

EU-Mitgliedschaft für die Türkei ist die umstrittenste Debatte unter EU-Mitgliedstaaten.  Seit dem nationalen und europaweiten Wahlkampf zur Erweiterung der Mächte des türkischen Präsidenten lassen sich die Spaltungen zwischen der Türkei und der EU weiter verdeutlichen. Spannungen tauchen sich seither immer wieder auf, ob während der von der türkischen Regierung geführten Kampagne in den Niederländen und in Deutschland, oder durch die manchen Kommentare von bestimmten Euro- und Staats- beziehungsweise Regierungschefs nach dem Ergebnis der Volksabstimmung. Das deutsche Verbot gegen der politischen Aktivität türkischer Offiziellen seitens pro-Präsidialreform löste eine Verschlechterung der bilateralen Relationen unter den beiden Staaten, die man noch jetzt wahrnehmen kann.

In der letzten Zeit gibt es in der Tat einen türkischen Versuch, den Zugriff der Bundesregierung auf deutsche Kasernen in der türkischen Stadt Incirlik zu sperren. Man kann das einfach als Rache für das Verbot gegen die Kampagnenführung der türkischen Abgeordneten interpretieren. Aber diese diplomatische Kabbelei, die anscheinend nur mithilfe der Vereinigten Staaten überwindbar ist, gefährdet die Fortsetzung der deutschen Missionen gegen den IS. Angesichts dieses sehr aktuellen Problems und dessen Folgen, und zwar der heutigen Ankündigung Erdogans, dass er trotz seiner Präsidentschaft seine Rolle als Chef der AKP fortfährt, was die Unparteilichkeit eines Präsidenten untergräbt, muss die EU letztendlich zur Vernunft kommen. Sie muss sich den weit verbreiteten europäischen Konsens aneignen, d.h. sie muss die EU-Beitrittsverhandlungen mit der Türkei zumindest kurzfristig, außerdem unmittelbar aufheben. Die Türkei ist nicht mehr der zuverlässige Partner an der Grenze des Nahen Ostens, und bestimmt kein Befürworter der Demokratie – eine Voraussetzung von möglichen EU-Mitgliedstaaten.

Es lässt sich nicht leugnen, dass diese Ereignisse nur die Spitze des Eisberges einer Menge Unterschiede zwischen der EU und der Türkei darstellen. Sie verschaukelt die EU seit einer langen Weile. Die sogenannten Vortrittshilfen zur Förderung der Demokratie werden bisher ins türkische Regime ohne Übersicht investiert. Der Einsatz von ‘Soft Power’ ist sicher wohlmeinend, aber er ist kurzsichtig gewesen, da der langfristige Trend der türkischen politischen Kultur leider auf eine Autokratie hindeutet. Die Verwendung finanzieller Unterstützung als Bestandteil von Anreiz- und Zwangsmaßnahmen im Falle der Türkei ist aber nicht das erste Mal gewesen, wo die EU einen vergeblichen Versuch zur Förderung Demokratie unternommen hat. ‘Europas letzter Diktator’, der weißrussische Präsident Aleksander Lukaschenko, verschaukelte die EU am Ende der Nullerjahre. Drei Milliarden Euro wurde dem Land versprochen, solange Lukaschenko Demonstrationen und Oppositionswahlkämpfen in der Zivilgesellschaft für die Präsidentschaftswahl 2010 erlaubt. Das hat er schon bis dem Wahlabend getan, zu welchem Zeitpunkt er die Oppositionsmitglieder inhaftieren ließ, Proteste niederschlug und die bisher erhaltenen Fonds auf die von sich selbst versprochene Erhöhung der Pensionsrückstellungen und des Mindestlohns umgelenkt wurden, was seinen Wahlsieg gewährleistete.

Dies Ereignis unterminierte den Zweck der Demokratisierungfonds, d.h. die Förderung gleichgewichtiger politischen Möglichkeiten innerhalb der Zivilgesellschaft, sowie die Aufrechterhaltung der getrennten politischen Institutionen und der Rechtsstaatlichkeit. Gleichermaßen ist es inakzeptabel, dass die EU das Geld weiter auf das türkische Regime übergibt, während Journalisten, unter denen Deutscher Deniz Yücel, noch im Gefängnis gehalten werden. Politische Gegner und regionale Minderheiten werden ebenso mishandelt.

Ansonsten weisen weitere Hinweise darauf hin, dass weder die Türkei, noch die EU sich einander innerhalb der EU begegnen wollen. Laut den Ergebnissen des Eurobarometers im Jahr 2006 fühlten sich bloß 29% der Türken europäisch. Das ist ja auch eine kleinere Prozentanzahl als die Briten (32%), die zehn Jahre später für den Austritt von der EU bei einer Volksabstimmung wählten. Mittlerweile sind etwa drei Viertel der EU-Bevölkerung gegen den Beitritt der Türkei in die EU. Das ist bemerkenswert. Sofort gibt es deutliche Hinweise auf dem Niveau der Zivilgesellschaft, wo sowohl die Mehrheit der Türken sich nicht mit dem Begriff ‘europäisch’ identifizieren, als auch die Mehrheit Europäer die Ausgrenzung der Türkei für wichtig halten. Wenn die Politik auf nationalen sowie supranationalen Ebenen nicht eindeutig ist, soll man auf jeden Fall die Meinungen des Volks im Gedächtnis behalten. Ein politischer, religiöser oder anderer unvorhersehbarer Kulturkampf muss verhindert werden.

Das bedeutet aber nicht, dass die Türkei nicht mehr der NATO angehören darf. Die EU und ihre Mitgliedstaaten sollen noch mit der Türkei auf den Einzelnfall handeln, beispielsweise um die Verlängerung des Flüchtlingsabkommens, ohne große Zugeständnisse bezüglich der Grundsätze der EU zu machen. Die EU und die Türkei, sowie der Rest Europa und die Verbündete im Westen, haben bestimmte Kämpfe gemeinsam, wie der Kampf gegen internationalen Terrorismus, wirtschaftlichen Erfolg, und vor allem die Eindämmungspolitik. Die letzte Politik hält Außenminister Sigmar Gabriel für äußerst wichtig, trotz seiner Opposition zum türkischen EU-Beitritt. Niemand will, dass die Türkei ‘in Richtung Russlands geschoben wird’. Es muss einfach einen neuen Ansatzpunkt zur Beziehung mit der Türkei enstehen, damit sie sich endlich der EU nähert und die Einflusssphäre Russlands entkommt.

Die EU-Beitrittsverhandlungen sind vorbei. Der Beitrittsprozess hat gescheitert, so wie in Weißrussland. Jetzt benötigt es aber die beidseitige Versöhnung und eine Auseinandersetzung in der EU zum Thema special relationship mit der Türkei. Das ist kein Ausnahmefall. Lassen wir uns davon lernen, dass Peripheriestaaten an der Grenze des Nahen Osten, sowie Russlands, nimmer die Möglichkeit haben müssen, ein Mitgliedstaat zu werden, ohne die grundsätzlichen Prinzipien der EU erfüllen zu können. Dass die EU richtig feste Bollwerke gegen v.a. Russland braucht, bedeutet dass, potenzielle Beitrittskandidaten dringend vertrauenswürdig sein müssen. EU-Mitgliedschaft ist nicht der einzige Beweis davon, und die EU muss lernen, Mitgliedschaft als bezeichnend der einzigen Sicherheits- und Wohlhabenheitsgarantie zu übersehen.