The arguments for Brexit: Explained

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to call Brexit among the most divisive political votes in history. Whether Brexit will be positive or negative for the UK still divides the opinions of most of the 70 million inhabitants of the UK. The main consensus amongst progressives is that Brexit will mostly be negative; both politically, socially and most importantly, economically. But then why did more than half of the UK vote in favour of it? In this article I intend to explore some of the main underlying points in favour of Brexit, and evaluate the grounds for their support.

One of the most salient arguments brought forward by Brexit supporters is the bureaucratic nature of the European Parliament. Supporters believe that Brexit would return power to the government, and by association, the British people. This idea appears particularly unfounded as all ministers of the European Union are elected from their respective national government. The United Kingdom itself hold regional elections to decide it’s MEPs, however, that isn’t to say these elected MEPs won’t act in the interests of their home country or even the local communities that elected them. In 2015, many of the elected MEPs for the UK, notably those of the United Kingdom Independence Party, refrained from adhering to parliamentary conduct in protest at the European Union. However, this issue isn’t unique to the European Union and has existed virtually as long as democratic institutions have.

The ability to take control of laws and policy

One of the main requirements of being a member state in the Eurozone (the free, single-market of the European Union that allows the free movement of goods and people across Europe) is to adhere to the European Court of Justice. The European Court of Justice is the main law-making entity in Europe and ensures that all EU countries abide by the laws set down by the European Union. Currently, it is comprised of one judge from each EU member state and 11 advocates for the Union itself. The main argument of pro-Brexit politicians is that the European Court of Justice takes away the ability for the UK government to manage its own laws and gives power to the EU and away from UK citizens.

Whilst this is true to some extent, the European Court of Justice also provides several opportunities for UK citizens to control the UK government through the Court. The most notable example of this is through the European Court of Human Rights, which forms a Court of law above the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, that theoretically each EU member state must adhere to the ruling of. The European Court of Human Rights provides another avenue for citizens who think the government, or justice system, has wronged them to seek legal help.

However, the usefulness of the European Court of Human Rights in managing the UK government is itself questionable. The UK government has failed to adhere to guidelines and rulings made by the Court. The most prolific example of this came in the decision in 2003 to introduce the Imprisonment for Public Protection Sentences (also known as indeterminate prison sentences), which allowed judges to instil no fixed term limits when convicting criminals to be imprisoned if they are deemed to be violent or a danger to the public, even for crimes that would originally only confer a 1-2 year sentence. While the UK government did abolish the handing out of Indeterminate Prison Sentences in 2012 after a European Court of Human Rights ruling that it was in breach of human rights, the abolition didn’t comply with the recommendations to revoke the current indeterminate sentences handed to over 3,500 prisoners in the UK who were currently serving no fixed prison sentence term. To this day several hundred IPP prisoners are still trapped in custody, some for crimes that would otherwise have seen them walking free decades earlier.

Our continued place in the European Single-Market would ensure that we were still required to adhere to all laws created by the European Court of Justice, however without having a UK-representative on the Court itself. This means any deal involving membership of the single-market would result in still having to abide by EU law.

Trade and the Membership Fee

In 2016, the year following the Brexit vote, the UK paid over £13 billion  to the European Union for membership, a tariff that must be paid by all member states. While this is considerably less than the ‘£250 million a week’ fee ,famously mentions by the Vote-leave ‘Battle Bus’ during the vote, it is still a considerable fraction of UK GDP.

We must however consider that a sizeable number of this is given back to the UK, of around £4.5 billion each year. This is mostly given in the form of grants to research projects, and the UK’s many tourist attractions and national landmarks. The biggest recipient of the money in terms of geographical areas of the UK is Cornwall, due its huge international tourism spots.

The case for a financial reason to leave the EU is also further complicated by how it is almost completely impossible to even estimate the amount of money the UK makes each year from free-trade, free-movement, and other various services discounted by EU membership, such as a relaxation to the Rules of Origin restrictions relaxed on products within the EU. This has been hotly contested by lobbyists, policymakers and analysts since long before the Brexit vote, possibly even since the UK has been in the European Union itself.  The lack of consensus and ambiguities on what exactly makes the UK the most money from being a member of the EU makes this point one of the most difficult to disrepute.

Whether trade would be better or worse off without the European Union is also a very hotly contested topic. Brexit supporters argue that the European Union decides the trade regulations and partners for its members, denying the UK the ability to manage its own trade and determine its own trade partners. Yet this argument fails to understand the very reason why the European Union was created in such a way in the first place. The European Union was designed to have the single market to ensure European Countries would have larger bargaining power with the new world-superpowers seen rising in the far-east and the United States. These large powers are forced to do business with the entirety of Europe, as opposed to being able to strong-arm smaller and economically weak individual European countries (such as the tactics employed by the Trump Administration in recent years with Mexico and Canada) into deals that would only benefit the larger powers.

As argued by Brexiteers, the United Kingdom, boasting the 5th largest world economy, can gather the economic power needed to ensure fair trade deals are made with other superpowers, most notably by gaining the backing of the United States through a ‘special relationship’ that favours US-UK trade. But yet again, this argument is too simplistic when compared to reality. It is true that the UK has the 5th largest GDP of any country in the world, but the relative difference in GDP between the UK and the two largest economies, China and the United States, is immense. The International monetary fund found in 2017 that the United States had a national GDP 10 times higher than the UK.

This is also further complicated by the role the United Kingdom plays as the only fully English-Speaking country to reside in the European Union. The United Kingdom is often regarded as the ‘gateway to Europe’, and has developed a vast financial economy off the ability for the United States and far Eastern investment firms and banks to do business in the UK and make use of its easy access to the Single-Market.

It is questionable whether the UK would be able to sufficiently make use of its economy to stand on its own feet without the need of the European Union. There may also be a legacy of nostalgia towards the days of the old British Empire and the United Kingdom’s ability to stand as a world power. The reality is the UK has yet to prove such a feat is possible after so many years sheltered in the Single-Market.

Immigration

Immigration is by far the most contentious issue in the Brexit debate. There is a general assumption that the Pro-Brexit argument in terms of immigration, is that the free movement of workers between European countries has contributed to a huge rise in low-skilled migrants into the UK. This argument was somewhat hijacked during the Brexit vote considering the Migrant Crisis, where there was a flood of refugees from conflicts with Islamic State and the Syrian Civil war moving across the Mediterranean and into the European Union through Italy. Another issue backing the immigration argument for Brexit is that the flood of migrant workers from countries that give lower salaries for the same jobs (such as Eastern European countries that often make use of their lower economies to provide less pay for low-skilled and skilled workers), move to the United Kingdom and take the jobs of UK nationals.

According to data from the office of national statistics for September 2018, there are currently 2.25 million non-UK EU nationals, compared to 1.24 million non-UK nationals from outside the EU working in the United Kingdom. However, only 881,000 of the EU nationals working in the UK are from Eastern European countries, and the number of Eastern European Migrants in the UK has been steadily decreasing since September 2016, where it peaked at just over 1 million workers. The United Kingdom has seen relatively steady increases in the number of UK nationals working in the UK over recent years.

Another issue, particularly around the ‘Migrant Crisis’, is that even though part of the argument in favour of Brexit included discussion on whether the European Union would force the United Kingdom to ‘share the load’ of refugees from the Middle East, the agreement to bring refugees into the UK wasn’t decided by the EU, but instead by a joint agreement between France and the UK. In that situation, the United Kingdom did have control over its borders and instead chose to let migrants in. A further issue with the Immigrant Brexit argument is that leaving the European Union might make it more difficult for the United Kingdom to deport illegal immigrants, as currently, EU law allows for quick deportation of illegal immigrants either to other European Union countries, or countries close to the European Union.

Similarly, under directive 2004/38 of the European Union, specifically article 28, member-states do have a certain amount of discretion to avoid the abuse of freedom of movement, notably to ‘guard against the abuse of rights or from fraud’ to ‘adopt necessary measures’ which can include deportation. EU law already allows for migrants who abuse the freedom of movement to be sent back to their home country.

Brexit will fundamentally change the United Kingdom, in terms of its economic make-up, its ability to control policy, it’s government’s accountability, and the United Kingdom’s place on the world stage. Whether this change will be overall positive, negative or could even be considered as anything beyond ‘complicated’ is a topic that will be debated for many decades to come. The arguments in favour of Brexit, while mostly being simplistic in their depiction of very complex political and financial situations, do reflect genuine dissatisfaction with the United Kingdom, neoliberal policies and institutions such as the European Union.

France: Beacon of Hope

I must state that this article refers solely to the masses, not the riotous minority attempting to usurp the movement for their own gain.

These individuals, known as ‘yellow vests’, have started a movement that is spreading across continental Europe – with calls for similar action even being heard in the United Kingdom.

Initially, the movement was a response to the fuel tax rise implemented by French President Emmanuel Macron. However, the movement swiftly grew to encompass a number of issues affecting the lower classes in society – similar issues being experienced by people in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

Political austerity is a choice, and this has been recognised by the people of France. Their legislative were failing them, so they rose against the state to express their anger and frustration.

They effectively won, as their legislative were forced to make concessions regarding taxation and wages – if not, the movement would continue to grow and cause disruption across France.

Similar movements have a historical precedent in France – dating back to the 18th Century. France, once again, has sent a message to the people of Europe:

Enough is enough, we do not have to tolerate the systematic exploitation of the lower classes within our society.

This message is universal, just as the values of republicanism were in the 18th Century. France offers a beacon of hope to the rest of the world – especially Europe.

For example, similar movements have emerged in the Netherlands. In Rotterdam, a few hundred protesters marched peacefully across the Erasmus Bridge singing a song about the Netherlands – they also handed flowers to passer-bys.

Sisters Beb and Ieneke Lambermont, two of those amongst the protesters, said: ‘Our children are hard-working people but they have to pay taxes everywhere. You can’t get housing anymore.’ She continued: ‘The social welfare net we grew up with is gone’.

‘The government is not there for the people. It is there to protect its own interests,’ she concluded.

The only downside to this thriving spirit of reform amongst the people is the potential for violence, but violence remains the preserve of a minority denounced by leadership figures. But, the fact remains, opposition is growing.

Should these movements be replicated by people in the United Kingdom? Well, protests serve an important societal function as they help to maintain the balance of power – but the outbreak of violence can often destroy these movements.

The Trump-Russia Investigation: Mueller To Release Further Developments To Implicate The President

Senior US Prosecutor Robert Mueller is due to release the latest findings of an official investigation into alleged Russian interference that has potentially influence the very heart of the current American government, the US Department of Justice can confirm.

The deadline is quickly counting down for the Mueller Special Counsel to explain to Washington new charges brought against Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for the 2016 Trump administration election campaign and inform the New York Justice Department the recommended sentence for Michael Cohen, a former adviser of Trump, following a deal allegedly brokered between Cohen and the special counsel to cooperate on the investigation.

Earlier this year, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, along with several forms of fraud, and lying to Congress about plans by Trump’s companies to build a complex in Moscow. He is due to be sentenced next Friday by a New York Judge for these charges.

A week after that, Michael Flynn, a former National Security Adviser to the Trump Administration, is due to be sentenced for lying about meeting with the Russian Ambassador in the run-up to the 2016 presidential campaign.

Around the same time, George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser of the Trump campaign, has been released from his 14-day prison sentence for lying to the authorities about his contact with Russia in 2016, he is also due to serve around 200 hours of community service.

So far, the only individual to be fully convicted by the Mueller investigation in relation to Russian collusion is Paul Manafort, who was convicted of failing to report the possession of a foreign bank account, conspiring to obstruct justice and multiple counts of fraud. Manafort also allegedly lied to the special counsel about lobbying work for Pro-Russian politicians in Europe, which was unregistered.

However, the new developments in the investigation, due to be released in the coming weeks, could see fresh links between inner-circle Trump campaign members and their links to both the Wiki-leak democratic party email hacks and the alleged Russian social media trolling and hacking scandals.

Previously, Roger Stone, a political adviser and long-time ally of Trump, was offered a plea by the counsel to cooperate with the investigation on his ties to Wiki-Leaks founder Julien Assange and the democratic party email leaks to the website, but has since decline the plea and is now awaiting charges for his collusion if there are any to be levelled.

The next few weeks will prove to be a decisive time for the Mueller investigation, and as always, the special counsel has had to navigate its way around a political minefield where the very administration that commissioned them is trying everything in their power to justify hindering and silencing proceedings. President Trump has made it very clear through his various official press briefings, and his exceptionally active twitter account that if he was given the option at any point, he would call off the investigation, with Trump condemning Mueller’s alleged ‘conflict of interest’ on Twitter today. While it is entirely possible that the special counsel may have much more damning information against the Trump administration and its allies, what to release and at what time may be vital in ensuring the President, and his newly nominated Chief of Justice and vocal critic of the special counsel’s handling of the investigation, William Barr, do not take any knee-jerk precautions to the findings, which may explain the tentative nature of the past years press releases.

The next few weeks may see the first substantive indictments against Campaign allies Cohen and Manafort and the first detailed findings of Russian collusion, and the possible scale of corruption and foreign involvement that is the price America has paid for “Draining the Swamp”.

Macron cancels fuel tax over riots but what will this mean for carbon culling legislation?

Climate change is a lot like Christmas. You know it’s coming, in July when you can feel the distant rumblings of Jingle Bells as a friend tells you that there are only X days to go! It’s always there and while some of us make slow and steady plans for it throughout the year, the majority wait until the week before and go crazy trying to get everything done.

Humans in this metaphor are not the people making slow and steady plans for climate change; we know what it is, when it will arrive and what it will look like when it does but we are choosing to wait until the last moment, in the hope that we can pull it out of our collective arses, one last time. It’s been another big week for the global issue, with the schizophrenic US Government rebuking itself for releasing a report on the future economic effects of climate change and major riots in France about rising fuel prices.

But therein lies the headache with climate change legislation, how do you do it effectively but without being too drastic? We’ve seen in this last week the riots in France over diesel prices, which have risen around 23% over the past 12 months to €1.51 a litre. Prices have risen due to Macron’s administration raising the hydrocarbon tax by 7.6 cents per litre on diesel and 3.9 cents on petrol, in a bid to encourage consumers and businesses to use cleaner cars and fuel.

The move is a good one, in theory. In order to reduce carbon emissions, we all need to drastically change the way we travel and consume. Most economists/commentators argue that as consumers we are at the forefront of any action that needs to be taken against stopping climate change. That with our collective spending power we should be able to force governments into subsidizing, and corporations into producing, goods that are recyclable, carbon neutral and not as damaging to our planet and our health. This tax does just that, it is a calculated push onto the citizens of France to use public transport or buy a hybrid or electric car rather than relying on diesel cars that over-pollute. Macron’s policy is a policy that is necessary, taxing polluting fuels can be an effective way to reduce emissions but the policy is poorly executed. The tax burden will fall mainly on the poorest, who are also the least likely to be able to make changes to their lifestyle to reduce their carbon footprint.

But if you’re going to tax people more you need to find money to give back to them to balance the whole thing out. Tax diesel and petrol cars? Great, now electric and hybrid vehicles are heavily subsidized and you get a tax break for buying them, oh, and also public transport is now free in big cities. This policy, like most climate-based policy, seems to be aimed at how the individual consumer can reduce their waste, I.e. the plastic bag tax in the UK and does nothing to target big corporations and those who pollute the most in our society.

Most of the hundreds of thousands of people protesting are doing so because they are currently struggling to make ends meet. Increasing fuel prices does nothing to alleviate that struggle. Most of the protestors in Paris appear to be those who have travelled in from the countryside, those who often have no public transport option and cannot afford that fancy new, green car. The middle class around the world is at its closest to breaking point for a generation and the idea that blue- and white-collar workers alike can change their spending habits in order to put pressure on polluting industries is a fallacy. People don’t have enough money or ‘’disposable income’’ to completely overhaul the way they have lived for their whole lives, on the basis that the planet will become uninhabitable for future generations.

And that’s just it, that’s the sticking point with any climate policy. In order for humanity to survive the next 100 or so years we all need to drastically change the way we do everything, right now, not tomorrow or in 10 years time. But in order to facilitate that kind of change you have to go after the industries that currently do the most damage and those are the guys that currently keep our lights on and boy, are they pushing back against taxes and greater regulation.

That’s why we currently live in this backward world of politicians meeting every 4 years to get all worked up about emissions goals and setting big, ambitious global targets but then continuing to subsidise fossil fuel companies and in this country, allowing fracking to go ahead despite the constant protests against.

The average worker cannot bear the brunt of this change individually and that is why the question of climate policy often goes hand in hand with that of wealth distribution. The top 1% of citizens worldwide largely represent the corporations and industries that pollute the most and it is those individuals who do not want to see global change that will affect their bottom line. Governments need to be strong enough to push back against powerful industries and lobbyists, whilst also developing policies that help the average worker make sustainable and green choices that don’t cripple them financially. All of the interviews I’ve read with protestors in France speak of how they feel that the government does not listen to them or their concerns, that they pay already high rates of tax but from one politician to another nothing changes. It is this push back against the ‘’elites’’ that landed us with Brexit and Trump, as the voting public desperately tried to find a change from within the system. I believe that the only way to have true change is an aggressive policy of wealth re-distribution and a removal of outside money and influence from politics. Only then will people be free to implement the radical changes to our global economy and way of thinking, that is needed if we are to survive the next 100 years.

Calls for a ‘State of Emergency’ in France

2nd December 2018

President Emmanuel Macron has been forced to chair an emergency security meeting, following a day of riots by hundreds of anti-government protesters in Paris. One government spokesman has said that a ‘state of emergency’ could be imposed to tackle the social unrest – following over two weeks of civil unrest in France.

 

More than 400 people were arrested on Saturday, with over 300 remaining in police custody on Sunday. President Macron recognised the legitimate concerns of peaceful protesters and said that he would hear their ‘anger’, but he denounced the infiltration of rioters across France. In Buenos Aires, at a news conference, President Macron said he ‘will never accept violence’.

 

Shouts could be heard from the estimated 5,000 gilet jaunes demonstrators at the Champs Élysées: ‘Macron, resign!’ But, by the afternoon the streets witnessed battles between rioters and police. Police have fired tear gas, stun grenades, and deployed a water canon against the disorderly protesters in Paris. Christophe Castaner, Interior Minister, claimed that thousands of troublemakers had come to ‘pillage, smash, steal, wound and even kill’. He claimed those rioters were ‘professionals at causing disorder’.

 

Who are the protesters in France?

 

It is estimated that 300,000 individuals participated in the first country-wide demonstration on 17 November. Grievances include ‘rising taxes’ and ‘falling standards of living’. One of the protesters stated: ‘We’ve got no choice. We have to use our cars in the countryside.’ In response to be questioned about their economic struggles, she said: ‘Every day we feel the impact.’

 

Protesters are from various locations and have a range of political affiliations – the most common attribute is their anger toward the fuel increases in France.

 

The price of diesel has risen by around 23% to 1.51 per litre in the past twelve months – its highest since the early 2000s. Oil prices began to fall, but the increase was exacerbated by the hydrocarbon tax which was raised by 7.6% per litre of diesel in 2018. His decision to impose a further increase of 7.6% on diesel in January 2019 has been seen as the cause of the demonstrations in France.

 

Concerns initially centred on the price of fuel, which led to yellow vests (gilet jaunes) being used as a symbol to unite drivers across France. However, demonstrators have now been raising concerns surrounding the cost of living for individuals and families in France.

AROUND THE WORLD: Anti-Macron Protests Turn Violent As Fuel Crisis Develops

Protests against recent fuel tax rises turned violent in France as citizens clash with police. The protests are just one of the many anti-Macron movements developing within France. Facing pressure from both left and right, Macron see’s yet another challenge to his leadership as his popularity plummets.

100,000 people participated in the most recent protests, and around 8,000 in the capital, engaged in clashes with police. Protestors removed police cordons and tear gas was launched into crowds, leaving 19 people injured, including 4 officers. 30 officers have been injured on the poverty stricken Reunion Island, where troops have been deployed. Overall 2 people have died in the protests so far.

This most recent anti-Macron movement is a different. They describe themselves as apolitical and are leaderless unlike the recent union led protests. Protesters cross political boundaries as anti-tax right wingers and cost-of-living issue leftists have, at least seemingly, united to face off against the embattled president.

These are not the first protests against the centrist leader. Soon after Macron’s election, union leaders and left wing activists actively fought against him, fearing his neoliberal reforms threaten workers rights. Led primarily by the historically linked French Communist Party union, the CGT, large scale protests using physical force tactics have shown that Macron faces a complete crisis.

Macron has taken an unwavering stance against all protests in a manner held by nearly all French presidents who often see themselves facing down an angry, revolutionary section of the masses. France has a proud history of physical force protests, drawing back on its historically significant revolution. The protests hark back to the days of May 1968 where workers and revolutionary students, who held the portraits of Lenin, Marx and Mao, united against Charles De Gaulle.

What can be taken away from these most recent, as well as past, protests is that Macron will very much likely not face re-election. The future of France is in the hands of either the far right or the far left. French National Front fascist Marine Le Pen is one potential future candidate having qualified for the second round in last years election or Communist Party backed past candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon . If the French radical left united around the figure it is likely he could be a suitable challenge to Le Pen.

In any case France is once again caught up in a cycle of its own history. The only way to stop this cycle of centrist leadership leading to protests and violence is the election of a radical candidate. Whether it leads to the rise of the radical left or the far right, like so many times in history before, remains to be seen.

INTERVIEW: Ana Ulsig talks Brazil, Liberty the play, Kath Duncan and more

I recently sat down Ana Luiza Ulsig who is starring in the LGBTQ play “Liberty”, where she will play the Prison Governor and Sandy Duncan (Kath’s husband,) directed by the highly acclaimed and respected Karen Douglas. We talked through a wide variety of topics, including the state of politics in Brazil, LGBTQ history and Liberty, Kath Duncan, history and a wide number of topics in this fantastic interview.

Ana is a Brazilian Danish performer and writer based in London, where she recently completed Rose Bruford College’s Master program in Actor Performer Training. Ana started taking theatre lessons by the age of 11 and holds a BA in Acting from the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO).

She says that she accumulated a vast experience in theatre, including improvisation, street theatre, musicals, comedy; as well as TV soap operas, commercials, and films. Ana participated in the project “Nós do Morro”, a cultural/social initiative in the slum of Vidigal, in Rio, and has always been engaged in projects that aim for social transformation.

That includes the work developed with TÁ NA RUA street theatre company, with regular presentations on the streets; as well as the project “Rock’n Lixo”, which she co-wrote and produced, and was awarded a 100.000 BRL grant from the Rio Municipality to tour around arenas in less favored areas of the city. This project included a Sign Language interpreter for the hearing impaired, free transportation for students of public schools, and recycled puppets workshops, as this related to the subject of the play.

Currently, Ana is rehearsing for the play “Liberty”, by Ray Barron-Woolford, and working on the authorial project “The Journey of a Warlike Mind”, about the birth of a woman’s voice. The play is inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft, a British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights, considered the mother of modern feminism.

  1. With recent events in Brazil in mind, how important is it for you to participate in a political production of this calibre?

 

Seb, for me being in this production at this moment it’s not only important, it’s essential. It is an exercise of democracy and self-expression, by celebrating and remembering part of our heritage that had been buried until now. Digging up the story of Katherine Duncan and making it known for the public is in itself a fight against silencing people who fight for freedom and equal rights for all human beings.

 

As I give voice to this story as an actress, lending my body, my voice, my work, I feel that the story is feeding me in return, awakening my own voice and giving me strength to continue fighting in these dark times.

 

I feel that we, as a society, naively think we have outgrown certain mistakes from the past, when it comes to justice, to a fair world, to humanity. But the truth is, in my view, we are repeating old structures without asking ourselves if they serve us, individually and as a collective.

 

In Brazil today we have an immense parcel of the society who used to be suppressed, and/or to be in misery, and who are finally speaking out. The indigenous, black people, miserable people (economically speaking) and women.

Ana says that Women in Brazil, have finally visualized our value and where we deserve to stand. What is happening in Brazil (and in other corners of the world now as we speak) is a reaction to these masses finally awakening. Because it means change, it means transformation, and some people really don’t want to leave their comfortable positions.

 

It is my responsibility as an artist to provoke questioning and transformation in a deep and intimate level. For it is in this deep and intimate place within us that it all begins. Changing the micro to change the macro. I like to say the artists are the doctors of the souls.

 

Nowadays, we see a play or a movie about the time when Hitler was ruling and we say “wow, it was so horrible what they did back then. Thank god we’re over it.” Right? I’m proud to be in this production because it asks: are we? Are we over it?

 

 

  1. What was it about the story of the Scottish communist activist Kath Duncan that inspired you about the play?

 

That has actually to do with how I decided to apply for this play. I was in the middle of an intense phase of my master’s course (at Rose Bruford College), facing several deadlines, and I wasn’t looking for jobs yet. But I was keeping an eye out for what was going on, and when I saw the post about the auditions for LIBERTY, I didn’t think twice. I just knew I had to apply, and I got the part!

 

Ana speaks passionately about the character, the main inspiration for me was the fact that such an important person in history had been “forgotten”, “lost in files”, do you know what I mean?

 

Moreover, that this person was a woman. For me, that was extremely inspiring. It resonates with my own story, with my family’s stories, with the stories of women in my life and from previous generations. Women who were silenced, forgotten, lost in files.

 

We are talking about centuries of abuse, of suppression. Kath’s story talks about the lives of the baby girls who were thrown in the river in China, and it talks about me. It is a story that still trespasses time, still! So, I want to listen to her and learn from her. Kath awakes me to the notion that we are still in a battle for free speech.

 

  1. Kath Duncan participated in the battle of cable street against Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, with the election of Bolsonaro and the current emergence of far-right forces in society how important is the anti-fascist struggle to you. 

 

I like that you mention this because in this play we are talking about heritage, history and the importance of learning from the past to understand the present to be able to build the future.

 

The current emergence of far-right forces shows how far behind we still are. It shows the worst and darkest part of the Brazilian society. It is impressive that 55% of the valid votes were in favor of a fascist figure. 57,8 million votes. It is an outstanding number of people who think like him, on some level.

 

During the elections process, people started showing what they really think. Voting for Bolsonaro, is basically an authorization for racism, male chauvinism, hatred against LGBT, and so on. People who think like that, now feel they have a legitimation, they are not hiding it anymore.

 

In the past months, I have heard speeches of hate, of people admitting they agree when Bolsonaro says that women should earn less because we have babies. Who says that some woman didn’t deserve to be raped because she wasn’t pretty enough. It is absurd, and on some level 57,8 million people (in Brazil only) agree with the vision that this man has of the world.

 

It also shows the ignorance of a lot of people, who sees him as a saviour (Ana draws on the similarities between Bolsonaro and Hitler are says they are not mere coincidence….) and don’t really research about him, about the work he has done and what he represents.

 

It shows the lack of education, of knowledge, which is the result of centuries of suppression of the society, by feeding the herd without allowing each individual to think on his/her own, have opinions and, ultimately, the right of free speech, which Kath fought so hard for.

 

In the play, I play the prison governor. It is the role I auditioned for because I like the challenge of putting myself in other people’s shoes and lighting up the darkness within my own self. It is the only way of understanding where we are and how things can change. This prison governor represents to me this view that still lives among us, narrow-minded, male chauvinist, that women are inferior, that the poor don’t deserve civil rights, that gays should be killed.

 

This is the kind of thing I have been hearing. This mindset exists, and apparently in a wide scale. I am proud to give voice to this view on stage, in order for us to see it, acknowledge it, admit it among us, discuss it, change it. We can’t continue pretending everything is fine, this far-right/fascist dictatorship still lives discreetly among us, in us, it is about how we see ourselves, and each other.

This struggle makes me ask questions like “Who am I? What do I think? Do I value myself, as a woman? Do I need to change my own view of my own self?

 

  1. Considering how the story of Kath Duncan and the LGBT civil rights struggle in the 30’s isn’t too well known, what is the significance of these events today?

 

The thing that strikes me the most about Kath’s fight is that she wasn’t only after changing things for a particular group, or for women, she was fighting for ALL, for human kind. And she was a woman with an incredible generosity to extend her actions. She was fighting for the right of free speech, independently of who you are – gender, race, economic state…

 

She became a symbol of liberty in a broader sense. I believe that it is our duty to cherish and respect the work she did in the past, and continue it, increase it, grow and transform.

 

  1.  What is your opinion on the current political happenings in Brazil such as former president Lula’s imprisonment and the election of Bolsonaro?

 

At this moment, I find it hard to know what is true. We are living in a big messy pool of information, opinions, news of which we don’t know the source; and in Brazil the unmasking of a massive corruption that started with our colonization. I think it’s funny that many voted for Bolsonaro because “PT (the labour party) destroyed the Brazilian economy, was corrupt, etc etc…”. But what has to be taken into account is that this structure started 500 years ago, not 13 years ago. That during the ruling of Lula and, afterwards, Dilma, the corruption finally had the chance of being broken, this space was given. I don’t agree with everything they did during their governments, but I recognize they gave space for a massive part of the society that was in misery, and the space for corruption to show its faces.

 

I think Bolsonaro being ellected is a step back, BUT I also see that we have built a strong base, that allows us not to fall back into old habits. I think we are facing danger but we are also prepared to fight. And this is new.

That is why stories like Kath Duncan’s are so important to be told, and celebrated. She is part of this base, part of why today we can say we are prepared to fight. To continue fighting. For Kath, for you, for me, for our ancestors, and our future generations.

 

The plays website can be found at www.kathduncan.com and the link to buy tickets, https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/deptford-heritage-festival 

If you’re interested in finding out more information about the hugely inspiring Ana, her website can be found here,www.analuizaulsig.com

Cover Photo Credit: Andre Groth, group Ta na Rua.

AROUND THE WORLD: Indictment Reveals American Neo-Nazis Were Trained In Ukraine Possibly With US Funding

An unsealed FBI indictment has revealed that 4 American Neo-Nazis from the Rise Above Movement have trained with the Ukrainian Fascist Azov Battalion. The indictment noted that the Azov Battalion “is believed to have participated in training and radicalizing United States-based white supremacy organizations.”

This revelation has come soon after the massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue by an armed anti-Semite assailant. It reveals a deep rooted problem of Fascism within the United States as the far right have become emboldened by world events.

The group known as the Rise Above Movement have participated in violent clashes against American based Antifa groups in Charlottesville and California. The 4 men have been charged for their actions in Charlottesville, which helped culminate in the murder of socialist organiser Heather Heyer.

The indictment found that the 4 Nazis had met with Olena Semanyaka, the leader of the international department of the Ukrainian National Corps, which functions as a civilian arm of the Azov Battalion. Azov became an active and influential far right militia following the events of Euromaiden in 2014 as Fascist organisers participated in the revolt. One such organiser Oleh Tyahnybok, who once demanded an investigation into an alleged “Jewish-Muscovite mafia” that controlled Ukraine, appeared on stage with deceased US senator John McCain who greeted protesters during the crisis. Likewise Andriy Biletsky, who led the forerunner to Azov, wrote that the events were part of “A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”

Recently, Congress has finally passed legislation that forbids the arming of Azov (it has previously allowed such funding for 3 years). Despite this, the Trump administrations 200 million dollar funding to the Ukrainian army will still likely see US arms in the hands of Neo-Nazis who dominate the front lines. When questioned whether these arms could find themselves to be acquired by Azov, US military officials admitted there was no mechanism in place to prevent that from happening. Ivan Katchanovski, a professor of political science at the University of Ottawa and expert on the Ukrainian Neo-Nazi movement has stated that “It’s very corrupt in Ukraine and money can be stolen — the same as in Syria where extremist fighters got guns from U.S.-backed units,” 

Not content with arming the far right, the American establishment has sought ties with some of the most putrid figures of the Ukrainian Nazi scene. C14 gang leader Serhiy Bondar, who has participated in programs against Ukraine’s Roma population, was invited to speak at the government funded America House Kyiv. Likewise, the NATO and Republican Paul Ryan funded Atlantic Council invited the founder of the Social-Nationalist Party and Roma pogrom participant Andriy Parubiy for a meeting in Congress.

In order to justify this not so subtle armament of Neo-Nazis, the American media has attempted to whitewash clear far right activity in Ukraine. One pundit, James Kirchick, described the Ukrainian fighters as “Putin’s imaginary Nazis.” The justification for this armament comes about as America once again seeks to fight Russia via unstable proxy forces. In similar past circumstances the United States has funded anti-Soviet jihadists in Afghanistan including Osama Bin Laden, anti-communist military junta forces in El Salvador who infamously raped and killed 4 American nuns and now Neo-Nazi volunteers in Ukraine fighting Russian separatists.

All these cases have resulted in severe blow-back for the United States. America’s culpability for co-opting Fascist rhetoric and violence has resulted in nothing but destruction and will likely continue. The 4 men trained in Ukraine have used their skills to assault and bludgeon US citizens in Fascist riots. The extent of the damage potentiality caused by the funding of these, among other, far-right radicals in the US and in Europe remains to be fully seen.

The Rise of the German Greens- The left can learn from their success

While most of the headlines in German politics have recently been made by the decision of Chancellor Angela Merkel not to seek re-election in 2021 and the continued rise of the far right AFD (Alternative for Germany) the increased popularity of the German Greens has almost gone unnoticed, at least in the UK.

At the Bavarian State election last month the narrative was about the heavy losses suffered by the CSU(the sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democrats in Bavaria) along with the 22 seats gained by the AFD. However, it was the German Green Party that stormed into second place gaining a 9% swing, higher than that of any of the other parties except for the AFD whilst also gaining 20 seats.

It was a similar story at the State election Hesse on October 28th where Merkel’s CDU lost 7 seats, on a -11.3% swing while the Greens replaced the SPD( Social Democrats) as the second largest party (in terms of seats) with a swing of 8.7% gaining 16 seats. So why are the Greens doing so well and who exactly are they?

In fact the current German Green Party is a 1993 merger of two separate parties with different traditions (not unlike the Liberal Democrats in the UK) the original West German Green Party Die Grünen and Alliance 90 a group of non-Communist parties in the former East German who formed part of the democratic opposition in the Volkskammer the East German Parliament. Therefore in many ways the Greens are the epitome of a united German political party in contrast to the CDU and SDP who are more associated with West Germany and Die Linke(the left) who have are the successor the Socialist Unity Party that governed the GDR.

Following the merger with Alliance 90 that was largely motivated by a desire to meet the 5% threshold for Parliamentary representation in the post-unification Bundestag[1], it was in the Red-Green coalition with the SDP where the Greens made an impact.  Indeed following the 1998 Federal election despite a slight fall in their percentage of the vote won 47 seats. Although the Greens had three cabinet ministers in the coalition headed by SPD Chancellor Gerthart Schroder there was almost instant discord over German participant in the 1998 war in Kosovo (the first postwar deployment of German troops abroad).  

Indeed the Greens developed a reputation for principled competence in government and at the 2002 Federal election they increased their representation to 55 seats and in 2005 they only had small losses by the heavy losses suffered by the SPD forced them out of government with CDU leader Angela Merkel becoming Chancellor.

However, after several years in the doldrums they are back not just in terms of the recent election results but the Greens also have a strong record in local government more generally. Currently the Greens are in government in the following State Parliaments Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia. They are also in opposition in Bavaria, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony , North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony. In some of these Landers (as the German states are known), they are in government with their traditional allies the SPD, and even Die Linke but in others they have formed coalitions with the CDU and the free market FDP.

So, why are the Greens doing so well at the moment? One argument is that the Greens are no longer the party of pacifist hippies but now well- educated urban professionals in other words at least for a certain section of the population they have gone mainstream.

According to research by the London School of Economics, the SPD has been in long-term decline struggling to reconcile their traditional working class support base and young metropolitan liberal pro-European voters who are increasingly gravitating towards the Greens. Arguably the Greens have also become home for moderate centrist supporters of the CDU and CSU dismayed by those parties move to the right. Internally the Greens have been dominated by power-sharing arrangements between the left wing base and centrist pragmatists known as ‘realos’. According to this argument, it is the ‘realos’ who are currently in the ascendency, therefore, helping the parties’ electoral prospects.

However another analysis is that the Greens are doing well as they offer a clear coherent alternative to the far right AFD with a pro-European, tolerant approach to migration along with an acceptance of the challenges of climate change. It isn’t only in Germany where the Greens are doing well in elections. In  Belgium the Greens polled over 30% while in Luxembourg they increased their tally of MPs by 50%.

Perhaps the most obvious explanation is that the Greens have benefited from the implosion of the SPD since 2005 following a pattern of struggling Social Democratic parties that has affected much of Europe in recent years. As in the UK and USA commentators have also argued that the key contemporary political juxtaposition is no longer the left-right divide but rather open or closed. Clearly, the Greens with their pro-immigration and pro-European stance are ‘open’ compared to the ‘closed’ nature of the AFD.

It remains to be seen of course if the Greens can maintain their success in the increasingly unstable German political scene with the centre-left collapsing, far right growing and Angela Merkel’s Chancellorship coming to an increasingly disorderly end.

AROUND THE WORLD: Tactical victory of Gaza armed factions leads to Israel Defence minister resignation

2 day clashes in Gaza, the most intense since the 2014 Gaza war, have led to an Egyptian negotiated ceasefire in what has been seen as a blow to what remains of the right wing Netanyahu government. The Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman has subsequently resigned denouncing the move as “surrendering to terror”. He has since stated that his ultra right, anti integrationist party will pull out of the ruling coalition possibly leading to an early election.

The conflict and subsequent ceasefire deal comes after months of tensions as outlined in an earlier TPN piece. The military response of the Palestinian armed factions in Gaza, including Hamas and the PFLP, was launched following a botched Israeli intelligence mission that left 7 Palestinians and 1 Israeli dead. In an act of reprisal, the armed factions launched some 460 rockets with most penetrating Israel’s Iron Dome system. Israel responded with more than hundred and fifty strikes, including some on a local Palestinian television studio.

The deal reached has seen an Israeli commitment to freer movement of goods in and out of Gaza and a Qatari commitment of 15 million dollars cash to Hamas leaders. The deal can be examined as tentative as the regions actors remain cautious of events in Gaza. Egypt’s president Sisi, who has played an important role in the Gaza blockade since coming to power, has no sympathy for Hamas, an offshoot of the now persecuted Muslim Brotherhood. Yet with half of Egyptians living either at the poverty line or below it, he is eager to see the inflamed and seemingly everlasting situation resolved as Egypt relies on its importation of wheat from neighbouring states.

Similarly, Israel and its dominant right wing forces are at a standstill with Gaza. Despite numerous heavy-handed and viscous operations into the blockaded Gaza Strip, Israel cannot ostensibly crush the armed Palestinian resistance it faces there. The armed factions successful use of the Soviet and North Korean manufactured Kornet missile system is a worry for Israel. It was decisive in Israel’s defeat in southern Lebanon in 2006 and a critical factor in ending Israel’s occupation of the country through armed actions by Hezbollah. Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, has proudly admitted to supplying rockets to Gaza despite tensions between Hamas and Hezbollah owing to the Syrian civil war. The appearance of this unity and presence of these weapons have no doubt given Netanyahu serious pause.

Meanwhile, the radical armed factions of Gaza have grown in both confidence and support from the 2 day insurrection. Already, Hamas have busted a spying network responsible for the botched operation and resistance supporters have rallied across the occupied territories, celebrating a perceived Israeli embarrassment.

Events have once again proven that Israel cannot hope to crush the Palestinian resistance movement through military measures. Its only hope for an end to the conflict whilst maintaining its status as a nation is through the peace process. However, with internal right wing anger at the believed lack of action growing and a developing corruption investigation into Netanyahu and his associates, the current government is unlikely to pursue any long-lasting commitment to peace in the region.