Politics & The World

The Olympic Games are over and somehow I cannot get rid of the feeling that I just watched the real life version of Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games. In short, the story takes place in the fictional universe of Panem that consists of one wealthy capitol ruling twelve deeply poor districts. Every year, the capitol organises an annual pageant called The Hunger Games. The participants of the games, called tributes, are one boy and one girl from each district, who are forced to fight each other to death in an arena until one participant is left – the nostalgic winner. In order to make the games as entertaining as possible, the capitol employs a game changer, who influences the games as he wishes. On the one hand, the purpose of the games is to entertain the capitol. On the other hand, and most importantly, the games are a reminder for the districts of the capitol’s authority and power.

Now, I discovered two frightful similarities between this fictional story and our real life version: first of all, this game’s arena was the host city Rio de Janeiro, also called cidade maravilhosa (the wonderful city). This arena changes from competition to competition, which is decided upon by the game changer: the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In this case, the game changer not only decides on the specific venues, but also who participates in the games and who does not, e.g. the Russian federation. It masks its questionable choices and the negative media coverage by raising awareness for global political concerns such as climate change and the refugee crisis. This leads to my second observation. The capitol is very much reminiscent of the global political community, which can let the districts compete against each other and burnish its image. Therefore, while the Olympic Games are meant to transcend political difficulties, the event as such very much accentuates these political problems. At the end of these Olympic Games, it became clear to me that this event is, and has always been, a mirror of the contemporary international relations and politics.

Let me just point out a few examples inspired from David Goldblatt’s remarkable book The Games: A Global History of the Olympics to underpin my statement: at the first modern Olympic games in Athens in 1896, all athletes were all male and all white, reflecting the conservatism of IOC founder Pierre de Coubertin. This conservatism in the IOC prevails until today. In 1936, during Hitler’s concerted Berlin Olympics, the torch carriers became blonder the closer they got to the stadium illustrating the links between success and nationalism. Other examples of nationalism-inspired Olympics followed soon with the Black Power Salute in Mexico City in 1968 and the massacre of Israeli athletes at Munich in 1972. Turning to today’s examples, in 2008, the Olympics in Beijing forced millions of people out of their homes for the sake of constructing the ‘arenas’. Last but not least, Russia has not been excluded from the 2016 Olympics despite the clear-cut evidence of systematic, state-sponsored doping among Moscow’s athletes.

All these examples are tolerated by the IOC and the international political community. Now, one can close one’s eyes on these socio-political complexities and watch the Olympics as an honourable competition between athletes. But let us not be surprised when news comes up that the IOC is involved in some sort of corruption scandal similar to its equally evil twin, the FIFA. Because the bid for the Olympic Games is nothing different than the bid for the FIFA World Cup. The candidate cities hand in their dossiers to the IOC. Thereafter, the committee chooses the eventual host city according to rather non-transparent criteria, guided by political and financial motives. Therefore, I believe that this selection procedure is the essential glue that holds the IOC and the international political community together.

The bottom line is that the power to select the Olympics’ host city is actually the only political leverage the IOC still has. In fact, without the power to choose the venue for the next Olympics, the IOC remains the governing body of world sports it is supposed to be. One concrete solution to erode this political leverage would be a permanent home for the Olympics. This is not a completely new idea. And it might only be a matter of time until this solution becomes reality with another financial crisis lingering ahead. The IOC has to face the fact that the days are gone when people were happily embracing the games as a unique opportunity for their countries. Western cities, such as Berlin, Hamburg, Boston, and Munich, particularly its citizens, refuse to host the games as they are doomed to end in an economic disaster. Soon, also the citizens in the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) do not want to see their global competitiveness being reduced due to the games. The blocked torch relay in Rio is just one example to illustrate this development. Now it is up to the international political community to take up this topic and find sustainable solutions – or let time simply do its job… I would suggest the proactive way.

Rio 2016 is over and the cariocas (citizens of Rio) may return to their daily lives but the IOC should not. For the IOC, Rio 2016 maybe fulfilled its contract despite the athlete’s complaints about the food in the Olympic village, the horrendous water conditions and some minor public transportation issues – just to name some. Nevertheless, the IOC as the global sport’s governing body should make progress as an institution and with the games. It is time to act in the spirit of to the Olympic values and end the end the political Hunger Games.


Goldblatt, D., (2016). The Games: A Globl History of the Olympics. W.W. Norton

image from:


Pitching Europe

The EU often deals with issues that are not sexy, especially to young people. Yet, these topics still matter – a lot. With Politix EU we want to trigger a more informed debate about Europe through a better understanding of the underestimated extent of EU legislation. We want to inspire especially young people for a unified and effective Europe and present them with an instrument, which allows them to be able to actively engage in the European debate and shape it.

We believe that people are generally communicative, social beings who enjoy discussing with each other – also when it comes to politics. Yet, when European politics are concerned, most people do not feel sufficiently informed and do not want to get their head around the mess of cryptic information. They feel powerless and without a voice. However, representative democracy is based on interaction between citizens and decision makers. Lack of this interaction in the digital age appears out-dated and unnecessary. Politix EU breaks down the complicated EU law-making-process and facilitates access to information – e.g. by integrating elements from successful and frequently-used social networks especially young users know very well: They can get informed by reading a short abstract of an EU legislative proposal – we call them “bills” – and vote on whether they like it or not (Thumbs up, Thumbs down) – just like on Facebook or YouTube. Users can also comment and share bills through social media and compare how their vote in their home country compares to votes in other countries. We want to give young citizens the chance to get informed and feel empowered to raise their voice and share their thoughts on legislative proposals with the world.

In short, Politix EU is a one-stop shop platform that aims to make citizens aware of EU policies shaping our everyday lives – in plain and simple language. Our goal is to close the feedback loop between politicians and citizens, meaning we want to show citizens what an abstract legislative proposal could mean for their lives and give them the chance to share their opinion on the proposal with policy-makers and the community around them.

We believe that projects like this are imperative to keeping the European spirit alive and to deeply anchor the sentiment of European citizenship in people’s mind. In terms of our own European identity, we have partnered with the European Student Think Tank and the Student Forum Maastricht and are working with a grant from Advocate Europe (which is part of the German Mercator Foundation).


If you are also passionate about digital democracy, simplifying politics or just interested in the project, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch via email or our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn).

also, check this youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41nyExkKX44

Politics & The World

by João Albuquerque

In a period of great economic depression the Portuguese people were called upon to cast their vote on what was expected to be another bi-polarized race between the Socialist Party (PS) and the right wing coalition that led the government over the last four years. The result, however, came as a surprise to almost everyone and has set the country on a still unclear path about what to do next.

After four years of harsh economic and social restrictions imposed upon the Portuguese people by the most liberal government of its history, the two ruling parties, running together in a coalition called “Portugal Ahead” (Portugal à Frente – PaF) have yet again been the single most voted force, gaining more seats in the Parliament than any other party alone.

However, compared to the previous parliamentary framework, they lost the overall majority held until last Sunday, losing 25 MPs, a direct consequence of having lost 14% of the votes from 2011 to today. The very important nuance, this time, is that all in all the left in the parliament has more votes and more seats combined than the right wing coalition.

Has the youth given up?

In the aftermath of these elections, several results stroke as surprising. The main was the extremely high abstention rate, especially among the young people. Several reasons have contributed to this: a) the real rate of youth unemployment is estimated to be over 30%, with many long-term unemployed people; b) tremendous emigration rates, with numbers set on over 300.000 people leaving the country (110.000/year in two consecutive years set the record in Portuguese history, beating even the darkest years of the Colonial War in the 1960’s), most of these being young people; c) from a sociological point of view, the emigration is currently very different from that  of the 1960’s, consisting more of a brain drain than a less qualified one, mostly composed of educated young people (researchers, doctors and nurses are among those who have left the country in the recent years).

Huge cuts on the health system, on education and research, especially in reducing grants and scholarships, led to this big flee of the country. Official numbers estimate that for two consecutive years, 110k people per year left the country, allowing to point at an estimate of around 400k people leaving the country over the last 4 years. This translates into a higher abstention rate among the young people and a higher disappointment with politics and government than 4 years ago.

Which government now?

In his first statement after the elections, the PR has appealed for an agreement between the right and PS, something that has been declined by the Socialists. In the meantime, António Costa, PS Secretary-general, has started conversations with left wing parties. As talks are still going this can become a turning point in the Portuguese political framework, for success in setting up a left coalition would be an historic event, never before made possible at this level. So, what would this mean for Portugal and what kind of legitimacy would there be in a post-electoral left coalition?

The most western country in Europe has been one of the most harshly affected countries by the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. After calling for international financial assistance from the Troika – IMF, ECB and the European Commission –, which eventually led the right wing coalition to power, austerity measures were rigorously and vehemently implemented. The PM vigorously stated that his government was willing to go even further on imposing austerity in order to put Portugal’s fragile economy back on track.

A high increase on income and consumption taxes, reducing on wages and cutting on pensions, cuts on social welfare, such as unemployment benefit or the social supplement for the elderly, budget cuts on the healthcare system and public schools have set the agenda for what resulted in a clear loss of purchase power, a decrease of quality in medical assistance and education, public and foreign debt have both sky rocketed, over 200k jobs were lost and deficit remains the same as it was in 2011. On the event of these elections, the right ran again on the same premise: continue the austerity path, this time without the presence of the troika.

On the other hand, and despite the differences between the left wing parties, the main message was very clear: no more austerity, light or heavy, imposed slowly or fast. Interesting as it is, the Portuguese people clearly expressed an intention of change and voted largely for parties that rejected austerity; by giving them a clear majority in Parliament voters have put a tremendous pressure on the left parties to find a stable government solution.

An unclear future

At the time of writing, there is still no clear indication whether this possibility will become a reality, with conversations still going on. Nonetheless, the situation as it is, configures a golden opportunity to establish a broad base alliance to set a government on the basis of a policy change towards building a fairer society. Naturally, negotiations will bring out several differences among the parties; but the compromise to defend welfare, equality and social justice would need to prevail in the compromise solution eventually found. A strong, rational and balanced agreement between the three left parties, based on settling for a greater good and finding the common points, is essential to guarantee a stable government, assuring that the majority of voters’ aspirations are met.

The decisions that may emerge on the next few days will be determinant to understand what kind of society will be built in Portugal over the next few years. The success of inaction can result in the come back of the right wing coalition, giving way to more austerity measures and social impoverishment; the triumph of a left wing coalition can, on the other hand, contribute to a change of course in social and economical policies not only in Portugal but also in Europe. Let us not be in doubt: it is the model of state that was at stake in the elections of 4 October, and the Portuguese people were clear on their choice. Will there be a real correspondence to these aspirations?


Image by Carsten ten Brink, taken from Flickr.

Campus Europe Goes Balkans

by Admir Čavalić

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country with 4 million people, located in the heart of the Balkan region, sharing borders with Croatia in the West and North, with Serbia in the East, and with Montenegro in the South.

It has a very rich history in which we had Illyrian and Slavic tribes, the Roman Empire, Bogomil heretics with their Bosnian Church, several Bosnian kings, the arrival of the Ottoman Empire and the spread of Islam in Europe. Afterwards the Austro-Hungarian Empire, followed by the beginning of World War I in Sarajevo, the birth of the Yugoslav state, then World War II with Partisans fighting in hilly Bosnia, later communist Yugoslavia with its charming dictator, in 1992 the declaration of independence. But also the start of the four-year war with the genocide in Srebrenica in 1995. Since then and until today – the era of transition and Euro-Atlantic integrations.

The political complexity

What makes Bosnia and Herzegovina politically so interesting is the complex administrative-territorial system of the country. Basically there is a state-level government with three presidents, under which there are two entities with their governments, and as a third part a district called Brčko. The first entity, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina covers 51% of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina and is mostly populated by Bosniaks (mostly members of the Islamic religion) and Bosnian Croats (mostly members of the Catholic religion). The Federation is further divided into ten cantons (following the Swiss model), where each canton has its own government and budgets. Cantons are formed by cities and municipalities.

The other entity is called Republic of the Srpska and is accounting for 49% of the territory and is mainly inhabited by Bosnian Serbs (mostly Orthodox religion). Unlike the Federation, which is highly decentralized, the Republic of Srpska is centralized and below the entity government there are only cities and municipalities.

Finally, the Brčko District is independent of two entities and is often referred to as a Hong Kong of Balkans. All in all, the above-described structure implies that we have a total of 14 governments, 13 Prime ministers and 136 ministers. The head of the state is made by three presidents, each of the three constituent nations by the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats).

Economic paradoxes

The political complexity of Bosnia and Herzegovina is further forced by frequent political conflicts that are mainly inspired by nationalism. This leads to the country’s economy being totally ignored, and the existence of some remarkable paradoxes. Regarding the labour taxation for example, Bosnia and Herzegovina is among the first in the World (on 100 euros, the state takes 72 euros). This is one of the reasons why the country is the world’s record holder in youth unemployment, with a rate of 57.9% of young people unemployed. There are also lots of other problems of course, from the labor market and tax policy to bad legislation and business conditions. Let us add that the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are the least economically free in Europe, and on the 97th place worldwide on rankings by Index of Economic Freedom.

However, one sphere of economy is among the healthiest in Balkans. At the same time it is the only sphere that local politicians do have no control of. It is the monetary sphere, ie, printing money. The local currency called the convertible mark (BAM) is pegged to the euro through the Currency Board. Bosnia does thus not have the ability to control its currency, which is therefore extremely stable and always worth 1.95 against the euro (1 euro is 2 KM). Interestingly, the currency uses the name „mark“ because during the war the German mark became the dominant currency of confidence among various nations.

EU integrations

Where we can be optimistic and hopeful for Bosnia and Herzegovina is the determination of its citizens to join the European Union as a full member, and to integrate further with NATO, too. Therefore, the ultimate political goal of any political party, regardless of whether they are left or right, moderate and extreme, is the European Union. The level of support among citizens is incredibly high, with more than 80% of citizens supporting EU membership. Therefore, the 2015 is often called the year of reforms for Bosnia and Herzegovina, because this year we signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU, but also started serious reforms within the framework of the so-called reform agenda which was created with the help of EU.

The aim of the reforms is the liberalization and deregulation of the domestic economy, and the reduction of fiscal liabilities with the of increase fiscal discipline and privatization of the rest of commanding heights of the Bosnian economy. Ruling political parties that are center-right are working on this, although the unions and the public are often opposed.

In the long term, the vision is that Bosnia and Herzegovina becomes a competitive EU mini-states that will offer its relatively cheap and skilled labor force, but also actively compete with their companies in the European internal market. Even today, many Bosnian companies are doing subcontracting work for multinationals and EU companies. By joining the EU this trend will increase, and we will further work on economic integration as a long-term condition for peace and prosperity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as generally on the Balkans.


Campus Europe Goes Balkans

by Nikola G. Petrovski

would start with a brief introduction of Macedonia’s path towards the EU. On the one hand the Republic of Macedonia is the first state of the Western Balkans that signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement in April, 2001, which came into force three years later in 2004. But on the other hand, we are still stuck in between the name issue, the Copenhagen criteria and the domestic political transition. Along with the last Progress Report, the EU Commission once again set (the 6th) positive recommendation to start negotiations for EU membership.

The problem is that the evaluation has been made basically according to the fact – how many changes have been made in the legislation in particular areas, where the European Union pointed on the needed changes, but not on how that changes the reality.

A European Future

Thus, the comments on the last Progress Report regarding the Macedonian accession were not so warm. Most of the previous problems the country had faced during the enlargement process remained more or less on the same level, such as the rule of law, judicial independence, the reform of public administration, freedom of expression, electoral reform and strengthening the market economy.

Hence, the ex-Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule stressed that “the integration process faces a halt, and [that] concrete actions are required in areas such as the freedom of media and the independence of the judiciary. There is also an urgent need to find a solution to the name row with Greece and the political crisis (…) The parties’ interests have been placed before the national interest, therefore we demand and expect the government and the opposition in the country to be responsible, to enable the political debate within the parliament and to contribute towards the creation of terms to function”.

According to the opinion of the EU’s ambassador to Macedonia, Aivo Orav, “although Macedonia’s recommendation on EU accession remains, the country needs to undertake serious reforms (…) for what the state failed to accomplish this past year. (…) The report was not only criticism but a clear guideline on further actions and there were many concerns in the report, such as the increasing polarization of the state institutions, the government’s control over the media, the political crisis and the party’s interest. Despite all of this, the recommendation has been given with regrets for the failed issues.

The last Progress Report was like an announcement for the upcoming events and the political crisis. A few months later, after the opposition’s leader uncovered a political scandal, he held weekly press conferences presenting audio recordings (called “bombs”) among (as he claims) high representative bodies of the state regarding various issues related to the abuse of their power as government officers.

Domestic Protests

That gave a rise to a lot of different protests. To begin with, the one where students protested about the bad reforms in the higher education – they had to occupy the universities in order to be heard; the next one was where a group of citizens protested about a girl who was not sent on time to surgery because of a decision that had been made by the public health system officials; the workers also protested, namely about the high personal tax on their income; another group of people protested because of partially and biased news reporting on the national television; large groups of high school students are also protesting, staying in tents in front of the building of the Ministry of Education.; and the most massive one  – the protest about the  “bomb” of the audio recordings where some new facts about the murder of a 22 years old boy through a police officer back in 2011 can be heard.

At the end of this protest season, two groups of tents were installed: one a front of the government building – against the government policy, and one a front of the parliament building – in support of the government policy.

The role of the EU officials and the ambassadors in the country has a significant contribution in order to find an acceptable solution for the both sides. After long negotiations between the government and the opposition under the umbrella of the EU in Brussels, this month, on 15th of July, the deal  finally came in. But the most important document that preceded the deal was the Recommendations of the Senior Experts’ Group on systemic Rule of Law issues relating to the communications interception revealed in Spring 2015, that identified five areas of concern: the interception of communications, judiciary and prosecution services, external oversight by independent bodies, elections and the media. I would exclude some of the recommendations in the conclusion of the document:

Press Freedom

All media have to be free from any political pressure without any interference or intimidation; Media should distance themselves from party politics and should not be at the service of politicians and political parties; The Public Service Broadcaster should strive to be completely impartial and independent from political, commercial and other influences and ideologies and contribute to an informed citizenship; Therefore, public bodies should refrain from discouraging media to carry out their mandate; Defamation actions should not be used as a means to stifle debate or prevent public figures from being held to account; Courts should develop clear and forseeable practice on the protection of freedom of expression in view of defamation claims; “Buying” political support from the media through financially supporting media outlets is unacceptable. Stringent rules on government advertising should be enforced; Media ownership and media financing should be transparent; Journalists’ labour conditions should be improved in order to reduce self-censorship.

A Look Into The Future

It will be a lot of work to do there – Macedonia needs deep reforms in the political system and the perception of the civil society on how democracy and democratic governance should actually look like. The society is constructed by various individuals and groups and each of them with different goals, needs and ideas. Hence we must work to build a political system where people will be free to pursue their goals (as far as their behavior does not interfere in the same freedom to the others) no matter what party is in charge, and to be treated equally under the law.

People must understand that limited government means more freedom and less corruption, free market brings more wealth, less subsidy – more incentive entrepreneurs, less government regulation and control – more individual freedom and responsibility. To achieve all of that and to build that kind of political system we have to go back to the beginning and to establish strong pillars of rule of law, free media and independent judiciary. To cite the great Huxley: After all, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance…


Campus Europe Goes Balkans

by Marko Kebe

You could tell a lot of Slovenia just by looking at its position on the map of Europe. By saying this I am not refering only on geographical features but moreover on its political and cultural characteristics. Slovenia is indeed a unique case of a country that combines various different landscapes and natural beauties within only 20,273 km2.

Slovenia as a heart of Europe where “the Alps meet the Mediterranean and the Pannonian Plain meets the Karst” is something you would normally read in a tourist catalogue about Slovenia. It is maybe a bit pretentious calling ourselves “the heart of Europe” but from where I am standing we can allow ourselves this little mischief since we are indeed very much proud of our unique blend of various natural, cultural and architectural features.

Pretentious as it might be, Slovenians are generally considered to be rather humble and obedient when it comes to the relations with other countries. Throughout its history up until its independence in 1991 Slovenia has always been subjected to the authority of different royal houses and supranational entities from the rule of Habsburgs to the more recent one of Yugoslavia (let’s leave EU alone for a while).

When discussing my country and its role in international affairs with the students from abroad I frequently like to mention our anthem Zdravljica (The Toast) by France Prešeren which is one of the most pacifist and enlightened anthems I’ve ever came across:

“God’s blessing on all nations,

Who long and work for that bright day,

When o’er earth’s habitations

No war, no strife shall hold its sway;

Who long to see

That all men free

No more shall foes, but neighbours be! “

The seventh stanza of Zdravljica – The National Anthem of Slovenia

So, where does this inability to fulfill its interests as an independent actor stem from? And why have Slovenians decided that it is time for a more modern approach when dealing with other nation states? Well, first of all, Slovenia is a relatively small country when it comes to the population with its 2 million inhabitants. It’s economy is – as you can imagine – comparatively small with approximately EUR 45bn EUR of GDP in 2014. Putting its smallness aside Slovenia always had a very healthy balance of trade in merchandise where exports always exceeded its imports. Slovenia’s merchandise exports in 2014 rose by 6.9% to EUR 23.04bn, an all-time high, while imports grew by 2.4% to EUR 22.65bn (Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia). Trends seem to be improving and hopefully our generation will once be able to escape these shackles of crisis and depression we have constantly been reminded of throughout our youth and studies.

Oh yes, as small as Slovenia is, the tentacles of the globalized economy haven’t spared her, quite the opposite, Slovenian economy has been badly hurt by the financial meltdown. Large cuts in public spending have been necessary to avoid international bailout not to mention the ongoing plans for privatization – the topic where a lot of blood is spilled when it comes to political rivalry. Slovenian reputation in international affairs has indeed fallen quite significantly from a model transition state to a near financial fiasco.

While the economy was booming everything was safe and sound but the flaws of inadequate regulation in economic affairs became much more obvious and painful once the crisis hit the small but beautiful Slovenian shore (figuratively speaking of course). It has become apparent that the bad management of some state owned companies can be ascribed to the clientelism which was inherited from the ex-Yugoslav regime where the line between business and politics was very much blurred. Slovenia has therefore been regularly pointed out as being on top in Europe regarding corruption in it’s business practices (Watch Ernst & Young’s: Europe, Middle East, India and Africa Fraud Survey 2015) – definitely not something we can be proud of.

I would have to confess that there really exists a certain ambiguity when it comes to Slovenia(ns), which brings me back to the idea I have pointed out in the beginning. As much as Slovenia is divided in its natural diversity so it is divided in its political and cultural sense. As I have mentioned in the previous paragraph, we face quite some difficulties regarding transparency and meritocracy. We really are somehow divided between the German way of keeping things in order and more of a hang loose approach which is prevailing on the Balkans. Translated into the language of politics, we are strongly trying to give an impression of a westernized state with strong economical and political discipline, whereas our actions and customs aren’t really speaking in favor of it.

Cultural divergence is on the other hand something we have to cherish and respect: you wouldn’t believe how many different dialects we have in such a small area; practically every micro region has an accent and a culture of its own. Although a lot of young people are searching for opportunities in bigger cities such as Ljubljana or Maribor, a normal Slovenian will always stay somehow attached to where he/she comes from (if not in any other way, than by his accent).

This of course brings us to the question what does it actually mean to be a Slovenian? Or “what are Slovenian stereotypes”, which is something I get frequently asked? These are the questions I was never able to answer fully and probably never will. This of course doesn’t mean that we are a nation without a significant character or purpose, rather contrary, I think our struggle and ability to reach independence gives us enough leverage to be proud on our small but beautiful Slovenia.