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Russia’s New Recipe For Opening The Violence-Prone Caucasus: European-Style Winter Tourism

With the lingering threat of violence from Islamists and groups seeking independence from Moscow, Russia has turned to French firms to create a safe and lucrative winter sports business in the Caucasus.

Worldcrunch NEWS BITES

It has the makings of a James Bond plot, post-Cold War style. The Russian government, eager to create new economic opportunities in the perennially restive Caucasus region, sees an opportunity to recreate the European Alps' lucrative winter sports model. But before calling in the ski instructors and fondue, they know they must first answer the security question.

Moscow has called on French electronics company Thales, which delivers information systems and services for aerospace, defense, and security markets, to improve security in the mountainous area where both independence fighters and Islamists have been known to operate.

Jean Pierre Thomas, who is leading France's efforts to build economic cooperation with Russia, confirms the nature of the agreement: "The Russian state will guarantee the security of the French investment. It's the sine qua non condition for the firms to go there."

The Caucasus has been the scene of two wars in Chechnya over the past two decades. Since then, violence has increased in neighboring semi-autonomous republics such as North Ossetia and Dagestan. It still is a very unstable region, plagued by poverty and Islamist rebellion. In February, three skiers were killed by armed men near Mount Elbrouz, the highest European Mountain located in Kabardino-Balkaria.

Despite the uncertainty, this is one of the five issues taken into account in a joint declaration by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dimitri Medvedev on the project to "open up" the Russian Caucasus. The declaration was published last May during the Deauville G8, and later solidified during an economic forum in St. Petersburg. Investments required are estimated at around 15 billion dollars.

Laurent Vigier, CDC head of International affairs, says that a Franco-Russian joint venture will be created next year. "For coherence's sake, this structure will gather all the offers by French mountain professionals, from ski lift to ski runs to security specialists."

Vigier noted that the CDC had implemented the Snow plan in the French Alps in the 1960s, though he acknowledges the current project is a bit trickier. "The situation is sensitive. But sustained tourism development is a way to put an end to violence."

Read the full story by Benjamin Quénelle

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Turkey: The Blind Spot Between Racial And Religious Discrimination

Before the outbreak of the Hamas-Israel war, a social media campaign in Turkey aimed to take on anti-Arab and anti-refugee sentiment. But the campaign ultimately just swapped one type of discrimination for another.

photo of inside Istanbul's Eminonu New Mosque

Muslims and tourists visiting Istanbul's Eminonu New Mosque.

Levent Gültekin


ISTANBUL — In late September, several pro-government journalists in Turkey promoted a social media campaign centered around a video against those in the country who are considered anti-Arab. The campaign was built around the idea of being “siblings in religion,” and the “union of the ummah,” or global Muslim community.

(In a very different context, such sentiments were repeated by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after the Israel-Hamas war erupted.)

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While the goal is understandable, these themes are highly disconnected from reality.

First, let's look at the goal of the campaign. Our country has a serious problem of irregular migrants and refugees, and the administration isn’t paying adequate attention to this. On the contrary, they encourage the flow of refugees with policies such as selling citizenship.

Worries about irregular migrants and refugees naturally create tension in the society. The anger that targets not the government but the refugees has come to a point which both threatens the social peace and brought the issue to hostility towards the Arabs, even the tourists. The actual goal of this campaign by the pro-government journalists is obvious if you consider how an anti-tourist movement would hurt Turkey’s economy.

However, as mentioned above, while the goal is understandable, the themes of the “union of the ummah” and “siblings in religion” are problematic. The campaign offers the idea of being siblings in religion as an argument against the rising racism towards irregular migrants and refugees; a different form of racism or discrimination.

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