Category Archives: Europe

The European Elections, Iran and the Refugee Problem

Here is a sampling of reasons we’ve been given so far for why the US might preemptively attack Iran: Bolton can’t sleep at night until he vanquishes the long standing bugaboo in Tehran, Iran can’t be trusted and are secretly building nukes (WMDs), Iran is suddenly a dangerous threat to our troops and interests in the region, the Saudis and Israelis are pulling the strings and Trump is willing do their dirty work, with flagging popularity both Trump and the military need a war. Perhaps the most plausible strategy, and hence rarely mentioned, posits a new “energy” containment policy aimed at a quickly emerging China (oil war).

There are likely elements of each informing the strategic planning of the war managers. Any theory constructed around oil is invariably partially on target when America starts saber rattling in the middle east. If war does break-out between the US and Iran, or rather if the US attacks Iran, it will likely begin under false pretenses of America’s design. The dispatching of 1500 more troops to the gulf appears to be an exercise in putting more troops in harm’s way, in the hope that some rogue element fires a mortar at them. Iran has a lot of nerve putting their country so close to our bases. In the event of war there is a possible side effect that few are talking about. More refugees.

The EU parliamentary elections are this weekend. From all accounts the nationalist and far-right candidates stand to make gains, putting them in the strongest position politically that they’ve enjoyed on that continent since the end of WWII. Anti-immigrant stances have been a big part of their arsenal. Framed within the 2008 global economic collapse and aftermath, refugees have been the single best performing stock on the world “political” market for the resurgent populist and nationalist movements. The bogeyman portrayal of displaced masses on the march soon to be pounding at the door has produced lucrative capital gains for the barking dogs who disparage them. Across the pond, the Great Director in the US has made it clear on abundant occasions that he does not value the lives of these people on par with those white and western.

The numbers tell a story. At the time of the Rwanda genocide in 1994 the post WWII peak of refugees had reached 20 million. In the years prior to the Afghan and Iraq wars it had declined to approximately 16 million. Then, in the aftermath of 9/11, havoc was unleashed on those countries. Since then, in fifteen years, the number has risen dramatically, currently cresting at around 65 million! If you plot those numbers alongside the global rise of the Right on a graph they closely mirror each other. It was a slower but steady stream for years, much less detectable, but the stories of backlash in places like Germany and Britain were always there, just beneath the headlines. Then Syria boiled over and exploded hundreds of thousands of refugees across borders, tens of thousands flooding into Europe en masse. And presto, Brexit.

9 Maps and Charts on the Global Refugee Crisis

This outcome, I’ll call it the refugee dividend, has been an unexpected boon for the fortunes of the populist nationalist resurgence. It is an easily chartable set of data points. We don’t know what the short-term outcome of a war between the US and Iran would be, although I suspect there will be no battlefield winners, there never are anymore, right? But we do know that a conflagration of that magnitude in the middle east might generate another wave of refugees.

Since the advent of strategic bombing from the air a primary target has always been civilians- Madrid, Guernica, Berlin, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Hanoi, Baghdad. For obvious reasons the bombers themselves go to great lengths to claim otherwise. In Iran, where they’ve already taken in close to a million refugees, there is no reason to think that won’t also be an objective. The strain of absorbing and caring for possibly millions more internally displaced people could lead to chaos in the streets. The pressure from which could conceivably “end”  the regime. In Europe, though less likely in the immediate, the addition of more refugees to the already numbing numbers worldwide will only strengthen the straw that could eventually break the camel’s back for the social democratic paradigm, dominant there since the end of World War II. We will find out just how sturdy that camel is this weekend.

This seemingly endless passion play continues to unfold across the globe as scores more become displaced by war, climate change, crime and economic hardship. No theater has been immune- Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and, as we just witnessed, Australia. Surprise! In the EU, we’ve watched the critically acclaimed premiere of Poland’s authoritarian Law and Justice party, in Spain the new far-right Vox party is a promising new cadre of method actors, Italy’s Matteo Salvini is that country’s rising new star script writer, and the hard-line prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, recently hit the big time with his appearance at the Great Director’s playboy mansion, the White House. Marine Le Pen, the darling leading lady and daughter of the famous leading man of the previous generation, looks poised to capitalize on the angry zeitgeist in France’s European elections this weekend. Polls have her even with Macron (also right-of-center). Angela Merkel, the retiring town marshal, is on the her way out of Dodge. Germany is clearly centered in the rifle scope. To quote the Duke– “Out here, due process is a bullet.”

France 24: “during his talk-of-the-town stay in Paris, Steve Bannon provided insight into his larger mission —  “My theory is that political ideas move like capital markets. That’s why I spend so much time in Europe,” he told Le Parisien. “Trump wouldn’t have been elected president without Brexit. It gives an impetus. If populists score higher than 30 percent in the European elections, it will provide that impetus that will help Trump for the 2020 campaign.”

So even if the center holds it may be teetering. Contrary to public utterances, it seems more likely that these avenging angels don’t actually want to end the EU, no, they want to run it. As more and more refugees continue to arrive at the doorstep many of the current, moderate, EU ruling parties will be in a no-win situation. If they close the borders they play into the nationalists, and Donald Trump’s, hands. If they keep them open they risk throwing gasoline on the fire domestically. The far-right and nationalists are poised, just waiting for that glorious Dirty Harry moment– the licensed vigilantes towering over the sniveling liberals– “feeling lucky punks?” Either way it could be a 357 Magnum head shot. Orwellian indeed, but this movie will continue to be in world-wide release during the US elections, and taking that prize would be far better even than winning an academy award for the Great Director and his supporting cast.

UNHCR Figures

 

Robert Motherwell: Elegies to the Spanish Republic

 

 

Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 by Robert Motherwell, 1971, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Robert Motherwell’s Elegies to the Spanish Republic has been interpreted as the artist’s on-going personal expression of his belief “that a terrible death happened that should not be forgotten.” Motherwell was referring to the events of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The savage nature of that war—more than 700,000 killed, including the mass-executions of thousands of civilians—roused a legion of artists to action. Pablo Picasso’s famous painting Guernica (1937) expresses his outrage over the unfair nature of the conflict, specifically the bombing of defenseless civilians from the sky by the Generalissimo’s Nazi allies. That painting has become the enduring symbol of the war.

For Robert Motherwell, the war became a metaphor for all injustice. Elegies to the Spanish Republic (over 100 paintings completed between 1948 and 1967) is a commemoration of human courage in the face of terror and suffering. He saw the heroism of the defenders of the elected government in stark contrast to the duplicitous dealings of the fascist alliance that ultimately prevailed. To portray this visually Motherwell’s recurring theme is a sublime contemplation of life and death, equating to light and dark. The abstract concept common to the Elegies—an alternating pattern of oval shapes slotted between columnar forms—has been said to represent the dialectical nature of life itself, expressed through the juxtaposition of black against white—the colors of death and life. The Republic is evoked as a bull (the symbol of Spain), once strong and radiant, heartbreakingly butchered by Franco, now only a dark memory.

 

 

 

Barcelona v. Las Palmas match played without fans amid Catalonia vote

The match between FC Barcelona and UD Las Palmas was played with empty stands at Camp Nou in protest of the Spanish government’s actions in Catalonia. (Alex Caparros / Getty Images)

Barcelona plays Las Palmas in an empty stadium due to the vote today for Catalonian independence from Spain. Barcelona is in Catalonia. Las Palmas is in the Canary Islands. In the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) one of the great fears of the Nationalists was that the Republican government would allow Catalonia to split from Spain. When the Nationalists launched the war to overthrow the elected Republican government their top general, Francisco Franco, was flown from the Canary Islands to lead the insurgency. In the decades that followed the Nationalist victory, a victory aided and abetted by Hitler and Mussolini, Franco brutalized the Catalonians. One of the only avenues left for them to get back at him, and hold on to their independence, was through their beloved soccer club– Barcelona. Today Las Palmas wore the Spanish national flag on their uniforms to protest the vote. History rhymes in mysterious ways. Barcelona won the game! We’ll see what happens with the vote.

George Orwell: From 1936 to 1984

Eric Blair’s (aka George Orwell) masterpiece “1984” is suddenly the flavor of the month again, with good reason. But one can’t fully understand the motivations and experiences that led him to write it without having also read his unforgettable memoir from his time fighting for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War– “Homage to Catalonia.” Late in life he wrote: “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it.”

Read the text online: Homage to Catalonia 

Or listen>