Posts Tagged ‘European Union’

Is The Nobel Peace Prize Gamed?

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, India, News, News & Updates, Publications, Regions, Take Action

The manufacturer of armaments and an inventor of dynamite Alfred Nobel once said:

“I intend to leave after my death a large fund for the promotion of the peace idea, but I am skeptical as to its results.”

In a non-harmonious world the word peace has a central focus these days. It is often used and abused but most importantly it lacks an agreeable definition.  To me it is often unreal and utopian. Interestingly in the field of peace research there are terms like negative peace and positive peace, carrying a normative value of striving towards peace. Who would better understand the complexities that revolve around the word “peace” than the Norwegian Peace Prize Committee considering the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway has dedicated years researching on peace.  I don’t want to sound cynical as I do believe that another world is possible. But for that to happen we need to be aware of the realities that are often deliberately hidden from our sight.

The ways in which things work in this world are strange. It is true that many die in anonymity no matter how big their contribution or how many years they have dedicated to serve humanity. I don’t want to propose my own list of the worthy opponents nor have anything against the individuals who won this year’s prize. The India- Pakistan duo does sound lovely and reflect the ethnocentrism of the Western world.

In 1990s the chairman of Norwegian Nobel Committee Francis Sejersted once acknowledged,

“The prize … is not only for past achievement. … The committee also takes the possible positive effects of its choices into account [because] … Nobel wanted the prize to have political effects. Awarding a peace prize is, to put it bluntly, a political act.”

 As the high profile award ceremony takes place in one corner of the world many experiencing conflicts on daily basis are unaware what this peace prize is all about. How about asking a Syrian, a Palestinian, a Liberian, an Iraqi, an Afghan …. for a definition of peace? In 2009 this prestigious award was bestowed on Barack Obama. Was it for ramping up the drone program?  In 2012 European Union was given the award right after it bombed Libya. Is the prize just about Norway’s geopolitical tilt?

The makers of the war can’t fool people by bringing temporary peace.

In Pakistan Malala Yousafzai recently being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize stirred many debates and discussions in the media. I am proud of Malala and her stance on education for young girls but what I question is the credibility of the Nobel Committee. Just to put on record there are many girls in Pakistan voicing similar concerns not yet picked by the West to propagate white savior complex.  Malala is the voice of Pakistan but being a 17 years old girl she might still be unaware of the manipulation that comes with her situation.

The Nobel Committee based in one small West European nation, comprising of members of political establishment is not capable of assessing who has done the most for peace in the world. The decision made by such a committee is prone to some kind of ideological bias or ethnocentricity.

Managing to hyphenate India and Pakistan yet again by awarding the prize jointly to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai does sound and looks good yet to be taken with a grain of salt. No matter the pattern of funds or relationships with evangelical organizations Malala Yousafzai’s contemporary has dedicated many years of his life for a cause. This does make me say that Abdul Sattar Edhi might have been a choice for the committee too considering his work and service.

What would be the impact of this Nobel in Pakistan? The Taliban has promised more violence and we can assume they will carry out more attacks on women and schoolchildren which surely would boil the blood in the West. That might also lead to more Malalas suffering at the hands of the Talibans, who might not be given a safe haven abroad to continue to voice their concerns.

In the past we have seen how the hands of hardliners are strengthened be it Myanmar, Iran and China. The peace prize awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi, Shirin Ebadi and Dalai Lama brought no assistance to the awardees or the cause they stood for. 2000 Tibetans were executed, several imprisoned by the Chinese between November 1989 and April 1990. It was right after the Dalai Lama was awarded the prize in October 1989.

It is time to move away from the dangerous prize. The Nobel Peace Prize does not guarantee change in the world but celebrates and reaffirms liberal ideal for which it should be recognized. But the increasingly frequent cases in which the award is bestowed seeking democratic political change, the winners should beware.

Dutch Citizens Holding the Government Accountable

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

With the soaring temperatures and power outages in many places, the developing world in particular is dreading the future. It is not a very positive sight and is a call to take right actions.The Chairman of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Rajendra Pachauri states that the kind of action should be taken on global scale and sooner than later.

 Natural disasters due to climate change won’t keep in mind the global South or North before causing havoc even in the past the developed and the developing world was treated alike by the calamities sent by nature. Climate science and the 195 signatory states to the UN Climate Convention affirm that every emission of anthropogenic greenhouse gases contribute to the change in climate. They also acknowledge that a two degree Celsius rise in Earth’s average temperature should be considered a threat to mankind and world’s ecosystems. Then why are we blinded and not able to see the true picture? Why can’t we have a telescopic view enabling us to understand that we are setting the world on fire and there is a dire need of policy reforms when it comes to curtailing carbon emissions and reducing the factors that contribute to climate change?

 A new United Nations report warned that to control the effects of climate change the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources. Two reports have been released by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that deal with the certainty and impacts of climate change and how to come to terms with it. The reports released by IPCC and other bodies have time and again stressed that the greenhouse gases must be cut by 40 to 70 percent to avoid the severe and shocking weather conditions in a warmer world. To keep the climate safe a handful of things like renewable energy, reducing deforestation, planting more trees, energy efficiency and moving from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources could help the world to get back on track. Nathaniel Koehane who leads international efforts to address climate change at Environmental Defense Fund says that the solutions are within reach. He added that there is gap that needs to be bridged, a wide chasm to be filled to make a switch from fossil fuel to cleaner energy. This chasm exists between the international efforts and what needs to be done.

 These various reports coming from the governmental and non-governmental sectors have stressed similar concerns in the past. Each time the reports have made it clear that the longer the delay in controlling emissions the greater the cost to environment and public health. Nathaniel Koehane said that voters must tell their governments that climate change does matter. The governments have also added a separate sheet for sustainable development in its manifestos but the challenge remains the same and that is to translate the paper work into reality that can be seen and experienced by the public to be believed.

foreignpolicyPhoto Source: www.foreignpolicy.com

 This provides a window of opportunity to the world community to act. We can only remain optimistic if we get to see a political will going in the right direction. It is about everybody coming together and acting on it. We all know that the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement to curb global carbon emissions, has expired in 2012. UN negotiators are working on a new international agreement and it is hoped that it will soon be in place and effective to the cause of climate justice.

The temperatures in the south are rising far above average and in other places falling far below giving a hard time to the climate change skeptics. Adding to that the recent hurricanes in the Philippines and US, energy crisis and water shortage in the developing world it is evident that the weather is becoming increasingly fickle.

What  if we ought to broaden our understanding of greenhouse gas emissions? What if we are aware of how replenishing the earth’s resources will affect our lives? What if we hold governments accountable for doing injustice to the environment and us? What if the people could sue the governments for not taking the right actions? All these fancy questions posed here are patently leading us to one thing and that is a change in situations. Change in the current difficult situations experienced by the people be it food crunch, credit crunch and environmental degradation. Yes we voted for the governments to come into power and yes we have the right to hold the governments accountable for not doing their job properly. In an attempt to get politicians to do something about carbon emission levels associated with climate change, the Urgenda action committee turned to The Hague District Court last November.

When it comes to sustainable development the educated and economically prosperous population of the Netherlands was at one time among the most progressive in European Union. Now the country has the highest carbon emissions per capita in the world. Because of its geography the Netherlands will reap what it sows more quickly unlike other developed countries. 90 percent of the country is built on reclaimed land and its major cities lie at or below sea level.

The European leaders supported the 2007 findings of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which stated that climate change can be avoided if greenhouse gas emissions are controlled. Apparently the Dutch government had taken a back seat. According to Urgenda, a Dutch action organization for sustainability, not a single candidate brought up the threat of climate change during the recent election campaign. Urgenda filed a lawsuit against the Dutch state seeing the diminutive efforts on climate change issue by the Dutch government especially radical reduction of carbon emissions.

Urgenda stated that during a climate change conference in 1992 the Netherlands along with other 190 countries ratified a treaty to avoid dangerous anthropogenic influences on the climate. According to Urgenda the Netherlands ratified the treaty but did not act according to it making the Dutch climate policies de facto negligent and hence unlawful. The Climate Case was initiated in November 2012 when a letter was sent to the Dutch government by Urgenda asking for action and a call in which Dutch citizens could support the cause and join as co-plaintiff known as crowd pleading. The Dutch government acknowledged in a letter to Urgenda that it is not making adequate efforts and its actions are insufficient when it comes to dealing with the issue of climate change. After a year in November 2013 Urgenda and more than 800 co-plaintiffs filed the cased against the Dutch Government.

Urgenda concludes that the Netherlands is deliberately exposing its citizens to dangerous situations. This is a wrongful and an illegal act of the State in legal language. The Dutch government can be held accountable legally for not taking sufficient action to prevent harm declares the Dutch Supreme Court. The Urgenda Foundation and its co-plaintiffs believe that preventing climate change is not just morally right thing to do but also a legal obligation binding on the state that cannot be ignored. The hearing of the Climate Case is expected to be in April 2015 before the District Court in Hague. For more information regarding the legal summaries and letters the official website of Urgenda can be visited, www.urgenda.nl.

The case is the only one of its kind in the world so far considering the size and nature. It will be interesting to see the decision of the court regarding this unique case. Seeing the progressive climate policies enforced through court would be a step forward making it legally binding on the governments to take necessary steps. It is early to say what the decision of the court will be but it is hoped and believed that it will be effective as the scientific evidence gathered by 2500 scientists in 150 countries by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is indisputable.

Urgenda Foundation like some other like minded organizations around the globe aims for a sustainable society with a circular economy. The step taken by Urgenda, holding the government accountable for failing to meet the Europeans Commission’s climate goals is a step forward. Other nations can learn from it. Protecting the earth making it safe for the future generations and viewing climate change as one of the biggest challenges of our times is not a selfish objective. However big corporations favoring profits without caring for the planet is a indeed selfish. It is not very difficult to distinguish between selfish and selfless, isn’t it?

The Co-founder of Urgenda, Marjan Minnesma stated that part of the case is about demonstrating the economic incentive. She stated that to protect the inhabitants and infrastructure against the inevitable flooding the government has to invest billions more. Waiting will only endanger the entire population and the country’s economy she added. The Netherlands has more in common with Maldives than with its European neighbors in climate terms. So it is wise to prevent that instead of spending billions more to try to overcome it.

It is interesting to note that Urgenda based its case on a legal standard the “cellar hatch criteria” known in Dutch legal circles. A man who fell down an open cellar sued the Coca-Cola Co and the Coca-Cola delivery man for leaving the hatch open. The Dutch Supreme Court gave a ruling in his favor. In United States and the English common law systems this standard is known as prudent man. It is obligatory for a person, business or government to protect others from harm. Urgenda’s attorney Roger H.J. Cox wanted this applied to climate change. Cox stated that by not acting on the fact presented by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the governments endanger their citizens and violate human rights.

Roger Cox wrote in a comment piece for the Guardian said that seeing the inaction by governments justifies the pursuit of legal route. Preventing dangerous climate change has become all but inevitable that puts the western countries at serious risk of human rights violations on a scale nobody can comprehend; it will be nothing less than seeing world war two. This leaves the judiciary with the task to step in and avert the catastrophe. In a democracy issues tend to be more than just being political when they start giving rise to human rights violations and endangerment.

This unique Climate Case is not only a source of inspiration rather it is an example set by Urgenda for other countries to act accordingly.The likely outcome of Urgenda’s case against the Dutch government is to be speculated. The important point is that the governments are held accountable. There needs to be a big transition in public thinking. The public most of the times is diverted from the big issues that hold the governments accountable. It should be about not letting the governments off the hooks and creating an obligation.  As stated by Marjan Minessma it is a lawsuit out of love and desperation.

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 Photo Source: Zpilavdzia

 

 

Beyond Samba and Soccer

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action, Uncategorized

With the soccer fever at its peak, Brazil the 5th largest country in the world and the largest in South America hosting the mega event, is experiencing disapproval for spending so much money on the sports extravaganza sidelining major priorities like health, education and housing for the Brazilian people.

BRAZIL-WORLDCUP-05-05-2014-03-05-58-454Photo Source: Google

My fascination for this country is not new. It was the first country I traveled to when I was 18 years old. Experiencing the rich culture, the diversity it has to offer, the beats of samba and bossa nova, the magnificent beaches unfolding secrets of the country, Brazil did come a long way after years of colonization and military dictatorships.

Luckily I had an opportunity to visit Brazil again after six long years and to be honest I was welcomed just as before. I felt as if I have returned to a place I knew so well whether it was sitting on Copacabana beach sipping the guarana, going for strolls in Rio or exploring Rio Grand du Sul. Having known little Portuguese I did manage to communicate with the locals and this is what I loved the most about that place. To me Brazil is the many loving people I came across during my visits, listening to their stories and seeing their smiles and resilience made me learn a lot from them.

To be honest seeing the protests on television made me feel terrible. I agree polar extremes exists everywhere but why the insane expenditures on a sporting event. All these governments talk about austerity at some point so why not in sports. Seeing the football nation not happy with “futebol” (football in Portuguese) this time was sad. Football is the religion of Brazilian people and you can see them playing everywhere, in the streets and on the beaches people from various segments of society come together to play. Brazil has won five FIFA World Cup titles hence becoming the most successful national team in the history of World Cup. Interestingly it is the only country that has taken part in all FIFA World Cups since 1930 scoring the most goals and with most wins in the history of competition. The favelas have produced some amazing soccer players and that is the spirit of sports. It brings nations and people together rejoicing in the victory and feeling sad about the defeat. But for the World Cup 2014 in Brazil it is more than that, there is revulsion and discontent seen in many people.

Brazil Confed Cup ProtestsPeople protesting against the World Cup

Photo Source: Google

For the World Cup, Brazil has spared no expenses. For the month long competition there will be 64 matches held in 12 cities across Brazil. The cost incurred on refurbishing old stadiums and building new ones has cost 3.6 billion dollars. After the World Cup several of the new stadiums will be seldom used. If we look at the South Africa World Cup debacle, stadiums that cost a fortune are not being used as people can’t afford it. The displaced persons in South Africa are still struggling for housing. Countries when thinking about hosting such mega sports events should take into consideration their social and economic well being not giving in to corruption along with many organizations and multi nationals associated with it.

This World Cup is undoubtedly extremely costly for Brazil costing 62 million dollars on each match. Moreover displacing the poor, the Brazilian government is holding this event at the cost of unemployed, underemployed and neglected citizens.

EPAPhoto Source: Google

When talking about sustainable development the situation mentioned above does not convey the message of Rio+20 UN Earth Summit. Ironic as it is the country hosting the UN Earth Summit, gathering various UN bodies to talk about Millennium Development and Sustainable Development Goals for the world did resign when it came to staging a short term show which was less about joy and more about profits favoring just a few. The nexus is clear; a portion of the billions spent on cosmetic projects could have cured the ills plaguing the country. Sadly the millions of tourists pouring billions of dollars into the nation’s economy and giving a blank check to the country’s Sports Minister will not benefit the communities that gave us Romario, Pele and Rivaldo nor will it help in improving the quality of life of millions of poor and working class of Brazil.

Now the question is when will the governments start thinking about the millions of poor people in the country and not just give importance to a few billionaires? The Brazilian government could have taken provisions that not only benefited the few billionaires but also the many homeless living in the streets, largely young protesters , coming from working class backgrounds instead of hiding them and their demands from the world’s gaze. Brazil doesn’t need to market itself to the world with a misleading image, thanks to the media these days. A country that promises fun and sun, carnival and sun kissed smiles personifying this beautiful South American nation cannot be hidden from the world anyway.

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Photos Source: cartoon movement.com

I remember reading about the London Olympics in the year 1948 known as the real austerity Games. The government during that time was determined to do the Games on the cheap. Well despite the austerity and so called raggedness it was considered a success and did make profit too. Looking at the economic backdrop from that period we can spot similarities, a world economy in trouble, why certain measures can’t be taken that benefit the larger community especially the segments that suffer the most because of the excessive spending?

Besides the protesting youth the heroes of yesterday like Romaria and Rivaldo coming from humble beginnings to hoist the World Cup in 1994 and 2002 respectively also criticize the government’s exorbitant expenditures. For Romario serving as a congressman in Rio de Janeiro and a World Cup dissenter, the C.B.F (Brazilian soccer federation) is a “disgrace”. According to him corruption in football be it C.B.F or FIFA is the reason for all evil. Yes for all those people coming out in the streets with loud demonstrations, the World Cup is about donning the canary yellow outfit and cheering for their country rejoicing in the much loved game, for them it is not about multimillion dollar stadiums or being sidelined by the social, economic and political injustices.

While trying to get the views of my friends, most of them were just excited about the game, enjoying the reverie like myself. I have also put a facebook profile picture donning the yellow Brazilian T-Shirt. It is not that they are not for sports or for that matter soccer, the reason why most are unhappy is very clear.

“The overall Brazilians could never afford a FIFA ticket; small bars who would transmit the games have to pay absurd fees to FIFA, making it impossible to be done. In a nutshell, this is it. This world cup is not for us, at all, just for some rich alienated foreigners. The nations may be coming together, but at the cost of our blood and homes. If this is the price, I really rather to keep them apart and our children alive.”

 Leticia Zenevich

“They could organize a real world cup, as will be done with the European championship soon. In several countries in stadiums that already exist, so that millions don’t have to be spent on stadiums as in Manaus, that is going to host, how many, 4 games?”

Rodolfo Pedro Sello

“A short term revenue generation /immediate job creating action through a FIFA World Cup vs a long term sustainable development through investment in health n education. You tell me what should be priority and a much more solid option?”

Taimur K Bandey

“General discourse has two general tendencies, these days: 1) Elitist and fewer representatives 2) Non-elitist and more representatives. You are right but for “bigger” picture you need to study about contemporary economic models, of how trillions are spent on defense and when it comes to giving shelter, governments cant find a penny, about how billions are spent in festivals and when it comes to improving social conditions of under-privileged, we can’t find a penny and so forth. It was not event specific. If a World Cup had to happen in Brazil, it should have catered for local sensitivities and address them instead of putting a superficial exhibit of billions lost in entertainment (for the privileged)”

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi

 The protests clearly demonstrate that this World Cup is not going to be a feast of national unity, putting on a temporary great show setting aside the grievances of many people. Sad to see that instead of becoming a feel good moment of national pride this event was commercially and politically exploited to a great extent.

So who should be held accountable? Definitely the ruling government blinded by the money pouring in for their personal good and these big corporations. FIFA, the Federation Internationale de Football Association, is a non governmental organization founded in 1904. FIFA is responsible for administering the World Cup and other international competitions of international football. The organization located in Switzerland is marred with allegations and accusations of corruption and money laundering. FIFA is also criticized for its lack of accountability and transparency. Seeing the grievances of general public of hosting nations the accountability of FIFA matters when it comes to the business of football and governance of sports. Effective governance of such institutions is important and a matter of general public interest. It is interesting that the wealthy nations preach and talk about democracy, good governance, accountability and transparency but when it comes to practising these ideals we look for backroom deals.

 Just to avoid similar sentiments in the future it is important to pay heed to where the problem lies and try to find a solution. It is not just about World Cup, when it comes to Olympics we see similar behavior filtering out the realities of life. The life of under privileged, we don’t consider important. Yes they are important only during the time of elections, when we beg for their votes, making false promises.

 Time and again FIFA demonstrated that it has no fiscal, hierarchical, supervisory and public reputational accountability. Efforts to reform FIFA from within or as a consequence of public pressure, media and watchdog organizations can result in a positive change.  Moreover as FIFA doesn’t fall under the relevant jurisdiction for corruption policing, accountability needs to be indirectly applied by national and international governments such as European Union or European Council. There should also be a legal accountability through regulation and enforcement of legislation on FIFA’s marketing partners. International Olympic Committee does set a precedent by showing the importance of multiple mechanisms of accountability working in harmony.

 FIFA and the member organizations and confederations do have the ability to be an actual force in change.  FIFA deals with more countries than the United Nations and interestingly these countries are more responsive to FIFA’s policy change than UN. With transparent and good governance in sports things might not look bleak as it look today.

Brazilian-artist-BoneA graffiti artist in Brazil

Photo Source: Google

As FIFA continues to make more money it is time that the demands of the protesters in the streets should be heard too. FIFA needs to be careful in this matter to avoid their legacy being tarnished.  With the growing criticism all the people involved in this show can’t hide anymore behind the false do good publicity stunts.

We are not against sports, we never were. We are against the use of sports as a cudgel of putting an over the top, pompous show. Use of sports as a neoliberal Trojan horse is what we are against. We definitely don’t want capitalism to seep into the things we love including “futebol”. Count everyone in your celebration next time as everyone living on this planet wants to enjoy life.

 world-cup-2014-brazil-soccer-footballPhoto Source: Google

Europe’s Unwanted People

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, News, News & Updates, Publications, Regions, Take Action, Uncategorized, Weekly news

As we celebrate the UN Day of Diversity for Dialogue and Development I once again started following all the talks regarding diversity and inclusion. There is even a UN body known as UN Alliance of Civilizations promoting integration and peaceful coexistence. 21st Century is a century of peaceful coexistence and it is better to acknowledge this fact sooner than later.

The other day I was watching a very nice documentary Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey which was on evolution,  I don’t want to go into the detail of that documentary but one striking part was definitely when the scientist was explaining that we are all connected in the tree of life; the plants, animals, humans, everything therein. I was enamored by that fact. Indeed we all are connected and are affected by each other’s behaviors and actions.

Visiting various places and meeting people from diverse cultures and backgrounds always made me believe that we the human race are similar. There is a universal language which we all speak and that is the language of love.  Strangers helping you in finding the way in their own language which you hardly understand or a passerby stopping by seeing the troubled look on your face when you are stuck trying to explain to the taxi driver where you have to go, have been some experiences that made me believe in humanity. I felt at home when I was in Brazil and similarly in other places. I can’t deny the fact that I have a passport with a specific color but global citizenship is more than that, a phenomenon which makes you feel at home in the new places, finding it easy and fun to connect with new people. Sadly I do understand that everyone cannot relate with me. But I wish everyone have had a chance to experience this amazing feeling where you consider the globe, your home.

This approach to living known as global citizenship is not just limited to extensive world travel rather it is a philosophy that appreciates diversity, inculcates empathy and compassion for people from diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds and as a result promotes peaceful coexistence. Coming from a country where religion has been politicized for many years, where many people are persecuted in the name of religion, I can relate to the religious divide. The intolerance which I get to see every day, reading bizarre news stories on blasphemy laws where many people have been targeted because they belong to a minority community makes me cringe. Pakistan is a diverse country where people belong to various ethnicities and religions. Instead of cherishing our diversity we end up being hateful, blindly following the political propaganda. It is interesting to see in Lahore a mosque that has a shrine in it’s precinct where Sikhs go for worship. For me it is not about religious tolerance, I don’t like that word as to me it suggests that you don’t like someone but have to tolerate him or her. I think it should be about religious harmony. And when I talk about harmony it should be practiced in the truest sense among various ethnicities, cultures, race, gender etc.

In many place across the globe the divisions are evident resulting in unrest around the world. Sometimes I don’t decipher why this has been going on for years, human beings do understand that they are here for a brief period so why to waste time and money in waging wars and creating unrest. We have so many other issues to deal with and if we channelize our resources and time into those productive inputs we can try to contribute positively to this world before leaving this pale blue dot.

The common heritage of humanity is cultural diversity.  Across time and space culture takes diverse forms. The uniqueness and plurality embodied in diversity makes up humankind. Cultural diversity is a source of inspiration, innovation and exchange thus necessary for humankind just like biodiversity is for nature. Hence for the benefit of present and future generations it should be recognized as the common heritage of humanity. In our increasingly diverse societies it is important to ensure harmonious interactions of varied groups with the willingness to live together.

When it comes to integration and rejoicing in our diversity there are many ethnic groups even today that struggle for inclusion, among these groups are the Roma people also known as Romanis. This ethnic group of Indian origin, originated almost 1000 years ago lives mostly in Europe and Americas. Roma are one of the Europe’s largest minority groups. Roma people occasionally in the news are the focus of prejudice and criticism. There are many stereotypes associated with them from allegations of criminal activities to age old one of children being stolen by the Roma people commonly known as Gypsies. France’s expulsion of Roma on the basis of how Roma are “a drain of resources” did receive international criticism. But this doesn’t stop the hate groups from labeling them as criminals and undeserving. The news coverage about how Roma people are unworthy is more common in mainland Europe. This disadvantaged and marginalized group has suffered for the past many years and is still being persecuted.

people-roma-community-walkPeople from Roma community expelled from their camp in France

Photo Source Google

Having a long history of living in Europe estimated to be living since 13 century, there are more than 10 million Roma living in Europe recognized as one of the European Union’s largest minority groups. During the inaugural World Romani Congress which was held in London in 1971, the term “Roma” was chosen and accepted across EU to describe diverse communities and tribes. There are four different types of Roma communities identified by European Commission.

Given the limited data collection on Roma people it is estimated that varied numbers of Roma populations live in nations across Europe. The most significant Roma populations live in Central and Eastern European states of Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. Roma makes up between 7 to 10 percent of the total population in these countries. It is interesting to note that the estimates provided by non-governmental organizations active in this field vary from the “official” population estimates.

The multilayered and entrenched issues faced by Roma people do look like a description of communities living in the developing world. Poor living standards, low levels of literacy, unemployment, lack of health and education facilities and above all the discrimination are prevalent in the places where Roma people live. There are intricate communities of people classified as ‘Roma’ in the UK. According to the definition of Roma by the Council of Europe it includes travelers and gypsies. However in the UK the term Roma is mostly used for migrants coming from Central and Eastern Europe. Roma people have been migrating to UK for decades. The Roma people in UK are split between those living a nomadic life in caravans and the ones with poor and precarious housing which reflects the situation almost across Europe.

malmo-protests-against-racist-police-0Photo Source Google

The European Union is stepping up to resist the Roma being scapegoated as outsiders. The European Commission encouraged the development of National Roma Integration Strategies to consolidate the efforts of member states to improve the lives of Roma community. But there is still confusion on how to tackle this politically charged and complex issue. Unfortunately it is not an easy task made even more difficult by the arrival of newer members in the East like Romania. Right-wing politicians continue to demonize Roma despite the dark lessons of Nazi history. To wall off Roma communities some 400 mayors in Slovakia have created a movement by using safety and health regulations. Hence Roma people still occupy the position of a vulnerable minority.

The only solution to this problem that press for segregation of communities on the basis of ethnicity, race and religion etc is a more humanized approach. It requires us to differentiate between criminality of a few and an entire ethnic group whose future is tainted by the wrongs done by those few. It needs an approach where we look for a greater common good. An approach that instills in us the humanity needed to live together as a human family.

In Slovakia the segregation of Roma and non-Roma students is a common practice. During the early 1990s 7% of Roma students were taught in segregated classrooms or schools. To see communities being segregated even today make me lose hope in humanity. But it is rightly said that at the end of every tunnel there is light. In Slovakia, principal of Šarišské Michaľany junior-elementary school, Jaroslav Valastiak has been trying for gradual integration of classrooms. After a long legal battle it was decided that the segregation violates anti discrimination laws in the country and it was made mandatory for the school to integrate students. Roma minority do face marginalization and exclusion across Europe but some activists note that in Slovakia it is at its worst. For better reforms it is important that government bodies come together and take action. The first Roma-elected Member of Parliament in Slovakia, Peter Pollak called the situation in Šarišské Michaľany junior-elementary school complex drawing similarities between this and Supreme Court ruling of 1945 in US “Brown v. Board of Education” in which the court declared separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional.  This however seems like a scratch on the surface as Peter Pollak believes that though the court has taken a right decision, the government has practical challenges making it difficult to support integration efforts.

The Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (UNESCO) states that cultural diversity is one of the roots of development not just in terms of economic growth but also in terms of achieving a more satisfactory emotional, intellectual, spiritual and moral existence. It inspires genuine dialogue enabling communities to get to know and understand each other. It is important that all cultures get freedom to express and make themselves known. Here media also plays a vital role by acting responsibly in portraying the truth without taking sides and influencing the opinion of people by misrepresentation and miscommunication. Article 9 of Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity states that each country should have a cultural policy that incorporates international obligations. The implementation of that policy should be done by suitable support and regulations which it considers fit.

 kalderash-rom-maria-mercedes-chiciu-3-shows-off-her-belly-dancing-skills-as-her-grandmother-exspertiza-dumitru-sitting-looks-on-at-the-field-near-the-bistrita-monastery-where-thousands-of-mostly-kalderash-roma-have-gather

A Roma girl dancing in her traditional outfit

Photo Source Google

All these declarations, just like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating that everyone is born equal, are full of hope. These declarations talk about well being of everyone. However the important task ahead now is making all these declarations a reality. It is important that the countries pay heed to the clauses and act on it ensuring freedom and well being for all. The resilient Romani people have survived the horrors inflicted by Hitler in postwar Europe but still face prejudice and exclusion. It is not just the Roma people but other minority groups too that are segregated and considered as an outcast in many places around the world. By helping and supporting the marginalized groups in fact strengthens the country. These segregated communities here Roma people who have been denied employment and are forced to live in settlements just because of their ethnicity should be considered an asset not a burden that adds a new color to the cultural diversity.

Roma people who suffer intolerable rates of poverty and unemployment need support. A change in the politics of fear will be a step forward that can bring change. There is a need for policy change regarding Roma people that consider them equal, many politicians have admitted that there is a dire need for better welfare programs but they fear voter backlash if they will speak up. However we can still be optimistic about the future of Roma people. Many international organizations, United Nations and European Commission are pressurizing the countries to end their exclusionary policies and give Roma people equal opportunities to participate in a better way. Moreover the European Romani have formed their own organizations like Roma National Congress that represents the interests of Roma people and press for change.

It is true that we are not born with hate, we are taught to hate. So if we are taught to hate we can also learn to love. Nelson Mandela was right when he said that not knowing that the apartheid did not die it just took a different size and color.

romove-khamoroPhoto Source Google

geneva conference

7th European Conference on Sustainable Cities and Towns

Written by admin on . Posted in General Information, Green Economy, News, Take Action, Upcoming Events

  Get set to join over 200 leading international experts in the field of local sustainability at Geneva 2013, from 17 – 19 April! 30 Break-out sessions will focus on the most pressing topics facing European cities, including climate adaptation and local resilience, sustainable procurement, developing zero carbon communities, funding sustainable actions, the Reference Framework for Sustainable Cities, transport and land use, urban water management and biodiversity as a means to stimulate the green economy in cities. Space is limited – register now to benefit from the insight and knowledge of more than 150 European and international experts. Workshops on-site provide the opportunity to gain practical insight into a range of sustainable areas in Geneva. These workshops are almost full – take this opportunity to secure your place in the one that most appeals to you! We are pleased to share with you the Final Invitation to the conference, which contains all the latest information on the conference programme, Break-out Sessions, Workshops on-site, social events, confirmed speakers and much more. For more information and how to register, follow the link: http://www.sustainablegeneva2013.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/FINAL_INVITATION_GENEVA_2013.pdf  
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Green New Deal in Poland: The Social Dimension

Written by admin on . Posted in General Information, Green Economy, News

  (shared post)   In the fifth year of the comprehensive crisis we are facing, social questions have come to the top of the political agenda and the public debate in Europe. This Green European Foundation publication, initiated by Zielony Instytut and the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Warsaw office, links the European level social policy goals to a concrete national example, Poland. The crisis, as well as the proposed mainstream solutions which focus on fiscal austerity exclusively, don’t come without a social cost. This is illustrated by numbers such as 50% youth unemployment in Spain, the cost of third level education rising by 127% in Ireland or a horizontal 15% pensions’ cut in Romania. Notwithstanding Greece, where consecutive adjustment packages to tackle the budgetary imbalances resulted in an increase in the already high numbers of people living below the poverty line and brought about a situation of imminent collapse of basic social infrastructure such as health care. Over the last years we have seen unemployment and social inequality on the rise in Europe, while the standards of the European model of social protection, labour law, collective bargaining rights or working conditions have seen frequent set-backs. In the EU of the common market, social policy has largely remained competence of individual Member States, despite the Treaty of Lisbon and the Europe 2020 strategy detailing social policy objectives and concrete goals related to employment and poverty eradication. It is Member States which make the major policy decisions influencing the achievement of these goals. Embedded in this context, Zielony Instytut and the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Warsaw office initiated this Green European Foundation publication attempting to link the European level trends, discussions and social policy goals to a concrete national example, Poland. In Poland, the developments in social policy seem largely unaffected by the crisis. As the European Trade Union Institute in its Policy Brief 2/2012 points out, “the crisis is essentially perceived and described as resulting from external factors, and in itself no reason, therefore, to call into question existing national social arrangements.” Nevertheless, Poland has also seen a significant rise in economic inequality in the last years, with a widening gap between those being able to harvest the benefits of Poland’s steady economic growth and the growing numbers of people who are left behind and feel the fruits of transformation are not for them. This stratification of Polish society has effects in the radicalization of the political scene as we could witness during the “Independence March” on November 11, 2012. The fierce political debate over the Polish pension reform (raising retirement age to 67 years) is another example of tensions in the society. The hundreds of thousands of young people who already live abroad or are considering to leave the country cannot be seen as a sustainable solution for unemployment among the young generation in Poland.  The growing number of immigrants in Poland requires better access to the social system and integration programs in order to create an open society of equal chances. These are among the key topics this publication tackles in an attempt to give answers to what a Green social model for Europe could be: a model that preserves 20th century achievements but sets out to innovate for the 21st century. We have translated two of the contributions to this publication (“Social Policy – An Introduction” by Ryszard Szarfenberg and “Social Policy – Green debates” by Bartłomiej Kozek) in English as well. You can download these below, alongside the publication in Polish.
csr-shadow-light

Corporate Social Responsibility / European Union

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In October 2011 the European Commission published a new policy on corporate responsibility. It states that to fully meet their social responsibility, enterprises “should have in place a process to integrate social, environmental, ethical and human rights concerns into their business operations and core strategy in close collaboration with their stakeholders”. The aim is both to enhance positive impacts – for example through the innovation of new products and services that are beneficial to society and enterprises themselves – and to minimize and prevent negative impacts.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the predominant form of enterprise in the European Union. If Europe and its enterprises are to reap the full benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), it is vital to make sure that SMEs are fully engaged and that what they do is fully recognised. This is a particular challenge because CSR as a term and as a definable business concept has been created mainly by and for larger companies.
Small businesses are typically not less responsible than large enterprises. They may not know and use the term “CSR”, but their close relations with employees, the local community and business partners often mean they have a naturally responsible approach to business. The Commission believes that for most SMEs, the process by which they meet their social responsibility will remain informal and intuitive. In some EU Member states the concept is well established and there is a high level of enterprise awareness supported by effective public policies to promote CSR. In other European countries, the awareness and development of corporate social responsibility is much less advanced. The key issues of corporate social responsibility vary from company to company. For example, enterprises in the retail sector might have to deal with the risk of poor labour standards in their supply chain, while a mining company is more concerned by the need to avoid infringing the human rights of people living near its operations. The European Alliance on CSR is a business-lead initiative to promote CSR, launched in 2006 with strong backing from the European Commission. It is a vehicle for mobilising the resources and capacities of European enterprises and their stakeholders in the interests of sustainable development, economic growth and job creation.   Post compiled by European Commission.  For more detailed information and reading resources, please visit the European Commission Corporate Social Responsibility platform.