Comment & Opinion

Reading tip of the day: “The plastic backlash”

Stephen Buranyi, “The plastic backlash: what’s behind our sudden rage – and will it make a difference?”, The Guardian (13 November 2018).

Let’s start the new year on an ecological note. Many readers likely noticed that in the recent months in Europe but also elsewhere in the world, there has been a growing momentum against the use of plastics. The dangers of plastics for environment received a high-profile publicity for instance thanks to the BBC series Blue Planet II, which dedicated six minutes of its last episode to animals who died because they were stuck in netting or with guts full of plastics.

Both individuals, groups and authorities such as the EU have been recently taking steps to reduce the use of plastics. However, getting rid of them is not as straightforward as one may think – they are everywhere, for instance, in the form of microplastics in clothes, or in tyres, from which they are being shed in a large quantity.

The article linked below was published in The Guardian in November 2018 is a very helpful overview of the history of use and manufacturing of plastics, as well as of the recent momentum that has been building against their use. Recommended reading for anybody with an interest in this worthy cause.

For inspiration, there are two quotations worth underlining in particular:

Plastic is everywhere not because it was always better than the natural materials it replaced, but because it was lighter and cheaper – so much cheaper, in fact, that it was easier to justify throwing away. Customers found this convenient, and businesses were happy to sell them a new plastic container for every soda or sandwich they bought. In the same way steel enabled new frontiers in building, plastic made possible the cheap and disposable consumer culture that we have come to take for granted. To take on plastic is in some way to take on consumerism itself. It requires us to recognise just how radically our way of life has reshaped the planet in the span of a single lifetime, and ask whether it is too much.

And

But plastic no longer seems like this. It is still immediate – it’s in our household products, coffee cups, teabags and clothing – but it seems to have escaped our ability to catch it. It slips through our fingers and our water filters and sloshes into rivers and oceans like effluent from a sinister industrial factory. It is no longer embodied by a Big Mac container on the side of the road. It has come to seem more like a previously unnoticed chemical listed halfway down the small print on a hairspray bottle, ready to mutate fish or punch a hole in the ozone layer.

Central Europe snubbed in the vote for EU agencies

The EU tightens the grip on the institutions in its core while leaving Central Europe behind. Equality and geographical balance are pretty words, but when it comes to making decisions, Western Europe seems to have little patience for “snivelling” Eastern neighbours who don’t tow the line.

That is undoubtedly the main message that will be taken out by citizens in the countries like Slovakia, Poland, Hungary or the Czech Republic from the vote to relocate two EU agencies, which took place on Monday 20 November. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA) are currently based in London, but have to be moved as a result of Brexit, which caused a fierce race between EU Member States to attract them to their national capital.

Given the supporting words of Commission President Juncker (who few months ago gave a reassuring speech in the sense that the EU is a Union “of equals”, where “its members, big or small, East or West, North or South,” would all be treated the same), there was a broadscale expectation that at least one of the two agencies will go to a Central European country. In fact, Slovakia and the Czech Republic cooperated in advance to support their respective bids – with Prague standing behind Bratislava’s effort to host EMA, while Bratislava advocated the Czech capital’s proposal to host EBA. Instead, Central Europe got snubbed and EMA will go to Amsterdam and EBA to Paris.

In practice, either Central European governments spell this injustice clearly and start to have a common position in the Council (and not just rhetorically, when speaking to domestic audience in national capitals), or this will worsen as Prague, Warsaw or Bratislava continue being sent against each other, as they scramble for small, individual concessions from Brussels.

A thought on the Alexandrov Ensemble tragedy and art propaganda

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As we are all aware, populism exists across the whole political spectrum; yet we have learned to react to anything which differs from the left-winged consensus with anger and hysteria.

What recently caught my attention was the reaction of much of the  Western liberal crowd to the tragic perish of one third of the Alexandrov Ensemble in the air-crash in December 2016 and, in parallel, to the assassination of Russian ambassador in Turkey. From voices on social media to newspaper articles such as this gem on Daily News (US), both  tragedies were on a number of occasions described as an ironic payback to Putin’s “death-eater” international politics: his hegemonic strive for power and specifically the Russian intervention in Syria.

Seemingly for some members of the art world (and possibly not only for them), the tragic deaths of the 64 members of the Alexandrov Ensemble are regarded as some sort of an heroic end: an example of pure, innocent art perishing for a misguided political cause. What a number of these voices did not take into account is the essentially military nature of the Alexandrov Ensemble. Every member comes from the army and the group was founded in Moscow in 1926 as a tool to spread socialist ideals in playing music around the countries of Soviet Russia and the outside world. So even if the Alexandrovci were to die for a political cause (which was, allow me to stress it again, not the case), they would have been in full awareness of that very cause. These artists have not died because of Putin’s intervention in Syria, but solely because of faulty TU-154 planes that should have been removed from the airspace a long time ago.

Speaking of art propaganda:  spreading political ideology through art has indeed always been an instrument of politics, notably during the two World Wars and reaching a notorious peak during the Cold War between the US and Russia. What art propaganda does is that it uses intimate, relatable elements of art and reshapes them into a powerful and comprehensive tool of political influence. One could say that the intimate strength of art lies in the fact that it can be ultimately understood and shared by everyone. On rare moments, someone does propaganda through art so extremely well, such as the Alexandrov Ensemble (who shifted from their all-Russian approach and use influences from Georgian and other countries’ folk traditions), that it becomes a real masterpiece. That is art propaganda at its peak, exactly when we forget its hidden message, and instead get carried away by its powerful voice.

Alexandrov Ensemble performing a well-known Russian song “Smuglyanka-Moldovanka”, once intended to glorify the female partisans of the Russian Civil War

European Commission’s neoliberal agenda in France: weaker employee rights

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If you are following political developments in France a bit, you couldn’t have missed the recent waves of massive strikes and protests that hit the Hexagon. The cause is Hollande’s government push for “reforms” to the labour law. Obviously, the word reforms here stands for a range of measures in line with neoliberal tenets that take away rights from employees and give them to corporations. Namely, allowing less favourable local agreements on wages (to undermine collective bargaining of national trade unions) or making it easier to hire and fire staff. Crucially, the French government decide to invoke Article 49.3 of the Constitution that gives it the power to bypass parliament and impose reforms by decree. That way it also sidestepped critics in its own ranks, such as Parti socialist MP Laurent Baumel, who called the move ‘anti-democratic’ and labelled it as ‘a heavy-handed way of using the constitution to prevent the nation’s representatives from having their say.’

What is less apparent is that the French government’s attack on employee rights has a European dimension. Revealed recently by the association Corporate Europe Observatory, the European Commission is using all its new powers gained after the financial crisis of 2008 to move France in the direction of ‘liberalisation of labour code’. ‘Simply put, France has been required flat out to ensure higher profitability for businesses by driving down wages,’ say the authors of the study. For those interested in how the European Union stands on the side of austerity and neoliberalism, this is an interesting read that shouldn’t be missed.

Merkel’s blunders are piling up

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Mein lieber Gott! So, according to recent polls, German Chancellor’s popularity is on rise again. Does Merkel have to do anything but change the colour of her costume to make a “political comeback”?

Perhaps our German friends are drinking too much beer and eat to many Bratwürste by the evenings to have enough time to follow politics, because I cannot understand it otherwise. Whatever it may be, this overrated and lacklustre politician sat through her office withholding any decisions until it was absolutely inevitable. And when she took them, she made everything much worse: think of Ukraine, Greece or now, Turkey.

While Turkey descends into an autocratic sultanate and guns down the Kurds, Merkel negotiates a draft deal that gives Turkey: a) payments for returning migrants from Greek islands back to Turkey, b) visa-free travel for Turkish citizens from June 2016, c) speeding up EU membership negotiations across all chapters, d) 6 bn EUR that are (supposed) to be allocated for refugee facilities for Syrians in Turkey. Plus, the preliminary agreement includes a nice clause reminiscent of trading with human beings – for every Syrian moved from the Greek islands to Turkey, Turkey will move another Syrian to one of the 28 EU Member States. Besides being fairly twisted, does it even make any sense?

Now, what the EU gets out of it? More secure borders? More money for the Greeks and other countries to improve their refugee facilities? Recognition of Cyprus’ territorial integrity? Ceasing violence against our anti-ISIS allies, the Kurds?

Well, there is your answer how useful politician Merkel is.

Finnish police advises to wave your hand to prevent rape

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This “advice” of Finnish police to women is so stupid and pathetic that I don’t know whether to first laugh or cry. Apparently, if a woman feels threatened, the best means of defence according to Finnish law enforcement is “forcefully waving” with her hand towards the attacker. The sad fact is that this is perhaps the only thing left to do, with everything else, including pepper sprays, being banned in a number of European countries (Scandinavia but also Belgium, for instance). God forbid that you hurt the attacker – or kill him! It’d be hard to find a better example of softening of the brains in Europe – or in one word, decadence.

‘Market economy status’ to China? A bad, bad idea

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According to a leaked paper published by the daily Politico this morning, granting China the status of a ‘market economy’ by the end of 2016 would not have the best consequences for EU economy. Directorate-General TRADE, the European Commission’s “ministry” responsible for these matters, in its own working document states that this move would not only entail significant job losses in Europe (up to 188,300 jobs), but also increase in imports (between 17 and 27 percent) currently affected by anti-dumping measures. The manufacturing sector would take the hardest hit and particularly Italy. It is little surprise then that Italy’s Prime Minister Renzi is expected to ‘lean strongly’ against DG TRADE’s push for granting China the market economy status.

One has to wonder what exactly pushes the European Commission – and European political elites in general – in the craze for constantly more ‘free’ trade without minding too much the consequences. The problem with free trade policies is that they only make sense if the competition is on the same ground. How can EU manufacturers compete if our environmental, health, work and social standards are on a higher level than in China? They are more protective, but also make the cost of the comparative EU product more expensive and less competitive as a consequence with the economies that have their system set differently. Yet this obvious truth, told already two hundred years ago by German economist Friedrich List, seems to be repeatedly ignored by the European Commission. The beneficiary of opening economic borders without minding whether there are really comparable standards is fairly clear: transnational corporations who can produce cheaply in China and sell with a big margin back in Europe. Is it the case that the Commission works only for the benefit of these corporate stakeholders?

 

The Dark Barn 2015 art exhibition

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We’re very happy to announce The European Strategist is now sponsoring and supporting The Dark Barn 2015 art exhibition.

This is a part of our on-going effort to promote Europe’s culture and art, both contemporary and old. The real value of art isn’t commercial – works of art show us different worlds and the truth they contain. They elevate our eyes to pierce through the ordinary and see the extraordinary. This aspect will be never accessible to those who see in art nothing but valuable merchandise to be bought and sold and boasted about in their social circles. Our view of art is therefore essentially “unmodern” and going against the calculating, commodity fetishist spirit of capitalism.

Now to the exhibition itself. Set in the rural context of Kladná Žilín in the Zlín region, Eastern Moravia, the exhibition is starting in July 2015. Presenting the works of over 15 international artists, the show is based around the concept of “anti-exposition”, and has been accepting submissions from both established artists, recent graduates and art enthusiasts.

Here’s an excerpt from the exhibition’s description:

“We do not like that too many artists today are exhibited solely based on their fame/name and in order to bring profit to the exhibiting gallery. Artworks are displayed only for the sake of being seen and without the quality of the work being questioned. It is all a Big Humbug and Show Off and a Bore and a Problem.

Dark Barn targets the opposite concept. The works will be displayed without the intention to be seen by anyone. It is a non-profit exhibition. No one will probably see it and it will not be widely advertised online.  (Yes, we get the point, it might as well not exist but let us not get too existential here.)”

The European Strategist also provided help with restoration of the exhibition premises.

You can find more information on the project’s web page.

Západní propagandisté jsou experti v rámcování debaty

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Přečtěte si článek “Ruská letadla v Černém moři těsně míjela americký torpédoborec” na Novinkách.cz a řekněte, co si o obsahu myslíte. Jak to podává autor, vyznívá to zcela jasně: zkrátka, ti bodří američtí námořníci tam zřejmě připluli na piknik. A aby si to u ruských teritoriálních vod pořádně užili, tak si na to vzali torpédoborec a vyrazili deset tisíc kiláků od nejbližšího pobřeží USA.

S propagandou to zkrátka není tak jednoduché. Ta opravdu dobrá nikdy neřekne jasnou lež, která by se dala ověřit. Vše orámcuje, něco vysekne, něco přidá, vše vám naservíruje v termínech současně nejpopulárnějšího politického žargónu a je to. Až zase někdo bude prskat, že tady máme jen ruskou propagandu (která mimochodem používá ty samé techniky), tak si tento článek hezky porovnejte s jiným, který byl tímto způsobem stvořen na EuroZprávách (21. května): “Ruská provokace pokračuje. Švédské stíhačky zaháněly dva ruské bombardéry”.

Jacques Sapir komentuje revoluci na Ukrajině

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Tento týden byla média opět plná komentářů, které se jedním nebo druhým způsobem dotýkaly Ruska a Ukrajiny. Možná i kvůli oslavám 17. listopadu a zahraniční návštěvě Bohuslava Sobotky do Spojených států (zlé jazyky by řekly,  že český premiér se jednoduše vydal skládat účty našim imperiálním vládcům), se ale tradiční anti-putinovské články objevovaly s ještě větší frekvencí, než je obvyklé. Naši trpěliví novináři čtenářům pravidelně opakovali, že demonstrace proti Milošovi Zemanovi jsou v zahraničí vnímány jako důsledek odklonu od “světové”, lidskoprávní politiky Václava Havla, a že politici napříč Amerikou roní slzy nad opětovným příklonem České republiky k Rusku. Tuto hitparádu špatné novinařiny pak zřejmě korunoval rozhovor s Carlem Gershmanem, prezidentem National Endowment for Democracy (která je známá spíše jako “nevládní” odnož CIA), publikovaným v Hospodářských novinách. Keep Reading