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Ukraine’s Isolation

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If you’re a football fan, this article may be the one for you, as the Euro 2012 Football Championships are happening in the European Union! However, EU leaders are boycotting these games held by Ukraine and Poland. Several others also plan to stay away from the upcoming summit in Yalta (a city in Ukraine) later this month. These decisions were all made in an effort to bring attention and aid to the unjust treatment of the Ukrainian opposition’s leader, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ms. Tymoshenko was put into jail by Ukraine’s current president, Viktor Yanukovych. Even though he easily won the elections in February 2010, Yanukovych has chosen to imprison her for longer, despite warnings from the EU. Furthermore, it was unnecessary because his opponent had already lost her popularity in the “orange revolution” of 2004, where she proved to be inconsistent and hold debatable opinions. Originally, an agreement was made for opening markets from the EU to Ukrainian exports, but this was further postponed since Mr. Yanukovych remains adamant about his governing style, and keeping Ms. Tymoshenko behind bars. It validates the argument that the president cares more about his own power than bringing economic benefits to the country.

Last October, Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in prison. Later, she was pictured with bruises on her body, which she claimed casino en ligne francais bonus sans depot were from prison guards. Now, she is on a hunger strike. While Yanukovych wanted to keep his competitor out of the media by putting her away in jail, his plan backfired because voters have not forgotten about her. Instead, they rather respect and sympathize with her for her strong character. More than ever, leaders of the EU similarly feel that Viktor Yanukovych has gone way too far, as the regime has become autocratic and corrupted. Ukraine developed an insufficient democracy as well as a weakened justice system under his rule.

One thing to look out for is the Ukrainian parliamentary elections. Ms. Tymoshenko is presently forming an alliance with another major opposing party, designed for the two to run as a unified group. These elections in October will play a key factor in what the EU will do next; Yanukovych will either embrace the loss of a few seats in Parliament, or continue to cause further isolation from the EU. Hopefully there will be no more unjust treatment in Ukraine, and the Euro 2012 Football Championships can continue!

Filed under International
May 6, 2012

Vladimir Putin’s Reelection

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With all of the attention  focused on Super Tuesday primaries this week, an important election slipped through the radar of discussion.  Vladimir Putin, the perennial Russian leader, was reelected on March 4th with almost 65% percent of the vote.  Unlike some of the hotly contested primary states, the outcome of the Russian election was obvious, and Putin was the only candidate who had enough strength to garner a majority.

This has been a recurring problem in Russia.  Putin and his political party, United Russia, have been in power so long that political opposition finds it difficult to make inroads.  While there were opposition candidates running against Putin, there has been no consolidation of anti-Putin sentiments into a specific political party.  Many claim that Russia under Putin is less of a democracy and more of a one-party state.  After all, no other presidential candidate was able to top even 20% of the vote.

Naturally, many Russians are upset about this.  Parliamentary elections held last December resulted in a staggering loss for Putin’s United Russia.  The party was plagued by allegations that they had to commit fraud in order to maintain a slim majority.  An angry public took to the streets of Moscow in anti-Putin protests.

Here we must remember that Putin still maintains a great deal of support, as he was able to drown out the anti-Putin protests with a pro-Putin rally.  Putin’s mastering of the political sphere has helped him to quiet dissent, and the fact that he also controls the media has largely halted the spread of any anti-Putin sentiments.  However, for the presidential election, Putin tried to appease his critics who were accusing him of election fraud by having cameras watch over many voting locations for any misdeeds.

This gesture failed, as the election was still regarded as unfair, and more allegations of election fraud have surfaced.  People went back to the streets to protest against the unfairness.  However, little is expected to come of these new protests.  In no way will they prevent Putin from retaking the presidency and ruling Russia for the next six years.  And when elections come again in 2018, it would not be surprising to see Putin on the ballot once more.

At the end of the day, Russia is a cautionary tale.  More than twenty years after shifting away from Communist rule, the ‘democratic’ society that the Russians tried to form is anything but.  Luckily, opposition is beginning to find ways to protest against the current leadership.  The main problem as of now is that opposition parties are separated by regional differences.  Still, as anger over the status quo of Putin increases, hopes rise that the opposition can find a way to coalesce and thus grow stronger on a national level.  Russians need a true choice when they vote, and a stronger opposition coupled with more stringent checks against election fraud can finally bring true democracy to Russia.

Filed under International
Mar 9, 2012

Hungary’s Democratic Thirst

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With protests escalating and a lack of foreign aid, Hungary’s government seems to be losing its friends. The Hungarians face EU sanctions dealing with everything from their central bank to their media. This week the European Commission threatened to hold back 495 million euros of regional aid because leaders in Hungary are not doing enough to cut down on their deficit. Even though Hungary kept their deficit under 3% of their GDP as the EU requires, the commission seems convinced that the actions taken by Hungary’s government were only temporary. In actuality, the EU and IMF just need an excuse to hold back the money because they are worried about Hungary’s central bank becoming progressively independent. However, their worries are not unjustified because if the central bank gets to be too powerful, it can turn from a management and supervisory power into a political power.

Another problem is that allies to the current ruling party, Fidesz, have taken over basically every branch of their government, including an overwhelming two-thirds majority in Parliament. People bringing new ideas or criticisms to the media have been automatically rejected, causing the people of Hungary, the EU, and also the US to question their democracy. The Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, only makes this worse by blaming other countries for their economic difficulties and ignoring the real issue. He also defends their new constitution, passed easily through Parliament, which has been heavily criticized for its strict media and judicial control. Protesters claim that even the judiciary has been morphed in favor of the Fidesz party.

A day after the new constitution took effect on January 1st, 2012, a massive group of Hungarians protested it outside of Budapest. This is hard for the government to ignore because it is the first time that differing political parties have come together to criticize and work together to fight for their disappearing democracy.  So before the Hungarian government gets too excited about their new constitution, they may want to consider the tens of thousands of people who disagree before they lose all their friends.

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Filed under Economy, International
Feb 24, 2012

Russian Reversion

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Apparently, claiming land in the modern world is still as easy as planting a flag into the ground. In 2007, Russia drilled a titanium flag into the bedrock under the North Pole, thereafter claiming the entire Arctic Circle as their own hoping to access the newfound oil plains underneath the polar cap. Naturally, the international community did not take kindly to the aggressive land claims. Unfortunately this is not an isolated incident. Proposed NATO missile shields and growing internal conflict have Moscow acting out of fear that its influence is declining. Russia is reverting back to its Soviet tendencies but with new economic stratagem in a move that could destabilize current world relations

In the last decade, Russia has dramatically increased its natural gas exportation to become the world’s number one exporter. This gives them both economic and physical power over importers. The New York Times (January, 2009) shows Russia demonstrating this power dramatically when it cut off all natural gas flow through Ukraine and into Europe after Ukraine refused to meet the demands of the Russian gas giant, Gazprom. The gas was shut off in the middle of winter provoking Romania to declare a state of emergency and European leaders to scramble to find a solution as tens of thousands of people went without heat. Russia’s harsh crackdown on business policy shows the lengths they will go in order to retain their economic strength.

Moscow’s most ambitious move yet, however, has been their plan for a Eurasian economic union. Once again boasting Russia’s vast economic strength, Putin expressed the desire for a strong economic partnership with neighboring countries to rival that of the European Union. This comes at a time when Putin also has tried to get old Soviet countries to adopt the ruble and increase free trade. A London Guardian article (October, 2011) explains that customs deals with Belarus and Kazakhstan have set these plans in motion. The deals are set to bind the three countries as a ‘unified economic zone’ in 2012, setting up the base for the Eurasian Union.  The selection of the strong members of the ex-Soviet Bloc demonstrates strong undertones of their socialist history as Russia tries to show off their fiscal influence by challenging the European Union.

There are viable and beneficial solutions to curbing Russia’s potentially harmful influence. The first step is continuing the environmental crusade. Reducing dependence on fossil fuels by redoubling the push for renewable energy will make Russia’s natural gas dominance much less powerful. Simultaneously, the environmental push will encourage technological innovation benefiting the environment as well. Second, the European Union needs to consider expanding its membership. A recent article in the Economist states how Ukraine has been vying for a position in the European Union since the 1990s. Opening up the EU will further free trade and accessibility in Europe. Just proposing the admittance of old Soviet Bloc countries will effectively reduce Russia’s ability to create an influential Eurasian Union as the states flock to garner European influence. While neither solution is simple, the time and effort put in by European leaders will be important to curtailing the potential political and economic destabilization that another Russian superpower would create.

Russia is clearly attempting to reassert itself as a world superpower, but this time focusing economically rather than militarily, a move that will destabilize the current balance of power if left unchecked. Claiming the arctic is clearly not all that Russia is planning for the future, but with collaboration and multilateral communication, the world can ensure that titanium flags are the least of our worries.

Filed under Economy, International
Feb 22, 2012

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