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.” » More
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. » More
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. » More
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. » More