Ankara “goes at” Cyprus again – Modern Diplomacy

On July 20 a parade was held in Lefkoşa, the capital of the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which marked the anniversary of the landing of Turkish troops in Cyprus (1974). The parade in Lefkoşa (Nicosia in Turkish) was attended by a number of high-level officials who made a number of controversial statements.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who arrived in TRNC on a visit, declared the existence on the island of two states, while Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar announced that a portion of the Varosha Ditrict would be demilitarized, so the Greek owners’ descendants who sought the assistance of the Turkish-Cypriot authorities would be able to get back to their homes and hotels (incidentally, in addition to Cypriots, property here is still legally owned by residents of about two dozen other countries).
Varosha is a coastal tourist area in the city of Famagusta (Gazimagusa in Turkish), which is adjacent to the “green line”, which separates the “Turkish” territory of Cyrus from the Greek one. After they captured the city, the Turkish occupation forces drove the Greeks out and declared the district a closed zone.
In 1984 and 1992 the UN Security Council adopted resolutions under which Varosa was to remain unpopulated until the return of descendants of the Greek-Cypriot owners and would be handed over to the control of the UN peacekeepers. But despite this, the area is still under Turkish military. Talks between the Greek and Turkish communities on reunification of Cyprus, which were held with the mediation of the UN, were interrupted in 2017.
In 2020 the Turkish-Cypriot authorities “opened” Varosha for tourists, thereby triggering protests not only from Nicosia and Athens, but also from the EU. Back then, the Russian Foreign Ministry found that “Unilateral actions which violate the earlier adopted UN Security Council Resolutions 414, 482, 550, 789 и 2483, create more hurdles for the resumption of talks on Cyprus”.
Neither Ankara, nor Lefkoşa heeded the protests.
As for the July statements by Erdogan and Tatar, they evoked a wave of public outcry in the Republic of Cyprus: Nicosia is still counting on the unification of the country, so it views the appeal to address the illegitimate, in the opinion of Greek Cypriots, authorities for permission to assume the right of inheritance as an attempt to secure the de facto recognition of the TRNC. Sergei Lavrov had to urge his Cypriot counterpart to refrain from “any moves fraught with destabilization of the situation which create more hurdles towards finding a solution to the Cypriot issue within the existing provisions of the international law”.
The attempt to change the status of Varosha has been condemned by the UN Security Council, the EU, and foreign ministries of many countries. Turkey has dismissed all accusations arguing that “they hinge upon groundless claims and are at odds with the reality”.
Russia’s position on the issue was formulated by President Putin in his reply to the president of the Republic of Cyprus the excerpts from which were published by the Press and Information Agency of Cyprus. President Putin underscores the importance of complying with UN Security Council Resolutions on Famagusta. “The Russian Federation upholds solving the Cyprus issue on the basis of international standards which were set by the decisions of the Security Council and envisage the creation of a two-zone two-community federation”. Russia will continue “to create favorable external conditions for securing progress in settling the Cyprus issue”. Ankara kept silent, while Lefkoşa for the umpteenth time lamented the fact that the world community will not see “the realities of the island”.
In his interview to Turkish political analyst Hassan Yunal suggests a plan of how to involve Russia in Cyprus settlement – “from the point of view of Turkey”. According to Professor Yunal, Moscow could “head a movement for the recognition of TRNC”. In return, the Turkish authorities would cease to refer to Crimea as a territory of Ukraine and Turkish air companies would start to fly to the peninsula. Commenting on the proposal, Dmitry Peskov pointed out: “Russian regions never were and will never be the subject of any deals”,  “the much revered professor from Turkey” is hardly presenting the official point of view of Ankara. Nevertheless, the extravagant proposal from the Turkish analyst resembles a covert offer – governments in many counties at times choose to pass their messages to the world via public speaking intellectuals.
On the whole, the developments of late lead to certain conclusions. The victory in Karabakh, the EU’s indecisiveness in relation to frequently risky moves by Turkey, and the unexpectedly soft talks with Joe Biden have inspired the Turkish leader. By ”handing out” property in Varosha on the one hand,  and offering a serious international actor a political bargain on the other, the Turkish authorities are for the umpteenth time attempting to legitimize the TRNC in the eyes of the world community.
Russia has made it clear that it is not ready for “bargaining”, while Turkey finds the UN plan for creating a two-community federation unacceptable. Such a plan would cause substantial damage:   loss of “face”, loss of military bases on the island and of the hope of producing gas in the Mediterranean. A way out of this deadlock would be to legally grant the TRNC the status of “an overseas territory”. How to do that is open to dispute. What could help is the weakening ratings of President Erdogan, which will enable him to go to early elections, while Brussels and Washington will unlikely go farther than imposing token sanctions, since any pressure from the West pushes Turkey eastward. Although, de facto Anschluss of the territory of an EU member may cause yet a more serious response. Russia will not play along with Turkey on that. Whatever the case, Ankara (and not only Ankara) ought to remember that Russian regions never were and will never be the subject of any deals.
From our partner International Affairs
Let us make Europe a safe place for environmental human rights defenders
Bulgaria’s ‘Bibi-out moment’ Or on the transformation of Israeli and Bulgarian politics- part 1
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In 2017 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a group of dedicated grassroots environmental activists staged a 500-day-long protest against the construction of new hydropower dams on the Kruščica river. The fight led by local women, who later came to be known as the Brave Women of Kruščica, met with many obstacles, including physical violence and arrests, but it has not been in vain: it has helped to safeguard access to fresh drinking water for local residents while staving off risks posed by the projects to the habitat of many animal species.
Two years later, in 2019 in the United Kingdom, more than ten years of protests and pressure from environmental campaigners resulted in a government moratorium on fracking, a controversial method of extracting underground gas, offering relief to residents of areas located near extraction sites who feared earth tremors and exposure to other environmental harms linked to potential accidents.
In Spain, almost twenty years of relentless campaigning and a legal battle by Spanish ecologists culminated in October 2020 in victory when the country’s Supreme Court issued a ruling that put an end to a vast residential development project threatening a coastal natural park recognised for its protected marine habitats.
And in March 2021 in France, a government decree setting very short buffer distances between human habitat and areas treated with highly toxic pesticides was deemed unconstitutional thanks to the collective efforts of a number of national and regional environmental NGOs, backed by citizen and consumer associations and health organisations.
These are just a handful of real-life examples of how environmental action has benefited the human rights and collective safety of entire communities in Europe. Many other inspiring success stories can be found, including on Voices of Nature, a brand new website set up by the Council of Europe’s Bern Convention. There are countless others around the world. Some make the headlines. Many go unnoticed.
Environmental human rights defenders
The people behind these extremely important efforts are environmental human rights defenders. The term refers to human rights defenders working on environmental issues. Many of them are ordinary citizens who are simply exercising their human rights, or who are forced to act by circumstances or sheer necessity; some of them may fall into this category regardless of whether or not they self-identify as human rights defenders. The interdependence between human rights and the environment has gradually become one of the central pillars of today’s human rights discourse, as I have noted in my 2019 human rights comment entitled “Living in a clean environment: a neglected human rights concern for all of us”. It is now abundantly clear that environmental harm interferes with the enjoyment of basic human rights and freedoms, such as the right to life, to health, to privacy, or freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment. It follows from this that those who act to protect the environment and to prevent environmental degradation, including climate change, contribute to the protection of our human rights.
The critical contribution made by environmental human rights defenders to our societies has not gone unrecognised, as evidenced by, for example, the landmark resolution on environmental human rights defenders adopted in 2019 by the Human Rights Council, and the “Geneva Roadmap” that seeks to aid its effective implementation. Their role has also been acknowledged by the mandate of the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, not least in the seminal UN Framework Principles on human rights and the environment. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), together with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Universal Rights Group, have developed a dedicated resource portal and a Defenders Policy in support of environmental defenders. Within the Council of Europe, this year’s 9th Edition of the World Forum for Democracy honours their work by focusing on the topic “Defending the Defenders” as part of its year-long campaign devoted to the complex interplay of democracy and environmental protection. In many places around Europe, national and local authorities have given environmental human rights defenders a seat at the policy table in recognition of their valuable voice, experience, and expertise.
At the same time, governments in Europe often consider environmental defenders and environmental advocacy a nuisance at best, and a threat at worst, and respond to legitimate activism with reprisals. Some simply allow unbridled economic development to take precedence over citizens’ legitimate environmental concerns or allow vested moneyed interests and powerful non-state actors to stifle activism. Environmental defenders’ activities have won them some formidable enemies and in many places around Europe today, speaking out and standing up for the environment or denouncing the effects of climate change carries a hefty price tag.
A rise in attacks and reprisals against environmental defenders
The persecution of environmental human rights defenders in Europe is hardly a new phenomenon. In the 2014 report entitled “A Dangerous Shade of Green”, the NGO ‘Article 19’ documented dozens of examples of killings and violent attacks on environmental activists on the continent; other examples, mostly from countries of the former Soviet Union, can be found in the 2019 report “Dangerous work: Reprisals against environmental activists” by the NGO Crude Accountability. Sadly, however, these attacks and incidents have not abated – if anything, they have grown in intensity. Only recently, over 400 academics researching climate and environmental change published an open letter in which they voiced concern about the increasing criminalisation and silencing of environmental activists around the world, which they see as “a new form of anti-democratic refusal to act on climate.”
Support for the work of human rights defenders, their protection, and the development of an enabling environment for their activities are among the core elements of my mandate as Commissioner for Human Rights. It was with this in mind that last December I convened an online roundtable with environmental human rights defenders from across Europe, including lawyers, campaigners and representatives of both local and international NGOs from several European countries. Their testimonials have laid bare the intensification of oppression and intimidation faced by Europe’s environmental human rights defenders in recent years. As can be seen in the conclusions of the roundtable report, those who bring truth to light on environmental issues and are at the forefront of the fight against climate change are currently facing attacks on all fronts.
Sadly, there are places in Europe today where environmental human rights defenders are beaten, threatened, verbally abused, intimidated, or otherwise prevented from carrying out their legitimate activities in a safe and free manner. To mention but a handful of the most glaring examples: an environmental campaigner from Russia was severely beaten by unknown assailants and hospitalised with skull fractures and a broken nose. In Ukraine, an environmental activist investigating the pollution of a local river, allegedly caused by a nearby waste treatment plant, was found hanged under suspicious circumstances. The fight against illegal logging in Romania’s primeval forests has already claimed the lives of several rangers and has put the lives of some activists at risk. I personally heard the harrowing testimony of an environmental campaigner who described being beaten almost to death in 2015; although his assailants were caught on video and identified by an eyewitness, they have never been brought to justice.
When confronted with reports of violence or intimidation of environmental human rights defenders, law enforcement agencies all too often turn a blind eye. Worryingly, in some European countries, this has become quite commonplace. Government reprisals or the inability or unwillingness of public authorities to guarantee the safety and protection of environmental activists has led some of them to seek refuge elsewhere. A prominent environmental activist and head of one of Russia’s oldest environmental groups had to flee the country after being harassed with numerous spurious judicial proceedings. Several other environmental campaigners who fought against the construction of a motorway through a primeval forest, opposed the illegal exploitation of protected forestland, or advocated more openness about the fallout of a nuclear incident, had to leave Russia out of concern for their own and their families’ safety. An environmental defender from Romania told me about having to relocate abroad after receiving information about a bounty placed on his head by criminals in connection with his environmental work, fearing the law enforcement’s inability to guarantee his protection.
Stigmatisation, surveillance and other restrictions on environmental activism
Violent attacks are hardly the only problem facing environmental defenders today, however. Increasingly, governments view and present environmental organisations as suspicious and pass legislation or measures with the aim of limiting their scope for action. A prime example of such legislation disproportionately affecting legitimate environmental activism are the so-called foreign agent-type laws. Such laws force many environmental defender organisations to either avoid official registration altogether or to discontinue their operations, on pain of heavy fines and other punitive measures, including criminal prosecution, judicial harassment, or dissolution. The first such law, adopted by Russia in 2012, was the subject of my predecessor’s intervention in a case pending before the European Court of Human Rights. Regrettably, this bad example has inspired copycat solutions in other parts of Europe. Similar legislation was adopted in Hungary in 2017 despite criticism from my office – and found to be in breach of EU law in June 2020. In May 2020, Poland’s environment minister announced that similar legislation was under consideration and that a working group had been set up to that end; he also accused some environmental organisations of acting not for the environment’s sake but rather on the instructions of undefined “bigger interests”. In Slovenia, the government inserted in a bill on COVID-19-related economic support a provision limiting the ability of environmental activists to participate in environmental impact assessments; the proposal is currently under constitutional review.
Environmental human rights defenders who took part in the above-mentioned roundtable mentioned various other types of government activities deliberately limiting their scope for action and effectively hampering collective efforts to put an end to the adverse consequences of environmental degradation and climate change. These, in turn, can have a chilling effect on the whole of society. In many Council of Europe member states, environmental human rights defenders are deliberately mocked, ridiculed, scapegoated, marginalised, or even likened to extremists and given derogatory labels, such as ‘(eco-)terrorists’ – including by public officials, media outlets, or even judicial authorities. Some governments and businesses resort to offensive and stigmatising public relations campaigns to isolate environmental campaigners and make attacks on them more justifiable to the general public. Their organisations are also smeared online in an attempt to tarnish their reputation, and activists are regularly cyber-bullied. In some member states, law enforcement agencies disrupt the legitimate activities of environmental organisations by raiding their offices and seizing their equipment, thereby further adding to the stigmatisation in the public eye.  
Worryingly, participation in environmental protests is also increasingly equated with unlawful activity or interpreted as a ground for imposing preventive individual restrictions on freedom of movement or the right to liberty. Rules on public assemblies are sometimes applied selectively to the detriment of protests by environmental groups. Public participation in global environmental summits has often been curtailed and large numbers of environmental activists placed under surveillance. These last measures in particular represent a far-reaching intrusion into the privacy of those targeted, but are difficult to detect and challenge legally, due to their covert nature.
For example, ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in 2015, France imposed surveillance measures on a number of grassroots environmental activists and placed some of them under preventive house arrest. Legislation adopted by Poland ahead of the COP24 conference in 2018 gave broad surveillance powers to the police and secret services to collect personal data about COP24 participants and to prevent spontaneous peaceful assemblies in the city where the summit was being held. In 2019, a court in Moscow sentenced a youth climate activist and solo picketer to six days in detention for his peaceful protest as part of the global “Fridays for the Future” campaign. In the United Kingdom, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – currently before Parliament – has been criticised by environmental activists for its possible negative impact on freedom of assembly and peaceful protests, and for the discouraging effect its provisions would have on people’s participation in environmental demonstrations.
Intimidation and harassment of environmental journalists
Aggressive tactics used against environmental human rights defenders are also frequently extended to investigative journalists, both because of the environmental harm they might uncover and due to their role in helping activists spread the message about their causes. Examples mentioned during the roundtable ranged from a vexatious lawsuit by an oil company against a newspaper to testimonies about threats against journalists interested in covering environmental campaigns. In March this year, in an apparent attempt to cause a road accident, two bolts were removed from the wheel of a car belonging to a French investigative journalist known for her investigations into the agricultural sector; this incident followed previous threats to her and her family and the poisoning of her dog. Another freelance journalist renowned for her investigation into the environmental degradation caused by the discharge of toxic pesticides by the agri-food industry was targeted by groundless defamation lawsuits initiated by powerful business owners. Although these claims were eventually withdrawn, the overall objective of such vexatious lawsuits, otherwise known as “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPPs), is to intimidate journalists into abandoning their environmental investigations.
The way forward
The worrying state of affairs described above is untenable. If European governments – both at the central and the local level – are serious about their stated commitments to fighting environmental pollution and climate change, it is high time that they recognised and acted decisively on their responsibilities vis-à-vis environmental human rights defenders and environmental journalists.
First of all, Council of Europe member states must provide a safe and enabling environment for environmental human rights defenders to operate free from violence, intimidation, harassment, or threats. They should adopt a zero-tolerance policy on human rights violations against environmental human rights defenders and environmental journalists; swiftly and firmly condemn any threats or violence against them and their organisations – including by non-state actors; lead full and effective investigations into any threats or violence committed against them, with a view to bringing the perpetrators to justice; and provide access to effective remedies for such violations.
Second, we must put an end to the stigmatisation of environmental human rights defenders in Europe, including that emanating from non-state actors and taking place online. Politicians and opinion leaders must refrain from referring to environmental defenders using derogatory terms and from seeking to misrepresent or undermine their work. Instead, they should publicly and firmly support their activities and recognise the fundamental importance of their engagement and their contribution to our societies. They should also repeal legislation that interferes with environmental organisations’ ability to work freely and independently. There can be no room in Europe for foreign agent-type or other laws stifling legitimate civil society activism.
Third, public protests and campaigns are among the most effective — and indeed indispensable — environmental advocacy tools for raising public awareness and effecting change. States should respect freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly in relation to environmental matters, and protect the exercise of these rights from interference, including from non-state actors.
Fourth, we must pay due heed to the voice of environmental human rights defenders. Public authorities and private businesses should ensure genuine, effective, and transparent participation of environmental organisations, communities and individuals in decision-making on all policies and projects which may have an environmental impact. States should collect and disseminate environmental information and guarantee procedures that allow concerned individuals to act when confronted with environmental degradation, including the right to receive affordable, effective and timely access to information about environmental issues. In line with my recent written observations to the European Court of Human Rights in a case concerning the negative impact of climate change on human rights, states should also ensure respect for the right to a remedy and remove barriers to access to justice by victims of human rights violations caused by environmental degradation or climate change.
In this regard, I reiterate my call for all Council of Europe member states that have not yet done so to promptly ratify the 1998 Aarhus Convention and the 2010 Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents (Tromsø Convention) and to support their effective implementation. I also invite those states that have already ratified the Aarhus Convention to consider supporting the development of a rapid response mechanism in order to deal with cases of harassment and threats against environmental human rights defenders.
Respect for the rights of environmental human rights defenders is also an obligation of non-state actors. Businesses in Europe should internalise their corporate responsibility to respect human rights, in line with the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework. Against the backdrop of the ongoing push for more stringent rules on corporate due diligence on human rights in Europe, it is now more than ever important for companies to be seen as positive and responsible players, in particular with regard to environmental human rights and those who defend them.
Lastly, Europe needs more environmental human rights defenders. States should strive to ensure public awareness on environmental matters and to educate people from an early age about the need to preserve the environment and how to do so. I was pleased to learn that in Sweden and Finland, for instance, lessons on the environment and its meaning for individuals and societies are integrated in school curricula, at every stage of education. Such initiatives are essential for raising a new generation of environmentally aware and active citizens. The Council of Europe offers valuable educational resources in this area.
We cannot claim to be serious about protecting the environment or combating climate change unless we protect those who put themselves on the line for these goals. I want to pay tribute to the environmental human rights defenders’ selfless work and the sacrifices they make so that we can have a dignified future existence on this planet. Without their vision and courage, the environment we live in is bound to suffer serious harm – along with our human rights and well-being. Defending the defenders is not just a moral and political imperative. At the very least, it should also be a reflex for collective self-preservation.
I will continue to raise concerns regarding the plight of environmental human rights defenders in dialogue with authorities and to speak out whenever they face attacks, reprisals, or undue restrictions. I would also appeal to everyone to stand firm in their defence. As they are increasingly targeted, let us reverse the trend and make Europe a safe place for environmental activism.
Council of Europe
In mid-June 2021, a small country facing the eastern Mediterranean experienced a transformative political moment. In mid-August, a small country on the Western shore of the Black Sea may undergo no fewer revolutionary changes. On the one hand, Israeli have witnessed the ousting of Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, who has dominated Israeli politics since 2009. On the other, Bulgarians have mandated a new political elite to replace Boyko Borisov, Prime Minister for 12 years. These two cases offer an interesting opportunity for an exercise in comparative politics and, indeed, to look beyond Europe’s borders. In fact, the Israeli opposition’s successful comeback may hold a few useful lessons to understand Bulgaria’s future.
True, one should acknowledge that this article is only in part about individuals. After all, however magnetic and charismatic their character, people always act within a context that enable them to succeed. Yet, Bibi’s and Borisov’s backgrounds and personalities are so peculiar – and unexpectedly similar – that they must have played a role. Moreover, these marked similarities between the two countries’ politics exist despite striking differences in other areas of social life. Thus, comparing Bibi’s destiny and Borisov’s fate may teach something on the health and the future of Western liberal-democracy.
Rise and demise of Israel’s most popular nationalist-capitalist
Bibi in a nutshell
Netanyahu grew up between Israel and the US. After completing high school, he spent five years in the Sayeret Matkal, an elite unit of Israeli special forces unit. Subsequent to his honourable discharge, he enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, eventually obtaining a BA and an MBA. In 1976, he interrupted his studies while “on his way to a doctorate in political science” to return to Israel.
Actually, Netanyahu felt what politics tastes like for the first time, in the early 1980s, during operation Peace for Galilee. In this period, he became a rising star at the Israeli embassy in the US thanks to his media savviness. As one of his unauthorised biographies reads:
Aware of the importance of the media, [… in 1982–1984 Netanyahu] soon became a popular talking head. […] Within a short time […] The Washington Post fell at his feet; [… as well as] the Associated Press […], and others.
Shortly after, he rose amongst the ranks of the diplomacy becoming Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in 1984. Thenceforth, his political path set towards an almost unstoppable rise within the ranks of the secular, right-of-the-centre Likud party. By the end of the decade, having overshadowed the ministry of foreign affairs multiple times, he became Deputy Prime Minister. Exploiting the Likud’s defeat at the 1992 general elections, Netanyahu managed to win the party’s ensuing leadership contest. As leader of the opposition during the difficult period encompassing Yitzhak Rabin’s murder and Shimon Peres’s government, he proved ruthless. Ultimately, under the slogan “making a safe peace”, Netanyahu won narrowly over the incumbent: 50.50% against 49.50%. Still, American political strategists and the tragic suicide attacks of 1996 made his fortunes in that years’ snap elections.
The Bibi era
Even though most Israelis, and perhaps Netanyahu himself, were unaware of it, 1996 marked the beginning of a new era. Ever since winning that election, the man has dominated national and regional politics. In power and outside the red-button room, Netanyahu has kept catalysing support; as well as opposition. For over two decades now, it did not really matter whether someone in Israel is politically left or right. Nor did it matter whether one is secular or extremely religious; in favour of one State of two States. At the end of the day, people coalesced around Bibi’s persona — or against him.
Sure, his tenure is stained by a number of failures, both personal and political, which he failed to avoid. Foremost, Netanyahu has opposed the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks vehemently. In his words, the process “has led to failure and is likely to lead to failure again”. By doing so, he has sunk the country in an unresolvable, simmering conflict with its vast Palestinian populace.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu embodied the spirit of the time, or Zeitgeist, imbuing a phase of Israeli collective history and societal development. After all, if so many Israelis have kept voting for him and still do so there must be a reason. Partly, it is because his policies rewarded “initiative, risk, talent, the ability to create new products, new services”. Under his cabinets’ direction, Israel’s economy has flourished, giving birth to innumerable start-ups in almost every sector. Nowadays the country is already ahead of the curve in key fields such as biotechnology and cybersecurity. And this will be a lasting legacy no one can contest.
Why it all ended (has it?)
For better or worse, this articled started with the succinct recalling of Bibi’s fall from grace. Despite tremendous economic growth, enhanced international stature and reinforced security, Israeli electors have eventually voted Netanyahu out. True to the facts, it took the opposition four snap elections in two years to shrink enough the Likud. But Bibi is not the political force he once was.
For a start, he rose as a fresh, young voice calling on Israel to face the challenges of changing times. Today many associate Netanyahu with a regime of political management prone to favouritism, corruption, and nepotism. In the context of their spat, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even defined the Israeli Prime Minister “a tyrant”. And these impressions are not foreign to Israelis themselves. In fact, one of the claymores that blowed up Netanyahu’s career was a triple indictment for bribery and fraud.
Yet, this does not mean that Netanyahu has lost backing amongst the public. On the contrary, his supporters still make up a relative majority of the country’s voters. Moreover, the coalition that displaced his fourth cabinet is extremely heterogenous. Thus, the chances of seeing the new government fall and a fifth round of snap elections is rather high. All in all, given that tensions with the Palestinians are on the rise, Netanyahu may be preparing a great comeback.
–End of the first part–
The critics of Brexit are rejoicing their deft prophecies. The referendum held in 2016 dismissed a handful of issues, deemed them mere redundant, only to leave them festering for the long-term reality post severance from the European Union (EU). However, neither the critics nor the defendants expected the consequences to follow in such a short period. Months after the much-anticipated exit from one of the world’s most illustrious economic blocs, the United Kingdom faces an uphill battle on multiple fronts: externally and within the Kingdom. An outcry for a second independence referendum in Scotland, renewed calls for seceding the Gibraltar territory, and even the looming financial distress; various issues are now pushing Great Britain under duress. However, a key anomaly is the brewing tension in Northern Ireland.
A protocol that was signed rather hastily, as if to quickly draft a withdrawal strategy, now poses an existential threat to the order of Westminster as alienation is reigning the region for the first time in over a centurial course of domination by Great Britain. And while the ground reality exudes no hostility, it is only a matter of time before a tussle ignites, fulled by the pilling resentment of a decades-long conflict: only this time directed towards England perverse to its historical lineage.
The roots of the tempering situation today go back to the early 20th century. In the aftermath of the outbreak of World War I, while most of the Irish population remained loyal to British rule, the stout Catholic Nationalists rebelled against Britain in 1916. The execution of the rebels by the British forces led to a fissure that soon bifurcated the sentiments in Ireland. The North – predominantly comprised of Loyalist Protestants – celebrated the execution of the rebels whereas the South – dominated by the Catholic community – sympathized with the nationalist agenda of the rebels. Following World War I, guerrilla campaigns emerged in the South as Catholic Nationalists started their struggle for an Independent Ireland. The Anglo-Irish war rivaled the South against the North as loyalists resisted the nationalist struggle for independence from Great Britain.
Under the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the United Kingdom tried to unify the conflicting communities of the Loyalist Protestants and the Nationalist Catholics. Yet, the nationalists continued to launch campaigns to detach Ireland as an Independent state, liberated from British rule. The struggle eventually weighed heavily on the Kingdom leading to the creation of the Irish state: comprising of 26 catholic-dominant counties in the South. Though the Irish Free State existed under British rule, the South eventually parted as the Republic of Ireland in 1949.
However, the border mishap shaped the conflict for decades to follow. Irregular partition plan left a few Catholic-majority counties in Northern Ireland, fuelling resentment as the Protestant-Unionists drafted discriminatory policies for the state; oppressing the Catholic minority to exact revenge. Similarly, the Catholic-Nationalist regime of the Irish Republic heavily influenced its constitution with a Nationalist agenda envisioning a future of unified Ireland. The conflicting ideologies resulted in three decades of violence between the Unionists and the Nationalists: notoriously known as The Troubles.
Probably one of the most harbored resolves came in the form of the power-sharing accord, renowned as the Good Friday Agreement, in 1998. The agreement led to the dissolution of physical borders between the North and South, eradicated violence between the butting Unionists and Nationalists, and presumably solved the problem sowed decades ago. However, despite the historic agreement, the UK exiting the European Union threatened the bargain as Britain failed to account for equity. Resultantly, the Brexit deal poses a passage for violence to return but transfiguring in a rather unique proposition.
In order to retain the Good Friday Agreement, that is, to avoid any increased surveillance and re-erecting borders between the North and the South, the Northern Ireland Protocol was added to the Brexit Agreement. The Irish Protocol entails that the Northern Ireland Peace Deal would be respected, provided that checks are placed on trade between the rest of the UK and Northern Ireland. Simply put, the goods entering to and fro between the UK and Northern Ireland are now subject to checks and regulations, over-sighted by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, to enjoy an open border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The protocol was inserted as a safeguard against the prospect of a resurgence of violence between the dueling sides if physical borders were to re-structure. While the regulation of trade was easier when the UK was a part of the single EU market, Brexit complicates matters beyond expectations. While many expected the complexity of the matter at hand – Northern Ireland being a non-EU member and subject to inspections unlike the Irish Republic (still a member of the EU) – hardly anyone expected the pervading feelings of betrayal and growing hostility within the peripheries of the North.
Many of the Unionist-Protestants have addressed the Irish Protocol as a betrayal from Great Britain since, unlike Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland now faces an imaginary border in the Irish Sea – a mark of separation from Great Britain and a symbolic step closer to the aspirations of the Nationalist-Catholics of a unified Ireland. The inauguration of the customs border in the Irish Sea sparked a Unionist protest in Belfast which led many scrambling in the echelons of England. The clashing Protestants argue that the Irish Protocol is an abomination as it breaches the Good Friday Agreement. In the perspective of the Unionists, the protocol does sketch a line separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the Kingdom which is proclaimed as a customs check yet symbolizes inequity within the Kingdom. While Scotland and Wales continue to trade boundless with England, Northern Ireland would be continually adherent to checks and regulations as if a separate state instead of an offshoot of the UK.
UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to make amends and provide some semblance to the baffling situation. However, he fell short in his efforts and ended up reiterating that Northern Ireland is still a part of the UK much like Wales and Scotland. His frustration was clearly visible as he made half-witted attempts to blame the EU for implementing the protocol rather harshly. The Conservative party, however, betrayed his effort to consolidate a unified stance over the issue. The Party extended support to the Unionists, acknowledging that the Irish Protocol must be re-negotiated into the Brexit’s Irish Customs Provision. The European Union, however, has been terse yet straightforward regarding its position on the matter. While it assured of implementing the terms of the Protocol exactly as negotiated by the Johnson regime, the EU insinuated that it would not re-negotiate any provision and would resort to levying heavy fines on the UK if it attempts to unilaterally bypass the Protocol.
The situation, thus, is dire but not yet catastrophic. Any sane mind would attest that the EU would not resort to upholding the Protocol if violence erupts between the North and the South. Nor would the UK hesitate to use Article 16 to suspend the Irish Protocol entirely. However, calls for an Independence referendum are emerging in Northern Ireland, echoing the demands of Scotland. This is where the fear dens. One could only predict that the ominous silence of the protestants implies patience over their loyalty to Great Britain. However, this proposition fails to sustain. Mr. Roy Montgomery, a former Irish Representative to the EU, stated: “Trust in the British government’s good faith, never high, is now minimal on all sides in Northern Ireland”. If his words are relied upon then neither a unified Ireland nor a rebelling North seems a farfetched reality. It would be ironic, however, as the impending doom of Great Britain would go down in history as a self-etched downfall.
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