On Croatian Accession to the EU

by Tamara Ćapeta

On 1 July 2013, after lengthy process of negotiation, Croatia becomes the 28th Member State of the European Union. With the exception of Turkey, Croatian path to the EU was the longest one. Formal request for membership was placed in February 2003, and the status of a candidate country obtained in June 2004. However the negotiations have started only a year later, in October 2005 and lasted for six years, leading to the signing of Accession Treaty in December 2011. The term ‘negotiations’ describes the process the country has undergone on its way to membership only partly. Predominantly, ‘negotiations’ were in fact adjustments of the acceding country to the already existing rules developed within the EU. Thus, the negotiation process had important transformative role for Croatian society.

Since the times when the process begun until the achievement of membership, much has changed. Most importantly, the European Union itself is not the same. Once the attractive, economically stable and prosperous club, the EU has turned into a struggling economy, with States forced into austerity measures; into economy with high overall unemployment rates, where unemployed youth cries for an urgent action. Iceland, a country that has also applied for the EU membership, revoked its request. “So, what is there for Croatia in the European Union?” Croatian citizens have asked themselves as they expected the night of the celebration on the eve of entry into the EU.

At the referendum held in January 2012, when the EU was already deep in the economic crisis, majority (66.3%) of Croatians upheld the idea of Croatia’s future in the EU. I was among those who voted in favor, and would do the same if asked today. Let me, therefore, offer two reasons I consider most important for why should Croatia celebrate the 1st of July 2013.

Firstly, the original motivating idea of European integration of lasting stability and peace is of utmost importance for a nation that was in war only two decades ago, and still feels its consequences. With the EU States showing unprecedented solidarity towards each other when facing serious economic troubles, nobody fears that the economic crisis could lead to a war. Disappearance of borders between the States, the main achievement of the EU internal market project, gradually leads to more tolerance and understanding between European nations and towards building of the common European identity.

Secondly, Croatia needs the EU for consolidating its value system. Croatian Constitution restates the values which are common to the European nations, today also stated in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This reveals the wish of Croatian citizens to live in the society which respects those values. However, after emerging as a new democracy in the late eighties, Croatia has, same as other ex-communist countries, simply copy-pasted these values rather than gradually built them in its social contract as the society developed. Thus certain notions, such as market economy for instance, are still not fully internalized.

One recent development surrounding gay rights in Croatia, is the latest example why I see the EU membership as an important value anchor. Last month, a citizens’ initiative named “For family” gathered over 750.000 signatures on a proposal which obliges the Government to open a referendum on constitutional amendments. The proposed change is to insert in the constitutional text a provision stating that marriage is a community of a man and a woman. With its potentially discriminatory consequences, this initiative comes in the time when many EU states already recognize gay marriages or some kind of registered partnership, with France being the most recent example. This is the same time when the US Supreme Court struck down DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), considering it to be unconstitutional for deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment. The EU itself cannot regulate domestic relations any more than the U.S. federal government can. In the EU, as in the U.S., this is still the matter for the individual states. However, the states or the federal government, in the U.S. or in the EU cannot introduce discriminatory measures.

In the same way as the American Supreme Court, the EU Court of Justice may and does promote equality of citizens. This contributes to the gradual creation of the culture of tolerance, and offers better chances for the development of the societies which people in Europe, including Croatia, wanted by inserting values, such as equality, in their constitutions. I am not saying that Croatia would never build such a society alone, but EU is an important facilitator.

Tamara Ćapeta is a Professor and Jean Monnet Chair at the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb.

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Where is Turkey Headed? (Part 2)

CES Faculty Associate, Fatma Müge Göçek, recently returned from Turkey. She shares her insights on Turkey and Taksim Gezi Park protests in the following piece, which is a third of the three-part series.

How could the Gezi syndrome (discussed in Where is Turkey Headed? Part 1) unfold? I think two significant actors will determine the trajectory: Erdoğan and the youth.

The most significant characteristic of new social movements that this youth formulated is that they are quick to mobilize, but hard to sustain in the long term. And this result is due to the presence of too many leaders and the absence of a strong ideology. For example, the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States could not sustain itself in its original form because it refused — unlike the Tea Party movement — to join the ranks or accept the financing of a political party. And the movement leaders eventually had conflicts with each other, fragmenting their course of action. Yet the movement is still important in American political discourse, and the various fragments play significant roles such as working for Barack Obama’s election victory or helping citizens after natural disasters. The main reason for this continued albeit partial success is their ability to successfully employ social media technology while staying connected to the transforming needs of the populace. Gezi movement can also continue to be a significant political actor in Turkey if it maintains its control over the social media while drawing upon the needs of the changing population make-up, one that is becoming increasingly young. I personally do not think that the radical militants and fringe elements within the movement will pose a problem because it will eventually become evident that they do not speak the same language with the protestors. Such transformation would ultimately integrate the educated youth into the political system, strengthening Turkey’s democratization process. Yet if brute police force would continue to be employed, it would increase the possibility of militant elements subverting the protest or peaceful elements becoming radicalized, leading in the end to sustained political violence.

As for Erdoğan, many columnists cannot fathom why he has assumed such an uncompromising stand. That he has usually had everything he wanted go the way he desired  during the last decade probably plays a significant role in shaping his attitude. And I am also sure that Erdoğan genuinely believes that what he engages in is the best possible solution to make Turkey a better place. Yet the problem is this: Erdoğan’s and Turkey’s vision are no longer in sync because of the decade-long change. And unfortunately the main reason behind this mismatch is not economic, but instead social. I say unfortunately because had the reason been economic, I am sure Erdoğan would have come up with a solution; after all, Erdoğan and AKP focus almost exclusively on and draw strength from the economy. Yet when one analyzes the performance of AKP and  Erdoğan from the vantage point of the social, successes quickly turn into failures. For example, in general, bringing AKP to the brink of closure in an attenpt to legalize headscarves, going to excess in punishing the engagement of the military and the deep state in political maneuvering, being unable or willing to reveal and punish those who planned journalist Hrant Dink’s 2007 assassination, and leading country to the edge of war by taking untried approaches in foreign relations…  And in particular, choosing personal loyalty over critical stand in organizing AKP’s women’s and youth branches, supporting the party hegemony of those members with former ties to the ‘deep state’, taking a stand against President Abdullah Gül and the Gülen movement, keeping sycophants in the inner circle while removing all those that are critical… In the end, no possible course of action other than an uncompomising one remains simply because there is no one left around Erdoğan that could tell him to do otherwise.

Where would such an uncompromising stand lead Turkey? Certainly continuous domestic strife, and the ensuing radicalization of the youth. Within AKP, the gradual erosion of Erdoğan’s political power, probably fragmenting the party as liberals break away — as they initially did in forming AKP — to found a new party. Outside AKP, stronger opposition parties may emerge  if and when the Kurdish oriented Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) expands its voter base beyond ethnic boundaries and/or the Republican People’s Party (CHP) could miraculously get rid of its ineffectual, outdated and old leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu or National Action Party (MHP) of its leader Devlet Bahçeli. Also possible is a military intervention since escalating political polarization might enable especially young officers within the army to once again justify intervening in the political system.

Where would a compromising stand take Turkey instead? The erosion of the neoliberal economy, increased democratization due to the political integration of the youth, continuation of Erdoğan’s power within AKP as a consequence of containing possible internal fragmentation, very slow build-up of a viable mainstream political opposition, and containment of the military in the barracks.

I had honestly not thought out these two options in such detail before I set out to write this piece. Now that I have, contrary to what has been argued, the cessation of Erdoğan’s uncompromising stand would be beneficial not only to the youth involved in the Gezi movement, but also to Erdoğan himself in sustaining the status quo and therefore his current political power.

Fatma Müge Göçek is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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Where is Turkey Headed? (Part 1)

CES Faculty Associate, Fatma Müge Göçek, recently returned from Turkey. She shares her insights on Turkey and Taksim Gezi Park protests in the following piece, which is second in a three part series.

I wanted to share with you my thoughts on what could be identified as the ‘Gezi syndrome’ in Turkey. I will discuss two dimensions of the syndrome, namely its origins and then future trajectories. It is much easier to analyze the origins since one can identify certain patterns retrospectively, much harder to make future predictions because there are too many variables at play right now. As such, it is almost impossible to conjecture how these variables will interact with each other, strengthening some possibilities at the expense of others. Still, such predictions based on systematic analysis are the part and parcel of the social sciences so I will plunge in and make predictions as well.

I think that three significant ‘e-factors’ united to generate the Gezi syndrome: (Prime Minister) Erdoğan, economy and education.

Why do I choose Erdoğan over the Justice and Development Party (hereafter AKP) in government that he belongs to? Due to two factors, first, Erdoğan’s becoming the ‘single strongest man’ within the party during the course of decade-long AKP rule, and second, his approaching Istanbul — where he was born and where he started his political life as its mayor — very differently than almost all other politicians who are mostly of Ankara or Anatolian origin. Erdoğan has a special emotional attachment to Istanbul; I think that if he were asked ‘what is great about Ankara (the capital where he has to serve)?’ he would secretly reply ‘its road leading to Istanbul.’ During the last decade, Erdoğan spent so much of his spare time in Istanbul that some anxiously wondered if he intended to make Istanbul the capital once again (as it had been during the Ottoman empire). As for being the single most powerful man within AKP, this likelihood has always been the greatest challenge of all leaders because a leader starts to dig his own political grave the moment he commences to discard the critical voices around him. I think all these factors coalesced, leading Erdoğan to assume a very emotional attitude toward the Gezi syndrome. And it is a truism that the inclusion of emotions in politics always escalates the danger threshold because of lack of predictability. In short, the question that guided Erdoğan in his reactions was the following: “How could they take My City away from Me?”

The economy is a significant factor because it almost single-handedly carried AKP to government. Indeed, during the last decade, AKP liberalized the Turkish economy by releasing it from heavy-handed state control, and by integrating it to the global economy. The subsequent wealth increase enabled AKP to win elections, leading the party to measure its success almost exclusively in economic terms. It was telling that AKP’s initial reaction to Gezi centered around two material mantras: ‘we increased the income of this country three and a half fold in a decade’ in general, and ‘you are preventing people from going to work and earning their livelihood’ in particular. One also needs to underline that fact that during this decade, large capital located in Istanbul was gradually forced to support AKP through either large economic concessions (carrot) or direct and indirect pressures (stick): the ensuing large capital that was once loyal to the old state and now to the new government ended up controlling the media to such a degree that it initially almost entirely censored what was happening at Gezi. After personally witnessing what was going on 31 May 2013, I was shocked to come home only to see that the violent events were only covered by two out of the more than twenty television stations. The news coverage the following day was just as spotty. It should be noted that the most significant assumption of the neoliberal approach under-girding all is that material interests will always prevail over all else. This assumption may indeed hold in the short term, but in the long run — for instance after a decade, other priorities start to emerge: those who no longer have to worry about their economic well-being begin to think, look around, analyze their environment, and get the desire to have a say in what transpires. Hence the question that started to guide them became the following: “How could they take My City away from Me?”

Moving onto education, according to Sırma Demir Şeker’s 2011 findings, the years 2000-2009 witnessed the escalation in literacy rate from 84 to 88.7 percent and available schooling rate from 61 to 71.7 percent. I should underline that such an increase had much more impact on the population aged 15 and below. During the same time period, once again according to Sırma Demir Şeker’s findings, the gross domestic product increased two and a half fold, thereby leading the new, educated generations concentrated in major cities to not only have the education, but also the economic means to acquire and maximize cutting edge communication technology. Hence educational and economic factors surged while political participation remained limited… According to social movement literature, the most significant characteristic of ‘new social movements’ emerging at such conjunctures is the coalescence around new visions such as environmentalism, visions that trespass traditional political divides. Indeed, the manner in which leftists, rightists and nationalists came together with soccer fans of various stripes at Gezi reflects its new social movement characteristic, making Erdoğan’s attempts to find ‘dangerous’ political parties behind the movement all the more outdated. I am sure that there are indeed fringe political groups, militants among these protestors as the government alleges, but I still think that the major political actors spearheading it are nevertheless drawn from among this young, educated and urban population. Yes, their proportion may not add up to fifty percent of the population as Erdoğan continually points out, but their technological control over the social media and their cultural capital in comparison to the rest of the population certainly escalate their national and global impact to above fifty percent. As this educated youth started to look around, assessing the environment within which they live, they reacted to the consumption-oriented democracy where only consumers seemed to be all equal; they then organized peacefully and were forced to take to the streets after they were met with the very brutal force of the police. I was at Gezi last week; after seeing the spark in the protestors’ eyes and the confidence in their posture, I am convinced of one thing: this was probably their first political engagement, but it is not going to be their last one. And in delving into such political engagement, the question these 16-25 years old youths asked was the following: “How could they take My City away from Me?”

Hence I think that the ‘Gezi syndrome’ emerged as a Prime Minister from Istanbul who put his emotions before all else reacted to what his decade-long government had successfully produced in the context of the economy and education, a consumption-oriented neoliberal economy on the one side and a young, educated, urban populace on the other.

Fatma Müge Göçek is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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Whither Turkey?

CES Faculty Associate, Fatma Müge Göçek, recently returned from Turkey. She shares her insights on Turkey and Taksim Gezi Park protests in the following piece, which is first in a three part series.

On 25 May 2013, my colleague Ron Suny and I flew to Istanbul, Turkey to attend the Hrant Dink Memorial Workshop (1-2 June 2013) that has been taking place since he was assassinated in front of his newspaper on 19 January 2007. We were invited to report on the activities of the Workshop on Armenian Turkish Scholarship (WATS) that promoted the generation of new knowledge through the joint collaboration of scholars working on Turkish and Armenian issues. Even though the 2013 annual workshop was very successful, much of the attention was drawn away by the anti-government protests that took a violent turn on 31 May 2013 at Taksim Gezi Park, a short distance away from the Bankalar Caddesi where the conference was taking place.

This was an Istanbul district I knew well since I was born and spent the first twelve years of my life in Tepebasi, also near Taksim.  Yet the whole setting was now very different from the politically muted Cold War years of my childhood.

The protest initially started with the intent to prevent the removal of the centuries-old trees from the Taksim Gezi Park, with the intent to transform it into yet another neoliberal space promoting consumption. Until then, the park had been one of the few green spaces that acted like the lungs of downtown Istanbul, and that could also be accessed by all citizens rather than the few chosen moneyed customers. In addition, it was rumored that the Ottoman military barracks once housed at Taksim Gezi Park were going to be rebuilt to serve as a city museum. The manifest intent of the socially conservative Justice and Development Party (hereafter AKP) government was innocent: to further beautify the city by creating a renewed park and a city museum. Yet the latent objective was not as innocent: this government move marked the culmination of a neo-liberal spree that had literally created 11 malls within a short time span, tearing down culturally-meaningful old movie theatres and pudding shops and replacing them with cement blocks advocating constant consumption in the process. The military barracks had also once been historically significant as the headquarters of the ultimately unsuccessful 1909 conservative reaction to the 1908 Young Turk revolution. Since AKP traced its historical lineage to this reaction rather than the Young Turk movement that ultimately established the secular Turkish Republic, it seemed like AKP in general and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in particular wanted to rewrite republican history from a new point of origin. From this point on, AKP as a political actor will be replaced by Prime Minister Erdoğan; this is so because during the last decade of AKP rule (2002-13), Erdoğan increasingly concentrated power in his person alone, leading many to accuse him of ‘turning into a sultan.’

Yet the Gezi Park also marked the culmination of prior conservative policy moves, moves that ultimately mobilized general discontent into a protest movement. Among these were policies Erdoğan personally advocated, carrying some into law with amazing speed. One such proposal (now approved into law by President Abdullah Gül) stated that alcoholic beverages could not be advertised on social media and could not be sold after 10 pm. Upon being asked to comment on the proposal, Erdoğan stated that he would consider all those who had had a single drink in their lives as well as those who opposed the law for intervening with their life style to be ‘alcoholics.’ In the process, he dismissed former republican leaders for being ‘a couple of drunkards.’ Probably one of the most contentious recent government moves accompanying the ‘alcohol fury’ was the building of the third bridge across the Bosporus on yet another green area, further cutting into the lungs of the city. Almost to add insult to injury, Erdoğan then announced that he had decided, after a brief discussion within his inner circle, to name it the ‘Yavuz Sultan Selim’ bridge, after the Ottoman sultan Selim the Grim, best known for conquering the Arabian peninsula and Egypt and for massacring tens of thousands of Alewite Shiis in Asia Minor in the process.  Hence all these factors escalated and radicalized those opposing such developments.

The initial peaceful protest that started mid-May was met by severe police force, with pepper gas literally aimed at the face of the protesters at close range. The severity of government reaction, captured and distributed through smart phones, Facebook and Twitter galvanized others, leading tens of thousands to go to Taksim square in support.  In addition, thousands in other Turkish cities and overseas engaged in similar protest movements in solidarity. The popular reaction led the government to withdraw the police force, only to escalate the number of protesters who kept arriving every night in large numbers. And this was fully a new social movement in that it united all parts of the political spectrum from unionists, political activists, non-governmental organizations as well as many college and high school students.

This civil unrest has now been going on for two weeks. Erdoğan’s reaction revealed his innate beliefs: he first withdrew the police when casualties escalated, then claimed all protesters were plunderers, and then argued they were infiltrated by marginal dangerous forces intent on destroying Turkey. Hence, he steadfastly refused to acknowledge this was a spontaneous protest movement, always trying to locate foreign and domestic provocateurs among them. Perhaps the most telling was his statement that ‘he could barely contain the fifty percent who had voted for him’ from taking to the streets.  This statement starkly reveals Erdoğan’s conception of democracy: he sees himself as the political representative of not all Turkish citizens, but the fifty percent that voted for him, a numerical majority he sees as enabling him to do whatever he sees fit.

Yet the health of democracies is not judged by how well they meet the demands of the majority. After all, since ‘demos‘ ‘cratos‘ stands for the ‘power’ of the ‘people,’ in this political context, the power of the majority is easily met. The ultimate challenge is to acknowledge and ensure the rights of all its citizens, especially the rights of minorities that are most vulnerable to populist pressures. Rather than acting on this premise, Erdoğan instead set out to demonstrate and presumably reinstate his political power by publicly parading the populist majority. He planned two public ‘counter’ demonstrations manned by his AKP followers in Ankara on 15 June and in Istanbul on 16 June 2013. After meeting with some of the Gezi protestors, he also proposed that what will happen at the park to be determined through a ‘referendum,’ or a ‘plebiscite,’ both measures that would display the numerical strength of the majority.

Such display of political power is fickle. Erdoğan wants to get AKP followers on the streets this weekend in Ankara and Istanbul to demonstrate his political power. He may accomplish what he endeavors. Yet what takes place, albeit peaceful or not, could just as quickly undermine his current political hold. Such destabilization and ensuing polarization between pro and anti government forces would then lead Turkey down an uncertain, undemocratic path.  It would be uncertain because Erdoğan would have played all his cards; it would be undemocratic because with no powerful political opposition in place, only two political actors would benefit from the ensuing melee, the radical political fringe or, more probably, the military. If there is a military intervention, Turkey would have to start the democratization process of removing the military from politics all over again. I still cannot believe that Prime Minister Erdoğan is willing to take such a risk, one that would undermine all that he and his followers have worked for in the last decade. And that is why I wanted to share my concerns with you.

Fatma Müge Göçek is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan. 

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Barroso, rain and the 2013 EU Study Abroad Program

After several years of very good luck with the weather, the odds finally caught up with the annual EU Study Abroad Program.  Eleven Michigan students and twelve from the University of Windsor, where the program is based, spent two very hectic weeks visiting all the main institutions of the EU, several country missions, the ICC, NATO and many NGOs in this fifth year of the program.  Rain and unusually cool weather blanketed Belgium and much of western Europe during their stay, but the meetings were excellent. Highlights included attendance at a Business Europe conference where Jose Manuel Barroso gave the keynote address, and a talk at the College of Europe by Michele Chang, a former Michigan resident resident and current co-chair of the European Union Studies Association’s Political Economy Section.

At the European Parliament

Posted in European Union, politics

Cyprus and the European Union: A Savior and its Double

This post is part of a series on the Cypriot financial crisis.

Cyprus parliament’s vote wasn’t the end of the Cypriot financial adventure. In order to understand the dynamics of Europe and Cyprus in regards to the bail out plan, let’s turn back to another story of the Decameron, that of Alatiel and Cypriot Antigonos.

This story portrays the Cypriot as the savior of the beautiful Alatiel, wandering in the Mediterranean, sexually violated by a number of men. Alatiel, the daughter of the sultan of Babylon (Cairo), dispatched from Alexandria to be wed to the Muslim king of Algrave (Portugal), is shipwrecked on the island of Majorca. There she is rescued by a nobleman, Pericone of Visalgo, who seduces her. After his death, Alatiel passes from one man to another – including two Genoese ship owners, the prince of Achaea, the duke of Athens, the prince of Constantinople, the Turkish emir of Smyrna and a Cypriot merchant. Eventually, in Famagusta of Cyprus, she is recognized by one of her father’s former retainers, Antigonos, who is ready to return her to her father (Kinoshita & Jacobs 163). But Alatiel tells Antigonos that, “I would have preferred for my life to have ended that way [at sea] rather than to have led the life I have lived. And I think my father would wish the same thing if he ever found out about it” (Kinoshita & Jacobs 184).  She expresses the wish that she had never been saved from the shipwreck. Antigonos, in spite of Alatiel’s acknowledgement of her altered status as a woman, decides to save her. He provides her with a fictional cover story to explain away her long absence: that all this time she lived with the nuns of the convent of San Cresci in Valcava. Antigonos himself supplements the story by saying that she lived a virtuous life with the nuns and she displayed a praiseworthy behavior. Thus, Alatiel is restored and returned to her origins due to Antigonos’ good will. The sultan, who is very pleased, rewards Antigonos and sends him back to Cyprus (Kinoshita & Jacobs 185).  Despite being violated by many men throughout her travels, Alatiel now appears as a virgin. The Cypriot Antigonos restored her fictional virginity and modest behavior. In this Boccaccian story the Cypriot does not denounce or punish the evils of the sea, the pirates, the princes and dukes, Alatiel’s violators. Instead, he maintains the status quo and restores the lie of her virginity.

By reading the story of Alatiel and Antigonos, with the Cypriot financial crisis in mind, one might tend to think of Cyprus, the one currently in need of financial aid, as Alatiel. The story, however, presents a different angle. The Cypriot is not the victim but the savior. Though it may seem paradoxical, Alatiel – the tortured and violated woman who realizes her self-canceling existence, cannot be other than Europe, suffering manifold financial crises, popular protests, divisions amongst its members and violations by its authorities. The European project that had to do with the eradication of injustice and conflict within the European continent, and the establishment of an environment of solidarity among its nations was the lie that the Cypriot parliament came to restore. Like Antigonos, the parliament supplemented the fictional cover story of Europe as a multicultural community that treats all nations equally and respects their democratic parliamentary decisions.

The contemporary Cypriot “No” to European authoritarianism carries the burden of Boccaccio’s soteriology with the Cypriot as the protagonist in the preservation of the status-quo, even-though Europe/Alatiel ask for the cancelation of their existence.

The instinctive “No” of the Cypriot parliament had more to do with Cypriots’ deep historical consciousness of incessant colonization and subordination, more recently to the British and the Ottomans, rather than with their material existence as an economic entity in the neoliberal world. Like Antigonos, Cyprus – which accounts for two tenths of a percent of the European GDP – takes on the symbolic burden of the lie to save Alatiel’s life (i.e. E.U). The tragedy of Antigonos is to be found in the minute detail of the sultan’s gifts: in the harsh Mediterranean world of competitive trade and piracy, Antigonos returns Alatiel to the sultan, not so that he can receive gifts but so he can be the heroic savior [σωσίας], meaning both “savior” and “double.”

Cyprus is both the EU’s savior and counterpart. While the E.U. offered a form of financial salvation to Cyprus through the bail out plan, Cyprus offered a more meaningful ideological salvation to the European Union through its rejection of the bail out.  Cyprus’ “No” had more to do with what was a righteous decision not only for the Cypriots but for the idea of the E.U. Immediately after the parliament’s meeting on March 19, its president, Yiannakis Omerou, said that the parliament’s decision would, in a way, protect the other countries of the E.U. from the implementation of a similar haircut policy of bank accounts with less than 100.00 euros. In rejecting the plan, despite of the destructive economic consequences that followed, Cyprus helped to preserve the European project’s most important value, solidarity.

Perhaps, what remains to be saved now are the remnants of the European Union project. The Cypriot “No” was a voice crying for such a saving.

Listen more on NPR : The Cypriots’ New World Marred with Uncertainty

Works Cited

Blumenfeld-Kosinski, R. & Petkov, K. (ed.) (2012). “Noi Siamo Mercatanti Cipriani. How to do things in the Medieval Mediterranean.” Philippe de Mezieres and His Age. Piety and Politics in the Fourteenth Century. Brill: Leiden – Boston.

Kinoshita, S. & Jacobs, J. (2007). “Ports of Call: Boccaccio’s Alatiel in the Medieval Mediterranean.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 37:1.

 

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Multiculturalism in a Post-Democratic Society

This post is part of a series on the Cypriot financial crisis.

Today, it seems that the Northern European countries’ financial goals stand above the decisions of individual nation-members, especially those in the South. This is apparent from the eradication of the sovereignty of the member states after the approval of the Lisbon Treaty (2007). The E.U.’s Lisbon Treaty replaced the unanimous voting system, that used to give equal voting power to all state-members, with a majority vote system in which the most powerful nations hold a stronger vote within the European parliament.

The bankruptcy crises in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece – as well as the role of the European commission in restructuring their economies – unearthed a crucial feature of the E.U.: its role as an organization that commands the restructuring of financial systems of the periphery, and that subsequently imposes a version of an old-new economic model, known as ordoliberalism, according to which the markets need to be regulated.

The Lisbon treaty signaled the inauguration of a post-democratic European community. The treaty came as a replacement of the rejected European constitution by Dutch and French voters in 2005 and by Irish in 2008 and as previously said moved the decision making process away from individual member states. Under this new set of rules the nations can pass their own laws but as members of the E.U., their decisions are subject to the European Commission’s authority. In this post-democratic Europe, the Cypriot Parliament was called on March 19, 2013 to accept or reject the bail out plan of the Troika.

The disappointment with the European Union’s dysfunctional and post-democratic practices is now sensed intensely in Cyprus. The entrance of Cyprus in the European Union in 2004 had reconstituted the lost multiculturalism and reignited the movement of peoples and trade that Boccaccio talks about. It restored Cyprus into that which it had been: a place for everyone and for all peoples.

 

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A History of Cypriot Multiculturalism

This post is part of a series on the Cypriot financial crisis.
Cyprus has been representing for centuries what the European Union aims towards: to be a place of free movement and neutral identity, a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural community. Cyprus has been a place of multicultural and multiethnic exchange for centuries. Two articles, “Ports of Call” by Sharon Kinoshita & Jason Jacob and, “Noi Siamo Mercatanti Cypriani” by Sharon Kinoshita, analyze Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron (1350c) in order to make a claim about medieval Mediterranean connectivity and cultural exchange. Their work suggests that proclaiming oneself a “Cypriot merchant” in the 14th century Mediterranean came with a vague and indefinite connotation about who this person actually was in terms of his religious, cultural and “national” identity.

In Boccaccio’s Decameron Cyprus was a place of connection and accommodation, a crossroad for ships and merchants of many nations, languages and religious affiliations (Kinoshita & Jacobs 183). The island was a true center of trade where maritime routes from Latin Europe met the land routes coming from central Asia, the Indian Ocean and beyond. By the turn of the 14th century merchants, bankers and ship owners from Genoa, Pisa, Venice, Florence, Piacenza, Ancora, Padua, Barcelona and Provence and their businesses were thriving on the island. Everyday, from dawn to dusk, one could hear “the tongues of every nation under heaven” in the ports of Cyprus. With its francophone kings, its majoritarian Greek-speaking majority, Italian merchant colonies and its Arabic-speaking Levantine Christian communities, its visiting Provencal and Catalan merchants, Cyprus was a multilingual, multiethnic and multi-religious place (Kinoshita 50).

The story of Saladin in Boccaccio’s Decameron exemplifies the vagueness of the Cypriot identity. Saladin, Sultan of Babylon (Cairo), disguised himself as a Cypriot merchant, traveling from East to West, at the time of the Crusades, to gauge the West’s level of preparedness for the upcoming Crusade (Kinoshita 44). On his way, he arrived in Pavia, Italy and met townsman Masser Torello. Having been asked who he was, Saladin did not want to reveal his true identity, fearing persecution for his religious and ethnic affiliation as a Muslim Babylonian. The anonymous “Cypriot merchant,” that is a recurring figure in Boccaccio’s Decameron, served as a plausible disguise for Saladin as it was a term that was deliciously vague (Kinoshita 49, 50).

To be a “Cypriot” at the time of the Crusades was to be ethnically anyone. “Cypriot” was a symbol of peace and friendship, bridging the differences between the East and West. You could have been an Egyptian, a Greek, an Italian, a Spaniard, or a Frank but you could call yourself a “Cypriot” and acquire an overarching international status. But the “Cypriot” in Decameron was not only a symbol of vague and indefinite identity. Cyprus allowed Saladin to choose “Cypriot” as a “nationality” suggesting he was arriving as an ally and friend.

Boccaccio’s image of the Cypriot is relevant today. Due to the unceasing movement of immigrants, asylum seekers, entrepreneurs and soldiers over their land, Cypriots are accustomed to intercultural exchange. In 1946-49, under British colonial government, 51,000 Jews from the Balkans and Eastern European countries immigrated to Cyprus and lived in refugee camps there. In the early to mid-1980s many affluent Arabs (mostly Lebanese and Palestinians) came to Cyprus following the collapse of Beirut. These business people utilized the infrastructural, tax and offshore incentives that Cyprus had to offer to develop their own businesses (Demetriou & Trimikliniotis 2005: 9). Cyprus accommodated asylum-seekers from Nigeria, Cameroon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Pakistan throughout the second half of the 20th century and beginnings of the 21st century. Russian Pontians came to Cyprus as permanent residents from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. With a total population of approximately 1 million people, the island is now filled with immigrants from many different countries. Trimikliniotis and Demetriou (2005) show that 80,000 immigrants from Greece, the United Kingdom, Russia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Vietnam, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania lived in Cyprus in 2004, which is equal to the number of Turkish Cypriots. British, Swedish and other Northern European retirees reside today in its picturesque villages. British and American soldiers work at their countries’ military bases on the island, along with the United Nations multiethnic units that have guarded the buffer zone since 1964.

Blumenfeld-Kosinski, R. & Petkov, K. (ed.) (2012). “Noi Siamo Mercatanti Cipriani. How to do things in the Medieval Mediterranean.” Philippe de Mezieres and His Age. Piety and Politics in the Fourteenth Century. Brill: Leiden – Boston.

Kinoshita, S. & Jacobs, J. (2007). “Ports of Call: Boccaccio’s Alatiel in the Medieval Mediterranean.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 37:1.

Demetriou, C. & Trimikliniotis, N. (2005). “Active Civic Participation of Immigrants in Cyprus.” Country Report prepared for the European research project POLITIS, Oldenburg.

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The “No” of Cyprus

This is the first out of a series of four pieces written about the Cypriot financial crisis.

On March 19, 2013, the members of the Cypriot Parliament were called to make a decision that could have changed the lives of Europeans forever. The Parliament was asked to accept or reject the bail out plan set by the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (Troika). The plan would dip into the depositors’ bank accounts to help save the Cypriot banks from bankruptcy. Αs many economic analysts said, the proposed imposition of a levy (“haircut”) of 6.75% on bank deposits less than 100.00 euros was an unprecedented event in the world’s economic history. While large groups of protesters gathered outside the Cypriot Parliament waiting for the result of the vote, Spanish protesters gathered in Madrid knowing that they could be next with a possible imposition of a levy of 0.2% on their bank deposits over 100.00 euros.

The unanimous rejection (the “No”) of the haircut by the members of the Parliament had no impact whatsoever on whether the European bail out plan would eventually be implemented or not. To the surprise of the Cypriot citizens the Troika eventually imposed the closing of Cyprus Popular Bank, one of the country’s largest, costing account holders 4.9 billion euros and proceeded with the haircut of 60% on bank deposits over 100.00 euros for deposites in the Bank of Cyprus.

Then, Cypriots, albeit in a state of shock, seeing their life savings, their pensions and their businesses vanishing in front of their eyes, instantly invented various support mechanisms in order to deal with the upcoming shortages: the power supply company reduced its monthly fees; the telecommunication authority provided free telephone service for April; doctor Eleni Theocharous established a temporary nursing unit to provide free health care; bakeries decreased the price of milk and bread. Α Day Long Solidarity Concert with title “People for People” took place on April 1st  to collect food supplies for the poor (video). Think tanks, comprised by civilians, are currently being formed to find innovative ways to reclaim democracy and facilitate future everyday economic exchanges.

The Cypriot “No” was a reminder that the European community breathes (perhaps its last breaths) at the Community’s periphery. According to Costas Douzinas it “was the first formal rebuff of austerity, something that the obedient governments of southern Europe had not dared” (The Guardian). The parliament’s “No” cost the Cypriots one of their biggest banks, even though as many have argued the bank would be lost regardless; yet it affirmed their faith in democracy and European solidarity regardless of the financial cost. Little did the common Cypriots know about the existing divisions within the E.U. in which the individual democratic decision-making processes of nations are, since the Lisbon treaty, subject to the authority of the supranational European Commission.

Posted in European Union, history | Tagged

Cyprus and the European Union: A Savior and its Double

On March 19, 2013, the members of the Cypriot Parliament were called to make a decision that could have changed the lives of Europeans forever. The Parliament was asked to accept or reject the bailout plan set by the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (Troika). The plan would dip into the depositors’ bank accounts to help save the Cypriot banks from bankruptcy. Αs many economic analysts said, the proposed imposition of a levy (“haircut”) of 6.75% on bank deposits less than 100.00 euros was an unprecedented event in the world’s economic history. While large groups of protesters gathered outside the Cypriot Parliament waiting for the result of the vote, Spanish protesters gathered in Madrid knowing that they could be next with a possible imposition of a levy of 0.2% on their bank deposits over 100.00 euros.

The unanimous rejection (the “No”) of the haircut by the members of the Parliament had no impact whatsoever on whether the European bail out plan would eventually be implemented or not. To the surprise of the Cypriot citizens the Troika eventually imposed the closing of Cyprus Popular Bank, one of the country’s largest, costing account holders 4.9 billion euros and proceeded with the haircut of 60% on bank deposits over 100.00 euros for deposits in the Bank of Cyprus.

Then, Cypriots, albeit in a state of shock, seeing their life savings, their pensions and their businesses vanishing in front of their eyes, instantly invented various support mechanisms in order to deal with the upcoming shortages: the power supply company reduced its monthly fees; the telecommunication authority provided free telephone service for April; doctor Eleni Theocharous established a temporary nursing unit to provide free health care; bakeries decreased the price of milk and bread. Α Day Long Solidarity Concert with title “People for People” took place on April 1st  to collect food supplies for the poor (video). Think tanks, comprised by civilians, are currently being formed to find innovative ways to reclaim democracy and facilitate future everyday economic exchanges.

The Cypriot “No” was a reminder that the European community breathes (perhaps its last breaths) at the Community’s periphery. According to Costas Douzinas it “was the first formal rebuff of austerity, something that the obedient governments of southern Europe had not dared” (The Guardian). The parliament’s “No” cost the Cypriots one of their biggest banks, even though as many have argued the bank would be lost regardless; yet it affirmed their faith in democracy and European solidarity regardless of the financial cost. Little did the common Cypriots know about the existing divisions within the E.U. in which the individual democratic decision-making processes of nations are, since the Lisbon treaty, subject to the authority of the supranational European Commission.

A History of Cypriot Multiculturalism
Cyprus has been representing for centuries what the European Union aims towards: to be a place of free movement and neutral identity, a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural community. Cyprus has been a place of multicultural and multiethnic exchange for centuries. Two articles, “Ports of Call” by Sharon Kinoshita & Jason Jacob and, “Noi Siamo Mercatanti Cypriani” by Sharon Kinoshita, analyze Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron (1350c) in order to make a claim about medieval Mediterranean connectivity and cultural exchange. Their work suggests that proclaiming oneself a “Cypriot merchant” in the 14th century Mediterranean came with a vague and indefinite connotation about who this person actually was in terms of his religious, cultural and “national” identity.

In Boccaccio’s Decameron Cyprus was a place of connection and accommodation, a crossroad for ships and merchants of many nations, languages and religious affiliations (Kinoshita & Jacobs 183). The island was a true center of trade where maritime routes from Latin Europe met the land routes coming from central Asia, the Indian Ocean and beyond. By the turn of the 14th century merchants, bankers and ship owners from Genoa, Pisa, Venice, Florence, Piacenza, Ancora, Padua, Barcelona and Provence and their businesses were thriving on the island. Everyday, from dawn to dusk, one could hear “the tongues of every nation under heaven” in the ports of Cyprus. With its francophone kings, its majoritarian Greek-speaking majority, Italian merchant colonies and its Arabic-speaking Levantine Christian communities, its visiting Provencal and Catalan merchants, Cyprus was a multilingual, multiethnic and multi-religious place (Kinoshita 50).

The story of Saladin in Boccaccio’s Decameron exemplifies the vagueness of the Cypriot identity. Saladin, Sultan of Babylon (Cairo), disguised himself as a Cypriot merchant, traveling from East to West, at the time of the Crusades, to gauge the West’s level of preparedness for the upcoming Crusade (Kinoshita 44). On his way, he arrived in Pavia, Italy and met townsman Masser Torello. Having been asked who he was, Saladin did not want to reveal his true identity, fearing persecution for his religious and ethnic affiliation as a Muslim Babylonian. The anonymous “Cypriot merchant,” that is a recurring figure in Boccaccio’s Decameron, served as a plausible disguise for Saladin as it was a term that was deliciously vague (Kinoshita 49, 50).

To be a “Cypriot” at the time of the Crusades was to be ethnically anyone. “Cypriot” was a symbol of peace and friendship, bridging the differences between the East and West. You could have been an Egyptian, a Greek, an Italian, a Spaniard, or a Frank but you could call yourself a “Cypriot” and acquire an overarching international status. But the “Cypriot” in Decameron was not only a symbol of vague and indefinite identity. Cyprus allowed Saladin to choose “Cypriot” as a “nationality” suggesting he was arriving as an ally and friend.

Boccaccio’s image of the Cypriot is relevant today. Due to the unceasing movement of immigrants, asylum seekers, entrepreneurs and soldiers over their land, Cypriots are accustomed to intercultural exchange. In 1946-49, under British colonial government, 51,000 Jews from the Balkans and Eastern European countries immigrated to Cyprus and lived in refugee camps there. In the early to mid-1980s many affluent Arabs (mostly Lebanese and Palestinians) came to Cyprus following the collapse of Beirut. These business people utilized the infrastructural, tax and offshore incentives that Cyprus had to offer to develop their own businesses (Demetriou & Trimikliniotis 2005: 9). Cyprus accommodated asylum-seekers from Nigeria, Cameroon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Pakistan throughout the second half of the 20th century and beginnings of the 21st century. Russian Pontians came to Cyprus as permanent residents from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. With a total population of approximately 1 million people, the island is now filled with immigrants from many different countries. Trimikliniotis and Demetriou (2005) show that 80,000 immigrants from Greece, the United Kingdom, Russia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Vietnam, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania lived in Cyprus in 2004, which is equal to the number of Turkish Cypriots. British, Swedish and other Northern European retirees reside today in its picturesque villages. British and American soldiers work at their countries’ military bases on the island, along with the United Nations multiethnic units that have guarded the buffer zone since 1964.

Multiculturalism in a Post-Democratic Society

Today, it seems that the Northern European countries’ financial goals stand above the decisions of individual nation-members, especially those in the South. This is apparent from the eradication of the sovereignty of the member states after the approval of the Lisbon Treaty (2007). The E.U.’s Lisbon Treaty replaced the unanimous voting system, that used to give equal voting power to all state-members, with a majority vote system in which the most powerful nations hold a stronger vote within the European parliament.

The bankruptcy crises in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece – as well as the role of the European commission in restructuring their economies – unearthed a crucial feature of the E.U.: its role as an organization that commands the restructuring of financial systems of the periphery, and that subsequently imposes a version of an old-new economic model, known as ordoliberalism, according to which the markets need to be regulated.

The Lisbon treaty signaled the inauguration of a post-democratic European community. The treaty came as a replacement of the rejected European constitution by Dutch and French voters in 2005 and by Irish in 2008 and as previously said moved the decision-making process away from individual member states. Under this new set of rules the nations can pass their own laws but as members of the E.U., their decisions are subject to the European Commission’s authority. In this post-democratic Europe, the Cypriot Parliament was called on March 19, 2013 to accept or reject the bailout plan of the Troika.

The disappointment with the European Union’s dysfunctional and post-democratic practices is now sensed intensely in Cyprus. The entrance of Cyprus in the European Union in 2004 had reconstituted the lost multiculturalism and reignited the movement of peoples and trade that Boccaccio talks about. It restored Cyprus into that which it had been: a place for everyone and for all peoples.

A Savior and its Double

Cyprus parliament’s vote wasn’t the end of the Cypriot financial adventure. In order to understand the dynamics of Europe and Cyprus in regards to the bailout plan, let’s turn back to another story of the Decameron, that of Alatiel and Cypriot Antigonos.

This story portrays the Cypriot as the savior of the beautiful Alatiel, wandering in the Mediterranean, sexually violated by a number of men. Alatiel, the daughter of the sultan of Babylon (Cairo), dispatched from Alexandria to be wed to the Muslim king of Algrave (Portugal), is shipwrecked on the island of Majorca. There she is rescued by a nobleman, Pericone of Visalgo, who seduces her. After his death, Alatiel passes from one man to another – including two Genoese ship owners, the prince of Achaea, the duke of Athens, the prince of Constantinople, the Turkish emir of Smyrna and a Cypriot merchant. Eventually, in Famagusta of Cyprus, she is recognized by one of her father’s former retainers, Antigonos, who is ready to return her to her father (Kinoshita & Jacobs 163). But Alatiel tells Antigonos that, “I would have preferred for my life to have ended that way [at sea] rather than to have led the life I have lived. And I think my father would wish the same thing if he ever found out about it” (Kinoshita & Jacobs 184).  She expresses the wish that she had never been saved from the shipwreck. Antigonos, in spite of Alatiel’s acknowledgement of her altered status as a woman, decides to save her. He provides her with a fictional cover story to explain away her long absence: that all this time she lived with the nuns of the convent of San Cresci in Valcava. Antigonos himself supplements the story by saying that she lived a virtuous life with the nuns and she displayed a praiseworthy behavior. Thus, Alatiel is restored and returned to her origins due to Antigonos’ good will. The sultan, who is very pleased, rewards Antigonos and sends him back to Cyprus (Kinoshita & Jacobs 185).  Despite being violated by many men throughout her travels, Alatiel now appears as a virgin. The Cypriot Antigonos restored her fictional virginity and modest behavior. In this Boccaccian story the Cypriot does not denounce or punish the evils of the sea, the pirates, the princes and dukes, Alatiel’s violators. Instead, he maintains the status quo and restores the lie of her virginity.

By reading the story of Alatiel and Antigonos, with the Cypriot financial crisis in mind, one might tend to think of Cyprus, the one currently in need of financial aid, as Alatiel. The story, however, presents a different angle. The Cypriot is not the victim but the savior. Though it may seem paradoxical, Alatiel – the tortured and violated woman who realizes her self-canceling existence, cannot be other than Europe, suffering manifold financial crises, popular protests, divisions amongst its members and violations by its authorities. The European project that had to do with the eradication of injustice and conflict within the European continent, and the establishment of an environment of solidarity among its nations was the lie that the Cypriot parliament came to restore. Like Antigonos, the parliament supplemented the fictional cover story of Europe as a multicultural community that treats all nations equally and respects their democratic parliamentary decisions.

The contemporary Cypriot “No” to European authoritarianism carries the burden of Boccaccio’s soteriology with the Cypriot as the protagonist in the preservation of the status-quo, even-though Europe/Alatiel ask for the cancellation of their existence.

The instinctive “No” of the Cypriot parliament had more to do with Cypriots’ deep historical consciousness of incessant colonization and subordination, more recently to the British and the Ottomans, rather than with their material existence as an economic entity in the neoliberal world. Like Antigonos, Cyprus – which accounts for two tenths of a percent of the European GDP – takes on the symbolic burden of the lie to save Alatiel’s life (i.e. E.U). The tragedy of Antigonos is to be found in the minute detail of the sultan’s gifts: in the harsh Mediterranean world of competitive trade and piracy, Antigonos returns Alatiel to the sultan, not so that he can receive gifts but so he can be the heroic savior [σωσίας], meaning both “savior” and “double.”

Cyprus is both the EU’s savior and counterpart. While the E.U. offered a form of financial salvation to Cyprus through the bailout plan, Cyprus offered a more meaningful ideological salvation to the European Union through its rejection of the bail out.  Cyprus’ “No” had more to do with what was a righteous decision not only for the Cypriots but for the idea of the E.U. Immediately after the parliament’s meeting on March 19, its president, Yiannakis Omerou, said that the parliament’s decision would, in a way, protect the other countries of the E.U. from the implementation of a similar haircut policy of bank accounts with less than 100.00 euros. In rejecting the plan, despite of the destructive economic consequences that followed, Cyprus helped to preserve the European project’s most important value, solidarity.

Perhaps, what remains to be saved now are the remnants of the European Union project. The Cypriot “No” was a voice crying for such a saving.

Listen more on NPR : The Cypriots’ New World Marred with Uncertainty

Works Cited

Blumenfeld-Kosinski, R. & Petkov, K. (ed.) (2012). “Noi Siamo Mercatanti Cipriani. How to do things in the Medieval Mediterranean.” Philippe de Mezieres and His Age. Piety and Politics in the Fourteenth Century. Brill: Leiden – Boston.

Kinoshita, S. & Jacobs, J. (2007). “Ports of Call: Boccaccio’s Alatiel in the Medieval Mediterranean.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 37:1.

Demetriou, C. & Trimikliniotis, N. (2005). “Active Civic Participation of Immigrants in Cyprus.” Country Report prepared for the European research project POLITIS, Oldenburg.

Posted in economy, European Union, history, literature