In The News

BoJo Under Pressure, Landmark Syria Trial, Gruyère Row

👋 Ahoj!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Boris Johnson faces rising calls to resign, an ex Syrian colonel is convicted in a landmark torture trial, and the U.S. finds loopholes in the Gruyère cheese label. We also mark 10 years since the Costa Concordia disaster off the coast of Tuscany.

[*Czech]

Watch Video Show less

A Journey Into The Dark Heart Of British Racism, Past And Present

For an Indian growing up in the UK in the 1960s, racism was an everyday experience ranging from schoolyard taunts to threats of violence and persecution. And with the recent revelations of abuse suffered by Pakistan-born cricket star Azeem Rafiq, overt racism is still very much alive. in British society.

-Essay-

LONDON — Azeem Rafiq’s recent disclosures about the racist taunts endured during his years as a first class English cricketer are as revealing about how some deeply ingrained prejudices still prevail as they are instructive about changing national attitudes of recent times.

Off spinner Rafiq is 30 year old, so may not appreciate the deeper and wider context of racism that has flourished for the past half century and more. Apologists would certainly argue that racism has abated in recent years and that many in the white majority are less willing to tolerate the questionable standards of earlier times. Certainly, Blacks and Asians today are present and more welcome than ever before in advertising, entertainment, the media and even front rank politics where an ethnic Indian, Rishi Sunak, is routinely touted as a possible future prime minister.

Keep reading... Show less

English Channel To The Mediterranean: Borders That Kill

The deaths of 27 migrants off the French coast of Calais is one more tragedy on a long list in the European Union. After the initial shock, however, we tend to forget, get used to it and in the end, become indifferent.

-Analysis-

PARIS — The wreckage of a small boat that led to 27 people to die in the English Channel is added to the list of endless death along Europe’s borders.

Unfortunately, there is nothing fundamentally new about this tragedy. Since 1993, at least 50,000 people have died trying to cross the external borders of the European Union, mainly in the Mediterranean Sea. Since 1999, more than 300 people have died off the northern French coast of Calais while trying to cross the border into the UK, which has been "externalized" on French soil by the 2004 Le Touquet Treaty. The years 2000 and 2010 were marked by reports of casualties at the borders, some horrifying like the two successive shipwrecks on April 12 and 19, 2015 that left thousands dead.

Keep reading... Show less

Not All Immigrant Politicians Think Alike — About Immigration

Migrant associations and activists are saying there are not enough politicians of migrant origin in the new German Bundestag. But are such politicians guaranteed to support policies that benefit migrants? There are prominent examples that suggest otherwise.

BERLIN — No sooner than the twentieth German Bundestag had been elected in September, activists were examining how diverse its members were. The result: compared to wider German society, women and people of migrant origin — either those who immigrated themselves or who have at least one parent not born in Germany — are underrepresented. For the third time in a row, the number of members of parliament of migrant origin has risen, but it still stands at only 11%, whereas in Germany as a whole, 25% of people come from a migrant background.

Keep reading... Show less
Coronavirus
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Keep Calm And Travel On? Why We Can't Return To Global Shutdowns

The Omicron variant has sparked a new wave of COVID-19 travel restrictions, but the chances of returning to worldwide shutdowns are slim for a series of reasons.

SOFIA — Two weeks ago, I was swabbing my nose in a minuscule London hotel room, trying to navigate the faulty app that came with my COVID-19 home-test kit. Home ... as in, I need this damn test to be able to fly home.

After re-installing the app and re-reading the instructions, I called the phone number for the support line and got a friendly female voice with a Cockney accent. I asked if they'd had similar glitches in the past. “We get a lot of calls,” she said. “Bit of a pain, innit?

Watch Video Show less
Ideas
Jean-Francis Pécresse

Fishing For Trouble? Europe Must Stand Up To Boris Johnson's Bullying

The post-Brexit row of fishing rights is the last straw for not only France, but all of the European Union, who must put an end to the whims of Britain's prime minister, who seems ready to toss out years of negotiations for the divorce between the UK and EU.

-OpEd-

PARIS — The fishing war between Paris and London is on, but it would be a mistake to worry too much about it.

Of course, we should not underestimate the deterioration of relations between our two countries, especially since the UK has multiplied unfriendly and even aggressive actions against France. The level of conflict is unprecedented for the contemporary era.

Watch Video Show less
Coronavirus
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Endemic Times, Get Ready For Our Forever COVID Future

As the 5 million death toll has been passed, signs abound that the virus is not going away any time soon. We need to accept that we can return to normalcy even without eradicating COVID — though we must do it right and keep re-learning the right lessons.

-Analysis-

Heading toward Year 2, the stream of COVID headlines continues to flow: vaccine hesitancy and breakthrough infections, lurking new variants, overrun hospitals and, yes, yet another lockdown somewhere in the world. The grim milestone this week of five million deaths adds to the creeping feeling that, unprecedented scientific breakthroughs aside, we are simply outmatched in our collective battle against the pandemic.

There is a growing consensus among experts that the virus, the whole of humanity's microscopic nemesis, is here to stay.

Watch Video Show less
THE CONVERSATION
James Weinberg

How Low Trust In Government Fuels Violence Against Politicians

The deadly stabbing of UK MP David Amess confirms this researcher's ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad.

The killing of British Conservative MP David Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on October 15, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councillor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

This is to say nothing of the 2018 attack on the Palace of Westminster that left police officer Keith Palmer dead and MPs in a state of shock.

Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

Watch Video Show less
Society
Parth Pandya

What Football Reveals About The Depth Of European Racism

It's not just England and not just the reaction against the team's loss in the European final. Europe's football culture, and culture in general, reflect deep-seated prejudices that require a real response.

When the final of the Euro 2020 between England and Italy went into the penalties, there was an uncomfortably familiar feeling in the air. Italy had been the slightly better team during the 120 minutes played but there wasn't all that much to choose between the two sides. And the penalties would inevitably lead to one team having to deal with agony and despair despite having come so close to touching the glory.

England arguably were under more pressure in front of a packed Wembley stadium and the weight of the enormous buildup to their entire campaign. Despite the early advantage they gained after Italy's Andrea Belotti failed to convert his kick, England went on to lose the shootout with Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missing theirs.

Watch Video Show less
Coronavirus
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Vaccines v. Variants: When Can We Put The Pandemic Behind Us?

As the first coronavirus wave finally abated late last spring, experts warned us that the pandemic was far from over. Second and third (and more) waves were likely, and new restrictions would be necessary to limit the death toll. There was only one sure way out of these pandemic times, a vaccine, which could take years to develop.

And yet today, despite the seemingly miraculous arrival of effective vaccines, and more than three billion doses already administered around the world, we still find ourselves asking the Question: When will it end?

Watch Video Show less
Geopolitics
James Waller*

Northern Ireland: Born Of Strife, Erupting Again In Violence

After a century-long history of political strife, Brexit risks undoing the hard-earned two decades of reconciliation.

Sectarian rioting has returned to the streets of Northern Ireland, just weeks shy of its 100th anniversary as a territory of the United Kingdom.

For several nights, young protesters loyal to British rule – fueled by anger over Brexit, policing and a sense of alienation from the U.K. – set fires across the capital of Belfast and clashed with police. Scores have been injured.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, calling for calm, said "the way to resolve differences is through dialogue, not violence or criminality."

But Northern Ireland was born of violence.

Deep divisions between two identity groups – broadly defined as Protestant and Catholic – have dominated the country since its very founding. Now, roiled anew by the impact of Brexit, Northern Ireland is seemingly moving in a darker and more dangerous direction.

The island of Ireland, whose northernmost part lies a mere 13 miles from Britain, has been contested territory for at least nine centuries.

Britain long gazed with colonial ambitions on its smaller Catholic neighbor. The 12th-century Anglo-Norman invasion first brought the neighboring English to Ireland.

In the late 16th century, frustrated by continuing native Irish resistance, Protestant England implemented an aggressive plan to fully colonize Ireland and stamp out Irish Catholicism. Known as "plantations," this social engineering exercise "planted" strategic areas of Ireland with tens of thousands of English and Scottish Protestants.

Plantations offered settlers cheap woodland and bountiful fisheries. In exchange, Britain established a base loyal to the British crown – not to the Pope.

England's most ambitious plantation strategy was carried out in Ulster, the northernmost of Ireland's provinces. By 1630, according to the Ulster Historical Foundation, there were about 40,000 English-speaking Protestant settlers in Ulster.

Though displaced, the native Irish Catholic population of Ulster was not converted to Protestantism. Instead, two divided and antagonistic communities – each with its own culture, language, political allegiances, religious beliefs and economic histories – shared one region.

Over the next two centuries, Ulster's identity divide transformed into a political fight over the future of Ireland.

"Unionists' – most often Protestant – wanted Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. "Nationalists' – most often Catholic – wanted self-government for Ireland.

These fights played out in political debates, the media, sports, pubs – and, often, in street violence.

By the early 1900s, a movement of Irish independence was rising in the south of Ireland. The nationwide struggle over Irish identity only intensified the strife in Ulster.

The British government, hoping to appease nationalists in the south while protecting the interests of Ulster unionists in the north, proposed in 1920 to partition Ireland into two parts: one majority Catholic, the other Protestant-dominated – but both remaining within the United Kingdom.

Irish nationalists in the south rejected that idea and carried on with their armed campaign to separate from Britain. Eventually, in 1922, they gained independence and became the Irish Free State, today called the Republic of Ireland.

In Ulster, unionist power-holders reluctantly accepted partition as the best alternative to remaining part of Britain. In 1920, the Government of Ireland Act created Northern Ireland, the newest member of the United Kingdom.

In this new country, native Irish Catholics were now a minority, making up less than a third of Northern Ireland's 1.2 million people.

Stung by partition, nationalists refused to recognize the British state. Catholic schoolteachers, supported by church leaders, refused to take state salaries.

During the Troubles in Belfast in 1970 — Photo: Fribbler

And when Northern Ireland seated its first parliament in May 1921, nationalist politicians did not take their elected seats in the assembly. The Parliament of Northern Ireland became, essentially, Protestant – and its pro-British leaders pursued a wide variety of anti-Catholic practices, discriminating against Catholics in public housing, voting rights and hiring.

By the 1960s, Catholic nationalists in Northern Ireland were mobilizing to demand more equitable governance. In 1968, police responded violently to a peaceful march to protest inequality in the allocation of public housing in Derry, Northern Ireland's second-largest city. In 60 seconds of unforgettable television footage, the world saw water cannons and baton-wielding officers attack defenseless marchers without restraint.

On Jan. 30, 1972, during another civil rights march in Derry, British soldiers opened fire on unarmed marchers, killing 14. This massacre, known as Bloody Sunday, marked a tipping point. A nonviolent movement for a more inclusive government morphed into a revolutionary campaign to overthrow that government and unify Ireland.

The Irish Republican Army, a nationalist paramilitary group, used bombs, targeted assassinations and ambushes to pursue independence from Britain and reunification with Ireland.

Longstanding paramilitary groups that were aligned with pro-U.K. political forces reacted in kind. Known as loyalists, these groups colluded with state security forces to defend Northern Ireland's union with Britain.

Euphemistically known as "the troubles," this violence claimed 3,532 lives from 1968 to 1998.

The troubles subsided in April 1998 when the British and Irish governments, along with major political parties in Northern Ireland, signed a landmark U.S.-brokered peace accord. The Good Friday Agreement established a power-sharing arrangement between the two sides and gave the Northern Irish parliament more authority over domestic affairs.

The peace agreement made history. But Northern Ireland remained deeply fragmented by identity politics and paralyzed by dysfunctional governance, according to my research on risk and resilience in the country.

Violence has periodically flared up since.

Then, in 2020, came Brexit. Britain's negotiated withdrawal from the European Union created a new border in the Irish Sea that economically moved Northern Ireland away from Britain and toward Ireland.

Leveraging the instability caused by Brexit, nationalists have renewed calls for a referendum on formal Irish reunification.

For unionists loyal to Britain, that represents existential threat. Young loyalists born after the height of the troubles are particularly fearful of losing a British identity that has always been theirs.

Recent spasms of street disorder suggest they will defend that identity with violence, if necessary. In some neighborhoods, nationalist youths have countered with violence of their own.

In its centenary year, Northern Ireland teeters on the edge of a painfully familiar precipice.

Watch Video Show less
Geopolitics

Photo Of The Week: This Happened In Kent

News broke last weekend of a new, extra contagious strain of the coronavirus rapidly spreading in the UK, prompting several countries to suspend travel from the country. After France deciding to shut its UK border for 48 hours, thousands of trucks were unable to pass through from the Port of Dover via the Eurotunnel, and ended up stuck along the route in Kent County, in southeastern England.

A mass testing program is underway to allow drivers to cross the border, but the gridlock could continue for days that may reduce deliveries and leave drivers unable to return home in time for Christmas.

Watch Video Show less
Geopolitics
Daniel Fortin

Boris Johnson And The Collapse Of Chaos-As-Leadership

As the sudden arrival of harsh new lockdown restrictions and the closing of borders in European countries coincides with down-to-the-wire Brexit talks, BoJo is facing an all-time low in public confidence.

For nearly a year now, we have been cautious — even indulgent — when it comes to criticizing the way political leaders are handling this exceptional pandemic with the malicious whims that come with a novel virus. But whether we like it or not, the scale of this crisis also serves as an incomparable tool for measuring the leadership skills of any given head of state or government.

Most observers now agree that Donald Trump's casual handling of the pandemic probably cost him his reelection. And now, another prominent leader is coming under fire for adding chaos upon the chaos. We will remember for a long time the pictures of British or foreign travelers rushing this weekend to the stations to try to escape London where a new lockdown was introduced without warning on Saturday night. Only a few, including in his own party, still defend Prime Minister Boris Johnson who seems once again to be indecisive and inconsistent.

Watch Video Show less
YLE
Anne Sophie Goninet

The World Prepares For A Very Different Kind Of Christmas

After a year that's been as trying as it is troubling, the holidays are finally upon us, and for many there's a temptation to treat the upcoming festivities as a welcome catharsis. But for governments, this "most wonderful time of the year" represents a real conundrum: How to allow for some much-needed Yuletide joy while at the same time, taking steps to keep the New Year from beginning with a new surge of coronavirus cases.

Christmas bubbles: The UK will also allow people to gather, but only for five days, between Dec. 23-27, with a larger window for Northern Ireland to give more time to people to travel between the nations.

Watch Video Show less
LA STAMPA
Eugenia Tognotti

Boris, Brexit And That Petty Claim Of Vaccine 'Victory'

Britain's race to be the first deploy the vaccine may be an attempt to whitewash their initial disastrous handling of this pandemic — not to mention the debacle of leaving the European Union.

-Analysis-

TURIN — What is there to say? Let's give the UK and its Prime Minister Boris Johnson the satisfaction of being the first country to have approved a COVID-19 vaccine and to start mass inoculation. The news broke on Wednesday, when the UK government announced that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had been fully approved, beating even the US across the finishing line, and the country would start to deploy it within days.

Watch Video Show less
Sources
Ahmad Ra'fat

Hashtag Activism And Human Rights In Iran

Iranian authorities have proven themselves amenable to online pressure. But to effect lasting change in the Islamic Republic, people also need to engage in real-world action.

-Editorial-

Social media platforms like Twitter are providing Iranians a place to do what they can't do in the actual, physical spaces of Tehran and other cities: gather together and unite around a cause, even if it's just for a few hours. And the cause that underscores all others right now is the defense of human rights.

Watch Video Show less
EXPLORE OTHER TOPICS