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Berkeley To Paris To Moscow, Eternal Ideals Of Youth

Students across the U.S. left class to take a stand against gun violence
Students across the U.S. left class to take a stand against gun violence
Samantha Dooley

-Essay-

PARIS — Growing up in Northern California, acts of public protest were never far away. It felt perfectly natural for me to join fellow students in the annual "Day of Silence," refusing to say a word in any of my classes to draw attention to discrimination against the LGBTQ community. My favorite English teacher recounted his arrests while demonstrating as a student at UC Berkeley in the Sixties. And this week, following from afar on Facebook, I saw that my high school had notified students that they were free to leave class to participate in the nationwide walkout for 17 minutes to take a stand against gun violence.

The movement that has grown in the wake of the massacre in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead is hardly limited to California. It is, however, very much a youth thing. Ahead of a massive March For Our Lives scheduled for March 24, young people are leading the call for stricter gun control laws through direct social activism.

There is something universal about young people demanding change. Though Vladimir Putin is assured reelection victory this Sunday, the only force that is making him uneasy are the nation's youth. But as reported in German daily Die Welt, authorities in Russia are not quite as understanding as the administration back in the U.S., as peaceful young protesters are routinely arrested and have their homes searched by the Russian government for simply opposing the ruling government.

In Syria, the consequences of youthful idealism have been far worse. Thursday marked the seven year anniversary of the start of the Syrian Civil War and it can be easy to forget that it all began with the actions of young people. With one anti-Assad graffiti, originally meant as a prank, a pair of high schoolers served as catalyst for larger demonstrations in the streets of the southern Syrian city of Daraa. Those protests were eventually met with violent repression from the government, which led to the bloody civil conflict that has left the country in ruins.

Still, such dire consequences can't quell others. In Iran, another repressive regime next door to Syria, a spontaneous movement is currently spreading of young women who remove their veils in the streets to protest the law that requires them to cover their heads. The movement is gaining traction on social media with the hashtag, "GirlsofRevolutionSt." Indeed, the arrival of social media multiplies the reach of such actions, but as we've seen elsewhere, also a means for repression.

In Paris, where Worldcrunch is based, there is talk ahead of this spring's 50-year anniversary of the May 1968 student protests. Sparked as a reaction against France's traditional values, the student-led street demonstrations brought the country to a virtual halt. And though certain policy changes came in its wake, in his book Mai 68, l'héritage impossible("The Impossible Legacy"), French sociologist Jean-Pierre Le Goff wonders what was ultimately achieved. "Today's France is still looking for itself," he writes. "May ‘68? It's a youth mistake that we still haven't outgrown."

Whether under the heavy hand of authoritarian regimes or simply the "reality" of modern life, we young people are told that ideals themselves are a mistake. But Montreal-based writer Peter Wheeland is not convinced. "If history is any indication, the groundswell of anger and the impetus for change will begin with students, whose ideals have not yet been tainted and corrupted and whose hopes for the future have not yet been consumed by the struggle to survive." Thanks to social media, I was able to verify that Monsieur Wheeland is a self-described "curmudgeon" with a first few gray hairs in his beard— and I think this young man may be on to something.

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Economy

Russian Diamonds Are Belgium's Best Friend — But For How Much Longer?

Belgium has lobbied hard for the past year to keep Russian diamonds off the list of sanctioned goods. Indeed, there would be a huge impact on the economy of the port city of Antwerp, if Europe finally joins with the U.S. and others in banning sale of so-called "blood diamonds" from Russia. But a 10th package of EU sanctions arriving this month may finally be the end of the road.

Photo of a technician examining the condition of a diamond in Antwerp, Belgium

A technician examining the condition of a diamond in Antwerp, Belgium

Wang Xiaojun / Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

Since Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has agreed to nine different packages of sanctions against Russia. With the aim to punish Moscow's leadership and to cripple the war economy, European bans and limits have been placed on imports of a range of Russian products from coal, gas and steal to caviar and vodka — were successively banned over the past 11 months.

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Still, one notable Russian export is a shining exception to the rule, still imported into Europe as if nothing has changed: diamonds.

Russian state conglomerate Alrosa, which accounts for virtually all of the country's diamond production (95%) and deals with more than one-fourth of total global diamond imports, has been chugging along, business as usual.

But that may be about to change, ahead of an expected 10th package of sanctions slated to be finalized in the coming weeks. During recent negotiations, with 26 of the 27 EU members agreeing on the statement that ALSROA’s diamonds should no longer be imported, the one holdout was not surprisingly Belgium.

The Belgian opposition to the ban is explained by the port city of Antwerp, where 85% of the rough diamonds in the world pass through to get cut, polished, and marketed. There are estimates that 30,000 Belgians work for Alrosa.

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