Tag Archives: Student Movements

Spanish abortion law: step back in time

The Spanish conservative government led by Mariano Rajoy has recently decided to reform the national abortion law. In light of the permanently ongoing pro-life or pro-choice debate, Adriana Díaz Martín-Zamorano analyses the status quo of abortion in Spain as well as the possible consequences that could emerge from the controversial new legislation.

When a Spanish woman was pregnant in 1980 and wanted to have an abortion she would face two options: travel abroad to countries which allowed abortion, such as the United Kingdom, or have a secret abortion. Thirty years later, in 2010, the government passed legislation that allowed a woman to have an abortion in Spain with the Ley de Salud Sexual y Reproductiva e Interrupción Voluntaria del Embarazo (Law of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy). But the current ruling conservative party, Partido Popular (PP), led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, has recently decided to take a step back in time in terms of women’s rights and amend this legislation.

Abortion as a crime
In most European countries abortion is a right. 20 out of the 28 Member States of the EU, including Germany, France, The Netherlands, Greece or Italy, allow women to legally abort their pregnancy without providing any specific reason within a certain limited amount of time –usually between the 12th and the 14th  weeks of pregnancy. Since 2010, that has also been the case in Spain, but the national Council of Ministers approved on the 20th December of 2013 a new system. Ley para la Protección de la Vida del Concebido y de los Derechos de la Mujer Embarazada (Law for the Protection of Life of the Conceived and the Rights of the Pregnant Woman), criminalises abortion, excluding a couple of scenarios such as rape and risk to the woman’s health. In addition, this ‘severe risk’ for the woman’s health has to be recognised by a medical report signed by two different doctors –up until now only one signature was required. Furthermore, the signatory can’t perform the abortion or even work in the same clinic where the procedure would take place.

Right now, only five countries in the EU – Poland, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Poland – have similar legislation on abortion. In fact, in the UK and Cyprus the range measures are way wider than the new amended Spanish law and include significant criteria, such as fetal deformation, which is reflected in the current abortion legislation in Spain and would be eliminated by the changes. Nevertheless, in other Member States, like Malta or Ireland, abortion is even more restricted. For instance, in Malta abortion is banned and Ireland has only reformed its abortion law recently in order to include suicide risk as a factor. The conservative decision creates further distance between Spain and its neighbouring countries while turning it into the only state in the EU that has carried out a structural reform of its abortion law to harden its conditions in the recent years.

A step back in women’s rights that enhances social and economic inequality
The truth is that strict rules around abortion did not seem odd or outdated during the Spanish transition to democracy from Franco’s dictatorship, but these measures now seem reactionary in an established democracy: a trip back in a time machine and a clear step back in women’s rights. Furthermore, the draft law does not only represent a symbolic decrease in rights, it can also have highly negative social consequences and enhance inequality in economic terms. If the parliamentary procedure approves the reform, Spanish women who need or want to have an abortion will have to travel to countries where abortion is legal or have a secret abortion in Spain. While the first possibility is strictly related to personal income thus enhancing economic inequalities, since not everyone can afford travelling abroad to go through such process; the alternative choice is often performed under dangerous conditions and consequently threatens women’s lives.

Pro-life or pro-choice?
In light of the ongoing abortion debate –pro-life or pro-choice-, what is clear is that the focus of the abortion reform is on the foetus to be born ahead of the woman’s right to choose. The conservative Spanish Minister of Justice, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, who has launched the controversial law, claimed that ‘we can’t make the life of a foetus to be born depend on a woman’s will’. The Minister also understands that illegal abortions will have penal consequences for the doctor and not for the woman by justifying that woman is a ‘victim’ of abortion, an argument that has been labelled by some feminist groups as ‘paternalist’. Gallardón also defends that the main reason this new law has been carried out is mainly to fulfil ‘an electoral commitment’.

The public reaction towards the new legislation has been polarised. On the one hand, Christian institutions, such as the Spanish Episcopal Conference, presided by Madrid’s archbishop, Antonio María Rouco Varela, have expressed their satisfaction for the ‘improvement’ in the abortion law because it is important to ‘support both in theory and in practice the right to life’. On the other hand, several feminist associations have successfully organised demonstrations in the largest Spanish cities, like Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla, as well as in European cities, such as London, Dublin and Lisbon, calling for the dropping of the abortion draft. Last week Madrid’s Feminist Movement hosted a demonstration attended by around 15,000 citizens holding rue and parsley branches up in their hands –two plants traditionally used to interrupt pregnancy. The spokesperson of Madrid’s Feminist Movement, Laura Montero, declared to the press agency Efe that the greatest problem is that ‘women who don’t have money are condemned to insecure abortion which can lead them to death’. The opposition to the reform has not only been heard in the streets, but also on a political level: critical voices from the main opposition party, Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), rejected motions presented from local governments –even some ruled by the conservative party- and fierce debates in the European Parliament (EP) have divided left-wing and liberal parties against right-wing and Eurosceptic parties.

The unpopularity of the abortion reform shows that it would be appropriate for the Spanish government to reconsider the viability of carrying out such restrictive measures in the 21st century. However, for the moment, the Minister of Justice has given ‘his word’ that protests will not prevent his commitment to fulfil the electoral programme in terms of regulating the rights of pregnant women and the child to be born.

Taiwanese Students Take to the Streets: ‘Everything Is A Black Box’

Taiwan protest, 2006

Taiwan protest, 2006

TAIWANESE students have flocked to the streets to protest a recently passed trade agreement. 

While Chinese President, Xi Jinping, faced little resistance at home or abroad over a trade agreement with Taiwan, President Ma Ying-jeou found himself unable to ignore the Taiwanese students. For the first time in a long time, they are voicing their anger and dissatisfaction with the government through massive demonstrations. On a weekend afternoon that would normally see Taipei residents stare at assorted cute paper pandas on Liberty Square (as some still did), the real action was happening just a block away. In the centre of the city, a large group of students continued an unprecedented occupation of the national parliament which had been going on for more than two weeks.

Friday evening, when young people usually fill neon-lit shopping streets, the stores appeared empty as young people flooded the streets surrounding the parliament for the eleventh day in a row, that prolonged a sit-in that has effectively deterred police from entering and clearing the parliament. As various professors from Taipei universities were lecturing in the streets, flood lights illuminated streamers and banners suspended from the broken windows and doors through which protesters entered parliament and supplied the protesters. No end to the siege was in sight. Sunday marked a milestone in the protest when at least a hundred thousand Taiwanese, more according to other sources, filled the avenues around the presidential office in a mass demonstration nothing short of spectacular.

“Revoke the treaty! Safeguard democracy! Scrutinise legislation! Oppose the black box!” the protesters chanted as they carried the symbol of the Sunflower Movement. Outside of Taiwan, there is still considerable confusion as to what this movement is about.

Proximity of China and Taiwan

Proximity of China and Taiwan

A special situation

Many foreign publications have dryly remarked that China quite openly aspires to appropriate the island state that itself and until very recently claimed to ‘own’ China. This fact alone should make any agreement with China problematic. The first significant trade deal in 2010 famously sparked a physical fight in parliament in which at least one legislator was hit with a clock and transported to a local hospital.

Some people in Taiwan, as well as some abroad, see any rapprochement between the countries leading to unification, such as Xunyu, 25, who has been helping out as staff at the protest for almost two weeks now: “We are Taiwanese, not Chinese. I would always oppose an agreement.”

However, Xunyu represents only a minority. The focus on China and Taiwan’s relations hides the fact that, in reality (predominantly for domestic reasons) these protests have spun out of control, and authorities have been very hesitant to react and use force. A poll by Taiwanese magazine Business Weekly shows more than 50 per cent of respondents are against the treaty. In fact, most people are not simply opposed to trade agreements with China, they are opposed to what they call the ‘black box’, or the opaqueness of Taiwanese politics and the undemocratic way the Nationalist Party (KMT) decided to ratify the treaty in “less than 30 seconds”, as the protesters claim.

Taiwan Parliament 2 ‘Everything is a black box’

  For Xiaoyun, 19, this is her first protest. She is camping in the open air against the barbed wire of the barricades with her    boyfriend  Youwei, also 19, who is doing homework as required by the protests’ leaders so students do not get behind on their  education. Like  many, Xiaoyun still lives with her parents, who now discuss politics at home and support her. “Everything is a  black box,” she says.  “Yes, I fear China, but I am actually really worried about the way this has been pushed through.”

At the beginning of the process, ruling party KMT promised to review every clause of the agreement in cooperation with the  opposition Democratic People’s Party (DPP). When instead the KMT decided to promptly withdraw from the talks and pass the  agreement in a hurried vote, many people felt betrayed. “The government never explained anything well to the people and has  only insisted on the good points,” says Ziyan, 25, who works at the smartphone producer HTC. Her colleague Cheying, 25, thinks  that she would “surely benefit from the treaty,” but that this not the point. “What we want is procedural democracy,” she says. “I want them to protect small business and vulnerable people better,” adds Ziyan.

The protesters demands include: special regulations for the ratification of future treaties, that the treaty will be revoked and modified to better protect vulnerable people and industries, and lastly constitutional reform.

This last complaint is especially sensitive in Taiwanese society, as President Ma Ying-jeou appears to be acting on China’s behalf, which is perceived as a service to  the enemy power. His approval rating has been extremely low for a long time, and ‘Ma 9%’, as the nickname goes, is speculated to be targeting history books rather than news reports in desperate search of accomplishment. The president is an important political force in Taiwan, and many blame him personally for not explaining the treaty, showing instead a defensive attitude that leaves little hope for a compromise.

More than a student movement

Originally a radical student movement for Taiwanese measures has evolved into protesters breaking into the parliament and turning it upside down. They have garnered support from diverse sections of society, in a country still heavily influenced by Confucian deference and not accustomed to violence. Most of them admit that at least one parent actively supports their cause. Tsang-chiang, DPP councillor on Kinmen Island, less than two kilometres off the Chinese coast, has flown in with his two children just to join the protest. Many appear to understand that the issues at hand matter especially to the young, who are concerned about becoming part of China one day.

Taiwan protests 2Currently, Taiwanese students graduate into the labour market of an ageing society where low economic growth has meant stagnating wages, while prices have increased and housing property is increasingly hard to obtain for newcomers. While promising much-needed economic growth, the current agreement threatens to make property values jump, as mainland Chinese would be able to buy apartments in Taiwan. According to many observers this would help investment banks and real estate sectors, while exposing vulnerable industries to Chinese competition and influence. Many Taiwanese fear that their country, which has excellent, though hard to finance collective health insurance and other social policies, will become a more unequal society.

Politics at play

The case of the Taiwanese trade agreement is a classic example of far reaching policies that are negotiated in the twilight zone of international diplomacy rather than in the arena of national politics. Taiwanese citizens feel vulnerable in negotiating an agreement with an economic giant like China without any backup of a larger trade block, such as the EU or ASEAN.

The Taiwanese black box may not be opened any time soon, but protesters like Alice are not easily discouraged in their newly found political engagement: “I don’t think our government is afraid of anything any more. They know this is just a very temporary outburst of people. But even though I know things might not change, I still want to stand up.”

By Shir Bashi, Sofia Lotto Persio

Pictures: Paul Chang (Anti-Chen protest), Planet Observer (China and Taiwan satellite image), Jimmy Tseng (Protesters scaling parliament), Y.J. Wang (Female protesters with banners).

Victims of Abstract Ideals: Protests across the Globe

From protests to civil war, the international stage has seen a sandstorm of political unrest. Luis Barrueto looks at these conflicts across the globe, with focus on the rising tensions in Ukraine and Venezuela in a Special Report for Pandeia.

In Ukraine, clashes between protesters and policy have turned deadly, amassing a death toll of over 100 people after a short-lived truce. In Venezuela, protesters have been on the streets for over a week now in demonstrations against their government that are rapidly becoming violent, with the death toll at 8 people so far amidst increasing tension with the government. While each of these conflicts may seem unique at first glance, all of the clashes began as a struggle by populations against their governments’ abuses and have intensified by state tyranny. Although admittedly with different levels of clearness, underlying each struggle is a shared conviction that their citizens should live their lives in peace and tolerance. Yet, their governments continue to silence the cries for freedom.


“The average person faces the fear of being murdered, kidnapped or assaulted not only by criminals but by the state itself”

Gabriel Salas, from Estudiantes por la Libertad Venezuela, has summarized the situation, above. The current protests began as a peaceful demonstration against the high degree of insecurity, the growing scarcity of common consumer products, inflation and the abuse of power that has been common since Nicolás Maduro rose to power in April 2013. Last February 12, the protest that demanded the release of several students detained without their due process resulted in violence that counted 3 killed people, 23 hurt and hundreds of detainees.

12593095174_9dc2826c7e_bFollowing this, counts rose to 13 official deaths, dozens of tortured individuals and many more captured, including that of Leopoldo Lopez, the assumed leader of the opposition after his call to the 12F protest. After his surrender to the state forces, the Venezuelan people seem to have awoken from the stagnation that the opposition leaders Henrique Capriles and his Democratic Unity Roundtable had found themselves in. Declarations by Lopez’s wife, Lilian Tintori, show this by asking for his formal support, long absent since the beginning of this crisis.

Constant repression has shown in two fronts:  the National Guard and so-called “collectives”, paramilitary organizations that have been used by the officialism to strike against the opposition in cases where policy involvement is too crude of a prospect. At the time of this writing, militarization seems even a bigger threat, though those who go off to the streets find the protest as the only alternative to the increasingly crude conditions of life in Venezuela.


In Ukraine, the movement endured a different sort of birth. President Viktor Yanukovich gave up on a trade agreement with the European Union, in exchange for a 15 billion bailout, three months ago. Maria Semykoz, Young Voices Advocate, explains that the motifs have changed since then:

“It started with the EU treaty. The regime used violence to crack down the peaceful protest. This shocked the society. From that point on,the protest was increasingly about holding those guilty in the first blood dropped on Maidan to accountability and ensuring police and state forces will not be able to beat up 11878993505_331302ebe6_binnocent citizens in the future. However, the regime didn’t get the message”.

Progressively, violence escalated towards its peak between February 17 and 19, rising the death toll to 26. “Citizens had little choice but to demand the president’s resignation – and with it, the dismantling the whole regime, wired to steal, lie, kill and torture. As we saw over the last 2 days, people are ready to stand behind this demand until death”, adds Semykoz.

After this escalade in violence, President Yanukovich declared a short lived truce that was broken within hours and added up to a 100 killings in total since the beginning of the protests. At the time of writing, the elite Berkut police unit seen as responsible for many of the deaths have been disbanded in attempts to quell the ever heightening tensions.

Thailand and Venezuela ignited protests domestically, whereas the shadow of Russia and the West have been all the more present in Ukraine and also, in Syria. “Russia’s involvement is complex, as it delves into power relationships surrounding the energy markets as well as Putin’s dream to resurrect Russian domination in the region”, explains Irena Schneider, expert in political economy for post-Soviet countries, adding that “Though Russia has tried to promote paranoia and fear of destabilization, too much blood has been spilled for the Eurasian project to maintain a shred of credibility for all free thinking, critically-minded people in the world”.

Dissent taken to the streets

All of these countries are struggling between the people’s will and the politicians’ impositions. Schneider argues that “the open society has a universal attraction, and has touched the hearts and minds of citizens in both Russia and Ukraine. The ideas of liberty are stronger than those of brute force and oppression”. Salas has argued that “young Venezuelan students go to the streets because they fear that life and all their dreams are shattered by policies that suppress individuality and prosperity”.

Both Venezuela and Ukraine show – with a difference of degree –  that when a government overreaches from its proper limits, citizens are willing to fight for ideals like democracy, liberty and justice.  As Benjamin Constant said, abstract ideas take concrete individuals as their victims.

Elie Wiesel wrote that “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”. From a distance, readers of this article can do best by taking a side, get informed and put pressure on their own governments not to remain silent when they witness injustice.




Protests in Bosnia: International Fast News


There’s been talks, debates and protests across the world this week. From Taiwan and China’s historic talks to a question of parody in LA, Pandeia has it covered in The Bottom Line – International Edition.

The first government-to-government talks between China and Taiwan were held this week, 65 years after a brutal civil war which caused the death of between 2 and 3 million people. These talks were seen as a symbolic yet undoubtedly historically significant occurrence.  Wang Yu-chi, who oversees Taiwan’s China policy declared:

“That we can sit here today, formally getting together, formally holding meetings, together exploring issues that people on both sides of the strait care about – this represents a new chapter for cross-strait relations, and is a day worth recording,”

Taiwan and China have been separated when — following the loss of the civil war to Mao Zedong — two millions supporters of the Nationalist party fled to the island of Taiwan. Over the preceding decades Taiwan has found itself become more and more politically isolated as following its ousting from the UN, fewer and fewer countries officially recognise it.

However all is not lost for the Taiwanese as its military is supplied by the United States and it has consequently enjoyed a long economic boom even in the face of the ‘Global Recession’.

Bosnian Turmoil
Murmurs of a Bosnian Spring have taken shape following mass protests and huge demonstrations across the country. In three of the main cities, disorder has broken out following continued turmoil over the nation’s economic future.

As many as 200 people were injured in protests that took place in about 20 towns and cities. Government buildings were set on fire in three of the largest centres – Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica.

The Balkan state has never truly recovered from the conflict that defined the region some 20 years previous. Its infant years as an independent state have been blighted by huge political infighting between the three main ethnic groups — the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) Croats and the Serbs. Its these divisions which have lead many in the country to lose faith in the political classes, blaming them for the stagnation of the economy and the mass unemployment that taints the social structures.


The government response to the protests has been lukewarm at best with prime minister, Nermin Niksic, arguing that there needs to be a differential made between workers who were legitimately protesting against economic conditions and “hooligans who used this situation to create chaos”. The state has already announced that any action that damages public property would be heavily prosecuted.

Just another coffee shop?
In lighter news, theres been a surprising new addition to the row of coffee shops in LA, its Starbucks but not as we know it.


The store who’s interior, exterior and coffee selection is an exact replica of Starbucks save for the ‘dumb’ prefix, was all the work of American Comedian Nathan Fielder who told the world in a press conference this week:

“Many of you probably know me as a comedian. But this is no joke. This is a real business I plan to get rich from. But I need your support.”


Unfortunately Starbucks failed to see the funny side and they, with the help of the Los Angeles Health and Food Agency shut the shop down within 6 days of it opening. It remains to be seen if Fielder will go ahead with his plans to open another shop in downtown Brooklyn.


Burning flames in the hearts and streets of Santiago

Linn (2)Photo: Linn Helene Løken


Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile has left a highly privatised education system. Recently students have taken to protest in the streets to put an end the legacy of the dictator. Pandeia’s Ida Nordland translates a report directly from Santiago.

A blanket of polluted air covers Santiago. On the ground thousands of people have gathered. Drums are pounding the pace of the march they have started. The whistles join in, along with the loud shouts from the protestors: ”La education no se vende, se defende!” Chile’s educations are not for sale, they are to be defended.

“It is only during the last couple of years that people have realised that education is a right, not a privilege for the wealthy,” says Roberto Reveco, a film student at the University of Chile.

Today, most of Chile’s public schools and universities are private. While less and less public funds are spent on the public educational system, many choose to pay for a private education of better quality. The price for a bachelor’s degree in Chile varies, but may cost around 2000 euros. In comparison, the average income in Chile is 4.000 euros a year.

Pinochet’s Legacy

The privatisation process began 40 years ago. In 1973 Augusto Pinochet took the power from socialist president Salvador Allende in a military coup. Pinochet ruled Chile for 17 years and more than 40.000 people were victims of torture, random arrests, killings or abductions.

Pinochet left behind a strong market-oriented policy. Only between 1980 and 1981 were 87% of all schools transferred from public to private control. The current education system is a result of this total privatisation.

Today, there are private institutions everywhere, but lately the students have begun to speak up, especially against the profit-seeking principals. The former Chilean minister of education Harald Beyer was fired in April because of a new scandal: The boards at several universities had created companies that rented out premises to their own universities. In this peculiar way, the rent was sent to the principal’s own bank accounts.

The Penguin Revolution

”We are fighting for our education, our country and against the fraud that is being carried out by the authorities,” explains a teenager at Estacion Mapocho, the end station of the march. He is holding an anarchist flag.

“Last night the police changed the route of the demonstration which made people go to the wrong meeting point. They do this to prevent us from gathering in a peaceful manner. In the morning the police continued to stop traffic and block streets so we couldn’t attend the protest. That is the kind of system we are fighting against,” the teenager expresses.

The first wave of student demonstrations began in 2006 when high school students started the  ”Penguin Revolution”, named after the pupils’ penguin-like uniforms. The penguins protested against fees to enter higher education and for free public transport for pupils and students. The movement began with relatively small demands, but is now fighting for a restructuring of the entire educational system. The message on the banners are clear: ”Educación publica, gratuita y de calidad” – public, free and good education.

Camouflaged Challenges

It’s burning, not just in the hearts of young students. It’s literally burning. A bus stop is in flames. Around it a group of youngsters have gathered, covering their faces in headscarves. They are called ”los encapuhados” – the hooded.

They fight against the system with rocks and homemade molotov cocktails. They represent the Chilean student organisation’s perhaps biggest challenge to be taken seriously, although they represent only a small group. The police respond with tear gas, tanks and arrests. The clashes were expected. They occur after every protest.

The violent game is legacy of the dictatorship, which has left deep traces in Chile. The fight for a public education continues nevertheless, – slowly but surely. As the young teenager with the anarchist flag puts it: ”There is always something to fight for.”


Originally by Linn Helene Løken for Momentum

Visions of Division

To mark the end of our Conflict theme, Andreyna Valera collates this exclusive photo essay, depicting the remarkable stand off on the North Korean border.  

Last December, the relationship between North and South Korea was especially tense. Tourists were told the tours around the Demilitarize Zone (DMZ) and Joint Security Area (JSA) could be easily cancelled. These places catch the attention of thousands of views from all over the world every year, attracted by what can be considered the most similar place to hell on Earth.

First thing you are told when you step in the Korean DMZ is that you are not allowed to make eye contact with North Korean soldiers, not either gesticulate towards them to not ‘provoke’ any reaction. There is also a dress code that must be respected: no broken jeans or flip-flops, it can be used by North Korea to confirm one of their many lies about the rest of the world and manipulate saying how poorly the rest of people live that they cannot even dress properly.


An American Marine takes the lead of the tour as soon as you arrive. He makes you to sign this document where it is advised “the possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action”. Although the JSA is a neutral territory, the safety of visitors cannot be guarantee in a hostile enemy act. Afterwards, another American soldier makes a presentation of the Korean War, how the Armistice was signed and the creation of the DMZ. They never sign a peace treaty so technically they are still in conflict.


North and South Korean soldiers stand face to face overlooked by American soldiers, who also impose a strict photograph policy on visitors. A stunning performance for those who visit this location: Panmunjeom. The glass doors at the back of the picture have strange forms that North Korea uses to take pictures of tourists and provoke American soldiers playing with lights and reflections.


American and South Korean soldiers work shoulder to shoulder. There is an important American military base in Itaewon, North Seoul (South Korea). The US also played a decisive role as creating the DMZ as in the Korean War.


The static defensive position that South Korean soldiers keep constantly comes from the Martial arts. All South Korean soldiers have been formed with taekwondo training intensively, due to military service is still mandatory. Representatives from both Koreas meet in this room to negotiate; the north part of the table is for the North of Korea and the south for the South.


A fake town built by North Korean government as a propaganda strategy for worldwide tourists that visit the DMZ. There are many buildings and towers illuminated regardless nobody lives there. Satellites have proved that electricity is a luxury in most of the country.


This town is inhabited. However, there are restraints to take pictures from this point and all pictures must be shoot behind a mark line controlled by South Korean soldiers.


Korean people, from both North and South, leave their desires of union and reconciliation among them represented in those coloured pieces of clothing. The few familiar reunion agreed with North Korea have taken place in this area.


This bridge was used to exchange prisoners after the Armistice in 1953: once the bridge is crossed, there is no way to go back to the other side ever again.

Boris Johnson, Lord Rennard and Scandal: UK Fast News

The most surprising nomination for a university Rector in history, increased measures against protesters, drops in violent crime, and a debate on the merits and pitfalls of a private education are hot topics in recent UK mainstream and student news, as Jamie Timson and Rachel Barr contextualise in this week’s ‘The Bottom Line’. 

WATER CANNONS have been at the forefront of the political debate this week as both the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson and the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) called for discussion on their use in riots.  This news came on the back of the Mayor’s earlier plea for the Home Secretary to fund the purchase of cannons for the Metropolitan Police service (MPS). Boris cited the riots of 2011 that started in London as the catalyst for his decision claiming “I am broadly convinced of the value of having water cannon available to the MPS for those circumstances where its absence would lead to greater disorder or the use of more extreme force.” 8952451409_9469307ff8_b

The prospect of water cannons, however, has brought uproar in some quarters with Joanne McCartney — Labour’s police and crime spokesperson — describing Mayor Johnson’s actions as “deeply worrying” and going on to question the necessity and speed of the implementation. “This is being rushed through, and Londoners are being given virtually no chance to express their views. Such a monumental shift in policing needs a proper public debate”. Others have questioned the supposed implicit meaning behind Acpo’s briefing and the danger to public protest it could result in:


DESPITE INCREASED MEASURES against “great disorder”, crime figures in England and Wales have actually fallen by 10% – the lowest estimate made since 1981, when the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) began. Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted his congratulations to the police, posting:

However, while crimes such as violent crime have decreased, there have been ‘worrying’ increases in other areas of deviance. Fraud offences recorded by police have increased by 34% , and sexual offences have increased by 17%. This increase has been attributed in BBC reports “Yewtree Effect“, where a greater number of victims have come forward to the police to report historical sex crimes, as seen in cases against Rolf Harris and other ‘household’ names.

HIGH PROFILE SEX ALLEGATIONS have featured heavily again in the news this week as Disgraced Lib Dem Peer  Lord Rennard’s lack of apology has resulted in opprobrium from all sides. Rennard had been the subject of a criminal investigation and a Liberal Democrat disciplinary process after at least 10 women came forward alleging that he had behaved inappropriately towards them during his time as chief executive. The 53-year-old campaign mastermind was cleared by both the Crown Prosecution Service and the Lib Dem’s own investigation as the “burden of proof would be too high” but these findings have seen the party come under fire. 5983388671_50ed5e75c0_b

Alison Goldsworthy one of the alleged victims spoke out against her former party claiming  “Faced with the opportunity to take strong action, the Liberal Democrats have once more opted for cowardice.They have failed to say Lord Rennard’s behaviour is unacceptable, they have failed to discipline him and therefore failed to give victims the justice they deserve.”

Lord Rennard was not the only Lib Dem to be embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal as Mike Hancock MP was also suspended this week following reports of “prima facie evidence” that Hancock had made inappropriate sexual advances on a constituent.

THE BIG STUDENT NEWS of the week in the UK was the nomination of US fugitive and whistleblower Edward Snowden for the position of Rector of Glasgow University. The decision had come late on in the nomination process and as such took many at the University by surprise. Snowden — who currently resides in Moscow in temporary Asylum — was contacted by an “informal group of Glasgow University students” via interlocutors, however it is claimed he accepted the nomination personally. The position of Rector is currently held by Charles Kennedy the former Lib Dem leader and his duties include meeting with students and sitting in on disciplinary hearings in the University Court. It remains to be seen how Mr Snowden intends to carry out these responsibilities should he be elected, considering his appearance on the Obama administration’s most wanted list and the UK’s extradition policy with the US.


Chris Cassells, PHD Student at the University and one of the leaders of the ‘Edward Snowden for Rector’ campaign claimed “Edward Snowden’s candidacy is a unique opportunity to show our gratitude to a brace whistleblower and thus to all other whistleblowers who take risks to reveal criminality and corruption of powerful groups in society.” While some have claimed the campaign is nothing more than a publicity stunt, most students and former students have welcomed the opportunity for protest. One former student added “The role of Rector is above all often a ceremonial one, and as such it makes sense to nominate a figure who represents the sentiments of many within the student body.”

HEAD TO HEAD: Student Newspapers on Private Education 

“Some things only money can buy – and a good education is one of them”, claims Becca Atkinson, who goes on to equate “posh prejudice” as being ‘just as bad’ as racism or homophobia. Writing for the Bristol branch of The Tab, she argues that while some parents ‘choose’ to spend on “flashy holidays and expensive cars”, others invest their money on school fees and their child’s education.

8270736498_93c3c0881a_bThough admitting that paying over £12,000 or upwards per year in fees may be unfair, she claims that “that’s life – you don’t get something for nothing.”

“From my perspective”, Atkinson continues, “my parents paid two sets of school fees; mine at a price I won’t disclose, and yours, through their taxes”. Quoting the superior resources available to private school students and the better life prospects awaiting them in future as advantages, Atkinson concludes that – all in all – private schools get better results.

“This may be because the students who go there are more clever: you have to pass stringent tests to get in…Regardless, better results mean better prospects, and that is worth paying for”.

On the contrary, retorts fellow Bristol University journalist Jessica McKay, encouraging your children to work hard and be proud of what they have achieved displays far more love and commitment to their future than splashing a few thousand pounds a term. Yes, she agrees, private schools do have better resources – a ‘valid point’. 5168061145_3bc4cbd7fb_b

However, McKay continues, the ‘splendour’ of which state school children are deprived is instead replaced with something which money cannot buy: an ‘enriching school community’:

“Non fee-paying schools mean that children of all economic backgrounds and academic abilities interact and learn together. Some private school advocates argue that they do not want another child to ‘hold’ their own back. Yet, what of the ways children ‘spur‘ each other forward?”

McKay asks a central question of private school advocates: “Why do we segregate our children by monetary worth through ages four to eighteen when, one would hope, they certainly won’t be penned into such divisions in later life?”.

She concludes that, “in trying to ‘protect’ a child from others you, arguably, preclude entire worlds of experience.”




The European Conundrum


As the EU and its member states face another year of uncertainty and conflict, Myrto Iztaigov takes stock of Greece’s recent history to pose the question what does it really mean to be “European”?

With the continuing imposition of Western Europe’s mandated austerity, Greece enters another period of uncertainty and perhaps a re-evaluation of what it really means to be European. “Is Greece really European?” seems to be an increasingly frequent question within a western media who often portray Greeks as lazy, corrupt and distrustful of all kinds of institutions. Features that are deeply carved into their DNA, they say; products of the country’s wrong policies over the years.

But let’s not forget that Europe’s bad boy has had a vastly different trajectory from most Western European nations. Greece may be the ‘heart of European Civilization’, but for more than four centuries it was a child of Ottoman despotism. For the next 150 years, the country was marked by constant foreign intervention and occupation, waves of immigration and a civil war. In the meantime history moved north into colder climates and the Industrial Revolution created powerful colonial empires and wealthy states in the U.S. and Western Europe. Greece was poor, agricultural and largely shaped by the trends of the Near East and the Balkans. Its ‘schism’ with Europe’s dominant countries was still obvious when the country joined the E.U. in 1981, a decision based on the need for a wider market and a romantic vision of the continent stretching from Iberia to the eastern Mediterranean. “Europe without Greece would be like a child without a birth certificate” had said former French President, Valery Giscard d’Estaing (back in 2000), who had relentlessly supported the country’s integration.

Standing between the ancient ideals and reality, Greece chose to follow the western paradigm. “We belong to the West”, the prime minister, K. Karamanlis  had famously proclaimed  following the country’s integration in the European Union. Yet, his words seemed more like a challenge to achieve rather than a statement of the obvious. By de-emphasizing the country’s cultural and religious particularities, Karamanlis hoped to reassure, even announce, the country’s ability to participate actively and become part of the modern western world.

But Greece wasn’t mature enough to cross to ‘the other side’. As taught by centuries of Ottoman rule, Greeks still identified the authorities with oppression, brutality, bribery and corruption. A perception later reinforced by the modern state’s inefficiency. According to D. Danikas, a journalist on protothema.gr, the gap between Greece and Western Europe started as soon as the Greek Orthodox Church split ten centuries ago from Roman Catholicism and is still there. “The state, for us, is the worse thief. Thus, the only thing we can do is steal from it as well. On the contrary, Western Europeans view the state as a privileged, ideal area that provides infrastructure and social benefits”, he writes.

Twelve years after his famous dictum, in a Spiegel interview, Giscard d’Estaing acknowledged that the country’s integration was, indeed, premature. “To be perfectly frank, it was a mistake to accept Greece. Greece simply wasn’t ready. Greece is basically an Oriental country”. A rather discrete remark compared to the journalist Z. Hatzifotiou’s comment to the Associated Press, in 1979, after the country joined the EEC: “What? Greeks European? Never! Greeks have made tremendous material progress in the last years to push their way into Europe. But they will never be genuine Europeans unless they correct their Oriental manners”.

So where do Greeks stand? In a world dominated by productivity, balanced books and the protestant ethic, questioning Greece’s ‘Europeanness’ is not incidental (especially when the notion of being a ‘good European’ is dominated by the Northern European definition). But it is still something to ponder: what does it really mean to be European? Is it enough to have a common currency, a single market or EU identity cards? Or maybe it’s just a question of ideological belief…but what if your children don’t share your values and ideals, are they not ‘European’ anymore?

We can’t measure or calculate someone’s ‘Europeanness’. As Maria Hnaraki, director of Greek Studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, told IB Times: “Greece is at the borders of the so-called East and West. That is exactly where its uniqueness lies. It has served – and still does so- as a crossroads amongst three continents and, historically, people of various socio-cultural backgrounds. Thus, Greek identity is a mosaic, an amalgam of all those elements”. Europe is a beautiful mosaic – trying to categorize each piece individually would make it fall apart.

The Singing Rocket

The young people of Palestine have found quite a number of ways to champion their struggle but as Lisanne Oldekamp investigates, none have been quite so effective as the peaceful story of one man and a talent contest.

It’s a sunny Friday afternoon, shortly after midday prayers. On the central square of Nabi Saleh, a group of people awaits the arrival of the villagers that attended the service in the village mosque. It’s a warm day in May, yet most wear scarves. As the inhabitants of the small, hillside village enter the square, journalists jump into action mode, foreigners look on with nervous faces and several men pick up their megaphones. After some loud speeches have warmed up the crowd, the people start walking. Most protesters wear proper footwear that allows for a quick escape. Passing posters of fellow villagers that have died in similar protests, it is the sturdy young children that lead the way. Down the road, around the corner at the gas station – where a sense of nervousness shivers through the less experienced part of the group as scarves are tightened across the face to protect the lungs. After a few hundred meters, the anticipated clash with the military takes place. Stones are thrown, tear gas grenades shot back. The young children that walked in front of the demonstration run back – but never far. The adrenaline makes them giggle as they appear to turn things into a game: who is the bravest, who stands their ground the longest, who throws the biggest stones?

The Palestinian population is young. In 2012, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), children aged 0 to 15 made up over 40% of the population. Despite the relatively stable status quo the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in since the Second Intifada (with exception of the frequent outbursts of violence in Gaza), these children continue to grow up surrounded by violence. The weekly demonstrations against the occupation in villages all across the West Bank have become an almost normal part of their life. Tear gas thickens not only the air of the fields surrounding the village, but of the streets and in the houses of the village as well. Often, the protesters are chased down the streets of their village and arrested in their own homes. Fathers, brothers, uncles, even mothers are being arrested in front of the children’s eyes and nightly house searches further diminish the children’s feeling of home as a safe haven. Between the posters of the martyrs, praised for their bravery and sacrifice, and the weekly demonstrations, attended by so many villagers and supported by international activists, it seems likely that Palestinian children create a disturbed perception of violence.

If this perception of cause-and-effect becomes the only discourse in the children’s mindset, they might become the generation to start the Third Intifada. But as the conflict continues to remain in a dead-lock, activists need to turn to more creative methods to reach the headlines. Palestinian children got the chance to see that demonstrating, hunger striking, and stone throwing are not the only ways to get their message across last year. Next to the many posters of martyrs in the village, the poster of a new hero, alive and kicking, has become a common feature in the streets of Palestine.

A story worth retelling
It was the American Dream times a thousand. It took an aspiring singer — the son of a refugee family — two days to join a singing competition and a lot of pleading with reluctant border patrol to allow him to enter Egypt, where auditions were held in a hotel. Upon arriving at the hotel, he stumbled across a line of thousands of people with the same goal he had: to be part of this competition, and thus have a shot at becoming a professional singer. By jumping over a wall, he at least made it into the hotel – where he was told he was too late to enter the competition. Desperate not to go back after all his effort, he asked a friend what he should do. The friend kindly offered him his place in the auditions: “You came all the way from Palestine. Besides, I know I won’t reach the finals, but you will. Take my place.” A few months later, Mohammed Assaf from Gaza was the first Palestinian to win Arab Idol.

Mohamad Assaf (nicknamed ‘The Rocket’) is, without a doubt, Palestinian of the year 2013. His songs and shy, polite appearance stole the hearts of the Arab world and beyond. With Assaf, Gaza has its own Justin Bieber – without the bad behavior and sex/drugs/drinking scandals. His pretty brown eyes and friendly smile and of course his warm singing voice have accomplished what Palestinian politicians thus far could not manage: to unify the Palestinian people. Internationally, he managed to create a headline regarding Palestine that did not involve violence, rockets or the occupation. Although that’s not to say the headlines themselves didn’t still refer to a troubled past: ‘Finally, Palestinians  have reason to celebrate’ or ‘First good news for Palestinians in years’. Assaf quickly became a welcome advocate of the Palestinian people and their cause: a singer whose music touched many, a youngster with bright, thought-through quotes. Its hard not to feel glad that he was such a polite, civilized man: it would be hard to believe that this singer could be a terrorist. And perhaps that is what served the Palestinian people most: he became someone people could relate to, his appearance and actions did not match the common stereotypes of Palestinians.

As Mohammad Assaf would later say on a Dutch TV show: “The media always link Palestine with problems and violence. They forget those other, beautiful stories that can be told of us [Palestinians]. If only the media would make an effort, they would discover creative people that love life.”

A new role model

Through winning Arab Idol, Mohammad Assaf has done just that — he reached the international headlines because of his singing, a talent unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, the ‘Nightingale of Palestine’ does have a clear message on the matter: Palestinians in Gaza and on the West Bank must overcome their differences and form a unified front against the occupation of their land. During the competition, he became much more than a singing refugee. He became the embodiment of Palestinian nationalism,  and used the stage to “represent Palestine in its beautiful image”. Not only has Assaf given the world a new, fresh image of Palestine – he has also shown the young people of Palestine that there are different, more creative ways of having the media pay attention to their problems. It does not take rockets, stones or even a Third Intifada to spread the message they want the world to know: they can use their personal talents to step into the spotlights, where they have a stage to inform the world and to reason with their opponents.

Mohammad Assaf has become the young people of Palestine’s new national symbol of hope. He has provided them a choice. They can continue throwing stones, at the risk of becoming one of the old-fashioned posters: a martyr, praised by family and friends, but with a message that fades over time. Or they can choose to represent the ‘Palestinian Cause’ in a different, more creative way: hoping to reach as many people as possible.

Does Greece need a revolution?

As 2013 drew to a close, and the protest movement across Europe took stock of its accomplishments, demonstrators in Greece turned their attention to the recent heavy handed nature of the country’s policing. As Chloe Thanopoulou investigates, the events of the 6th of December could irrecoverably change the nation’s future. 

The 6th of December has a special meaning for Greeks. It marks the death of Pavlos Sidiropoulos: the Prince of Greek Rock as well as being the day Alexis Grigoropoulos – the 15-year old boy who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time – was murdered by a police-officer.

It is also the day a revolution started – one that marks the country’s consciousness. In a certain way, the events are interconnected. Although Pavlos lived in a entirely different time, the circumstances were in many ways similar to those today. Through his songs, he reprobated the corrupt state and the philistines and showed the anger of the people towards the system. Alexis was another victim of the power of the authorities. He, as well as many others, have been victims of the political situation often talked about in Pavlos’ songs.

Protesters or Terrorists?

A social “explosion” of dissatisfaction and unrest followed Alexis’ death. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back; a full-scale collision with authoritarianism. Yet this was not reflected in the media, whose reaction to the protests – and the protesters – was largely a negative one. Activists were often characterised as terrorists; meaninglessly trying to burn cities down. This viewpoint quickly became widespread, distorting the image most people had about what was going on. Though the chance for change had been born, many people preferred long discussions at the local café’s – based on misleading information provided by the big news agencies – over the action a revolution requires. It kept many people away from demonstrations.


Demonstrating is even less appealing when police reactions are taken into account. In an attempt to appear effective demonstrators are arrested so the police are able to announce the numbers of arrests the next day. It is considered a way of proving its capabilities, but in reality denies citizens the right to demonstrate peacefully.

An example of the attitude shown by police towards the politically active is an event that took place last year year when a local Greek group Laiki SynelefsI Papagou-Holargou (the people’s assembly of Papagou-Holargos) saw a series of arrests made against their members. For no apparent reason, two of their members were firstly accused of theft and  – when these charges could no longer be justified – the charge of arson of two ATM’s appeared. In a statement released by the group, they describe: “The autocratic behavior of the state and the “terrorism” against everybody who is fighting is obvious”.

Arresting people without a clear reason – especially in demonstrations – is a common tactic of the police: highlighting their unwillingness to find the real wrongdoers. Not only have politically and socially active people become a target of the authorities while facing continuous mistreatment, but they also appear to be the scapegoats of everything the police cannot cope with. The need to show the public that justice is being served by targeting people who fight and have strong political views, serves the need to control potential reactions which could lead to a revolution . So far, this tactic seems to be successful: the consequences of demonstrating seem severe, which in turn deters people from standing up for their rights.

Yet, the yearly demonstrations in the memory of Alexis  have had some impact. This is primarily because people believe that, 5 years on from the murder, ‘nothing has changed’. A revolution does not play by the rules and cannot calculate the costs. It may come only when there is no other choice – it knocks existing structures down to subsequently rebuild them. Yet, this does not have to be led by violence. It must start by changing minds, by changing perceptions of what is ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ and what is not. It may happen when someone sees his or her fathers’ store closing or his or her uncles’ house being taken away because of an unpaid debt. It could happen if allegations that as many as half of the police force vote for the far-right party Golden Dawn turn out to be true. Or it could be when someone’s desperate neighbour commits suicide, as occurred at the beginning of the Arab Spring. It may happen in the heads of the many people that work continuously for 300 euro a month, with no hope for a better future. We cannot forget the symbols of Pavlos and Alexis, because they have foreseen what the country is going through now. Silence, distortion and fear are not the way to change it.

Original article by Costas Papantoniou