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Links 1 through 10 of 74 by Shaun Green tagged europe

Everyone must be counted, but only if they count. Dead migrants don’t count. The woman who drowned while giving birth was not a biometric subject, she was a biodegradable one. I don’t want to reconstitute her as a sentimental artefact, an object to be smuggled into the already crowded room of my bad conscience. But I do want her to be known by more than just the number she was given after being hauled out of the water – 288 (and 289 for her baby) – because otherwise the story of migrants remains infinitely reproducible to the point of abstraction. For the past two years, I’ve searched for something by which to identify her. I’d all but given up when, just a few days ago, I stumbled across an article by Mattathias Schwartz, a journalist who visited Lampedusa after the tragedy. He found a survivor who turned out to be the woman’s partner and the father of her baby. Her name, this man said, was Yohanna. In Eritrean, it means ‘congratulations’.

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This is what it looks like from the West. A post-Soviet republic holds a presidential election which a candidate from the east of the country with criminal backing attempts to steal, provoking a popular uprising, a rerun of the election and the victory of his opponent. Six years later the eastern candidate wins the presidency against a divided opposition, jails his main opponent on trumped up charges, moves members of his clan into key positions, and amasses a huge fortune. [...] This is how they see it from the other side. Following a disputed election result, a pre-planned uprising backed by Western intelligence in a former part of the Soviet Union forces the judiciary to rerun an election. The winner presides over a factious and sectarian administration, every bit as corrupt as its predecessor, and it’s no surprise that the previously ousted winner is properly re-elected six years later.

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It wasn’t only the entwined history of liberalism and imperialism that in the 1960s made many Asians and Africans suspect American and European liberals of being ‘false friends’. As O’Brien admitted, during the Cold War many Western liberals – such as those who were against imposing sanctions on South Africa – upheld the most illiberal forms of anti-communism. Theorists who promoted free enterprise and equal rights as a formula for prosperity that all new nations could adopt often came from countries with long histories of economic protectionism and institutionalised racism. The new postcolonial nations had their own alternatives to Western liberalism. Even non-communist countries such as India and South Korea put in place systems of government based on a mixture of central planning and market intervention. Raymond Aron, worrying about the appeal of communism in Asia in the 1950s, suggested that non-liberal policies and institutions appealed to many state-builders in Asia because it was clear to them that liberal methods in politics and economics were doomed to fail.

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In July Habermas told the Guardian that Schäuble and his SPD allies had ‘gambled away in one night all the political capital that a better Germany had accumulated in half a century – and by “better” I mean a Germany characterised by greater political sensitivity and a post-national mentality.’ But as Winkler has said more clearly than anyone else, the EU has never been conceived as a post-national project for Germany. It is rather a frame within which German national history can be realised. For Winkler, as for Schäuble, this certainly involves a commitment to democracy. But their conception of pluralism has always been tempered. Despite the prominent position of figures such as Habermas and the tolerance extended to fringe parties like Syriza or Die Linke, the dominant strand in Europe’s postwar history has never offered space for the realisation of a radical alternative politics. Under normal circumstances the neoliberal logic of discipline is enough to enforce these ground rules. But conditions since 2008 have been far from normal. And far from manifesting a forgetting of history, as Habermas suggests, the active politics of containment pursued by Schäuble reflects the continuing power of the conservative impulses that derived from the disasters of the first half of the 20th century.

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Long before the crowds in Budapest and Vienna started donating food and clothing to the refugees, and while the local government on Lesbos was still working out what to do, this gang of six was running its own unofficial reception centre, providing food, shelter and medicine to the new arrivals. The florist told me that many people on the island were descendants of refugees driven out of Turkey decades ago. She spoke while driving down from the hills with another family. On the back seat of her Renault a mother closed her eyes and fell asleep with a child on her lap; next to her were three more children between the ages of nine and 14. She took them into Father Papastratis’s reception centre; a man had arrived from Athens and was unloading a car packed with pots, a stove and bags of pasta. He set up a mobile kitchen as the room filled up. Costas was an anarchist who had been feeding the homeless in Athens for a couple of years. The Marxist and the Orthodox priest made an odd team.

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In recent years, wealthy parts of the world have been constructing increasingly sophisticated systems to filter out migrants they don’t want. Much of the debate around this issue focuses on whether one community has the right to exclude others. Before we can have that debate, however, we need to recognise the violence inherent in the filtering, whether it’s the violence carried out by uniformed police or prison guards, the violence of indifference in the face of a refugee crisis, or the violence of neglect as people waste years of their lives waiting for the European bureaucracy to answer their pleas. An end to the Syrian refugee crisis may make Europe’s border crisis more manageable, but it won’t resolve it. The thousands of Europeans who have given up their time, money or even their spare rooms aren’t just engaging in an act of charity; they and the migrants are making a political challenge to a system that is failing.

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And it is good that the liberal-humanitarian reflex is prevailing for now. That does give anti-racists a breathing space to and an angle from which to attack the fortress: for now, the slogan "Refugees are welcome here" has a clear resonance. But it doesn't in itself affect the underlying ideological coordinates according to which immigrants are a burden, and a menace, and a problem population to be controlled. We shouldn't expect the momentary shock of devastation and disaster to do our political work for us.

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Until our recent discontents England had never succumbed to doctrinal nationalism. Absent from English history was the obsessiveness found in many countries across Europe about the recovery of authentic nationhood. Although the English have often been perturbed about the condition of England, they have rarely floated nationalist solutions to their problems. The slogan ‘English votes for English laws’ strikes a discordant note in the dominant melody of English history.

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Damascus was the seat of the Umayyad dynasty, established by a clan of the Prophet’s tribe to rule the first Islamic empire. Syria is where, in 1516, the absorption of the Arab world into the Ottoman Empire began, with the Ottoman victory in the battle of Marj Dabiq; where the nahda, the cultural renaissance of the Arab world, blossomed in the 19th century; where the unified Arab kingdom that the British promised the Hashemites, who led the 1916-18 Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, was to have its capital. It is where, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the most politically developed and socially radical version of the dream of Arab unity was conceived by the founders of the Arab Socialist Baath (‘resurrection’) Party. Syria is also the terminus of the Arab Spring.

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It has been argued for some years that one of the important consequences of Germany’s obsession with fiscal surpluses in recent years, articulated by Chancellor Merkel and Finance Minister Schäuble as the “Schwarze Null” austerity policy, is that Germany has been under-investing in its physical infrastructure. But it has taken the recent industrial unrest to bring that to the fore into the public debate. Even the IMF is now getting on the bandwagon.

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