Voices from Russia

Saturday, 30 June 2018

“Alternative Sexual Identity”: Austria Recognises “Third Gender”

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Austria’s Constitutional Court handed down a verdict that allows people to register themselves in official documents as something other than male or female if they wish. The Austrian court, in response to a request from an intersexual activist known as Alex Jürgen, called upon the European Convention on Human Rights to introduce the option of “other” or “inter” on civil register forms that ask for a person’s gender. Jürgen, whose birth name remains secret, said:

For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m recognised as what I am, how I was born.

The court emphasised in its ruling that Article 8 of the European Human Rights Convention certifies the right to “an individual sexual identity” and defends “in particular, people with an alternative sexual identity”. The court decision won’t amend existing law since it doesn’t explicitly require documentation of male or female gender.

Last November, Germany became the first European country to call for official recognition of a “third sex”, a decision supported in May by the Netherlands. The third gender already received legal recognition in several countries, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, India, Pakistan, and Nepal. According to UN experts, from 0.05 to 1.7 percent of global births are intersex.

30 June 2018

Sputnik International

https://sputniknews.com/europe/201806301065909946-austria-court-third-gender/

Editor:

I find this more than a little disquieting. It appears to hinge upon personal choice, not objective medical criteria. It’s one thing if an intersex person or a transsexual under medical supervision asks for a change in gender on documentation, but it’s quite another if we open it to untrammelled personal whim. I know that this’ll open me up to attacks from both sides of the aisle. Those on the left will excoriate me for not being “sensitive” enough. Those on the right will vilify me for even offering a pathway to change one’s documents (they wouldn’t even accept medical vetting, I’ve found). I’d say to you to ignore the activists on both sides and keep it grounded in medical reality. That’s how it stands in most places today (including my home state of New York), and I think that it’s best kept that way. That is, there should be a limited and controlled way to amend one’s personal documents. Otherwise, it becomes anarchy and chaos. Keep it grounded and you won’t go wrong.

BMD

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Saturday, 23 June 2018

Kommersant: Russia to Side with Europe and China in Coming Global Trade War

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Economic Development Minister Maksim Oreshkin noted that Russia is likely to take part in the global trade war that’s gradually gaining momentum. Taking a cue from China and the EU, Russia will raise tariffs on imported US goods in response to Washington’s protective measures concerning steel and aluminium supplies. The tariff row is unlikely to fade away until the US Congress elections scheduled for November. Other countries announced tit-for-tat measures as well. China filed a WTO complaint and increased duties on US imports worth 3 billion USD (188.92 billion Roubles. 19.52 billion Renminbi. 203.6 billion INR. 3.99 billion CAD. 4.03 billion AUD. 2.57 billion Euros. 2.26 billion UK Pounds). The EU, Canada, and Mexico published their own lists of increased tariffs after Washington extended its steel and aluminium duties to them on 1 June. Sergei Afontsev, Head of the Economic Theory Department at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, said:

According to WTO rules, the countries affected by unjustified trade restrictions have the right to take tit-for-tat measures without waiting for the results of their WTO complaints. Concerning US steel and aluminium tariffs, that’s what India did a few days ago; we expect a relevant EU decision. Russia will follow the global trend. If the USA is willing to begin a dialogue, the parties could discuss the mutual damage, but this could take two or three years. A trade war between the USA and China is a very real threat. To date, both parties seem to be willing to raise the stakes by increasing duties and extending them to new groups of goods. Where the limits of such escalation are, and whether they exist at all, is a big question. This is a fundamentally new situation in global trade.

20 June 2018

TASS

http://tass.com/pressreview/1010251

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Two-Thirds of Russians Felt No Impact of Western Sanctions

00 Russian food market. 27.12.14

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According to poll results released on Wednesday, most Russians polled by the all-Russia Public Opinion Centre (VTsIOM) (67 percent) felt no impact of anti-Russian sanctions whilst 24 percent of respondents said the restrictions affected their financial position. In its report, VTsIOM said:

The respondents assessed more unambiguously the impact of Western sanctions on their family’s financial position… 67 percent of them didn’t feel their effect. However, there can be clearly seen the share of those who spoke about negative implications… 24 percent across the sample (reaching 36 percent in respondents who assessed their financial position as low).

As the poll suggests, Russians are divided on the benefit or the harm of the sanctions for the Russian economy… 34 percent of those polled believe that sanctions had a beneficial effect compared to 30 percent of the respondents who held the opposite opinion whilst 20 percent of respondents saw no impact of sanctions on our economic development. Responding to a question about positive consequences of the sanctions, Russians noted a boost in the country’s economic development (50 percent) and import substitution (20 percent). Amongst negative implications, respondents singled out growth of prices and taxes (22 percent) and economic decline (9 percent). Generally, the issue of sanctions remains topical for Russians… 57 percent of those polled paid attention to it. In reply to a question about Russian counter-sanctions, 73 percent of respondents said that they supported an unyielding foreign policy without concessions to the West whilst 17 percent of those polled disagreed with that. Most respondents (78 percent) believed that Western countries suffer more from anti-Russian sanctions. Commenting on the poll results, VTsIOM head Valery Fyodorov said:

Almost four years after their imposition, anti-Russian sanctions don’t cause any special fear. Moreover, a considerable part of our respondents sees mostly positive economic consequences in them. Nevertheless, every fourth respondent sees negative implications from the sanctions for their own well-being and for the well-being of their close relatives.

The poll was on 10-11 June 2018. The error margin is 2.5 percent with a 95 percent probability.

In 2014, the EU and the USA imposed sanctions on Russia over developments in the Ukraine and Crimean reintegration with Russia and often broadened and extended them. The EU suspended talks on visa-free travel and a new basic cooperation agreement, imposed a ban on entry to the EU for officials from Russia, and froze their assets, as well as introducing restrictions in the trade, financial, and military spheres. Overall, the EU blacklisted 151 individuals and 37 companies. It imposed sanctions against 20 Russian financial, energy, and defence structures. In addition, the USA imposed a ban on the export of US goods, technologies, and services to the Crimea. It also banned US investments in the Crimea.

20 June 2018

TASS

http://tass.com/society/1010277

Monday, 28 May 2018

Interfering in Italy’s Democracy… and It’s Not Russia

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Italy’s political turmoil tends to prove the wry old saying that “if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal”. The country is facing a mounting constitutional crisis amidst calls for impeaching the president after he blocked the formation of a new government. According to to the Financial Times, the crisis seems to be mainly about a clash over financial policy and a populist challenge to EU economic austerity. However, lurking too is a concern among the EU establishment in Brussels that a new populist Italian government is proposing to restore friendly relations with Russia. No doubt, Washington and NATO share that concern.

After the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and League parties topped the polls in a general election in March, they formed a would-be coalition to govern. It took nearly three months of negotiations to hammer out a governance plan. Nevertheless, there are core policies on which the coalition partners are in strong agreement. Those policies include an end to the EU’s orthodoxy of neoliberal economic austerity; and, perhaps just as significant, to end EU sanctions on Russia in a step towards normalising relations. Both M5S and League praised Russia’s military intervention in Syria to end the seven-year war there. Both parties also blamed the USA and the EU for meddling in the Ukraine’s internal affairs as the cause of the continuing conflict in that country. The latter viewpoint turns upside-down the conventional USA-NATO-EU notion of accusing Russia of interfering in the Ukraine.

For these reasons, that’s why the Italian government-in-waiting wants to abandon the EU position of imposing economic sanctions on Russia for the past four years since the Ukrainian conflict erupted in 2014. The EU’s sanctions require unanimity among its 28 member states for implementation. If Italy were to vote against the sanctions… as M5S and the League firmly propose to do… then, the USA-EU policy of trying to isolate Russia would collapse. After the populist parties won the Italian election in March, a Guardian headline captured the apprehension felt among the Washington and Brussels NATO axis:

Electoral gains or M5S and League may threaten Italy’s strong support for NATO and US.

In fact, this may be the decisive factor in the latest twist of Italy’s political crisis. Over the weekend, long-time President Sergio Mattarella sparked fury after he blocked the key appointment of a finance minister. The nominee for the position, Paolo Savona, is a prominent critic of the EU economic policy of austerity and tight fiscal control. The would-be coalition government nominated Savona because his Eurosceptic views dovetail with the populists’ demands for more public investment and a basic income for poor families. The populists believe that, in this way, Italy can stimulate its economy and grow its way out of high indebtedness, rather than through the orthodox neoliberal position prevailing in Brussels of reducing debt through cutting public spending and imposing austerity.

Italy’s largely figurehead President Mattarella said he refused to mandate the appointment of the populist finance minister out of “fears about Italian and foreign investors” pulling out of the country’s economy. Italy’s economy is the third biggest in the Eurozone, but it remained mired in sluggish growth for years, with a massive debt-to-GDP ratio of over 130 percent and soaring unemployment. The blocking of the new finance minister’s appointment rebounded in a constitutional crisis. Prime Minister-designate Giuseppe Conte resigned in protest. The coalition can’t form a new government, and there are furious calls from M5S and League for President Mattarella to be impeached for impeding the “will of the people”. Luigi Di Maio, the leader of M5S said:

Why don’t we just say that in this country it’s pointless that we vote, as the ratings agencies and financial lobbies decide the governments?

The League’s Matteo Salvini was equally vehement:

In a democracy, if we’re still in a democracy, there’s only one thing to do, let the Italians have their say. Italy isn’t a colony. We aren’t slaves of the Germans or the French or finance.

Incumbent President Mattarella faces accusations of being “pro-Brussels” and compliant with the dominant economic policy of austerity and strict public finances. Italy’s 132 percent debt-to-GDP ratio is more than double what EU rules allow, and second-highest to Greece, as cited by the BBC. Therefore, if a populist government in Rome were to relax debt rules and grow its way out of economic stagnation, the result would be a head-on challenge to Brussels, the EU administration, and the German government in particular, which is a fiscal hawk. However, the point is that a radical challenge to EU economic policy is what the Italian people voted for. Large numbers of them are fed up with “slave-like” obedience to fiscal policies that accommodate the priorities of financial institutions and foreign capital.

A sense that their votes are being overturned propels the fury felt in Italy over the latest crisis. That is, “if your vote changed anything, they’d make it illegal”. This perceived blatant interference in democratic rights on behalf of neoliberal economic interests and financial investors is bound to further rile up the populist backlash against the EU establishment… not just in Italy, but also increasingly across the bloc, from Britain to the Netherlands, from France to Germany, Austria, Denmark, Hungary, and elsewhere. However, another factor may be equally important, if not quite as openly stated. That is Russia and the geopolitics of the US-led NATO axis.

Perhaps, it’s significant that President Mattarella, like many of the traditional EU ruling elite, is very pro-USA and pro-NATO. For instance, when he was previously Italy’s defence minister, Mattarella strongly supported the USA-led NATO bombing of former Yugoslavia in the late 1990s. Already, as noted above, the incoming M5S/League government coalition proposes to end the EU policy of economic sanctions on Russia. Both parties said that we shouldn’t treat Moscow as a military threat, but rather as a partner and ally. As Italy is a founding member of the EU, its position on the matter of relations with Russia would be crucial. If the new government overturned the EU’s sanctions policy and restored friendly ties with Moscow that’d scuttle the pro-Atlanticist axis between Washington and Brussels. Arguably, for Europeans, that’d be a beneficial release from Washington’s irrational hostility towards Russia in recent years, a move that EU leaders lamentably followed.

In other words, huge geopolitical interests are at stake if the Italians exercise their democratic freedom to form a populist government. No doubt, Washington and its allies in Brussels stepped in to “brief” the Italian president on what’s deemed acceptable limits of democracy. Yet, laughably, the USA-NATO-EU Atlanticist axis has the brass to berate Russia continually for “interfering in Western democracies”.

28 May 2018

Finian Cunningham

Sputnik International

https://sputniknews.com/columnists/201805281064884502-italy-democracy-political-turmoil/

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