Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Year of the Protestor: 2011 A. D.

In 2010, out of all the powerful men and women in the world, TIME magazine selected founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, as their coveted ‘person of the year’. This epitomized the change that had been brought to the world by internet and especially the relatively new phenomena of social networks. If someone was skeptical about this selection, they were to proven utterly wrong in the year 2011.

In 2011, TIME selected a masked person as the ‘person of the year’. It is a very innovative and timely decision to award ‘The Protestor’ the coveted ‘person of the year’ award. He or she may have been Mohamed Bouazizi who died in Tunisia, thus creating the ‘big bang’ which ultimately toppled three long standing dictators and gave immense trouble for many more. He or she may have been a martyr of Tahrir square who toppled Mubarak or of Pearl Square in Bahrain. He or she may have been a person in Aden, Algiers, Amman, Benghazi, Damascus, Rabat or any other Arab city. He or she may have been at an “Occupy Movement” march at any of the dozen cities through which it swept across. He or she may have been a Greek in Athens or an Italian in Rome. He or she may have been a Palestinian and even an Israeli where unprecedented protests occurred last year. He or she may be a Russian who protested against the election irregularities. He or she may have been a Tibetan patriot. He or she may still be languishing in prison in Manama or any other place for protesting. He or she may have been anyone and everyone.

The important factor is the role of the social networks in making the protestor who he/she was to be. If not for them, Bouazizi’s self immolation would have been in vain. People in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia would never have known of the young man who died and the wave of protests created by that event in the provincial areas. When these were known, the people expressed their pent up frustration by taking to the streets. President Ben Ali and his Western supporters were largely caught unawares.

These events started in December 2010 but exploded in January 2011. Soon Ben Ali had fled his country. This success brought about unprecedented protests in Egypt and then across Arabia. Hosni Mubarak also fell soon after and it was because of the Western backing that the rulers of Bahrain and Yemen held on to power. Social media had an integral role to play in these protests. It was the utility of the opportunities given by the social media that made the protestor such a devastating force.

However, the protestor became a tool of the West in Libya where Muammar Gaddhafi would never have been toppled if not for the NATO bombing campaign. Also in Syria the Western countries are in support of the protestors who march against an unfriendly regime. But elsewhere in Arabia, all regimes which felt the wrath of the people on the streets were pro-Western. In the eyes of the rulers and their supporters, these protestors demanded reforms at best and resignation of the despots at worst. Overall it can be said that the protestor took to the streets against their rulers whether they were pro or anti Western. What mattered to them was the fact that they wanted to see the end of the despots in their lands.

The “Occupy Movement” is a new phenomenon in the fight against the global capital. This movement which swept across a number of cities was, and still is, nourished by social media. Arguing that “We are the 99%” they have taken the corporate world by surprise. However, it has yet to be seen if this movement will have a lasting effect.

The protestors were not content with toppling the old order. They wanted to create a new, lasting and more democratic order. Thus, they protested the new Tunisian caretaker government’s slow progress. They are still protesting in Egypt. Libya’s future is extremely uncertain as the protestors were turned in to armed fighters. In Yemen, many people were armed before they began protesting as there is an inherent gun culture in the country. Bahraini people are still protesting against huge odds for democracy. Syria is still unstable. Outside Arabia, the Occupiers are still fighting on and so does the Russians.

The streets are still not calm and the protestor still has a role to play in international politics.

Image: Hundreds of Thousands of Bahrainis Taking Part in March of Loyalty to Martyrs, by Lewa'a Alnasr (Feb 22, 2011) From Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Samoa and Tokelau Skip December 30, 2011.

Images From Top to Bottom:

Flag of Tokelau

Flag of Samoa

From Wikimedia Commons

It was Phileas Fogg and Passepartout in Jules Verne's "Around the World in Eighty Days" who were the first notable people to lose a day due to the International Date Line. Now, it is the turn of two island groups in the Pacific to do the same.

Samoa is an island nation of about 180,000 people and the much smaller Tokelau is a New Zealand territory of just over 1400 people. These islands are in the midst of the International Date Line and could have chosen either this side or that. Samoa chose the Eastern (USA side) 119 years ago when the islands were under effective German rule.

During the First World War, British troops took control of Samoa. Australia and New Zealand became more important to the Samoans as their economies were more integrated. In 2006, 133,000 people of Samoan descent lived in New Zealand.

With the decision taken in May 2011 by the Samoans and adopted soon after by the Tokelau islanders, the two island groups moved from Thursday, December 29 to Saturday, 31 of December. Thus they skipped a day and are now on par with Australians and New Zealanders. Now, they can do business and go to church on the same days. Also the the relatives living in these countries can celebrate important dates in the family, such as birthdays and anniversaries.

However, if you are a inhabitant of Samoa or a Tokelau who happened to be born on a 30th December, you are unable to celebrate your birthday this year. However, if you really want to celebrate, there is still time to connect with a family member in Australia or New Zealand through internet and celebrate on the world wide web.


BBC- Samoa and Tokelau Skip a Day for Dateline Change

Washington Post- Moving Pacific Islands in Time: Samoa and Tokelau Skip Across International Date Line

Shining Path is no More, but the Causes still Remain in Peru

From 1980, the terrorist group Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), officially the Communist Party of Peru-Shining Path (Partydo Comunista del Peru-Sendero Luminoso), waged a bloody campaign against the government of Peru. The group collapsed after its charismatic leader Abimael Guzman-known as Presidente (Chairman) Gonzalo-was captured in September 1992.

The Sendero Luminoso received the strongest backing at least in its initial years from the poor indigenous people of Peru. They were not a factor in Peruvian politics and economy which were dominated by the Whites and the mixed White-Indian (Mestizo) minority. The Indians lived in the mountains (La Sierra) in abject poverty and the Sendero cadres mobilized these marginalized communities. Later, Sendero terror campaign drove some peasant communities against them but until the end they were still the main support base for the rebels.

Although the Shining Path has already faded away, some of the factors which helped their growth still remain. Peruvians, especially the Indians in the Sierra and the urban areas are still living in poverty although things are much better than the 1980s. Still nearly 15% of Peruvians live with an income of less than US $ 2 per day. Just over half of the population lives below national poverty line.

Meanwhile Peru is witnessing the increased oil, natural gas and especially mining revenues flowing in to the country. This has helped it to maintain a positive economic growth despite the global recession in the last few years. Nevertheless, it is still doubtful whether the benefits of the mining boom reach the lower strata of society. As of 2010, unemployment in Lima was nearly 8% and underemployment was over 42%. In the countryside it must be even higher.

Recent years have seen the increasing popular anger directed at the mining projects. In June 2011, protestors even seized a provincial airport in Puno region in Southern Peru. This area is largely inhabited by the Aymara Indians. They protested mainly to preserve scarce water sources, protect their ancestral lands and prevent potential pollution. Meanwhile, violent protests erupted later in the year at Cajamarca against the Conga mining project. The local Quechua Indians in this Northern region are worried about four mountain lakes which are their sources of water. The new ‘left wing’ president of Peru, Ollanta Humala imposed a state of emergency in the region to curb the protests. However, the mining project was later put on hold.

Growing protests against the mining projects and the continuing poverty are factors that can be utilized to mobilize the Indian population in Peru. However, there are three important factors which may preclude the possibility of a resurgence of the Shining Path. Firstly, the government institutions are present in many places in the countryside unlike in the 1970s and 1980s. They are carrying out more development projects than few decades ago. Secondly, the people of Peru still remember the terror of Shining Path and may not be so willing to support a repetition. Thirdly, a charismatic leader should emerge to do what Guzman did from the 1960s, laying the ground work and leading the “People’s War” of the Shining Path.

However, it should be remembered that Guzman did not seem to be a revolutionary, let alone of the caliber he was, in the early years of his career. One cannot be quite assured of the absence of a new Guzman. The challenge faced by the new president Ollanta Humala is to ensure that the wealth is distributed more justly. By this the resurgence of a violent rebellion will be prevented.

Picture: Ollanta Humala (Brasilia, March 2006) by Jose Cruz/ABr. From Wikimedia Commons

Monday, December 19, 2011

The "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il is no More!

The Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Jong-il has passed away. It ends the 17 year old reign of one of the most secluded characters in contemporary world history.

Kim Jong-il was a mystery from his birth. More correctly, the North Korean regime has made it appear a mystery. According to Russian records, he was born in 1941 in Siberia. His father, Kim Il-sung was leading a Soviet battalion of Korean and Chinese exiles. However, as the elder Kim, North Korea's "Great Leader" was growing older, he took care that his son was going to be a legend. Accordingly, it was claimed that the birth of the "Dear Leader" occurred on the sacred Baekdu mountain, the legendary birthplace of the Korean nation. Also, the birth of this leader had been foretold by a swallow. On that particular day, a guiding star, mystical lights and a double rainbow had appeared over the mountain.

The "Great Leader" took pains to build a log cabin on the mountain and dispatch a team of preservation experts to the Lenin Museum in Moscow to study ways to make new wood appear old. He took every measure to pave the way for a Marxist dynasty.

The unbelievable feats of the "Dear Leader" included giving "on the spot" advice to workers and soldiers and producing six classic operas in just two years, each of them better than any one ever made by mankind.

He was the 31st most powerful man on Earth in 2010 according to the Forbes magazine. At the time of his death he was in 37th place. He was adept in nuclear politics, from the times of his father. He had inherited a isolated failed state relying on Juche, North Korean form of Communism based on self-reliance. His half-hearted efforts to implement Chinese style economic reforms in selected zones, ended in debacles. Kim Jong-il wanted to control the opening up of his country, as he had controlled everything else, including the story of his birth.

However, the "Dear Leader" was unable to control his death. Also, his dynasty may not last his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un. Its uncertain if he could even take power as he is still too weak. The "Dear Leader" was ultimately defeated by death and it prevented him from completing the job of securing his son's path to power in the manner his father did for him.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What does the West need in Russia?

President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin at the United Russia party conference, Sep. 2011.

Picture from

Western media has been continuously reporting on the protests in Russia against the United Russia party victory at the recent general elections. One TV channel, FOX News, went so far that they showed footage of 2011 Athens Riots when reporting the Moscow protests. Western media has been relatively quiet about protests in countries like Bahrain. In Russia however, it has been reported that the current protests are the largest after the Soviet Union collapsed.

But, what really does the West need by reporting the protests? In Russia, whether they like it or not, United Russia is the best alternative for the West to have. The West will never want a Communist government in Moscow especially during a financial crisis eating into their own economies. The party ‘Just Russia’ is also a center left group which cannot be expected to tow the Western line. That leaves only the Liberal Democrats as a party with at least some mass support which the West will prefer at the event of the fall of the United Russia regime.

But what if the West does not want any government in Russia? It should be noted that Russia did not have a stable government for a decade after the collapse of the USSR. She went through an economic crisis, a constitutional crisis, a war in Chechnya, unstable Dumas in which at times the Communists were the party with the largest number of seats, all under an alcoholic president with increasingly deteriorating health. In 2001, when Yeltsin stepped down, many Russians must have observed that the only good thing he did for Russia after 1991 was bringing in Vladimir Putin, a virtually unknown figure, to the limelight.

For the next decade, Putin and his United Russia party have dominated the political scene of Russia. Even during the four year presidency of Medvedev, Putin held a leading role as the Prime Minister and may have been the real puppet master behind the scene. Meanwhile he built a personal cult around himself which captivated millions of his fellow citizens.

Ultimately however, this personality cult was being resented by many of the opposition and it was portrayed in the elections held recently, where United Russia barely held on to a parliamentary majority. Since all allegations to the election fraud may not be fabrications, it is not wrong to assume that a totally fair election would have not given any party a majority in the Duma.

Russia under Putin moved from a former power licking its wounds to a major power in international arena. Russia’s opponents hope that a Russia minus Putin will have a weak government which will have much lesser say in international politics. With none of the major political parties being pro-Western, it is the best thing the West can hope in Russia.

The only question is that whether it will be beneficial for the West in the long run. With their economies in dire straits, the West is seeing Russia as a bastion of stability. It is doubtful if the West would benefit if that bastion falls.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Cristina de Kirchner Sworn in for her Second Term as President of Argentina

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the widow of former president Nestor Kirchner, has been sworn in for her second consecutive term as the President of Argentina. In 2007, she became the first woman to be elected for the post of first citizen in her country, and second woman ever to hold that position.

Born in 1953, Cristina entered politics from the youth movement of the Justicalist party in the 1970s. Professionally a lawyer, graduating from the National University of La Plata, she and her husband avoided politics during the military regime and practiced law. Returning to politics, Cristina was elected to the provincial legislature of Santa Cruz. From 1995, she was a member of the national legislature either as a member of the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate.

Nestor Kirchner was elected to Argentine presidency in 2003 and oversaw the resurgence of the economy of his country after the collapse and riots in late December 2001. By 2007, he was widely popular but did not seek re-election. His wife Cristina won the presidential nomination from their political party, Front for Victory. In the subsequent presidential election, she won over 45% of the votes cast.

Cristina de Kirchner’s presidency was initially marred by protests and falling approval ratings. The new taxation scheme introduced for agricultural exports generated massive protests, initially by farmers and later by other sectors of society. The controversy ended when the presidential sponsored bill was defeated at the national legislature. About 20 members of the legislature from her party defected.

However, in the latter years of her administration, Cristina Kirchner’s approval ratings improved amidst economic revival.

In the foreign policy sphere, Cristina de Kirchner leads what can be termed as a non-aligned path. Argentina is both a member of G-20 and G-77. She continuously challenges the British over the Malvinas (Falklands) issue. In September 2011, addressing the UN General Assembly, Cristina de Kirchner supported the Palestinian request to be seated at that Assembly. Meanwhile, Argentina has cultivated positive relationships with much of the countries in the world, including USA, many members of the European Union, Russia, China and India.

In regional politics, Argentina under Cristina de Kirchner has been an active player in South American integration. Argentina is a good friend of many Latin American nations from the left to the right in the political spectrum. She is a key player in Common Southern Market (Mercosur), Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the recently institutionalized Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). In May 2010, Nestor Kirchner was unanimously elected as the first ever Secretary-General of the UNASUR.

At times, during the first administration of Cristina de Kirchner, there were speculations on who was really running the country-the president or her husband. Then in October 2010, Nestor Kirchner died of heart failure. In the following June, Cristina de Kirchner announced that she was seeking re-election and won the presidency with more than 54% of the votes. It is nearly a 10% increase from her popular vote in the election 4 years ago.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Finally, Belgium has a Government

After a record breaking 541 days, Belgium has a government.

In June 2010, the Belgian election returned an unworkable parliament, with the Flemish Alliance, a Flemish secessionist party winning a plurality of 27 seats out of 150. However, despite this they could not form a government as they were unwilling to work with the Walloon parties.

The francophone Socialist Party (PS) of Elio Di Rupo led the polls in Walloon, winning 26 seats. The PS had an advantage over the New Flemish Alliance as there were comparable Flemish parties with whom he can work, including the Socialist Party-Differently (PS-A), which won 13 seats. After lengthy negotiations and various propositions, finally it was Di Rupo who collected enough socialist and liberal parties to form a government.

The long time it took to form a government underscores the difference between the Walloon and Flemish people in Belgium. None of the major parties has a countrywide support. They are either Flemish or Walloon. After nearly two centuries of post-independence divisions, Belgians are still struggling to reconcile between the two main communities.