Focal Points Blog

Bulgaria’s Ataka Party: An Unlikely Blend of Left and Right

Volen Siderov, leader of Ataka. Photo by John Feffer.

Volen Siderov, leader of Ataka. Photo by John Feffer.

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

Three items in Volen Siderov’s office reflect his current image. The religious icons on the wall speak to his embrace of traditional Bulgarian values and to the agreement his party concluded with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in 2006. The antique sword hanging nearby stands in for his militancy. And the heavy boxing bag is part of his personal commitment to physical fitness as well as a willingness to engage in physical altercations.

Volen Siderov is the leader of Ataka, perhaps the most controversial political party in Bulgaria. Ataka – or Attack – came to prominence in 2005, when it placed fourth in the parliamentary elections. Siderov himself came in second in the presidential race the following year. The party’s platform mixes a left-wing critique of globalization with a frankly nationalist approach to minority policy. He wants to replace Bulgaria’s flat tax with a progressive tax, but he believes that all ethnic Turks are just Bulgarians forced to convert to Islam in centuries past. He is deeply suspicious of neo-liberalism, but he also blames Roma for crime and corruption and doesn’t acknowledge attacks on the Roma community.
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No More Illusions in Egypt

egypt-unrest-crackdown-muslim-brotherhood

(Globovision / Flickr)

With the bloody attack on protest camps in Cairo, the announcement of a one-month state of emergency across the country, and the authority given to the army to “assist” the police in maintaining law and order, there can no longer be any question that Egypt is once again under the thumb of military authoritarianism. The democratic spring of Tahrir Square has been defeated, but the question “for how long” remains open. Egypt has undergone two huge changes since the overthrow of the US-backed dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, and both will play determinative roles in the current escalating crisis.

First, while there is substantial evidence that Mubarak-era loyalists are playing a major role in the anti-Morsi opposition and especially in the interim government that the military established, U.S. support for and influence on the new power center in Cairo remain uncertain. U.S. economic support for the Egyptian military remains unchanged, but that $1.3bn in military aid is now dwarfed by multi-billion grants from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and beyond; following Obama’s partial embrace of Islamist-flavored governments in Egypt as well as elsewhere in the region, Washington simply doesn’t have the same influence it once did.

Secondly, and most important, the Egyptian people have risen up to claim their rights as citizens, and have seen their power to change their country. However naive the democratic anti-Morsi protesters may have been about the possibility of overthrowing an elected leader simply by coming into the streets, as if the military would not ultimately play the decisive role, many of those millions of protesters are not likely to accept permanent military dictatorship unchallenged. Egypt today remains horrifically divided, with today’s bloodbath certain to make things worse. The Muslim Brotherhood, under attack by the generals, will almost certainly retrench some of its forces to operate underground, but its current appeal as defenders of Egyptian democracy and its “coalition for legitimacy” may simultaneously broaden their engagement. The memory of the unity of January 2011, and the power that unity created, is not likely to fade quickly.

Croatia’s Unpopulist Party Wanted No Part of EU

Daniel Srb, leader of the Croatian Party of Rights.

Daniel Srb, leader of the Croatian Party of Rights.

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

The Party of Rights in Croatia traces its lineage back to Ante Starcevic, who is sometimes referred to as the father of Croatia. In 1861, when his country was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Starcevic co-founded the Party of Rights as a vehicle for creating an independent Croatia. The long “springtime of nations” was still in effect, and many independence movements at the time aimed to break out of an empire that was called “the prisonhouse of nations.”

But independence didn’t come with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Instead, Croatia joined together with other southern Slav nations to create Yugoslavia. Only with the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941 did an opportunity for a sort of independence arise. Under Ante Pavelic, this “independent” puppet state of the Nazis ruled for four brutal years. Like Slovakia, independence for Croatia had a most unfortunate link in the mid-20th century with fascism, persecution, and war crimes.
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Foreign Policy Thin-Sliced (8/13/13)

Gen. Augusto Pinochet

Gen. Augusto Pinochet

So Much for Drones’ Redeeming Qualities

Larry Lewis, a principal research scientist at the Center for Naval Analyses, a research group with close ties to the US military, studied air strikes in Afghanistan from mid-2010 to mid-2011, using classified military data on the strikes and the civilian casualties they caused. Lewis told the Guardian he found that the missile strikes conducted by remotely piloted aircraft, commonly known as drones, were 10 times more deadly to Afghan civilians than those performed by fighter jets.

US drone strikes more deadly to Afghan civilians than manned aircraft – adviser, Spencer Ackerman, the Guardian
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Egypt: The Deck Reshuffled (Pt. 3)

Egypt revolts against Britain in 1919.

Egypt revolts against Britain in 1919.

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News. Read Parts 1 and 2.

The situation unfolding in Egypt is confusing to many Americans trying to follow the events. A number of questions have emerged in the aftermath of the Mohamed Morsi’s removal from power and the blow suffered thereby to the Muslim Brotherhood.

What are the questions people are asking?

Was the United States involved – in conjunction with the Egyptian military, supported by the vast masses of the Egyptian public in Morsi’s removal?

Isn’t the Muslim Brotherhood allied with the United States? Don’t they support U.S. Middle East policy economically (neo-liberalism) and politically (trying to bring down the Assad government in Syria)? And if indeed the Brotherhood is a U.S. political ally, why would the United States not just support, but actively participate (as they did) in Morsi’s removal?
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The 13 Imams and Religious Freedom in Bulgaria

Yonko Grozev

Yonko Grozev

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

The “case of the 13 imams” sounds almost mythic. But the current case the Bulgarian government is prosecuting against 13 imams from the area of Pazardzhik – west of Plovdiv on the way to Sofia – is very real. They stand accused of preaching radical Islam, with potential criminal sentences of up to five years. It has become a test case of the limits of religious freedom in this country on the eastern edge of the European Union.

The trial began against last week after several delays. Prosecutors allege that three of the accused spread religious hatred while the other 10 have worked with a Saudi charity that the Bulgarian government banned in 2003.
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Foreign Policy Thin-Sliced (8/8/13)

AssadPrivacy: Destined for the “Dustbins of History”

Civil libertarians can protest about how the government will track us on these devices, too, but as long as the public and the political Establishment of both parties remain indifferent, the prospect of substantial change is nil. The debate would be more honest, at least, if we acknowledge our own responsibility for our “choices as a society.” Those who complain about the loss of privacy have an obligation to examine their own collaboration, whether by intent or apathy, in the decline and fall of the very concept of privacy. We can blame terrorists for many things that have happened since 9/11, but too many Americans cavalierly spilling TMI on too many porous public platforms is not one of them.

When Privacy Jumped the Shark, Frank Rich, New York Magazine
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Tanzania to Export Electricity While Most of Its Citizens Lack Power

A map of Tanzania in Chinese.

A map of Tanzania in Chinese.

Following the signing of an agreement between the Tanzanian energy company TANESCO and China Power Investment corporation (CPI) to build a gas-fired power plant, Tanzania’s Minister for Energy and Minerals announced that Tanzania planned to export electricity by 2015.

The importance of increasing Tanzania’s capacity to produce electricity is difficult to overstate. The Tanzanian Private Sector Foundation, which compiles an annual report concerning barriers to investment in the country, reports that inadequate and unreliable power sources has been the most frequently cited obstacle to investment for the past four years.
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Israel Continues to Stonewall Arab States About Its Nukes

International Atomic Energy flag

International Atomic Energy flag

Double standards can only be endured, as well as enforced, for so long. Eighteen Arab member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency wrote a letter to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano to request that “Israeli nuclear capabilities” be included on the agenda of the 57th IAEA General Conference to be held Sept. 16-20 in Vienna. As Reuters reported

The IAEA meeting “must take appropriate measures to ensure that Israel places all its nuclear installations under agency safeguards and accedes to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” the letter, dated in June, said.
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Labor Rights Remain a Dream Unrealized for Colombia’s Workers

Meeting of fired sugarcane workers.

Meeting of fired sugarcane workers.

On Wednesday, July 10, a district court in Buga, Colombia, absolved six labor leaders of “conspiracy to commit a crime.” The accused—four sugar cane cutters and two Colombian Senate staffers—were originally charged for attending a 2008 meeting where it was alleged that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC) were present (WOLA was also at the meeting, and can attest that it was a meeting about labor rights violations, and no FARC members were in attendance). The labor leaders, the prosecution alleged, were conspiring to commit a violent act.

Their acquittal is little short of historic; in a country where union organizing has often been equated with terrorism and union leaders are regularly declared “military objectives,” the court’s decision that the meeting was part of a legitimate, legal struggle for labor rights is a major step.
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