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TOPIC: politics


Soft Power Or Sportwashing? What's Driving The Mega Saudi Image Makeover Play

Saudi Arabia suddenly now leads the world in golf, continues to attract top European soccer stars, and invests in culture and entertainment... Its "soft power" strategy is changing the kingdom's image through what critics bash as blatant "sportwashing."


PARIS — A major announcement this week caused quite a stir in the world of professional golf. It wouldn't belong in the politics section were it not for the role played by Saudi Arabia. The three competing world circuits have announced their merger, putting an end to the "civil war" in the world of pro golf.

The Chairman of the new entity is Yassir Al-Rumayan, head of the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund. Add to this the fact that one of the major players in the world of golf is Donald Trump – three of the biggest tournaments are held on golf courses he owns – and it's easy to see what's at stake.

In the same week, we learned that two leading French footballers, Karim Benzema and N'Golo Kanté, were to join Saudi club Al-Ittihad, also owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund. The amount of the transfer is not known, but it is sure to be substantial. There, they will join other soccer stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo.

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Why Poland's Male-Run, Far-Right Party Is Popular With Educated Women

Similar to recent breakthroughs of right-wing parties in other countries, Poland's anti-immigrant political party has a somewhat different formula that has found surprising support among professional women. And Konfederacja may be decisive in next fall's national elections.


For years, Polish politics has largely been a head-to-head battle between the Catholic, conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, and its pro-European centrist rival, Civic Platform (PO). But now a young far-right party has broken through ahead of next fall's national elections, promising to shake up both politics and society at large.

The emerging party is called Konfederacja, and its rise since launching six years ago largely echos other recent right-wing upstarts in Italy, Greece, Spain and beyond. Yet experts note that this is also a uniquely Polish phenomenon, where everything from family policy to the war in Ukraine follows its own particular logic.

Since regaining the presidency in 2015, the conservative PiS has passed some of the world's most restrictive abortion laws, and clashed with the European Union on climate action and LGBTQ+ rights. But among these controversial policies, there has been the widely popular "500+" program, which provides a stipend of 500 zloty ($119) for every child within a family, and has become a staple of the party’s platform.

In response, the PO opposition has introduced its own social programs, including monthly allowances to women returning from maternity leave, which was a stark departure from the centrist party that had first emerged as a stern defender of the free market. Another small left-wing party has also proposed generous new paternity leave benefits.

At a PiS convention on May 14, longtime party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski announced that the government will be increasing childcare benefits from 500 zloty to 800 ($119 to $191), and that medication will be free for Poles under 18 and over the age of 65. In the same statement, the party leader also promised to remove tolls along national highways.

This rush to allocate social spending has created an opening for Konfederacja, which describes itself as an “anti-system,” nationalist and right-wing party — but also decidedly pro-free-market and opposed to government subsidies. The party's positioning has now begun to pay off, just ahead of the elections slated for either October or November.

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Squash That Vegan Cannelloni! The Politics Of Going Meat-Free Is Hotter Than Ever

A German politician got a taste for the backlash that can come from getting close to the vegetarian movement, especially as environmental factors make the choice even more loaded than at its birth in the animal rights movement.

PARISEating meat-free can sometimes come with consequences. Just ask German center-right politician Silke Gorissen, who has been in full damage-control mode since participating at a seemingly ordinary vegan-vegetarian awareness event last month at the University of Bonn.

Gorissen, who serves as the Minister of Agriculture for North Rhine-Westphalia state, made the usual rounds at the veggie event, offering typical politician praise for the local fruit and vegetable products. And then she tasted the vegan cannelloni…

Indeed, it was the Minister’s public praise for the meatless take on the classic Italian stuffed pasta recipe (traditionally served with ground beef or pork) that set off an uproar — a reminder that the debate over vegetarian diets can still be explosive.

German daily Die Welt reported that rumors followed the University event that the government was about to declare a meat-free month for the state — rather than just the student dining hall. In the heartland of German pig farming, it makes sense that the local farmers oppose anti-meat initiatives that could affect their livelihoods.

Still, there is something about vegetarianism that goes beyond simple economics.

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The Widest Europe: The Meaning Of Moldova In The Face Of Russian Aggression

Europe's leaders are in Moldova as tensions increase with Russia and in Kosovo. The summit is already making an impact as Europe pushes back against Russian interference.


CHISINĀUOne should never underestimate the power of symbols. All of Europe has gathered on Thursday in Moldova, just a few kilometers away from the separatist region of Transnistria, where Russian troops are stationed. The Balkan countries, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and of course, Ukraine, are present as well.

The European Political Community (EPC) is an unprecedented entity launched last year on a French proposal and currently in its second summit. No one knows for sure yet what the future holds for the EPC, but everyone benefits from its informal nature, allowing for valuable exchanges at a crucial moment for Europe.

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The summit comes at an opportune time, as a crisis has erupted between Kosovo and Serbia, leading to the deployment of NATO reinforcements following street clashes. The issue at hand is the appointment of ethnically Albanian mayors in Serbian neighborhoods, a misstep by Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti, which has drawn criticism from NATO allies.

The summit has already made an impact, as the Kosovar Prime Minister mentioned the possibility of holding new local elections in the tense areas. His intention was to try to defuse the crisis before Thursday's summit. Yesterday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he would meet with the Kosovar Prime Minister alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. That’s what summits are for!

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Víctor Lapuente

Spain, A Perfect Political Graveyard Of Old Left And Right

If the Left is increasingly fighting to preserve hard-won social victories, and the Right wants change, what does the traditional Left-Right division mean anymore?


MADRID — It has long been said that the Left is more prone to rifts because its aim is to free people from all forms of exploitation. But now, it is the right which deals with the most infighting. Are they now the ones who want the most change, even if that change is made through cuts?

Take architects for example. Some debate about what to build on an empty plot of land, while others discuss how to preserve a building worn down by time. Finding a solution for the latter seems to be faster. Deciding what to create is harder than deciding what to preserve.

That is why, according to popular wisdom and analysis, the Left experiences more divisions than the Right.

Progressive politicians have a positive goal, while conservatives have a negative one. The Left wants to create a new world, and this opens up endless questions. Do we nationalize banks and certain industries? Do we design a social security system, or a Universal Basic Income? Do we cap prices on certain areas, such as rental housing, or do we let the market take its course and then assist the most affected sectors? The God of progress offers infinite paths.

[On Monday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced that he would dissolve parliament and the country would hold snap national elections on July 23 following the very poor showing of Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) in Sunday's local elections. The center-right People's Party and far-right party Vox gained ground.]

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Pierre Haski

What Five More Years Of Erdogan Mean For Turkey – And The World

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cemented his already tight grip on power in Turkey, winning an unprecedented third term as president. The West had hoped for a slightly less unpredictable leader, but they will have to make peace with an emboldened Erdogan, who may become even more autonomous.


PARIS — The re-election of Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not come as a surprise, as Turkey's incumbent president’s lead in the first round was reaffirmed yesterday.

The real surprise had occurred in the first round, contradicting Turkish polls and analyses that predicted the president, in power for 20 years, would be penalized by the deep economic crisis and the devastating earthquake in February. However, that was not the case — or at least not entirely: Erdogan had to face a second round for the first time but was not threatened by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the candidate of the united opposition.

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This Happened

This Happened — May 26: Modi Becomes India’s Prime Minister

Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India on this day in 2014, after his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won a majority in the Indian general election.

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Queralt Castillo Cerezuela

Greek Elections: Will The Left Forgive Tsipras For The “Betrayal” Of 2015?

With the opposition Progressive Alliance ‘Syriza’ trailing in the polls for the May 21 election, they'll need to convince their potential core left-wing voters that they are true progressives. Tspiras' controversial bailout deal of 2015, however, still hangs in the air.

ATHENS – Keeping food prices under control, raising salaries, regulating the market, protecting housing and “standing by citizens.” These are the main points of Greek Coalition of the Radical Left’s Progressive Alliance for Sunday's general elections in Greece. Better known by its abbreviation Syriza, the left-wing party has been the main opposition party for the last four years, and now has a chance to return to power.

The latest polls give a lead to the current ruling party, New Democracy (ND) led by conservative Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Against all odds, numerous scandals seem to have left the party unaffected. Neither the news of their illegal wiretapping of journalists and politicians (including within their own ranks) with the Predator software nor the Tempe train crash tragedy that killed 57 people on February 28, 2023, or any of their numerous other scandals seem to have touched their standing.

All these scandals, which should have been the center of the electoral debate, were immediately sidelined with the news of accusations of sexual harrassment against Syriza MEP Alexis Georgoulis. The party vehemently denies having knowledge of the events, but the case is being used against them in the campaign.

Leader of the opposition, Alexis Tsipras, is trying to revive hopes for the return to "a progressive government." But among the left-wing electorate, there is no shortage of mistrust and disappointment after the so-called "betrayal" of 2015, where Tsipras accepted an international debt bailout deal — and his subsequent four years in government.

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Pierre Haski

Turkey Elections: The Risk Of Escalation Has Multiplied

Both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his challenger, Kamel Kilicdaroglu, have cast doubt on the first round results. Heading into the second round on May 28, recalling recent examples, in the U.S. and Brazil, we may again see what happens when a populist is faced with giving up power.


On the one hand, Turkey's 90% voter turnout is enough to make tired European and American democracies green with envy. Yet this desire to participate, to have a voice — the very hallmarks of citizenship — has not prevented an instant crisis in confidence following the first round of Turkish national elections.

Already Sunday evening, when the early results were announced, both sides launched accusations, and mistrust had taken hold.

It was bound to happen, with the same party and the same man, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ruling the country for two decades. He considers the state his property, and has instilled the idea that he is indispensable, the only person who can govern legitimately.

Meanwhile, his opposition has finally united around a strong candidate, Kamel Kilicdaroglu. And they too, feeling the winds of change rising, have convinced themselves that only fraud could prevent their party from winning.

In the end, after hours of suspense, tension and emotions, a second round seems to be the only option. Erdogan himself even admitted it, after trying to proclaim himself winner of the first round. The next two weeks will be fraught in the divided country, which must make a very real choice between two distinct political paths and individuals. The risk of escalation is immense.

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Karem Racines

How Colombia's "Prosperity Preachers" Squeeze The Masses, With The State's Blessing

In traditionally Catholic Colombia, Protestant preachers have learned to effectively combine marketing and religion to make themselves enormously wealthy. And thanks to political lobbying and religious freedom, they are exempt from the law and taxes.

CARTAGENA — Outside the La Unción Christian Community Church, in this coastal city in Colombia, hundreds of believers gather to tour the city and bring their “message of salvation” to others. On a white crane, there are six speakers, microphones, recording equipment and about ten people identified as "STAFF".

A drone flies over and records the scene. When everything is ready, Pastor Esteban Acosta goes up to the platform and leads the chants.

The followers, of different ages and economic backgrounds, look animated, holding posters and colored balloons. They are spread out between the current location of the church and its new location, being built across the street. In the old structure, the prized Cartagena land, which cost "a million dollars in credit" according to the pastor, there is room for 2,000 people.

In the new temple, with tinted windows and a marble floor, another 2,000 people will fit. Everything is financed by the "generous contributions" of the parishioners.

Esteban Acosta, a self-proclaimed apostle, and his wife, pastor Lisbeth Bello, convince their followers to make donations in exchange for religious favors, while they amass fortunes to afford a life of luxury. They use marketing strategies and a repetitive message with a simple promise: the more money they give to God through them, the more progress they will have on earth as a reward. They call it the "prosperity gospel."

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This Happened

This Happened — May 5: Death Of An Irish Martyr

Bobby Sands died on this day in 1981, after 66 days on a hunger strike. He had refused food in protest of the British government's refusal to grant him and other IRA prisoners political prisoner status.

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Alessandro Calvi

With Italy's Right In Power, A Hard Shift In The Political Lexicon

Redemption, homeland, people, and above all nation: Giorgia Meloni uses these terms to express the idea of a power projected into the future, part of a precise political strategy.


ROME — Sometimes the most striking words are the ones that are missing.

In a speech given by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the start of her mandate, for example, the word "femicide" is missing. The word "violence" appears, but only a few times, to denounce political violence. Others words are hoisted as flags by the radical right, now in power in Italy — like “nation,” a beloved word.

“If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone,” Meloni said after winning the election and becoming the country's first-ever female prime minister. "Nation,” in this sense, recurs about 15 times in her first speech. “Motherland,” on the other hand, comes up just once, in a strongly rhetorical passage addressed to law enforcement officials. The word “state” is mostly used to refer to the organization of the bureaucracy and its relationship with citizens, or in relation to the issue of security.

In Italian, the word “nation” means a collection of people who share common historical traditions, language, culture and origin, and who feel they belong to a community. The word does not necessarily imply that this community is organized into a political structure.

Instead, implicit in the idea of “homeland” (patria) is the bond between a people and the place where they live, as well as a sentimental bond with those who came before them.

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