Marie Maurisse, Maryline Baumard, JoÃ«lle Stolz, Alain Salles
July 07, 2015
GENEVA â€" The Hungarian government announced plans earlier this month to build a 175-kilometer-long, four-meter-tall barrier along its border with Serbia. Ostensibly for protection, the project is yet another barricade built at the edges of the European Union, where the foundations of the borderless Schengen Area are weakening by the day.
Faced with the growing difficulty of leaving Greece by sea or air, migrants are choosing the long land route through the Balkan peninsula to reach the Schengen Area. As we near its 30th anniversary, tensions between member states are intensifying. In France, Austria and Switzerland, the specter of closing borders to keep out migrants is rearing its ugly head.
A quarter-century after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Hungary wants to rebuild a physical frontier with Serbia, this time to block access to the EU for thousands of northward-bound asylum seekers. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto declared that his government would launch technical and diplomatic preparations for the erection of a fence spanning the Serb-Hungarian border between the Hungarian cities of Mohacs and Szeged. (Late Monday, Hungary's parliament approved the plans for the giant barrier.)
The border is one of the last open land routes left in the peninsula, where refugees fleeing the Middle East wars and southern Europe's failing economies make their way through Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia to reach the holy grail of Schengen. EU border surveillance agency Frontex reported 43,360 illegal border crossings in the Balkans in 2014, up from 6,400 in 2012. An alarming 50,000 have been recorded since January of this year, half from Kosovo alone.
With a population of just under 10 million, Hungary is finding itself on another frontline of the EU's burgeoning humanitarian crisis. The number of asylum seekers in Hungary grew to over 50,000 last year, a figure already surpassed in the first half of 2015.
"The EU is still looking for a solution, but Hungary can't keep waiting anymore," says Szijjarto. He notes that Budapest isn't violating any international agreements and that there is ample precedent for similar barriers to guard against illegal immigration.
"I'm shocked and surprised," Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic says of the Hungarian plan. He resents Budapest's decision not to consult Belgrade before opting to build the fence. "We count on discussing these issues with our partners in the EU," Vukic says. Hungary was among the countries most hostile to the European Commission's proposal to distribute 40,000 refugees currently in Greece and Italy among the bloc's 28 members.
Walls are futile
Seeking to counter the rising popularity of the extreme-right Jobbik party, the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban recently released a controversial survey to its citizens that associated immigration with terrorism. Budapest also used public funds to embark on an extensive poster campaign to promote the survey, a move that attracted criticism from the European parliament. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) responded with its own campaign highlighting Hungary's ability to absorb asylum seekers and the economic benefits of their integration.
"Walls have never been useful, and they're easy to get around," says Yves Pascouau of the Jacques Delors Institute. In Greece, the flood of migrants that used to cross the Evros river along the Turkish border has stopped since Athens constructed a barricade. But the refugees set their sights elsewhere and the influx resumed, this time on the Greek isles closest to the Turkish coast, where they continue their arduous journey through the Balkans.
Further to the west, Italy has been enduring a considerable inflow of refugees for the past two years. Rome is increasingly on a collision course with its neighbors in France, Austria and Switzerland, who are growing increasingly tempted to close their borders with Italy to incoming migrants. Hundreds of refugees are stranded at the Franco-Italian border near Ventimiglia, putting strain on the countries' relations.
"What's happening in Ventimiglia evokes the events of 2011, when the diplomatic spat between France and Italy led to a modification of the Schengen agreement that allowed for the provisional re-establishment of border controls," Pascouau explains. "This has to relate to specific criteria, such as the disruption of public order, and I'm not sure that this condition has been satisfied this time around. But I also don't think the European Commission will request the European Court of Justice to rule if France's actions violated EU rules."
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve notes that France didn't close the border. "People are still crossing it," he says. "Actually, we are sending people back to Italy, which is legal under European law." He cites the Dublin Regulation, which requires asylum seekers to remain in the first European country in which they arrive, a heavy burden primarily shouldered by Italy and Greece.
Austria announced on June 13 that it would suspend all asylum requests and begin placing border controls along its frontier with Italy. Switzerland, which isn't an EU member but is part of the Schengen Area, is similarly alarmed by the migrant crisis. Three days after the Austrian announcement, the Swiss declared that the number of refugees crossing into the alpine nation from Italy was "exceptionally high." Over the course of just two days, 350 people entered the country from the Chiasso crossing, causing a bottleneck at the border.
Switzerland isn't equipped for the growing tide of "claimants," as Bern calls them. In 2014, 23,765 people submitted asylum requests in a country with fewer than 2,000 places in its official refugee centers. Almost half of the requests came from people in the Italian-speaking part of the country, in the canton of Ticino. The government planned to build 5,000 extra rooms for refugees but ran into fierce opposition from the cantons.
Enough is enough
To deal with the influx, Swiss authorities have imposed a hierarchical system to prioritize certain asylum requests over others. Consideration of requests from Eritrean refugees, who comprise the vast majority of new arrivals, has been suspended. Due to the urgency of the situation, the state secretary for migration increased the number of beds available in "public shelters," or bunkers. Generally located underground, the bunkers have been around since a 1963 law mandated their construction for every new building to protect people in case of an emergency. The decision to house the migrants in the shelters sparked demonstrations by the left, with protesters brandishing the slogan "no bunkers, no deportation."
According to the Swiss People's Party, the country's largest, "enough is enough." The populist outfit is demanding the suspension of the asylum law for at least a year. With parliament currently debating a bill that would expedite the application process for refugees, it remains to be seen which direction Switzerland, and Europe, will take.
This leading French daily newspaper Le Monde ("The World") was founded in December 1944 in the aftermath of World War II. Today, it is distributed in 120 countries. In late 2010, a trio formed by Pierre Berge, Xavier Niel and Matthieu Pigasse took a controlling 64.5% stake in the newspaper.
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'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.
October 26, 2021
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.
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."
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Die Welt ("The World") is a German daily founded in Hamburg in 1946, and currently owned by the Axel Springer AG company, Europe's largest publishing house. Now based in Berlin, Die Welt is sold in more than 130 countries. A Sunday edition called Welt am Sonntag has been published since 1948.
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