:: Article nr. 66275 sent on 24-may-2010 02:47 ECT
:: Article nr. 66275 sent on 24-may-2010 02:47 ECT
Ukraine’s President Yanukovich listens to his Russian counterpart Medvedev during VII Ukrainian-Russian Economic Forum in Kiev.
Since then, high-level meetings have taken place almost weekly, culminating in Mr. Medvedev’s state visit to Kiev this week.
Mr. Medvedev has even taken to advertising his part-Ukrainian grandmother from Belgorod.
Mr. Yanukovich has now signed a huge number of agreements with Russia, most notably the deal to swap an extra 25 years for the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea for a 30 percent reduction in the price of gas.
Ukraine has also agreed to big deals on cooperation in the nuclear industry and in aviation, a 10-year economic cooperation plan, and common positions on Transnistria and security in the Black Sea region that have disturbed neighbors like Moldova and Georgia.
And Mr. Yanukovich has backed Mr. Medvedev’s pet European Security Initiative and its goal to “eliminate the dangerous dividing lines that have appeared in the European region over the past decade.”
A recently leaked strategy paper written by Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, defines Russia’s overall aim as nothing less than “to actively draw Ukraine into an orbit of economic cooperation with Russia.”
This new Ukrainian foreign policy is something of a mystery. Even some old hands are wondering why Ukraine is huddling so close to Russia, and why it has conceded so much so quickly.
Four possible explanations suggest themselves:
One is that Ukraine is still in economic trouble and the rapprochement with Russia is all about cheap gas.
The gas discount obviated the need for harsh spending cuts, and Kiev thinks a budget deficit under 6 percent of gross domestic product will bring the International Monetary Fund back to the table. Standard & Poor’s has upgraded Ukraine’s credit rating from B- to B.
In the short term, the gas deal is also the one thing that pleases both competing wings of Mr. Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions. The Dmitry Firtash group runs several chemical plants; Rinat Akhmetov’s main business is steel. Together, they consume almost half of all Ukraine’s gas imports.
However, the I.M.F. is well-aware that hard choices and fiscal retrenchment have been postponed, possibly only for a matter of months. Moreover, Ukraine is still paying $230 per 1,000 cubic meters for gas – the price may have fallen, but only to levels common elsewhere in Europe.
So if economic trouble is the explanation, Russia cannot bail out the whole economy. Ukraine will come back to the Western table soon enough.
The European Union in particular should reiterate that the deal that Ukraine signed but never implemented in 2009, promising substantial Western investment if Ukraine reformed its gas sector, can still be revived.
The second possibility is that Mr. Yanukovich’s priority is to strengthen himself internally.
Playing closer to Russia makes this easier, as Russia is not likely to object to recent moves to chip away at media freedom and pack the judiciary. But a stronger Yanukovich might be a more prickly partner in the long run – not just for the West but for Russia as well.
If this is the case, the West should avoid giving the impression that it is so fed up with the years of chaotic “Orange” government that it will allow Mr. Yanukovich to undercut freedoms won by the Orange Revolution in 2004 in the name of restoring “stability.”
The third possible explanation is corruption.
Local elites are quick learners. The main current scam involves Ukraine’s internal gas distributors buying cheaper “gas for households” and selling it to higher-paying industrial customers.
The cut in the overall Russian gas supply price reduces the pressure from the European Union for market pricing across the board, which would close these gaps.
But the world is paying more attention since the gas crisis in January 2009. And some of Ukraine’s oligarchs may split from Mr. Yanukovich soon enough if the “gas lobby” gains too much power in the new government.
The Ukrainian oligarchs are also interested in concessions from the Russian side, such as opening up access to Central Asian gas.
The fourth possibility is that Ukraine shares some of Russia’s analysis of rapidly changing world events.
Mr. Yanukovich’s team may also think that the United States is preoccupied with other things, and that the E.U. is in long-term decline and is too busy with the euro crisis in the short-term to pay much attention to Eastern Europe.
Ukraine might also believe that the global economic crisis will replace flat “globalization” with lumpy “regionalization,” and Ukraine should throw in its lot with Russia as it seeks to consolidate “its” region.
If that is the case, encouraging the Ukrainian pendulum to swing Westward again will be much harder this time.
Source: European Council on Foreign Relations
Though Turkey’s rising influence in the Middle East is indisputable, it may not be sustainable, according to academics who met May 17 to discuss the applicability of the “Turkish model” throughout the Arab world.
The way Turkey’s role will affect Middle Eastern politics also remains uncertain, said participants in the panel “Turkey and the Arab World: Are They Rediscovering Each Other?”
The event was hosted by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, or TESEV, at the Grand Hyatt Istanbul Hotel.
The degree to which Turkey can make use of its “soft power” – including the popularity of its TV series in the Arab world – was one key topic of discussion, as was its secularism, which differentiates Turkey from some other nations in the region. Some panelists said it might be a partial explanation for Turkey’s success and that the country might serve as a model for the Middle East.
Turkey is the only successful nation-state in the Middle East, according to Paul Salem from the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center, who called Turkey’s gradual transition from authoritarian government to participatory democracy something unseen in the Arab world.
Salem said Turkey has been more successful than other countries in striking a balance between Islamists and secularists and dealing with issues of religion, secularism and gender equality. The resonance of popular Turkish TV series in the Arab world is also due to the interest shown in seeing Turkish families dealing with issues of day-to-day life.
According to Salem, the Middle East has proved incapable of developing secularism as a concept and Arab-Islamist secularists are marginalized in their countries.
“Beginning in the 1990s, ‘secularism’ became a word with a negative connotation,” said Professor Meliha Altunışık, who wrote a report last year on the perception of Turkey in the Arab world. “I understand that ‘democratization’ has also become quite unpopular as the region sees it as part of a Western ideology. The preferred term seems to be ‘democratic process.’”
Turkey’s secular nature has become an issue of debate between the three forces – Arab liberals, Islamists and leftists – that currently dominate the Middle East’s political scene. Unlike Islamists, liberals emphasize Turkey’s secularism as an important element in explaining its relative success in achieving modernity and democracy. What one Arab academic has called its “faithful secularism” is particularly important, according to Altunışık, in deconstructing the prevailing view in the Arab world since the 1970s that secularism is synonymous with a lack of faith.
The ascent to power of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in Turkey has been seen as example that not only demonstrates the compatibility of Islam and democracy, but also the ability to integrate Islamists into the system, Altunışık said.
Most liberals in the region sided with their countries’ regimes in the early 1990s out of fear that Islamists would benefit from any political liberalization and that secular authoritarianism would transform into religious rule. This perspective has been changing in recent years. The creation of alliances between some liberals and leftists and Islamists since the establishment of the AKP has been seen as evidence that Islamist movements can become moderate and learn to accept the principles of democracy.
A battery of U.S. surface-to-air Patriot-type missiles arrived Sunday at a Polish military base, the first such deployment on Polish soil, the US embassy in Warsaw said Monday.
“An American Patriot Air and Missile Defense Battery arrived on Sunday at Morag, home of the 16th Mechanized Battalion of the Polish Land Forces, located in north-east Poland,” said a statement published Monday on the embassy’s website. “The U.S. 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery, also known as the Rough Riders, will unload 37 train cars of equipment on Monday,” it said.
Some 100-150 US troops based in Kaiserslautern, Germany, are to service the battery in Poland and train Polish soldiers to operate it, the statement said. Polish officials are to unveil the Patriots, which are designed to intercept incoming surface-to-surface missiles, on Wednesday, a Polish defence ministry statement said last week.
The Polish military base at Morag, in the Mazurian Lakes region, is some 250 kilometers north of Warsaw and just 60 kilometers from the border with Russia’s Kaliningrad territory. In February, Poland ratified the so-called SOFA deal on the stationing on its soil of U.S. troops who will crew the Patriot battery and train Polish soldiers to use the system.
Poland has repeatedly insisted that the base close to Kaliningrad was not chosen for political or strategic reasons, but simply because it already has good infrastructure. In September 2009 U.S. President Barack Obama scrapped a plan agreed a year earlier by his predecessor George W. Bush to install a controversial anti-missile shield system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Under that now-shelved deal, the United States also pledged to help upgrade Poland’s national air defences with Patriot missiles and has stuck to that part of the agreement. The anti-missile shield plan had enraged Russia, which dubbed it a menace to its security on its very doorstep, although Washington insisted it was meant to ward off a potential long-range missile threat from Iran.
Warsaw and Prague were part of Moscow’s Soviet-era sphere of control, but became solid U.S. allies after breaking from the crumbling communist bloc in 1989, and joined NATO in 1999. The Obama administration has since come up with a new plan aimed at parrying short- and medium-range missile attacks.
Australia Monday said it would expel an official from the Israeli embassy, after finding the Jewish state was behind fake Australian passports linked to the killing of a Hamas operative.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australia remained a “firm friend” of Israel but that no government could tolerate the abuse of its passports. “The government has asked that a member of the Israeli embassy in Canberra be withdrawn from Australia,” Smith told parliament, without identifying the official. “I have asked that the withdrawal be effected within a week.”
An investigation into how four Australian passports were used by the team that carried out the January killing of Hamas operative Mahmud al-Mabhuh in a luxury Dubai hotel found the documents were forgeries, Smith said.
He said the high quality of the forged passports pointed to the involvement of a state intelligence service. “These investigations and advice have left the government in no doubt that Israel was responsible for the abuse and counterfeiting of these passports,” he said.
Smith said this was not the first time that Israel had misused Australian passports, but he declined to comment on the other occasions. “This is not what we expect from a nation with whom we have had such a close, supportive relationship,” he said. “These are not the actions of a friend.”
“The government takes this step much more in sorrow than in anger,” he added. The Israeli foreign ministry expressed disappointment. “We are sorry for the Australian step, which is not in line with the nature and importance of the relationship,” between the two nations, said foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmore.
‘Intolerable’ use of fake passports
Suspects in the killing of Mahmud al-Mabhuh used the identities of 12 Britons, as well as those of people from France, Germany and Ireland along with the four Australians, Dubai police have said.
In March, Britain kicked out an Israeli diplomat over the “intolerable” use of fake British passports also used in the killing. The British government declined to specify the position of the expelled diplomat, but local media reported the individual was a senior operative in Israel’s spy agency Mossad.
Mossad has been widely blamed for the killing of the Hamas operative but Israel maintains there is no proof for this claim. At a later news conference, Smith said he would not identify the person asked to withdraw. But he said: “Our response on any measure is comparable to the British response.”
Asked whether Israel had offered an explanation, Smith said: “In terms of the substance of these matters Israel has not been drawn in those conversations or drawn on those matters.” The minister said the development would impact Canberra’s ties with Tel Aviv but Australia wanted to have a good relationship with Israel, believing it was in the best interests of both countries.
He said contact on intelligence sharing and security matters may now suffer. “Clearly, as a result of today’s events there will be something of a cooling-off period so far as relevant agencies are concerned,” Smith said. “We would want very much for those cooperative relationships to proceed but there does require a rebuilding of trust and confidence.”
By Patricia Hess
In considering what influences youth to become people who contribute to peace, rather than people who cause conflict or commit crimes, it is essential to evaluate the social dynamics that shape their hearts – their capacity to love, to have good ethics, and to show concern for others. In countries where school attendance is compulsory, schools are the most significantly influential social environment that shape young hearts. Unfortunately, though, in America, as well as other nations, there is a downward trend in the quality of character among school students. This is evidenced by the rash of school violence and problems associated with crime and immorality that have often been seen in the news.
Therefore, it is vitally important to re-evaluate the traditional education system from a sociological perspective. These are some of the questions that could be asked: 1) How do the social groups of the classroom and school affect individual students? 2) How do the social groups of schools affect families and communities? 3) How does the school environment contribute to the downward trend of students’ ethics and morals? And, 4) How could the education system be changed in a way that would affect the development of students’ characters?
Qualities of heart begin forming in early childhood and often become concrete by young adulthood. That means the school years are the most important period for developing character, and, thus, the main factor that will decide whether a person lives an altruistic life in harmony with others or a self-centered life in conflict with others. A significant part of that formative process is a child’s own motivation and will, but even how youth challenge themselves is tied in with their school experiences. One of the most destructive forces upon our future generations is the loss of motivation to learn. When an educational environment degrades to the point that students give up making effort, then that education system should be dismantled and a new system should be made that will stimulate students to challenge themselves and actively work toward their educational goals.
Is it time for a new paradigm?
At the beginning of the history of education, the system of a teacher lecturing to a classroom of students was the most efficient method of learning. Of course, back then, they did not have advanced media technologies, and published information was limited. For example, if a teacher’s personal research was included in the course, then the individual teacher was likely the only source from which to obtain it. With teachers as the main source of information, rather than media, then it was necessary for the students to come to the teacher.
From there, institutions sprang up as a venue for students’ access to teachers. However, the social culture that has developed in schools and colleges has become antithetical to the goal of education. For example, in America, some students might have the ability to make high grades but will purposely make average grades because they might be persecuted by their peers. In a group, the majority make average grades, and the majority controls the social atmosphere, so the ‘socially correct’ behavior of the group will be to make average grades – those who don’t will be outside of the norm and, therefore, at risk of ostracism.
This same phenomenon happens with the morality of the group. When students from different family backgrounds are put together, those with high ethical standards are in the minority, so they tend to compromise their own values to adopt those of the group majority. When this takes place generation after generation, the ‘average’ that defines the majority gets lower and lower.
Also, with the onset of media technology over the past century, the effect of this group dynamic has been multiplied. Through media, companies compete to appeal to the most people possible, so they target the majority, or the ‘average’ person. Therefore, because the ‘average’ behavior in the classroom is echoed through the media, the students in the minority are even more pressured to conform.
Social conformity among youth has contributed to the current situation of education and has affected society as a whole. In developed countries that provide free, compulsory primary education and reasonably easy access to higher education, there are severe problems with student apathy and moral behavior. Students who grow up in an educational system that indirectly perpetuates sexual immorality and substance abuse become the next generation of citizens and pull down the level of the nation’s social integrity. Despite schools providing education directly against sex, drugs and alcohol, they have not been able to control the group social dynamics that will naturally occur in any institutional setting where the ratio of adults to students and the effectiveness of adult supervision is small.
Another effect of institutionalizing education has been the need to establish requirements for diplomas or degrees. This also contributes to student apathy when courses are not useful for life goals (such as employment) and if the courses have content that is repetitive. For example, from primary school through college, students may have to take five or more national history classes – although each class may provide more detail than the previous one, the same basic information is repeated. Students sometimes continue to submit the same reports with only a few facts added. The repetition is boring for both students and teachers, and it wastes a great deal of educational resources, including staff time, use of facilities and curriculum materials.
Inefficiency is compounded by the expense of education, which burdens students and their parents, and even the whole society, in the case of America and other nations that have government funded public schools and college subsidies. Since most college textbooks, including the curricula used by famous universities, can be purchased for a small fraction of the cost of tuition, then the price is not for the information – it’s a money game about obtaining a high social status and getting a well-paid job.
The greatest waste is from falsely inflated college tuition, housing and meal services. When colleges require first and second year students to live on campus, they are keeping a monopolized micro-economy in place. And, when the tuition of famous universities are five to ten times higher than the lowest priced schools, then the expense is less about educational quality and more about taking advantage of the economic principle of ‘supply and demand’ in regard to admissions.
Notice the self-feeding loop: only wealthy people can afford the schools on the high-end of the tuition scale, so those who already have high social status add to the reputation of the university while they are students and again, later, when they get good jobs through their circle of wealthy friends and relatives. That is, once a university is able to attract wealthy students, educational quality does not need to be the deciding factor for tuition rates. The ‘supply’ of sought-after universities will always remain low as a natural result of social behavior: Given a choice of many boxes in different sizes and styles, everyone will choose the box with the most money in it.
The side-effect of this practice is a major reduction in the amount of time children have to interact with their parents, siblings, other relatives, and people in the community. Therefore, it should not be assumed that the institutional style of education is the best option. In traditional tribal and agricultural lifestyles, children were important contributors to the stability and cohesiveness of families and social groups. They cared for younger siblings and did work to help provide for their family’s needs; in so doing, they developed their abilities and skills, sense of responsibility, bonds of heart, and the capacity to relate to others of different ages and generations.
Many of the qualities of character and interpersonal relationships that naturally developed from those lifestyles have diminished because of the amount of time students are separated from their families. Over time, families and communities adapted to children being in school; now, in countries with industrialized economies, often both parents work – so they depend on schools to raise their children, but when the schools fail to instill values, their communities are troubled by juvenile delinquency.
Society as a whole has been negatively affected by the system of education in institutions, and social pressures often prevent students from achieving the benefits of education that would be expected from the amount of time and they spend for school. When students are not motivated to learn, but are required to be in classrooms (either by compulsory attendance laws or social norms), the situation creates a group mind-set similar to that of people in prison. Not only do their thoughts wander far outside the classroom walls, but, also, their hearts develop resentment, which can affect their behavior and emotional development – in turn, that echoes to family and community relationships.
This situation is especially true in South Korea, where high school students often stay at public schools or go to private academies to study until 10 pm at night; extra time is put in on Saturdays and during vacation times as well. In fact, a Korean student, whom I personally know, described his experience as “like being in prison” because he had to stay at school, but the social atmosphere was not conducive to studying and there was nothing else to do. Despite all the hours and money invested, few public school students attain the academic level required for entrance to the main Korean universities, and Korean employers have indicated that, generally, graduates are not well prepared for the workforce.
There are specific factors that contribute to the ‘wheel-spinning’ effect of education in South Korea – caused by a mix of policy, culture and student motivation. For example, it is a standard practice to use a ‘curve’ in grading that limits the number of ‘A’s’ (grades of 90/100), and students are ranked within their classes, so there is only room for one student in each place (first, second, third, etc). If a student’s grade or rank falls, his or her parents storm into the school and yell at the teacher; they are viciously competitive, and instances of bribery and cheating are often in the news. (This is because only the top students have a chance to go to the famous universities, and education is a major determinant of social status.)
Furthermore, if a whole class makes low grades, the teacher is blamed for either not teaching effectively or making the test too hard. And, regardless of students’ grades, they pass and get their diplomas. Therefore, students know they can get through school without really making effort, and they also know that – even if they make a lot of effort – there is no room at the top of the class. The biggest effort is made by parents, who spend a fortune on private education to keep up the hope, or at least the appearance, that their children are headed for the most esteemed university.
When the culture is such that the social pressure is on the teachers and school administrators to give students passing grades and allow them to graduate, then rigid standards of educational quality cannot be held in place. Schools are forced to accommodate both the demands of parents and the requirements of governing organizations that provide funding. With teachers adapting their tests to the level of students and schools adopting graduation policies that keep their statistics level, the lowering of educational standards over time is hidden.
The change in standards, however, is obvious to those who are old enough to remember the way schools used to be. I once had an elderly American college teacher express to me her shock and frustration over apathetic students who did not study or complete their assignments; in the forty or so years since she had attended college, the standards of students’ motivation and effort – as well as the course requirements – had drastically declined. Returning to the standards of schools several generations ago would not be an answer to the problem and may not even be possible, given the changes that have occurred in social attitudes. The authoritarian atmosphere of schools could only be supported by strong family unity and discipline in homes.
Taking all this into account, it is clear that a new paradigm for an educational system is needed for the sake of maintaining and improving the social integrity of future generations. It is needed for the sake of liberating students to reach their full potential. And, it is needed for the sake of the poor in nations that don’t have resources for building and maintaining institutions.Underdeveloped nations have often copied the examples of wealthy western nations with the hopes that duplicating their social systems will bring them the same kind of success. They have tended to overlook the fact that the economies of the leading countries flourish only because they can take advantage of comparatively cheap resources and labor from the poor countries. Thus, they should carefully scrutinize the results of western education practices before making decisions about the future of their own education systems.
Patricia Hess is an American living in Korea. Her husband, 고여익, was born and raised in the Gimpo area and is currently campaigning for a Gyeonggido council position on a no-party ticket. They have 4 children and 3 grandchildren. Patricia is an English professor at Gimpo College.
|ccupied Baluchistan: NCRI – Abdolhamid Rigi, a political prisoner who endured a long period of pressure and torture in Iranian regime’s jails, was hanged this morning in Zahedan prison accused of “moharebeh and instigating corruption on earth.” Fars news agency, affiliated to the regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and a number of other state-run media published photos of his corps hanging from a noose in an attempt to create an atmosphere of terror and fear among people and especially youths in Baluchistan.
On July 14, 2009, a month after the start of the nationwide uprising, 13 political prisoners from Baluchistan were hanged together after suffering torture. They were deprived of fair trial or defense. Hamidi, mullahs’ chief of justice in Sistan and Baluchistan province announced on that day that Abdolhamid was not executed along with the 13 upon the request of the mullahs’ Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). The delay in his execution was a clear indication of the regime’s intention to put him under more severe torture to break him and extract more information.
The Pakistani ambassador to Tehran in an interview on February 26 admitted that Abdolhamid Rigi had been arrested by Pakistani forces and handed over to the religious dictatorship by his government.
Execution of political prisoners, especially in Kurdish and Baluchistan regions, on the brink of the first anniversary of the nationwide uprising, reveals the criminal rulers’ weakness and fear in face of growing public anger and hatred toward the regime.
Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran