Focal Points Blog

The New Wave of NGOs in Slovakia and East-Central Europe

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Alena Panikova, Executive Director of the Open Society Foundation in Slovakia

Alena Panikova, Executive Director of the Open Society Foundation in Slovakia

When I started working on U.S.-Soviet relations in the 1980s, I encountered my first GONGO. This was a “government-organized non-governmental organization.” It was like something out of Alice in Wonderland. An early GONGO, the Soviet Peace Committee styled itself as an NGO. It worked with various NGOs in the West. But it closely hewed to the Party line. Later, as Gorbachev began to shake up the Party, the GONGOs adopted more interesting positions. By 1989, throughout the Soviet bloc, they’d become dinosaurs, and real NGOs rapidly took their place.

As the executive director of the Open Society Foundation in Slovakia since 1995, Alena Panikova has focused on nurturing this new wave of NGOs in East-Central Europe. These organizations were important at two levels – to provide direct service and to put pressure on a government that was becoming increasingly authoritarian under Vladimir Meciar.
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Al Qaeda Seizure of Falluja Throws U.S. Attitudes Toward Iraq Into Sharp Relief

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

After the fall of Falluja to al Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, disappointment was expressed by many U.S. Marines who fought to wrest it from Iraqi insurgents. In a New York Times article on January 9, Richard Oppel quoted Kael Weston, who he described as “a former State Department political adviser who worked with the Marines for nearly three years in Falluja and the surrounding Anbar Province.”

Though he would not send troops back, Mr. Weston, the former State Department official, said it was “almost immoral for us to say, ‘It’s all up to them now, we’re out of there.’ ”
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A Tale of Two Jesuits

Early Jesuit Mission. Wikimedia Commons

Early Jesuit Mission. Wikimedia Commons

The election of a Jesuit priest, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as pope has shined a spotlight on a religious order that has traditionally preferred to work in the background ― or in the shadows, as some would have it. Jesuits were initially known for their missionary work, zeal, and a kind of ruthlessness in the name of their beliefs. Conspiracy theories hold that the order is a secret society bent on world domination.

In fact, due to their predisposition to operate outside the bounds of the church, the Society of Jesus was often looked on unfavorably by the Papacy. Prominent in education (in the United States, think Boston College, Fordham, and Georgetown), they also have reputation for free-thinking. For instance, Daniel Berrigan is a Jesuit.
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Foreign Policy Thin-Sliced (1/13)

Al Aqsa Mosque

Al Aqsa Mosque

You Can’t Win a Nuclear War, Chapter 743

Another reason we cannot credibly threaten to use nuclear arms against small states is that our retaliation would seem disproportionate, even to our own allies. This matters both strategically and morally. If the United States uses a nuclear weapon, whatever started the war will quickly become irrelevant, as attention will immediately turn to the casualties from the U.S. retaliation. The burn victims alone will present a ghastly moral dilemma we have never encountered before; like it or not, the United States will end up responsible for the care of its defeated enemy, and troops advancing through areas destroyed by an American nuclear response (who themselves will be at risk in a nuclear environment) will quickly realize that they will have no humane choice but to euthanize many of those civilian casualties on the spot. That footage, and not the initial attack on the United States, will be the images that will run in perpetuity on the world’s television screens, and perhaps might even achieve the propaganda victory the enemy wished for in the first place.

The Case for Conventional Deterrence, Tom Nichols, the National Interest
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Overpopulation Makes a Mockery of Citizenship

Alan Weisman

Alan Weisman

In his highly acclaimed book World Without Us (Picador, 2008), Alan Weisman  speculated on how the earth would fare in our absence (even worse … then much better, thank you). In his most recent book, Countdown (Little, Brown and Company, 2013), Weisman chronicles the impact of population growth on the earth. He attempts to determine its ― in technocrat speak ― “carrying capacity” and reports on what forces are working towards and against that end. As you can imagine, much of it revolves around agriculture, resources, and climate change. Countdown is required reading for all earthlings.

Some thought-provoking excerpts:

. . . at the First World Optimum Population Conference [in 1993], [environmental scientist] Gretchen Daily and [population studies authority Paul Ehrlich and his wife stated that optimum population] did not mean the maximum number that could be crammed onto the planet like industrial chickens, but how many could live well without compromising the chance for future generations to do the same. At minimum, everyone should be guaranteed sustenance, shelter, education, health care, freedom from prejudice, and opportunities to earn a living.
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Jordanian Women Who Marry Immigrants Denied Civil Rights

Protesters In Amman Call For An End To Government Corruption And Parliamentary Reform

Last December the spokesman for the Jordanian government, Mohamad al Moumani, announced that the government will not grant civil rights to Jordanian women married to non-Jordanian citizens. Instead, he said, “Jordanian women will be accorded services rights.”

His explanation was “to prevent giving political rights [or Jordanian citizenship] to the children of Jordanian women who are married to non-citizens.” This issue,” he added, “is a sovereign  issue.”

The government’s position is echoed by the former Chief of the Royal Court, Reyad Jameel Abu Karaki, who told me from Amman that Jordan should not pay for the choices those women have made. “Why should we pay for schooling, health care or feeding those children when we barely can do that for our own citizens?”
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German Resistance: A Matter of Principle

German Parliament member Reinhard Weisshuhn

German Parliament member Reinhard Weisshuhn

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

In the early days of the changes in 1989, a new kind of politics emerged within the opposition movements poised to enter parliaments and governments. Many dissidents had a deep distrust of political parties and of political compromise. After all, under Communism, all the official political parties merely followed the script provided by the ruling elite. And political compromise was nothing less than collaboration with the authorities – providing information to the secret police, for instance, or becoming the worst kind of careerist.

It was this experience of politics that produced its antithesis: anti-politics. In a famous essay on the subject, Hungarian novelist George Konrad favored a healthy skepticism toward power rather than an obsession with seizing power. Vaclav Havel, too, focused more on the morality of everyday gestures – living in truth – rather than engaging in the degraded arena of real, existing politics. Civic movements, not professional politicians, became the vehicle of choice for transforming society.
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U.S. Still Friends With Gulf States Despite Sunni Slaughter of Shia

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

You may have heard that the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant  has seized control of a large part of Fallujah, Iraq. Meanwhile, in Northern Syria, Isis, as it’s known, is not only ostensibly fighting with President Assad’s regime but others also opposed to it: the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front. In fact, BBC reports,  a member of  National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces said, “Isis is an extension of the Assad regime.”

Also, you may have heard that in December, al-Nusra and Jaysh al-Islamd, a division of the Islamic Front, massacred between 20 and 100 Alawites, Druze, Christians, and Shiites in Adra, Syria, complete with beheadings and the attendant necrophilia we’ve all grown to know and love with Sunni Islamist extremists, according to Russian journalists.
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More Sanctions on Iran = Uranium Enriched to a Higher Grade

Ratcheting up the Rhetoric on Iran

(David Holt / Flickr)

In light of how much it has invested in uranium enrichment, it’s unrealistic to expect Iran to abandon the process. At the National Interest, Colin Kahl explains.

Given the significant financial investment—estimated to be at least $100 billion—and political capital the regime has expended to master uranium enrichment, the supreme leader will not agree to completely dismantle Iran’s program as many in Congress demand. … If Khamenei senses [President] Rouhani and [Minister of Foreign Affairs] Zarif are headed in that direction, he will likely pull the rug out from under continued negotiations, regardless of U.S. threats to escalate the pressure further.
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To Washington, Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan Has Gone Off the Reservation

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyio Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyio Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen

The current corruption crisis zeroing in on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyio Erdogan has all the elements of one of his country’s famous soap operas that tens of millions of people all over the Middle East tune in to each day: bribes, shoe boxes filled with millions in cash, and dark whispers of foreign conspiracies.

As prosecutors began arresting leading government officials and businessmen, the Prime Minister claims that some foreign “ambassadors are engaging in provocative actions,” singling out U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone. The international press has largely dismissed Erdogan’s charges as a combination of paranoia and desperation, but might the man have a point?
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