BBC News reports: Montenegro’s chief special prosecutor has said “nationalists from Russia” were behind an attempt to assassinate the PM and carry out a coup.
Milivoje Katnic said the plot involved killing pro-Western PM Milo Djukanovic with a professional long-distance sharpshooter.
The plotters are accused of planning to break into parliament and bring a pro-Russian government to power.
There is no evidence the Russian state was involved.
About 20 people were arrested on Montenegro’s election day on 16 October and were initially identified as Serbian paramilitaries.
They are now known to include Serbian and Montenegrin citizens, 14 of whom remain in custody. [Continue reading…]
Nadette De Visser writes: In Europe as well as the United States the political arena has shifted to the fringes. Measured, moderate stands on issues of national and international importance are zapped by high-voltage soundbites, obliterated by incendiary one-liners.
Anger is the coveted political currency of the moment—anger fueled by fear of foreigners, by fears for the future — anger fueled by populist politicians at home and abroad. And even little Switzerland, the Continent’s hoary paradigm of democracy, has not been immune.
Until this year, in fact, it seemed all but certain that the right-wing populists of the SVP (the Schweizer Volkspartei) would push through a referendum calling for the expulsion of “immigrants,” even second or third generation Swiss born, if they were found guilty of a legal offense as minor as two parking tickets.
(Donald Trump has made essentially the same idea part of his 10-point immigration plan: “Zero tolerance for criminal aliens,” he proclaims. “We will issue detainers for all illegal immigrants who are arrested for any crime whatsoever, and they will be placed into immediate removal proceedings.”)
But in Switzerland, the SVP populists found themselves up against a new grass roots movement, Operation Libero, that seemed to come from nowhere. The SVP referendum lost badly, and all of a sudden all eyes turned to a political newcomer—26-year-old driven, committed, and comely Flavia Kleiner, the movement’s co-president. [Continue reading…]
Paul Hockenos reports: Though she’s grown out the blue-dyed coiffure, Birgitta Jónsdóttir still brightens up the anodyne halls of the Althing, Iceland’s parliament in Reykjavík, the country’s capital. In stockinged feet, a white-cotton hippie skirt, and a dark-blue embroidered waistcoat, the 49-year-old Jónsdóttir refuses to fit the classic mold of politician, even though she’s occupied a parliamentary seat for seven years, since 2012 as the front person of the Pirate Party. Jónsdóttir, the former WikiLeaks spokesperson and a published lyricist, calls herself a “poetician,” since verse is her true calling, she says, not the daily grind of politics. Yet if Iceland’s national elections were held today and not on October 29, the Pirates could head up a new government on this rugged island of 330,000 souls — possibly with Jónsdóttir as prime minister.
Iceland’s political status quo — a Nordic-style parliamentary democracy, dominated for decades by pro-NATO conservatives — was shattered when the country went bust in the 2008 financial crisis, pitching Iceland into its deepest crisis since full independence and the republic were declared in 1944. This year, Iceland was rocked again when the Panama Papers leak exposed corruption among top politicos, including the prime minister, who resigned under fire. “People here are angry and frustrated,” says Karl Blöndal, deputy editor of the center-right Morgunbladid. “In the minds of many voters, the Pirates are the only untainted party, and with them Birgitta carries authority. She’s been the face of the opposition since the crash.”
Although the Pirates began surging in polls more than a year ago, peaking at 43 percent in April, Jónsdóttir has been coy about whether she’d take the country’s highest post if elections go in the party’s favor and supporters insist on her as prime minister. (Iceland’s Pirates have slipped considerably in surveys since early this year; currently, they’re neck and neck with the ruling Independence Party.) The object of her desire, she says, is the Althing’s presidency, an office from which she could reinvest power in the legislature — one means of bringing politics nearer to the people, a cause close to Pirate hearts. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Outsiders may regard the idea of a government run by Pirates as a joke. But “the voters think a joke is better than what we have now,” said Benedikt Jóhannesson, leader of another insurgent party that is even younger than the Pirates and has also earned substantial support.
Jóhannesson hastens to add that he doesn’t see the Pirates as a joke. His buttoned-down party is made up of technocrats, academics and business executives, a far cry from the punk-rock, hacker spirit of the Pirates.
But the two may be in coalition talks after the election if, as expected, no party comes anywhere near the majority needed to govern. He may not agree with the Pirates on many issues, he said, but at least they share a belief in the need for fundamental change.
“Some of our parties have been around for 100 years,” said Jóhannesson, fresh off a 10-hour drive back from a campaign swing through the remote Icelandic countryside. “But the systems that worked in, say, the 1960s don’t necessarily work for the 2010s.”
Not everyone is so gung-ho about calls for radical change.
The latest opinion polls show the Pirates jostling for first place with the Independence Party. The center-right party is synonymous with Iceland’s political establishment, having governed the country for much of its modern history. But it was badly tarnished by its stewardship of the bubble economy in the lead-up to the 2008 crash. [Continue reading…]
In Spring 2016, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia “closed” their borders to migrants who had been transiting these countries via the “Balkan route” on their way further into the European Union. The closures follow other attempts at shutting EU borders: Hungary built a fence along its border with Serbia, while the so-called “EU-Turkey” deal was intended to prevent people from reaching EU borders by sending those who had crossed the Mediterranean back to Turkey.
Despite the border closures, the Balkan route is still active – a problem recognised at an EU leaders’ meeting in July. Now those refugees not able to get any further are stuck in limbo. Non-governmental organisatons (NGOs) and the UNHCR estimate there are at least 200 arrivals per day in Serbia, with around 5,000 people stuck in Serbia alone.
Even though the number of people stuck in Serbia is comparatively small, our interviews throughout the summer of 2016 showed that a lack of resources and attention is precipitating a secondary humanitarian crisis: a growing refugee population is living in increasingly precarious conditions and is almost wholly reliant on smugglers to leave. The UNHCR believes that border closures divert problems and aggravate living conditions, while Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) told us they see a correlation between the closures and increased levels of violence against refugees – both by smugglers and border authorities.
The Guardian reports: Finland says it is close to concluding a defence cooperation agreement with the US, the latest in a series of steps the formally neutral Nordic country has taken to bolster its security in the face of heightened Russian military activity.
The country’s defence minister, Jussi Niinistö, said he hoped the deal – incorporating joint military training, information sharing and research – would be signed before the US presidential election in November.
“It’s one of the reasons to have it done this autumn. But I’m certain we will continue to work together with either one of main candidates winning,” Niinisto told Reuters news agency. There was no immediate response from the Pentagon on a potential agreement.
The deal would provide a framework for increased cooperation between the armed forces of the two nations but would not involve any binding commitment for either country to come to the defence of the other. Finland signed a similar agreement with the UK in July.
Sweden, the other Nordic country to have remained outside Nato, signed a defence cooperation agreement with the US in June. Leaders from both Sweden and Finland also took part in a Nato summit last month in Warsaw, and their armed forces have taken part in Nato military exercises in the region as nervousness has grown around the Baltic over an increasing number of Russian military drills in the air and sea following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Both Nordic states have already signed agreements that would make it easier for them to host Nato troops in a crisis, and they contributed troops to the Nato mission in Afghanistan. [Continue reading…]
Bosnia experienced a difficult reconstruction process after its 1992–1995 war. Now its ongoing political and economic crisis is making it harder to respond to a growing global problem – radicalisation.
According to recent reports, Bosnians have been travelling to Syria to fight for radical Islamist groups in increasing numbers since 2012. They now constitute one of the largest European foreign fighter contingents as a proportion of national population. Figures from 2015 suggest there are more than 300 Bosnians in Syria.
There have also been a number of low-level incidents of terrorist violence in Bosnia. In April 2015, for example, a 24-year-old man from an area near the town of Zvornik drove into a police station and opened fire. He killed one officer and injured two others before being shot dead.
This has prompted heated debates about how to handle the problem without feeding into the tensions that pervade in Bosnian politics. Of particular concern is the possibility that decisions about security will be coloured by ethno-politics.
Kenan Malik writes: Debates about immigration are… rarely about numbers as such. They are much more about who the migrants are, and about underlying anxieties of nation, community, identity and values. ‘We should not forget’, claimed Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, as Hungary put up new border fences, and introduced draconian new anti-immigration laws, ‘that the people who are coming here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely different culture. Most are not Christian, but Muslim.’ ‘Is it not worrying’, he asked, ‘that Europe’s Christian culture is already barely able to maintain its own set of Christian values?’
Many thinkers, Christian and non-Christian, religious and non-religious, echo this fear of Muslim immigration undermining the cultural and moral foundation of Western civilization. The late Oriana Fallaci, the Italian writer who perhaps more than most promoted the notion of Eurabia – the belief that Europe is being Islamicised – described herself as a ‘Christian atheist’, insisting that only Christianity provided Europe with a cultural and intellectual bulwark against Islam. The British historian Niall Ferguson calls himself ‘an incurable atheist’ and yet is alarmed by the decline of Christianity which undermines ‘any religious resistance’ to radical Islam. Melanie Phillips, a non-believing Jew, argues in her book The World Turned Upside Down that ‘Christianity is under direct and unremitting cultural assault from those who want to destroy the bedrock values of Western civilization.’
To look upon migration in this fashion is, I want to suggest, a misunderstanding of both Europe’s past and Europe’s present. To understand why, I want first to explore two fundamental questions, the answers to which must frame any discussion on inclusion and morality. What we mean by a diverse society? And why should we value it, or indeed, fear it?
When we think about diversity today in Europe, the picture we see is that of societies that in the past were homogenous, but have now become plural because of immigration. But in what way were European societies homogenous in the past? And in what ways are they diverse today?
Certainly, if you had asked a Frenchman or an Englishman or a Spaniard in the nineteenth or the fifteenth or the twelfth centuries, they would certainly not have described their societies as homogenous. And were they to be transported to contemporary Europe, it is likely that they would see it as far less diverse than we do.
Our view of the Europe of the past is distorted by historical amnesia; and our view of the Europe of the present is distorted by a highly restricted notion of diversity. When we talk of European societies as historically homogenous, what we mean is that they used to be ethnically, or perhaps culturally, homogenous. But the world is diverse in many ways. Societies are cut through by differences, not only of ethnicity, but also of class, gender, faith, politics, and much else. [Continue reading…]
In the West, the top three watershed geopolitical events of the modern era are commonly seen as the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the al Qaeda attacks in the U.S. in 2001, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The 1995 Srebrenica Genocide, has largely been forgotten and outside the Muslim world its significance never widely grasped.
Yet as Brendan Simms noted in Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, from 1453 to the Present:
In the Muslim world, the slaughter of their co-religionists in Bosnia contributed substantially to the emergence of a common consciousness on foreign policy. According to this global discourse, Muslims were now on the defensive across the world: in Palestine, Bosnia, Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere. A large number of Arab, Turkish, Caucasian, central Asian and other Mujahedin – in search of a new jihad after Afghanistan – went to Bosnia to fight. It was among European Muslims, however, that the Bosnian experience resonated most forcefully. ‘It doesn’t really matter whether we perish or survive,’ the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina [Dr. Mustafa Cerić] remarked in May 1994, ‘the lesson will always be there. And it is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue.’ This ‘Zionist’ message echoed across the immigrant communities in western Europe, especially Britain. ‘Bosnia Today – Brick Lane tomorrow’ warned the banners in one East London demonstration. Some of the most prominent subsequent British jihadists such as Omar Sheikh, who masterminded the kidnapping and murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl, and the Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg – were radicalized by Bosnia. In other words, the new Muslim geopolitics of the mid-1990s was a reaction not to western meddling but to nonintervention in the face of genocide and ethnic cleansing [my emphasis].
A decade later, when Nadeem Azam interviewed Cerić (who in 2003 in recognition of his contributions to inter-faith dialogue, tolerance and peace, was awarded UNESCO’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny peace prize) he reiterated his message on the necessity of Muslim self-reliance.
What are your feelings about the future of Islam in Europe?
Not very good. The rise of fascism combined with an officially-sanctioned tendency to be unreasonable when it comes to discussion about Islam are bad omens. I am not a soothsayer but I can see the reality of a day when the treatment of a Muslim in Europe will be worse than that of serial killer: we are, I am afraid, on the verge of seeing a situation develops whereby it would be a crime to be a Muslim in Europe. The events of 11 September, 2001, have made things worse. May Allah protect us.
But having such feelings does not depress me. It actually should motivate us and make us even more resolute in our efforts. More importantly it should make us think of planning and organising. If the day comes – like it did in Bosnia – you might be unable to control events around you but you should at least be ready to do what is needed to be done by a Muslim at such an hour.
The message of the four year-long war we fought is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue; they must always rely on God and the faith, goodness and compassion within their communities. This is very important. Our strength will always be reflective of the strength of our communities.
Today, Cerić’s fears are clearly all the more well-founded as across Europe xenophobia and Islamophobia relentlessly grow and in the United States a presidential candidate gains the strongest boost to his campaign by promising a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims.
The lesson that Srebrenica taught many Muslims in the West was that even when they are in no sense foreign or culturally set apart, they are still at risk of exclusion and elimination.
Last month after the EU referendum in the UK, a resident of Barnsley, South Yorkshire (five miles from where I grew up), when asked to explain why he had voted for Brexit said: “It’s to stop the Muslims coming into this country. Simple as that.”
Among opponents of the war in Iraq, a widely accepted narrative has long been that the antidote to the unintended consequences of so much ill-conceived Western meddling in the Greater Middle East over the last 15 years is to simply step back and disengage. This sentiment, in large part, is what got Barack Obama elected in 2008. Let the region sort out its own problems or let closer neighbors such as the Russians intervene, so the thinking goes. The U.S. has much more capacity to harm than to help.
Yet as the killing fields of Syria have grown larger year after year, the message from Srebrenica merely seems to have been underlined: the magnitude of the death toll in any conflict will be of little concern across most of the West so long as the victims are Muslim.
After Donald Trump called for Muslims to be shut out of America, Michael Moore declared: We are all Muslim. And he promoted the hashtag #WeAreAllMuslim.
Expressions of solidarity through social media are easy to promote and of debatable value, yet the isolation of Muslims in this instance, rather than being overcome, merely seemed to get reinforced. #WeAreAllMuslim was mostly deployed as a sarcastic slur shared by Islamophobes.
The global trends are strong and clear, pointing to a future marked by more and more social fragmentation as people withdraw into their respective enclaves where they believe they can “take care of their own.”
We live in a world in which we are getting thrown closer together while simultaneously trying to stand further apart. It can’t work.
At some point we either embrace the fact that we are all human and have the capacity to advance our mutual interests, or we will continue down the current path of self-destruction.
* * *
Last year, Myriam François-Cerrah, a British journalist who is also a Muslim, took a group of young people from the UK — all of whom were born in the year of the genocide — to Srebrenica where they learned lessons that arguably have more relevance now than they have had at any time since 1995.
The events immediately leading up to the genocide are recounted in this segment from the BBC documentary, The Death of Yugoslavia:
Joseph Loconte writes: In the summer of 1916, a young Oxford academic embarked for France as a second lieutenant in the British Expeditionary Force. The Great War, as World War I was known, was only half-done, but already its industrial carnage had no parallel in European history.
“Junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute,” recalled J. R. R. Tolkien. “Parting from my wife,” he wrote, doubting that he would survive the trenches, “was like a death.”
The 24-year-old Tolkien arrived in time to take part in the Battle of the Somme, a campaign intended to break the stalemate between the Allies and Central Powers. It did not.
The first day of the battle, July 1, produced a frenzy of bloodletting. Unaware that its artillery had failed to obliterate the German dugouts, the British Army rushed to slaughter.
Before nightfall, 19,240 British soldiers — Prime Minister David Lloyd George called them “the choicest and best of our young manhood” — lay dead. That day, 100 years ago, remains the most lethal in Britain’s military history. [Continue reading…]
Ishaan Tharoor writes: Tens of thousands of refugees fled a war. They journeyed across the Eastern Mediterranean, a trip filled with peril. But the promise of sanctuary on the other side was too great.
No, this is not the plight faced by Syrian refugees, desperate to escape the desolation of their homeland and find a safer, better life in Europe. Rather, it’s the curious and now mostly forgotten case of thousands of people from Eastern Europe and the Balkans who were housed in a series of camps across the Middle East, including in Syria, during World War II.
As the Nazi and Soviet war machines rolled through parts of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, vast civilian populations were displaced in their wake. In areas occupied by fascist troops, Jewish communities and other undesired minorities faced the harshest onslaught, but others, particularly those suspected of backing partisan fighters, also were subject to targeted attacks and forced evacuations. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Every Friday, just yards from a statue of Bill Clinton with arm aloft in a cheery wave, hundreds of young bearded men make a show of kneeling to pray on the sidewalk outside an improvised mosque in a former furniture store.
The mosque is one of scores built here with Saudi government money and blamed for spreading Wahhabism — the conservative ideology dominant in Saudi Arabia — in the 17 years since an American-led intervention wrested tiny Kosovo from Serbian oppression.
Since then — much of that time under the watch of American officials — Saudi money and influence have transformed this once-tolerant Muslim society at the hem of Europe into a font of Islamic extremism and a pipeline for jihadists.
Kosovo now finds itself, like the rest of Europe, fending off the threat of radical Islam. Over the last two years, the police have identified 314 Kosovars — including two suicide bombers, 44 women and 28 children — who have gone abroad to join the Islamic State, the highest number per capita in Europe.
They were radicalized and recruited, Kosovo investigators say, by a corps of extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab gulf states using an obscure, labyrinthine network of donations from charities, private individuals and government ministries.
“They promoted political Islam,” said Fatos Makolli, the director of Kosovo’s counterterrorism police. “They spent a lot of money to promote it through different programs mainly with young, vulnerable people, and they brought in a lot of Wahhabi and Salafi literature. They brought these people closer to radical political Islam, which resulted in their radicalization.”
After two years of investigations, the police have charged 67 people, arrested 14 imams and shut down 19 Muslim organizations for acting against the Constitution, inciting hatred and recruiting for terrorism. The most recent sentences, which included a 10-year prison term, were handed down on Friday.
It is a stunning turnabout for a land of 1.8 million people that not long ago was among the most pro-American Muslim societies in the world. Americans were welcomed as liberators after leading months of NATO bombing in 1999 that spawned an independent Kosovo.
After the war, United Nations officials administered the territory and American forces helped keep the peace. The Saudis arrived, too, bringing millions of euros in aid to a poor and war-ravaged land.
But where the Americans saw a chance to create a new democracy, the Saudis saw a new land to spread Wahhabism.
“There is no evidence that any organization gave money directly to people to go to Syria,” Mr. Makolli said. “The issue is they supported thinkers who promote violence and jihad in the name of protecting Islam.”
Kosovo now has over 800 mosques, 240 of them built since the war and blamed for helping indoctrinate a new generation in Wahhabism. They are part of what moderate imams and officials here describe as a deliberate, long-term strategy by Saudi Arabia to reshape Islam in its image, not only in Kosovo but around the world.
Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2015 reveal a system of funding for mosques, Islamic centers and Saudi-trained clerics that spans Asia, Africa and Europe. In New Delhi alone, 140 Muslim preachers are listed as on the Saudi Consulate’s payroll.
All around Kosovo, families are grappling with the aftermath of years of proselytizing by Saudi-trained preachers. Some daughters refuse to shake hands with or talk to male relatives. Some sons have gone off to jihad. Religious vigilantes have threatened — or committed — violence against academics, journalists and politicians.
The Balkans, Europe’s historical fault line, have yet to heal from the ethnic wars of the 1990s. But they are now infected with a new intolerance, moderate imams and officials in the region warn.
How Kosovo and the very nature of its society was fundamentally recast is a story of a decades-long global ambition by Saudi Arabia to spread its hard-line version of Islam — heavily funded and systematically applied, including with threats and intimidation by followers. [Continue reading…]