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Western media and Ukraine: global ideology versus local realities

Posted by / 23rd July 2014 / Categories: Analysis, Polis / Tags: , , , / -

With past week’s tragedy still dominating headlines across the world, the differences between local and Western press in how the conflict in Ukraine is viewed are starker than ever. This is a recurring phenomenon in our globalised world, with local and global media offering completely different interpretations of the same events as long as victims can be abstracted at a global level. Now that victims of the Ukrainian conflict include Western toursists, global and local perspectives will begin to converge. In the case of Ukraine, the difference between local and global perspectives goes back to the very beginning of the open conflict. The initial phase was seen as one of a clash between the West and Russia, in which the former considered it a struggle between the defenders of freedom against those who want to resuscitate authoritarian practices of the past; a conflict between those who are fighting for democracy against those who violate international law. Local media, on the other hand, focused more on cultural and geopolitical concerns, with Ukraine divided along ethnic lines and torn between spheres of influence.

Western mass media celebrated the fall of Yanukovich’s regime as a step towards the consolidation of democracy in the country, pushing it away from Russia and towards Western society. The actual local actors behind the two camps were overlooked in the process, at least by global media. Local media did pay attention to the fact that political parties had nationalist profiles with hints of clear xenophobia, but not so much in the West press: there, the victory of democracy facing the authoritarian oppression represented by the threat of Russia was the dominant narrative. Parties such as UNA-UNSO (Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People’s Self- Defense), Svodoba (Freedom), Batkisvshchyna (Freedom)  have been supported by the international community as well as by media without much regard for their actual local agendas or suspect ideologies.

The context in which these events took place matters. When the suspension of Russian as a co-official language was approved in Congress, the delay caused a direct confrontation with Russia. The fact that Russian is the most spoken language in the eastern part of Ukraine- used by half of the population, and even more so in Crimea- showed how much this was a local issue, rather than an ideological clash for freedom. Yet this was mostly ignored by Western media despite being such an important factor in triggering the crisis.

Reviewing past newspaper editorials, there is no surprise to find out that the perceived enemy of European and Western democracy was lurking large in the interpretation of the local conflict: Vladimir Putin has been raised to the status of the greatest threat to Western stability, and therefore also seen as the main agitator opposing Ukrainian freedom. This perspective has been present throughout the crisis, and since the MH17 crash is a dominant factor in any Western analysis once again. The Russian president’s actions are thoroughly analyzed whilst those of other involved parties are not. The European energy situation and its clear dependence on Russia- causing a blatant clash between words and actions on behalf of European governments- are barely discussed. Authoritarian attitudes are criticized while simultaneously a remarkable dependence on that very same antagonist is created. The analysis of the Ukraine and last week’s disaster is framed within a moralistic discourse, while behind the scenes the same practical ambiguity continues. European realpolitik supported by helpful media choosing to ignore any moral complexity about responsibility of their own leaders and societies.

At a local level, things are different. Ukrainian media extensively covered the crash, of course, but did so from a perspective of a long conflict that has caused victims throughout: Ukraine’s dilemma is one of sustained violence, not one isolated incident. And yet, the local consequences of the MH17 crash may be greater than any of the violence that has occurred before or after, as it brings Western victims into the fray. The dichotomy of Western media discourse on the one hand, and ambiguous policies on the other, is no longer sustainable now. Local and global may join the same reality now, with both types of media covering the practical situation rather indulging in ideological judgments.

It is understandable that the idea of the conflict changes depending on the source of the given information. It is also comprehensible that the information provided is influenced by national matters, depending on how the particular country could be affected. But, as the current situation shows, the intention of giving global coverage cannot be done without starting from a local perspective. In this particular case, the actions taken by Europe to expand its borders to the East, or the ones taken by the NATO in the same direction, together with some deficiencies of these institutions, must be included in the analysis. The responsibility for local suffering cannot be projected solely onto the dictatorial face of Vladimir Putin. It is shared by many, including the free European press.



Emerging Economies: Finding a Balance Locally as well as Globally

Posted by / 18th November 2013 / Categories: Opinion / Tags: , , , / -

Economic growth of so-called emerging countries has not always brought about the desirable and necessary development and strengthening of social and civil rights, nor the consolidation of their democratic systems. Alongside this, the reluctance of some Western countries in view of the increasing number of competing economic high-performers in the international arena has hindered their efforts in the path of human development. High economic growth of emerging countries has been achieved by a combination of cheap labor with easy access to credit, resulting in lower production costs, a dramatic increase in foreign demand for their industrial products and commodities and the expansion of their domestic markets. The other side of the coin is the challenges that are still pending: a proper separation of powers, the protection of minorities, a greater respect for social rights and a better distribution of wealth. The wealth of a country goes far beyond economic growth.

Emerging countries have been labeled in a number of ways, ranging from BRIC and CIVETS to EAGLES. Within the first group there is China, the indisputable leader of all charts, a giant whose power has become a model for many, not only economically but also politically. It also contains Brazil, an dynamic and quickly growing economy still marred by significant social and economic inequalities. The second group, lagging far behind the first, is a heterogeneous and troubled group that includes Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa. Within this framework we find some strengths and weaknesses related to economic and social development: since the new round of peace talks in Colombia, the “narco” wars seen to have subsided; Indonesia and Vietnam keep growing in the shadow of China, well integrated into global production chains; and yet the military coup in Egypt or the tense climate of social conflict in southeastern Turkey remind us that economic indexes seldom reflect the wealth and well-being of a country.

The social inequality that can be found in these countries has an interesting parallel with the inequality among nations at an international level. Unequal power sharing between rich and poor is also on full display when it comes to global arrangements. Regardless of the relative power of each of those countries, all of the emerging economies have high hopes of increasing their presence in international decision-making bodies such as the G-20. And this is precisely where a controversy has arisen after the US refused to accept the new rules to ensure a balance between Western and emerging countries, which has forced the International Monetary Fund President Christine Lagarde to urge “countries to fulfill their commitment to expeditiously implement this reform.”

This reform adopted and approved by the G -20 directly affects the composition and functioning of the Bretton Woods institutions. In the case of the IMF, new financial lines have been created and its resources have increased, but with greater supervisory powers. But most importantly, the reform introduces changes in the IMF’s governance, aiming to increase the legitimacy of the institution by adapting the voting system, taking into account the actual economic weight of each country, which benefits the emerging economies that have grown considerably in recent years. As for the World Bank, the changes were inspired by the “Zedillo Report” and are generally in line with the IMF’s: more resources and new financing and an important economic governance reform with greater representation for the Emerging Countries and Least Developed Countries. Overall, developing countries have increased by 50% their basic votes in this institution. Another sign of change is that the Executive Board has reserved a seat for the first time in history for a sub-Saharan African country. However, other urgent measures have not even been pinpointed yet, such as improving and strengthening the monitoring mechanisms to forecast financial crisis, or appointing citizens of countries other than European ones (IMF) or the US (World Bank; Jim Yong Kim is Korean-born American after all) for the top positions of these institutions. Consequently, while on paper the recent support measures have been applauded by the emerging powers, in practice there is still a long way to go in recognizing their political legitimacy.

Two news items found on 22nd October in the media serve to illustrate the situation. The first, published by financial newspaper Expansion CNN, reads that “despite the rapid growth of developing economies in the last decade, advanced economies still dominate the lists of the largest corporations in the world, representing 75% of companies of the Fortune Global 500 this year, and totaling 91% if we exclude state-owned enterprises”. Meanwhile, on that same day Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev declared in Beijing –as to add extra symbolism to his words- that: “If China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Russia cannot contribute to the stable development of the world economy, nothing will “.

Emerging countries are close to completing the conversion of their economic systems, but have yet to take a final step to solve domestic problems of capital importance such as the full recognition of basic rights and a fairer distribution of wealth. Meanwhile, the West provides them with the tools to participate in international trade, complying with the norms of liberal trade theory, but hypocritically keeps impeding- if not denying their right- to access decision-making positions that match their economic size. This is why further reforms undertaken in the G -20 should take the first step to fulfill two objectives: promoting structural reforms within emerging economies and finding a better balance between their economic weight and their political representation at an international level. Only this will ensure sustainable growth among both local populations and the global community.  facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail