Europe's Past And Future - And The Risk Of 'Just Blaming It On The Greeks'

Both Greece and its fellow euro-zone member countries must decide whether to bet on a future of shared sacrifice and common rules. Europe's post-War dream of a union to avoid the continent's history of warfare is facing its gravest risk


Nations are forged in times of misfortune. The European Union will take the great leap into federalism or will shrink until it collapses because for fear of falling into the abyss.

Everyone is aware that the attitude toward the Greek crisis (barely 3% of the euro zone GDP) is not an economic test but a historic one. What's at stake is the state of mind that will lead the continuation of the European construction: the one of solidarity among nations, or mistrust among peoples.

This mistrust stands to reason. How can we be surprised that countries that face challenges hesitate to stand up for one another? How can we not ask ourselves if Greece deserves Europe's help, or if it deserves exactly what's happening right now?

The incomprehension that persists between the north and south of Europe isn't just about prejudice. This misunderstanding goes back a long way, between countries that have trust in their State, and even make sacrifices to maintain it, and a country like Greece, where the people have mistrusted taxes or any administrative supervision since the days of the Ottoman colonization.

On that point at least, the Greeks have to choose. Greece will stay in a European system if it truly decides to turn its back on this traditional mistrust of the state, and decides instead to accept the principle that paying taxes is a citizen's duty rather than an act of submission.

Still, it remains to be seen that the recovery policy the Greek government offers doesn't come off as more ideological than pragmatic.

How do you convince citizens to make this effort if they feel the most underprivileged people and the public services are the ones paying for the crisis? Why did the government wait so long before trying to tackle the no-tax policy for ship-owners or the huge defense budget? The tax will be valued, as a citizen's duty, only if it implies that the civil servants pay as well as the ships and canon merchants. And if the tax system is well-proportioned. It's only when this "pact" is forged that the Greeks will start to truly recover from the worst.

Time is short

It's a long process. Deciding whether or not to continue helping Greece can't wait much longer. But it is a bet that must be done with no certainty about the outcome, and the chance that some debts may not be repaid.

The question is not whether the Greeks deserve this help or not. It is all about knowing if we want to stand firm against the speculative attacks on the euro zone; and about knowing if it's in our best interest to all move forward towards a more federal and united Europe, or if it's better to turn back to the past.

Moving forward, toward a more federal economic policy, implies that we limit the States' sovereignty. If this is not immediately compensated for with a treaty that gives back some power to the people and to their representatives, meaning the European Parliament, the bet on "solidarity" will feed a cycle of mistrust between European citizens and the Union.

We might as well say that this will show that those who bet on a Europe going backwards are right: it will be "every man for himself". This time, Europe would certainly be heading for the worst, and not only from an economic point of view. Indeed, after Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal will come…they all have their faults…as we all do.

What will Europe look like if all it does is stay busy assigning responsibility to others for what is happening? Well, it will look like a continent that forgot that it used to actively dream about a "Union" that could erase the hatred of history, and prevent future wars. To chase that dream means driving onward, but not without a foot near the brake and two hands on the steering wheel.

Read the original story in French

Photo - YoungJ523

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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