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Where Is Tony?

photo: Emanuele / real desert storm  / fotosensibile 2.0

photo: Emanuele / real desert storm / fotosensibile 2.0

I don’t see any reason to be optimistic about a possible revival of serious peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is busy trying to arrange a meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next week. But, what happened to the ‘Quartet’ – made up of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN – which was supposed to be an active peace broker? » More

Is It Still Democracy?

Photo: Gene Han/flickr

Photo: Gene Han/flickr

In January 1990, ran the article: “South America: Democracy Triumphs.” But is it still really the case?

Over the past few years a new game has developed in South America: how to stay in power even if your mandate is over. Recently, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe signed legislation calling for a national referendum on amending the Constitution to allow him to seek office for a third time.

The overall picture is much darker. Out of 18 Latin American countries, only four have had a president that actually respected the term of his mandate: Mexico, Uruguay, Honduras and Guatemala. The last political coup d’état in Honduras took place when former president Manuel Zelaya tried to amend his country’s constitution to stay in office.

According to the Democracy Index of the Economist, only Costa Rica and Uruguay are the only full democracies on the continent. The rest are divided between the categories “Flawed Democracy” and “Authoritarian Regime” with Cuba closing the South American ranking.

Why does no one question the behavior of those seizing power ‘legally,’ but condemn acts such as the last military coup in Honduras? Does seizing power through a legal way, a constitutional referendum, make it more ‘democratic’ than seizing the power by force?

And why do citizens allow this to happen? According to a survey published in 2004, only 53 percent of the South Americans still believe in democracy. Does that mean that in South America, no one dares to fight for a true democracy? If this is the case, history has been proven right: starting a democracy when there is no popular demand will only benefit the elites and is therefore condemned to fail.

From the ISN Digital Library

How to Strengthen Democracy in Latin America

Statehood and Governance: Challenges in Latin America

A Region Divided: Transformation towards Democracy and Market Economy in Latin America and the Caribbean

ISN Weekly Theme: The Truth About ‘Truth’ Commissions

Photo: Athena Workman/flickr

Photo: Athena Workman/flickr

Truth commissions are usually formed to examine a country’s history, bringing to light the good, the bad and the ugly.

But, history belongs to the victors. Truth commissions can also be used to forward a particular political stance. In our weekly theme, “The Truth About ‘Truth’ Commissions, Ariel Cohen examines the new Russian ‘Truth’ Commission with a critical eye, stating that it has been intentionally designed to stop the pieces of history that would damage the carefully crafted image of today’s Russia from coming to the surface.

The ISN’s Linda Popova gives background information on truth commissions and offers evidence that bureaucracy can hinder even the most earnest attempts at finding the ‘truth.’

And as always, check our site throughout the week for more on the topic.


EINIRAS - European Information Network on International Relations and Area Studies

EINIRAS - European Information Network on International Relations and Area Studies

September is the great month of academic conferences. This also holds true for information and documentation specialist conferences. Members of EINIRAS, the European Information Network on International Relations and Area Studies are meeting 16-18 September in Madrid to discuss how the development of the internet and changing user behavior is affecting their work – and I have the opportunity to represent the ISN and its great achievements for this occasion.

EINIRAS is an association of research institutions dealing with information and documentation on international relations in research and political practice, bringing together institutions from 24 countries. The ISN plays a prominent role in it and is represented on the EINIRAS’ steering committee.

The topic of the conference is of great relevance for us and for our colleagues since nearly all of IR & security-related information services are delivered online nowadays. Technologies like RSS and GIS offer great opportunities to present information, mobile internet and e-book readers open up new delivery channels, and powerful new players in the market like Google are potential threats to the big shots in the field.

On the other hand, not all libraries, academic institutions or research bodies are known as early adoptors of the latest IT gadgets and features – sometimes for good reasons. Thus I look forward to seeing how my colleagues from all over Europe approach the issue and to learn what they see as valuable additions to our information services. More on that by the end of this week!

Democratic Fundamentalism in Switzerland

Imagine you are asked to vote on a treaty concluded between your home and your neighboring country. The treaty aims at improving cooperation in border control matters between the two states. Would you vote in favor of or against adopting the treaty? Or would you not go to the polls at all?

How much democratic control of foreign policy? Photo: courtesy of Kanton Glarus

How much direct democracy in foreign policy-making? Photo: courtesy of Kanton Glarus

The Action for an Independent and Neutral Switzerland (AUNS) launched a popular initiative, which, if adopted by Swiss voters, will amend the Constitution so as to require a popular vote on all but the most trivial international treaties. What sounds like empowerment from a committed democrat’s point of view sounds like handcuffs from a foreign policymaker’s perspective.

Yet, the motivation behind AUNS’ initiative is not so much democratic as politically strategic. The group’s main goal is to prevent Switzerland from joining the EU, overtly, or as they fear, covertly. AUNS members, which unsuccessfully vowed against Switzerland joining the UN in 2002, lament that the Swiss political elite is too open-minded toward the world. The strategy they employ is an old one: If you think the majority of the people is behind your cause, you ask them, if not, you ignore them. » More

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