“Ukraine- Still Looking Westward?”

I’ve always been fascinated by the history of Soviet Union, and while Russia makes the nightly news every-so-often (and more frequently lately), I personally don’t know much about the state of its former satellite countries. But on March 8 I attended a CIS event titled “Ukraine- Still Looking Westward? Relations with the EU, the United States and NATO” where speaker Volodymyr Dubovyk from Mechnikov National University, Ukraine offered some insight into Eastern European nation.

Professor Dubovyk, a native Ukrainian, started out by highlighting February 20th, 2014 as a key date in Ukrainian government; on that day members of Parliament voted to remove the current president in response to violent protests that broke out months earlier after the government passed Anti-Protest laws. While admitting the event’s shocking significance, Dubovyk took the tone of a seasoned veteran and shrugged it off as yet another marker in the “continual fight for Ukrainian independence.” While it’s true that Ukraine has been officially sovereign for 25 years now, its kinks are far from being worked out and political pressure, internal and external, makes it difficult for the government to settle on one, clear path. The country lacks government experience. It is in dire need of external aid. And fighting internal corruption is not an easy task for a government still in adolescence.

Clearly, Ukraine needs the counsel and cooperation of external allies to settle its internal problems. These external allies consist of both supranational bodies like the EU, UN, and NATO and individual nations. Dubovyk first dived into Ukraine’s relationship with the EU:

the European Union

While Ukraine is not a member of the EU, their communication began in 1993. However, a major milestone occurred just 12 hours before writing this: the EU approved visa-free travel for Ukrainians within Europe. Two months ago Dubovyk mentioned the possibility of this decision, but expressed skepticism because of the mounting anti-immigrant sentiment within Europe. sidenote: maybe procrastinating this blogpost was the smart thing to do??? The EU’s decision is by no means a sign of impending membership, but it is a step in the right direction for those leaders in Ukraine pushing for European integration. While the EU currently assists Ukraine some in creating and implementing reforms and even works with their public and NGOs, EU membership would offer economic advantages and a stronghold against the ever-present Russian threat. But unfortunately, the EU’s dissatisfaction with former Ukranian president, Yanokovich, and widespread Euroskepticism that’s keeping it from acting boldly mean that Ukrainian membership is indefinate. Dubovyk’s retelling of a common joke pretty much sums it up:

‘When will Turkey be part of the EU?’

‘Never.’

‘And Ukraine?’

‘After Turkey.’

NATO

Ukraine’s communication with NATO began with the 1994 Partnership for Peace. The question of membership, though, is similar to that with the EU– there are no concrete signs or steps regarding when. However, the public is pretty split about the issue while elites remain optimistic. Playing into the question of membership is the larger conflict with Russia. Trump’s presidency has further muddled things– so far there have only been mixed signals from the White House.

 

 

ICDG Fascism Panel Discussion

Image result for populism europe public domain

Is it fair to use the term “fascism” to describe populist movements?

What is fascism? Do we throw the term “fascism” around too lightly? Do the right-wing movements around the world today deserve to be called “fascist?” These are a few of the questions that a panel of three professors, hosted by the Informed Citizens Discussion Groups, discussed last Wednesday, April 19.

Drs. David Chappell, Kathleen Tipler and Mitchell Smith began the discussion by defining fascism, a term that is not simple to pin down. The panel mentioned several recent events and elections and decisions, particularly in Turkey and France. Does Turkish President Erdogan count as a “fascist?” What about right-wing French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen? Though these leaders display some of the characteristics of fascism, Chappell and especially Smith argued that we must be very careful about whom we label “fascist.”

I was surprised to find out that fascism is not a broad term, but a rather narrow one that really only applies to political movements in Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 30s. Smith and Chappell argued that its definition is too specific to encompass much else, and that because we have so few historical examples of fascism, it is unfair to use the term to describe many political movements at all.

I was surprised to find out that fascism is not a broad term, but a rather narrow one that really only applies to political movements in Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 30s. Smith and Chappell argued that its definition is too specific to encompass much else, and that because we have so few historical examples of fascism, it is unfair to use the term to describe many political movements at all. I partially agree with Smith and Chappell that we must be careful to be precise with our language, since fascism is not a simple matter. I also partially agree with Tipler – the term “fascism” is a helpful one to mention to describe some of the characteristics of current political movements around the world.

Woody Guthrie famously put the message “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar. This slogan represents the anti-fascist ferment of the 1960s, as the panel mentioned.

CIS Forum on Democracy

On February 23, I attended the “Forum on Democracy” hosted by the College of International Studies. The event aimed to open up a dialogue on the present state of our democracy and possible threats to it– namely, our current President Donald Trump and his administration. While the planned panelists and their topics (titled “Checks and Balances: Robust or Fragile?”, “The Trump Presidency in Perspective: Autocrats and Populists in Latin America,” and “Corruption and Kleptocracy”) proved fascinating and worthwhile, it was the ten minutes of open-mike time before that shocked audience and panelists alike and ultimately painted a picture of true democracy in action.

Every University faculty member that I’ve experienced has taught or led free from bias. As proponents for free, independent thought, their political leanings must not play a part in educating students; however, their profession does not ban them from speaking out in other platforms, especially on issues as potent as those at the time of the panel (less than a month had passed since Trump’s controversial executive order and reactions to “fake news” flooded the media). It was clear by the very nature of the panel and its topics that those gathered to speak were concerned by, if not critical of, Trump’s actions. Throughout the opening remarks, though, they remained polite, restrained, and anything but accusatory– they even omitted the names of the leader(s) in question.

So it was a great shock when a graduate student from the audience took to the mic with a pre-written denunciation of the panel’s tone and intention. Professors scribbling down notes stilled their frantic movements and slouched undergrads titled their heads as the man in front labeled the event as “reactionary and leftist.” Rigid bias, and not a true concern for our democracy, fueled the CIS event, he claimed. He elaborated– “Why is this panel choosing to focus solely on the actions of our newly elected president without giving mention to candidate Hillary Clinton’s abuses of power?” “Trump’s recent actions remained within the legal framework and painting them as some threat to our constitutional democracy is reactionary and excessive.” He spoke for at least five minutes but his message was simple: what the College was doing here was neither open-minded nor out of any real urgency and he did not agree with its stance.

Here is my mental play-by-play from the sidelines: WOW this guy is bold. And NO I do not agree that Trump’s blatant disregard for facts shows no cause for concern. Neither do I see his travel ban, reeking of Islamophobia and big business, as “no big deal.” And I truly think that any gathering praising education, vigilance, and the sharing of ideas holds value for those willing to listen, regardless of its place on the political spectrum. Basically I did not share the same thoughts as our bold volunteer. Nevertheless, I was not angry at him for bringing up these points. His opposing opinions galvanized my own and made me grateful for the beautiful thing that is dissent. For dissent, although uncomfortable, lies at the foundation of the sacred concept that CIS sought to preserve through this event: democracy. The fact that this man could stand up in a room full of people that probably did not take his side and speak his mind just proves how special our nation is and how fiercely we should defend its principles. On a smaller scale, the confrontation filled me with pride at the openness and diversity of thought allowed at our school. And according to Provost Kyle Harper, democracy thrives on places of education such as the University of Oklahoma.

Into the Mainstream: Explaining the Rise of Radical Populist Parties in Europe

 

Image result for europe right-wing populism

Last week I attended the lecture “Into the Mainstream: Explaining the Rise of Radical Populist Parties in Europe” given by Reinhard Heinisch last Tuesday, a talk addressing the alarming populist trend in Europe that is no longer a fringe phenomenon. The fact that populism is still growing comes as a surprise to me – I assumed that it had leveled out or was tapering off.

Heinisch’s lecture explained what populism is and what populist movements have in common, political patterns in modern Europe, and the success of the current movements. Some of the characteristics of populism that Heinisch named were little respect for human rights, the breaking of taboos through provocative speech, nationalism, and nativism. The populist political parties in European nations share some but not all of these characteristics; though the “isms” often overlap between parties, some parties can lie at completely opposite ends of the political spectrum. I was intrigued by the way that Heinisch classified the similar but distinct populist movements spreading in Europe today, drawing lines between western, southern, and eastern Europe. Each geographic region of Europe, for example, shifts blame onto other parts of Europe and certain groups of people. Western Europe is characterized by using immigrants as scapegoats and blaming the failure of the European Union, eastern Europe uses the Roma (gypsies) and the liberal west, and southern Europe uses capitalism, the EU, and the advanced economies of the north.
I would be interested to hear more from Heinisch about the types of tactics populist political parties use to accomplish their ends and win support through fear. He touched on this by showing anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant posters, so I would be curious to understand more of the psychology and rhetoric behind populists’ use of scapegoats. I am also eager to know more specific reasons why men are more drawn to populist ideology than women. One of my professors asked this question at the end, and Heinisch responded that there is no definitive, proven answer.

CelebrASIAN

One thing I love about OU is that even if I am able to easily become acquainted and learn about different cultures and organizations, even if I am not a member, or fall into that cultural group. For example, on April 20th, I attended the CelebrASIAN event on the South Oval, which was a part of the Asian/Pacific Islander/Desi American Heritage Month. At this event, I was able to talk to people who are involved in this organization and get to know more about the culture and lifestyle of people who are of the Asian/Pacific Islander/Desi American descent/heritage. I do not know much about these cultures, so being able to talk to students about it was a great experience. I look forward to attending more international events on the South Oval and expanding my view on the world next semester.

Afghanistan and the United States

I have realized over the last two semesters how many opportunities OU provides us with to become connected with cultures outside of the United States, and it continues to amaze me. For example, last month the Ambassador of Afghanistan was in town for a reception during OU’s International Awareness Week. During this reception Hamdullah Mohib spoke about the current political system in Afghanistan, how it is growing, and the plans that are in place. For example, he mentioned that the number of diplomats has increased from 3 to 45, showing progress in the democracy of Afghanistan. The Ambassador stated that although the parliament is not exactly where they want it to be, there is a plan in place in order to reach that goal.

Hamdullah Mohib also spoke about the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan to practice Persian in response to a Professor’s question. He stated that he does indeed encourage students to travel abroad and practice their language skills, however he said it would be best to wait until the security plan is finalized.

Mohib also addressed the issue of terrorism and how it affects Afghanistan’s relationship with Pakistan. He said that the relationship is not the best right now, as terrorism has caused damage to the Pakistani people, however, Afghanistan is fighting back against the terrorism, and working towards a peaceful state.