Category Archives: News

United in grief – watching as MH17 victims return to the Netherlands

YET AGAIN, I find myself sitting in front of the TV, watching another extra broadcast regarding the events in the Ukraine. Currently, Dutch national TV is reporting the return of the first victims to the Netherlands – a return, that is, if the victims were indeed Dutch. A procession of forty cars is carrying the victims from Eindhoven Airport to an army base, where they will be identified.

 Like so many events regarding the MH17 crash, it seems surreal. Forty coffins, forty bodies, still not identified. The highway is empty except for this long line of hearses. People stand on viaducts and alongside the road, throwing flowers, clapping or placing a hand on their hearts, out of respect. The Dutch are, to my knowledge, not known for their emotional expressiveness, yet I am sure I’m not the only one who’s shed a tear or two watching the news this past week.

 On CNN, a reporter explained that given the size of the Dutch population (around 16 million) the impact of ‘MH17’ is relatively similar to that of the events on 9/11. Everybody knows somebody that knows somebody. Last year, I must have had some drinks with one of the victims, as we were part of the same research group. Although I only stayed in touch with a handful members of the group, her smiling face pops up in my memory from time to time. It is heartbreaking to imagine how one minute, she and 297 others were on their way to an amazing holiday, a conference, home or work, and the next, as an eyewitness testified, “people just started falling from the sky”.

The cars make a turn, leaving the highway. They are minutes away from their destination. Hundreds of people have gathered at the roundabout, People are clapping, goose bumps run all over my body. A friend took the same flight one year ago, she told me after another minute of silence last Friday. Shivers ran down my spine and we, two very down-to-earth girls, held each other tight.

Today marks a national day of mourning in The Netherlands, the first since the death of Queen Wilhelmina in 1962. Where in Brazil, the death of Nelson Mandela was cause for seven days of national mourning, we in the Netherlands are strangers to such a tradition. Announced only yesterday afternoon, people were quick in finding ways to pay their respects. Church bells rang at different moments throughout the day, and as the two airplanes with the first forty victims touched down at Eindhoven Airport, the nation held a minute of silence. At my university, which is pretty much abandoned during the summer holidays, huge flags were hung half-mast. I went to the beach with a friend, but chose a modest, black dress over my many summery, flowery beach dresses. A much shared blog post is titled ‘I don’t know you, but I’m thinking of you’. It expresses the feeling many in this small country share.

On Channel 2, Dutch churches pay their respect in a shared broadcast, called ‘United in Grief’’. Outside the church, flowers portray a plane. Churches in The Netherlands are supposed to become less and less crowded on Sundays, but today even on the square outside the church people have gathered to follow the service on large screens.

In the first few days after the crash, Rutte’s tone of voice was careful, diplomatic. He seemed reluctant to express his frustration at the pro-Russian separatists. He refused to make a statement regarding the role Russia played in delivering the armor that was used to take down the plane, whether this happened on purpose or by accident.

But as investigators were denied access to the scene, and especially when footage surfaced on which victims’ wedding rings were taken off their fingers, the Prime Minister showed his frustration and straight-out anger. He had a ‘sincere’ conversation with President Putin and he found it ‘disgusting’ that the victims’ bodies were robbed as they were laying in the burning sun for three to five days. He used language and emotion one does not expect from a Dutch Prime Minister, commentators and analysts later said. The emotional speech given by Minister of Foreign Affairs Timmermans on Tuesday, at the UN Security Council in Brussels, made an even larger impact.

During the past week, Rutte has stressed that his first and foremost priority was getting the victims back to their loved ones. In order to do so, he argued, it would be counterproductive to use strong language and start pointing fingers before all the facts were in. Now that most of the bodies are secured, Rutte appears to change his tone. The focus now shifts to the research on the ground, and to the promise of both politicians that the Dutch shall not rest before the final stone is turned and those that are to blame have been put to justice. As talks of an international police force guarding the site of the crash and the researchers take serious forms, it seems the tactics Rutte and Timmermans used are paying off.

The bodies are coming home, now it’s time to start turning those stones. The Dutch people are curious to see whether their Prime Minister will indeed become ‘no more Mr. Nice Guy’.

 On Channel 1, the hearses arrive at the military base. A large crowd has gathered and applauds the victims as the hearses pass. Some hold their hands across their mouths, while others have tears rolling down their cheeks. The reporter reminds us that this is only the first group of victims, and that another 258 still wait for their transportation to The Netherlands.

In the Ukraine, only tens of kilometers from the crash site, a rebel group publishes a video in which they triumphantly show that they have brought down a military airplane – triumphant because, after all, “we told you what would happen if you would fly here.” 

After this day of national mourning, I feel like smashing something.

 

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Written by Lisanne Oldekamp  

 Picture credits: fjavisantos,  liveyourlife

 

Your holiday almost got cancelled yesterday. It still might.

Jón Ragnarsson’s photo. Fimmvörðuháls eruption in Iceland in 2010.

THE ERUPTION OF Iceland’s volcano Eyjafjallajökull (the one world didn’t seem to be able to pronounce) in 2010 stopped half of Europe’s flight traffic. Iceland’s president Ólafur Ragnar Grímson later warned Europe about Katla, one of Iceland’s most powerful volcanoes, with these words: “The time for Katla to erupt is coming close“.

Well he might be right on that. Yesterday, Katla – which is in fact one of the world’s most powerful volcanoes and known locally as being the most dangerous volcano in Iceland – let its residents know it was still there.

A sudden glacial flooding in the Múlakvísl and Jökulsá rivers originating from Katla occurred yesterday. Sulphur pollution that rises from the glacial flood can be dangerous – if exposed to people it can cause them to lose consciousness.

The government declared an “uncertainty level” for the Katla volcano and people were advised to stay away and ‘keep their cellphone very close’.

Glacial floods like this can be caused by various factors, such as eruptions, rising lava, steam vents or newly opened hot springs. All of these can cause glacial ice to quickly melt, accumulate under the glacier and then release – in this case, the effects seemed only to be flooding.

Fortunately, there are currently no signs of an impending eruption at Katla.

However, Katla has been showing signs of unrest since 1999. Geologists predict it will erupt in the near future. It is being closely monitored. An eruption could have ramifications for both the locals and the wider international community.

There’s no smoke on the horizon yet, but there might well be soon. Watch this space, and the skies, for signs of Katla’s might.

Words: Svanlaug Arnadottir

What’s Italy’s new protest party doing with UKIP?

The EU elections marked a rise of the European right almost everywhere, with Italy as a notable exception – leaving anti-establishment Five Star Movement struggling to figure out where it stands as it joins Nigel Farage’s group in the EU parliament.

Despite the arguments the decision raised among the Five Star Movement’s voters, the alliance is done: 78% of the the 29.584 registered Five Star Movement members who took part to the online poll said yes to having their 17 members in the European Parliament join UKIP in the Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group. A decision Nigel Farage, UKIP Leader and EFD Group President, was extremely satisfied with.

Farage, who’s been working to gather like-minded MEPs from several countries – but refused to open up to Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn party – says he’s “delighted” by Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement decision to join with UKIP in the EU Parliament.

“I am very proud to have formed this Group with other MEPs and we undertake to be the peoples’ voice,” he says. The group includes MEPs from Czech Republic’s Party of Free Citizens, Latvia’s Latvian Farmers’ Union, Lithuania’s Order and Justice and the Sweden Democrats. There will also be independent MEP Joëlle Bergeron, former Front National candidate.

Former comedian Beppe Grillo, creator of Italy’s Five Star Movement, has called the vote “a great victory for direct democracy”.

There was more to the decision than simply choosing whether or not to join a group in the EU Parliament: it was also a matter of choosing a side after a long time spent claiming to be “beyond left and right” – and after an unexpected defeat at the European elections.

Born out of public outcry against the corruption and inadequacy of traditional parties, the Five Star Movement reaped a stunning success in Italy’s general elections in 2013, becoming the third main political force. Few people hid the fact theirs was a “vote to protest”: a vote to the Five Star Movement as an act of protest against conventional parties and politicians. Elected members of the party took their seat at the Parliament while promising to “open it up like a tin can”.

About a year and a half later, they seem to have failed to do as much. Keeping itself isolated from other parties, the Five Stars Movement did give voice to its voters’ protests – but, aside from that, it seemed to be getting little else done. Its base of support encompassing people from both right and left wing ideologies, the party also had to deal with many internal contradictions from the start.

On the other hand, aided by a general leniency of Italian press, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi excelled at giving out just the right image of himself in the past months: that of a young politician working fast to get Italy out of recession.

As a result, the Five Star Movement was soundly defeated at the European elections – losing almost three millions of votes since 2013 and only reaching 21% of votes against Renzi’s Democratic Party’s 40.8%.

The centre-left Democratic Party’s victory came as a surprise, and it was a huge shock for the Five Stars Movement, which had hoped to come very close to the Democratic Party or even to surpass it. The election’s outcome didn’t only mark the failure to surpass their biggest opponent: it changed everything most of the party’s arguments were based on. After over a year spent claiming old parties were “dead”, that the government – nominated and never elected – was not legitimated by vote and that only the Five Stars Movement represented the people, Grillo’s party is suddenly unable to use any of those arguments. Joining the EFD group may be a first step to recover by gaining influence in Europe.

Still, the alliance may not lack difficult moments, and not only because the many left-wing supporters of the Five Star Movement may not appreciate the turn to the right. There are several key points – immigration, energy policy and financial regulation being just few – where the Five Star Movement’s programme vastly differs from UKIP’s. And the Five Star Movement is well aware of it: the party’s MEPs are arguing that the group shouldn’t be sitting on the right side of the Parliament. MEP Ignazio Corrao says: “I don’t want to spend all the time explaining over and over that we have nothing to do with the right.”

The problem was clear even before this issue presented itself : shortly before the European elections took place, Grillo expressed appreciations for Alexis Tsipras’ ideas – going as far as saying that the president of Greece’s Syriza-United Social Front was “saying the same things” as the Five Star Movement. And yet Tsipras’ vision of Europe’s future couldn’t possibly be farther away from Nigel Farage’s UKIP.

Written by Alessandra Pacelli
Picture Credit: gruppo.it

Is Egypt on the brink of becoming another failed state?

Darla Hueske - A grafiti protest about one of the most well-known violence acts of the Egyptian army, the physical abuse of the Blue Bra women.

Darla Hueske – A grafiti protest about one of the most well-known violence acts of the Egyptian army, the physical abuse of the Blue Bra women.

After three days of presidential elections, it’s official: former military leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is the new president of Egypt. But what does this say about Egypt and the Egyptian people?

Adly Mahmoud Mansour, the acting president since former president Mohamed Morsi was removed from office in July 2013, is the first Egyptian president that is leaving the office without going to jail or in a tomb. Yet, it is too soon to conclude that Egypt has entered an era of stability. At the same time, concluding that Egypt is returning to military rule and the Arab Spring is transformed into an Arab Winter — as the mainstream media often does — is also too simplistic.

To gain a more realistic picture, its appropriate to look at the reasons behind the widespread support for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The popularity of the SCAF in combination with the socioeconomic challenges Egypt faces nowadays, make the election of Al-Sisi as the new president of Egypt dangerous.

Why the SCAF is still supported
For many it is difficult to understand why an institution that is responsible for so much violence can still count on the support of the majority of the Egyptians. During the revolution in 2011, which led to the fall of former president Hosni Mubarak, the SCAF used extreme violence to protesters. Three years later, this hasn’t changed. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, over 2,500 civilians were killed, 17,000 wounded and 18,000 detained between July 2013 and January 2014. The police violence exceeds the situation under Mubarak.

The reason that the SCAF is still a popular institution is mainly because many Egyptians believe that for the moment it is the only institution that can bring stability. And stability is needed. After two revolutions in three years, the North-African country struggles with high unemployment rates and a deteriorating economy. Besides, the country faces security issues because of increasing violent attacks. An often heard opinion is therefore “il beled lazem timshi”: The country needs to move forward.”

Internetblogger Big Pharaoh explained to me why the SCAF is entrusted with this task: “First of all, here in Egypt every family has at least one family member inside the army. Secondly, you can compare their legitimacy with the royalty in your country (The Netherlands, ed.). And third, there is no alternative. At this moment Egyptians have to choose between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army.”

So, there is a historically seen popular institution like the SCAF, no available alternative and a strong urge that the country needs to move forward. Is the explanation for the popularity of the army that simple?

Why the SCAF should never take part in everyday politics
When looking at the vast levels of propaganda the SCAF put forward, the answer to the question is in short: yes, it is that simple. However, there is an important point that needs to be made, but that is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media. The election of Al-Sisi (a former chief of the SCAF) does not necessarily mean that Egypt returns to military rule.

Angela — a freelance journalist from Austria who has been living in Egypt since the first revolution — thinks this is mainly because Egyptians wouldn’t allow another dictatorship: “The people have learned from the past and that gives us hope. Although people could be — or are already — willing to accept certain constraints for the sake of security and economic stability,” she says. But if certain economic and security demands are not met, the Egyptian people will go to the streets. Again. Especially the youngsters learned that they have rights and that the government has a responsibility to meet those demands. Ignoring the Egyptian people isn’t an option anymore.

Given the political instability, electing Al-Sisi as a president is a risky gamble. What if Al-Sisi doesn’t deliver what Egyptians demand? What if Al-Sisi doesn’t deliver stability? If the only institution that holds the country together loses the trust of the people, Egypt is on the edge of becoming a failed state.

By Ivo Roodbergen

The name of the freelance journalist has been changed for security reasons

Oxford Union’s spring of scandals

Credit: padraic [CC]

IT’S BEEN A rough few months at Oxford Union, with President Ben Sullivan fighting off several controversies – including allegations of rape – with fellow Union officials resigning left, right and centre.

The sequence of scandals came to a head on Thursday night as a vote of no confidence in President Sullivan was brought to the Union for debate and voting.  We’ve storified the sterling coverage of that drama-filled epic by Cherwell and The Oxford Student elsewhere on Pandeia, but here’s the narrative of what’s been going wrong in 2014.

Sullivan’s drinking club membership

Firstly, the Oxford Tab ran an article on Sullivan’s membership of a ‘controversial’ drinking club – the Banter Squadron.

Sullivan at first denied it, and began the process of taking legal action against the publication.

Helpfully (read: not), the Tab chose to update its original article with the news of Sullivan’s admittance of Squadron membership – so Pandeia was unable to analyse Sullivan’s claim that: “My objections to the article were not primarily based on the references to ‘Banter Squadron’. Other claims made in the article were inaccurate.”

Sullivan tries to use union funds for court case; resignations begin

Whatever the grievance, the President then got into hot water over the use of Union funds, to the tune of £1,200, for his legal challenge.  This is where the flow of resignation begins, too.

Firstly a member of the Union’s standing committee, Kat Connolly, jumped ship, citing “completely intolerable” behaviour on the part of “some members”.

The same week, the Union’s librarian Kostas Chryssanthopoulos stormed out of a weekly meeting before resigning a few days later, citing “repeated and continued attacks which have been personal from the start”.

The Union’s standing committee were divided.  Having originally voted in favour of granting Sullivan his money, Sullivan relented and and the committee reversed that decision.

Credit: The Freedom AssociationSullivan arrested and released

Mere days later Sullivan was arrested on suspicion of rape and attempted rape, with the president-elect of Oxford Union, Mayank Banerjee, standing in for him temporarily.

Sullivan was released on bail without charge, remaining on bail until 18 June.

Another Union member resigns, campaign against Sullivan starts

A motion of no confidence in Sullivan was posted for signatories less than a week later.  The vote needed the signatures of only 40 members for it to be brought before the Union for debate and vote.

Meanwhile, the Union Treasurer Charles Malton – who had elsewhere defended Sullivan in the row over legal fees – resigned from his post, citing concerns over the Union’s handling of Sullivan’s recent arrest.

In his resignation letter, Malton said: “Two weeks ago I voted in favour of the Union paying for Ben Sullivan’s legal fees, believing that in doing so I was protecting the Union against rumours rather than what have now transpired to be formal allegations. I later made a speech defending this decision. These decisions were taken in good faith, but I now recognize that they were misguided.”

Meanwhile, MP Nigel Evans expressed his sympathy with Sullivan’s situation.  Evans himself had to resign from the position of deputy speaker of the House of Commons having been charged with various sexual offences in Spetember last year, before being found not guilty on all counts.

Anti-Sullivan campaign releases open letter, ups the ante

An open letter demanding Sullivan’s resignation appeared on the New Statesman, before being taken down for legal reasons.  The report on Cherwell listed the signatories:

‘Students who have signed the letter include OUSU Vice-president for Women Sarah Pine, former OULC co-chair Helena Dollimore, and President-elect of OUSU Louis Trup , as well as OUSU Vice-president elect Anna Bradshaw and OUSU Women’s campaign officer Lucy Delaney.

‘Other signatories of the letter include journalist Laurie Penny and feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez.’

– Robert Walmsley, Cherwell – 20 May 2014

The letter called for a boycott by all prospective speakers at the Oxford Union, and though many responded positively to the call, philosopher A.C. Grayling was among those who declined, writing a letter to the Sarah Pine to outline his reasons and citing the principle of innocence until proven guilty.

Jennifer Perry, a digital stalking campaigner and author, also rejected the boycott of speaking at the Union, and told the London Evening Standard:

“I offered to hold an additional talk at another venue, because the campaigners said some women were so afraid to go to the Oxford Union that they would not attend. But they said that would not be acceptable. At that point it became obvious that this isn’t about women’s safety and more about their campaign.”

Sullivan responded to the campaign against him with an open letter of his own,  saying that he thought the calls for his resignation were premature but that, if things changed, he would review his position.

He added that “if there is one place where an allegation must be treated as just an allegation, then it is in this Society”.

The ‘no confidence’ vote results and what happens now

The evening of the vote, last Thursday, was a whole saga in itself – which we’ve storified for you on Pandeia.  There were some serious points, but there were also moments of near-laughable despair.

After lengthy debate the motion of no confidence in Ben Sullivan was rejected.  Fears of contempt of court in any possible forthcoming court case involving the embattled president prompted a separate vote to adjourn the whole thing.

Sullivan gave an interview with the London Evening Standard last week that covers well all aspects of this big mess.

Stay tuned for more updates – on Pandeia as well as the Oxford Student and Cherwell.  This surely won’t be the end of the matter.

Words: Sean Gibson

Photo: Padraic (top); The Freedom Association (inset)

Oxford Union votes on motion of no confidence in its president – #UnionNoCon

Credit: The Freedom AssociationON THE NIGHT of Thursday 29 May, Oxford Union went to vote on the motion of no confidence in President Ben Sullivan.

The evening’s debate was the culmination of a long and tortuous sequence of events, but proved to be a saga in its own right.

The full backstory to the debate and the vote of no confidence is outlined in another piece on Pandeia.  But here we explore an evening of twists and turns, tears and swearing – and lots and lots of voting

Words: Sean Gibson

Photo: The Freedom Association

Mayday Parade – A tribute to the fallen left

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Several hundred protesters descended on central London today to mark International Workers Day. The march came after the 48-hour walk out by some staff at London Underground.

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Many in the parade held banners commemorating the late former leader of the RMT, Bob Crow, as well as signs remembering Tony Benn who also passed away this year. Both men were heavily referenced in the speeches with Martin Gould head of the south and eastern division of the TUC declaring: “Both Bob and Tony would have been here with us on this podium, fighting for every single one of you”.

 

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The RMT union were joined by a wide variety of different groups from across the political left. International Workers Day is marked across Europe in many ways and is attributed to the actions by workers in Chicago in 1886, known as the Haymarket affair where workers demanded an 8 working day. The protest started at Clerkenwell Green and moved through central London with a police escort to Trafalgar Square passing by the Unite offices on the way.

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The march proceeded to Trafalgar Square where the march was addressed by a number of prominent people on the left. Following the recent deaths of Bob Crow and Tony Benn, two of the left’s most important figures, much was made of continuing their memory in order to promote socialism in the UK. Natasha Hoarau, daughter of the late Bob Crow, said that the movement should continue its campaigns for equality for the working class. Current president of the RMT Union Peter Pinkney said that in order to help the ‘dispossessed’ in the UK a General Strike should be called.

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Pandeia also spoke to Israfil Erbil of the Britain Alevi Federation who are from Turkey. He said that the current events in Turkey were worrying and that the group stand in solidarity with workers in the UK. The Alevi Federation reflected the anger and dissent that has been commonplace in Turkey today, he said: “We stand today in solidarity with our brothers in Turkey who are fighting against a dictatorship regime. If it continues the way it is, young people in Turkey will have to rise up and a civil war will take place. We are happy to be here amongst workers in London, fighting for our rights.”

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With every left-wing group imaginable all here under their respective banners, one parade member told Pandeia that she was happy to see so much solidarity from the usually disparate UK left.

As the speeches drew to a close there was a general feeling of goodwill amongst all participants as they were urged by leaders of all the unions to go back to their regions with renewed vigour in the fights against cuts.

 

Words by Jamie Timson and Greg Bianchi