Entries with Categories Global Affairs World order, diplomacy and governance .

Criticism of Maduro, the resizing of the Chinese embrace and greater migration control mark the harmony with Washington after ten years of FMLN rule.

The surprising use of the military to pressure the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly in early February to approve a security appropriation has raised international alarm about what the presidency of Nayib Bukele, who came to power in June 2019, may hold. Bukele's first half-year of closer relations with the United States, after two decades of rule by the former FMLN guerrillas, may have led Bukele to believe that his authoritarian gesture would be excused by Washington. The unanimous reaction in the region made him correct the shot, at least for the time being.

Inauguration of Nayib Bukele as president in June 2019, with his wife, Gabriela Rodríguez [Presidency of El Salvador].

▲ Swearing in of Nayib Bukele as president, in June 2019, with his wife, Gabriela Rodríguez [Presidency of El Salvador].

article / Jimena Villacorta

El Salvador and the United States had a close relationship during the long political dominance of the right-wing ARENA party, but the coming to power in 2009 of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) brought El Salvador into alignment with the ALBA countries (mainly Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba), which led to occasional tension with Washington. Furthermore, in 2018, in the final stretch of Salvador Sánchez Cerén's presidency, diplomatic relations with Taiwan were severed and the possibility of strategic investments by China was opened up, which were viewed with suspicion by the United States (especially the option of controlling the Pacific port of La Unión, due to the risk of its military use in a crisis). status .

Nayib Bukele won the early 2019 elections presenting himself as an alternative to the traditional parties, despite the fact that he was mayor of San Salvador (2015-2018) leading a coalition with the FMLN and that for the presidential elections he stayed with the acronym GANA, created a few years earlier as a split from ARENA. His denunciation of the corruption of the political system, in any case, was credible for the majority of an electorate that was certainly tired of the Bolivarian tone of recent governments.

During his electoral campaign, Bukele had already advocated improving relations with the United States, as it is a partner more economically interesting for El Salvador than the ALBA nations. "Any financial aid that comes is welcome, and better if it is from the United States", said one of his advisors. These messages were immediately received in Washington, and in July the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, visited El Salvador: it was the first time in ten years, precisely the time of the FMLN's two consecutive presidencies, that the head of US diplomacy had visited the Central American country. This trip served to accentuate the partnership at subject in the fight against drug trafficking and the gang problem, two shared problems. "We have to fight the MS-13 gang, which has sown destruction in El Salvador and also in the United States, because we have its presence in almost 40 of the 50 states in our country," Pompeo said.

In line with the change of orientation it was undergoing, El Salvador began to align itself in regional forums against the regime of Nicolás Maduro. Thus, on 12 September, the Salvadoran representation in the Organisation of American States (OAS) supported the activation of the Inter-American Reciprocal Treaty of attendance (TIAR), after years of abstaining or voting in favour of resolutions supporting Chávez's Venezuela. On 3 December Bukele announced the expulsion from El Salvador of Maduro's government diplomats, an action immediately replicated by Caracas.

In the same months, El Salvador accepted the terms of the new migration approach that the Trump administration was outlining. During the summer, the White House negotiated with the countries of the Central American Northern Triangle agreements similar to the safe third country mechanism, whereby Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador agreed to process as asylum seekers those who had passed through their territory and ended up in the US by formalising this application. Bukele met with Trump in September at the United Nations General Assembly framework and signed the agreement, which was presented as an instrument to combat organised crime, strengthen border security, reduce smuggling and human trafficking. 

The signature of agreement proved to be controversial, as many authorities questioned the guarantees of security and protection of rights that El Salvador can offer, when it is the lack of such guarantees that is driving the emigration of Salvadorans. Rubén Zamora, El Salvador's former ambassador to the UN, criticised the fact that Bukele was conceding a great deal to the United States, with hardly anything in return.

Bukele, however, was able to showcase a US counterpart in October: the extension for one year, until January 2021, of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that provides legal cover for the presence of 250,000 Salvadorans and their families in the US. The total number of Salvadorans residing in the US is at least 1.4 million, the largest number of Latin American migrants after Mexicans. This sample shows the strong link between the Central American nation, home to 6.5 million people, and the great power of the North, which is also the destination of 80% of its exports and whose dollar is the currency used in El Salvador.

The new Salvadoran president appeared to cut short this harmony with Washington in December, when he made an official trip to Beijing and met with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping. The US had warned of the risk of China taking strategic advantage of the door that was opening in Central America with the successive establishment of diplomatic relations with the countries of the American isthmus, which until a few years ago were a stronghold of support for Taiwan. In particular, the US embassy in El Salvador had been particularly active in denouncing the Sánchez Cerén government's alleged efforts to grant China the management of the Port of La Unión, in the Gulf of Fonseca, which could be joined by a special economic zone.

However, what Bukele did on this trip was to resize, at least for the time being, this relationship with China, limiting expectations and calming US suspicions. Not only does the question of the port of La Unión seem to have been shelved, but the Salvadoran president also confined China's attendance to the realm of financial aid at development and not to the granting of credits which, in the event of non-payment, condition national sovereignty. Bukele specified that the "gigantic cooperation" promised by China was "non-refundable" and referred to typical international cooperation projects, such as the construction of a Library Services, a sports stadium and a sewage treatment plant to clean the sewage discharged into Lake Ilopango, near the capital.

Categories Global Affairs: World order, diplomacy and governance Articles Latin America

People in a rural area of Cameroon [Photokadaffi].

▲ People in a rural area of Cameroon [Photokadaffi].



In seeking to better understand the grounds of Islamic fundamentalism in Africa, it is worth to looks for the common denominators that make different areas prone to the insurgence of extremism. In the continent of boundaries that were mainly drawn by the Europeans, many countries contain a multitude of cultures and religions, all of them in constant interaction and more often than not - friction with each other. However, in order to classify the region as highly susceptible to the inter-religious or inter-cultural conflict to happen, there are more important factors that must be taken into consideration. Through quantitative study and document analysis, this article, with an example of the rise of Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria and the expansion of the group to the neighbouring countries such as Cameroon, will underline the most important problems that paved the path for the emergence and spread of the Islamic fundamentalism, discussing its historical, social and ideological origins, at the same time providing possible long-time solutions on social and ideological ground.    

The brief history of Islam in Nigeria and Cameroon

The arrival of Islam to Nigeria dates back to the 11th and 12th centuries, when it spread from North Africa through trade and migration. It incorporated Husa and Fulani tribes into the common cultural ground of Islam which extended throughout North Africa, introducing them to the rich Islamic culture, art, Arabic language and teachings. In the 19th century, Fulani scholar named Usman Dan Fodio launched a jihad, establishing a Sokoto Caliphate ruled under a strict form of Shari'a law, further spreading Islamic influence in the region, introducing it for the first time to the area which today forms the Northern part of Cameroon, another country of our analysis.

The Sokoto Caliphate remained the most powerful state in Western Africa until the arrival of the European colonists. As opposed to the Southern part of Nigeria which was colonized and Christianized, the North received a lesser portion of Western education and values, as the Europeans ruled it indirectly through the local leaders. The same happened with Cameroon, which was indirectly ruled by the Germans in the North and experienced a more direct Westernization in the South. Even the indirect rule, however, brought great changes to the political and judicial processes, which became foreign to the local inhabitants. "This was viewed by Muslim northerners as an elevation of Christian jurisprudence over its Islamic judicial heritage" (Thomson, 2012) and the experience was without a doubt a humiliating and painful one - a foreign body destroying the familiar patterns of a lifestyle led for centuries, implementing a puppet government, diminishing the significance of a Sultan to that of a figurehead.

After their corresponding independence in 1960, both Nigeria and Cameroon became what American political scientist Samuel Huntington called cleft countries - composed of many ethnical groups and two major religions - Christianity in the South and Islam in the North. This situation, as described by Huntington, can be called the clash of civilizations between Islamic and Western tradition. He identifies the similarity between the two religions as one of the main reasons for their incompatibility: "Both are monotheistic religions, which, unlike the polytheistic ones, cannot easily assimilate additional deities, and which see the world in dualistic, us-and-them terms" (Huntington, 2002).

The independence also brought secularization of the two countries, thus undermining in both the political Islamism and the idea that Muslims should be ruled by the law of God, and not the law of men. However, the long-lasting Islamic tradition uniting the Northern Nigeria (and to some extent Northern Cameroon, although it was introduced to Islam much later) with the rest of North Africa and separating it from its Southern counterpart prevailed: "The Sokoto Caliphate remains a not-so-very distant and important reference point for Nigeria's Muslims and represents the powerful role that jihad and Shari'a law played in uniting the region, rejecting corruption, and creating prosperity under Islam" (Thomson, 2012).

Fertile ground for fundamentalism

Out of the romantic sentiments of long lost glory, it is not too difficult to incite resentment for modernity. To a certain extent, a distaste for the Westernization, which was an inevitable part of modernizing a country, is justifiable. After all, European imperialism selfishly destroyed indigenous ways of life enforcing their own beliefs and political systems, ethics, and norms a practice that continued even after decolonisation. Yet, the impetus for the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Nigeria as well as other places in Africa can be found as much in the current situation as in the past grievances. 

In Nigeria specifically, the gap was further enhanced by different European policies concerning the Northern and Southern parts of the country. Along with the more direct Westernisation, the Southern part of Nigeria was also better educated, familiar to Western medicine, bureaucracy, and science. It had an easier time to adapt to forming part of a modern liberal state. According to the data published in Educeleb, by 2017 Nigeria's literacy rate was 65.1% (Amoo, 2018). All the Southern states were above the national average and all the Northern ones were below. The same statistics also depict the fact that the difference between literacy level between genders is barely noticeable in the Southern states, while in the Northern states the gap is much wider.

Apart from the differences mentioned above, the Southern region is the place where the oil-rich Niger delta, which in 2018 contributed to 87.7% of Nigeria's foreign exchange, is situated (Okpi, 2018). It can be argued that the wealth is not equally distributed throughout the country and while the Christian South experiences economic growth, it often does not reach the Northern regions with Muslim majority. "Low income means poverty, and low growth means hopelessness", wrote Paul Collier in his book The Bottom Billion: "Young men, who are the recruits for rebel armies, come pretty cheap in an environment of hopeless poverty. Life itself is cheap, and joining a rebel movement gives these young men a small change of riches" (Collier, 2007).

The rise of Boko Haram

In this disproportionally impoverished Northern part of the country and with the goal of Islamic purification for Northern Nigeria, a spiritual leader, Muhammad Yusuf, founded an organisation which he called People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad. The locals, however, named it Boko Haram, which literally means books are forbidden and reflects the organisation's rejection of Western education and values. Boko Haram was founded in 2002 in Borno state, Maiduguri, where Yusuf established a mosque and Koranic school in which he preached Islamic teachings with a goal of establishing an Islamic state ruled by Shari'a law. "Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam" (Yusuf, 2009).

Although the organisation seemed to be peaceful enough for Nigerian government to ignore it for the first seven years of its existence, from the start Boko Haram was antagonistic towards the secular government which they associated with corruption, Christian-domination and Western influence. In 2009 the confrontation between the group and Nigeria's security forces led to and extrajudicial killing of the Muhammed Yusuf in captivity (Smith, 2009). The event became an impetus for the pre-existing animosity Boko Haram felt for the state to grow into an actual excuse for violence. Since 2009 the group was led by Abubakar Shekau who replaced Muhammad Yusuf after his death.

The attacks of the organisation became more frequent and brutal, killing many civilians in Nigeria and neighbouring countries, Muslims and Christians alike. Although its primary focus laid on the state of Borno, after being pushed out of its capital Maiduguri, Boko Haram became a rural-based organisation, operating in the impoverished region around Lake Chad basin (Comolli, 2017). Apart from Nigeria, the countries in which Boko Haram inflicted damage include Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Cameroon, the latest being the subject of analysis in this essay.

Impact of Boko Haram in Nigeria and Cameroon

To illustrate the impact the terrorist group had on the partner-economic development of the region, we will look at the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance (Ibrahim Index of African Governance, n.d.). As an example, we will evaluate the perception of staff security and level of national security in Nigeria - a country in which the Boko Haram had originated, and Cameroon - one of the countries where it spread after Nigeria's government launched their counter-terrorism program. The timeline for the graphs runs from the year 2000 to 2016 in order to capture the changes in national security and staff safety in Cameroon and Nigeria. This aid the study in drawing concrete conclusions over a period of time.


Figure 1: Impact of Boko Haram on staff Safety and National Security in Nigeria.

Source: Mo Ibrahim Index


The perception of staff safety in Nigeria, according to Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance, started decreasing since 2010. The tendency can be explained by the fact that in 2009 Nigerian government confronted the fundamentalist group, after which it became more active and violent. The perception of staff safety also dropped after 2014, the year that was marked by the infamous capturing of 276 Chibok schoolgirls out of their school dormitory. When it comes to the index portraying the level of national security, similar tendencies can be seen characterized by the drop of national security in 2009 and after 2014.


Figure 2: Impact of Boko Haram on staff Safety and National Security in Cameroon

Source: Mo Ibrahim Index


Another example can be Cameroon, the second most affected country after Nigeria which was infiltrated by Boko Haram in 2009. During that time, however, the presence of the terrorist group in the North of Cameroon was rather unassertive. At first the group was focusing on establishing their connections, gaining Cameroonian recruits, using the country as a transit of weapons to Nigeria (Heungoup, 2016). With the beginning of the kidnapping of foreigners, however, the year 2013 is marked by the drop of national security in the country. By 2014, the Cameroonian government declared war against Boko Haram, to which the group responded with a further increase of violence and thus - further drop of national safety.

An additional peak of terrorist attacks can be noticed after the renewed wave of governmental resistance after the 2015 elections in Nigeria which strongly weakened Boko Haram's influence, at the same time leading to increasingly asymmetric warfare. In Cameroon alone, Boko Haram executed more than 50 suicide bombers attacks, which killed more than 230 people (Heungoup, 2016). In the end, it is clear that despite the efforts of Nigerian and Cameroonian governments in fighting Boko Haram by declaring the war against terrorism, it cannot be said with certainty that the response of the governments of these countries were effective in eliminating or even containing the terrorist group. On the contrary, it seems that pure military resistance only further provoked the terrorist group and led to an increase of violence.

Response of the government

The outbreak of violence at the instigation of Boko Haram elicited a similar response from Nigerian armed forces in 2009 (Solomon, 2012). The office of president Goodluck Johnson launched a military mission in Maiduguri, which united the Nigerian Police Force with the Department of State Security, the army, the navy and the air force (Amnesty, 2011). Extra attention was bestowed upon the emergency regions of Borno, Niger, Plateau and Yobo (Economist, 2011).

In order to prevent Boko Haram from hiding and regrouping in the neighbouring states after being actively fought in Nigeria, the government tightened the border security in the North, however, as it has already been explained, the tactics failed miserably as Boko Haram was able to hide and regroup in Nigeria's Northern neighbours after being pushed out of Nigeria. The effort to prevent Boko Haram from gaining foreign support, financing and reinforcement were also dysfunctional, as the terrorist group was successful in finding allies. With the support of other Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda, the previously local problem is becoming more globalized and requires equally global and coordinated efforts to fight it.

And yet, so far the policy of Goodluck Johnson was proven counterproductive due to the internal problems of Nigerian security process such as corruption, unjustified violence, extrajudicial killings as opposed to intelligence-based operations (Amnesty, 2011, p. 30). Another problem can be identified in the specific case of Nigeria being a melting pot of cultures and religions. Each region requires a unique approach based on the understanding of the culture, values and customs of the area. Yet, the Nigerian soldiers in charge of the safety of the Northern states were National instead of local, making the indigenous population feel controlled by the foreign body.

So far, the policy of president Muhammadu Buhari, who was elected in 2015, was not much more successful than his predecessor's. At the beginning of his presidency, Buhari was successful in reclaiming the territory occupied by Boko Haram and was quick to announce the defeat of the terrorist group. However, after losing their ground in Nigeria, Boko Haram again retreated to regroup in the neighbouring countries, only to re-emerge again multiplied into two distinct terrorist organisation, further complicating the resistance. Overall, the use of force has proven to be ineffective in striking down terrorism. The previous examples lead to the conclusion that the use of dialogue and changes in national policies, as opposed to pure force, are crucial for the long term solutions.

Solution to Boko Haram

According to United Nations development program report "Journey to Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives and the Tipping Point for Recruitment" the main factors that make a person prone to get involved with fundamentalism are childhood circumstances, lack of state involvement in their surroundings, religious ideologies, and economic factors (UNDP, 2017). In order to prevent violent extremism, it must be tackled at the roots, because, as we have already seen before, facing violence with further violence approach provided little improvement on the status quo.

Childhood experience may be one of the fundamental reasons for joining extremism later. Members of marginalized communities, in which children were facing staff problems such as lack of parental involvement, lack of education, lack of exposure to different ethnicities and religions, are especially vulnerable. In these borderland areas, the children are rarely entitled to social security, they are often distrustful of the government and do not develop any sense of national belonging. The trust that the government favours some over others is only strengthened by staff witnessing of bribe-paying and corruption. The staggering 78% of the responders of the UN research reported being highly mistrustful of the police, politicians and the military (UNDP, 2017).

The isolation and minimum exposure to other ethnic and religious groups also contribute to the feeling of segregation and suspicion towards others. 51% of recruits have reported having joined due to religious beliefs, some in fear of their religion being endangered. However, even a higher percentage of 57 confessed their understanding of the sacred texts to be limited. This closes the circle of poverty and lack of education, with unemployment being the priority factor for 13% of the volunteer recruits questioned. In the end, are there any possible solutions for this continuous lemniscate (UNDP, 2017)? If there are any they must be in line with the theory of security-development nexus. By increasing the quality of the former, the later will be activated into motion and vice versa. Eliminate one of them and the other will stabilize itself naturally. 

The few solutions tackling both lack of security and slow development can be named, starting with combating the traumatizing childhood experiences. Long term solutions are undoubtedly based on the provision of education and social security which would aim to ensure the school attendance, community support for the parents and child-welfare services. The civil education is no less important to encourage the sense of national belonging and trust in the government, which also includes harsher anti-corruption regulations and more government spending directed to the marginalized communities. Strategies to promote a better understanding of the religion as a counterforce for the ignorance leading to easy recruitment, encouraging religious leaders to develop their own anti-extremism strategy, are also solutions that address the often expressed fears of religious groups who feel excluded, their faith being depreciated. The last but not least are the provision of work opportunities in the risk areas - promoting entrepreneurship, facilitating the access of the markets, upgrading infrastructure, basically creating economic opportunities of dignified employment and livelihood. 

Ideological background-check

In the end, underlying question when analyzing Islamic fundamentalism is this: when a Western liberal state, such as the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Islamic faith meet, is there a possibility of reasonable conversation? Originating in Europe, liberalism, as a political doctrine, grew as an opposition to religious doctrines, seeking to establish a secular government founded on reason. And although functional in the Western societies, is liberalism really compatible with Christianity, and even more unlikely, is it compatible with Islam?

While liberal societies are open to freedom of religion, the Abrahamic Religions, being based on a notion of a singular truth, are not that welcoming of the freedom of thought, at least when it extends beyond the dogmas. Neither are they originally very tolerant of the beliefs that diverge from their own doctrines. Looking back at the Middle Ages, the time of prosperity of the Catholic Church, it can be said that Catholic social structure stands on the obedience to the Pope and the official doctrine of the Church. When it comes to Islam, following similar logic, one can argue that the caliphate with a society (ummah) ruled under the shari'a law is a basis of Islamic social order. In its fundamental forms, both are considered unalterable and divinely originated and neither is compatible with a relativist liberal state whose basis of legitimacy lies far from God's will. When the two religious doctrines meet in a nation-state, as in the case of Nigeria, there are arguably only two ends to the story.

The first one, which was already mentioned is Huntington's idea of the clash of civilizations. He argued that the conflict that happens when Islamic and Western civilizations meet is inherent in their doctrines. A secular modern state, being a Western creation, when incorporating Muslim societies only further enhances the friction due to the fact that "the Muslim concept of Islam as a way of life transcending and uniting religion and politics versus the Western Christian concept of the separate realms of God and Caesar" (Huntington, 2002). This makes it more difficult for the Muslims to adapt to the contemporary reality, as in Islam the idea of nation-state is undermined by the concept of ummah (Huntington, 2002).

And although Huntington's argument that the inherent beliefs of a single truth in both religions in their fundamental forms make them incompatible with each other as well as with the present-day reality of a nation-state based international order, this line of thinking does not promote any kind of solution to the continuous problem of religious and cultural differences, which often manifest themselves in the oppression of one group by another creating friction - a fertile ground for further religious fundamentalism. In a world where the colliding of the different religions in everyday situations are inevitable, we must search for a middle ground.

This brings us to the second outcome, which is arguably the only one that can ever lead to a peaceful end. It, of course, requires compromise from religious groups, a compromise which nobody is likely to make when it comes to their fundamental beliefs, and much needed yet the same, because only the dialogue can lead to mutual respect and understanding, two things that wipe out hostility and fear rooted into ignorance. The second outcome of inter-religious interaction would be what John Rawls called an overlapping consensus between different comprehensive doctrines (Rawls, 1933). As by definition comprehensive doctrines are those, which are compatible with political liberalism, it inherently carries an idea of the necessity of some doctrines to give up on the segments of their ideologies that are incompatible with the aforementioned system.

The capitalist system, for example, originally was not willingly received by the Catholic social teachings, being considered a source of injustice. However, the Church, although never particularly eager for it, learned to accept the dominance of capitalism as a current reality and live with it (Fred Kammer). But would it be possible with the doctrine of shari'a law, for example, which is, after all, a basis of Muslim faith, as some Muslims believe that being ruled by the law of God is the only righteous path? This kind of comparison is hardly just from the beginning, as Jesus, unlike Muhammad, was never a political leader and Christianity was always religious and never political tradition, while Islam was always both. Shari'a law, as the sovereignty of God over people, is completely incompatible with democracy which is based on the idea of the sovereignty of the people over themselves, and we are forced to come back to the question of willingness to compromise again.

John Rawls argues that "A modern democratic society is characterized not simply by a pluralism of comprehensive religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines but by a pluralism of incompatible yet reasonable comprehensive doctrines," (Rawls, 1933). The doctrines might as well be incompatible and coexist together, but in the end, they will still have to compromise in order to be compatible with liberalism. The modern world will have to learn to do so sooner or later, to give up their universalist beliefs and give them the benefit of the doubt. This is the price for peace everybody must pay: the weak will have to pay more than the strong, but even the strong cannot use the principle of coercion forever. 


In the end, it can be concluded that the insurgence of Islamic fundamentalism in Africa is grounded in common traits such as historical and religious grievances, the relative poverty of one group in proportion to the other, lack of governmental presence and aid in some of the regions. On the micro-level, people are more willing to be recruited when they are uneducated, belong to segregated religious communities, live in relative poverty, do not receive support from the government and live without hope for a better future.

The solution to the spread of extremism, as it has been demonstrated by the example of Nigeria and Cameroon, cannot be rooted purely in the military missions, as they tend to get violent and further decrease the trust of the civilians in their government, closing a circle of us vs. them mentality. The means for solving the problem should include higher governmental presence and aid in the development of the afflicted regions, in the effort of further integration of currently segregated societies by helping them form a part of wider national identity. The idea of integration also transcends to the ideological, religious and cultural level as Islamic fundamentalism often arises from the rejection of Western culture and values that often feel imposed and foreign in the Muslim communities.

The key to the inter-religious conversation, especially when we are talking about Islam and Christianity, two religions that clash ideologically due to mutual assertiveness of sole truth, is the willingness to compromise and adapt to the current social order. If the roots of the problem are not cut off, the friction will continue on to transcend the ideological sphere and manifest itself in the military conflicts, terrorism, even big-scale wars. In an increasingly smaller world, in which the inter-religious interactions cannot be avoided, the decisions must be made. After all, how long we can live in the clash of civilizations?



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Categories Global Affairs: Africa World order, diplomacy and governance Essays

Georgian aspirations for EU and NATO membership meet Western fears of Russian overreaction

View of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, with the presidential palace in the background [Pixabay].

▲ View of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, with the presidential palace in the background [Pixabay].

ANALYSIS / Irene Apesteguía

In Greek times, Jason and the Argonauts set out on a journey in search of the Golden Fleece, with a clear direction: the present-day lands of Georgia. Later, in Roman times, these lands were divided into two kingdoms: Colchis and Iberia. From being a Christian territory, Georgia was conquered by the Muslims and later subjected to the Mongols. At this time, in the 16th century, the population was reduced due to continuous Persian and Ottoman invasions.

In 1783, the Georgian kingdom and the Russian Empire agreed to the Treaty of Georgiyevsk, in which the two territories pledged mutual military support. This agreement failed to prevent the Georgian capital from being sacked by the Persians, which was allowed by the Russian Tsar. It was the Russian tsar, Tsar Paul I of Russia, who in 1800 signed the corresponding incorporation of Georgia into the Russian empire, taking advantage of the moment of Georgian weakness.

After the demise of the Transcaucasian Federal Democratic Republic and thanks to the Russian collapse that began in 1917, Georgia's first modern state was created: the Democratic Republic of Georgia, which between 1918 and 1921 fought with the support of German and British forces against the Russian Empire. Resistance did not last, and occupation by the Russian Red Army led to the incorporation of Georgian territory into the Union of Soviet Republics in 1921. In World War II, 700,000 Georgian soldiers had to fight against their former German allies.

In those Stalinist times, Ossetia was divided in two, with the southern part becoming an autonomous region belonging to Georgia. Later, the process was repeated with Abkhazia, thus forming today's Georgia. Seventy years later, on 9 April 1991, the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic declared its independence as Georgia.

Every era has its "fall of the Berlin Wall", and this one is characterised by the disintegration of the former Russia. The major armed conflict that was to unfold in 2008 as a result of the frozen conflicts between Georgia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia since the beginning of the last century came as no surprise.

Since the disintegration of the USSR

After the break-up of the USSR, the territorial configuration of the country led to tension with Russia. Independence led to civil unrest and a major political crisis, as the views of the population of the autonomous territories were not taken into account and the laws of the USSR were violated. As twin sisters, South Ossetia wanted to join North Ossetia, i.e. a Russian part, with Abkhazia again following in their footsteps. Moscow recognised Georgia without changing its borders, perhaps out of fear of a similar action to the Chechen case, but for two long decades it acted as the protective parent of the two autonomous regions.

With independence, Zviad Gamsakhurdia became the first president. After a coup d'état and a brief civil war, Eduard Shevardnadze, a Georgian politician who in Moscow had worked closely with Gorbachev in articulating perestroika, came to power. Under Shevardnadze's presidency, between 1995 and 2003, ethnic wars broke out in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Around ten thousand people lost their lives and thousands of families fled their homes.

In 2003 the Rose Revolution against misrule, poverty, corruption and electoral fraud facilitated the restoration of territorial integrity, the return of refugees and ethnic acceptance. However, the democratic and economic reforms that followed remained a dream.

One of the leaders of the Rose Revolution, the lawyer Mikhail Saakashvili, became president a year later, declaring Georgian territorial integrity and initiating a new policy: friendship with NATO and the European Union. This rapprochement with the West, and especially the United States, put Moscow on notice .

Georgia's strategic importance stems from its geographic centrality in the Caucasus, as it is in the middle of the route of new oil and gas pipelines. European energy security underpinned the EU's interest in a Georgia that was not subservient to the Kremlin. Saakashvili made nods to the EU and also to NATO, increasing the issue of military troops and expense in armaments, something that did him no harm in 2008.

Saakashvili was successful with his policies in Ayaria, but not in South Ossetia. Continued tension in South Ossetia and various internal disputes led to political instability, which prompted Saakashvili to leave Withdrawal .

At the end of Saakashvili's term in 2013, commentator and politician Giorgi Margvelashvili took over the presidency as head of the Georgian Dream list. Margvelashvili maintained the line of rapprochement with the West, as has the current president, Salome Zurabishvili, a French-born politician, also from Georgian Dream, since 2018.

Fight for South Ossetia

The 2008 war was initiated by Georgia. Russia also contributed to previous bad relations by embargoing imports of Georgian wine, repatriating undocumented Georgian immigrants and even banning flights between the two countries. In the conflict, which affected South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Saakashvili had a modernised and prepared army, as well as full support from Washington.

The battles began in the main South Ossetian city of Tskhinval, whose population is mostly ethnic Russian. Air and ground bombardments by the Georgian army were followed by Russian tanks on the territory of entrance . Moscow gained control of the province and expelled the Georgian forces. After five days, the war ended with a death toll of between eight hundred and two thousand, depending on the different estimates of each side, and multiple violations of the laws of war. In addition, numerous reports commissioned by the EU showed that South Ossetian forces "deliberately and systematically destroyed ethnic Georgian villages". These reports also stated that it was Georgia that initiated the conflict, although the Russian side had engaged in multiple provocations and also overreacted.

Following the 12 August ceasefire, diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia were suspended. Moscow withdrew its troops from part of the Georgian territory it had occupied, but remained in the separatist regions. Since then, Russia has recognised South Ossetia as an independent territory, as do Russian allies such as Venezuela and Nicaragua. The Ossetians themselves do not acknowledge cultural and historical ties with Georgia, but with North Ossetia, i.e. Russia. For its part, Georgia insists that South Ossetia is within its borders, and the government itself will take care of it as a matter of law and order, thus solving a problem described as constitutional.

Given Georgia's rapprochement with the EU, the conflict prompted European diplomacy to play an active role in the search for peace, with the deployment of 200 observers on the border between South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia, replacing Russian peacekeepers. In reality, the EU could have tried earlier to react more forcefully to Russia's actions in South Ossetia, which some observers believe would have prevented what happened later in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. In any case, despite initiating the conflict, this did not affect Tbilisi's relationship with Brussels, and in 2014 Georgia and the EU signed a agreement of association. Today it is safe to say that the West has forgiven Russia for its behaviour in Georgia.

The war, although short, had a clear negative impact on the Ossetian region's Economics , which in the midst of difficulties became dependent on Moscow. However, Russian financial aid does not reach the population due to the high level of corruption.

The war is over, but not the friction. In addition to a refugee problem, there is also a security problem, with Georgians being killed on the border with South Ossetia. The issue is not closed, but even if the risk is slight, everything remains in the hands of Russia, which in addition to controlling and influencing politics, runs tourism in the area.

This non-resolution of the conflict hampers the stabilisation of democracy in Georgia and with it the possible entrance accession to the European institution, as ethnic minorities claim a lack of respect for and protection of their rights. Although governance mechanisms remain weak in these conflicts, it is clear that recent reforms in the South Caucasus have led to promote inclusive dialogue with minorities and greater state accountability. 

Latest elections

November 2018 saw the last direct presidential elections in the country, as from 2024 it will no longer be citizens who vote for their president, but legislators and certain compromisers, due to a constitutional reform that transforms the country into a parliamentary republic.

In 2018, candidate of the United National Movement, Grigol Vashdze, and the Georgian Dream candidate, Salome Zurabishvili, faced each other in the second round. With 60% of the vote, the centre-left candidate became the first woman president of Georgia. She won on a European platform: "more Europe in Georgia and Georgia in the European Union". Her inauguration was greeted by protesters alleging election irregularities. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) endorsed the election process, but noted a lack of objectivity in the public media during the campaign.

Some Georgian media consider that Georgian Dream enjoyed an 'undue advantage' because of the intervention in the campaign of former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, now a wealthy financier, who publicly announced a financial aid programme for 600,000 Georgians. It became clear that Ivanishvili pulls the strings and levers of power in the country. This questioning of the cleanliness of the campaign has led to Georgia's downgrading of democratic quality in the 2018 ratings.


Public event presided over in January by Salome Zurabishvili at the Georgian presidential palace [Presidency of Georgia].

Public event presided over in January by Salome Zurabishvili at the Georgian presidential palace [Presidency of Georgia].



Since the policies pursued by the Georgian presidency since Saakashvili came to power, Georgia has made a determined move into the Western world. Thanks to all the new measures that Tbilisi is implementing to conform to Western demands and requirements , Georgia has managed to profile itself as the ideal candidate for its entrance in the EU. However, despite the pro-European and Atlanticist yearnings of the ruling Georgian Dream party and a large part of Georgian society, the country could end up surrendering to Russian pressure, as has happened with several former Soviet territories that had previously attempted a Western rapprochement, such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

EU compliance

Becoming the most favoured country in the Caucasus to join the European Union, with which it has a close and positive relationship, Georgia has signed several binding treaties with Brussels, following the aspiration of Georgian citizens for more democracy and human rights. In 2016 the agreement of association entered into force between the EU and Georgia, allowing for serious steps in political and economic integration, such as the creation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). This preferential trade regime makes the EU the country's main trading partner partner . The DCFTA financial aid encourages Georgia to reform its trade framework , following the principles of the World Trade Organisation, while eliminating tariffs and facilitating broad and mutual access. This alignment with the EU's framework legal framework prepares the country for eventual accession.

As for agreement of association, it should be mentioned that Georgia is a member country of the association Eastern under the European Neighbourhood Policy. Through this association, Brussels issues annual reports on the steps taken by a given state towards closer alignment with the EU. The committee of association is the formal institution dedicated to monitoring these partnership relations; its meetings have highlighted the progress made and the growing closeness between Georgia and the EU.

In 2016 the EU's Permanent Representatives committee confirmed the European Parliament's agreement on visa liberalisation with Georgia. This agreement was based on visa-free travel for EU citizens crossing the country's borders, and for Georgian citizens travelling to the EU for stays of up to 90 days.

Georgia, however, has been disappointed in its expectations when the EU has expressed doubts about the desirability of membership. Some EU member states cited the potential danger posed by Georgian criminal groups, which several pro-Russian parties in the country took advantage of to wage a vigorous campaign against the EU and NATO. The campaign paid off and anti-Russian opinion waned, prompting Moscow to assert itself further with military manoeuvres, although public support for the Georgian Dream continued in the 2016 elections.

Despite the lack of any prospect of forthcoming accession, the EU continues to offer hope, as in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's tour of the Caucasus last summer. On her visit to Georgia, Merkel compared the Georgian conflict to the Ukrainian conflict due to the presence of Russian troops in the country's separatist regions. She visited the town of Odzisi, located on the border with South Ossetia, and at a speech at the University of Tbilisi said that both that territory and Abkhazia are "occupied territories", which did not go down well with Moscow. Merkel pledged to do her utmost to ensure that this "injustice" remains present on the international diary .

Georgian President Salome Zourachvili also believes that the UK's exit from the EU could be a great opportunity for Georgia. "It will force Europe to reform. And being an optimist, I am sure it will open new doors for us," she said.

Hope in the Atlantic Alliance

Russia's behaviour in recent years, in addition to encouraging Georgia's rapprochement with the EU, has given a sense of urgency to its desire to join the Atlantic Alliance.

In 2016, several joint NATO-Georgia manoeuvres took place in the Black Sea, where a coalition fleet was stationed. This was evidence of a growing mutual rapprochement that Georgia hoped would lead to NATO membership at that year's NATO summit in Warsaw. But despite the country's extensive defence, security and intelligence training, it was not invited to join the club: Russia was not to be inconvenienced.

NATO assured, however, that it would maintain its open-door policy towards eastern countries and considered Georgia to remain an exemplary candidate . Pending future decisions, Tbilisi was left with strengthening military cooperation, offering as an incentive the "Black Sea format", a compromise solution that includes NATO, Georgia and Ukraine and increases NATO's influence in the Black Sea region.

Georgia, as the capital ally of NATO and the European Union in the Caucasus region, aspires to greater protection from the Atlantic Alliance vis-à-vis Russia. The European political centre observes the Georgian population's efforts to join the international organisation and opts for a strategy of patience for the Caucasus region, as in the Cold War years.

Approaching Russia's borders is problematic, and multiple criticisms have been levelled at NATO over the easy Georgian membership due to its geostrategic status . Russia has repeatedly expressed concern about such joint cooperation between the US, NATO and neighbouring Georgia.


President Zurabishvili's speech at the Holocaust remembrance events in Jerusalem in January [Presidency of Georgia].

President Zurabishvili's speech at the Holocaust remembrance events in Jerusalem in January [Presidency of Georgia].



The wounds of the 2008 South Ossetia war have not yet healed in Georgian society. Despite Georgia's political attempts at rapprochement with Western institutions, Russia remains suspiciously vigilant, so that relations between the two countries continue to be troubled. Last summer saw the latest episode of tension, which led the Georgian president to describe Russia as an "enemy and occupier".

After some rapprochement in 2013 that saw an increase in food trade and Russian tourism coming to the country, Moscow has shifted to a strategy of attempting rapprochement at the religious and political level. With that intention, a small group of Russian lawmakers travelled to the Georgian capital for the Orthodox Interparliamentary Assembly. This international organisation, led by Greece and Russia, is the only one that brings together the legislative bodies of Orthodox countries. The meeting took place in the plenary hall of the Georgian Parliament, where Russian MP Sergei Gabrilov took the seat of the Speaker of the House. Several politicians from the civil service examination did not take kindly to this and mobilised thousands of citizens, who staged serious public disorder in an attempted storming of the Parliament. The Russian delegation was forced to leave the country, but the attempt at Russian influence through religion was clear, whereas until then the Church had kept out of all political controversies.

The riots, in which many people were injured, prompted members of the government to cancel all foreign travel and the president to cut short her trip to Belarus, where she was to attend attend the opening of the European Games, a presence considered important in Western eyes. Demonstrators protested against the Georgian Dream headquarters, where they burned and stormed outbuildings. The ten days of rioting were not only justified by the incident at the Assembly, but also as a reaction to the Russian occupation. In addition, the conflict between the Georgian Dream and the opposing parties led by Saakashvili, now in exile in Ukraine, may also have contributed.

The crisis ended with the departure of Prime Minister Mamuka and the appointment of Georgi Gaharia as his successor, despite criticism that he had been criticised for his management of the unrest as interior minister.

The uprisings, while well-intentioned, are against Georgia's interests, the Georgian president said, as what the country needs is "internal calm and stability", both to progress internally and to gain sympathy among EU members, who do not want more tension in the region. Salome Zurabishvili warned of the risks of any internal destabilisation that Russia could provoke.

In the wake of the June protests, the Kremlin issued a decree banning the transport of nationals to Georgia by Russian airlines. While claiming to ensure "national security and protection of citizens", it was clear that Moscow was reacting to an anti-Russian tinged revolt. The decision reduced visitor arrivals from Russia, which had been accounting for one in four tourists, which the government said could mean a loss of $1 billion and a 1 per cent reduction in GDP.

The tension reached the television media in the Georgian capital. Days after the riots, the host of Rustavi 2's 'Post Scriptum' programme intervened in the broadcast speaking Russian and hurled several insults at President Vladimir Putin, which Russia described as unacceptable and 'Russophobic'. The channel apologised, admitting that its ethical and editorial standards had been violated, while several Georgian politicians, including the president, condemned the episode and lamented that such acts only increase tensions between the two nations.

The events of last summer show Georgians' rejection of an enmity with Russia that, in addition to heightening tensions with the big northern neighbour, may have an impact on Georgia's relationship with the EU and other Western international organisations, as they will not tread on quicksand, especially with big Russia in front of them.




Asmus, Ronald D. A Little War That Shook the World. London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2010.

Cornell S. E. & Starr, F. The Guns of August 2008. Russia's War in Georgia. London: M.E. Sharpe, 2009.

De la Parte, Francisco P. The Returning Empire. La Guerra de Ucrania 2014-2017: Origen, development, entorno internacional y consecuencias. Oviedo: Ediciones de la Universidad de Oviedo, 2017.

Golz, Thomas. Georgia Diary: A Chronicle of War and Political Chaos in The Post-Soviet Caucasus.New York: Taylor and Francis, 2006.

Categories Global Affairs: Central Europe and Russia World order, diplomacy and governance Analysis

Brexit, with the departure from the EU of a free-market champion, has boosted the coordination of the free-trade countries of northern Europe.

16th century engraving showing a view of Lübeck, when it was part of the Hanseatic League.

16th century engraving showing a view of Lübeck, when it was part of the Hanseatic League.

ANALYSIS / Jokin de Carlos Sola

Made up of the little people of Europe's northern coast, the Hanseatic League controls the sea and the money that moves across it. This definition applies to two organisations, one medieval and one recently created, ready to make its voice heard on the European stage.

In 2017, eight northern European countries (the Netherlands, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) began the process of creating the New Hanseatic League initiative. Its main objective goal is to maintain and increase economic orthodoxy, now that the United Kingdom - one of its main supporters - is leaving the European Union, and to prevent France from taking advantage of this moment to implement its expansionary Economics policies.

The first League

The First Hanseatic League or simply the Hansa was a commercial and defensive alliance of trading cities and guilds of the major maritime cities of the Baltic and North Atlantic. Founded in Lübeck in 1158, the first alliance consisted of the free German maritime cities of Lübeck, Hamburg, Lüneburg, Wismar, Rostock and Stralsund.

Many other cities later joined the Hansa, such as Cologne, Groningen, Berlin and Stockholm. In addition, the Hansa set up trading posts in ports in almost all of northern Europe, and even established their own quarters - called kontors -in other places such as London, Antwerp, Novgorod and Bruges.

This alliance acquired great commercial as well as military importance. Since its foundation, the Hansa had maintained an almost symbiotic relationship with the Baltic monastic state of the Teutonic Knights. Later it would establish its own fleet. With the growth of the nation states and the decline of the guilds, the Hansa declined until it consisted only of Lübeck, Hamburg and Bremen, and was finally dissolved with German unification.

Creation of the New Hansa

With the enlargement of the European Union, new opportunities arose to balance the power of the dominant Franco-German bloc (also known as the Aachen bloc) on the European committee . Thus, the Visegrad group , the Three Seas Initiative or the Craiova group have been created in Central and Eastern Europe. In recent years, the New Hanseatic League has emerged in the north of the continent.

The latter initiative was born in the wake of Brexit. As the third country in terms of economic weight in the EU, the United Kingdom has had a great influence on the Union's economic policy, defending ideas such as economic stability, deficit reduction, debt reduction, economic deregulation and a stable monetary policy that avoids inflation, as well as a free trade policy.

These ideas clashed with the French economic policy of greater economic dirigisme and interventionism, with its emphasis on social projects and protectionism. Meanwhile, Germany's cautious attitude acted as a balance and middle ground between the two positions. London's positions have also been supported by the Netherlands and Denmark, as well as other countries with a tradition of maritime trade, who, faced with the prospect of the UK's departure from the EU, decided to establish greater coordination among themselves.

Another cause for the training of the New Hansa is the coming to power of Emmanuel Macron and his rise as a strongman in the EU. Macron has abandoned part of the economic speech with which he was elected in 2017 to move closer to traditional French positions, also followed by countries such as Italy and Spain.

A final trigger for the Dutch- and Irish-inspired initiative was the replacement in January 2018 of Jeroen Dijsselbloem as Eurogroup president by Mario Centeno, Portugal's socialist minister. For many northern European politicians, Dijsselbloem's intransigence in the face of the Greek debt crisis in 2015 was correct and a way forward for EU and Eurozone economic and monetary policy.

This group was initially known by names such as "The Vikings" or "Bad Weather Coalition". In February 2018 the finance ministers of the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania signed the founding document of the New Hanseatic League.     

Political and economic values

The main objectives of the New Hanseatic League are based on free trade ideas, as well as maintaining a balanced budget . Its main objectives are the development of the European Stability Mechanism, established in Luxembourg. The idea would be that this development would eventually turn the ESM into a plenary session of the Executive Council European Monetary Fund, which would redistribute wealth between member states with surpluses and those with trade deficits. The Hansa is also in favour of giving the ESM more power to interfere in national budgets in order to avoid exceeding deficit limits.

However, although the founding document sticks to the European Stability Mechanism, the Hansa does not intend to stop there. Some representatives of these countries have spoken out against a budget for the eurozone, a eurozone finance minister and a common deposit insurance scheme, as proposed by Macron. They also criticised the European Commission for its decision not to initiate a disciplinary procedure against Italy over its deficit and debt.

The Hansa's positions have gained general popularity in their respective countries. On the one hand, the right-wing parties in those places have long advocated free trade approaches, while the left-wing parties do not want the welfare state of their respective populations to be put at risk in order to help the southern European countries.

The ideological origins of the New Hansa could be traced back to British Thatcherism in the 1980s. This political ideology included on the one hand a liberal approach to Economics, advocating ideas such as deregulation, privatisation and free trade. Thatcherism did not advocate the break-up of the EU, but included a sceptical view, advocating a union limited to Economics, without advancing political union. This thinking, in opposition to traditional French dirigisme, has had a clear influence within British politics and within the Conservative Party. However, its influence on other European politicians, such as various leaders in the Netherlands and Denmark, is somewhat less well known.

The defence of a liberal and capitalist Europe, contrary to a strong central power, is shared by many countries, all of them located in the northern fringe of the Union. This pits them against the Mediterranean countries, which have required EU aid in recent years.

However, there are other elements that characterise these countries beyond their wealth and geographical position, such as their size and their dependence on trade, derived from their maritime character. This makes them favourable to increased trade treaties and forces them to seek resources they do not have on their own territory.

Leadership of the group

The New Hanseatic League is an initiative and not an organisation as such, so it has no official leader; decisions are taken in unofficial councils of heads of government and finance ministers. However, several personalities have been prominent, notably Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, and Wopke Hoekstra, his finance minister.  

Wopke Hoekstra is considered the architect of the New Hansa. Aged 41, he is a Christian Democrat, a practising Protestant, a member of the Remonstrant Brotherhood and a former student of the Institut Européen d'Administration des Affaires (INSEAD), Europe's most prestigious business school. He has shown the most intransigent side of the Dutch government on economic issues in recent years. It has reached the point that Dijsselbloem himself has criticised the New League's training because, according to him, it damages the idea of solidarity within the Union.

Mark Rutte, on the other hand, has used the creation of the New Hansa to increase the Netherlands' weight in European politics. Rutte is regarded as one of the most active Dutch premiers in foreign policy since the Second World War and has tried to assert the Netherlands in the EU vis-à-vis France and Germany. At the same time Rutte has tried to occupy the British voice in Europe's committee as one of the most Atlanticist leaders.

Other leaders who have shown their involvement in this project have been the Danish finance minister until 2019, Kristian Jensen, and the Irish deputy prime minister, Simon Coveney. On the other hand, the role of Denmark and Sweden was core topic for the Baltic countries to move away from the Visegrad group and join the New Hansa.

Economic, financial and technological weight

The Hansa has managed to bring together an economic weight that other initiatives of the same kind have not been able to muster. Currently, the combined GDP of the Hansa countries is more than 2.2 trillion euros, close to the 2.5 trillion euros of the French GDP, the second largest economic force in Europe.

The group also has clear financial clout. Cities such as Amsterdam, Stockholm and Dublin have been climbing the ranks of Europe's leading financial capitals in recent years, although they have yet to overtake Paris and Frankfurt. Moreover, these are countries where technological innovation exists, especially Estonia and the Netherlands.

The fact that group does not exceed 10% of the European population somewhat mitigates its influence, as the votes of the countries and blocs in the European committee are partly based on issue of inhabitants, but it is nonetheless a relevant political actor in the EU. In contrast, the southern European countries (Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece) account for 30 per cent of the European population, but are considered less decisive.

The Hansa positions represent a break with the EU principle that, for reasons of inter-territorial social cohesion, those countries that have more and are more developed contribute more. The ideas of the more radical sections of the Hansa can even be labelled as a certain neo-colonialism, insofar as they seek to use the supranational mechanisms of the EU to ensure that debtor countries in the South repay loans, which will keep them at certain levels of debt.

The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Ireland are among the top contributors to the common European budget , behind the top four (Italy, UK, France and Germany). On a per capita basis, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark are at the top of the list. While Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are beneficiaries, they are less so than Poland, Greece or Romania.

Given its greater contribution to the EU, or less dependence on aid, the Hansa is demanding a greater say in the EU's direction. For the time being, it has succeeded in imposing various criteria on budget in 2020, as opposed to those of the recipient countries.

Exercise of influence

One of the main objectives of the New Hanseatic League was to ensure that the two most controlling figures over the European Economics (the presidency of the Central Bank, and the leadership of the International Monetary Fund) were to its liking. In both cases it has failed, largely because of Emmanuel Macron's intervention.

The Netherlands had a particular interest in the appointment of the ECB, as outgoing president Mario Draghi had lobbied the Dutch government to activate stimulus policies. The New Hansa's candidate was Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann, known for his criticism of Mario Draghi's stimulus policies and for advocating a high-interest policy. Macron agreed with Germany that the European Commission would go to a German (Ursula von der Leyen) in exchange for the ECB being chaired by Christine Laguard, who would continue Draghi's policies.

For the IMF, Rutte proposed Dijsselbloem, despite his criticism of the Hansa. The final vote was between him and Bulgarian economist Kristalian Georgieva. Although Germany ended up voting for the Dutchman, Georgieva became the new head of the IMF. 

However, the Hansa has also had some victories, such as holding the Commission firm on the Italian budget , which was going to exceed deficit limits; exerting influence on the European budget , which has suffered a drastic reduction; or slowing down, if not completely blocking, Macron's project for a common budget for the Eurozone.


visit from Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra (right) to his Irish counterpart Paschal Donohoe (left) at the end of 2018 [Gov. of Ireland].

visit from Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra (right) to his Irish counterpart Paschal Donohoe (left) at the end of 2018 [Gov. of Ireland].


Expansion strategy and partnerships

One of the problems previously mentioned for the Hansa has been its lack of weight in the European committee . For this reason, its leaders have sought the political alignment of countries with which there may be ideological overlaps.

One of the first countries to establish contact with the Hansa countries was Austria. This makes sense since Austria has a similar economic structure to the other Hansa countries due to its small size and population. In addition, the government of Sebastian Kurz seemed to have a strong programme towards Europe very much in line with the Hansa. Famous is the proposal of several Austrian politicians for the creation of two European currencies, one for the north and one for the south. This subject of connections would be very important for later influencing Germany. In the new von der Leyen Commission, the Finance Committee was won for Austria by the economist Johannes Hahn.

The Austrian courtship also seems to have a strategic goal as a step to also start influencing Germany, which acts as a balancer of the balance. Several German politicians from the CDU and CSU are favourable to the Hansa's thinking and have been very influential throughout Merkel's government. But when Wolfgang Schäuble was removed from the Finance Ministry and replaced by the Social Democrat Olof Scholz these positions lost importance.

Similarly, the Hansa (and above all the Netherlands) has been establishing contacts with the Flemish government in Belgium. Although Flanders is just another state in the Belgian federation, the lack of a government in Brussels gives it great importance, along with the government of Wallonia. In addition, the Flemish control the port of Antwerp and have always been closer to the ideas of the Hansa.

On the other hand, the Hansa also seems to have initiated contacts with Slovakia and the Czech Republic. This was seen when in March 2019 both countries signed a declaration together with the Hansa countries against the Italian budget . It would be unusual to see these countries moving very close to the Hansa because they remain natural recipients of European funds. However, given that they are countries with healthy accounts, they could be seen as allies of the Hansa in some future actions.

In a way we could see Hanseatic diplomacy as a partial evolution of Otto von Bismarck's diplomacy (to push France out of power by training regional alliances). The aim is to form a sufficiently strong bloc that can present itself solidly on the European committee and convince Germany to tilt the balance towards budgetary orthodoxy and the interests of the northern countries. Alongside France are most of the southern countries. One could very generally say that the Hansa's objectives are: "Mobilise the North, seduce Germany, silence the Mediterranean".

Strange alliances in front of the Hansa

The Hanseatic configuration of alliances around Europe and their influence on the new European budget seems to have created curious alliances, the largest of which is undoubtedly the one that may arise between Poland and France.

This may sound strange, because when it comes to foreign policy, social policy and on certain points of European integration, Poland and France have been poles apart. But when it comes to economic policy and the European budget , France and Poland are on the same page, and this may result in a common front against the Hansa.

The reasons for the Franco-Polish rapprochement are varied. Both nations follow the tradition of the social welfare state, France because of its republican fraternity bequest and Poland because of its Catholic heritage, both opposed to the Hanseatic absentee state. Moreover, both countries have reasons to want to avoid restrictive budgets. The Polish government fears that a drastic reduction of investment in Poland would force it to make social cuts, which would lead to instability. France is sample opposed for a more ideological reason: Macron has championed the idea of 'A Europe that protects' and would have trouble sticking to this idea.

Nevertheless, Poland and France have some sticking points, especially with Macron's attempt at a new Ostpolik to calm relations with Russia.


The creation of the New Hanseatic League is ultimately written request a reaction to two movements: the creation of European regional systems and the withdrawal of economic policies favouring Northern Europe. 

If the countries of Europe organise themselves into blocs, it may be easier to carry out certain initiatives because there are fewer interlocutors to negotiate with.

On the other hand, the creation of an initiative with the specific goal purpose of defending northern interests may pose a risk for southern countries, accentuating north-south differences in Europe. This would put Germany, which wants to avoid such a compromise, in a difficult position status .

The smart thing to do would be to avoid these confrontations directly by seeking other sources of revenue for the EU that do not compromise the wealth of the Hansa countries, as Morawiecki expressed and Macron has also pointed out. Thus, some taxes have been discussed, such as those on air travel, financial transactions and the digital world. But again, with the importance of the financial sector and new technologies in countries such as Ireland or Estonia, this may encounter civil service examination. It is not a simple task.

In any case, it should be ensured that European politicians have sufficient vision and understanding to make agreements that take into account all the idiosyncrasies of the European Union.

Categories Global Affairs: European Union World order, diplomacy and governance Analysis

[Xulio Ríos. Xi Jinping's China. From bitter decadence to the dreamed modernization. publishing house Popular. Madrid, 2018. 300 p.]

review / María Martín Andrade

Xi Jinping's China. From bitter decadence to dreamed modernization.Given the globally known growth of China in recent years and the uncertainty caused internationally by its giant steps in a rather short period of time, it is worth examining what sustains the Chinese modernization process in order to determine its solidity. Xulio Ríos, expert in sinology and director of the Observatory of Chinese Politics (jointly dependent on Igadi and Casa Asia), carries out this analysis in Xi Jinping's Chinawith approach covering political, economic and social issues. Rios addresses China's role in globalization and how Xi Jinping's 2012 takeover of power has further accelerated the country's rapid modernization.

Ríos begins by identifying the three keys to China's success in the modernization process: the employment of a sound economic policy, the implementation of its own strategy and a strong identity capable of adapting the major currents of international thought to the country's unique characteristics. This adaptation has been at the heart of China's modernization process, whose challenges in the coming years are to move from a Economics of imitation to a Economics of innovation, to invest in fair policies aimed at correcting the inequalities the country faces, and to carve out a niche for itself in the international system without having to abandon its identity.

The Chinese dream is the main element that characterizes this new path that Xi Jinping intends to follow since he became University Secretary of the CCP; a dream that makes reference letter to the illusion and aspirations of a people that has seen its path towards modernization hindered. Unlike Maoism, where traditional culture was seen as an expression of the old society, Xi stresses the importance of highlighting some of the values of popular culture that can help consolidate the nation's consciousness in this century.

The author does not fail to note that the main obstacles to this rapid Chinese evolution are the high social costs of the latest transformations and the environmental bankruptcy that is causing so much serious damage. For this reason, without ever taking his eyes off the Chinese dream, University Secretary of the CCP and president of the country assures us that he wants a beautiful, environmental, rich and powerful China, with global influence, but without ever abandoning his own profile .

As part of the party's governance reform, Xi Jinping persists, like no other previous president, in the importance of the rule of law as an expression of modernization in the form of government. In tune with this, judicial reform has become one of the main thrusts of his mandate to combat the imbalance in the administration of justice throughout the country. On the economic front, the role attributed to the private Economics in terms of modernization is making China the world's leading Economics . The diversification of its investment in foreign reserves and developments in sectors such as automobiles are proving to be an alternative to the Western model aimed at taking the lead in globalization.

Thus, the four modernizations of Xi's governance focus on industry, agriculture, science and technology, and defense. These advances are intended to be complemented by a remarkable drive to strengthen multipolarity, increasing its presence in foreign markets and seeking global recognition of its update through new objectives, such as the revitalization of the Silk Roads, the creation of economic corridors or the Asian Investment and Infrastructure Bank.

Having broken down the different elements that make up the change in China's image, the author concludes by pointing out that, despite the economic development and the increase in political confidence, the country can become more involved and take on more responsibilities. However, due to its structural circumstances and domestic conflicts, China is not yet sufficiently prepared to replace the US or the West in global leadership. Nevertheless, there is nothing to stop Xi Jinping's distinguished move, compared to other Chinese leaders, to assert interests more conspicuously and visibly, with the Silk Road being a clear example of the ambition of the Chinese process.

Categories Global Affairs: Asia World order, diplomacy and governance Book reviews

The success of several reforms is overshadowed by the impulsiveness and personal interests of a president with a tarnished image.

Jair Bolsonaro talks to the press at the beginning of January at the headquarters of the Ministry of Economics [Isac Nóbrega, PR].

Jair Bolsonaro talks to the press at the beginning of January at the headquarters of the Ministry of Economics [Isac Nóbrega, PR].

ANALYSIS / Túlio Dias de Assis

One year ago, on 1 January 2019, a former Brazilian army captain, Jair Bolsonaro, climbed the steps of the Palácio do Planalto for the inauguration of his presidential mandate. He was the most controversial leader to assume Brazil's head of state and government since the presidency of the no less flamboyant populist Jânio Quadros in the 1960s. The more doomsdayers predicted the imminent end of the world's fourth largest democracy; the more deluded, that Brazil would take off and take its rightful place in the international arena. As was to be expected, neither extreme was right: Brazil continues to maintain the level of democracy of the last 30 years, without any military attempt , as some had feared; nor has Brazil become the world power that many Brazilians believe it deserves because of its exceptional territorial, population, cultural and political characteristics. As is often the case, the reality has been less simple than expected.


Among the most attractive aspects of Bolsonaro's candidacy to the public during the election campaign was the promise of economic recovery under the administration of Chicago Boy minister Paulo Guedes. In order to fulfil this promise purpose, right at the beginning of his mandate, Bolsonaro unified the former ministries of Finance, Planning, development and management, Industry, work and Foreign Trade and Services under the umbrella of the Ministry of Economics, all under the command of the liberal Guedes. Guedes became a sort of "super-minister" manager of the new government's entire economic diary .

From the outset, Guedes made it clear that he would do his utmost to lift the barriers of Brazilian trade protectionism, a doctrine adopted at Degree by every government for more than half a century. In order to deploy his crusade against statism and protectionism, Guedes has this year promoted bilateral trade rapprochement with several strategic allies, which, 'unlike previous governments, will not be chosen on the basis of ideological criteria', according to Bolsonaro. Already in January there was the advertisement of a Novo Brasil at the World Economic Forum in Davos, defined by greater openness, zero tolerance for corruption and the strengthening of Latin America as a regional bloc.


Despite his support for economic openness, Bolsonaro's team has never been overly favourable to trade with Mercosur - his regional multilateral trade bloc - with Guedes even stating that it was a burden for Brazil, as he considered it an ideological rather than an economic alliance. However, this aversion to Mercosur, and mainly to Argentina, seems to have ended after the signature of the Mercosur-EU tradeagreement , given that the potential volume of trade that would be generated by such a pact would be enormously beneficial for Brazilian agricultural and livestock producers. area Similarly, a agreement was also signed with the countries of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), comprising Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Of these two agreements, the most controversial has been the one signed with the European Union, mainly due to the high levels of rejection in some member states such as France, Ireland and Austria, as it is seen as a possible risk to the Common Agricultural Policy. On the other hand, some other countries were critical, citing Bolsonaro's environmental policy, as the agreement was signed during the summer, which coincided with the time of the fires in the Amazon. As a result, several member states have still not ratified the treaty and the Austrian parliament has voted against it.

However, the fact that multilateral trade relations do not seem to have made much progress, due to the obstacles imposed by Europe, has not prevented Brazil from expanding its commercial activity. Contrary to what one might think, due to its ideological closeness to Donald Trump and his foreign policy, the rapprochement in subject economic relations has not been with the US, but with the antagonistic Asian giant. In this process, Bolsonaro's trip to Beijing stands out, where he showed himself to be open to Chinese trade, despite his previous less favourable statements in this regard. agreement During the proposal visit a free trade agreement with China, which has yet to be approved by the Mercosur summit, and several smaller agreements, including one on agricultural trade, came up.

This sudden Chinese interest in increasing agricultural imports from Brazil is due to the increase in demand for meat in China, triggered mainly by the swine fever epidemic that devastated domestic production. This has led to an immediate rise in the price of beef and pork in Brazil, up to 30% in some cuts in little more than a month, which has distorted the domestic market, as meat, mainly beef, is usually very present in the average Brazilian's regular per diem expenses .

Public accounts

With regard to the country's internal accounts, it is worth highlighting the approval of the pension reform(Reforma da Previdência), which initially had a markedly liberal character, with the aim of eliminating privileges and disproportionate pensions for high-level public officials. However, several modifications during its passage through the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate meant that the savings for the public treasury were slightly less than Guedes had envisaged. Still, it is a big step forward considering that the pension system had a deficit of 195 billion reais (about $47 billion) in 2018. This deficit is due to the fact that Brazil had one of the highest benefit systems in the world with the fewest demands, with many people retiring at the age of 55 on 70 per cent of their original salary.

This measure, together with several other adjustments in the public accounts, including the freezing of some ministerial expenditures, reduced the public deficit by 138.218 billion dollars in January (6.67% of GDP) to 97.68 billion dollars in November (5.91% of GDP), the most leave since the economic recession began five years ago. Among other relevant data is the drop in the Central Bank's base interest rate to a historic low of 4.5%, while the unemployment rate fell from 12% to 11.2%.

result As a result, Brazil's GDP has increased by 1.1 per cent, a timid but promising figure considering the huge recession from which Brazil has just emerged. Growth forecasts for 2020 vary between 2.3 and 3 per cent of GDP, depending on the approval of the long-awaited tax reforms and management assistant.


Another reason for the controversial captain of reservation to become president was Brazil's historic crime problem. Just as Bolsonaro came up with a strong name to tackle the economic status , for security he recruited Sergio Moro, a former federal judge known for his indispensable role in Operação Lava Jato, Brazil's biggest anti-corruption operation, which led to the imprisonment of former president Lula himself. With the goal to fight corruption, reduce criminality and dynamite the power of organised crime, Moro was put in charge of a merger of Departments, the new Ministry of Justice and Public Security.

In general, the result has been quite positive, with a B decrease of issue in violent crime. Thus, there has been a 22% reduction in homicides, which is one of the most worrying indicators in Brazil, as it is the country with the highest absolute issue number of homicides in the world per year.

Among the factors that explain this drop in violent crime, the main one is the greater integration between the different institutions of state security forces (federal, state and municipal). The transfer of gang leaders to prisons with a higher level of isolation, thus preventing them from communicating with other members of organised crime, has also played a role. Another element has been the recent"anti-crime pack" C , which consists of a series of laws and reforms to the penal code to give more power to state security forces, as well as stiffer penalties for violent crime, organised crime and corruption.

In contrast to these developments, there has also been an increase in the number of accidental deaths in police operations. Some cases have been echoed in public opinion, such as that of an artist who ended up shot in his car when the police mistook him for a drug trafficker, or those of children killed by stray bullets in shoot-outs between drug gangs and the security forces. This, together with controversial statements by the head of state on the issue, has fuelled criticism from most of civil service examination and several human rights NGOs.

Social policy and infrastructure

In terms of social policies, the past year has been far from the apocalyptic dystopia that was expected (due to Bolsonaro's previous attitude towards homosexuals, Afro-Brazilians and women), although it has not been as remarkable as in the previously mentioned sections. There has been no progress in areas core topic, but neither have there been notable changes in terms of social policy compared to 2018. For example, the emblematic social programme Bolsa Família, created during the Lula government and which greatly helped to reduce extreme poverty, has not been cancelled.

Starting with Education, at the end of 2019 Brazil came out with one of the lowest report PISA scores, a fact that the minister of education, Abraham Weintraub, blamed on the "Education progressive Marxist mood of previous administrations". As result of the failure of the regular public system, and even the lack of security of some centres, the government has openly promoted the construction of new civic-military Education centres by state governments. In such a subject centre, students receive a Education based on military values while the officers themselves provide protection in these public spaces. It should be noted that the existing schools are among the highest ranked in Brazil on subject in terms of educational quality. However, this is not without controversy, as there are many who consider that this is not an adequate solution, as it may end up educating from a militaristic perspective.

On subject health, the most notable event this year was the end of the health cooperation programme with Cuba, Mais Médicos. goal This agreement was launched in 2013, during Dilma Rousseff's term in office, and its aim was to provide a larger and more extensive universal medical service attendance through the contracting of several doctors 'exported' by the Castro government. The programme was criticised because the Cuban doctors only received 25% of the salary provided by the Brazilian government and the remaining 75% was retained by Havana. Bolsonaro broke the agreement, thus causing vacancies in staff health care that could be filled in a short time. Cuban professionals were given the opportunity to remain in Brazil under political asylum if they revalidated their degree program in medicine in the Brazilian system. This incident has not brought about a significant change in the precarious national health system; the only consequence has been the deterioration of relations with Cuba.

Despite not making much progress on the social front, the Bolsonaro administration has made improvements in national logistics infrastructure. Under the command of the military's Tarcisio Gomes de Freitas, the Ministry of Infrastructure has stood out for its ability to complete works not finished by previous governments. This led to a noticeable difference in the issue and quality of operational roads, railways and airports compared to the previous year. Among the sources of financing for new works is the reopening of a pooled fund established in 2017 between Brazilian and Chinese financial institutions, worth US$100 billion.


visit Bolsonaro with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an official visit to New Delhi in late January [Alan Santos, PR] [Alan Santos, PR].

visit Bolsonaro with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an official visit to New Delhi in late January [Alan Santos, PR] [Alan Santos, PR].



One of the areas most feared to be harmed by Jair Bolsonaro's administration was environmental policy. This concern was heightened by the controversial fires in the Amazon during July and August. To begin with, the Ministry of the Environment, like all the others, was affected by the austerity policies of Paulo Guedes, in order to balance the public accounts, although according to Minister Ricardo Salles himself, it was the one that suffered the least from the budget cuts. As a result, forest protection was compromised at the beginning of the drought period in the Amazon.

Seeing the 278% increase in deforestation in July, Bolsonaro reacted impulsively and fired the director of the high school Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciales (INPE), accusing him of favouring civil service examination and conspiring against him. The status prompted the departure from the Amazon Protection Fund of Germany and Norway, the two largest contributors, which was met with criticism from Bolsonaro, who also accused the NGOs of being the cause of the fires. Finally, under international pressure, Bolsonaro finally reacted and decided to send in the army to fight the flames. goal which he achieved in just under a month, reaching the highest number on record in October leave .

In the end, the annual total ended up 30% higher than the previous year's figure, but still within the average range of the last two decades. However, the damage to the national image was already done. Bolsonaro, thanks to his rivalry with the media, his vehement eagerness to defend "national sovereignty" and his lack of restraint when speaking, had managed to be seen as the culprit of a distorted catastrophe.

Additionally, at the end of the year, yet another controversy hit the Bolsonaro administration: the mysterious oil spill off Brazil's northeast coast. Thousands of kilometres of beaches were affected and to this day there is still no official culprit for the crime. There were several hypotheses on the matter; the most widely accepted, which was also supported by the government, was that the spill came from an illegal shipment of Venezuelan oil attempting to circumvent the trade blockade imposed on Maduro's regime. According to analyses carried out by the Universidade da Bahia, the structure of the oil was indeed very similar to that of crude oil from Venezuelan fields.

Foreign policy

In foreign policy Bolsonaro can distinguish himself rhetorically from his predecessors, but not in terms of his actions. Although he would like to apply his ideology in this area, he himself has accepted that this is not possible. In the face of the strength and interests of state institutions, such as the diplomatic tradition of Itamaraty (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Brazilian foreign policy has remained as pragmatic and neutral as in all previous democratic governments, thus avoiding the closing of doors for ideological reasons.

A good example of Brazilian pragmatism is the economic rapprochement with China, despite Bolsonaro's rejection of communist ideology. This does not mean, however, that he has distanced himself from his quasi-natural ally in terms of ideology, Donald Trump. However, the relationship with the US has been of a different nature, as there has been greater proximity in international cooperation and security. The US pushed for Brazil's designation as a strategic NATO partner , reached a agreement for the use of the Alcântara space base, very close to the Equator, and supports Brazil's entrance in the OECD.

In the economic sphere, however, there does not seem to be such closeness, and there have even been some frictions. One of these was Trump's threat to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium from Brazil and Argentina, which he finally withdrew, although the damage to trade relations and the São Paulo and Buenos Aires stock markets had already been done. Some analysts even suggest that the lack of reciprocity from the US on subject , as well as the rejection by some EU members of the agreement with Mercosur, was what pushed Bolsonaro to seek a compensatory relationship with the BRICS, whose 2019 summit took place in Brasilia.

Another peculiar point of Bolsonaro's foreign policy has been his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which once again sample shows the inconsistency between rhetoric and action. During the election campaign Bolsonaro promised on several occasions to move the Brazilian embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, something that has so far not happened and only an economic office has been relocated. Bolsonaro probably feared trade reprisals from Arab countries, to which Brazil exports products, mostly meat, worth almost 12 billion dollars. Prudence on this issue even earned him the signature of several agreements with Persian Gulf countries.

Despite the above, there has been one aspect of foreign policy in which Bolsonaro has managed to impose his ideology against the 'historical pragmatism' of the Itamaraty, and that is the Latin American sphere. Brazil ceased to be the theoretically neutral giant that timidly supported the so-called Socialism of the 21st century during the Lula and Dilma governments, and now coordinates with the governments of the other political side.

Most notable is his enmity with Nicolás Maduro, as well as with former president Evo Morales, whose request to pass through Brazilian territory was openly denied by Bolsonaro. There has also been a distancing from the returning Peronism in Argentina, with the absence of Bolsonaro and any high-ranking Brazilian representative at the inauguration ceremony of Kirchner's Alberto Fernández. In the same context are the approaches to Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Colombia, as well as the new Bolivian government provisional , with which Bolsonaro sees more similarities. With them he has promoted the creation of PROSUR as opposed to the former UNASUR controlled by the Bolivarian left. Even so, despite having adopted a more ideological policy in the region, Brazil continues to maintain diplomatic cordiality since, although its leader takes liberal conservatism to extremes in his rhetoric, his policies in the region hardly differ from those of other right-wing governments.


In general, as has been shown, Bolsonaro's government has achieved positive results in its first year, mainly highlighting its progress in the areas of security and Economics. However, while the work of various ministers has improved perceptions of the administration, Bolsonaro himself does not appear to be making a particularly positive contribution. Throughout the year, he has generated controversy over unimportant issues, which has accentuated his previous enmity with most of the press.

As a result, the president's public image has gradually deteriorated. At the end of 2019 his popularity stood at 30%, compared to the 57.5% he started the year with. This contrasts with the approval rating of members of his government, especially Sergio Moro, who has managed to remain unmoved above 50%. In addition, his son Flavio, who is a senator, has come under investigation for a possible corruption case, in a process that the president has sought to prevent. Bolsonaro also caused a scandal in the middle of the year when he tried to appoint his son Eduardo as ambassador to Washington and was accused of nepotism. In addition to the tensions in his own party, which led to a split, there is little rapport between Bolsonaro and the presidents of both chambers of the fractured congress Nacional, both of whom are under investigation in conveniently stalled anti-corruption operations.


All this chaos caused by the president gives the impression of a Bolsonaro who goes against the tide of his own government. The apparent success of the reforms already carried out ends up being tainted by the impulsiveness and personal interests of the man who once defended the impersonality of the state, which ends up causing the deterioration of his political image. In addition, there is the recent release of former president Lula, which entails the risk of the unification of the civil service examination, depending on how moderate speech is adopted. This being the case, it is possible that Bolsonaro's headless but efficient government will not find it easy to stay in power until the end of its term. It should be remembered that the hand of Brazil's congress does not usually tremble when it comes to impeachments; in little more than three decades there have already been two.

Categories Global Affairs: World order, diplomacy and governance Analysis Latin America

Increasingly distant from the Alliance, Turkey is creating discomfort among its Western partners, but is unlikely to be invited to leave.

Its strategy in the Syrian conflict, its rapprochement with Russia through the acquisition of the S-400 anti-aircraft system and its desire for projection in the eastern Mediterranean, where it is damaging Greek interests, have brought Ankara into ongoing friction with NATO over the past few years. But the Alliance is not in a position to do without Turkey. Not only is its geographic status valuable as a bridge between East and West, but without Turkey NATO would be less able geopolitically to act against terrorism or control refugee movements and its military defence capabilities as an alliance would be diminished.

meeting between the presidents of Turkey and Russia in Istanbul in January 2020 [Turkish Presidency].

meeting between the Presidents of Turkey and Russia in Istanbul in January 2020 [Turkish Presidency].

article / Ángel Martos

Relations between the Atlantic Alliance and the Republic of Turkey are at their most tense in recent history. Ankara's foreign policy has been in a state of flux given the instability of its governments since the death of the Father of the Fatherland, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The Kemalist republic projected a very different image of Asia Minor than the one we know today: the secularism and westernisation that characterised its bequest has been replaced by a moderate Islamic-tinged authoritarianism (according to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, president of the Republic and leader of the training AKP).

This profound evolution has been reflected in the field of International Office, as is to be expected. The doctrine of neo-Ottomanism has gained ground among its foreign policy makers. Turkey now seeks to exploit to the full its position as a bridge between Western and Eastern civilisation, while gaining influence among its adjacent states and emerging as the stabiliser of the Middle East.

In this scenario, the main headache for Western statesmen is the substantial improvement in Anatolia's relations with NATO's arch-enemy Russia. This improvement cannot be understood without recalling a series of events that have led Turkey to distance itself from the European continent: the lukewarm reaction of Western governments to the 2016 coup d'état; the reticence shown towards the continuous requests for extradition of Fetulah Gülen's refugee followers in the EU and the US; Greece's refusal to extradite military refugees after the coup; the European Commission's continuous condemnations of Turkey's domestic politics; and, above all, the truncated dream of Turkey's accession to the EU. This is why Turkey has decided to redefine its diplomacy in its own interests alone, swinging between Russia's financial aid and NATO's . The acquisition of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft system and its recent operations in Northeast Syria are examples of this.

The purchase of the aforementioned long-range anti-aircraft missile system is the subject of much controversy within NATO. Turkey's urgent need for such a system is obvious as it faces potential ballistic missile threats from neighbouring countries. But the choice of the Russian S-400 system, after several years of negotiations during which it was not possible to reach an agreement on agreement for the acquisition of the US Patriot system, has caused a real earthquake and Turkey's continued participation in the F-35 fifth-generation fighter programme has even been called into question. Political considerations seem to have outweighed technical aspects in the decision, as the two systems are incompatible and, being strategic-level weapon systems, both from an operational and geopolitical point of view, their employment by an Atlantic Alliance country is problematic. The Alliance is concerned about the Kremlin's access to Alliance information through its radar technology.

The other development that raises questions about the future of Ankara's relations with NATO was the recent Turkish military operation in northern Syria. The Turkish military launched an offensive against Kurdish militias (YPG, which it considers terrorists) in northern Syria on 9 October. The attention to the Kurdish people is the major point of contention between the US and Turkey, as they are staunch allies of the superpower, but at the same time a political and security threat to the stability of Anatolia.

Ankara had been pressing the US to establish a 'safe zone' into Syrian territory and had repeatedly threatened to launch unilateral military action if Washington continued to stand in its way. In early October, the US gave the go-ahead for the operation by ordering its military deployed in Syria to withdraw from the border area. The Trump administration thus abandoned the Kurds with whom it was fighting the Islamic State to their fate, giving Turkey the leeway for greater control of its border with Syria.

The next aspect that must be mentioned when describing the complex relations between Ankara and NATO is the ongoing geopolitical struggle between Greece and Turkey. Although both have been NATO members since the 1950s, relations between these two Eastern Mediterranean countries have always been characterised by a permanent perceived tension that has some consequences for supranational military cooperation. The three main disputes that have shaped this bilateral confrontation since the late 19th century are worth mentioning here: the sovereignty of the Dodecanese archipelago, that of present-day Cyprus, and the maritime dispute over the Aegean shelf. Such was the magnitude of the dispute that the Greek government went so far as to decree its withdrawal from NATO in 1974, although it later rejoined.

While this Greek-Turkish conflict was at its height in the second half of the twentieth century, there are many ethnic and historical aspects that make the two countries seem irreconcilable, except in historically specific exceptions. This means that the eastern flank of the Mediterranean, given its proximity to the volatile Middle East area , has been a constant source of concern for NATO leaders. While Greece has managed, following its transition to democracy, to emerge as a stable NATO ally, Turkey has not followed suit. This undoubtedly works against it both in domestic politics and in its aspirations for maritime sovereignty.

Historically, it is worth noting Turkey's growing role as an inter-regional mediator between the Middle East and the West. Perhaps in response to a strategy designed by Ahmet Davutoglu, who was foreign minister under the AKP government, Turkey sought to distance itself from the US under Bush Jr. Its refusal to collaborate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq won it some sympathy in the region, which it has been able to use in countries as diverse as Iraq, Israel and Iran. However, over the years the Islamist government has repeatedly spoken out against Zionism and the threat it poses to the stability of the region.

Its estrangement from the EU and its rapprochement with Russia at subject has also marked the Turkish administration's image in the Alliance. Relations with Russia, despite having been marked by political disputes such as those over Kurdish and Chechen self-determination (antagonistically supported by both countries), are kept afloat by the hydrocarbon trade. The picture is thus more favourable to the Russian axis than the American-Israeli one in the region. This logically undermines NATO's confidence in this "hinge" country, which is no longer sample interested in acting as such but as an independent and sovereign power pursuing its own interests, seeking support from the Alliance or the East as it sees fit.

This shift away from NATO's roadmap by the Turkish government, coupled with a rapprochement in some respects with the Kremlin and the authoritarian drift of the country's presidency, has prompted analysts and international leaders to open up discussion about a possible expulsion of the Asian Minor Republic from the Alliance. However, it is unlikely that the allies will decide to ignore Turkey's strategic importance. Its geographic status makes it a bridge country between East and West. Without Turkey, NATO would be less able geopolitically to act, for example, in terms of counter-terrorism or controlling refugee movements. Moreover, Turkey has the second largest military of all NATO states: exclusion would severely affect its military defence capabilities as an alliance. On the other hand, Turkey's representations in NATO, while critical of NATO as the Trump administration has repeatedly been, have not expressed a clear desire to leave unilaterally.

Categories Global Affairs: Middle East World order, diplomacy and governance Articles

[Jim Sciutto, The Shadow War: Inside Russia's and China's Secret Operations to Defeat America. Hasper-Collins. New York, 2019. 308 p.]

review / Álvaro de Lecea

The Shadow War: Inside Russia's and China's Secret Operations to Defeat AmericaWith the end of the Cold War, which pitted the former Soviet Union against the victorious United States of America, the international system shifted from bipolar to a hegemony led by the latter. With the United States in the lead, the West focused on the spread of democracy and commercial globalisation, and if anything the geo-strategic preoccupation of the West was focused on the Al-Qaeda attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11, so the focus of attention shifted and today's Russia was pushed into the background. However, Russia continued to slowly reconstitute itself in the shadow of its old enemy, which no longer showed much interest. Russia was joined by China, which began to grow by leaps and bounds. At this point, the United States began to realise that it had two major powers on its heels and that it was engaged in a war it did not even know existed: the Shadow War.

This is the term used by Jim Sciutto, CNN's chief national security correspondent, to describe what he describes in detail throughout his book and what has largely come to be known as hybrid or grey zone warfare. Sciutto prefers to speak of Shadow War, which could be translated as war in the shadows, because this better denotes its character of invisibility under the radar of open or conventional warfare.

This new war was started by Russia and China, not as allies, but as powers with a common enemy: the United States. It is a hybrid war subject and therefore contains both military and non-military methods. On the other hand, it does not envisage a direct military confrontation between the two blocs. In The Shadow War: Inside Russia's and China's Secret Operations to Defeat America, Sciutto explains seven situations in which the strategies being pursued by China and Russia to defeat the United States in order to become the world's major powers and impose their own international norms can be clearly observed.

First, it is important to note that Russia and China, while pursuing similar strategies, are different types of adversaries: on the one hand, China is a rising power, while Russia is more of a declining power that is trying to return to its former self. Nevertheless, both share a number of similarities. First, both seek to expand their influence in their own regions. Second, both are suffering from a crisis of legitimacy within their borders. Third, both seek to right the wrongs of history and restore what they perceive as their countries' legitimate positions as world leaders. And finally, they possess great national unity, so that the majority of their populations would do whatever is necessary for their nation.

In the shadow war, thanks to the rules established by Russia and China, any major actor can win, regardless of its power or influence over other international actors. Following the theories of International Office, these rules could be considered to follow a very realistic patron saint , since, in a way, anything goes to win. The power of lies and deception is the order of the day, and lines that were thought unthinkable are crossed. Examples of this, as the book explains and elaborates, are the militarisation of the artificial islands built by China in the South China Sea when Xi Jinping himself had promised not to do so, or the hacking of the Democratic Party's computer system in the 2016 US election campaign by Russian hackers, which may have helped Donald Trump emerge victorious.

To all this must be added an essential part of what is happening in this context of non-traditional warfare: the particularly mistaken idea that the United States has about everything that is happening. To begin with, the first mistake the US made, as Sciutto explains, was to neglect Russia as a relevant focus in the international arena. It believed that, having defeated it in the Cold War, the country would no longer re-emerge as a power, and so failed to see the clear clues that it was slowly growing, led by President Vladimir Putin. Similarly, it failed to understand the Chinese government's true intentions in situations such as the South China Sea or the degree program submarines. All of this can be summed up as the US believing that all international actors would play by the rules established by Washington after the Cold War, without imagining that they would create a new scenario. In conclusion, the US did not understand its opponents.

In his latest chapter, Sciutto makes it clear that the US is currently losing the war. Its biggest mistake was not realising status until it was in front of it and it now finds itself playing on a disadvantaged stage. It is true that the US remains the world leader in many respects, but Russia and China are overtaking it in others, following the new rules they themselves have set. However, a change of attitude in US policies could turn the tide. The author proposes a number of solutions that could help the US get back in the lead.

The solutions he proposes focus, in the first place, on the total knowledge of the enemy and its strategy. This has always been his great disadvantage and would be the first step to begin to control status. Similarly, it recommends greater unity within the Allied bloc, as well as an improvement of its own defences. He also recommends a better understanding of the new scenario in which the whole conflict is taking place, and therefore a series of international treaties regulating these new spaces, such as cyberspace, would be of great help financial aid. Further on, he proposes setting clear limits on enemy actions, raising the costs and consequences of such actions. Finally, it encourages the US to exercise clear leadership.

In conclusion, Sciutto's thesis is that the United States finds itself fighting a war whose existence it has only just discovered. It is a subject war that it is not used to and with a set of rules that are alien to what it preaches. While it is still the leader of the current international system, it finds itself losing the game because China and Russia have been able to discover its rival's weaknesses and use them to its advantage. America's biggest mistake was to ignore all the signs of this shadow war and do nothing about it. New scenarios have been introduced and the rules of the game have been changed, so the US, if it wants to turn status around and once again emerge as the victor, the author argues, will have to unite more than ever internally as a nation and strengthen its alliances, and know its enemies and their intentions better than ever before.

In terms of a evaluation of the book, it can be said that it succeeds in concisely and clearly conveying the most relevant points of this new contest. It manages to make clear the strengths and weaknesses of each actor and to take stock of the current status . However, the author does not manage to be too goal judgemental. While admitting the failings of the US, he gives a negative picture of its rivals, taking for granted who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Objectivity is lacking in some cases, as the good guys are not always so good and the bad guys are not always so bad. That said, Sciutto provides a great analysis of the current international status in which the world's major powers find themselves.

Categories Global Affairs: North America World order, diplomacy and governance Book reviews

Will success in parts of the Vision 2030's diary -like diversifying the economy- have a parallel opening up to religious moderation?

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in a recent Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Chairs Cabinet's Session [Saudi Press Agency].

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in a recent Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Chairs Cabinet's Session [Saudi Press Agency] [Saudi Press Agency].

ANALYSIS / Marina García Reina

Since King Salman first envisioned the need of a reform of Saudi Arabia towards a less dependent economy on petroleum, gradual changes have been done upon the aim of progress, and, in a more precise way, not to be left behind in the world race led by western countries and the booming Asian giants. The crown prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud has positioned himself as the leader of the shift towards a religiously moderate Saudi Arabia within the frame of the Vision 2030 initiative. Predictably, however, the reforms held in the country have been subject to numerous criticisms and double readings.

A succinct contextualization

It is convenient to recall the year 1979, when Shiite militants overthrew the secular Shah of Iran and Sunni fundamentalists besieged the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) in Mecca. That same year, the country's Shiite minority started a revolt in Al-Hasa province, resulting in numerous deaths. The Saudi monarchy responded to those mishaps by moving closer to the Wahhabi (an extremely conservative conception of Islam) religious establishment and restoring many of its hardline stances. As a result, for instance, the government shut down the few cinemas that existed in the kingdom. It was not till 2015 (or 2014, depending on which reforms to base on) when King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud -along with Mohammed bin Salman (popularly known as MBS), who he promoted to crown prince-, proclaimed reforms in Saudi Arabia towards a more moderate political scenario, opening up a new era of Saudi politics. The two expressed their will to limit the authority of the religious police to arrest citizens. They allowed the first cinemas and music concerts since decades of prohibitions, condemned religious incitement, and gradually granted women several rights.

Vision 2030

First conceived by King Salman, Vision 2030 is meant to be the decisive plan to transform the country by a sweep in economy and society, and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman himself has positioned as its spearhead. It is basically the headline upon which all the modernization changes are framed. The plan aims to face the three major challenges that Saudi Arabia has nowadays: unemployment, diversification, and privatisation.

It is worth mentioning that in contrast to the great majority of western countries, Saudi Arabia has a growing youthful population. Approximately, 70% of Saudi population is under 30 and the 29% of Saudis between 16 and 29 are unemployed. Vision 2030 includes greater investments in education to train future Saudi leaders, which seems quite unnecessary when noticing that Saudi citizens pay no taxes and receive free education (making up 25% of the total budget), free health care and subsidies for most utilities.

Economy is something that has been worrying most Saudis, since the country's economy is almost entirely based on petroleum and recently the price of a barrel of oil has ranged between about $46 and $64 in 2019, much lower that what it has ranked for years. Diversifying the economy is crucial for the progress of Saudi Arabia. All in all, Vision 2030 will rely on earnings coming from the Aramco's IPO (initial public offering), which will be placed in a sovereign wealth fund -also sourced by Saudi fiscal assets and the sale of state-owned real estate and other government assets-, expectedly resulting into an investment-driven economy rather than a petroleum-based one as it has been for decades. It has also cast serious doubts the nature of the measures that are being developing to modernize the country, especially because the social aspects have been left apart by, for instance, the construction of Neom, a planned futuristic city in the middle of the desert, which is meant to be the great achievement of the crown prince MBS.

Additionally, the initiative has been configured as the political rebirth of the crown prince in the eyes of the international sphere, since it means diminishing the role of government by selling Aramco's 5% of shares to investors, even so, the enterprise still is under tight control of the royal family. Without going any further, Khaled Al-Falih, the chairman of Aramco, is also the new minister of Energy, Industry, and Natural Resources, which once again brings to light the relation between these two.

The stated target is to increase the private sector's contribution to GDP from 40% today to 65% by 2030. Much of this private sector growth will come through public-private partnerships, as said before, high-positioned Saudis will have been directly or indirectly pressured to invest in the IPO. The Saudi government has been criticised on several occasions for being corrupted and showing a lack of transparency over its acts. In this area, Vision 2030 hopes to ensure the law and the obligation of honestly reporting every business activities. Under proposal of MBS a follow-up department, headed by a ministerial rank official, has been set up to follow the implementation by government ministries of projects that have been approved.

Anti-terrorist positioning and extremist ideologies

Mohammed bin Salman has severely expressed his aim of not only dealing with extremist ideologies, but also of destroying them. As part of this determination, some clerics, which are meant to form part of the extremist ideology that the leader seems to condemn, have been targeted.

Nevertheless, organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists have demonstrated that these presumed extremist clerics have long records of advocating the type of reform and religious moderation MBS asserts to support. For instance, in September 2017, numerous clerics, journalists and scholars known for their reluctance to MBS policy, which they consider as half-measured and not going straight to the point, were arrested by Saudi security forces. On the other hand, certain state clerics continue unpunished despite publicly criticizing the reforms and inciting hatred against the Shia minority. In particular, two members of the Council of Senior Scholars -the highest religious body in the country, whose role is to advise the King on religious matters by issuing fatwas (judicial advice provided by a religious specialist)- have been in the spotlight for years. These are Saleh al-Fawzan and Samm leh al-Lohaidan, both close to bin Salman. These two scholars are owners of broadcasting channels funded and promoted by the Saudi government from which they divulge their ultra-conservative view of Islam and condemn with the death penalty whatever they consider as violations of religious and moral rules contrary to Islam. An example of such are the declarations made saying that Shiites are not Muslims or that Muslims are not allowed to protest or even publicly criticize rulers as this would lead to rebellion that would in turn justify rulers' violent response, like those held in 2017.

Together with these personalities, there are others who also hold high-rank positions in the country's politics and government. Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, for example, is the grand mufti (muslim religious who has the authority to interpret Sharia) of Saudi Arabia. In that capacity, he has issued numerous fatwas and statements preaching the virtues of obedience to existing authorities and submitting to their policies without question. This, once again, raises the question of whether or not Saudi Arabia is actually cleansing extremist ideologies. Some, as Abdullah Almalki -a religious academic-, argue that the sovereignty and free choice of the people must have precedence over any desire to implement Sharia and that justice and free choice must be the pillars of any political community.

Almalki's father, Salman Alodah, like himself, advocates religious tolerance against calls of jihad in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, calling for a democratic change, supporting the empowerment of women, fighting against discrimination, and respecting the religious minorities who are marginalized in the Kingdom. Both Almalki and Alodah were also arrested in the 2017 detentions and referred the following year to court for a secret trial -something that has become common when the accused are moderate voices, feminists and intellectuals-, facing death penalty for their extra-progressive views. Besides these cases, probably the best known one was that of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi's murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

In contrast to some of these powerful men characterised by their severe religious stances, the Saudi society as a whole holds a somewhat more nuanced view of Islam and does not completely identify with them. On this, it is worth recalling the attack on the Shia mosques carried out by Daesh in May 2015. The event was followed by mass funerals in the Saudi streets, which exposed the unity of the Saudi people above sectarian lines.

Al Qaida was apparently eradicated from the country and, as a result of that, it moved its operations to Yemen, where Saudi Arabia's military force together partnered with the UAE -with limited US support, it must be said- and the Yemeni government forces have been doing efforts to combat it, achieving, for instance, the liberation of Mukalla. Specifically, Saudi Arabia blames the failing states of Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen as the reason why Al Qaida has not yet been definitively eradicated.

The Iraqi government broke down after the US invasion in 2003, which led to a sectarian and corrupt government. In Syria, Bashar al Assad led the military uprising and breakdown of authority, providing al Qaida refuge, although he continuously expressed he was combating terrorists, actually al Qaida freely operated in both sides of the border. Saudi Arabia claims that further efforts must be made to remove Assad as an essential part of the battle against terrorism in the region. It also advocates efforts at the international level to stop with the use by terrorists of pro-Palestine propaganda to recruit young members.  

Aramco and the oil crisis

Petroleum prices have dropped considerably in recent years, exacerbating the need of a side Saudi economy which does not revolve around oil. This has become a rough task, taking into account that the petroleum sector employs around 70% of the population in Saudi Arabia. Aramco's IPO, which promises to sell shares to investors, has become the centre of the Vision 2030 initiative for Mohammed bin Salman.

The reasons behind the IPO are two: money -Saudi Arabia needs greater money inputs in order to accomplish the reform plans and finance the war in Yemen- and the political rehabilitation of the crown prince (MBS) under the consent of the international sphere, portraying, in a way, that the IPO may not be motivated that much because of an economic interest (which of course it is) but more deeply because of a political benefit of claiming that Saudis are opened to the world by selling part of Aramco to foreigners.

The tremendous expectation raised around the IPO can be interpreted as a way of starting attention of the incidents of 2017 and Khashoggi's murder mentioned before. Aramco's initial public offering, which started this last December in Tadawul (Saudi Arabia's domestic stock market), went resoundingly bad after the US attack in Baghdad resulting in the death of the Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani as well as the Iraqi-Iranian deputy chief of the armed organisation Popular Mobilization Committee. Shares of the State petroleum company have dropped in a 1.7%. However, in spite of this event, Aramco's IPO went reasonably well and the company managed to be valued at $2 billion, which is not surprising considering that the Saudi government has actively encouraged Saudis to invest, meaning that there are investors (people within the orbit of the royal court and big business) who have no choice in the matter because their livelihoods and stature are dependent on proving they support Mohammed bin Salman's program and retail investors who will invest because of all the hoopla and nationalist sentiment whipped up around the offering.

Women and the guardianship rule

Undoubtedly, changes have been done within the Saudi State to overcome the lack of involvement of women in everyday life. As an example of it, the permission to drive automobiles extended to women has found a significant echo globally. Women make up half of the population in Saudi Arabia. As part of the Saudi transformation of its economy plan, there is a need beyond the sole fact of integrating women in society, namely that of integrating this half of the Saudi population into the labor force.

Women conform nowadays just the 7% of the work force. After the implementation of the Vision 2030 plan, the number is expected to rise up to a 30% by that year. Following a worldwide tendency, more women than men graduate from universities in all disciplines. Furthermore, thanks to efforts attributed to the crown prince and to King Abdullah before him, women can be members of the Consultative Assembly since 2014. Currently, they occupy 20% of its seats. In September 2011, King Abdullah granted women the right to vote, a right they exercised in 2015 for the first time.

Further changes have been done within the country in favour of integrating women, which have gone unnoticed by the public eye. Princess Reema bin Bandar al Saud is an example of that. As president of the Saudi Federation for Community Sport, she has developed different initiatives, together with other ministries, to promote women; for instance, by creating football leagues. Moreover, opening women access to the armed forces has also been a huge step forward considering the impact in the shift of gender perspective. It cannot be omitted that Saudi Arabia has been for decades an extremely conservative country and that what may be seen as basic things for westerners in the 21st century, supposes a top-down reform within their principles, especially considering that they are being introduced in a considerably short time.


Saudi Arabia is facing -and will face in the following years- great challenges to redirect the country's economy into one less dependent on oil, and to reeducate a youth that has been raised up with almost everything being granted by the government. Finally, there is also the challenge of making bin Salman's vision more translatable to the western public, which, as said, see the reforms with some skepticism, notwithstanding official energetic and ambitious proclamations. As a summary, society, diversification of economy and governance and bylaws are crucial for the Saudi progress. What is true is that, regardless the reticence of Westerners, MBS has gained huge support among his compatriots and is thought to be the reformer he repeatedly self-proclaims to be. This may lead us, Westerners, to consider whether an Islamic conception of renovation of Islam in appliance to govern is similar, and if so, to which extent, to our own conception of it.

Categories Global Affairs: Middle East World order, diplomacy and governance Analysis

[Barbara Demick, Dear Leader. Living in North Korea. Turner. Madrid, 2011. 382 pages]

review / Isabel López

All dictatorships are the same to some extent. Regimes such as Stalin's, Mao's, Ceausescu's or Saddam Hussein's shared the installation of statues of these leaders in the main squares and their portraits in every corner... However, Kim Il-sung took the cult of personality in North Korea further. What set him apart from the rest was his ability to exploit the power of faith. That is, he understood very well the power of religion. He used faith to attribute to himself supernatural powers that served to glorify him staff, as if he were a God.

This is what it looks like in Dear Leader. Living in North Korea, by journalist Barbara Demick, who worked as a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times in Seoul. The book chronicles the lives of six North Koreans from the city of Chongjin, located in the far north of the country. Through these six profiles, from people belonging to the class more leave, called Beuhun, to the class Demick exposes the different stages that have marked the history of North Korea.

Until the conquest and occupation of Japan in the 1905 war, the Korean empire ruled. During the rule of the neighboring country, Koreans were forced to pay high taxes and young men were taken with the Japanese army to fight in the Pacific War. After the withdrawal of Japanese troops in 1945, a new problem arose as the Soviet Union had occupied part of northern Korea. This led to the U.S. getting involved to slow the advance of the Russians. As a consequence, the territory was divided into two zones: the southern part occupied by the United States and the northern part occupied by the Soviet Union. In 1950 both factions were embroiled in the Korean War, which ended in 1953.

After the armistice there was a exchange Communist forces released thousands of people, more than half of whom were South Koreans. However, thousands of others never returned home. The freed prisoners were loaded into wagons departing from the Pyongyang station with the presumed intention of returning them to their place of origin in the south, but in reality they were driven to the coal mines of northern Korea, on the border with China. As a result of the war, the population had mixed and it was not possible to distinguish between North and South Koreans.

At the end of the war, Kim Il-sung, leader of the Workers' Party, began by purging all those who might endanger his leadership, based on a criterion of political reliability. Between 1960 and 1970, a regime was established that the author describes as one of terror and chaos. Each citizen's background was subjected to eight checks and a classification was established based on the past of their relatives, eventually becoming a caste system as rigid as India's. This structure was largely based on the system of Confucius, although the less amiable elements of it were adopted. Finally, the social categories were grouped into three classes: the principal, the vacillating, and the hostile. The latter included soothsayers, artists, and prisoners of war, among others.

Those belonging to the class more leave They had no right to live in the capital or in the most fertile areas and were closely watched by their neighbors. In addition, the so-called inminban were created, a term that reference letter to the cooperatives formed by about twenty families who managed their respective neighborhoods and who were responsible for transmitting any suspicion to the authorities. It was impossible to rise through the ranks, so it was passed down from generation to generation.

Children were taught respect for the party and hatred for Americans. The Education It was compulsory until the age of 15. From then on, only children belonging to the upper classes were admitted to the school. Education high school. The smartest and prettiest girls were taken to work for Kim Il-sung.

Until the end of the 1960s, North Korea seemed much stronger than South Korea. This caused public opinion in Japan to align itself in two camps, those who supported South Korea and those who sympathized with the North, called Chosen Soren. Thousands of people succumbed to the propaganda. The Japanese who emigrated to North Korea lived in a different world from the North Koreans since they received money and gifts from their families, although they had to give part of the money to the regime. However, they were considered part of the class hostile, since the regime did not trust anyone wealthy who was not a member of the party. Their power depended on their ability to totally isolate the citizens.

The book chronicles Japan's relationship with North Korea and its influence on the development economic of this. When Japan decided to build an empire in the early 20th century, it occupied Manchuria and took over the iron and coal deposits near Musan. For the transport of the booty, the city of Chongjin was chosen as a strategic port. Between 1910 and 1950 the Japanese erected huge steel mills and founded the city of Nanam, in which large buildings were built. development of North Korea. Kim Il-sung exhibited industrial power by taking credit for it and did not recognize any of Japan's credits. North Korean authorities took control of the industry and then installed missiles aimed at Japan.

The author also describes the lives of women workers in the factories that supported the development of the country. Factories depended on women because of the lack of male labor. A factory worker's routine, which was considered a privileged position, consisted of eight hours a day, seven days a week, plus the added hours to continue her work. training Ideological. Assemblies such as the socialist women's assembly and self-criticism sessions were also organized.

On the other hand, it emphasizes the extent to which people were molded, that they were regenerated to see Kim Il-sung as a great father and protector. In his purpose Kim Il-sung developed a new philosophical system based on the thesis Marxists and Leninists called Juche, which translates as self-confidence. He made the Korean people see that he was special and that he had been the chosen people. This thought captivated a community that had been trampled by its neighbors for centuries. He taught that the strength of human beings came from the ability to submit their individual will to the collective and that this collectivity should be ruled by an absolute leader, Kim Il-sung.

However, this idea was not enough for the leader, who also wanted to be loved. The author states that he "did not want to be seen as Stalin but as Santa Claus": he should be considered as a father in the Confucian style. Indoctrination began in kindergartens. For the next few years they wouldn't listen to any songs, they wouldn't read any article that he was not deifying the figure of Kim Il-sung. Lapel badges with his face were distributed, which were obligatory to wear on the left side, over the heart, and his portrait had to be in every house. Everything was distributed free of charge by the Workers' Party.

Categories Global Affairs: Asia World order, diplomacy and governance Book reviews