Mediterranean Contrasts

José Ignacio Torreblanca. Professor. IE School of Arts & Humanities

12 April 2011

The Tunisian revolution and its spread to other North African countries have placed a spotlight on policies adopted by Europe to keep control over the southernmost Mediterranean coastline.

In December, the last dictator in Europe, Lukashenko, who has been in power in Belarus since 1994, decided to give himself a Christmas present – a fraudulent victory in the elections with 80% of the votes. After that, he shut down offices manned by international observers, told the police to repress citizens who were demonstrating, closed the few independent media organizations which still existed and threw over 600 people in prison, including Andrei Sannikov, the leader of the opposition. Sannikov was arrested, along with his wife, in the very hospital to which he had been taken after being beaten up by the police. Such is the audacity of the régime that the Juvenile Unit at the Public Prosecutor’s Office is currently reviewing the guardianship of the couple’s three-year-old son, who is presently cared for by his grandmother, in case the state might have to look after the child, as the parents could be sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. That’s the problem of being leader of the opposition – you’re not able to devote much time to your child. It’s better that the state turns little Danii into a decent citizen.

After being in power for 23 years, Ben Ali has had the brilliant idea of setting up a commission which will investigate corruption.

The good news is that the European Union has said “enough is enough”. In 2006, Lukashenko ran elections that were equally as fraudulent and received a battery of ‘intelligent sanctions’ (they are so-called because they won’t have a negative impact on the population). He was not allowed to go abroad, his international financial dealings were frozen and the opposition received support. The sanctions did prove successful and in 2008 Lukashenko loosened his grip and freed all political prisoners. In exchange the EU suspended the sanctions, offered economic support and initiated a “thawing” process. So if the regime won’t have its arm twisted, the EU will bring the sanctions back. Today the consensus in Brussels is that Lukashenko has made the EU a laughing stock and strict measures need to be imposed again.

Things are much worse in Tunisia, but the EU won’t adopt measures, just as they refused to act in 2009 when Ben Ali “won” the elections and took 89.62% of the votes. People who went there and spoke to the candidates constantly mentioned the fact that behind Tunisia’s apparent stability and image as a pleasant tourist destination lurked an Orwellian State which had total control over its citizens’ every movement and every e-mail. The troubles in Tunisia, with a death toll which will be difficult to disguise, have been instrumental in removing the mask from all the régimes in the area. Said régimes claim they provide stability when in reality all they offer are fierce repression and a haven for corruption, and not, as they claim, a haven for the construction of a modern society which can constrain Islamism.

The acrimony of kleptocrat Ben Ali who, after being in power for 23 years, has had the brilliant idea of setting up a commission which will investigate corruption, is just as audacious. Wikileaks has proved how the elite in the region (including monarchs, presidents, and in the case of Ben Ali, his own family) are immersed in an orgy of corruption while young people have no life or work prospects.

What is happening in Tunisia also lays bare Spain, France and Italy – countries which defended an EU policy for the Mediterranean, which is now completely redundant. Meanwhile, in the eastern part of Europe, Poland, Sweden and the Baltic Countries are applying policies and tools which are completely different from those which Madrid, Paris and Rome promote in the Mediterranean. Here, our approach looks more like the policy sustained by the US during the Cold War in Central America with such disastrous consequences. Just as Washington’s Containment of Communism Policy threw the population of Central America into the hands of the revolutionary left, our policy of Containment of Islamism will probably throw the population into the hands of Islamists who, astutely, have legitimized themselves with social justice and anticorruption on their agenda.

Europe, with its passive stance, not only discredits itself but also traps and condemns to extinction all those (now probably not very many) who still believe in democracy, political alternation and respect for human rights. If we secretly aspire to having a number of banana republics in the Southern Mediterranean which look after our interests, it looks as if we’re on the right track.


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