Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scottish Independence Referendum: A lesson for Europe.
For one day, the whole Europe turned Scottish. The Referendum on Scottish independence got the attention of the whole continent and everyone is waiting for the result. The outcome of the referendum is undoubtedly important for Europe, for a number of reasons.

First of all, one of Europe's biggest powers will never be the same again. If Scotland decides to leave, the United Kingdom, it's flag, economy and its position in the EU will dramatically change.

If Scotland gains its independence from the UK, as it is the most pro-European nation in the Kingdom, it will inevitably affect the referendum on UK's EU membership scheduled for 2017. Without the Scottish vote, if the rest of the Kingdom is still as Euro-skeptic after the Scottish departure, it will surely mean the withdrawal of the country from the EU.

That will create unprecedented changes for the EU itself as well as the UK. Economically a separated Scotland will face many challenges, but there will be surely some for the remaining Kingdom itself. Both they will have to either re-apply or re-negotiate their EU membership and as the UK is one of the EU's major economies, things can get complicated to say at least.

If the YES side of the referendum wins and Scotland becomes an independent nation, it will open the door for many other regions of Europe to also seek theirs: Catalonia is closely watching the Scottish vote result, but also Corsica, Flanders, Sardinia, the Basque country and many other regions might follow suit.

This will create a new Europe, a continent of regions. Many Europeans fear the secessionist agenda of the nationalist movements across Europe, as they fear the collapse of the whole EU and the European economy. Others welcome the development, believing that a new united or federal Europe must be a federation of regions and not of the traditional states that we know, so they see their breaking up as necessary.

No matter what, if Scotland says YES to independence, Europe will never be the same again. And even if it votes NO, some lessons are still to be learned for the EU itself.

One of the driving forces of the surge in popularity of the nationalist party in Scotland, was the very bad policies that the centralized UK government in Westminster followed for the past years. The London based elites, were ignoring the signs coming from Scotland, taking for granted the fact that their country remained united for more than 300 years.

They continued to implement neo-liberal policies, while the Scots were obviously increasingly unhappy. In fact some analysts believe that the whole referendum is based not so much on driven nationalism, but continuous dissatisfaction with Westminster's financial policies.

Similar events triggered independence movements and uprisings in European history so many times before. If a population is not happy about their ruling elite, they will eventually protest or revolt. And when this population has a national identity different than the elites that rule them, then what starts as a protest against the policies adopted, it becomes a nationalist and independence movement.

That was exactly what happened during the collapse of the Ottoman empire and the former Yugoslavia. So why don't our leaders ever learn? It is obvious that the economy and how it is managed is sometimes a greater force than any nationalist feelings.In fact dissatisfaction of one's financial reality can often incite them.

Our leaders should always keep the population happy and prosperous to avoid dissidence, or give the nationalists an opportunity to gain popularity. 

This can prove as a very valuable lesson for the EU itself and I think there are already signs of revolt against it, from ordinary Europeans. When power is centralized and detached from the people it is supposed to govern, it becomes irrelevant and secessionist or nationalist movements are eventually tearing this governing power apart.

So even if I am pro-European and a European federalist, I do not wish the EU to become a centralized government, under the model of France and Paris for example. A looser federation or confederation is more desired, especially when we are talking about 28, soon to be more different nation states.

If Brussels concentrates all power in Europe, it will soon (if not already) start behaving like Westminster: ignoring the voice or wishes of the people, blindly following policies that are very unpopular. That in return will empower the nationalists that will seek any opportunity to break away and so the dissolution of the EU as an institution will be inevitable.

If the EU or the UK are to survive, they need to change from within, before they are forced to change by the people. The weakening of a centralized power, taking always into account the public opinion and giving national and regional governments a greater say, might just do the trick to save a union.

It is obvious that the UK has failed but also others like Spain and the EU itself are not far behind. More integration does not necessarily mean concentration of power in one place, but standardization and harmonization of economic prosperity, living standards, opportunities and education throughout any union.

The above combined with a constant respect of the public opinion, cultural exchanges and a strong focus on our common identity, will prove much more effective in keeping the EU alive for the long term. At least more effective than a centralized government in Brussels.

If 300 years of unity fail to convince the Scots in remaining in the United Kingdom due to economic failures, what can be said about the EU with just over 50 years of history?

The European Union must become a federal socialist entity, promoting prosperity and equality across the block. Yet it must not limit itself to economic governance, it must become a cultural and a social project itself. After all it is also culture and common values that bind people together, not just a single currency.

The best of luck to Scotland, no matter what the outcome. This day is yours and the whole Europe is watching you. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The neverending war on terror!
Since last Monday and after the International Conference on Peace and Security that took place in Paris, the world edges closer to another war in the Middle East. (The Guardian)

Western Powers, this time joined by leaders of many Arab countries,vowed to use "whatever means necessary" to defeat the ISIS threat. France and Britain already are stepping up to join the US in the fight against the militants.

Overall leaders and diplomats from over 30 countries agreed on the urgency of stopping the expansion of ISIS in Iraq and the surrounding region. 

Sadly I am afraid that Europe and the West has no choice but to intervene. We should have never meddled with the region's affairs and declare a war on "terror" so easily, especially when there was no evidence to back it up. Europe made a mistake in joining the war in Iraq. 

We have destabilized the region and what is going on over there is serious. We need to take action, or it will  come back to bite us if we ignore it.  

In case the region falls under ISIS control, it is obvious that these fundamentalists won’t stop there. The whole region will sink into a radical theocratic Middle Ages and having a neighbor like that is not good. How could we have relations or trade with a country gripped by such regimes?

After they committed their recent gruesome criminal acts, of beheading two US journalists and one British aid worker, their hatred towards the West is evident. It is one thing to kill captured military personnel and another to kill an aid worker, who is there to help and do humanitarian work.

To them, the late David Haines was just another much hated Westerner. The fact that he had nothing to with the policies that his country has pursued in the region, did not bother his executioners. Solely his nationality was enough to get him killed. 

So imagine how could we ever send businessmen, tradesmen, aid workers, tourists, doctors or journalists to a region gripped by radicals and enhance our cooperation and collaboration with these countries. In other words, while ISIS is strong in the Middle East, we can never have any safe relations with the Levant.

And not just that, but if we take into account the number of the European born Muslims that were radicalized and fled to Syria or Iraq to fight, the issue becomes even more serious. It is known that Mr. Haines' executioner had British accent. In other words, there are radical Muslim individuals, perhaps with connections to ISIS living in Europe as we speak.

If ISIS gets absolute control of the region, what tells us that they won't seek to act within our countries too with their European Muslim members? Perhaps they could organize terror attacks on European soil, in retaliation of Europe's involvement in the US led wars in Iraq.

Everyone in Europe could be in danger then, either their government took part in the operations against Iraq or not. The free movement of people within the EU could be in jeopardy, once we enter a phase of high terror attack risk and the implications will affect everyone.

It is clear that the threat of ISIS must be eradicated. But it must not be only the work of America, Europe or the "West". Firstly because we can not be seen as the "Crusaders" again, as this will drive more people into the ISIS circles. 

Secondly, Arab countries and other nations from the region must actively participate in the operations. It is in their interests too to stop the spread of radical elements in their neighborhood. ISIS has been killing Islamic religious minorities in the territories that they have captured. 

The threat they pose is universal, so the Arab and other Muslim nations (yes, including Turkey and Iran-they are at risk too after all) should stop hiding behind America's or Europe's back and take action. If ISIS gets more empowered, it will be their citizens, either Christian or religious Muslim minorities that will also be under threat. What nation would allow that to happen?

My overall attitude is anti-war and against any European, or Western invasion and military intervention anywhere on the planet. But since we have made a huge mistake in following America in every war, now it is time to face the consequences and clean our act up. Having ISIS and any other radical organization right on our doorstep, with potential members in our lands and with a totally mistaken policy towards the Middle East, is a recipe for disaster and a serious security threat.

I hope Europe and the West have learned a lesson here. Next time they decide to intervene and meddle in another region's affairs they must think twice. Once you destabilize a region you open a Pandora's box. All bad things that were hidden dormant, or were laying as sentiments in the bottom are stirred and come up to the surface. 

Especially when you are doing a shake up to overthrow a lesser bad, or someone who you have been supporting initially, it indicates either the highest level of stupidity or corruption in the Western political elites.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Peace in Europe is obviously in the hands of the ordinary people!
 I can not believe what is happening in Europe once again.

It is almost a year since Ukraine entered a very turbulent and critical stage in its history. From protests and demonstrations, to edging very closely to a civil war.

The country is in a critical stage, that could destabilize the whole region, Europe's relationship with Russia and the continent itself.
The European and Russian elites have been engaging in a ridiculous tug-of-war over the country. The two regions are close partners and rely on each other, never mind the close historic ties that binds them. Russia was always an integral part of Europe and its history. But ever since the cold war, both sides are wary and critical of each other.

Europe's suffocatingly close alliance with America and the megalomania of the Russian leadership, with the vision of restoring Russia's former"glory" and pride, is tearing Ukraine apart. It is no secret that both sides have interests in the region and they are trying to promote them. But the Ukrainian people must have the final say themselves, about the future of their country.

Personally I do not see why the Western powers are still feuding with Russia and vice versa. Europe, America and Russia would be better off as close partners, but the remnants of the cold war are still a thorn in their potential deeper partnership.

The European elites imposed sanctions on Russia, by ending its exports of oil equipment, placing an embargo on Russia's arms trade and cutting off Russian bank finance, as well as placing sanctions on individual Russian elites. Russia in return, placed a ban on EU fruit, food and agricultural products.

This is the silliest trade war there has been for a while. By placing sanctions on each other, the two sides are not only harming the other's economy, but also their own. They are behaving like children that are angry with each other and so they are destroying whatever good they have built together!

Can these elites be trusted? No! In the past it was the same attitude of Europe's political elites that led to two world wars that killed millions of Europeans. Interestingly enough, this summer we commemorated the 100 years since the beginning of the First World War, in which millions of young European perished.

Are we people, going to allow them to do the same on European soil once more? Will hundreds or thousands of young Ukrainians, Russians and other Europeans have to die, over the future of Ukraine? A country that should after all decide its future on its own, by all democratic means.

I do not understand why the Russians are so afraid of "losing" Ukraine. The Russian minority in the eastern part of the country, will always remain ethnic Russian, with the only difference that they will be also EU citizens if the country joins the EU.

Russia will have a direct influence and a say in the EU, if MEPs and other politicians from the Russian speaking regions of the expanded EU, enter the Brussels institutions. Provided of course that the Russian minority is treated with respect by the Ukrainian and European authorities.

But the attitude of Europe is also wrong towards Russia and Ukraine. The American influence in their relations is obvious, and it is not helping. The only way to encourage the integration of the few remaining nations in the eastern region of Europe to join the EU, is what Europe does best: trade!

We should be engaging with trade and bilateral agreements, with all former USSR democracies. If Europe offer "funds" in order to gain control over these nations, it then corrupts these countries. We give money in one pro-democracy party, that in the end becomes addicted to foreign money and uses all means to stay in power, by keep twisting the arm of their donors for more funds, in exchange for more democratic reforms and keeping the status quo.

These money are being misused and they corrupt the "democratic" elites which eventually they become gangrenous both to the country and the donors. It would be better to engage with them with trade, and bit by bit via investments and continuous cooperation, change will come naturally, as well as their entry in the European institutions. 

It will be the people themselves who will initiate it, after seeing how we in the rest of Europe live, come in contact with our values and way of thinking, once they come over here to work, study or do business. And vice versa, when European tradesmen go over there to start businesses and invest in their countries, they can become beacons of European values.

The exact same attitude Europe must have towards Russia. The more we criticize the country for the bad decisions and practices that their corrupt elite is doing, the more we help nationalism rise among the population and support these elites, as they are viewing them as heroes and protectors of their nation and values. This is going nowhere and Russia should become a key ally of Europe and even America itself.

In other words, the wrong attitude and grave mistakes of the Russian and European elites, could cost the lives in a great number of Europeans once again (I include the potential Russian victims, as they are Europeans after all). We should not allow them to bring disaster in our continent again. 

The Ukrainian people have nothing to separate with the Russians, the Russian with the Europeans and so on. We are all striving for a better future and living standards, our goals and interests are in fact uniting us. If our elites want to play games with our welfare, over power, land and dominance over another then they are not representing our interests and we should show them the way out! 

If there is any chance for peace in Europe, it is obvious that is lies in the hands of the ordinary Europeans, Ukrainians and Russians. Do not fall for your government's propaganda, for blinded nationalism and the promise that your interests lie in a nation state, a national government or on constant power games between your nation's and other neighboring ones.

Refuse to be part of your political elite's mistakes and wrong doings, or it will be you and your children that will pay the price once again.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Europe: a place of peculiar judicial systems and leadership!
This week, three incidents that took place in our lovely continent had me absolutely outraged! The first one comes from my native country, Greece. A country that for the past six years of recession, looks more like a theater of peculiarities and a freak show.

I can never understand under which circumstances, someone who shoots at his employees for rightfully asking their hard earned salaries, walks free! I am talking about the incident in Manolada in Southern Greece, where an strawberry farm owner and his cronies, opened fire to 28 migrant Bangladeshi workers seeking simply to be paid.

The incident happened last April, but the verdict was announced today. The owner, who had been accused of human trafficking and one other had the charges against them dropped. Two others were handed prison sentences of 14 years the most, but were also freed pending appeal. (The Daily Star)

It is known that there is a huge problem of corruption, especially in the police, judicial and state institutions in Greece, but that incident is absolutely unacceptable for an EU member state. These practices were more common in the "Wild, Wild West", and they belong to that time and place.

The immigrant workers in Greece and in every other European country, form the backbone of its economy. They do the work that nobody else wants to do, cheaper and often better. They pay higher taxes and have to also keep applying and paying for a visa, just to stay in the country.

To treat such people like dogs, brings disgrace on the whole local community of Manolada, but also on Greece itself. I myself am outraged and appalled by the very incident, let alone today's verdict. How can the country attract workers that it needs now, when we are showing to the world that we actually want slaves to work without pay. And that we are going to shoot at them if they ask for money and get away with it.

Such practices belong to another era, where slavery was legal, not in Europe of 2014. The judicial system of Greece and the people responsible for such decision must come immediately under scrutiny, if necessary by a European or international judicial body.

No one can treat immigrants, human beings above all like this and get away with it. The Greek government must act on it immediately and see to the punishment of such businessmen, or itself must be accused of racism and fascism. The EU must investigate and act accordingly.
Speaking about far right elements in governments throughout Europe, the second peculiarity in the European continent came from another EU state, Hungary.

We are used lately of the Hungarian Prime Minister, Mr. Viktor Orban's controversial policies and speeches. But things are getting really serious, after his latest speech on July 26th, at a retreat of ethnic Hungarian leaders in Baile Tusnad in Romania.

Mr. Orban stated that he wants to abandon liberal democracy in favor of an “illiberal state,” citing Russia and Turkey as examples. Together with China, he listen the above nations as "successful," while stressing that the global financial crisis in 2008 showed that “liberal democratic states can’t remain globally competitive”. (Bloomberg)

While I am not fond of the way that economic "liberalism" has developed over the recent years and what it represents nowadays, Mr. Orban's aspirations will result in more troubles for his country. For a European leader to be inspired by Russia and Mr. Putin, a country that sees a surge of homophobia and xenophobia, while it demonstrates expansionist agenda, it is a worrying development.

Especially when Mr. Orban is very keen in his country's relationship with Hungarian minorities in other European, even EU states. Not to mention that in the case of Turkey, which we witness a barrage of freedom of speech violations recently, for any politician to  be "inspired" by them is simply laughable.

The Hungarian people must realize where Mr. Orban's "vision" will lead their country and decide more wisely during the next elections. If in any doubt, just check the human rights, freedom of speech and personal development records of Mr. Orban's three role model countries.

Yes economic neo-liberalism may be troublesome the way it developed and it may have also caused lots of problems for the average European household and middle class. But going towards the other extreme is not the solution either. You can not have a country that is nationalist and conservative, in an international organization that promotes integration of European economies, societies and states. 

The solution to Hungary's and in fact most of the European nations' woes, would be actually less state intervention and more European governance, directly elected by the European people collectively. Our national governments are in most cases the ones responsible for Europe's economic collapse, though the EU as an institution is not blame free.

Yet if we accuse the EU Commission as the root of all bad policies adopted by the EU, well think who appoints these men and women in these positions in the first place; our national governments! 

Finally, speaking about Turkey as an "inspiration." On the 28th of July there was the third case of peculiarity in Europe, with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç stating that women should not laugh out loud in public, complaining about “moral corruption” in Turkey. (Hurriyet Daily News) Seriously as if some politicians are trying hard to damage their political career.

Thank God that the Turkish ladies gave him a proper answer, flooding the country's social media with pictures of themselves laughing! I am not sure what got into Mr. Arınç's mind but whatever it was, it was silly and utterly misogynist or sexist! Not appropriate for a Deputy Prime Minister, in a country that wants to join the EU one day. Time for the Turkish people to rethink about their leadership too perhaps.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Europe's neighborhood is in flames: Ukraine and Palestine.
The past few days we have witnessed the world going crazy. Two ongoing conflicts-one very old and one recent-got out of control, resulting to the deaths of hundreds of innocent people.

On Thursday (17th of July 2014), a Malaysian passenger airplane was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, allegedly by Russian separatists. As result, 298 passengers were killed, all of them civilians that had nothing to do with the regional conflict.
During the same week, we had the flaring up of the Palestinian fighting, with Israeli forces invading the Gaza strip again on Thursday. This conflict lead to another 310 human lives being lost in Palestine, plus two in Israel.

Overall in one week we had over 500 deaths in Europe's neighborhood, as result of land, political, ethnic disputes and power struggles.

During this time Europe is absorbed by its own internal problems, in the aftermath of the European elections and the slow decision process in agreeing the next EU Commission leadership.

Since the elections, the candidacy of the former Luxembourgian  PM Jean-Claude Juncker for above post dominated the European leadership's interest, while the public was absorbed by the FIFA World Cup football games. So the developments in Ukraine slipped for a while as top story of interest in our continent.

But Europe can not be passive anymore, as this time the victims are not just Ukrainians. With the MH17 aircraft tragedy, not just Europe but the whole international community is directly involved. Out of the 298 people who perished in this atrocity, none of them were Ukrainian or Russian. They died because of a war that apparently until now had nothing to do with them.

The victims are from many different nationalities from all over the globe, so as result the war in Ukraine affects all these countries. And that is not all. Because many of the passengers of the tragic flight were leading researchers and campaigners attending the 201th anniversary AIDS 2014 conference in Melbourne- Australia, their loss affects humanity itself.

Thus this time Europe and the international community as a whole, can not remain just observers in this conflict. So far the EU and the US have imposed sanctions against top Russian officials and offered financial aid to Ukraine. This hasn't worked.

It would be unwise to to enter an open war with Russia and its oligarchs, as this could have even worse implications. But we could work to unite the rest of the world against the Russian separatists, or any other extremist element in Ukraine. Draw in the international community and place sanctions on all those who are to blame from either side, or offer an overall support to the country.

Europe and America can not and should not try to find solution to the problem on their own. The ongoing conflict of interests between Eastern and Western powers, is the main root of the problem in Ukraine and it has played a role in the disputes in the Middle East too.

The Europeans and the Americans must involve the governments of other countries and organizations, putting aside any personal vendettas with Russia and its leadership. If the more countries of this world isolate the Russian leadership, the pressure will be greater.

This tragic accident offers a chance for a global, united response against the actions of Russian interests in Ukraine, but also all the shortcomings of the Ukrainian government itself. As long as Europe and Russia struggle over the country there will be no solution to the conflict, with the very danger of becoming one day, as old as the Palestinian one.

A conflict that if the international community really wanted it, it would have been solved already. Sadly, the interests of the big powers of this world, are not really interested for a handful of Arabs living in Palestine. Although the Palestinian side has a fair amount of blame in the problem, if Israel and its allies really wanted a solution they already have it in their hands: it is called capitalism!

As long as the people of Gaza and Palestine are isolated and cut off from the rest of the world, with no opportunities and with very low living standards, the easier it will be for Hamas, or whatever other organization to find willing recruits.

When Gaza's youths have no future and prospects like the young people in Europe, plus when they see their family being killed in Israeli air strikes, it is easier to radicalize them and make them fire these rockets. If they "enjoyed" capitalism like the rest of us, or they had wealth similar to those of many other Arab states, the last thing they would want is to be killed in an air strike.

These options may look far fetched and impossible, but as long as our leadership insists on the ones they have been working on so far, I afraid that nothing will change. Ukraine is on Europe's borders and is a problem that won't go away, since Russia is equally trying to promote its own interests in the region.

This world edges dangerously closer to a bust up and this is a prospect that should terrify us all. It is now clear that as long as Ukraine is unstable, the rest of Europe will be affected directly. It is not something that is happening only in Ukraine, it is something that happens in Europe and the great number of European victims in this tragedy confirm this.

With this blog-post I wish to offer my condolences to all the families affected in these tragedies.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Thoughts on the European Elections 2014 results. weeks after the European Elections 2014 took place across the continent, nobody has clarified to the citizens of Europe what their decisions will mean for them.

After years of austerity and increase in social injustice, it was inevitable to have a surge in the popularity of populist, "Euro-skeptic" parties across the union.

Until the economic crisis, they remained in the periphery of the political life in each member state. Yet they have now managed to gain significant support and increase their presence in the European Parliament (EP).

In certain core EU states like France and the U.K, the Euro-skeptic parties UKIP and the National Front, have claimed victory in the elections by winning the majority of the votes. In other countries such as Italy, Greece, the Netherlands and Austria, far right, radical left or anti-EU parties gained a significant number of seats in the EP.

In Italy, the Movimento 5 Stelle party came second in votes, while in Greece the Golden Dawn, in Austria the Freedom Party and in the Netherlands the Party for Freedom came third. In Greece we had also the radical left party Syriza also winning the elections, although they are not hard-line anti-EU party.

Of course the majority of the seats again went to the "establishment" parties, despite the significant gaining of the Euro-skeptic ones. And while one would think that having a diverse European Parliament, with many smaller parties being included is a good thing, in this case is anything but.

A large number of smaller parties with a pro and pan-European agenda in the EP like the Federalist Party, would actually be of benefit for democracy in Europe. In the EP's case, we need to start having politicians and parties that have an EU wide agenda, if we want to have real democracy on European level.

But with parties that not only oppose any further integration, but they have a very conservative, nationalist and radical approach to politics, the EP will lose its power and influence. A divided European parliament by an increasing number of Euro-skeptic MEPs, makes it difficult to reach to decision fast and effectively, thus weakening it.

In return, a parliament that is not as efficient is being stripped of the citizens' support, as they see no use of it. And rightly so. When considering the circumstances that led to an increase of anti-EU parties in the heart of one of its institutions, we can not but blame the European elites for their handling of the euro-zone crisis.

Under the lead of Germany, Europe's governments for years have tried to make the working classes of the continent pay for a crisis that they did not start. They have nearly destroyed the continent's middle class, pushing millions of Europeans near or under the poverty line in many countries, especially those of the periphery.

And not just that, but they placed the EU as an institution in the forefront of every disastrous decision they have taken the past few years, shifting the blame from the national governments to the EU institutions. A very clever diversion to have an institution to use as a scapegoat, when it suits you!

Understandably the European citizens have voted for radical parties, as a protest. For years they have seen their wages, social security and worker's rights being slashed, so the results of these European elections were expected.

What the citizens do not understand, is that if they continue to place Euro-skeptic politicians in the European Parliament, they are actually harming their own interests. The EP is the only tool that we, the voters have in the EU. It represents our voice. And that is why our leaders do not give it the power that it needs to have to be effective and efficient.

They want to have an EU to promote the European elites' interests, but an EP with just enough power to give the European project enough legitimacy, so the people won't protest. Yet if we judge from Mr. Cameron's recent staunch opposition to Mr. Juncker's election as the head of the new EU Commission, our governments do not want to hand over too much power to the EU.

That is not necessarily a good thing for us, the citizens. From the constant power struggles between the three main EU institutions, the European Parliament, the EU Commission and the EU Council it is we, the people who pay the price.

When the EU is governed by inter-governmentalism, the bigger states like the UK, France and Germany have a bigger and more decisive say in the institution's direction. The governments of the rich nations can control and shape the EU's agenda, according their own interests.

That is of course anything but a democracy. If we want to have a more equal and fair Europe, it is the European Parliament who must have the major role in policy making, in most Europe wide affairs. And that does not mean absolute centralization of all power in Brussels, as many fear.

Europe must be governed in three levels, local, national and European. For all matters European, the decisions must be taken solely by the European Parliament, while the national governments must keep control on national issues. And that is where the clash takes place.

The governments of the core European economies, do not want let go of the control they have over their affairs, or the influence they have over the smaller European nations. They want to arrogantly lead Europe according their own interests, ignoring the needs of the peripheral states or refusing to share the wealth and decision making with them.

That I am afraid is not a sign of a united Europe, rather of an unequal continent that the rich elites, of the rich elite nations rule to the detriment of every worker across the continent. Is it bold to think that the weakening of European Parliament by pushing citizens to "democratically" elect extreme parties, was planned by the European governments and the elites they represent?

They want to take back control from "Brussels" and keep "national" interests under the national governments. That is a fallacy, considering the extreme neo-liberal policies they have pursued during the past decades, which have undermined the interests of the ordinary citizens, in every EU member state, either rich or poor.

Their policies widely favor big banks and multinational businesses, to the detriment of all European workers. Through populist and inflammatory media context, they also incite a war among the European peoples and the continent's classes. Immigrant against native, Eastern against Western, Southern against Northern European. While us citizens, have a common enemy: our own "national" governments and their policies.

So if we really need to achieve real change in our continent, voting for far right or radical parties, is certainly not the way, as we are making our governments' work easier. We are shooting ourselves on the foot. The far right parties are helping the establishment to keep the status quo in place, not our "nations" to defend their interests.

What we need is a Europe wide action and cooperation, a strong European Parliament and European political parties to be more dominant in it. Thus bringing our continent under a federal political formation, in which solidarity, equality and other similar values will prevail.

Secondly we need our governments to start listening to their citizens and respect their vote! The attitude of Mr. Cameron and other who support him in his opposition in Mr. Juncker's election as a head of the EU Commission, even after he has clearly a legitimate claim and support of most political parties in the EP, is scandalous.

You may want to join this Facebook page, Respect our Vote,  and express your support for democracy in Europe.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Time for Europe to alter its view on its LGBT communities and human sexuality.
On May the 10th Conchita Wurst, a drag queen from Austria won the Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The result was seen as a major breakthrough for the LGBT community in Europe by some, but for others it was outrageous. Many described how Conchita's appearance in the contest would turn it into a "hotbed of sodomy".

Countries such as Russia, Belarus and Ukraine unsuccessfully tried to ban Austria's entry in the competition, while public opinion in many countries was also divided. Comments in social media platforms were either condemning and showing outrage, or showing support for Conchita.

What is peculiar about the behavior of those who criticized Conchita's participation in the Eurovision, is mainly the fact that it is not the first time is that we had a LGBT person in the competition. The contest is very popular among gay audiences and it is inevitable to have drag acts participating.

In 2007 the song "Molitva" sang by Marija Serifovic, an openly homosexual woman, won the competition. In 1998 it was a transsexual from Israel, Dana International who managed to come to the first place. There was little condemnation in Marija's entry and as for Dana, her song went on eventually to become a big hit in many European countries, despite condemnation from ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Conchita's appearance of course is very provoking. A drag-queen with a beard, is an unusual sight to most viewers. Yet, that did not stop her from winning the competition. Her victory might be a political statement towards Russia, whose entry was apparently booed during the competition. Nevertheless it was heartening to see conservative countries such as Greece, Israel, Italy and Ireland giving their 12 points to Austria.

If Conchita's critics fear that the "behavior" of such individuals will become the new "norm" and they will have to see more of "these people", then they should wonder: did her appearance made or encouraged anyone to wear a dress and rename themselves as Chiquita Pastrami? No! 

I may not be the greatest fan of her look either, but her voice and song were good and that is all that matters. All that this individual wants and desires is acceptance, for whatever she is or represents and for the many transgender, transsexual, gay, transvestite or other individuals that exist and find themselves outside of the "mainstream"  social norm. 

Conchita's appearance promotes tolerance, not homosexuality or transvestism itself. If you don't have it in you, no matter how many drag queens you are going to watch in song contests, they are not going to make you or your children homosexual.  

There are scientific researches showing that children of gay/bisexual individuals in homosexual relationships, are no more likely to become gay themselves, than children who have grown up in a traditional family. That is about 5-10 % of a chance, just like as any heterosexual, traditional family!

Acceptance is what Conchita is seeking, not to make all of you and your children to wear dresses . Besides transvestism is nothing new, there are evidence that even in ancient Greece and Rome, transvestites were not something unknown. People like Conchita exist in all countries, ethnic groups, religions, races and social classes.

And what is really hypocritical about our societies, is that we all know that these people live among us, yet we chose to ignore them. When I was serving my military service in Greece, there was a transsexual serving too in the batallion. Technically, as he was physically still a man, he had to enroll and serve in the Greek army. 

The stories he was telling to the rest of us, about how many "real" men were seeking to have sex with people like him, then they were abusing them verbally or physically were sickening. There is a great deal of pretentiousness in our societies and I do not think we should be judging or condemning.

Besides, not every man who wears dresses is a homosexual. Many straight men in heterosexual relationships, like to put on dresses. They are the so called cross-dressers and there is a huge stigma and misunderstandings about their condition too. 

Transvestism, transsexualism, cross dressing, homosexuality are only terms that remind us that human sexuality is as complex as our brains and psyche. There is simply every "shade of grey" out there in sexual preferences so instead of condemning, we should first accept this fact, try to understand it or even explore it.

It would be easier to just admit the fact that human sexuality is much more complex than that of the cow or the sheep. Humans are far more complicated beings, mentally, biologically, spiritually and emotionally to just have sex with a partner of the opposite sex and only for reproduction .  

Even so there are plenty of cases of "gay" animals, especially among the most intelligent life forms like mammals and birds. Thus any argument of "normality" on sexual relationships and practices is absurd by any conservative folk that are offended by people like Conchita. 

Europe must become a continent of tolerance and to do that we need to start exploring outside of our traditions to find answers. Millions of people live in unhappy relationships, or unfulfilled emotional, romantic or sexual lives, because of the self imposed restrictions and taboos that we have placed upon ourselves. 

It could be your children or grand-children facing what Conchita has gone through, to find acceptance and tolerance. No one has the right or authority to prevent other human beings from finding happiness and love with anyone who they desire.

Happy and balanced emotional human relationships, mean happy and balanced, highly creative people. Not a demoralization of our societies or "sodomy" as many view homosexuality. It is in fact the current misplaced sense of morality that is a greater threat to our social fabric, as it drives millions of people into unhappy lives.

If Europe really wants to be a place or equality for all its citizens, then eliminating prejudices and promoting LGBT rights in all its member states, must become as important as any other initiative for equality and prosperity. 

And so the victory of Conchita Wurst is only a reminder of our continuous battle against prejudice. It is only a small victory among the many battles that must be fought in changing people's minds, reversing the injustice that has been inflicted upon all people of different sexual preferences.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Russian Bear awakens. Perhaps it will convince Europe to unite.
The ongoing developments in Ukraine and Russia's aggression and annexation of Crimea, bring again on the spotlight the original ideas of the founding fathers of the European Union: peace, stability and counterbalancing the big powers.

Small individual states can not defend themselves against a global player, like Russia. The Euro-skeptics have long convinced us, after the developments in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, that federations do not work.

These countries are a living proof according to them, that trying to bring different ethnic groups together and uniting them under one government, not only does not bring peace and stability, but it is a time-bomb that could bring on-going conflict.

There is a point in this argument, but they forget one major factor: Russia. During these break-ups, the Russian Bear was recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union. They did not pose a direct threat to any of Europe's smaller states, but now things have changed.

Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, in an effort to stop the expansion of NATO and EU ever East-wards. A few years ago they entered into a conflict with Georgia, just to show the Bear's teeth. Now, after many decades, they have committed something that was absent from our continent for a long time: ending another country's territorial integrity.

Even worse, many people fear that they won't stop in Crimea, or even Ukraine itself. Other countries with relatively large ethnic Russian minority, like Moldova and the Baltic states, are very wary of the recent developments. Besides, not only they have a Russian minority, but in the case of the Baltic states they share common borders with Russia.

NATO forces are making their presence felt in the region, trying to remind Russia that the alliance will protect its members, no matter how small. Naturally this is very unnerving for all in the continent. If these developments escalate, we could enter a new era of a cold war in Europe and the world.

The EU is trying to bring certain countries quickly closer in its sphere of influence, by offering economic support in the form of trade benefits for Ukraine and a visa-free regime for Moldova. But if Russia decides to keep pushing West-wards, what will Europe do to stop them?

The answer of course is the relevance of NATO. The importance of the alliance is going to be a key player in the conflict, though personally I support the creation of a European common defense mechanism and organization.

If Europe keeps relying on America for its protection, it can never form independent foreign policy. Let's be honest about it, their protection does not come for free. The American influence is evident throughout the continent and that is the price we got to pay for relying on their military might and supremacy.

Not that I support the ending of Europe's alliance with America. But if Europe wants to become a global player, it must form its own military and defense.

Of course to achieve that, it needs to increase its spending on its arms industry and proceed with militarization, something that under the economic crisis most European leaders refuse to do. But if we think that over 40% of EU's budget goes to one industry alone, agriculture via the Common Agricultural Policy, then perhaps there are some funds that could be found.

By reducing what we spend on CAP, we can invest and diverge more funds in our protection and also becoming more energy sufficient, ending Russia's monopoly on Europe's energy needs and supply. If we invest in green and renewable energy industries, we could limit our dependence on Russian gas and oil and of course Russia itself.

The solution that Europe should take to deal with the re-awakening of the "Russian Bear" and its expansionist agenda, is of course an ever closer military, political and economic union. In this case, Russia might act as the necessary bogey-man that Europe needs, in order to stop going in circles over its further integration plans.

It is clear why there are links between the Russians, Europe's far Right political parties and their rise to prominence. Many of Europe's extreme Right leaders are supportive of Russia and vice versa. Obviously for Russia, the empowerment of these parties means the weakening of European unity and integration, that could mean the disabling of a united European response to Russia's plans for reclamation of its old territories.

Leaving of course America as the only competent threat and challenger of the Russian aggression and expansion. Just like it was before the fall of the Berlin wall. Both the American and the European leadership must acknowledge that uniting and empowering Europe as a global and military power, benefits both.

The Americans can not keep playing the role of the stabilizer in the world alone. They need Europe to become an equal partner, but with an increased might and influence in the world. And Europeans need to grow up and stop relying on America for their protection. Even if hat means digging the hands deep in their pockets and shaking up their relationship with America's arms industry, or America itself.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

EU citizenship for sale.
The question of citizenship, nationality and identity is in the news constantly these days, from the recent tensions between Eastern and Western Ukraine to the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence. 

In this regard, one interesting development is the decision of Malta to start selling passports to foreign nationals. 

For the modest sum of 650,000 euros, it is now possible to obtain EU citizenship without ever being required to live in Malta (though applicants are required to invest in Maltese property and buy government bonds).

By flogging passports on the open market, the Maltese government hopes to bring in an extra 30 million euros in the first year alone. Interestingly, Malta is not the first country to grant citizenship to non-EU citizens: Austria, Cyprus, Belgium and Portugal already hand out passports in exchange for investment in the country.  However, Malta is the first country to put a price tag on an EU passport.(Debating Europe).

Interestingly the above "trend" has got even more serious with revelations that Bulgaria is the newest nation to sell passports to non-EU citizens. Non-Europeans can buy Bulgarian and thus European Union citizenship for as little as €180,000 under a scheme operating in Bulgaria, an investigation by The Telegraph has disclosed.(The Telegraph).

These practices by all EU member states concerned,  are outrageous. It seems that after having turned everything in commodities in Europe, the largest market on the planet, we have now just ran out of things to sell. And so we are selling what the whole world wants and is interested to avail from us, the only thing we have left to sell: our citizenship.

It is understandable that we are still facing an economic crisis and we need money to rebuild our economies, or at least keep them afloat. Europe needs investments and especially the smaller, or peripheral states are in dire need.

But there is one thing to try to compete for investments and another to put a price tag on a document that will entitle anyone to be not just citizen of that country, but the whole of Europe. Without of course having set foot on this country's soil, or being able to speak a word of its language, or knowing any basic information about its culture, history and life style.

At least some nations like Austria and Cyprus, only hand out passports to people who invest in their country and buy property. We could call this as "facilitation", in order to do business. But such practices open dangerous loopholes that could attract criminals and other dubious personalities in our continent.

Europe will at best become a place for the rich people of the globe, either their wealth is coming from lawful or not practices. If anyone with enough money to spend can get his hands on a European passport, then he can move and settle anywhere in the continent, no questions asked.

The only way to safeguard who is entering our continent, would be stricter regulations and background checks. Provided of course that the responsible authorities in each state, do their work right and exam the background of the potential "buyer" before granting him citizenship.

If this continues, we will transform Europe to a place where the rich will turn it into their playground, invest and make profit, influence local politics; but with what cost to us, the ordinary citizens? If our continent becomes a place for the elites of this world, how could we influence policies that would be beneficial for us and have our voice heard, among such powerful interests?

These are practical issues of course. The other issue with such practices is more of an ethical one. Using the lure of a EU passport in exchange for money and investments, is a degradation to what most people identify with still in our days: nationality and citizenship. Either they are native nationals or naturalized, people still want somewhere to belong, a root where they can branch out and which identifies them.

According to what most people believe, nationality is something that you can not just buy; you either receive it by birth, or you acquire it by the naturalization process, after you lived for a certain amount of time in a country. You worked, paid taxes and have integrated yourself in the society and so you can be part of it.

Now our governments want to scrap this status, but only for the rich people. The poor immigrants will still have to queue long hours out of the immigration offices, trying to get their hands on a visa, that will allow them to work, pay taxes and contribute in the society for the long term.

How low can us Europeans get? Since there isn’t much more to sell, as our governments are already sold to the banks and markets, they now trade with our nationality. Though I believe in living in a Europe of open borders and a globalized world, my citizenship and especially my nationality is something I am proud of and bring always with me when I talk, travel, work or live anywhere in Europe.

The ultra-liberal voices that just do not get why people identify themselves under a nation flag, are of course delighted if not supportive of such development. For them, belonging to a nation is merely an accident of birth and it should not matter. They desire a border-less, nation-less world, where nationalism is banished.

I am afraid that is a utopia, at least for now. People do not want to forget who they are and where they are coming from. They have a deep instinct of belonging in a group, either it is ethnic, religious, social or political in their hearts. They are deeply interested in their history and past.

Even in America, a great melting pot of cultures, people still identify themselves as Jewish-American, African-American, Greek-American, Irish-American and so on. They are American citizens but they all want to hold on to this special set of values that they have inherited from family ties.

And a passport is not just a travel document, as long it describes citizenship as nationality on it. If we want to offer citizenship with a price, then we have to remove the word nationality from our passports and replace it with the word citizenship, which is a different thing.

As long as governments issue passports to their nationals, then such development undermines the value of nationality and what it means to the majority of people. It is deliberate of course and it aims to destroy any sense of nationalism and ethnic identity, turning us all into "citizens of this world".

While I do not necessarily object to this, it is the way they are trying to achieve this that I find outrageous and morally wrong. For me this is a mistaken way of achieving such thing. You can not abolish the instincts of the people, or their heritage that was in the making for thousands of years.

I believe in a Europe of nations, unlike the ultra-liberals that want a Europe without them, people with no identities and ethnicity. The best way to integrate European nations, is not by destroying or erasing our national heritage and culture, but on the contrary empowering it by constant cultural exchanges.

Share our culture with all other nations, thus eventually creating a single one in which every nation will contribute and identify with. It is culture and common heritage that binds people together, not a common currency or a single market, or the "nationality" that is written on your passport.

People with no history or sense of ethnicity are easier to manipulate and more prone to satisfy the lack of identity with consumerism. To close the gap that the lack of ethnic consciousness leaves, people follow trends that are promoted upon them, like fashion, music and products that are marketed towards them. The irony here is that they do so in order to belong and identify themselves with a wider, global community, by doing or having what everyone else has.

In this way we are creating a new kind of global, capitalist culture and identity and that is what the global capitalist elites are trying to do, by working on destroying nationalism and ethnic identity. First in Europe and then the world. And the fact that our governments condone with such thing for investments and money is shameful.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Gay and Human Rights in a Capitalist society: a necessity for consumerism.

In a previous article I have explained how women are being stereotyped and exploited by our modern capitalist, consumerist society. 

Sadly, as the capitalist system requires an ever expanding market, buying and working power to support it, women are not the only group of people who receive such treatment. 

And this is what I am going to analyze with this article.

Gay people, ethnic minorities and immigrants also play a role in our economic model. And this role is the driving force for the campaign for equal LGBT and human rights in most, but sadly not in all European countries.

We have to admit that the struggle for women’s or gay people's equality is partially driven not just by human rights, but also by the need of our capitalist system for more potential spenders. 

When women were not able to educate themselves or even work in most countries, they had no salary for themselves. And so they could not be counted as consumers or a potential market for products. Even if they did have any property in countries like Ireland, Britain or the USA, they had no right to it after they got married. 

But in a consumerist capitalist society, having half of your population idle with no income for themselves or spending power is illogical. So gradually we have witnessed the liberation of women and the establishment of equal rights for both males and females, something that would be unthinkable before.

And while a great amount of praise could be addressed to our leading elites for apparently allowing the promotion of human rights for women, their actions were assisted by a desire for more profit in the capitalist system. Women might have escaped the clutches of a severe patriarchal and absurd mentality, but that does not mean they are equal yet.

Women are still being subjected to stereotypes, though nowadays these stereotypes are not based on their role as home keepers, mothers, pillars of tradition, home-making and thrift for a successful household. Now they are merely a huge market for products that are necessary to keep our economy going. 

If they did not receive equal rights and payment as men, they would not be able to buy all those things that the media, particularly women's magazines are promoting in their pages. By establishing a very profitable business for them, they are creating a new role model and stereotype for females, that is pushed on them since their adolescence. 

On a similar note recently and increasingly, straight  and gay men also find themselves as subjects to stereotypes and role models. The fit, metro-sexual alpha straight male that is not afraid to spend money on his looks, while also spending hours in the gym to achieve the chiseled abs that the media and men magazines promote, is what most young men now aspire to.

This sad reality is even worse and vile in the case of gay men. After being subjected to centuries of ridicule, discrimination, violence and persecution now they are having the same treatment as women. Stereotypes are promoted on them, the so called "gay culture". Such "culture" may have risen from secret symbols and codes woven into an overall straight context, when homosexuality was banned everywhere. And it  began with wealthy homosexual men using the straight themes of these media to send their own signals. (Wikipedia).

Gay women come last as they find themselves in the worse position. Because they are women and gay, there are not even enough stereotypes made for them, as if they do not exist, while it is suggested that female homosexuality is on the same levels as that of the men. With few exceptions like TV presenter Ellen DeGeneres, they escape the attention of the media as society rarely bothers with them

Nowadays this "gay" culture combined with the commercialization of human social groups, has produced a stereotypical image of gay men and their role in a society. If you have any doubt about it, just close your eyes and think of anything "gay."

In case you thought of Madonna, Lady Ga-Ga, camp hair dressers or stylists that want to make naked women looking good, disco and colorful gay prides, then you probably have been watching too much television and you are brainwashed.

Homosexuality is not a "culture", it seized being one since gay sex has been decriminalized. Well at least it should have. It is not uncommon for older men and women divorcees, to be more open to it and exploring their sexuality more openly after being married all their lives.

The also stereotypical institution of marriage and the notion that it is a privilege only for straight people, is ridiculous as it is infuriating. Especially when we are witnessing a crisis in straight marriages in the developed countries, with a third ending up in divorce while another third being dysfunctional, sexless, loveless living arrangements.

You see once you liberate women from the clutches of the masculine hegemony, there is not always room for women's compliance to all the demands from men. And since many married men and women also engage, or have engaged at some stage in their lives in gay sex, it is clear that human sexuality is not a black and white situation, or a culture. All "shades of grey" are available between the two opposites. 

Instead of trying to promote stereotypes for people, we should allow everyone to have sex, love or marry anyone he or she wants. But then our image obsessed world would make no sense to us, especially to our capitalist elites who need stereotypes in order to file people and treat them accordingly. And so we are happy to label everyone, dictating how we deal with them and what he or she should be for us.

If a gay man still needs to go to a gay bar to socialize and find a person to love,because everywhere else is inappropriate then something is fundamentally wrong in our society. If a straight man can identify his masculinity only when he rejects "gay" attributions, habits and sex, or when he has sex solely with a female partner, then I am sorry but his so called masculinity is based on trivialities.

If a straight woman can be called successful and fulfilled only when she has a husband, a house with a mortgage, career, kids, a car just so to fit it with the general public, then also her happiness and fulfillment is based on pure materialism and outdated values.

Humans are not cattle to mate just for procreation. He are developed, emotional and as we would like to think of ourselves, spiritual beings. So why do we bring ourselves to the same level as animals? Even in nature homosexuality is not uncommon, so our whole social structure is based on the need to populate and colonize other continents during the European expansion, centuries back.

This stereotypical portrayal of ourselves leads to the commercialization of our gender, sexuality and race. And it is very important to the capitalist, consumerist societies that we live in, as we are bombarded with myriads of advertisements that are promoted role models for us to aspire. We are all turned into buyers as well as billboards, for companies to advertise their products with. We unwillingly become trade able commodities, as the population and its buying power or habits, are analyzed, categorized and exploited by the markets.

Either gay, straight, male or female, not only we got to play a certain role in our society according to established stereotypes, but we and our aspirations are also examined in order to create a consumer database. This database then creates certain products for certain groups of people and others for members of different groups. 

Sadly such attitudes also promote the eternal discrimination and injustice upon these groups in our society. If I am expected to act, behave, socialize and love in a certain way, do certain professions or engage in certain hobbies and activities in order to be accepted into the society I was born, then I am still not free and my human rights are merely rights to consume while I am being categorized by my choices.

And it gets worse. People of ethnic background or other races are also being categorized and exploited by such stereotypes. The immigrants usually do the jobs that the native population does not want to do, they work days that the mainly Christian European population would not want to. 

It is mainly the Muslim immigrants that work on Christmas Day for example, a holiday that is revered in many countries like Ireland and it is them that keep the shops open. A day that the market of a country is closed is lost revenue for the capitalists and so they promote multiculturalism in order to create a more vibrant working class.

The more variety in a population, the more things are to sell to them as their preferences differ and can be manipulated or categorized. I am not against multiculturalism, capitalism, gay people, straight women or men, but I wish we had the guts to proceed with true equality and not a skin deep one. 

And I also wish that stereotypes in our societies changed for real, not because they are necessary for capitalism but because it is not in our nature to live with them.