And If Europe Were Still The Last, Best Hope On Earth?

After the Greek election of radical leftists and the European Central Bank's new liquidity, Europe is still where the rest of the world looks to understand themselves. History has so much to say.

Greek treasures of the past. And the future?
Greek treasures of the past. And the future?
Dominique Moïsi


PARIS — The European Central Bank is "firing up the printing press" to fight the risks of deflation. Greece, now with a radical left government, is rejecting austerity. Europe seems to be once again at a crossroads. For some, this convergence of "a weak euro and strong radicalism" only confirms the inevitable decline of the Old Continent.

Many are joining the we-told-you-so crowd. People from the right to the left of the Anglo-Saxon political and intellectual sphere, from Martin Feldstein to Joseph Stiglitz, have disapproved of the euro for a long time.

But others believe that, on the contrary, the events of the last week demonstrate that Europe is entering a new chapter and conveying its capacity to overcome the toughest storms. Europe, once again, showed it could face its problems with resiliency and pragmatism, with courage and determination.

To describe this unique capacity, the English would use the term "muddling through," an expression that suggests things eventually work out. Some are even more optimistic, and are starting to talk about Europe as a "re-emerging" power.

Will historians describe tomorrow's Europe as they did yesterday's China — a "returning" power that finds the keys of its recovery in the roots of its past? How do things really stand? Should Europe really be compared to an elderly and haggard grandmother, as Pope Francis recently did, or to a phoenix rising once again from its ashes? There's no impartial answer to this question. But we can find in the perspectives of others useful insights and ideas about ourselves.

As seen by ...

How does the world see Europe in early 2015? What is the main impression: fear, hope, resentment or, more profoundly, indifference towards a continent that now only represents about 7% of the global population? In reality, it's all a question of geography, if not history. It's almost possible to say, admittedly narcissistically, "Tell me what you think of Europe, and I'll tell you who you are."

Seen from China, Europe is simultaneously a good opportunity, a complicated model to follow, a historical and political warning, the scar of a painful humiliation and, on the other extreme, a museum of the art of living. Is investing in Europe, especially since the recent spectacular fall of the euro, not always tempting for the Chinese, or investors from the rest of the world? The risk-taking is less important than in countries such as Venezuela or even in continents like Africa.

Of course, Europe isn't the peaceful haven it seemed to be yesterday. Putin's real or feigned irrationality, the fanaticism of a few thousand lost young people who plan to give meaning to their lives through a culture of death, the rise of populism — all this means it's no longer possible to ignore the geopolitical risk that Europe has become again. But are these risks not secondary compared to those in numerous areas across the globe? Europe is not only a good deal. It is also still, despite itself and its recent vicissitudes, a model when it comes to social and health protection.

Beyond the vision of what Europe is today, has the reminder of what it was yesterday not also been the most profitable warning for Asia? After last year, which was particularly rich in historical commemorations, tension has calmed in the South China Sea between the Japanese and Chinese. Everything is happening as if Asia refused to commit the same mistakes as Europe, even though a reconciliation based on the French-German model is not on the agenda. If Putin's Russia seems ever more Asian in its way of working in the eyes of Europe, Moscow envisions Europe as always more decadent and "morally corrupt" (but not financially corrupt, of course) compared to the purity of the "Russian civilization."

Concerning America, it's a completely different perspective. Europe is no longer a warning, but a historical reminder, like a sped-up film passing before its eyes. The perspective, for historical and cultural reasons, is a lot closer. Details are emerging as if they were coming under a magnifying glass. And its national components, instead of Europe itself, are dominating: Berlin facing its responsibilities, Paris facing terrorism, Athens facing populism, Moscow facing its demons.

Seen from the South, Europe is the West's weak link for Salafists, whereas for Africans risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean, it's still seen as a hopeful refuge. As important as it may be, the perspective of others will not be enough for Europe to find itself. It would be a shame if ECB President Mario Draghi"s audacity was used as an alibi for the absence of real reforms.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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