Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Cuban Pictures: Great Help in Reducing Soviet Nostalgia

Written By: Bakhtilie Fazylova
MPA, Georgia State University

Fulbright Student, Ukraine
Published: 6/16/2015

The recent news on Cuba reminded me of my childhood spent in then-Soviet Uzbekistan, a doubly landlocked country thousands of miles away from the Caribbean. At that time Uzbekistan, being part of the Soviet Union, had food shortages which I experienced as the absence of chocolate, cheese, and sausage in addition to some everyday necessities such as toothpaste. I still vividly remember going to a small store around the corner, with an enameled container and a 20-kopeek coin in my hand, somewhere between six and seven in the morning, in order to get a gallon of milk. Until the early 90s, all local stores in my neighborhood were state-run: loaves of brown bread and similar-looking pickle jars were lined up in straight rows to conceal the fact that there was little to sell. Despite all shortage, however, we could buy Cuban sugar, a seemingly odd item, considering the distance between two countries.

Not only the Cuban sugar, but all those rare pictures of Cuban non-tourist areas remind me of the Soviet Union. Just like in Cuba, the streets of my hometown were more walked than driven, and the photos of those times depict old “Moskvich” cars parked at shabby buildings all brightly lit by the hot sun. My parents had their wedding photo in front of a monument to Soviet guerrillas, a city landmark where every newly-wed couple would go on their wedding day. Symbols of those days - statues, portraits, badges, and banners of Lenin - depicted his face staring at us thoughtfully from every corner. Even my first memory of the kindergarten was of a large room that, apart from toys and folding beds, had a Lenin’s corner – a huge portrait placed on a bookshelf and decorated with flowers and red banners.

Similar to Cuba whose economy suffered after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan underwent an economic crisis when cotton, its main exported crop, was found to be hardly competent in the world market. Trying to become economically independent, the Uzbek government took a number of initiatives to develop small business and create new economic relations. It took some time to build new factories, grow new crops and develop distribution chains. Naturally, there was no Cuban sugar anymore, and for one year sugar was rationed and we had to buy it with “coupons” - paper stamps - that allowed each person to buy one pound of sugar per month. When political considerations had been eliminated from the equation, the local production made more sense than imports from the other side of the globe.

The economic interdependency created bizarre trade patterns in the Soviet world. At a time when we were eating Cuban sugar in Uzbekistan, the cotton that the Uzbek collective farms produced was transported to the Russian city Ivanovo. Being called the “capital” of Russian textile industry, Ivanovo made textiles and clothes which then were sold to the rest of Soviet republics, including that of Uzbekistan. Cheap fuel prices and a network of railroads allowed the Soviet Union to enjoy low transportation costs. They also made it possible to cement ties of friendship both among “brotherly republics” and outside of them. The long-term damage of such dependency to an individual nation was overlooked.

Now that the Soviet Union does not exist, we can observe its former republics and partners struggling at different stages of economic and political independence. Ordinary people in Uzbekistan and Cuba, the two countries that don’t look like they have anything in common, encounter some similar challenges, including nostalgia for “good old days”. Looking at recent news and pictures from Cuba, I personally feel happy to be outside of that system and I am probably among people who prefer not to return to those places even in my imagination.

Disclaimer: This is not an official Department of State website or blog, and the views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program of the U.S. Department of State.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

FIFA, Qatar, and the 2022 World Cup

Written By: Zane Heflin
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Published: May 27, 2015

     The largest sports event in the world, the aptly named World Cup, is once again plagued by controversy. A quadrennial soccer competition that pits together the best national teams, the World Cup is prized by many countries who wish to host the event. The privilege of hosting the event is determined by the FIFA executive committee, a decision making body within the governing institution of soccer. These twenty-two members cast a vote for the various countries bidding for the illustrious right to put their respective country on the map. The boost in tourism that the World Cup provides leads to significant economic growth, as well as international acclaim for the host country. Brazil, the host country for the 2014 World Cup, was notoriously criticized for their sluggish construction of the stadiums necessary for the competition, as well as the dangerous working conditions that directly led to eight deaths. However, the host country for the 2022 World Cup has already surpassed the death toll and controversy surrounding the most recent event.
     Qatar, a small country in the Persian Gulf region of the Arabian Peninsula, defeated bids from Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States. This marks the first time that the World Cup will be hosted in the Middle East, and Qatar will also be the smallest country to ever host the tournament. Although the World Cup may benefit from the diversity provided by Qatar, the cons far outweigh the pros. A plethora of issues have accompanied the decision to allow Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. For example, the climate of Qatar would make playing soccer almost impossible. During the summer months, which are when the World Cup is traditionally held, the average temperature in Qatar surpasses 100 degrees Fahrenheit. These conditions would prevent soccer players from competing for any duration that approaches the time of an entire match. Due to this extreme heat, FIFA has been forced to postpone the 2022 World Cup from summer to winter. Although this decision seems trivial and is necessary due to Qatar’s climate, there is a large consequence for pushing back the date of the tournament.
     The World Cup is a competition that takes place between the thirty-two best national teams in soccer. Although these soccer players compete for their respective nation during the World Cup, their livelihood depends on playing for an individual club team. For example, Lionel Messi, one of the greatest players in soccer today, plays for F.C. Barcelona in the Spanish soccer league, or La Liga. During the World Cup however, Lionel Messi will play for his home country of Argentina. In order to avoid any conflict of interests, the World Cup is scheduled during the summer so that the season of league competition, which often occurs from the beginning of fall to late spring, does not interfere. By pushing back the 2022 World Cup into winter, many soccer players will have the prior commitment of playing for their club team. In addition to this issue, broadcasting the World Cup in the winter has also been met with concern. FOX Broadcasting Company bought the rights to televise the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, however by moving the tournament from summer to winter a problem has risen. The American football season is underway during this period of time, and FOX would be both unwilling and unable to televise the event. This problem almost led to a legal fight, but FIFA wisely gave FOX the right to broadcast the 2026 World Cup without a tender.
     Despite all of the problems associated with moving the date of the 2022 World Cup, the more pressing issue has occurred with preparation. Unable to hire the workforce necessary to complete construction for the upcoming event, Qatar has utilized migrant workers to get the bulk of the work done. These 1.5 million workers are subjugated to terrible working conditions, which include unpaid labor, exposure to extreme temperatures, cramped living quarters, and little access to water for drinking or hygiene. An estimated number of 1,200 migrant workers have been killed since construction has begun, and with the tournament still 7 years away, the death toll is likely to rise. These migrant workers are being reduced to slave labor, and Qatar refuses to abide by humane labor laws that are laid out to prevent this treatment. How is it then possible for FIFA to continue to support Qatar as a host for the 2022 World Cup?
     The obvious answer lies in the oil fields of the Persian Gulf. Qatar is a remarkably wealthy nation, and therefore able to exert its influence with the FIFA executive committee. FIFA is a notoriously corrupt organization, and bribery is considered a common practice. As of May 27th, the U.S. Justice Department indicted 14 FIFA executives on charges of corruption. These individuals are accused of taking bribes for securing the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Whether or not a conviction follows these accusations, it is clear that the current system needs to be evaluated and immediate change needs to occur. Without protest from the international community, FIFA will continue to blindly support the highest bidder.  Despite the plethora of complications associated with Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup, the safety of migrant workers must be a priority and incentivize people to take action against FIFA. Qatar is not qualified to host the 2022 World Cup, and FIFA is not a responsible organization that deserves to be the governing body for the sport of soccer.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Will Nkurunziza's Bid for a Third Term Lead to a Crisis in Burundi?

Written By: Zane Heflin
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Published: 5/14/2015

     Protests have broken out in recent weeks in response to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term. Nkurunziza has served as the President of Burundi since the conclusion of the Burundi Civil War in 2006, and a period of relative stability and growth has occurred under his leadership. However, the ethnic tension between the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s, which was responsible for the twelve year civil war, has once again flared up as Nkurunziza has been accused of attempting to bypass the constitution. Nkurunziza asserts that he is actually running for his second term, and is therefore in accordance with the constitution.. Rather than being elected by popular vote, Nkurunziza was appointed President by a parliamentary vote in his first term. Burundi’s constitutional court was called on to validate this claim, and they came to a conclusion in favor of Nkurunziza’s presidential bid. Opposition groups have accused the court of being manipulated and strong-armed by President Nkurunziza, and it is their concern that this ruling gives him false legitimacy in the international community. There are fears that Nkurunziza’s decision may provide the spark that leads to ethnic turmoil and further destabilization in the region.
     Pierre Nkurunziza, a Hutu and member of the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (FDD) party, took ninety-one percent of the popular vote in the election and is expected to have similar success in the June elections. The Hutu majority, responsible for the success of the FDD, tends to have a historic fear of Tutsi leadership, which drives them to vote along ethnic lines. The Tutsi ethnic group, which led the government during the colonial period, was responsible for oppressing the Hutu majority. After a series of military coups, assassinations, and transitional governments, many atrocities have been committed by both ethnic groups throughout Burundi’s recent history. Rwanda, Burundi’s neighbor, experienced the worst of the ethnic conflict following the assassination of Rwandan President JuvĂ©nal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira. The Rwandan Genocide was one of the worst humanitarian crises in African history, resulting in a death toll estimated to be between five hundred thousand and one million. Seventy percent of the Tutsi population in Rwanda was killed within a one hundred day period, which constituted approximately twenty percent of the total population. While Burundi was able to avert similar levels of violence thanks to its coalition government, ethnic tensions have not subsided.
     The international community cannot afford to make the same mistake that was made in Rwanda. The historical context of this ethnic conflict should cause observation of the situation in Burundi to be a top priority, because the consequence of acting in a slow and ineffective manner is too great to be ignored. An escalation of violence could result in a tragedy of equal magnitude to the Rwandan Genocide. Leaders in the international community from the UN, EU, and the United States have denounced Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in the upcoming election, but this will likely have little to no impact on Nkurunziza’s decision. By manipulating the constitutional court and taking advantage of voting behavior in Burundi, a fair and just election will allow Nkurunziza to continue to hold his position for the foreseeable future. A strategy that involves imposition of sanctions on the government by the EU or the United States could possibly provide a disincentive to Nkurunziza, however such an action would likely do more harm than good. Burundi is heavily dependent on foreign aid, which makes up forty-two percent of its national income, and any change to this source of income will lead to further deterioration in living conditions for the general population. This leaves very few viable options for the international community except to watch the situation closely, and keep a UN peacekeeping force at the ready for deployment.
     On May 13th, Major General Godefroid Niyombare, a Burundi Army officer, claimed to have dissolved the current government in a military coup while Nkurunziza was in Tanzania discussing his concern of the growing number of protests. Members of the Nkurunziza administration have pronounced the coup as a “joke” and call it “imaginary”. The reality of the situation is not yet known, but people in Burundi are celebrating in the streets having heard the news that Nkurunziza has been ousted. Although there is very little information about the current position of the government and military, the attempted coup is evident of the military’s growing concern about Nkurunziza’s continued leadership. Both historical tragedy and recent events should serve to raise awareness of the situation in Burundi, and now it is the onus of the international community to effectively handle the volatile situation.

Friday, February 13, 2015

WorldQuest: A Clash of the Brightest and Mightiest

Written By: Liz Neduva
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Published: 2/13/2015

As dramatic as my introduction may sound, I could not be more serious about how concentrated and determined these young adults portrayed themselves at our competition last Saturday. As someone who was in charge of the prep work and constantly behind the scenes, it was refreshing to see young talent blossom before my eyes. These 32 high school geniuses spent sleepless nights studying Russian politics, Chinese foreign policy, United Nations’ millennium development goals and an array of other topics in order to compete and become the WAC Atlanta Champions. Sensing international interest after talking with a few of these young adults has restored my faith in the future generation. They were all so driven and so confident when asked about global problems such as unemployment and social unrest. I am sure that out of these students, we can find our next Ambassador to Chile or our next Chief of Staff. Creating environments in which young students can expand their global view is incredibly important. We live in a world that changes every day and we must adapt to those changes. Half of that adaption must take place with a global perspective. We are all global citizens and we must behave as such. WorldQuest motivates these young adult to think outside of their comfort zone and learn new things and experience new cultures. I am very proud to say that I participated in creating such a great event for our younger generation. And in the words of Yoda “Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view,” so expand your mind and look at the globe at a different angle.     

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Are Hezbollah and Israel on the Brink of Another Conflict?

Written By: Hend Charif
Program Intern, World Affairs Council of Atlanta
Published: 1/29/2015

An anti-tank missile fired by Hezbollah on Wednesday in the Shebaa Farms killed two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish U.N peacekeeper. The Shebaa Farms is an area where the Lebanese, Syrian, and Israeli borders meet. Hezbollah said that the shots were fired in reaction to Israel’s air strike a few days back that killed some of Hezbollah’s fighters. Israel retaliated to Hezbollah’s strikes, firing shots across the Lebanese border. The clash between Hezbollah and Israel raised fears amongst civilians and politicians that the attacks will lead to another 2006 conflict. However, the following day after the attacks, the violence between the two stopped. This will come as a surprise to those who are familiar with the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. For decades there has been tension and violence between both parties. Did Israel and Hezbollah learn the consequences from the 2006 conflict? The 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel was a bloody conflict that lasted for a month, killing about 1500 civilians and soldiers, and costing billions of dollars in reconstruction. It has only been a day since the attacks stopped, therefore, it is too early to tell if the situation will remain calm. However, it does open a small window of hope that both actors have finally realized that the decades of violence exchanged has not improved the situation or advanced their interests.

The Washington Post "Lebanon-Israel border area quiet after concerns of another war breaking out"
BBC "Three killed as Israel and Hezbollah clash on Lebanese border"
Yahoo News "Israel buries soldiers, says Hezbollah doesn't want conflict"