Monthly Archives: September 2013

Austria Votes


Vienna, Austria


While the world had been attentively watching the UN General Assembly taking place in New York, politicians in Austria have been busy campaigning for months. The Austrian legislative elections will be held this Sunday, on the 29th, across the country to determine representation in the National Council. On the federal level, Austria has two main elections, one for the head of state (Federal President) every six years, and one for the 183 seats on the National Council (Nationalrat) every five years. The National Council elections are determined by party-list proportional representation, and with 92 seats needed for a majority, a grand coalition of major political parties has been the norm in the last few years.

During the last elections in 2008, a grand coalition was formed between Austria’s two largest parties, the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). SPÖ’s Werner Faymann, who became Chancellor, has governed the coalition. However, since 2008, support for both major parties has fallen noticeably. This in turn has increased support for two other parties, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) known for its right-wing national conservatism, and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), also a right-wing party. Both parties made significant gains in the 2008 elections, and FPÖ’s popularity has been increasing ever since. The BZÖ lost some of its support after the death of its founder, Jörg Haider, shortly after the elections. Moreover, the BZÖ has seen nine of its twenty-one members in the National Council change their party affiliation in the last five years: five members have joined Team Stronach, a party running for the first time this year, and four others joined forces with the FPÖ.

Team Stronach has also been able to hurt the FPÖ’s current popularity in the polls. Team Stronach, is headed and funded by Austrian-Canadian businessman and billionaire, Frank Stronach. His party calls for a return to the Schilling or an anti-euro alternative, a 25% flat-rate income tax, and an end to conscription. While many see Frank Stronach as an outsider, the party polls between 10 to 12% in Gallup polls, while only existing since September of last year.

The Green party (Die Grünen) currently holds twenty seats in the National Council and has solidified their position as the fourth-largest party in opinion polls. Their charter states that their vision is that of a “caring society of free people in a healthy environment”. Die Grünen campaign diligently for immigrants and minorities, and are therefore highly scrutinized by the FPÖ.

And the FPÖ has not been immune to immense scrutiny itself. Headed by Heinz Christian Strache, the FPÖ is known for its nationalistic right-wing ideologies that border on white supremacy. Previous campaign slogans include “Love for the homeland, over Moroccan thieves” (Heimatliebe statt Marokkaner Diebe), “Go back home over Islam” (Daham statt Islam), and “Vienna cannot turn into Istanbul” (Wien darf nicht Istanbul werden). For many liberals, it is very disconcerting how popular Strache and the FPÖ have become with the youth. Strache’s Facebook page has over 160,000 followers, he frequents clubs and bars to socialize with young voters, and ironically, he recently came out with a rap song to support his nationalistic campaign.

While it is highly unlikely that the FPÖ will get a majority win in the upcoming elections this Sunday, there is still concern for how many seats they will gain, and whether a coalition will have to be formed with them. It seems that Strache’s social media presence and youthful attitude has won him a lot of popularity, and maybe it’s time for the other parties to also take cue. Otherwise, Austria will become yet another European country moving to the extreme right – a position that has proven disastrous in the past.

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Today in Trade History: How Carnival Destroyed the Parthenon

The Parthenon (1871) by Frederic Edwin Church


If you’re like me, you’ve gone through life innocently believing the Parthenon slowly but inevitably crumbled into its present state of dignified ruination over the course of many thousands of years. It didn’t. On September 26th, 1687, a bunch of Venetians blew it up. You might object that this series is not called Today in War History, and you’d have a point. But this story is too good not to tell, and in telling it I can talk about the extremely relevant and amusing history of Venetian trade.

Venice, as everyone knows, is composed pretty much entirely of water, marble, and gondolas. Therefore, if the Venetians wanted to eat and have Carnivals (and they did) they needed to engage in a lot of trade. What is less well-known is what complete hucksters they were about it. By the 9th century CE the city had risen to prominence on the back of its ship-building industry, and in the course of sailing their ships around looking for food and Carnival masks, the Venetians conned pretty much everybody in the Mediterranean. They got the Byzantines to grant them tax-free trading privileges and control of Byzantine harbors, all in return for promises of military aid which they never delivered. They convinced the broke and hapless soldiers of the Fourth Crusade to sack the then-Christian cities of Zadar and Constantinople for them, causing all of the soldiers to get excommunicated. In an episode worthy of Mission Impossible, Venetians stole the remains of St. Mark out of Alexandria by covering the relics with pork so the Egyptian border guards wouldn’t look too closely. At one point Venice was even ruling Jerusalem, “Kingdom of Heaven”-style.

In short, Venetians were crafty and mercenary, and after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, it should come as no surprise that they made new trade treaties with them and kept the river of money flowing. This generally worked out well for both sides. The Ottomans couldn’t match the Venetians for seafaring trader experience, and the Venetians wanted both the products Ottomans could supply and access to the markets they controlled. Yet predictably, the relationship between a sneaky city-state with a number of highly valuable trade outposts and a neighboring empire on a winning streak (True Fact: the Turks tangled with the real-life Dracula at this time – and beat him) ended up featuring a lot of warring. Almost three hundred years of periodic warring.

In 1687, in the course of one of these wars, a Venetian force advanced on Athens after driving the Turks out of the Peloponnese. In Athens, the Turks had already evacuated the main town and withdrawn their people and garrison to the Acropolis, where the Parthenon sits. It should be noted at this point that the Parthenon was not ruined, but was actually in pretty hot shape for a 2,000-year-old monument, with walls and a roof and all the things today’s Parthenon decidedly lacks. But the Turks, like fools, had placed their gunpowder magazine inside it, and on September 26th the Venetians, like fools, mortared it. Hundreds were killed, either by debris or by the resulting fires. The question of whether the Venetians caused this destruction purposefully, or presumably got the shock of their lives when a simple volley blew the thing sky-high, is a surprisingly open one. What is not debated is that the they then looted the place so much that by the time Lord Elgin came along he basically had to pry sculptures off whatever stones had remained standing in order to get anything good.

Religious fervor, lingering resentments from the Crusades, regional power-brokering and entrenched alliances all no doubt contributed to both sides’ constant explosive bickering. Yet the land-based objects of that bickering could not be said to be religious in nature – they were economically strategic. Between them, the two powers pretty much owned the direct land and sea routes between Europe and Far East, and they spent most of their time cooperating in that trade. “Being merchants,” the Venetian ambassador to the Ottoman Empire wrote, “we cannot live without them.” He said that in 1553, at which point they had already fought three wars within a space of less than 80 years, and would fight a few more before Venice finally gave way to Portugal as the top trading power of Europe.

And perhaps if Portugal had moved a little faster, the Parthenon would still be intact today.

For more on the complicated and occasionally hilarious relationship between Venice and the Muslim world see this video, from the wonderful Crash Course World History YouTube series. For previous entries in the Today in Trade History series, see this archive.

Possibly the world's greatest monument to thievery.

Possibly the world’s greatest monument to thievery.

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Trouble in Mindanao

Overview of the city as government forces attempt to free hostages from the MNLF

Overview of the city as government forces attempt to free hostages from the MNLF


A lot of blood has been shed in the last few weeks: suicide bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan; shootings in Chicago, Kashmir, and Washington, DC; and hostage crises in Kenya and the Philippines. Some of these conflicts are well-known and well-publicized. Over 200 members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) entered Zamboanga City and seven neighboring districts, taking hostages and boarding themselves up in government buildings. The historical background of this conflict is less well-known but no less important.

The fighting between rebel groups, based in Mindanao, and the Filipino government has been going on since the late 1960s.  Continue reading

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The Korbel Report’s Weekly Link Roundup

Happy Monday! The staff of The Korbel Report spends its fair share of time on the internet staying up-to-date on a wide-range of international news and trends. Here’s a list of the articles, blog posts, and resources we found interesting, enlightening, or infuriating over the past week:

Did we miss your favorite link from this week?  Let us know in the comments, on our Facebook page, or Twitter @korbelreport.

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Syria: The Refugee Aspect


On September 4, 2013, after a long summer holiday, the members of the Bulgarian National Assembly returned for the third plenary session of the year. They were welcomed by the anti-government protests that have occupied Sofia, the capital, for over 100 days. The demands of protesters for government resignation and their very existence for that matter received little to no attention. On that first day of work, the main issue addressed by Bulgarian politicians was the increasing number of Syrian refugees seeking assistance in Bulgaria.

While the rest of the world engages in heated debates over the likelihood, morality, feasibility, and possible outcomes of a military intervention in Syria; analyzes the characteristics and motives of all involved in the conflict; and actively seeks someone to blame for what is happening, the number of Syrian refugees scattered in neighboring countries has surpassed 2 million. The refugee aspect of the conflict in Syria has therefore become a major concern for the countries refugees flee to. Even in the face of national priorities that do not align with addressing a refugee influx, these countries cannot escape the direct impact of the conflict, in the form of Syrian men, women, and children whose lives have been shattered, and are inevitably forced to address the problem.

Bulgaria is one of these countries. It is not a neighbor of Syria, but it neighbors Turkey and such geography has contributed to an increased flow of refugees, specifically in the last several months. The Turkish population feels the strain of added responsibility to care for thousands of foreign people and tensions between refugees and locals increase. The situation is not better in another neighboring country, Lebanon. Resources are quickly exhausted and the desire to help those in need dissipates as scarce supplies are diverted to an international population. Some Syrian refugees realize that Turkey is not the refuge they seek and continue on to Bulgaria, perhaps with hopes for entry into the EU region. Every day, an average of about 50 to 70 Syrians cross the Turkish-Bulgarian border with hopes for a better life. The road to the supposed safe haven is accompanied by as much danger as the region they left, and often what they find at the end of the journey are good intentions and not many helpful practices by the governments of the receiving countries.

Refugees, by virtue of their condition, find themselves in a very vulnerable position: their own country is unsafe and host countries are unprepared and unwilling to accept them. The transition into a refugee status is not voluntary and unlike regular migrants, the ones forced to move are usually not prepared to leave the only homes they have known, often with no idea about their destination and the conditions they will face when they arrive. Severed from their roots, they are placed into a new environment and asked to fit in and live happily. The task proves challenging: although their home country is torn by internal conflicts that endanger their well-being, refugees are more likely to feel nostalgia and be plagued by fear that they might never see their native country again. The interviews with refugees in the Bulgarian refugee centres confirm that sentiment.

In a perfect world, refugees will receive the assistance they need so that their suffering is minimized. (Well, actually, in a perfect world, there would not be conflicts that necessitate concern for refugees, but that may be a bit too much to ask for.) Not surprisingly, however, refugees are often treated worse than voluntary immigrants and are lucky to receive even the bare minimum of services or assistance.

The political leaders of Bulgaria have clarified that the country will very likely not be able to offer proper assistance to the continued flow of refugees and talks about EU funds enter discussions. Reports from the refugee centres support the government’s worry that even though the flow to Bulgaria is not of the extent to other European countries, the increased numbers put a strain on the system. The current holding areas reveal that conditions are dire: overcrowded buildings, unsafe living environments, and lack of basic necessities. While a number of the arrivals are children, educational and recreational opportunities are limited. Some who have crossed the border through illegal means, often with the “help” of a trafficker, are left in detention centres with no hope for assistance until their case has been reviewed by the appropriate authorities. Using the internal protests and the refugee crisis to their advantage, the right-wing party seems to be the only actor to have a clear platform and a position: leaders demand the closing of borders and under claims of patriotism require focus on internal issues, not conflicts in other countries.

Addressing the refugee crisis, however, is vital and demands international engagement. In the absence of help from international players who are able to provide assistance, predatory players–like traffickers–step in to fill the void. After all, war brings business to those who prey on the vulnerable and desperate. Left with no protection, refugees become exposed to advances by a plethora of helpful traffickers.

A recent report by BTV NEWS indicates that the majority of refugees reaching the Bulgarian border are women and children. Some mention that they have paid anywhere from 400 to 2,000 EUROS to be brought from Istanbul to the Bulgarian border. Some experience greater violence than the one that pushed them to leave. Clearly, violence against women is not just prevalent during a time of conflict; it is an everyday occurrence even after women have supposedly escaped the war-torn region and are settled in refugee camps/centres and under the protection of host governments and an array of non-profit organizations.

Certainly, becoming a refugee places a person in a vulnerable position. However, refugee populations should not simply be dismissed as an unfortunate collateral damage for whom doing the basic minimum is sufficient (although sometimes even doing that minimum seems like an unbearable chore in the busy daily schedules of host countries). We should not assume that because they have survived the chaotic situation in Syria, they can certainly make it in the crammed environment of refugee camps. They probably could, and often do, but this does not mean that we should allow it to happen.

The suffering for refugees does not end when they leave the war-torn region; in fact, for many, the separation from their homeland marks the beginning of an arduous journey to unfamiliar and often unwelcoming new abodes. It is not a surprise that many dream of nothing more than to return to Syria. Ultimately, they endure the conditions in refugee areas not because they are times better than the current conditions in Syria, but because they hope for a chance to return to and rebuild their homes.

Krasi Shapkarova is a recent graduate of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, with an MA in International Human Rights and concentration in forced labour and human trafficking. She is now based in the Washington D.C. area.

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Springtime in Mozambique


Knowing that many of our readers are interested in pursuing research and various fellowships to work abroad, I thought it might be useful to describe my life as a Boren Fellow in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.  It was quite an intense application process to express my intent for studying Portuguese in Mozambique and creating an affiliation with in-country organizations to support my research on media, youth, and state building, but the value of my time in Mozambique has greatly exceeded the tedious application process.

First of all, the Boren Fellowship is an intensive language fellowship. With my Boren funds, I am participating in the African Languages Initiative program in partnership with American Councils and the University of Florida. In this program, I take language classes for about 20 hours per week at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique’s premier higher education institution. Mozambican professors teach classes on conversation, grammar, politics, culture in really small, personalized classes of only Boren Fellows. In addition, I have a language partner here to assist in my transition to Mozambican life, I live with a local family, and my program has several excursions throughout the semester. For example, last month my group went to an African music festival, which took place seven hours by bus north of Maputo. It was an eventful weekend in a cabin on a lagoon off the Indian Ocean that included increased camaraderie with the five other Boren Fellows and Scholars in my program; a Mozambican equivalent of a tailgate party with thousands of music festival goers laughing, dancing, and grilling delicious food in the streets; and conversing in Portuguese and meeting new friends, which included a rat that decided to make its home in my bunk (actually that wasn’t quite a fun part!).  Continue reading

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Haters Gonna Hate: UN Edition


The month of September isn’t just back to school month; it’s also back to work for the United Nations.  As the UN General Assembly begins its 68th session, it faces the ongoing problem of Syria, the looming 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and a host of other issues that would make anyone grateful that they’re not Ban Ki Moon.

Of course, Syria remains the most pressing issue, along with the frustration of the Security Council’s inability to do anything until the Permanent Five can agree on a course of action.  For the past two years, there has been a complete stalemate in the Security Council, leaving frustrated policymakers to deem the UN as a whole a complete failure.  Yes, whether we’re talking about the Syrian stalemate, climate change, or peacekeeping, no one has anything good to say about the poor old UN.

Let’s be fair: these claims of sub-par UN performance are not completely unfounded.  When world leaders come to address the 68th session of the General Assembly, there’s concerns such as whether or not Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has a warrant out for his arrest by the International Criminal Court, will show up.  In its day-to-day operations on the Human Rights Council, rotating members include shining beacons of human rights such as China, Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.  We also can’t forget the UN Peacekeepers posted to Haiti after a major earthquake, who were responsible for a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 8,000 people and sickened 600,000 since 2010.  These issues aside, critics have chosen to focus on the UN’s inability to even condemn Assad’s actions in the Security Council (until Obama threatened military action and suddenly Putin decided to become the peace-maker) and have declared the organization a failure, much like its predecessor, the League of Nations.

Is this fair?  Not entirely.  In the UN Charter, Chapter 1 states the purpose for its existence:

  • To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

  • To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

  • To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

  • To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

It is certainly easy to look at the current state of Syria, the 15 not-so-peaceful peacekeeping operations, and all the other issues around the world and reject the notion that the UN is fulfilling its purpose.  However, that is not, and cannot ever be, the full story.  Here’s what else the UN has done or is doing to ensure peace and security:

  1. The UN oversaw decolonization in the post-war world: The UN Trusteeship Council was established in 1945 to ensure that territories belonging to colonizing powers were administered in ways that promoted the advancement of the inhabitants of the Trust, while working towards self-government and independence.  Although it was not perfect (the status of Palestine is still in question) nor without conflict, nearly all Trusts under the UN became independent, sovereign nations, and the Council suspended its operations in 1994 after Palau became independent.
  2. The UN saves countless lives every year: Starvation, malaria, diarrheal diseases, maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, TB, and gender-based violence are just a sample of the problems that result in the millions of unnecessary deaths each year.  We certainly can’t expect states to solve all of these problems (particularly if a problem doesn’t affect them), so UN affiliates and entities such as the WHO, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNEP, UN-HABITAT, and the WFP are focused on solving the world’s most pressing issues.  The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have set tangible targets to help address these issues, and although not all of the goals will be met by their 2015 deadline, without the UN, the following would not have occurred:
    • 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990.
    • Despite population growth, the number of deaths in children under five worldwide declined from 12.4 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012, which translates into about 17,000 fewer children dying each day.
    • At the end of 2011, 8 million people were receiving antiretroviral therapy for HIV. This total constitutes an increase of over 1.4 million people from December 2010.
  3. The UN is at the forefront of the global human rights regime: Unlike the Security Council, it does not matter what country you are when it comes to the findings of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Office of the High Commissioner has never been shy about naming and shaming human rights abuses from Boston to Beijing.  The work of their special rapporteurs, independent experts, councils, and working groups have exposed human rights abuses all over the world, including in our own backyard in Guantanamo Bay.

Of course there are still abysmal failures when it comes to peace and security.  The Security Council’s actions are dependent on the interests of the Permanent Five.  But shouldn’t that mean reform in the Security Council is necessary, rather than classifying the UN as a whole as a complete and total failure. If the world wanted the UN to work, it would, because the operations of the UN are completely dependent on its members.  The UN cannot simply break itself, and does not have to be a failure if its members don’t let it.

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The Korbel Report’s Weekly Link Roundup

The staff of The Korbel Report spends its fair share of time on the internet staying up-to-date on a wide-range of international news and trends.  Here’s a list of the articles, blog posts, and resources we found interesting, enlightening, or infuriating this week:

Did we miss your favorite link from this week?  Let us know in the comments, on our Facebook page, or Twitter @korbelreport.

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A Turning Tide and Shifting Sands: A Caribbean Voice In The Drug Reform Debate At Last?


The Caribbean may be about to wake up to the fact that they have been missing the boat on a major new trend in their region – the rejection of failed U.S.-led anti-drug policies. So often lumped with South America in the “Latin America and the Caribbean” (LAC) grouping, the Caribbean has been in many respects, including this one – the debate surrounding what policies to pursue with respect to drugs, and marijuana in particular – clearly out of step with its counterparts.

This post began its life as an article about the Caribbean’s silence on the question of drug policy reform, in contrast to their Latin American neighbors’ more outspoken approach – a silence which is all the more surprising since the Caribbean continues to suffer greatly from the legacy of drug prohibition and its side effects, and as long as drugs are illegal, stands to become a more popular route for drug flows at any time that enforcement efforts in other places encourage traffickers to move their drugs through other routes, with all the attendants symptoms of a rise in drug trafficking for other social ills.

The region has already experienced an explosion of violent crime in recent years, and projections show that almost double the drugs were trafficked through the region in 2012 than in 2011, as cartels seeking to avoid a clampdown elsewhere take advantage of the region’s economic problems to re-establish the islands as a route into the U.S. Continue reading

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The 2020 Tokyo Olympics – Hopes and Challenges


While the excitement, energy, and what some even deem “euphoria” in Japan over Tokyo’s selection to host the 2020 Olympic games have yet to subside, time is beginning to open up the complexity of Japan’s hosting of these games. After all, us Korbel Report writers spent two years in the only city to ever be awarded an Olympics only to later decline, so many of us have heard the arguments for why Coloradans chose this course of action. While Tokyo’s 2020 games could prove to be financially and spiritually fulfilling for Japan, issues such as the continuing crisis in Fukushima, Japan’s massive public debt, and tense regional relations must be dealt with ensure a successful event. Continue reading

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