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Government Culture Elections Politics

Do We Want Powerful Leaders?

Fist
courtesy of Dustin Jensen/flickr

This article was originally published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) The Strategist on 7 June 2016.

A trend toward greater authoritarianism seems to be spreading worldwide. Vladimir Putin has successfully used nationalism to tighten his control over Russia and seems to enjoy great popularity. Xi Jinping is regarded as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, presiding over a growing number of crucial decision-making committees. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, recently replaced his prime minister with one more compliant with his drive to concentrate executive power. And some commentators fear that if Donald Trump wins the US presidency in November, he could turn out to be an “American Mussolini”.

Abuse of power is as old as human history. The Bible reminds us that after David defeated Goliath and later became king, he seduced Bathsheba and deliberately sent her husband to certain death in battle. Leadership involves the use of power, and, as Lord Acton famously warned, power corrupts. And yet leaders without power—the ability to cause others to do what we want—cannot lead.

The Harvard psychologist David C. McClelland once distinguished three groups of people by their motivations. Those who care most about doing something better have a ‘need for achievement.’ Those who think most about friendly relations with others have a ‘need for affiliation.’ And those who care most about having an impact on others show a ‘need for power.’

Categories
Culture Religion

Armenia: Church, State Joining Forces Against Western Religious Groups?

St. Hripsime church, one of Armenia’s oldest churches. Image: Travis K. Witt/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by EurasiaNet.Org on 24 November, 2015.

As Armenia readies for a controversial December 6 referendum, public attention has tended to focus on proposed constitutional amendments that would alter the country’s political system. But another, less discussed amendment is generating concern among some who question whether the country’s religious minorities, often deemed purveyors of “perverse” Western values, could suffer.

Wariness of so-called “sects” — a euphemism for primarily evangelical Christian denominations, including Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses — has long existed in Armenia. The state-financed Armenian Apostolic Church, believed to be the world’s oldest Christian institution, is widely seen as a major pillar of national identity.

Currently, the constitution provides for church-state separation. Constitutional amendments proposed by a commission working under President Serzh Sargsyan’s office would provide for freedom of religion and ban religious discrimination, yet article 41 stipulates that such freedom could be restricted “with the aim of protecting state security, the public order, health and morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”

Categories
Health Culture Politics

Could Iran Be the Next Country to Legalise Cannabis and Opium?

Marihuana Grafitti. Image: Benzene Aseel/Flickr

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 22 October, 2015.

After Uruguay courageously legalised the use of cannabis under a new drug policy, could Iran be the next country to make it legal? From the outside, the image of Iran as retrograde and inherently conservative hardly fits with the reality of a more dynamic domestic political debate within. But drug policy is one of the areas of debate in which the Islamic Republic has produced some interesting, yet paradoxical, policies.

Iran has a conspicuous drug addiction problem – which officially accounts for more than 2m addicts (though unofficial figures put this as high as 5-6m). Drug traffickers risk harsh punishments that include the death penalty. Yet Iran also has very progressive policies towards drug addiction, which include distribution of clean needles to injecting drug users, methadone substitution programmes (also in prisons) and a vast system of addiction treatment.

Categories
Intelligence Culture

The CIA Battled the Kremlin With Books and Movies

Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency. Image: Truthout.org/Flickr

This article was originally published by War is Boring on 2 May, 2015.

During the Cold War, Moscow’s Ministry of Culture was a master of censorship. The Kremlin’s cultural bulwark screened non-Russian films, suppressed literature and shaped the lives of Soviet artists.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency also dabbled in the dark arts of cultural influence. Except it preferred the carrot to the stick.

Words matter. A society’s books and movies impact the world. Books, in particular were often internationally influential during the Cold War. Both the ministry and the agency understood this.

The CIA funded the production and distribution of individual literary projects. It made sure Russian-language copies of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago flooded into the Soviet Union. Further, the agency directed more comprehensive operations.

Categories
Government Culture

Has Liberalism Gone Missing in East Central Europe, or Has It Always Been Absent?

Members of the Hungarian Defence Force install barbed wire on the Hungarian-Serbian border. Image: Freedom House/Flickr

This article was originally published by OpenDemocracy on 5 October, 2015.

The government of Victor Orbán has systematically exploited the refugee crisis to ramp up a long-standing rhetoric of nationalist intolerance and consolidate its grip on power by passing a raft of emergency powers, further eroding Hungary’s once robust legal checks and balances. Such actions have drawn a storm of international opprobrium – including harsh criticism from the governments of Austria, Croatia and Serbia, all of which have taken a more humane and pragmatic approach to managing the influx of refugees.

Few criticisms of Hungary’s actions have come from neighbouring EU states in East Central Europe, still widely seen as front runners in liberal political and economic reform. Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic initially opted instead to close ranks with Orbán to head off the European Commission’s proposals for compulsory quotas.