Tag Archives: Ukraine

The other side of the conflict: conversing with a Russian friend


Nadia's photo

I FIRST MET Nadia in the city of Toronto during the summer of 2008. Back then the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were being occupied by Russian troops and today, six years later, Russia is being accused of invading Eastern Ukraine. During the time Nadia and I shared in Canada, we discussed the Russo-Georgian war and many other related topics over lunch. I was interested in hearing her perspective on the current crisis.

I found her point of view particularly interesting not only because she is a Russian citizen who is currently living in the country, also because being fluent in English and Chinese as she is, she has worked and studied in China, Canada and South Africa, among other places. In other words, few people understand the West and the East the way she does.

First of all, I would like to know whether you consider you are receiving proper information from your government regarding the conflict in Ukraine and Russia’s participation in it.

– I do believe that during a war no one actually receives proper information. We all only see what our governments want us to see and that’s not something exclusive to Russian society. The news that you watch in Spain and the news that I watch in Russia are totally different. And how you and I perceive the news is also different. For you, as well as for the greater part of the world, it is ‘yet another conflict’ taking place in some remote country. For me, as well as for most Russians, it is a war in which my friends and relatives die and get hurt. I do take it personally, and so it is hard to keep calm and objective.

The Western world portrays Russia as an invader. On your TV screens you can see Russian troops and military forces all over Ukraine. We in Russia see the war between Ukrainian national forces and forces of the Ukrainian opposition, in which many ethnic Russians die or get hurt and they are our relatives, or our friends, or our friends’ relatives. I cannot say that politics is one of my strong points so my understanding of what is happening is very limited, but the general idea of what I, as an average Russian, would get from the news here is that the current Ukrainian government is rather confused and basically does not know what to do next; that Russia is trying her best to help reconcile the two parts of the conflict; and that European and American news lie.

Now, which news source is really lying? I don’t know. And you don’t know. And I don’t think we will ever know. I think in such circumstances one should not believe any mass media since during a war everybody lies.

Back in July, the USA and the EU imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Russia in response to her involvement in Ukraine. The Russian government retaliated banning certain imports from those countries who took part in the sanctions. Have these measures affected your everyday life?

To be honest, not really. But it does not mean that all Russians are totally okay with the change. There might be somebody who is suffering because they cannot buy their favourite sort of Dutch pears any more. I would say there are many factors to be considered in this regard, starting with one’s geographical location and finishing with one’s income level. There was a big discussion regarding these sanctions and there were different opinions on the matter.  And I, as well as many Russians I know, believe these sanctions are fair in an “eye for eye” view of things.

Going back to the negative effect it might have had, my opinion is based on my personal experience. I personally have not experienced any difficulties or inconveniences caused by these sanctions. However, I live in the far East of the country and it is really, really far out: an 8 hour flight away from Moscow. We never had most of these banned imports anyway. In that region nothing changed. A couple of weeks ago I visited my friends in Moscow and St. Petersburg and one of them said that some fish became more expensive. But in general, I don’t think these sanctions have had a major effect on our lives.

What is your opinion, and what would you say is the general opinion where you are, regarding Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula?

I really do not see anything negative in this. And I do not think there are many Russians who would be unhappy about it. You must also remember that we never really perceived Ukraine as a foreign country, there is so much history and blood relations that connect Russia and Ukraine, especially Crimea and Sevastopol. The population in this region is mostly Russian; they willingly became part of Russia so I cannot see anything wrong with it.

While I’m writing these lines my best friend is enjoying her holidays in Crimea and she says it is great there and people are happy. No one was killed in the process of this very episode of the crisis and I would say that all parties involved are actually happy about how it all was resolved. The American government was not very happy though. I came across a very interesting article on the Internet in which the author could not understand the American government’s involvement in this Crimean issue. He said it was nearly ridiculous that the USA would interfere, as ridiculous as it would be if a region of Mexico voted to become part of the USA and Russians would interfere. And I agree with that. I think the fact that the rest of the world has a problem with recognising Crimea and Sevastopol as part of Russia responds merely to political reasons. For me, this region was never truly separated from Russia, if you look at its people throughout history.

Do you consider the pro-Russian rebels who are currently fighting in Donetsk and other parts of Eastern Ukraine as rightful Russian citizens who should be given the chance to join the country?

Yes, because the people of Ukraine and Russia are historically connected and many of us have relatives and friends in Ukraine and naturally vice versa. Given the amount of propaganda and hatred towards Russians that is being cultivated in Ukraine – no matter how the crisis would be resolved – I do not think that any Ukrainian born Russian or any person with a Russian surname would have a peaceful life in Ukraine. It does feel wrong and sorrowful to me but I do not think that there is anything that could be done to change that.

What is happening now has been happening for so long and has become so complicated that no one can give a reasonable explanation to it or predict how and when it will all end. All this will cause some sort of discrimination, or even a genocide in the long term, making it impossible for Russians -or as you call them pro-Russians- to live in Ukraine. And to answer your question, there are hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees in Russia now. And Russia will give a new home to every person from Ukraine who wishes to have one. And I think that is right, I think that is human.

Valentina Melnikova, president of “The Association of Mothers of Russian Soldiers”, estimates there are currently between 7000 and 8000 Russians fighting on Ukrainian soil. Have you heard of someone you know who’s been deployed there? What do you think about this sort of military involvement? Is it Russia’s duty to protect the rebels in Ukraine?

I don’t know of anyone who is currently fighting in Ukraine.  You never know what truth is so I would not take any current estimation as factual. The Internet is flooded with various rumours regarding Russian soldiers dying in Ukraine but I would not like to repeat the rumours: I believe one can only trust something he or she has personally experienced when it comes to war.

What do I think about this sort of military involvement? It is understandable for me if Russian people would want to go and fight for their families and friends who live in Ukraine. But as any sensible person, I think this war should stop. I think it should have never been started in the first place. It has always been beyond my understanding why people should kill people. Any war is wrong, but this particular conflict feels so wrong that I can hardly believe it is all really happening. I do not understand why people, regardless of their nationality, must pay with their lives and the lives of their loved ones for mistakes made by a group of greedy politicians.

The conflict was triggered by the violent protests that took place in Kiev last February, which managed to overthrow the government in what many viewed simply as a coup d’état fueled by the West. Would you say the USA and the EU are being somehow hypocritical denouncing other countries’ involvement in the region while supporting coups worldwide whenever they suit their interests?

I really do not feel that my knowledge of politics is anywhere close to judge such things. As I see it, every  government is hypocritical when they are trying to protect their interests. I think it is important for us to remember it. Our governments are hypocritical, the news that we watch is -if I may say so- ‘photo shopped’ according to our governments’ interests. And one of the negative side effects of this informational war is how we, people from different countries, let these things change our perception of each other.

I was on an international flight a week ago and there was a man from a Western country who sat next to me. There was a friendly chat between the two of us that lasted for a few minutes until I said I was Russian. After that this man just stopped talking to me, he turned away and acted as if I didn’t exist for the rest of the flight. Somehow it made me feel responsible for what my government does, or to be more precise, for what my government does according to his government’s news. I know I deviated from the question, but I feel it is important to say that we should not judge people on the basis of where they come from –  especially in such a tense international environment. We should not become victims of our governments’ hypocrisy.

Do you think the rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine were at risk of being violated or damaged after the former Ukrainian government was overthrown?

I do believe so. And I do believe that ethnic Russians in Ukraine will not be able to live there peacefully.

Should the Ukrainian regions inhabited by a majority of ethnic Russians be granted the opportunity to join Russia the way Crimea did?

It is another question I feel uncomfortable answering because of my very weak political background. On one hand, if these regions joined Russia the way Crimea did, it might cause a second wave of sanctions and unhappy American and EU politicians, which would make this crisis even more complicated and reduce the chances for a peaceful settlement in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, it seems more than right to give Russians born in Ukraine an opportunity to live in Russia, to live peacefully with their loved ones in a country where they feel at home and are not hated for being of Russian descent.


To end this interview, I would like to briefly discuss with you a topic which has been pretty controversial among sectors of European and American societies. That is no other than Russia’s law against gay propaganda. I recently watched a documentary in which many people from all corners of Russian society publicly supported the law and advocated the need to protect children against inappropriate content and confusion. What are your thoughts on this measure? In the past Spanish society was probably more careful about the content children were exposed to. Now I think it is not far-fetched to say Spanish media exposes children to all kinds of violent and sexual content throughout the day. You have been to several Western countries; would you say our governments are becoming too permissive?

I do not think that media content in Western countries is much different to Russian media. Actually it is all the same TV shows, programmes and series that we watch. Though we do have this age restriction now in movie theatres, you know all those 12+ or 18+ markers that are shown before the movie begins.  I personally find them quite useless. I mean if a 15-year old wants to watch an 18+ movie, he’ll do it no matter what newly established censorship says. And I cannot say that governments are becoming too permissive about these things. It is just the amount of 18+ content today is so huge and availability of any information is so wide that no government will be able to control it. I think any restriction in a modern world is quite useless because today’s children are born with tablets in their hands. It is the parents’ duty to protect their children from all sorts of scenes they may find harmful that are shown on TV or available on YouTube.

As for gay propaganda and that documentary you watched, Russia historically is quite a traditional society and I have to agree that in general Russia’s tolerance level is quite limited nowadays. I think it has a lot to do with the Soviet times, when people went fanatical about morality and words like “gay” or “lesbian” were whispered in disgust. I frankly believe my mother did not even know such words before American movies were allowed on TV. But today things are changing, many people are starting to see it differently and maybe in some 200 years they will even allow gay unions in Russia.  I am sure that on that documentary you watched it was all 40+ 50+ people who were supportive of this law. Younger generations, at least in many cases, are not as traditional and if the director of that documentary had wanted to show Russians that support gay couples he or she would have easily found them in all corners as well. It is again, two sides of the same coin.

-Thank you very much Nadia for your insight. It has been a pleasure speaking with you again.

-The pleasure has been all mine.


By Alberto Aberasturi.



The Ukraine crisis in tweets


Ukrainian forces are reportedly moving into Eastern Ukraine to tackle pro-Russian activists who have reportedly taken control of a number of important government buildings across the region. The Ukrainian government are calling it an anti-terror operation.

Leaders in the west of the country have denounced the protests claiming they are the product of Russian aggression.


This view of events has been supported by many western leaders including Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt. US President Barack Obama called on his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to use his influence to calm protests in the east of the country which some claim could result in civil war in Ukraine.




The European Union has repeatedly called for calm as the Ukrainians build up their forces to move into the eastern part of the country.


Some have been reporting that the area is calm despite the build up of troops.


However others have claimed that Ukrainian forces are already on the move to deal with the unrest.


Amid scattered reports of hostilities and casualties Bloomberg is reporting that the Ukrainian government have said the Russian 45th Airbourne are currently in Slovyansk.




Russia has categorically denied that it is involved in the current unrest. The Russian ambassador to the UK said  the US has been unable to prove direct links between Russia and the ongoing crisis.



Meanwhile, some have called for greater security in eastern Europe with the Euromaiden group suggesting that US troops may be mobilised in the area. There has been an increase in air patrols amid concerns about instability in the region.



The Cold War didn’t end when one side declared ‘victory’

Credit: Jeroen Elfferich

CONGRATULATIONS TO EVERYONE now realising that the Cold War never ended.

To see any ‘cold war’ in the new chapter of Russo-West relations currently unfolding in Ukraine might seem overly simple and alarmist.  Certainly there are some lazy journalists and commentators for whom this is just standard operating procedure.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true – the Cold War is alive and well.

The real lazy journalism is what has filled the self-indulgent, self-congratulatory interim period of the 1990s and 2000s, where we revelled in the ‘defeat’ of communism.


Russia had to withdraw when communism fell.  It needed to regroup and reform.  Even as late as 1998 the former Soviet Union defaulted on its debt, and saw the ruble collapse.  There was a lot of mess to sort out.  A lazy journalist might make some loose, throwaway comparison to Weimar Germany here.

Yes, Russia has changed – but haven’t we all.  Change, reform, metamorphosis – none of it precludes the persistence of much older, broader geopolitical realities.  Well-worn battle lines and worldviews are not so easily redrawn as the front-of-house political scenery.

The ideologies might not appear so extreme, but the spoils of victory are little different just because the battleground has shifted

The current upheaval in Ukraine has obscured the economic developments that immediately preceded it.  Russia already had a very cosy agreement with Ukraine in terms of natural resources, not least of all in the gas industry.

Moscow wanted Ukraine to go further and join its ‘Customs Union’ along with Belarus and Kazakhstan, but the EU was offering an effective free-trade deal as well.  The two options were mutually exclusive because, with neither Belarus or Kazakhstan members of the World Trade Organisation, the EU deal would not permit Ukraine’s participation in the Customs Union.

Spheres of influence

Now look at how the two sides are bidding to be Ukraine’s administrators as it looks to recover from both pre- and post-Maidan economic distress.

Credit: Jose Luis OrihuelaRussia offered a $15 billion bailout last November, with even cheaper natural gas into the bargain.  The West has since bid higher, sniffing a chance to redeem the market they gave up as lost last year, when former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich chose to favour ties with Russia.  The International Monetary Fund bailout currently under discussion is worth between $14 billion and $18 billion, with promises of up to $10 billion more from individual countries.

So do we see those two sizeable spheres of influence emerging from that narrative?  This current economic back-and-forth falls squarely within the tradition of the Monroe Doctrine and the conflicting US and USSR post-Second World War recovery programmes – the Marshall Plan and the Molotov Plan respectively.

Two power blocs are tugging and cajoling the periphery states that lie between them, trying to establish a stable protective buffer zone.  The ideologies involved might not appear so extreme or polarised as in past decades, but the spoils of victory are little different just because the battleground has shifted.

$15 billion is $15 billion

It would also be foolish at this juncture to indulge in our go-to dichotomy of a big, bad imperialist Russia acting against the benevolent, charitable West.

Sadly it doesn’t work like that.  As the IMF gears up for its tried-and-tested austerity routine – making its cheap loans to Ukraine conditional to all manner of painful measures – you won’t hear too many endorsements ringing out from the European countries who have recently entered similar bargains.  Ultimately, $15 billion is $15 billion – whoever is loaning it to you.

There are those that fear talking in terms of cold war. This is not an irrational fear.  Nobody wants a return to the days of maniacal, sleep-deprived war-hawks reaching for the big red button whenever anyone so much as sneezes near a missile site.  We cannot take decades of progress for granted, and guarding against regressive thinking is only prudent.

Credit: tonynetone [Flickr]Embrace

But selective sight is also a retrograde step.  It’s all very well telling ourselves that we have moved on but that’s irrelevant if the few people with their hands on the levers are not playing the same game.

Analysing the current formation of Russian political thought is an important venture for those in the West – the first step towards compromise and greater understanding.  Yet this can only work if begun from a position of honesty, with nobody kidding themselves as to the outlooks and intentions of either side.

As yet the old spheres of influence have not been broken down and neither side has ever made a true effort to embrace or even understand the other. In such circumstances, we have a long way to go before we can call time on the cold war.

– – –

Words: Sean Gibson

Photo credits: top (Jeroen Elfferich); inset 1 (julochka); inset 2 (Jose Luis Orehuela); inset 3 (tonynetone).

Does the new east-west tension really have anything to do with the Cold War? Do economic alliances really constitute power blocs?How much closer to mutual understanding are Russia and the West in the 21st century?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.


Armchair Reporting: The Dangers of Lazy Journalism


picture: mosoma

picture: mosoma

IN THE AFTERMATH of the recent events in Ukraine, cold war is being murmured in the corners of governmental institutions worldwide. Is the current world order in a different state then we thought? Does the time, where we fought for territory, not belong to the history books? The past months have not only changed the map of Europe, but ripped open old wounds between the West and the East that we thought to be healed.

I take the optimistic stance. Not only is the geo-political landscape nowhere like the one we saw 20-30 years ago, but today we live in a far more merged and globalized world. Europe is not only economically, politically and institutionally intertwined with Russia, but connected on levels of relations between people and education.  As politicians jerkily stumble through descriptions of  the new situation in Ukraine and Russia, many media outlets are lazily grabbing the most obvious reporting frame – that of the the Cold War. Not only is this outdated, but also boring, uncreative and unhelpful in understanding the complexity of the situation.

Discourse is a powerful tool in constructing reality and can have mayor political and social consequences. It is therefore regrettable, that even-though times are clearly different, politicians and media alike have adapted a cold war discourse when discussing the recent developments on the global scene. It is eminently important to constantly re-evaluate the tone of the discussion. Unfortunately, only few media outlets are engaging in this process.

For the most, the reporting frame suggest Cold War conditions, where Russia is the global bully and the Westerners are the saints fighting for peace and freedom. When NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in his recent speech in Washington states: “[…] this is the gravest threat to European security and stability since the end of the Cold War”, then, the situation is becoming slippery. The Danish newspaper Politiken writes “The air is still cold between East and West”.  An even more extreme Foreign Policy article is welcoming us to “Cold War II”. However upsetting the recent events are, this rhetorical framework leads to nowhere good. I fear it is counterproductive and destructive of the relations we have made with the Russians the past years.

As we, the media, evaluate the political scene and constructs the future we must restrain from the temptation of stigmatizing the debate and keep on working towards strengthening the institutional agreements so to restore a world order, where it is possible to understand actions beyond Cold War philosophy.

If European media and politicians chooses the path of cold-war-rhetoric and military buildup as a consequence (as many politicians are now arguing for), then we will, very quickly, find ourselves within a world order that has resemblance to past times – Foreign Policy’s warning may prove to be well-placed.

Louisa Field 

The Crimea Referendum, Europe and a New World Order



Pascale Muller and Maria Wokurka look into what the future holds for Europe following the annexation of Crimea, and whether a return to the days of the Cold War is likely.

History is back. Following last week’s referendum Crimea has been annexed by Russia. Poring over the European media in the following week, was like entering a time machine. The constantly changing circumstances and the lack of information from inside Crimea made and make it hard to keep abreast of the situation.

“Russia and the West: Fearing the abyss” was the headline of the German conservative daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Meanwhile Russian state TV said Russia could turn the US into “radioactive ash”. While a few days ago the British newspaper The Guardian published an article with the headline “Crimea crisis: EU prepares for trade war with Russia”. The french newspaper Le Monde describes the annexation of Crimea as a “Trojan horse strategy”. Rhetoric like this and the increasing military activity of Russia and NATO bring up old memories. Are we heading towards a new Cold War?

Europe finds itself in the midst of an East-West struggle for control of the buffer state of Ukraine. Putin, who has referred to the Soviet Unions fall as the biggest catastrophe of the century, has taken this opportunity to reestablish a Russian sphere of influence. While Obama is convinced that “Putin is on the wrong side of history” the Russian president wants a new world order – a world order in which Russia is a regional hegemon, a great power. The annexation, various German analysts suspect, is Putin’s revenge for 1989. On the Russian side, this historical parallel led to crude analogies, with Putin comparing the annexation of Crimea with the German reunification. The President says that Russia, in contrast to other countries, entirely accepted and respected the will of the German nation. Now in turn the West needs to accept the “reunification of the entity” in Russia. “I am convinced that the Germans will support us in terms of our wish for an reunification”, Putin was quoted on the German TV channel MDR.

But 2014 is not a copy of 1989. “Between whom should there be a new Cold war? Russia is not a big enemy for the USA, since the USA is economically and military-wise much more powerful than Russia. The USA remains the biggest power in our world”, says Serhiy Vanahiy, a Ukrainian activist living in Austria. Even if the US hegemony remains, the great power treads cautiously by imposing sanctions on Russia but refraining from military action. According to Vanahiy the crucial question is how and if the West will continue to respond to Russia’s break of international contracts. “The biggest problem of the situation right now is that Russia violated the law of the Budapest Memorandum from the 5th of December 1994.” A fact that can no longer be ignored by the West without weakening their position.

The Budapest Memorandum entails three declarations by the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia, recognising the borders of Kazakhstan, Belarus and the Ukraine as fixed and respected their political and economic sovereignty. In return the three Eastern countries had to agree upon an abdication from nuclear weapons. Should there be a nuclear offensive the UN Security Council is allowed to immediately impose sanctions. With Russia’s unexpected and abrupt behaviour in Crimean affairs, this agreement is obsolete. No surprise, that Belarus immediately expressed deep concern and reached out to it’s NATO allies to ensure it’s safety.

Vanahiy says: “The US will lack credibility if they do not respond to this breach of agreement through Russia. Thereby diverse negotiations and agreements concerning an abdication of nuclear weapons with countries such as Iran, Libya and Syria could unhinge due to two reasons – on one hand there is perhaps not to count on sanctions in case of an agreement breach, on the other hand Russia’s holding of nuclear weapons might eventually render possible almost everything.” The impact of the events goes far beyond Ukraine, Russia or Crimea. After decades of cooperation some are not longer playing to the rules.

Within this frame the Crimea crisis marks the prelude of a strong and potentially armed conflict between East and West, and primarily a conflict between Europe and Russia. According to the German online newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, speaks of “a riot risk of an armed conflict” and elaborates that war might have returned to Europe. France’s minister of foreign affairs was therefore the first to declare Russia as no longer part of the G8 and Germany followed soon after.

NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, clearly condemned the annexation of Crimea. Moscow resides on a “risky way” Rasmussen said in Brussels. “Still Russia violates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukraine. Therefore Russia pursues its apparent breach of international commitments.” European leaders see the Crimea crisis as the worst within the last decades. A proof that war or the potential danger of war is still present and not to be underestimated. In Schulz’ opinion it is the EU that has to demonstrate to Russia that it will not accept a crossing of Russia’s achieved border. On March 16 BBC News quoted the European Union saying in a statement that the vote was “illegal and illegitimate and its outcome will not be recognised.” Contrariwise a hardening conflict could bring great economic damage to Russia as well as the European Union – one reason the latter retains from blunt actions.

According to the political activist Vaynahiy the conflict across the Crimea crisis might eventually lead to a “Third World War”. His argument: “Once international agreements do not function any longer and ‘nobody’ observes the rules, we obviously face the signal that our current world system is weak.”

Vaynahiy points out that “the EU is completely aware of the dependence of Russia in terms of the energy sector and this dependence is dangerous.” That is why the EU seeks for alternative options as soon as possible. Germany gets about one third of their energy resources from Russia and exports machinery and cars, Italy owes as much as 28 percent of their energy resources to the Kremlin and France has a strong interest in continue to sell warships to Moscow. For Russia, in turn, the consequences are enormous, economic deprivations. 50% of Russia’s budget stem from gas and oil exports.

“If this income ceases to exist, Russia will face great economic losses. I believe that the Russian GDP won’t be the same in two or three years.”, says Vaynahiy. Russia has made a clear choice of ideology over economy, accepting economic damage. A strategy that was believed to be dead in the 21st century and a global convergence over the acceptance of capitalism. According to Vaynahiy, Russia seeks to prove his military power, especially towards the other Russian republics, such as Chechnya and Dagestan.

Disregarding power games and the international impact of the Crimea crisis ahead, Russia’s stronghold on the region and its population might be drastic. The East of Europe fears a wave of refugees from Ukraine seeking shelter from an eventual Russian invasion. Even if Putin keeps denying it, Russian forces at the East Ukrainian border are “very, very sizable and very, very ready”, says Gen. Philip Breedlov, supreme commander of Allied Forces in the New York Times. Meanwhile Bratislava is getting ready to provide shelter of an eventuality of 1,000 – 10,000 refugees from this region of Ukraine, according to the German TV channel Deutsche Welle. Their biggest fear is that Ukraine could vanish from the world map. Whether or not this scenario comes true, world order has been shaken leading us once again into an era of instability.

Selfies, Terrorism and Borge Brende: Norway Fast News

The Norwegian Foreign Minister, Børge Brende.

The Norwegian Foreign Minister, Børge Brende.

Last week, Norwegian media focused on the referendum in Crimea, a terror attack in Somalia by a Norwegian-Somalian man, and the fact that some import goods travel thousands of miles in order to avoid Norwegian customs. Ingunn Dorholt provides you with The Bottom Line.

Like the rest of Europe, Norwegian media has had its eyes on Ukraine and the referendum in Crimea. The Norwegian foreign minister, Børge Brende, has stated that “Russia’s use of military force to create new borders in Europe is unacceptable”. According to the foreign department, Norway has so far postponed an environmental meeting and a trade agreement with Russia as a result of the referendum. According to Brende, Norway will continue to view Crimea as part of Ukraine, and he adds that “Putin’s speech represents a serious setback for security and stability in Europe”.

Extensive import routes

The media has also brought to attention the extensive travel routes that some Norwegian import goods undertake. The Danish Salami in Norwegian stores is produced in Denmark and the Philadelphia cheese is produced in Germany – but it is made with milk from Norwegian cows. Due to high Norwegian customs put in to protect Norwegian farmers, milk and meat is sent from Norway through Europe and then back to Norway, as this still saves European producers money compared to paying the Norwegian customs. Famous Italian and Spanish hams, such as Serrano, have actually been sent from Spain and Italy twice by the time it reaches Norwegian homes, as the EEA agreement classifies the meat as local if sent to other countries before the product is considered complete.

Representatives from the authorities says this business is not illegal, but a highly creative way to avoid customs. While all this transfer is done to keep the average price for the products low in Norway, there’s little doubt the environmental price is high, as some of the hams in Norwegian stores have travelled 10,000 Kilometres. The department for agricultural management in Norway admits that the environmental issues were not taken into consideration when initiating this arrangement.

Meat and dairy products sold in Norwegian store, might have been on longer trips around Europe.

Meat and dairy products sold in Norwegian store, might have been on longer trips around Europe.

Norwegian link to terror in Somalia

The Norwegian media has paid attention to the terror attack in Buuloburde, Somalia, which occurred last Tuesday. The terror attack was carried out by a 60-year-old Norwegian-Somali man, who placed a truck filled with explosives at the entrance of Hotel Camalow. According to the independent Somali news webpage, RBC radio, Islamist group Al-Shabaab claims that the man was affiliated with the group. The small city of Buuloburde was formerly controlled by Al-Shabaab, but was taken by the UN-supported peacekeeping force AMISOM on Monday. The hotel was housing soldiers and officers. According to Al-Shabaab 32 people lost their lives, numbers that have not yet been confirmed. The Norwegian security service, PST, has started its investigation but is still working on getting information about the 60-year-old man.

The perfect “selfie”

Looking for the best spot for a “selfie”? Norwegian media were pleased when the American webpage Buzzfeed this week announced their list, of the most spectacular places in the world for taking “selfies”. On top of the list was “The Trolls Tounge” in Odda, Norway. This sight ranked above world famous places like Victoria Falls, The Dead Sea and the Great Wall of China.

American website Buzzfeed named Norwegian rock formation the perfect place to take a "selfie".

American website Buzzfeed named Norwegian rock formation the perfect place to take a “selfie”.











Photos from Flickr Creative Commons: M.B Haga, Memphis CVB, Destination Hardanger Fjord.

Skiing Champions, Economic Sanctions and more on Ukraine: German Fast news

pictures by ST

pictures by ST

From sanctions over Crimea to the retirement of a German skiing legend. Maria Wokurka provides a summary of the week in the Bottom Line for Pandeia.

Merkel is convinced there will be an intensification of sanctions

 The heads of states and governments of the EU will decide further freezing of accounts and travel restrictions on Russian officials due to the Crimea crisis. The German chancellor Angela Merkel has already announced economic sanctions.

According to Tagesschau Online it is easier for US President Barack Obama to speak of sanctions against Russia. The Foreign Minister of Poland, Radoslaw Sikorski, is not surprised – referring to economic relations and business the EU faces higher stakes than the US. Furthermore, it is more complicated and complex to find an agreement on sanctions between the 28 member states. In other words, if the EU decides about sanctions there will always be compromise.

After the vote on Crimea the EU Foreign Ministers handed out entry embargoes and blocked accounts for about 20 Russian and Ukrainian politicians. This was the second of three levels of sanctions. Angela Merkel is convinced that there will be an intensification of the second level. She announced in the Federal Parliament: “We decided a second level two weeks ago and the heads of states and governments of the EU will decide about further sanctions of this level. Among these sanctions will be an extension of the list of responsible persons who will be affected by the travel restrictions and account blockings.”

European People's Party - EPP

European People’s Party – EPP

Level three sanctions entail concrete economic sanctions against Russia. Merkel emphasizes that “the EU board is willed to apply sanctions of level three if the situation worsens.”

The economic sanctions could have serious consequences for Russia. Under discussion the halting of Russian gas supplies. This would create problems for those EU states reliant on Russian gas.

A further, unpredictable scenario will be if the Russian government responds to the sanctions with counter sanctions.

Ex Secretary of Education loses action

The German magazine Spiegel has demanded it is high time that German universities act and make sure that doctor’s degrees are only be temporarily awarded.

Around 25,000 doctors leave university every year. Only a trickle of them is seriously encouraged to work in the scientific and research area. Nine out of ten postgraduates turn their backs on the field of research. The reasons include the lack of alternative non-dissertation options and very often the hope for better career opportunities. Last year every fifth deputy of the German Federal Parliament owns the two letters “Dr.” in front of the first name.

The former Secretary of Education, Annette Schavan, started a career of science and wrote a dissertation with the title “The person and the conscience”. She is convinced that she belongs to the scientific community even though her entire career has been a political.

The prestige of being a doctor remains for the entire life and is part of the identity.

Val 202

Val 202

There is a proposal by a Professor of Economics to delete the doctor’s degree from the identity card or to only be allowed to take the article within the area of research and science. Manuel Theisen suggests the doctor’s degree should be temporarily limited. After ten years the right to have the title will be automatically extended unless evidence emerges that the author plagiarised. The positive arguments of this idea are: no new administrative act, no additional effort and expenditures for the universities – the plagiarism will be not be described but the academic honour will be questioned.

The end of an impressive career – German Olympic champion calls it quits

Rationality predominated: the German ski Olympic champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch will not continue her sports career.

The best German female skier has decided to end her career, after 13 years, as triple Olympic champion and double world champion. After winning Gold and Silver in Sochi this year Hoefl-Riesch has reached the peak of her career. Even though she will be missed in the future winter sports her fans are saying goodbye with a crying and a smiling face at the same time – it utterly is the best moment to stop.

Hoefl-Riesch suffered a number of injury problems throughout her career but was able to triumph at three Winter Olympics. She retires at the age of 29.

The Danish view on the Ukraine: Danish Fast News

The Danish Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen

The Danish Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen

Denmark is characterized by high taxes and high welfare benefits. However the Danish government worries, that EU legislation is making it possible for outsiders to exploit the Danish system. Tinuke Maria Iyore highlights the most important Danish news this week. 

The influence of EU-laws on the Danish welfare system has caused an explosive debate the past week. According to EU regulations, EU citizens can earn the right to unemployment benefits in any EU nation and take these benefits with them across the union. Danish politicians are concerned that this will lead to exploitation of the generous Danish welfare system.

Denmark and Finland are the only EU-countries that require vetting for foreign citizens to receive unemployment benefits. The Danish prime minister recently announced that she wants to tighten these rules, making it even harder for EU-citizens to obtain benefits in Denmark. However this might be a violation against EU’s laws on discrimination and freedom of movement.

The Danish welfare system is funded by a high income tax, and EU-citizens working in Denmark are obliged to pay this high income tax, but are not given the same rights as Danish citizens.

Minister for Employment, Mette Frederiksen of the Social Democratic Party, adds that the Danish government wants to increase control with EU-citizens exploitation of the Danish welfare state, in order to prevent welfare tourism. “The free movement in the EU creates economic growth and jobs, but we have seen an increase in EU-citizens, particularly from Eastern Europe, receiving unemployment and social benefits. We take this development seriously, and must make sure that EU-citizens can meet the requirements for receiving benefits in Denmark”, she says to Danish newspaper Politiken.

More useful degrees

Eight Danish universities will be working towards lowering unemployment rates by comparing programmes to employment statistics. This year the regulation of admissions will be a cooperative effort from these eight universities. Some universities have previously made similar attempts to prevent educating young Danes on career paths that lead to unemployment. However this cooperation between universities is a first. The programmes will be assessed each year using the same procedure, ensuring that Danish universities are educating according to business and industry demands.

A signal to Russia

Denmark’s Liberal Party and other liberal parties in the European council have agreed on a proposal to deny Russia voting rights in the council, due to the ongoing Ukrainian conflict.  The council’s purpose is to ensure the respect of human rights and democracy. These principles have been violated by Russia on numerous occasions and the spokesman of the council’s group of liberal parties, Michael Aastrup Jensen, thinks it is important to send a strong signal to Russia. This would not be the first time Russia has lost its voting rights in the council. In 2000, the country was “punished” for the Russian army’s behavior in Chechnya.

Bayern, Fraud and Crimea: German Fast News



With news that the president of Bayern Munich has been jailed for tax fraud and Chancellor Angela Merkel warning Russia about its actions in Crimea, Maria Wokurka explains The Bottom Line in Germany this week.

Three years and six months in jail for the president of FC Bayern Munich

Uli Hoeness, the President of Bayern Munich, has been sent to prison for three and a half years arrest for after defrauding tax authorities.

Yet the judgment is without legal capacity. The plea of the FC Bayern Munich president immediately appealed on certain points of law. Nonetheless, Uli Hoeness lost his image as a role model. Even though the pleas of the 62 years old might be successful after appeal, it is improbable that Hoeness will be president of the German football club or a member of the board of directors any longer.

The court has claimed a tax debt of 28.5 million Euros and Uli Hoeness had pressed charges against himself.

Merkel warns Russia

Chancellor Angela Merkel has criticised Russia for putting the stability of the international community at risk.

European Council

European Council

In a government policy statement Merkel said: “We are facing a phase of insecurity and uncertainty. Russia does not show to be a partner for the neighbor country in terms of its cultural, economic and historical deep relations to the Ukraine. Despite this bond Russia is taking advantage of the weakened neighbour state.”

According to Merkel Russia believes its strength counts more than the right of the law. The chancellor emphasised the crisis does not call for a military solution. “In the 21st century we cannot solve a crisis like this with the solutions we might have used in the 19th and 20th century. It is important to find a political-diplomatic way.”

The government hangs behind

The coalition agreement says the state must support single parents in a better way. According to Sueddeutsche Zeitung the parties CDU and SPD have postponed fiscal credit. The coalition promised the credit is on its way but now it looks like the government is stalling – results might not emerge before 2016.

At the moment the Federal Minister for Family Affairs will supposedly agree on an adjustment in terms of the credit for single parents.

According to a family survey of the health insurance company AOK, 70 per cent of the couples with children see themselves in good or very good health conditions. However, only 48 percent of the single parents indicate good health conditions. 17 percent of them even describe the condition as very bad. Several single parents are either unsatisfied with the ever-day-life or overwhelmed.

Just another case of identity fraud?



With Ukraine in turmoil over what to do about Crimea and the build-up to the European elections across the continent Pandeia is pleased to launch our new theme of ‘National Identity’.

To identify yourself as a citizen of a particular nation on this planet is usually a birth-right. The many forms and documents that have to be filled in on a daily basis in civilised society, force each person to take a position on their nationality — and in turn their identity — from an early age. But, in this globalised world, where one single tweet can make a Blackpool beautician famous seemingly throughout humanity, what does it mean when we pledge an allegiance to a flag, a country or even a continent? It is this question with which Pandeia launches our new theme of ‘National Identity’.

The crisis in Crimea has brought the concept of nation states and ‘National Identity’ under intense scrutiny. The term ‘Ukraine’s territorial integrity’ has been the sound bite with which the West has criticised Russia’s actions. Ukraine’s territorial integrity with regards to Crimea, it is argued, comes hand in hand with the country’s national identity. However, it is undoubtedly more complicated than that. Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s claims to do everything within his power to protect ‘ethnic Russians’, while deeply worrying in an immediate conflict context, actually contains underlying connotations that are the crux of the main issue affecting not just the continent but the globe in the 21st century.

To declare a geographical area as belonging to one state government is to whitewash from history the many years that came before those particular state boundaries were drawn up. In Crimea for example, the Tatars who are indigenous to the peninsula, have for centuries battled against Russian rule. It is of course natural then that these are the people most worried about the looming Russian annexation of Crimea. Complications inherently arise when diverse ethnic cultures are banded together under one banner, or more usually one flag. As national identity is often as much of a construct, as the flag that represents it.

For examples of these complications, it is prudent to look no further than the last major conflict to afflict continental Europe — the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and in particular the recent struggles in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Following the Dayton agreement, the aforementioned nation state was born and a new post-conflict era was heralded. However, nearly 20 years on, the country is blighted by structure of its government, designed to force the three ethnic identities — Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs — to collaborate together. As the inhabitants of Bosnia have learnt merely heralding a ‘new united nation’ doesn’t always result in a one. This struggle has prompted the recent protests with one banner reading “There is no ‘Bosnian people’” a concise assessment of national identity in the country.

The future of indigenous populations is at times most relevant when discussing ‘National Identity’. The North American indigenous populations have for years attempted to preserve and foster their cultures in an environment which often places the Nation at the forefront of any discussions on identity. As the nation state’s identity has begun to subsume the indigenous populations, new attempts to diversify and maintain their distinctiveness have been made. This was most recently the case when the Latoka tribe from the Pine Ridge reservation declared they were looking into making the ‘Mazacoin’ their national currency. In a statement of intent towards sovereignty and a form of national identity, the Mazacoin — a bitcoin variant, an alternative virtual currency — would replace the American Dollar in the area. Its use is coherent with the concept of trading and bartering that occurs across many indigenous populations, and the minds behind the concept, believe that by adopting a digital currency the Latoka tribe can shed decades of poverty. Currency in itself shapes such strong feelings of national identity and pride and the Mazacoin could be the start of a new kind of sovereignty in the 21st century.

It is no wonder then, that currency has become the new battleground in the independence debate that threatens to engulf Scotland in 2014. The concept of a shared monetary union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK has been championed by the YES Scotland campaign, while all three of the main political parties at Westminster have deemed the notion inconceivable. In questions of independence, much is made of national identity and the Sterling currency perhaps carries with it more identifiers of national pride than any other. Particularly in the run-up to the European elections, the prospect of a ‘European identity’ is continually disparaged in the UK, in favour of the British or more usually the national identity, be it Welsh, Scottish, English or Northern Irish. In Britain, this is even more of a surprise, for as history shows it is a nation formed of many different ‘identities’ — from the Anglo-Saxons, to the Vikings, to the West Indians of the ‘Windrush Generation’, Britain’s national identity, to be ‘British’, means not one single identifiable factor.

Maybe the one problem with ‘National Identity’ is, that it doesn’t really exist in the first place.

By Jamie Timson