Categories
Security Foreign policy Conflict

Uniting Syria

Syrian protesters in front of the Syrian embassy in Cairo
Syrian protesters in front of the Syrian embassy in Cairo. Photo: Maggie Osama/flickr.

BERLIN – Syrian opposition activists regularly express disappointment with the level of international support that they receive. Although the last meeting of the so-called “Friends of Syria” (a group of countries that convenes periodically to discuss Syria’s situation outside of the United Nations Security Council) brought more financial aid, the degree of genuine outside commitment to their cause remains questionable.

The United States, the European Union, Turkey, and most Arab countries agree that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is no longer legitimate. They have intensified sanctions against the government, and have provided different kinds of support to opposition groups. Some states have delivered automatic weapons, ammunition, and rocket-propelled grenades. But arms deliveries have dried up, and the rebels’ pleas for anti-aircraft weapons remain unanswered.

Categories
Government Elections

Where Does Russia’s Opposition Go From Here?

Anti-Putin rally in Moscow on 4 February 2012. Image: Wikimedia Commons (Leonid Faerberg)
The crowds are dwindling at the protest rallies, the energy seems to be draining away.

There are several problems for Russia’s opposition movement. The first is that Vladimir Putin’s crushing victory in the presidential elections – no matter how flawed – has changed the equation in Russia, and the opposition is struggling to adapt to this new reality. Some opposition groups believe that even without any cheating on election day, Putin would have got just over 50 per cent of the vote, and thus won in the first round, (although these groups would also argue that the electoral campaign as a whole was not fair, and that Putin’s return to the Kremlin is a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the constitution). Nonetheless, the reality is that  Putin is back, with a six year term, and this drains the morale of the opposition.

Categories
Government Conflict

Ethnic Minorities: Tipping the Scales in Syria?

Church next to a mosque in Hama, Syria. Photo: fchmksfkcb/flickr

Last month’s assassination of Kurdish activist Mashaal Tammo has put the spotlight on Syria’s almost forgotten Kurdish minority. Their involvement in the uprisings had been considerably low up to this point, propelled by fears that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad would ruthlessly put down Kurdish participation in the protests. But after the death of Tammo, a prominent opposition figure and founding member of the Syrian National Council, a wave of outrage has swept across the Kurdish population. This brought about the most intense protests and demonstrations of this ethnic minority since the beginning of the uprisings in March and might just mark a tipping point for the highly fragmented Syrian opposition.

While opposition movements of the Arab Spring have been characterized as heterogeneous and unstructured, Syria’s opposition seems particularly patchy. Approximately 40 percent of the population do not belong to the Sunni majority. Shia Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Druze, Jews and Ismaelites all have their own political agendas. One of the main reasons why Assad has managed to remain in power for so long is because he was backed by the country’s minorities. In exchange, he implemented laws and policies to secure the minorities from the Sunni majority.

Categories
Government Elections Foreign policy

Switzerland: Less Polarized, More Fragmented

Switzerland’s political landscape after the elections: less polarized but more fragmented. Photo: twicepix/flickr

Last Sunday’s elections unexpectedly bucked the trend of growing polarization in the Swiss political landscape. All major established parties lost support, while two new center parties – the Liberal Greens and the Conservative Democrats – were the big winners.

But, to many, the biggest surprise was the weak showing of the Swiss People’s Party, the SVP. For two decades, the proportion of the electorate voting for the anti-immigration, anti-European party had steadily increased. With a number of controversial popular initiatives and xenophobic campaigns (most famously the ‘black sheep‘ campaign, which the UN denounced as racist), the party mobilized voters and more than doubled its percentage between 1991 and 2007.

Categories
Government Human Rights

Missing Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei Protest in New York: “1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei” in New York, 17 April 2011.
Ai Weiwei Protest in New York: “1001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei”, 17 April 2011. Photo: Jason B. Chen/flickr

China’s Ai Weiwei has recently been removed from the creative scene. Absent and yet present, he is an artist whose work has become renowned all over the world in recent years.

Special attention was given to Ai particularly because of his creative criticism and involvement in social and political questions concerning China. In 2007, for example, at the Documenta 12, one of Europe’s biggest art fairs, Ai provoked his public by inviting along 1001 Chinese compatriots. His statement was simple yet powerful. Ai’s experiment raised awareness about how China is booming, but at the same time, about how it remains separated from the West.

Despite the regime’s restrictions, new art in China has found diverse channels of expression in the years since 1989, ranging from direct criticism of Western consumption, to mocking stereotypes of Maoist propaganda or to addressing the weaknesses of the communist regime. Ai Weiwei belongs to the latter group of creatives. He is one of China’s best-known artists and at the same time one of China’s most despised dissidents.

Ai’s arrest at the beginning of April 2011 was met with consternation by the international public. Yet the most recent wave of repression affected not only Ai, but the entire Songzhuang art district, in the eastern suburbs of Beijing. This community of artists had elected a suggestive name for their latest exhibition: Sensitive Zone. The exhibition was in itself a provocation, a powerful collection of sensitive subjects, which were not only expected but also surely intended to lead to consequences.