Mueller, Madrid, Moscow: That Eternal Judiciary-Executive Collision

In Barcelona, opponents of Catalan independence hold Spanish flag
In Barcelona, opponents of Catalan independence hold Spanish flag

"Trump is finished." That sentence has been pronounced so often over the past 18 months that it has lost any real meaning. Still, the events unfolding in Washington right now are different. By targeting top Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, and perhaps even more crucially, a lesser known foreign-policy advisor named George Papadopoulos, special counsel Robert Mueller's first criminal charges have brought a clear sense that the Trump presidency is on the line in a wholly different way than following any of his many outrageous comments or ham-handed policy moves over the past year.

The former FBI chief leading the probe into alleged collusion of Russia in last year's election is, no doubt, playing for keeps. Of Mueller, The Washington Post"s Michael Scherer writes: "he will seek to turn every stone in his search and use all available legal tools."

A tragicomic turn

It's still early to say how far the investigation will reach, or how the White House would respond if the Mueller's team of investigators get too close to Trump. But the unfolding events are yet another round in a long-running (and some would say, healthy) tension between the judiciary and the executive branches of American government. This is democracy's famous system of checks and balances at play, a reminder of the relevance of Montesquieu's clear separation of powers.

A similar standoff between the judiciary and the executive is underway across the Atlantic. The drama over Catalonia's bid for independence took a tragicomic turn this week with the news that Carles Puigdemont, the Spanish region's president, had fled to Belgium with half of his government, while Spain's chief prosecutor called for rebellion charges to be brought against them as authorities in Madrid try to retake the upper hand in the ongoing standoff. Reporting on the "bombshell", Barcelona-based daily La Vanguardia evokes "incredulity" morphing into "deep worry" at what this means not just for Spain and Catalonia, but also for Belgium, where the richer region of Flanders has also been known to want to break away from the rest of the country. In its editorial, Belgian daily Le Soir describes Puigdemont as a "cumbersome ‘guest"" and expresses fears that he might soon ask for political asylum.

Puigdemont might have looked even further east at the fate of Alexey Navalny. Despite having been imprisoned three times over the past year alone, the Russian opposition leader, who has repeatedly spoken out against corruption, hasn't let that interfere with his bid to win the next election and become president in March 2018. And news of the detention of his campaign chief Nikolai Lyaskin Tuesday morning in Moscow will likely only reinforce his motivation. His supporters say the judicial cases against him are orchestrated by the Kremlin — that's Moscow's executive branch.

In different ways, these three examples remind us that there is nothing inherently neutral about the judiciary, and that elections can be free even if they're not necessarily fair.

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Chinese Students Now Required To Learn To Think Like Xi Jinping

'Xi Jinping Thought' ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university.

Children from Congtai Elementary School, Handan City, Hebei Province

Maximilian Kalkhof

BEIJING — It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education.

The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader.

Xi Jinping has been the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for almost 10 years. In 2017, at a party convention, he presented a doctrine in the most riveting of party prose: "Xi Jinping's ideas of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new age."

Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself. In other words, to make China great again!

Communist curriculum replaces global subjects

This doctrine has sent shockwaves through China since 2017. It's been echoed in newspapers, on TV, and screamed from posters and banners hung in many cities. But now, the People's Republic is going one step further: It's bringing "Xi Jinping Thought" into the schools.

Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation?

The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

photo of books on a book shelf

Books about Xi-Jinping at the 2021 Hong Kong Book Fair

Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/ZUMA

— Photo:

Targeting pop culture

The regime is also taking massive action against the entertainment industry. Popstar Kris Wu was arrested on charges of rape. Movies and TV series starring actor Zhao Wei have started to disappear from Chinese streaming platforms. The reason is unclear.

What the developments do show is that China is attempting to decouple from the West with increasing insistence. Beijing wants to protect its youth from Western excesses, from celebrity worship, super wealth and moral decline.

A nationalist blogger recently called for a "profound change in the economy, finance, culture and politics," a "revolution" and a "return from the capitalists to the masses." Party media shared the text on their websites. It appears the analysis caused more than a few nods in the party headquarters.

Dictatorships are always afraid of pluralism.

Caspar Welbergen, managing director of the Education Network China, an initiative that aims to intensify school exchanges between Germany and China, says that against this background, the curriculum reform is not surprising.

"The emphasis on 'Xi Jinping Thought' is being used in all areas of society," he says. "It is almost logical that China is now also using it in the education system."

Needless to say, the doctrine doesn't make student exchanges with China any easier.

Dictatorships are always afraid of color, pluralism and independent thinking citizens. And yet, Kristin Kupfer, a Sinology professor at the University of Trier, suggests that ideologically charged school lessons should not be interpreted necessarily as a sign of weakness of the CCP.

From the point of view of a totalitarian regime, she explains, this can also be interpreted as a signal of strength. "It remains to be seen whether the Chinese leadership can implement this so thoroughly," Kupfer adds. "Initial reactions from teachers and parents on social media show that such a widespread attempt to control opinion has raised fears and discontent in the population."

Die Welt
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