The biggest exodus in Modern History

Europe has always been a very interesting continent. Throughout the pages of history, Europe has had its share of bloody wars, colonies, empires and democracies. The frontiers of Europe have changed drastically since the start of the 20th Century. It is no wonder that two of the biggest wars in human history, the two World Wars took place with Europe as its center-stage. Asia and Europe have been the center of enlightenment and progress throughout history, Asia leading in the earlier days, and Europe assuming the mantel since Alexander and the Roman Empire and later from the 14th Century, called the Renaissance period. Fast forward to 20th Century, Europe was broken, joined and again broken and joined in a space of around 100 years from the Franco-Prussian war to the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Thence due to so many geopolitical changes in Europe, it has also witnessed many mass-exodus. From the Romans fleeing from the Goths, to Jews absconding Germany, and the mass movement of Slavs, Croats and Bosnians during the Yugoslavia crisis; mass exodus has been a characteristic of European geopolitics.

But during the advent of 21st Century, this has happened again. Today Europe is facing mass movements to and from different regions and countries. First there was the Bosnian crisis which prompted this, then it was the advent of ISIS, which forced people from Syria and Iraq into Europe, along with this, the uncertainty of Greece exiting Eurozone or not and its preceding bailouts also made people look to rosy shores, and the recent skirmishes on the Channel Tunnel between the French police and Somalian and other African immigrants is testimony to that.

Freedom of movement has been a part of the European project since the 1950s. Yet Europe’s borderless zone only really began to become a reality in 1985, when several members of the EU, including France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, met in a village in Luxembourg called Schengen to sign an agreement to eliminate all internal border controls. This “Schengen agreement”, which came into effect in 1995, eliminated border checks among its members and allowed foreign visitors to travel throughout the area using one visa. Today a total of 26 states, both within or outside the EU, are members (see map).

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Summer 2015 has witnessed an unprecedented number of asylum seekers, chiefly in countries which are friendly to them, mainly Germany and Sweden. This can be known from the fact that in 2015, Germany expects to receive 800,000 asylum applications, four times that of 2014. Europe, which was the pioneer in the introduction of borderless states, is now being forced to rethink its policy. The recent incidents of train attacks on the Amsterdam-Paris train and the police-migrant clashes at Dover and Calais has prompted many analysts to put a question mark on the Eurozone and the European parliament’s policy of borderlessness.

But these apprehensions are not just of the analysts’ alone. Governments who are a part of the Schengen agreement are also now worried. The influx of migrants puts an undue strain on those economies who willingly accept these migrants  case in example of Germany.  On August 20th Thomas de Maiziere, Germany’s interior minister, warned that Germany’s Schengen membership may be unsustainable unless other countries share the burden of accepting asylum seekers. Closed borders would mean that Germany could turn away people at its borders.

Another interesting part of the agreement is that the Schengen allows for border checks to be introduced for reasons of national security. France put up its borders after the London tube bombings of 2005 and Portugal did it during the Euro 2004 football tournament. But if controls remain for more than short periods, they risk reversing decades of European integration.

Apart from all this, one big factor that is not being given its due weightage is terrorism. The attacks on the Amsterdam-Paris train are only one-side of the situation. Border control activists are also highlighting the fact that the lack of current border checks is helping ISIS and Chechen recruiters – who look for youth in vulnerable parts of Europe, and source them to Syria via Greece and Turkey. This situation was also highlighted by Gibraltar, which recently sealed its border against immigrants.

Drowning African emigrants

To conclude, a grave geopolitical crisis is brewing in Europe, already plagued with enough problems in its hands because of its economy. The questions are many, and the solutions few and difficult to digest. European shylocks will be definitely claiming their pound of flesh, but will they get it is a question for us to think upon?

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The Two Chinas

Today, a new, but very different, “two Chinas” question is emerging. It centers on whether China is best understood as a strong country, with a promising future despite some short-term difficulties, or as a country facing serious structural problems and uncertain long-term prospects. In short, two very different Chinas can now be glimpsed. But which one will prevail?

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Uptil a few years ago, the world was living the China Dream. It’s economy was growing above 10% rate – an unbelievable pace – since more than three decades. People all around the seemed attracted to the Chinese model of development. Eve with the world’s largest population, it had managed to transform a substantial part of its rural population into the middle class. Particularly astounding was the fact that with its authoritarian economy, it had been able to mitigate itself from the worst effects of the 2008 Global Recession, which had severely hit USA and most of Europe – severely discrediting the liberal-capitalism theory.

But switch over to 2014-15, things are nowhere the rosy pitch they once were. The Chinese Economy is now at a pace of 7% – way more than India, from where I am penning down this- but it is a far cry from those days. There are also rife speculations that this government figure is also not particularly honest – a typical Chinese authoritarian trait- and that the actual growth rate is only 5%. The seriousness of the situation was reflected in the alarm with which the government froze stock markets in the midst of a dramatic price correction.

Furthermore the August move of China to deregulate renminbi was the most alarmist move made by China is what I feel the last two decades.

And this is coming at a time when the BRICS is launching their New Development Bank as a rival to The World Bank, and China is making plans for inter-trade collusion with Russia with the renminbi as the flagship currency in it. These two headlong collisions with the USA and its allies – armed with a resurgent dollar – has to be done at a time when the renminbi is strong at dawn, not at its twilight.

A big part of this is due to the intense anti-corruption campaign unleashed by President Xi Jinping. More of a power-grabbing campaign rather than a reformist campaign, due to the wave of prosecutions that it has unleashed, officials in China are now more vary than ever while taking decisions – for fear of repercussions which they might have to face in future years.

China’s aging population, an unintended consequence of its draconian one-child policy, poses another threat to long-term prosperity. With the dependency ratio – the proportion of children and pensioners relative to working-age men and women – set to rise rapidly in the coming years, economic growth will remain subdued, while health-care and pension costs will increasingly strain government budgets.

The increasingly apparent conclusion from this whole scenario is that China wants to have the economic growth that capitalism produces, but without the downturns that come with it.  It is vital for the Chinese economy to recover, otherwise the whole world will have to face a backlash from it. Some analysts recommend china to liquidate its immense assets overseas ( China is the biggest foreign owner of real estate in USA ) to pump in cold hard money in its economy, but that is a short-term solution at best.

So whether China is facing short term problems or long term serious structural problems; only time will tell. But one thing is certain, the next three decades will not mirror the past three ones.

Chinese Laundry in America’s Backyard

One of the world’s most powerful journalistic mouthpiece – The  Economist – came up this week with a startling relevation that there might be a competitor to the famous Panama Canal coming up in the near foreseeable future. This has literally opened up the floodgates; in this context, a barrage of opinions and columns which I can reasonably predict to come up in the coming days by the global diaspora. http://worldif.economist.com/article/8/what-if-the-panama-canal-gets-a-rival-trench-warfare-in-nicaragua

A place that looks as if it is still sleeping, the Brito river in Nicaragua might become the stage of a world conflict in the next decade. The main brouhaha is about a new canal being envisioned in Nicaragua, by the Chinese government-military and some big Chinese companies, which could very well pose as a competitor t the Panama Canal, providing an alternate route between the busiest sea routes in the world, joining the two biggest oceans in the world- the Pacific and the Atlantic.

Chinese billionaire, Wang Jing’s company is willing to gamble 40 billion USD on a fiendishly astute project, which would make a canal that exceeds the existing Panama canal in all aspects – allowing 500 metre long supertankers to pass through, a problem that both the Suez and the Panama face in the wake of ever-increasing size of ships.

The construction alone would be a spectacle. Some 50,000 labourers (perhaps a quarter of them Chinese) might work on site, and 2,000 diggers, dredgers and other giant machines would excavate about 5 billion cubic metres (177 billion cubic feet) of dirt, using 5 billion litres of fuel in the process. They will lay what they dig up 1.5km either side of the canal, which HKND promises to turn into new arable land about three times the size of Manhattan, partly for the 30,000 people uprooted from their homes.

Construction will no doubt damage the environment. A 107km-long, 280-metre-wide trench will be dredged through pristine Lake Nicaragua, rainforests will be uprooted, big-cat migration routes traversed and indigenous families ousted from sacred lands. Mr Wild pledges that, when finished, the reforested land along the canal route will be better cared for than it is now. But can any pharaonic enterprise, let alone a Chinese one, be trusted not to cut corners? Environmentalists will try to block it every step of the way.

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The proposed canal route

But all these considerations and grandiose plans apart, this mega project raises many dangerous questions. Nicaragua, a relatively obscure country, has willingly let go of its sovereignty and has given a concession of 100 years to the Chinese company. What future does this hold for Nicaragua? Will this project shoot-up its economy – Yes, definitely it will. But can we eliminate the thought that this is  just another of a series of Chinese incursions in foreign territory, something on the lines of South China Sea? And most importantly, will this turn out to be a 21st Century Cuban Missile Crisis, where the meek country of Nicaragua maybe used by the Chinese military as a base to target the American soil – after all they built an air strip on those disputed islands which have the capability to land any air force plane for that matter ? Who can stop if the Chinese Navy decides to send its warship on a hopscotch from one ocean to another?

These are some serious questions that need not only some very deep thought, but also some constructive action. After all USA, with its own version of “Truth, Justice & Liberty” which it continues to uphold in all corners of the world, to not do something about what’s going on in its own backyard is something surprising.

So far, America has been phlegmatic about the enterprise. Perhaps, like Jorge Quijano, administrator of the Panama Canal, it believes that financially the project is a bottomless pit and has no future. Mr Quijano reckons that for the Nicaraguan canal to earn a competitive return on investment, it would have to charge double the tolls levied in Panama, which would put off most customers.

Nicaragua’s Sandinista rulers shrug off the worry. “If China is behind the project, it will not be a big problem for Wang Jing to get the financing,” Mr Coronel says. After all, what wouldn’t China pay to see one of its naval fleets one day emerging from the Central American jungle right under America’s nose?

The Dead Bloggers of Bangladesh

Last week blogger Niladri Chattopadhyay, known as Niloy Neel, became the fourth this year to be hacked to death for writings that some felt were abusive towards Islam. Chattopadhyay was among 84 people listed by hardline groups for the alleged anti-Islamic sentiment in their writings.

The government has come under increasing pressure to investigate the killings and stop further murders, with many accusing it of failure to provide security to the country. Human Rights Watch in a statement on Wednesday called on Bangladesh to protect free speech after the Bangladeshi police chief asked bloggers not to “cross the line” with their writings. “It’s shocking that Bangladesh authorities not only failed to protect the bloggers despite complaints to the police about threats against them, but instead are proposing self-censorship,” the group’s Asia director, Brad Adams, said.

“The government should recall that its duty is to uphold the constitution and protect people’s lives, as well as their religious freedom,” Adams added. The murders have shocked most Bangladeshis and have been criticized not only by civil society groups but also the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami party. On Sunday, the Inspector General of Police, AKM Shahidul Hoque, said: “There will always be free thinkers. I have enough respect for them. But we need to remember that hurting religious sentiments is a crime according to our law. I will request them, please make sure that we don’t cross the line. Anything that may hurt anyone’s religious sentiments or beliefs should not be written,” he said.

The murders have purportedly been claimed in statements by a mysterious militant group called Ansarullah Bangla Team, which claims affiliation with al-Qaeda, but their claims have not been verified.

On the face of it, it is an attempt to kill free speech. But the problem runs deeper. The Muslim-majority nation is going through a volatile phase. Ever since the Awami League government opened the controversial war trial to indict those who committed serious crimes during the liberation war, the country has been on edge. The main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has joined hands with the Jamaat-e-Islami to unleash violent protests against the government, particularly against the war trial in which several Jamaat leaders have been indicted. The government has not heeded to the protests, but the street violence continues. The killing of the bloggers comes against this background.

The bloggers were supporters of the war crimes trial, and instrumental in shaping public opinion in cyber space against communalism, which obviously brought the Islamists’ wrath upon them. They were also soft targets compared to those involved in the trial, who get government security.

Humans are full of contradictions. On one hand where we pledge to uphold the ideals of free speech, yet on the other hand we barbarically condemn  the flag bearers of dissent in our society to death. These deaths are not just deaths of bloggers, or of journalists, these are the instances where slowly our liberties are curtailed from us piece by piece. The global community should raise its voices against these crimes against humanity occurring in broad daylight and put pressure on the government of Bangladesh to stop these attacks. Failure to do so would only send a message of toleration to the assailants.

To NATO, With Love from Russia

RUSSIA’S aggression in Ukraine has given NATO both a new sense of purpose and a new kind of threat: “hybrid” warfare. With its increasing expansionist attitude that has potential ramifications for the whole of Europe – and that’s putting it modestly, NATO is increasingly at crossroads with this despotic dictator – as described by the famous Russian band : “Pussy Riot”.

The overarching assumption is that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, flushed by the success of annexing Crimea and prising away Ukraine’s Donbas region, moves on to something even more ambitious. His goal: to undermine NATO and the European Union, by concentrating his well-honed techniques of hybrid warfare on two Baltic states that share a land border with Russia—Latvia and Estonia.

But What is HYBRID WARFARE ?!

Hybrid warfare brings together military and non-military instruments to discombobulate the target state.

Unlike Ukraine, the Baltic states are members of both the EU and NATO and are covered by the military alliance’s commitment to collective security under Article 5 of the 1949 Washington treaty that deems an attack on one as an attack on all. But this was conceived in an era when there was no doubt whether a country was under military attack or not. The big question is whether it is fit for purpose in dealing with 21st-century Russian tactics, which use ambiguity and deniability to make it hard to gauge whether an attack is really under way. Only once in NATO’s 66-year history has Article 5 been invoked—after the attacks of September 11th 2001—and at the time it was controversial whether this was a proper use of the alliance’s biggest stick.

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This is how Mr Putin might test it. Working to its established game plan, Russia starts by stirring up the resentments of “Russians” in Estonia and Latvia (by some reckoning, about a quarter of the population in both countries), bombarding them with propaganda about the discrimination they are supposedly subjected to. Using agents provocateurs to foment pro-Russian demonstrations in the capitals, Riga and Tallinn, Russia does all it can to undermine the authorities in both countries. Ethnic Russians from Estonia and Latvia who were encouraged to fight with their “brothers” in eastern Ukraine stand ready to carry on the fight back home.

As the situation deteriorates, using his tried and tested method with Crimea; Mr Putin orders snap exercises of elite troops on the Russian side of the border, giving him the option of military intervention with little notice. Drills of this kind were a critical element in the destabilisation of Ukraine. Cyber-attacks are stepped up, adding to confusion, and NATO faces a huge increase in incursions into allied airspace in the region by Russian aircraft. Next, “self-defence forces” start forming in areas with many ethnic Russians, organised by soldiers wearing the same green uniforms shorn of insignia as the “little green men” who suddenly turned up in Crimea.

Estonia and Latvia ask NATO to declare that an Article 5-invoking event is under way and thus to commit all the alliance’s members to come to their defence. There is a lack of consensus that a full-scale response is justified at this stage, and with Mr Putin warning that any escalation by NATO could force Russia to consider using nuclear weapons to defend itself, the alliance’s “parliament”, the North Atlantic Council, cannot reach the required consensus of all 28 countries. The insistence of Germany that all political means of defusing the crisis must be brought to bear before going down a path that could lead to a major war in Europe finds many supporters. Thus, the bedrock assumption on which NATO’s credibility and thus the security of Europe rests has been tested and found wanting.

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How likely is such a scenario? Perhaps Mr Putin regards the risk of taking on NATO as too great. Even his Ukraine escapade has stretched Russia’s military resources.

But the allies cannot afford to rely on that. They have drawn up plans to hold the NATO Response Force, which has at its disposal 40,000 well-equipped troops, at a much higher state of readiness. A “spearhead” force of about 5,000 troops will be deployable at the first sign of trouble, possibly within hours, on the order of the alliance’s supreme commander, General Philip Breedlove, without the usual requirement for consensual political approval. NATO’s new secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, says it is also helping its front-line states improve their intelligence-gathering and situational awareness. Knowing what an aggressor is planning and understanding early on what is happening on the ground are vital.

Heinrich Brauss, NATO’s assistant secretary-general for defence policy, stresses the need for speedy decision-making: “One week”, he says, “could be too long in the event of a hybrid attack. We are now significantly accelerating our procedures.” He refuses to define what might trigger Article 5. “Some ambiguity is necessary,” he says. But an adversary “must know that NATO is capable and willing to act”.

Whatever happens, the geopolitics of Europe, which has dominated the world scope for the better part of the last two centuries, continues to hog the limelight away from another contender,the ISIS.

What Happened Today ? – Yuri Gagarin & US Civil War

On April 12, 1961, aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin becomes the first human being to travel into space. During the flight, the 27-year-old test pilot and industrial technician also became the first man to orbit the planet, a feat accomplished by his space capsule in 89 minutes.Vostok 1 orbited Earth at a maximum altitude of 187 miles and was guided entirely by an automatic control system. The only statement attributed to Gagarin during his one hour and 48 minutes in space was, “Flight is proceeding normally; I am well.”

After his historic feat was announced, the attractive and unassuming Gagarin became an instant worldwide celebrity. He was awarded the Order of Lenin and given the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Monuments were raised to him across the Soviet Union and streets renamed in his honor.

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The triumph of the Soviet space program in putting the first man into space was a great blow to the United States, which had scheduled its first space flight for May 1961. Moreover, Gagarin had orbited Earth, a feat that eluded the U.S. space program until February 1962, when astronaut John Glenn made three orbits inFriendship 7. By that time, the Soviet Union had already made another leap ahead in the “space race” with the August 1961 flight of cosmonaut Gherman Titov inVostok 2. Titov made 17 orbits and spent more than 25 hours in space.

Meanwhile, exactly a century ago, the American Civil War began. The bloodiest four years in American history begin when Confederate shore batteries under General P.G.T. Beauregard open fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Bay. During the next 34 hours, 50 Confederate guns and mortars launched more than 4,000 rounds at the poorly supplied fort. On April 13, U.S. Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort. Two days later, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteer soldiers to quell the Southern “insurrection.” The American Civil War, widely known in the United States as simply the Civil War as well as other sectional names, was a civil war fought from 1861 to 1865 to determine the survival of the Union or independence for the Confederacy. Among the 34 states as of January 1861, seven Southern slave states individually declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America, known as the “Confederacy” or the “South”. They grew to include eleven states, and although they claimed thirteen states and additional western territories, the Confederacy was never diplomatically recognized by a foreign country. The states that remained loyal and did not declare secession were known as the “Union” or the “North”. The war had its origin in the fractious issue of slavery, especially the extension of slavery into the western territories. After four years of combat that left over 600,000 Union and Confederate soldiers dead and destroyed much of the South’s infrastructure, the Confederacy collapsed and slavery was abolished.

The American Civil War was one of the earliest true industrial wars. Railroads, the telegraph, steamships, and mass-produced weapons were employed extensively. The mobilization of civilian factories, mines, shipyards, banks, transportation and food supplies all foreshadowed World War I. It remains the deadliest war in American history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 750,000 soldiers and an undetermined number of civilian casualties. One estimate of the death toll is that ten percent of all Northern males 20–45 years old, and 30 percent of all Southern white males aged 18–40 died. From 1861 to 1865 about 620,000 soldiers lost their lives.

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P.S. – FYI the letters CCCP on Yuri’s helmet are the Russian abbreviation of USSR.

Just in case…..

What Happened Today ? – Remembering the King

Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motelin Memphis, Tennessee. The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital. He was 39 years old.

Martin Luther King Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American Baptist minister, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. On October 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence. King was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established as a holiday in numerous cities and states beginning in 1971, and as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986.

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On April 3, back in Memphis, King gave his last sermon, saying, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” The next day he was shot dead by a sniper.

What does Martin Luther King Jr. or the King as he is affectionally known all over  the world, mean in today’s world?! Does his ideals; deeply influenced by his ideological pillar Mohandas K. Gandhi ( whose ideals continue to be questioned even today ); hold forth even today?! Can we imagine in today’s brutal world of conflict and wars, a non-violent protest to demand the basic human rights that every human must get?

What the King achieved is nothing short of a feat of superhuman strength. His idol, Gandhi revolutionized a country and secured independence from a 300 year old colonial power. The King did not do that. The King instead fought for his community’s rights in a society which shunned egalitarianism to its teeth. From the time of the legendary Carl Lewis, who won four gold medals for his sterling feats on the track in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games – Hitler famously refused to commemorate him with the medals. There have been unmentionable atrocities faced by the Blacks. What the King sought to achieve was equality, as was said in the famous line of the Academy Award winning movie Lincoln,

Thaddeus Stevens: How can I hold that all men are created equal when here before me stands stinking, the moral carcass of the gentleman from Ohio, proof that some men ARE inferior, endowed by their maker with dim wits impermeable to reason with cold, pallid slime in their veins instead of hot blood! You are more reptile than man, Mr. Pendleton, so low and flat that the foot of man is incapable of crushing you! Yet even YOU, Pendleton, who should have been gibbetted for treason long before today, even worthless, unworthy you deserve to be treated equally before the law! And so again, I say that I do not hold with equality in all things, only with EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW!

I would not dwell into Lincoln here for want to time and you, the reader’s short attention span. It’s said about some men that they could not achieve much alive than that they achieved by dying. The King did more in both the instances. He laid the foundation for the African-American community in the USA and by the extension in the whole of the world to realize their potential in the free new world. From Booker T Washington to Rosa Parks to the King, they all fought for their rights, for the rights of everyone, and gave a light of hope to the whole world.

And what is the King’s impact in today’s world?! I feel that it can be illustrated in another powerful dialogue said by a soldier to Abraham Lincoln in the same movie:

Corporal Ira Clark: Now that white people have accustomed themselves to seeing negro men with guns fighting on their behalf, and even getting the same pay, in a few years perhaps they can abide the idea of negro lieutenants and captains. In fifty years, maybe a negro colonel. In a hundred years, the vote.

If from a time when the Blacks were slave, to the time of the Civil War – where they fought to search for their identity in the United States of America, to the time that Martin Luther King Jr. fought for Black equality. If after all this, today we see a Black American President – then it signals Change. It signals Hope, hope that the world is not such a bad place after all. The first Black American President heralds a new dimension in today’s world – that anything is possible today.

Martin Luther King Jr.