The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, explained

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, explained

BUSINESS + POLITICS

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, explained

Armenia and Azerbaijan disputed region
Emily Murphy

Emily Murphy

3rd November 2020

Beginning research on the current Armenian-Azerbaijani war, I had no idea how little I actually knew. I was aware that there had been a surge in missile strikes reported on both sides, that civilian deaths were in the hundreds, and that the conflict was centred around the Nagorno-Karabakh mountain region. On top of the gaps in my knowledge, most importantly, I knew nobody was talking about it, and most people I had spoken to didn’t even know that there was anything to discuss. We live in a globalised world with access to more information than ever before, yet only a few hours away people are suffering and dying at an unfathomable rate without our knowledge. I assume that the lack of awareness is generated through current global obsessions on rising Covid-19 cases and the upcoming US election that’s dominating news feeds. Perhaps a less obvious reason is that this conflict is old news. While the resurgence is relatively new, the conflict is a continuation of a previous war. This probably explains why my mother’s generation vaguely remembers the fighting and my generation had almost no idea what was happening. So here it is, a breakdown of the current situation, how it unfolded, how it seems to be progressing, and if there is a solution in sight.

 

We must first of all keep in mind that this is not a new conflict, in fact, the current struggle has been ongoing for more than 32 years. The origins of tension can be traced back almost three millennia, when (despite disputes by Azerbaijani historians) a variety of Armenian kingdoms were established in the vicinity. The mountain region was at times ruled by the Turks, Persians, the Ottoman Empire, and later by the Russian Empire. Throughout the early 19th century respective people lived somewhat peacefully in Transcaucasia (modern-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia). However, during the First World War tensions began to rise, as many Armenians fled to Russian occupied territories to escape persecution from the Ottoman Empire. As the Muslim population (who would later become Azerbaijani citizens) identified themselves as Turks and held allegiance with the Ottoman Empire, a deep sense of mistrust grew between them and the remaining Armenian Christians.

 

In May 1918, three months after clashes within Transcaucasia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia declared their independence. The region now referred to as Nagorno-Karabakh was, and remains, home to an Armenian ethnic majority, however, at the time of independence the region lay along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. As the Armenian state had only just been established, it was unwilling to exacerbate tensions with Azerbaijan who to this day have strong ties and support from Turkey. In 1919, after the Ottoman troops withdrew from the region, the British stepped in, attempting to convince the Armenians to surrender the area to Azerbaijan. This was by no means an attempt to create peace, the British were simply trying to develop an alliance with Azerbaijan to protect their access to oil in the Caspian Sea.

 

In 1920, Armenia launched an attack that was quickly quashed by Azerbaijan, who retaliated with force, all but destroying the Nagorno-Karabakh capital. This event sparked riots that led to the deaths of possibly thousands of people. The war ended when the Bolsheviks gained control of both countries. However, they only complicated matters further when Soviet officials redrew the map enclosing the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous zone in Azerbaijan but pushing the border several miles into Armenia. At this point, the autonomous zone in Azerbaijan was home to 94% ethnic Armenians.

 

“We must first of all keep in mind that this is not a new conflict, in fact, the current struggle has been ongoing for more than 32 years. The origins of tension can be traced back almost three millennia, when (despite disputes by Azerbaijani historians) a variety of Armenian kingdoms were established in the vicinity.”

While the regions were under Soviet control there were no open conflicts and only a few ethnic clashes, but nothing like what the area had seen before. During this period, Armenian leaders regularly petitioned Moscow to return Nagorno-Karabakh to them, all of which were denied. In 1988 after large-scale demonstrations in Yerevan, local authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh requested to be rejoined with Armenia. In January 1990, in Baku, Azerbaijani nationalists killed dozens of Armenians. As tensions in the region continued to grow, the Soviet army was sent to regain control, but this only intensified the situation. Clashes between the two sides became commonplace and several hundreds of people were killed.

 

After the fall of the USSR, war broke out in the region, and in the summer of 1994, the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, with the support of Armenia, occupied several towns in Azerbaijan and broke through to the Armenian border. While successful in theory, the region is still recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan. The war claimed the lives of over 15,000 soldiers and a similar number of civilians. The outbreak of small fights along the border is common, however between the end of the war and 2016 only 30 people had been killed.

 

On September 27th, 2020, Armenian officials claimed that the Azerbaijani military bombed civilian settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh, and in response, they shot down two Azerbaijani helicopters and three drones. The Azerbaijani defence ministry launched a counter-attack with fighter planes, tanks, and 1000 Syrian fighters, courtesy of Turkey. In early October, attacks began once again, less than thirty minutes after a ceasefire had been called. Both sides have stated that they were acting in retaliation to the other side’s breach. Within less than a month of fighting, over 1000 people, including civilians and troops have been killed. Although Russia, who has typically acted as a peacekeeper between the two nations and who has a long-standing alliance with Armenia, has yet to step in, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has said that he is more than willing to visit Moscow for talks. If Russia were to enter the conflict, it is assumed that they would side with Armenia, thus increasing tensions between Russia and Turkey.

 

The latest reports suggest that the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers will hold separate talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, DC. It is hoped that the two will down arms and create a permanent treaty, however, based on previous events, I remain hesitant to believe peace is in sight. While talks are ongoing, outbreaks of fighting on both sides are expected to continue. This is not an issue that will be easily resolved, however for the sake of the civilians on either side I hope it stays as amicable as possible.

 

 

Featured photo by DNA India

 
 

 

Alexei Navalny: Putin Critic out of Induced Coma after Poisoning

Alexei Navalny: Putin Critic out of Induced Coma after Poisoning

BUSINESS + POLITICS

Alexei Navalny: Putin Critic out of Induced Coma after Poisoning

oatly boycott blackstone
Emily Murphy

Emily Murphy

30th September 2020

On August 20th news broke that Alexei Navalny, The Russian “anti-corruption” campaigner and longtime Putin critic, became ill on his flight from Siberia. It was not long before allegations of poisoning were banded about, and the future of Russian politics was called into question.

 

Mr Navalny and his team were due to leave Siberia after a successful trip meeting local political candidates and volunteers. Those close to him have said that other than a cup of tea at the airport in Tomsk, Navalny did not consume anything that morning. Prior to boarding the flight, fellow passengers noted that he was in good spirits, laughing and joking with those who recognised him. The flight which was bound for Moscow was forced to make an emergency landing in Omsk after Navalny collapsed in the plane toilet at some time between eight and nine am.

 

Mr Navalny has long been vocal about this lack of trust in the president and his political party, at times calling them “crooks and thieves” and claiming that the system was “sucking the blood out of Russia”. Although Navalny is barred from running for president due to his embezzlement conviction in 2018, charges he vehemently denies, he has long been at the forefront of the anti-establishment campaign. So when his colleagues suggested that something had been “mixed with his tea”, many could be forgiven for thinking that it lay within the bounds of reason.

 

Of course, this is not the first time critics of Vladimir Putin have fallen ill or died under suspicious circumstances. In 2015 Boris Nemtsov was shot four times in the back, in full view of the Kremlin, by an unknown assassin who was never apprehended. Nemtsov, who had at one time publicly supported Putin, later became one of his most prominent critics, organising rallies and protests against him. In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, died three weeks after “drinking a cup of tea“ that had been laced with polonium-210. Po-210 is a product of radioactive uranium decay, which causes cells in the body to kill themselves and alters the genetic ability of cells to reproduce. A British enquiry later found that Litvinenko was poisoned by Russian agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, who were acting on orders that had “probably been approved by Putin”. It is worth pointing out that not all critics of the Russian president die under suspicious circumstances, but enough well established critics have to foster speculation of Kremlin involvement.

 

On September 2nd, after Navalny was airlifted to Berlin for treatment, the German government stated that a military test found “unequivocal proof of a chemical nerve warfare agent of the Novichok group” in Mr. Navalny’s system. This contradicts what was found by doctors in the state run-hospital in Omsk. The deputy chief of the hospital stated that although unconscious and on a ventilator, Navalny was in fact stable. Neither family nor Navalny’s personal doctor was permitted to see him during his time in Omsk. On September 15th, the Kremlin critic released a photo of himself in hospital, saying that he was able to breathe by himself once again and intended to return to Russia once he had recovered.

 

On September 17th an aide of Navalny announced that traces of the nerve agent used in the poisoning were found on a bottle in his hotel room. This would suggest that he had consumed the agent several hours earlier than previously thought. This has led the European Parliament to call for an international investigation into the poisoning. No such investigation has been launched in Russia.

 

“After Navalny was airlifted to Berlin for treatment, the German government stated that a military test found “unequivocal proof of a chemical nerve warfare agent of the Novichok group” in Mr Navalny’s system.”

 

The Navalny poisoning is no longer a feature in mainstream media outlets, nor is it very fresh in the minds of most. But those who possess an interest in the political and business affairs of other nations are once again asking how will this latest attack on the political opposition affect governance in Russia? What does the future hold for political figures in the country?

 

While technically a democracy, Russia is classified as an “authoritarian” country and even those with no interest in politics can see why… In early January, Putin announced some of the most radical political changes in the past 30 years. These changes could allow him to extend his 20-year reign even after his term ends in 2024. The last person to serve as long as him was Josef Stalin, the famous Russian dictator. Some of the proposed changes suggested for the upcoming referendum include greater government control over judges and security services, future president terms limited to 2 years; while never having possessed a foreign passport or residence permit and having lived in Russia for at least the past 25 years.

 

These changes would ensure that of the small pool of individuals that this could apply to, none would be able to legally remain president long enough to gather the political leverage or power that Putin has accumulated in two decades. While he is constitutionally mandated to step down in 2024, these changes could ensure a politically relevant future for the 67-year-old. Prior to this the only noticeable change made during his reign was increased police violence on protesters, in an attempt to quell any uprising that might occur. So it is almost safe to assume that Russia in the future will look very similar to Russia presently, with Vladimir Putin taking less of a public stance, but running the country from behind the scenes. While we all watch with great interest and speculation the words of Pyotr Stolypin hold strong “in Russia, every 10 years everything changes, and nothing changes in 200 years“.

 

There are continuous updates now from Navalny and his staff, as he grows in strength daily. On September 22nd in a satirical post on his Instagram page, Navalny announced: “The ultimate goal of my canny plan was to die in the Omsk hospital and end up in an Omsk morgue, where they would have determined my cause of death as ‘he lived long enough,/ “But Putin outplayed me. He’s no pushover. In the end, I lay in a coma for 18 days like a fool, but I wasn’t able to get my way. The provocation was thwarted!”

 

Alexei Navalny

 

Navalny’s condition has improved enough that he has been discharged from acute inpatient care, he is however to remain under supervision as the long term effects of his condition are not yet known. In separate posts on his Instagram page, Navalny has thanked the hospital staff who have taken care of him, and he will no doubt keep the world updated on his progress via the social media platform.

 

 

Featured photo by Michał Siergiejevicz

 
 

 

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Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties.

Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties.

Business + Politics

Has COVID-19 Impeded Free Speech? The “Land of Origins”, COVID-19 and Personal Liberties

free speech covid-19
brandon lynch

Brandon Lynch

8th September 2020

 

Freedom of speech is understood to be fundamental to the democratic system, a system that, thus far, has stood the test of time. We hold our freedom of speech dearly as human beings, with constitutions such as the United States reserving its first amendment to uphold such a right.  

 

Historically, the ancient Greeks pioneered this principle around the early fifth century B.C as “Parrhesia” or “to speak candidly or to ask forgiveness for so speaking”. Parrhesia was fundamental to the democracy of classical Athens, with courts, theatres and assemblies subscribing to its proponents, much like today’s contemporary structure. However, protection of speech was first introduced by King John of England in 1215 with the signing of the Magna Carta, a charter of liberty and political rights, subjective to who you’re asking of course.   

 

Today,  free speech centres around the 1948 United Nations International Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes free speech as a human right.  

 

‘If the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech and press is to mean anything, it must allow protests even against the moral code that the standard of the day sets for the community’ – William O.Douglas (1957)  

 

In the past outbreaks of disease have shaped our politics, crushed revolutions, and entrenched racial and social discrimination. Epidemics have also altered the societies which they have spread through, affecting personal relationships, the work of artists and intellectuals, and man-made and natural environments. COVID-19 is much the same in this sense, with its presence rapidly altering the political, social and economic landscapes of our modern world.  

 

Now COVID-19 is attacking not only our ability to be heard, but also the legitimacy of that voice. The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is one of the many prevalent examples of where freedom of speech has been hindered by COVID-19’s continued exponential growth. However, I do feel Ethiopia, unlike many other examples I could use, will disproportionately suffer from the stripping of such scarce personal freedoms.  

 

In the past outbreaks of disease have shaped our politics, crushed revolutions, and entrenched racial and social discrimination.

 

As of July 23rd, Ethiopia, the ‘Land of Origins’, where humans first walked uprights, ranks 75th in world COVID rankings, with 11,524 cases. For a country of 115 million inhabitants, this stat isn’t particularly daunting. However, when we look at the additional statistics of testing capacity and availability, the issues become more cognizant. Arbitrary arrests, persecution of government critics and journalists have spiked following the declaration of a state of emergency on April 8th 2020. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed cited such arrests under enforced emergency legislature, stating “media institutions are to deliver accurate information to the public”.  

 

However, if we are to critically analyze such statements, a reality of biased corruption and state censorship shines through. This lockdown on free speech has been exacerbated by the change in government., Under the current administration, the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation legislation grants government authorities powers to fine and imprison citizens for their social media activity, infringing on the autonomy to speak, organize, mobilize, and challenge the government’s narrative.  

 

We have seen the impacts of this on a personal level, with stories such as that of Yayesew ShimelisShimelis, an employee of Tigray TV, a regional government-owned station, published on his personal Facebook and YouTube the proposal and preparation of 200,000 graves in anticipation of deaths from COVID-19. The following day Oromia police arrested Shimelis at his family home, seizing his laptop, cellphone and notebooks.  

 

Other examples of free speech infringement can be seen in examples like that of Elsabet Kebede, a prominent member of the Ethiopian Women’s Lawyers Association. On April 4th, Addis Ababa police detained Kebede and transferred her to the custody of Harari regional authorities. Reports suggest officials have not charged her with an offence but accuse her of disseminating false news on Facebook posts they claim could ‘instigate violence’.  

 

Alp Toker, executive director of Netblocks, a non-profit organization that monitors internet censorship expressed his concern on the ever-increasing powers of censorship in Ethiopia.  

  

“On 22 June 2018, his government (Ahmed) declared free expression a foundational right and ordered the unblocking of over 200 websites. Instead, exactly one year later, the entire internet  has been blocked and Ethiopia is digitally isolated from the world”  

 

Such issues are unfortunately not pandemic exclusive, beyond arrests of some high-level officials in November 2019, there has been little progress on accountability for past abuses within Ethiopian institutions. A national reconciliation commission was set up in December 2018 but it has an unclear mandate.  

 

For the roughly 16 million internet users in Ethiopia, internet shutdowns have been routine since 2015, with newly implemented emergency powers exacerbating restrictions. Internet access is key to unlocking the country’s economic, social and political potential. Continuing internet blackouts and censorship are costing Ethiopians roughly $4.5 million each day the internet is cut, hindering proposed social initiatives to lift inhabitants from poverty.  

 

 

Featured photo by wiredforlego

 
 

 

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

HUMANITARIAN

UK and Refugees: Between Dehumanisation and Demonisation

rubber dinghy refugees uk media
ellen mcveigh

Ellen McVeigh

4th September 2020

 

Earlier in August 2020, during a live item on BBC Breakfast, presenter Simon Jones and a small crew filmed a group of around 15 refugees on a precarious dinghy attempting to cross the English Channel from Calais to Dover in order to seek asylum in the UK. In an unsettling, almost dystopian piece of television, Jones explains in real-time the incredibly dangerous and desperate scene taking place behind him, as the individuals in the overcrowded dinghy attempt to drain the water collecting in the boat using buckets. The whole item is presented with the detached demeanour of either a sports commentator watching a boat race, or the tour operator on a whale watching tour. Despite asking them where they are from and if they are OK, there is a palpable lack of any kind of insight into the context of this journey, what they were fleeing from, or really any sensitivity towards the incredibly complex situation the refugees had found themselves in. What does the public learn from stories such as these?  

 

While this is an issue which is essential to report on, many are sceptical about the timing of these news stories while the UK is still deep in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and the government continues to face public scrutiny. With a death toll of more than 40,000, the worst in Europe, it could be argued that a few dozen people attempting to seek asylum in the country is not the most significant issue to be focussing on right now. The question of what led people to make this journey is the much more important issue, but these 10 minute live segments simply are not able to get to the crux of these issues. Around the same time as the BBC Breakfast show came out, Sky News had a similar piece on individuals from Sudan attempting to cross the Channel in a small dinghy without life jackets. Despite both news outlets reassuring their viewers that they were conscious of the safety of the refugees, many critics were worried not only about the risk of death but also the incredible depths to which these mainstream media outlets could stoop when covering these issues. To turn this dangerous situation into a television spectacle, filming vulnerable people who are unable to properly consent, highlighted a long-standing issue which the UK media has had with refugee and migrant issues for many years.  

 

In 2016, a report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that the volume of mainstream UK news coverage of asylum seekers and refugees has been increasing noticeably since the early 2000s. The report found several elements of this coverage which have had an impact on the British public’s perceptions of refugees and asylum seekers. They found that stories about migrants secretly crossing the English Channel from France had been a persistent feature of the British press, and particularly in right-wing newspapers such as The Telegraph and the Daily Mail. The report found that British newspapers regularly conflated stories about asylum seekers and refugees with other migrants, using the terms refugees and migrants interchangeably and sometimes even within the one article. In the more right-leaning papers, the UNHCR found frequent usage of the trope of the ‘bogus asylum seeker’, and the creation of distinctions between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ asylum seekers, often used to support hostile policies from the UK government. They found that these right-wing newspapers are likely to detach stories about refugees entering the UK from their home countries and that this lack of context leaves readers “badly informed about the factors behind refugee flows”. Even the BBC was found to divorce refugees from the push factors in their home country, instead largely focussing on political opinion from across the UK regarding the intake of refugees to the country. 

 

The framing of the issue of refugees crossing the English Channel on dinghies as an interesting topic for political debate, rather than an increasingly urgent human rights concern, allows the UK Government to shirk a certain amount of responsibility.”

It could be seen as the result of decades of cynical reporting on refugees from the British press, as well as the rising mainstream prominence of far-right groups such as UKIP, that we could see asylum seekers in such a desperate situation being shown live on breakfast television as a kind of visual spectacle. In an article in gal-dem magazine, Diyora Shadijanova speaks to the ‘Faragification’ of the media; the idea that the British media can continuously debate issues surrounding asylum and immigration in a detached, theoretical way rather than real situations happening to real people, which the UK government has a direct hand in affecting. Diyora highlights the fact that British media debates refugee issues in isolation, not addressing the circumstances which push someone to board an unsafe dinghy on the English Channel. They often fail to address the part the UK Government has to play not only in the global conflicts which produce refugees but also in creating a ‘hostile environment’ through the removal of safe, legal routes to seek asylum in the country. The obsession with ‘civilised’ debates on complex human rights issues has led to the normalisation of anti-immigration rhetoric. While waiting for the media to come to a balanced conclusion, people will continue to risk their lives on the Channel because they simply have no other choice. 

 

The framing of the issue of refugees crossing the English Channel on dinghies as an interesting topic for political debate, rather than an increasingly urgent human rights concern, allows the UK Government to shirk a certain amount of responsibility. In May 2020, The Guardian reported that the recently drafted Brexit text showed the UK Home Office’s plans to terminate the current system of family reunification, a policy which currently grants unaccompanied minors sanctuary in the UK. Despite earlier commitments to reunite refugee children with family in the UK, the draft negotiation text for Brexit seeks to ensure that family reunification will be on a discretionary basis, rather than a mandatory obligation. This news outraged refugee charities such as Safe Passage and Amnesty International, who warned it would endanger already vulnerable minors, and drive them into the hands of smugglers and gangs. In August, following the controversial BBC Breakfast Channel crossing segment, Safe Passage warned that more children and families would risk their lives by crossing the Channel through unsafe means if the UK government scrapped the legal routes to family reunification. They are concerned that many are already running out of time to seek a legal route before the Brexit transition period ends, and are instead being forced into lorries and dinghies.  

 

bbc refugee report english channel
sky news reporting refugees english channel 2020

 

The warnings from charities about children risking their lives in an attempt to cross the Channel became incredibly poignant on the 19th of August when it was reported that a 16-year-old Sudanese boy had drowned in the English Channel while attempting to reach the UK. When tweeting her condolences for the boy’s death, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed that the incident was “a brutal reminder of the abhorrent criminal gangs and people smugglers who exploit vulnerable people”. She faced a backlash from charities and other organisations who made the point that it was the UK Government’s ‘hostile environment’ was the very thing forcing people into these situations. Safe Passage highlighted that this tragic news was a “direct consequence of a lack of safe alternatives”; whilst Amnesty International UK demanded that both the UK and French governments share their asylum obligations. Just days earlier, Patel had announced plans to send royal navy warships into the English Channel to block migrant crossings, despite warnings that this was dangerous and unlawful. Amnesty International UK had warned that the only people who would benefit from these dangerous proposals would be the very smugglers and gangs who Priti Patel claimed to abhor.  

 

Years of intensifying anti-immigration rhetoric across the British press have calcified during the Brexit era, heightened by a Tory government which are openly committed to evading their responsibility to some of the most vulnerable in society. The divorcing of any context, for people making dangerous journeys across continents and seas, from the political situations in their home country or the lack of safe alternatives to entry as a direct result of UK government policy. This detachment from human rights issues, to the point of dehumanisation, allows a reporting on refugee issues which focuses entirely on political debate as opposed to empathetic framing of these issues which focuses on first-hand knowledge of the situation. Rather than seeing this lives as disposable, a tragic inevitability of the curious quirk of Channel crossings, it is important to reframe the conversation not in terms of personal responsibility but in terms of government policy which directly impacts on the paths that incredibly desperate people take when they are given no other choice. No human being is illegal, travelling across the Channel in a boat is not illegal, seeking asylum in the UK is not illegal. 

 

 

Featured photo by Pikist

 
 

 

The Politics of a Global Pandemic

The Politics of a Global Pandemic

Business & Politics

 The Politics of a Global Pandemic

Statues of female steel workers with facemasks

21st August 2020

The complexities of coping with the current pandemic revolve around more than just measuring intensive care unit capacity, calculating the R rate or searching for a vaccine. The political, social and economic features of this crisis are just as dangerous. 

While this pandemic will have devastating, far-reaching consequences, a person’s income level, ethnicity, political ideology and worldview all combine to determine not just their individual risk of infection, but also how seriously their country or region may be affected.  

When politicians of different ideological beliefs clash, and the authority of science is called into question, you have a very fractured and uncoordinated response, perpetuating coronavirus transmission globally. Globalisation and its accompanying cross-border travel and trade only serve to exacerbate the situation.  

An article by the University of Pennsylvania has used the data from a study of 146 countries to shed light on the effects of democracy, state capacity and income inequality on the dynamics of epidemics. They found that in democratic nations, greater levels of transparency, public trust and accountability were associated with increased compliance in terms of public health measures and faster response times. 

However, income inequality was found to have a profound effect on compliance – in many cases, those earning a lower income, especially those who are unable to access state supports, simply can’t afford to stay home and therefore, cannot always comply with social distancing. Unfortunately, as was the case in the UK, democracy isn’t always associated with strong state capacity, or indeed, the willingness to utilise it.  

Despite its position as number two on the Global Health Security Index for pandemic readiness, conservative political forces in the UK bungled the response through its policies on healthcare and the public service, in addition to its prioritising economic interests and Brexit. Six months before the pandemic, the then-Prime Minister Theresa May abolished the Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingency Committee” when a no-deal Brexit appeared to be a more threatening reality, resulting in the government shifting its focus significantly. The committee, which included senior cabinet ministers, could have resulted in a faster, more effective response, saving lives in the process. 

Boris Johnson’s government and many others, Trump included, fetishise the free market, which leads to certain economic interests taking priority over a robust and coordinated state response. When the goal is to privatise public services and keep wages down; better pay, conditions and funding for the NHS and its workers would interfere with this goal and make it difficult for the Conservativgovernment to outsource their workforces. Similarly, in the US, at a time when it is needed most, Trump has blocked access to new insurance applicants under the Affordable Care Act, leaving the most vulnerable in a desperately precarious position by increasing levels of inequality.  

There have been many discussions about what should be prioritised in the emergency responseto the pandemic. Health professionals view saving lives as the absolute priority; this seems logical, but the public health measures put in place may also negatively impact the health of those with non-COVID-related illnesses who are unable or afraid to access health services. Others have spoken of their desire for the response to remain free from political interference; that government restrictions are too intrusive and reminiscent of Big Government. President Trump has stated that we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem, evidence that he views the crisis through the lens of political ambition. He has accused the Democrats of concocting this coronavirus hoax to damage a booming economy, which would affect his chances of re-election.  

 

“Ideology and political identity play an important role, not just in interpreting individual risk but also willingness to adopt measures such as social distancing and mask wearing”

The Brazilian leader, Bolsonaro, has also prioritised economic interests, perhaps for different reasons. With few resources in his toolbox to fight the pandemic, Bolsonaro chose the economy – both as a way to deflect from the virus and as a means of avoiding responsibility for another devastating recession, not long after the country’s 2015 economic downturn. 

By placing the economy ahead of public health, Brazil may believe it can avoid catastrophic economic collateral damage; however, its extremely high infection rate and death toll will nonetheless wreak havoc on the entire economic, social and political fabric of Brazilian society, not to mention its already overburdened hospitals.  

Ideology and political identity play an important role, not just in interpreting individual risk but also willingness to adopt measures such as social distancing and mask wearing. In a YouGov survey of 1,000 Americans, it was discovered that an individual’s worldview was one of the most important predictors of risk perception around the world; those who scored high on individualism (usually in Western nations such as the US and UK) were less concerned about the virus than their counterparts in more collectivist countries, such as South Korea.

The survey also revealed a partisan divide on important issues such as compliance and trust; 67% of Democrats wore masks compared with 54% of Republicans while 70% of Democrats and only 10% of Republicans trusted the WHO. A significant divide was also noted in the levels of trust regarding Trump’s ability to handle the pandemic; perhaps, not surprisingly, 86% of Republicans trusted Trump compared with only 10% of Democrats. Polarised views on such matters often result in ineffective and inconsistent social distancing and mask wearing throughout the country, thus hampering any effective suppression of the virus.  

A lack of consensus on how to mitigate the pandemic, or even how to interpret/perceive risk has left many states alone, scrambling to find their own solutions. The politics of each state governor can also determine the impact of coronavirus on their community, as evidenced by Florida’s Republican governor, a keen supporter of Trump who often heeds the advice of his wife or the President instead of health officials.  

The wearing of face masks has become a hotly-debated topic; as we have previously observed in France with its burqa ban and the ensuing controversy, face coverings are highly political symbols for many. They are often viewed as a sign of subservience to public health – a Trump official referred to masks as COVID burqas. Until now, face masks were a strong symbol of Asian identity and values, often seen as an inherently communitarian instrument and a hallmark of courtesy and good manners.

Those opposed to mask-wearing do so based on libertarian individualism and its associated personal freedoms. Much of thdebate surrounding face coverings centres around thcolour of the face beneath it; many African Americans harbour concerns about racial profiling, and people of Asian origin/descent have been targeted for harassment and abuse. This has not been helped by Trump’s constant scapegoating of China, repeatedly referring to the Chinese virus. 

The global pandemic has showcased the best and worst of politics and humanity, with responses varying from coordinated, compassionate and communitarian approaches; to individualistic, free-market obsessed and ineffective. There will be many lessons to learn, irrespective of the global outcome. What is clear, however, is that polarising political ideologies and social policies have had a detrimental effect on what could have been a sharp, fair and effective solution to a global problem 

 

 

Featured photo by Martin Sanchez

 
 

 

 

Donald Trump’s Threat to the US Elections

Donald Trump’s Threat to the US Elections

Business & Politics

Donald Trump’s Threat to the US Elections

Statues of female steel workers with facemasks

20th August 2020

 

Donald Trump didn’t think his latest election threat all the way through, but he continues to set a terrifying precedent for a nation which touts itself as a global inspiration for democracy.   

He suggested on 30th July that the election be delayed – an idea which most press outlets and even the US congress assured was not going to happen, putting the president firmly in his place.  

But he has continued his attacks on the American postal system (USPS), which is more important than ever in light of COVID restrictions 

More broadly, it’s part of a campaign of confidence-erosion that he started when he first arrived in the White House, suggesting at the time that voter fraud was the reason he lost the 2016 popular vote to Hilary Clinton.  

No evidence has ever been found to support this claim. 

It’s widely considered improbable – although not impossible  for the President to bypass the rulebook and hold on to his job even if he loses this year’s election, but it may not matter whether he remains in office. The damage to trust is already  done.  

A recent NBC/Survey Monkey poll has found that 65% of Republican voters are not confident that the election will be conducted fairly. 55% of independent voters and 46% of Democratic voters believe the same thing.  

Huge swathes of each American political sphere do not trust the contest that’s about to decide their future. Whether this is because of Trump’s rhetoric or in spite of it; it’s clear enough that his words have not helped to defuse things.  

Wind the clocks back 20 years, when another controversial US presidential election took place.  

George W. Bush went up against Al Gore, and their leadership race fell into total confusion. For weeks, Florida couldn’t confirm who won their state-wide vote, since the results were so tight. And without Florida’s verdict, the election was deadlocked.  

Recounts were called, lawsuits were filed, and the US Supreme Court had to step in to settle the argument. This controversially handed the victory to Bush. But afterwards, instead of hostility, there was a truce.   

Al Gore accepted the supreme courts decision and conceded the election ‘for the sake of the unity of our people,’ while George Bush vowed to be a president for all Americans, whether they voted for him or not.  

Fast forward to today, and the present climate would suggest those resolutions and acts of healing wouldn’t fly with the current parties involved. The race, like US politics in general, has become so much more polarised.  

 

“Huge swathes of each American political sphere do not trust the contest that’s about to decide their future”

 

Do Trump’s attacks on election integrity form part of a plan to subvert the constitution and remain in power in an authoritarian way? If they do, they don’t have a lot in common with historical analogues.  

In 1920s Italy, a new law was created to give the largest party – in this case the fascist party – a boosted majority of seats in parliament. In 1930s Germany, emergency legislation was enacted to let the Nazi Party rule without restriction. In Eastern Bloc countries after the Second World War, the presence of the Soviet military ensured that communist-friendly governments would come to power in elections.  

So, to behave like a true authoritarian, it seems that significant political influence, emergency legislation, military power, or a combination are what Trump would need.  

However, Donald Trump has a shaky-at-best political influence over the US congress, half of which is firmly against him. He has limited power to declare emergencies, which congress can also overturn. Furthermore, he has made a lot of critics and enemies amongst the military, some of whom have openly attacked his response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

The US political machine might be too big for Trump to transform, especially if his only weapon is unsupported claims of voter fraud, but this doesn’t make America immune to large disputes.  

The 1876 election was so hotly challenged amid claims of fraud in four separate but pivotal states, the only way out was a behind-the-scenes compromise.  

It resulted in US troops being withdrawn from the southern states, where they had been stationed since the end of the Civil War. This, at the time, meant disaster for civil rights.  

With the troops gone, white southerners re-established control in those states and passed laws to strip most African-Americans of voting rightslaws which remained in place until the 1960s.  They supported this with the argument that states have the right to legislate as they choose. 

Always a thorny issue in America, the issue of states rights could surface again in a disputed 2020 election. Red states may refuse to recognise a Biden victory, blue states may refuse to recognise a Trump victory.  

American history has always fluctuated between periods of national unity, and periods of fracturing as the states disagree. Perhaps an era of re-fracturing is what’s awaiting us if Trump continues to convince people that they can’t trust their own democracy.  

 

 

Featured photo by Visuals