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Understanding the Myanmar/Rohingya conflict is best achieved through understanding international non-alignment

The Myanmar Civil War, particularly where it pertains to the Rohingya conflict, is subject to many false and dangerously misleading narratives. Most stem from a misunderstanding not only of Myanmar’s internal situation, but from a misunderstanding of the country’s position as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.

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It has been said that truth is the first casualty of war and while the Civil War in Myanmar (formerly Burma) has raged since 1948, recent flare ups of the conflict have given rise to the death of truths that pertain both to Myanmar specifically and to countries in Myanmar’s geo-political position more broadly. This is especially true of the present phase of the so-called Rohingya conflict.

In order to understand Myanmar’s present geo-political position and how various disinformation campaigns were inevitable in this context, it is first necessary to understand the prevailing narratives, many of which are mutually exclusive to one another.

  1. The Persecution of Muslims

Over the last four decades and since 9/11 in particular, many observers (irrespective of their faith or background) have come to feel that Muslims are being aggressively targeted the world over. According to this narrative, numerous acts of injustice against Muslims, often at the hands of the same actors, have led to an aggregate reality in which Muslims are brutally victimised throughout the world.

This theory when applied to the world as a whole is often true, although there are exceptions as there would be to any overly broad theory.

In Yugoslavia for example, extremist Sunni Muslims (among Bosnians and ethnic Albanians) as well as extremist Roman Catholics (primarily Croats) aggressively turned a political struggle to preserve secular Yugoslav statehood into a sectarian war of aggression against Orthodox Serbs.

In many ways however, Yugoslavia is an exception that has proved the rule, both in terms of factual realties and in terms of perception.

Far from this being a ‘Zionist conspiracy’, this is a phenomenon that Israeli leaders have openly exploited by their own admission. In 2008, Benjamin Netanyahu was reported as saying, “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq”.

He went on to say that the aforementioned events helped sway public opinion in Israel’s direction. While Netanyahu’s thesis is certainly true in respect of the feelings of many in the west, the opposite is equally true. Many people in the west have inversely come to resent Israel for its callous exploitation of events, even while remaining unmoved by the Palestinian cause.

In this sense, it is easy to see why many feel that the Rohingya conflict is part of a wider neo-imperialist war against Muslims. This is a sentiment which for totally different reasons has been exploited both by those whose sympathies lie with Muslims and those whose sympathies lie with anyone but Muslims.

  1. The US backed Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to power and therefore she is a tyrant

Like the previous narrative, this theory, if one had to rely on precedent alone, would be a safe bet. The US has a history of backing objectively tyrannical leaders from Pinochet in 1973 to the present regimes in Saudi Arabia and Ukraine (post 2014 coup). These are but a few such examples of America backing tyrannical regimes.

However, America’s precedent for backing dangerous regimes does not automatically make this the case in respect of present day Myanmar, as shall be explained subsequently.

  1. A pro-China/pro-Russia regime is fighting ‘backward Muslims’

This narrative is not only the most deceptive, but it is the most dangerous. By all accounts, China and Russia have better relations with Muslim countries than most western powers could hope for. Russia has a substantial Muslim minority who are generally patriotic members of society whose faith is respected and cherished by the Russian state.

China’s alliance with Pakistan, its growing ties with Turkey and its good relations with Iran and the Arab world are proof positive that China, like Russia, does not for a moment share the western vendetta against certain Muslim societies. By the same token, both countries have good relations with non-Muslim countries. This is just an obvious reality of the pragmatic and realistic approach of Russian diplomacy and the non-ideological nature of Chinese commercial and geo-strategic interests.

  1. Innocent Buddhists are defending themselves from ISIS style militant Muslims

This narrative is not only simplistic, but is related to the view which is alternatively ‘alt-right’ or ‘Zionist’ which seeks to claim that in any conflict, Muslims, no matter who they are, are to blame. In the context of Myanmar, it is overly simplistic and if taken seriously, could only add fuel to a long  burning fire.

The realities:

In reality, the Rohingya conflict is part of a Civil War which began in 1948 as a legacy of the colonial map of what was then called Burma. This deeply flawed map was drawn by the British imperialists. Many Asian conflicts including the Jammu and Kashmir conflict, Sino-Indian border disputes, Afghan-Pakistan border disputes and the border disputes between Indonesia and Malaysia, can all trace their origin back to primarily British drawn colonial maps.

The conflicts in Myanmar are no different. It is also the case that in respect of the Rohingya conflict, there are armed factions on all sides and there are innocent civilians who have been dying for years over the course of the on and off conflicts, on all sides.

Geo-political expert Andrew Korbyko has introduced the nature of the conflict in the following way,

“The immediate post-independence period in Myanmar, called Burma until 1989, saw the many ethno-religious minorities of the country’s resource-rich periphery rebel against the central authorities in favor of federalization or, as the Rohingyas wanted, unification with the neighboring state that they more closely identified with (East Pakistan, but Bangladesh since 1971), thereby setting off the world’s longest-running and still-unresolved civil war.

Pertaining to Rakhine State, this conflict has ebbed and flowed throughout the decades, most recently climaxing in 2012, 2015 and just recently this summer, with the latest three escalations seeing reprisal violence by some of the hyper-nationalist Buddhist majority against the minority Muslim population. In response, the more impoverished Rohingya, who don’t have citizenship rights because most of them don’t qualify for such under the country’s pertinent laws, had little to leave behind in Rakhine State and would flee en mass to Bangladesh for safety.

It’s worthwhile here to point out that the Myanmarese military, known as the Tatmadaw, claims that its operations in their locales are triggered by the deadly attacks that Rohingya rebels — seen as terrorists by Naypyidaw and accused of having links to al-Qaeda and other such notorious groups — carried out against them and Buddhist villagers. The fog of war is such that civilians are obviously getting killed as a result, but it’s unclear whether this constitutes genocide, or who’s actually behind it all”.

Korbyko has further proffered possible solutions to the conflict in the following piece. My own view is that a cohesive model of deep and broad federalisation is the best resolution to the present conflict.

But while this explains the background and present realities of the conflict in Myanmar, it is equally important to understand why so many are susceptible to falling for the various false or simplistic narratives about the conflict which in no way correspond to the reality.

Much of the misunderstanding comes from a simplistic view of geo-strategic alliances shaped by an understanding of the Soviet Union’s relationship to fellow Warsaw Pact members, as well as America’s present relationship to its most subservient NATO dependants.

Instead, to better grasp the conflict in Myanmar, one ought to examine the history of Non-Aligned countries, both as it pertains to members of the Non-Aligned Movement of which Burma (as Myanmar was then known) was a founding member,  as well as among those who de-facto exercise a non-aligned geo-political position.

Non-Aligned Countries were/are technically neutral in respect of relations between leaders of the large geo-political blocs. During the Cold War, this meant neutrality in respect of the US bloc, Soviet Bloc and Chinese Bloc.

While the Non-Aligned Movement as an official bloc has less relevance than it did during the Cold War, the nature of being non-aligned is vastly more important than it has ever been in modern history. This is due to the fact that as old blocs and empires collapse, many nations find themselves in a de-facto non-aligned position.

In this sense, attaining influence in a non-aligned nation is a kind of golden ticket for the super-powers and their client states.

But while many see the clearly advantageous position that super-powers have in attempting to woo, bribe or blackmail partnerships with non-aligned nations, analysts frequently ignore that the non-aligned states themselves are also looking to capitalise on opportunities by exploiting the potential and actual partnerships that all super-powers generally present to non-aligned nations over time. This is indeed one of the clearly implied advantages of being non-aligned.

In 1956 for example, the old/dying empires of France and Britain along with the neo-colonial Israeli power invaded Nasser’s Egypt. Here, both the USSR and USA told the invaders to withdraw as both were eager to compete for influence in Egypt. For the rest of the Cold War, Egypt maintained normal relations with both the US and USSR. In the 1960s and 1970s for example, Egypt was generally closer to the USSR while in the 1980s and 1990s, Egypt was closer to the US. Today, Egypt while maintaining good ties to both Moscow and Washington, appears to be slowly pivoting closer to Russia.

Like Egypt, Indonesia co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement and remains a member to this day. When Indonesia joined, it was ruled by the staunchly anti-imperialist President Suharto. Suharto was wooed equally by China, the Soviet Union and the United States, in spite of his left-wing ideology. In 1956, Suharto famously visited the United States and Soviet Union within a short period.

In 1965, the increasingly left-leaning Suharto was overthrown by Muhammad Suharto who embarked on an intense period of cooperation with the United States. However, during this period Indonesia still remained stridently non-aligned, a position it retains to this day even after normalisation following the resignation of Suharto in 1999.

While Philippines was not a member of the Non-Aligned Movement until 1993, President Ferdinand Marcos was also skilled at making sure her personally got much of what we wanted from the United States in return for guarantees that the US would retain its presence in Philippines. Marcos, for all his faults, was as skilled at manipulating the US as the US was at manipulating him. His dramatic fall from power owed much to the fact that the US became worried about his increasingly confident position. Marcos in this sense is an example of how great powers can discard a leader who has outlived his political usefulness, but usually not before various concessions are made on both sides.

India was an important co-founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, but was considered by many to be something of a de-facto part of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. In spite of this, India maintained relations with the US, which overtime had mixed results.

India’s long time Prime Minister Indira Ghandi was once described by Richard Nixon as someone who was “suckering us”. That is certainly one way to describe the nature of the mutual-opportunism which underlies non-aligned relations. In reality, Nixon understood the non-aligned movement better than any other US President. The fact that under Nixon, the US attempted and in many cases succeeded in extending its influence in non-aligned countries, is a testament to the fact that Nixon was as knowledgeable about the situation implicit in non-alignment, as he was doubtlessly ruthless in his exploitation of these realities.

India’s present day pivot towards the US as an attempt to gain economic/geo-strategic leverage against China, is a legacy of non-alignment. The fact that India continues to offer warm words towards Russia while threatening Russia’s partners China and Pakistan, is proof positive that non-aligned politics is not a game of choosing sides but a game of attempting to extract advantage from all sides whenever possible. Some do it better than others it must be said and in the case of India, Prime Minsiter Modi is an example of someone overplaying his hand.

Iraq which joined the Non-Aligned Movement upon the bloc’s inception in 1961, had an even more colourful relationship with various international blocs. In the 1960s and 1970s, Ba’athist Iraq was a Soviet ally while maintaining generally acceptable relations with the west.

In the 1980s, while Baghdad retained ties to Moscow, it became increasingly close to the United States and its European allies, all of whom encouraged and handsomely armed Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran (another non-aligned member state beginning in 1979).

In 1990, the US turned against Saddam and maintained an anti-Iraq stance which lasted until the US/UK invasion of the country in 2003.

In his expert analysis, Andrew Korybro warns that Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Councillor of Myanmar, might become a “South East Asian Saddam”. He is of course referring to the fact that she may violently fall from the graces of the US and wider US controlled west if Washington feels it can attain a specific advantage in doing so.

Extrapolating the Iraq analogy further, one could easily say that the Rohingya might become a South East Asian equivalent of the Kurds.

In Iraq, the US was happy to back Saddam Hussein’s Iraq against Iran. Paradoxically, shortly after that war ended, one of the justifications the US employed for the first Gulf War was Saddam Hussein’s treatment of the Kurds.

In 1988, during the course of the Iran-Iraq War, Iraqi planes dropped chemical weapons on Kurdish militants in the city of Halabja. There is no doubt that innocent civilians did perish in the attack, but what is often untold in pro-American academia and media is that Kurdish militants actively fought against Iraqi during the course of the war with Iran, in a calculated move to attempt to take advantage of Iraq’s distraction with Iran in order to engage in acts of illegal separatism.

By the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein made many concessions to Kurds in northern Iraq, so much so that they were enjoyed large amounts of autonomy long before the 2003 US/UK invasion.

Today, the US has expressed a desire to delay a Kurdish independence referendum in northern Iraq because of US vested interests in post-2003 Iraq. By contrast, the US was all too happy to covertly back Kurdish separatism against Saddam Hussein in the 1990s and early 2000s.

At the same time, the US has often been weary and consequently inconstant in respect of backing Kurdish independence for fear of angering a fellow NATO ally Turkey. Now that Turkey is moving closer to Russia, China and Iran, America is backing the Kurds most strongly in Syria, a country in which America has no chance of gaining vested interests, except for in Kurdish regions. For similar reasons, the US also looks with intrigue towards Kurdish separatists in Iran.

It must also be said that the Kurds maintained good relations to both the Soviet Union and Israel at a time when the two countries were generally at odds. In this sense, Aung San Suu Kyi is as much the new Saddam as the Rohingya are the new Kurds.

The similarities are vast between the Kurdish issue in the Middle East and the Rohingya conflict in Myanmar are vast and telling, in terms of attempting to foresee a possible outcome.

In both cases, a semi-stateless group that has historic connections to the region are engaged in a conflict with the government as well as local non-Muslims. Throughout all of this, all sides are armed against one another and sadly, civilians are being killed on all sides, something which is not a new phenomenon in Myanmar nor in the Middle East.

The Rohingya seek autonomy and in some cases a form of separatism, something that the central government finds unacceptable as is generally the case with most governments.

Into this cauldron of violence with historical antecedents that are often dangerously brushed over, observers on all ideological sides are growing increasingly angry, distraught and confused.

The confusion stems not only from the complexities of Myanmar’s internal situation, but from something much simpler. Non-aligned states can quickly turn from heroes to villains in the eyes of an agenda driven press (both mainstream and alternative) depending on who such states are leaning towards at any given moment.

Right now, Myanmar is caught in a web which sees China and Russia on one side who offer economic opportunity and neutral but non-antagonistic political guidance, India which seeks to exploit a pro-government agenda/narrative in order to attain economic advantage over China and to a lesser degree Russia and finally there is the west, observing the entire thing while waiting to see whether it is in the west’s interest to describe the Rohingya crisis as an ethnic cleansing, a Muslim insurgency or what former UK Prime Minister Harold MacMillan may well have called “a little local difficulty”.

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Jets
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Jets

Dear Adam,

Thank you very much for the article. It is very informative and clear. The Rohingya people are indeed like the Kurds, caught between a hard place and a rock.

Voltaire
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Voltaire

Adam This analysis is like the curate egg…Good in parts… Here is a better analysis https://www.voltairenet.org/article197786.html “On 25 August 2017, the Rohingya Liberation Organization launched 25 simultaneous attacks against police stations and barracks located in the coastal State of Rakhine. The result: 71 deaths. The partners in this operation were a group of Bengalis, which had broken away in 2016 from the Jamat-ul-Mujahideen over the slogan “Jihad from Bengal to Bagdad”. This group swore allegiance to Caliph Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi and brings together under one coalition the Indian Mudjahideens, Al-Jihad, Al-Ouma, the Students of Islam Movement in India (SIMI), Lashkar-e-Toiba… Read more »

Matt Hol
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Matt Hol

Exactly. Thanks for this. It is stunning how low the west will stoop. They put Wahhabi Islam above their democracy pet projects as we can see here.

Hmph
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Hmph

Votaire,

You’re little comment was more far more illuminating than the main article which didn’t mention the Israeli backed Takfiri element at all.

To the Duran: please take a look at the large amount of spelling and grammatical errors in many articles including this one.

seby
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seby

There are a lot of good analyses on this from Moon of Alabama, Tony Cartalucci at NEO and James George Jatras at Strategic Culture. Just type in Myanmar and the writers name at your search engine, preferably NOT google, and see whatever they have written in the last fortnight.

I particularly like Jatras saying it could be a replay of the Kosovo scenario.

Ulf
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Ulf

Adam, Brilliant article on the Non-Aligned Movement and Thank you for all your work!

Bente Petersen
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Bente Petersen

co-founder of non-alligned movement was PRESIDTENT SUKARNO OF INDONESIA not !!!! Suharto who ousted Sukarno in a USA supported coup … PLEASE TAKE NOTE !!!! The 2 Indonesian presidents are like night and day….

Herbert Dorsey
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Herbert Dorsey

There is a mistake in the Indonesia story. It was Sukarno that was non aligned and overthrown by Suharto – a U.S. puppet.

Kris Pryo
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Geezz .. glaring mistake about the anti Imperialist Indonesian president. His name was SUKARNO!

Suharto on the other hand was a corrupt shill for imperialism who shat on his own people.

Ace
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Ace

Pinochet was hardly a tyrant. Do you think he was fighting commie choir boys after Pinochet died? Oh, wait. I get it. Patriotic military men are “tyrants” when they lead a country. People like Castro and Pol Pot are enlightened leaders, always in danger of being opposed by “tyrants.” In fact, according to Carlos Sabino, in 1973 “The perceived alternatives at the time were reduced to just two: an uprising from the radical left, or a nationalistic military coup d’état to prevent Chile from descending into communism.” Is it clear that the former was preferable to the latter? To leftists,… Read more »

Marija
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Marija

You , sad excuse for human being, Aliende WON election. Go fight “commies” in your skull.

april
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april

Adam, correction. The “staunchly anti-imperialist” was Soekarno, not Suharto the corrupt general who colluded with the US to stage a military coup ousting the former. Suharto also colluded with the US and Australia in a bloody rampage in East Timor.
Your paragraph about Marcos is also garbled… 🙁

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French opposition rejects Macron’s concessions to Yellow Vests, some demand ‘citizen revolution’

Mélenchon: “I believe that Act 5 of the citizen revolution in our country will be a moment of great mobilization.”

RT

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Via RT…


Macron’s concessions to the Yellow Vests has failed to appease protesters and opposition politicians, such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who called for “citizen’s revolution” to continue until a fair distribution of wealth is achieved.

Immediately after French President Macron declared a “social and economic state of emergency” in response to large-scale protests by members of the Yellow Vest movement, promising a range of concessions to address their grievances, left-wing opposition politician Mélenchon called on the grassroots campaign to continue their revolution next Saturday.

I believe that Act 5 of the citizen revolution in our country will be a moment of great mobilization.

Macron’s promise of a €100 minimum wage increase, tax-free overtime pay and end-of-year bonuses, Mélenchon argued, will not affect any “considerable part” of the French population. Yet the leader of La France Insoumise stressed that the “decision” to rise up rests with “those who are in action.”

“We expect a real redistribution of wealth,” Benoît Hamon, a former presidential candidate and the founder of the Mouvement Génération, told BFM TV, accusing Macron’s package of measures that benefit the rich.

The Socialist Party’s first secretary, Olivier Faure, also slammed Macron’s financial concessions to struggling workers, noting that his general “course has not changed.”

Although welcoming certain tax measures, Marine Le Pen, president of the National Rally (previously National Front), accused the president’s “model” of governance based on “wild globalization, financialization of the economy, unfair competition,” of failing to address the social and cultural consequences of the Yellow Vest movement.

Macron’s speech was a “great comedy,”according to Debout la France chairman, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who accused the French President of “hypocrisy.”

Yet many found Melanchon’s calls to rise up against the government unreasonable, accusing the 67-year-old opposition politician of being an “opportunist” and “populist,” who is trying to hijack the social protest movement for his own gain.

Furthermore, some 54 percent of French believe the Yellow Vests achieved their goals and want rallies to stop, OpinionWay survey showed. While half of the survey respondents considered Macron’s anti-crisis measures unconvincing, another 49 percent found the president to be successful in addressing the demands of the protesters. Some 68 percent of those polled following Macron’s speech on Monday especially welcomed the increase in the minimum wage, while 78 percent favored tax cuts.

The Yellow Vest protests against pension cuts and fuel tax hikes last month were organized and kept strong via social media, without help from France’s powerful labor unions or official political parties. Some noted that such a mass mobilization of all levels of society managed to achieve unprecedented concessions from the government, which the unions failed to negotiate over the last three decades.

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Soros Mimics Hitler’s Bankers: Will Burden Europeans With Debt To ‘Save’ Them

George Soros is dissatisfied with the current EU refugee policy because it is still based on quotas.

The Duran

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Via GEFIRA:


After the Second World War, many economists racked their brains to answer the question of how Hitler managed to finance his armament, boost the economy and reduce unemployment.

Today his trick is well known. The economic miracle of Führer’s time became possible thanks to the so-called Mefo promissory notes.

The notes were the idea of the then President of the Reichsbank, Hjalmar Schacht, and served not only to finance the armament of the Wehrmacht for the Second World War, but also to create state jobs, which would otherwise not have been possible through the normal use of the money and capital markets, i.e. the annual increase in savings in Germany.

The Reich thus financed the armaments industry by accepting notes issued by the dummy company Metallurgische Forschungsgesellschaft GmbH (hence the name Mefo) rather than paying them in cash. The creation of money was in full swing from 1934 to 1938 – the total amount of notes issued at that time was 12 billion marks. The Reichsbank declared to the German banks that it was prepared to rediscount the Mefo notes, thus enabling the banks to discount them.

Because of their five-year term, the redemption of notes had to begin in 1939 at the latest. This threatened with enormous inflation. Since Schacht saw this as a threat to the Reichsmark, he expressed his doubts about the Reich Minister of Finance. But it did not help, and Schacht was quickly replaced by Economics Minister Walther Funk, who declared that the Reich would not redeem the Mefo notes, but would give Reich bonds to the Reichsbank in exchange. At the time of Funk, the autonomous Reichsbank statute was abolished, the Reichsbank was nationalized, and inflation exploded in such a way that Mefo notes with a circulation of 60 billion Reichsmark burdened the budget in post-war Germany.

George Soros also proposes such a money flurry in the style of Schacht and Funk.

Soros is dissatisfied with the current EU refugee policy because it is still based on quotas. He calls on the EU heads of state and governments to effectively deal with the migrant crisis through money flooding, which he calls “surge funding”.

“This would help to keep the influx of refugees at a level that Europe can absorb.”

Can absorb? Soros would be satisfied with the reception of 300,000 to 500,000 migrants per year. However, he is aware that the costs of his ethnic exchange plan are not financially feasible. In addition to the already enormous costs caused by migrants already in Europe, such a large number of new arrivals would add billions each year.

Soros calculates it at 30 billion euros a year, but argues that it would be worth it because “there is a real threat that the refugee crisis could cause the collapse of Europe’s Schengen system of open internal borders among twenty-six European states,” which would cost the EU between 47 and 100 billion euros in GDP losses.

Soros thus sees the financing of migrants and also of non-European countries that primarily receive migrants (which he also advocates) as a win-win relationship. He calls for the introduction of a new tax for the refugee crisis in the member states, including a financial transaction tax, an increase in VAT and the establishment of refugee funds. Soros knows, however, that such measures would not be accepted in the EU countries, so he proposes a different solution, which does not require a vote in the sovereign countries.

The new EU debt should be made by the EU taking advantage of its largely unused AAA credit status and issuing long-term bonds, which would boost the European economy. The funds could come from the European Stability Mechanism and the EU balance of payments support institution.

 “Both also have very similar institutional structures, and they are both backed entirely by the EU budget—and therefore do not require national guarantees or national parliamentary approval.“

In this way, the ESM and the BoPA (Balance of Payments Assistance Facility) would become the new Mefo’s that could issue bills of exchange, perhaps even cheques for Turks, Soros NGOs. Soros calculates that both institutions have a credit capacity of 60 billion, which should only increase as Portugal, Ireland and Greece repay each year the loans they received during the euro crisis. According to Soros, the old debts should be used to finance the new ones in such a way that it officially does not burden the budget in any of the EU Member States. The financial institutions that are to carry out this debt fraud must extend (indeed – cancel) their status, as the leader of the refugees expressed such a wish in his speech.

That Soros is striving to replace the indigenous European population with new arrivals from Africa and Asia is clear to anyone who observes its activities in Europe. The question is: what does he want to do this for and who is the real ruler, behind him, the real leader?

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The French People Feel Screwed

For the first time in his presidency, Macron is in trouble and Europe and America are looking on.

The Duran

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Authored by David Brown via The Gatestone Institute:


On December 4, French Prime Minister Édouard Phillipe told deputies of the ruling party, “La République en Marche”, that a proposed fuel tax rise, which had led to the largest protests France has seen in decades, would be suspended.

The protesters, called Gilets-Jaunes — “Yellow Vests,” because of the vests drivers are obliged by the government to carry in their vehicles in the event of a roadside breakdown — say that the fuel tax was the last straw from a president who took office with a promise to help the economically left-behind but instead has favoured the rich.

Even by French standards, the protests of the “Yellow Vests” during the weekend of December 1 were startling. Burning cars and vast plumes of grey smoke seemed to engulf the Arc De Triomphe as if Paris were at war. Comparisons were drawn with the Bread Wars of the 17th Century and the spirit of the Revolution of the 18th Century.

For more than two weeks, the “Yellow Vests” disrupted France. They paralyzed highways and forced roads to close — causing shortages across the country – and blocked fuel stations from Lille in the North to Marseilles in the South.

During protests in France’s capital, Paris, the “Yellow Vests” were soon joined by a more violent element, who began torching cars, smashing windows and looting stores. 133 were injured, 412 were arrested and more than 10,000 tear gas and stun grenades were fired.

One elderly lady was killed when she was struck by a stray grenade as she tried to shutter her windows against the melee.

There was talk of imposing a State of Emergency.

The “Yellow Vests” present the most significant opposition French President Emmanuel Macron has faced since coming to office in May 2017. Unlike previous protests in France, which have divided public opinion, these have widespread support – 72% according to a Harris Interactive Poll published December 1st.

Fuel tax rises — announced in November before being retracted on December — were intended to help bring down France’s carbon emissions by curbing the use of cars. Macron makes no secret of his wish to be seen as a global leader for environmental reform.

He forgets that back at home, among the people who elected him, fuel prices really matter to those outside big cities, where four-fifths of commuters drive to work and a third of them cover more than 30km each week.

The increases have incensed people in smaller communities, where they have already seen speed limits reduced to please the Greens and cuts to the local transport services.

These additional costs-of-living increases come at an extremely bad time for ordinary French people working outside of Paris. Lower-middle class families are not poor enough to receive welfare benefits but have seen their income flat-line whilst cost-of-living and taxes have risen.

An analysis by the Institut des Politiques Publiques think-tank shows that benefits cuts and tax changes in 2018 and 2019 will leave pensioners and the bottom fifth of households worse off, while the abolition of the wealth tax means that by far the biggest gains will go to the top 1%

This is tough to swallow. Macron is seen as being out of touch with ordinary people and is unlikely to escape his new title, “the President of the Rich.”

“People have this feeling that the Paris technocrats are doing complicated things to screw them,” said Charles Wyplosz, an economics professor at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.

It is probably not as complex as that. The French people feel screwed.

As employment and growth are slowing, Macron, for the first time in his presidency, is under serious pressure. Unemployment is at 9%; his efforts to reform Europe are stalling, and his approval rating has plummeted to just 23% according to a recent opinion poll by IFOP.

Images of Macron at the Arc De Triomphe daubed in graffiti calling for him to step down, or worse, have done little to bolster his image abroad.

So far, Macron had said he would not bow to street protests. To underline his point, in September 2017, he called protestors against French labour-market reform “slackers”.

The political U-Turn on the fuel tax is a turning point for the Macron presidency. The question is : What next, both for Macron and the “Yellow Vests”?

Macron most likely needs to plough ahead with his reform agenda, and doubtless knows he has the support of a solid majority in the National Assembly to do so. France is crippled by debt (nearly 100% of GDP) and its grossly bloated public sector. There are 5.2 million civil servants in France, and their number has increased by 36% since 1983. These represent 22% of the workforce compared to an OCDE average of 15%.

Tax-expert Jean-Philippe Delsol says France has 1.5 million too many “fonctionnaires [officials]. When you consider that public spending in France now accounts for 57 per cent of gross domestic product. Soon the system will no longer function as there will be less and less people working to support more and more people working less”.

Macron’s mistake, in addition to a seeming inclination for arrogance, is not to have made national economic reform his absolute priority right from his initial grace period after his election. Lower public expenses would have made it possible to lower taxes, hence creating what economists call a virtuous circle. Instead, he waited.

Now, at a time when he is deeply unpopular and social unrest is in full sway he is looking to make further reforms in unemployment benefits, scaling them back by reducing the payments and the length of time beneficiaries can receive the money. The “President of the Rich” strikes again.

There is talk that he may also re-introduce the wealth tax to try to placate the protestors.

Macron’s presidential term lasts until May 13, 2022. Understandably, Macron will be focused on the elections to the European Parliament expected to be held May 23-26, 2019. Headlines have signalled that Marine Le Pen and the National Rally (formally National Front) are ahead in the polls at 20%, compared to Macron’s En Marche at 19%.

The shift is understandable, given the divide between the countryside, where Le Pen has solid support, and the cities, where Macron’s centre-left prevail.

In contrast, the “Yellow Vests” have galvanised support after standing up for the “impotent ordinary”, and seem much buoyed by the solidarity they have been shown by both fire fighters and the police. There are images online of police removing their helmets and firefighters turning their backs on political authority to show their support for the protestors.

Whilst Macron’s political opposition may be fragmented, this new breed of coherent public opposition is something new. Leaderless, unstructured and organised online, the “Yellow Vests” have gained support from the left and right, yet resisted subjugation by either.

Being leaderless makes them difficult to negotiate withor to reason with in private. The “Yellow Vests” seem acutely aware of this strength, given their firm rebuttal of overtures for peace talks from the Macron government.

Enjoying huge support from the public and with reforms to the social welfare system on the horizon, the “Yellow Vests” are not going away.

For the first time in his Presidency, Macron is in trouble and Europe and America are looking on.

After Macron rebuked nationalism during his speech at the armistice ceremony, Trump was quick to remind the French President of his low approval rating and unemployment rate near 10%. A stinging broadside from Trump on twitter suggests that Macron may well be relegated to Trump’s list of global “Losers“:

“Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two – How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!”

The “impotent ordinary” in the United Kingdom, who might feel betrayed over Brexit, and the nationalists in Germany, who have suffered under Merkel , are no doubt staring in wonder at the “Yellow Vests”, wishing for the same moxie.

The historian Thomas Carlyle, chronicler of the French Revolution, said the French were unrivaled practitioners in the “art of insurrection”, and characterised the French mob as the “liveliest phenomena of our world”.

Mobs in other countries, by comparison, he argued were “dull masses” lacking audacity and inventiveness. The blazing yellow vests of the French protest movement , however, have made Macron appear increasingly dull and weak too.

David Brown is based in the United Kingdom.

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