August 17, 2017

LGBTQ RIGHTS AND CHRISTIANITY IN GEORGIA

Shota Adamia

shotaHaving struggled against the oppression of first the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union, Georgians have become to believe that the Georgian Orthodox Church is the only institution capable of preserving and protecting the Georgian Nation. The church was successful in maintaining its status and influence throughout decades of occupation, but since its liberation from the Soviet Union in 1989, the church has become not only free, but also excessively active, enjoying the support and unquestionable trust of at least 90% of the Georgian population. The majority of devoted Georgian Christians, including priests, have not withheld themselves from making homophobic statements, as well as actions. On 17th May 2013, Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, saw extremely violent actions against LGBTQ supporters on the streets of the city.

On the international day against homophobia, Identoba, a Georgian LGBTQ rights supporting organization, in collaboration with other organizations, as well as independent supporters, planned an event on the central Rustaveli Avenue. The original plan was to have all the supporters stand in front of the former parliament building from 1 PM – 1:30 PM in a silent demonstration, showing the importance of protecting the human rights of the LGBTQ community. On the evening prior to the event, the current Patriarch of Georgia, Ilia the Second, made a statement, condemning the planned event, claiming that homosexuality is a sin and its spread should be avoided. In response to his statement, more than 10,000 people gathered in front of the former Parliament building at midnight and spent all night there, following the orders of the priests that led this anti-LGBTQ demonstration. On the morning of 17th May, approximately 2,000 policemen received the order to surround the anti-LGBTQ demonstration in order to avoid a possible clash, as the LGBTQ-support demonstration was continuing as planned.

Shota 2

As I reached Rustaveli Avenue through the underground system (the only way of getting there, as anti-LGBTQ demonstrators had blocked all the other surrounding streets), the police escorted me to Liberty Square, which lies at the very beginning of the Rustaveli Avenue, not far from the former Parliament building. As the anti-LGBTQ demonstrators had taken over the grounds surrounding the former Parliament building, the location of the LGBTQ-support demonstration was promptly changed to Pushkin Square, right next to Liberty Square.

At around 12:50 PM, as I was standing in the middle of Pushkin Square in a group of 7 people, (5 of whom were not Georgian), all the legal observers as well as local journalists started running towards the police cordon on Rustaveli Avenue, blocking the way for anti-LGBTQ demonstrators, so that they could not approach Pushkin square. I was surprised and slightly scared by the fact that only about 50 of us LGBTQ supporters were left at the square. I soon saw an aggravated crowd of 10,000 Georgians, eager to “protect Christianity,” running in our direction. Priests swearing; several of them carrying stools that they later used to hit mini-buses that were carrying LGBTQ-supporters out of the spot; men in traditional Georgian dress screaming, running towards Pushkin Square chanting the Lord’s prayers, occasionally interrupted to curse at the LGBTQ-supporters; older women running with nettle plants in their hands that they wanted to beat us with; all 10,000 people, in religious ecstasy, with one aim – to protect Christianity from perversion by murdering LGBTQ-supporters. [Read more…]

AMERICAN DIPLOMACY IN MADRID

By Ivan Ponieman-Ferradas in Madrid, Spain

I am a rising junior majoring in Economics and International & Global Studies.  This summer I am interning for the United States Department of State Foreign Service at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain.  The Foreign Service carries out American foreign policy around the world.  Its mission is to promote peace, development, and democracy abroad for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.

I have wanted to intern for the Foreign Service since I was a senior in high school, when I learned about the internship opportunity through the Department of State website.  When the application period opened last November, I worked closely with career counselors at Hiatt to make sure that my application reflected strong candidacy.  I applied to the internship online and was offered a position in December upon receiving security clearance.  After completing extensive paperwork and being interviewed by federal investigators, I successfully received my security clearance and a final offer during early March.

The Embassy in Madrid is divided into five different sections: management, economic, political, public affairs, and consular.  I am working at the consular and economic sections.

The consular section is divided in the Visas unit and the American Citizen Services unit (ACS). Visas is in charge of processing both immigrant and non-immigrant visas for foreign nationals who wish to travel to the United States.  ACS takes care of American citizens in Spain, from processing new passports to going on prison visits and handling abduction cases.  I am currently working in Visas assisting consuls in processing an average of 200 daily visa requests.  I work with the general public receiving cases, entering passport data, and taking fingerprints. [Read more…]

Front Row Seats at the Trial of Charles Taylor

Esther Brandon

Writing from the Brandeis in The Hague spring semester program

On April 26, 2012 Charles Taylor was convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone on 11 criminal counts. 

Charles Taylor was the President of Liberia, 1997 to 2003. He was convicted of aiding and abetting brutal rebel movements that committed mass atrocities in Sierra Leone during its civil war in the 90’s. The Trial Court found he had helped plan the capture of diamond mines and the invasion of the capital, Freetown. During the movement, over 50,000 people died, while countless others fled the country or took refuge in camps. Taylor is the first head of state to be convicted by an international court since the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

When I first laid eyes on Mr. Taylor, I was extremely surprised by his demeanor. He appeared in a blue pinstriped suit with a maroon tie. During the reading, he sat stoically, occasionally taking notes with a yellow ballpoint pen. I expected to see a man capable of great violence, a person who ordered the deaths of thousands for the sake of diamonds and personal gain. Instead, I saw a man looking a little sad, with no evil gleam in his eye as he was convicted of aiding & abetting with the planning of:

  • 5 counts of crimes against humanity: murder, rape, sexual slavery, other inhumane acts, and enslavement.
  • 5 counts of violations of Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions: acts of terrorism, violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular murder; outrages upon personal dignity; violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular cruel treatment; and pillage.
  • 1 count of conscripting or enlisting child soldiers under the age of 15 years.

His sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday May 30, 2012.

The Office of the Prosecutor used great innovation to prove Taylor’s connection to the crimes committed in Sierra Leone while he lived in Liberia. They referenced radio and telephone intercepts and brought in radio operators who had connected Mr. Taylor’s residence in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, to the rebels in Sierra Leone. Taylor’s head of security, bodyguards and other associates testified about arms and ammunition shipments for use by the rebel forces. Bank records proved tax payments entered into Taylor’s personal bank account that were used for the war effort. [Read more…]

Interview with Florence Levy Kay Fellow Beatrice De Gasquet

Editor’s note: Dr. Beatrice de Gasquet will moderate our discussion of “The Challenges of Global Migration” (this Wednesday, Feb. 15th, at 6:30 pm in the Mandel Center Reading Room).  

Next fall Dr. de Gasquet will teach A Democratic Babel? Language Politics in Contemporary Europe.  The class that will use language to explore topics in European politics such as European integration, the persistence of nationalisms, regionalism, minority rights and immigration. 

What IGS classes have you taught at Brandeis?

In the Fall I was teaching a class called ‘Behind the Veil’ about religion and ethnicity in France. The idea was to start with the law banning the veil in schools (and later banning the full veil in public space) and then talk more broadly about issues of religion, politics, race and immigration in France.  So we looked not only at Islam but also Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism in France to understand the history of religion, politics and secularism and how it intersects with the history of immigration in France. The point was to begin with a very specific issue and draw out the links with larger historical and political issues.

How do you think that these themes are relevant and useful for IGS students?

There were several things that came up especially in class discussions that are relevant for IGS students. For instance, depending on the country, the way people view the relationship between religion and politics is very different. Of course, the French view and the US view contrast quite nicely and this comparative aspect was very interesting to many students. I saw this in the presentations they did. Some talked about religion and politics in Morocco and Turkey so we had nice comparisons with other countries looking at race and immigration in different ways. There was another aspect that came up regarding the relationship between French and US politics.  French politics, on many issues, is in part a reaction to a perceived threat to national identity or independence from either the US or Europe or immigration from North Africa. So we addressed this particular connection between religion and concerns about national identity in France as opposed to other countries such as the US. [Read more…]

“Ich bin ein Berliner”

Josh Seiden

The best part about being abroad in Europe is the ability to travel cheaply. Of all the major cities I visited, Berlin was one of Europe’s real gems. From shortcomings of the German sense of humor to the popularity of bubble tea to evocative instances of Jewish remembrance, Berlin provided the best combination of both outrageously entertaining and more thought provoking experiences.

On my second night in Berlin, I accompanied my friend Aaron to an East Berlin party in Mitte. The entrance to the building was located at the end of a dark alley that led to a series of soviet era giant courtyards. As I entered, I encountered a room full of Berliners speaking German very loudly and making references to antiquated pop culture such as Two and Half Men, King of Queens, and Murder She Wrote. While extremely friendly and fun, one asset that Berliners lack (though they definitely do not realize it) is a sense of humor! The funniest thing at the time was a video of an epic break-dance battle between two boys wearing gold chains and flopping around on the ground like fish in a boat. I just pretended to laugh awkwardly realizing that Germans are always watching, and they find that hilarious.

Berliners are also ardent fans of Hertha, their very mediocre football team wishing it was a European juggernaut. I was told that no trip to Berlin is complete without visiting the Olympic Stadium and seeing Hertha battle it out against a league rival (this was same stadium that Jesse Owens ran his historic race!). While our obstructed last row seats were less than ideal, we were surrounded by drunken Berliners singing and chanting about Hertha BSC, and we soon joined in. Despite a tiny 5 year old child flipping off the other team when they scored, Heartha sadly lost 2 to 1. [Read more…]

A European Summer

Emily Lapworth

This past spring I traveled outside of the United States for the first time in my life. I was on my way to Freiburg, Germany to spend four months in the IES European Union Program. I chose this program because of my interest in international politics and travel, and this opportunity afforded me a lot of both. I learned more about the EU than many European citizens know and I traveled to 13 different countries. It was an amazing experience in every aspect. I made great friends and had lots of fun traveling and visiting cities like Rome, London, Copenhagen, and Tallinn. I went sledding down an entire mountain in the Swiss Alps and I went hiking on the cliffs of the Mediterranean Ocean in Cinque Terre. I visited the UN in Geneva, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the Reichstag in Berlin, and even interned at the European Parliament in Brussels for a month.

My internship was probably the most exciting and interesting aspect of my study abroad experience. I lived in Brussels for a month and went to work at the European Parliament in the office of Zita Gurmai. Mrs. Gurmai is a socialist member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Hungary whose main interests are women’s rights and gender equality. While compiling information for Mrs. Gurmai’s visit to the U.S., I realized that gender issues are basically nonexistent in American politics right now. I also learned that socialism is a legitimate political ideology in Europe, and although it is a dirty word in American politics, many democratic positions are closer to socialism than democrats would care to admit. Europe as a whole is further left on the political spectrum than the U.S., although many social programs that Europeans take for granted are in danger of being cut by austerity measures. The Socialist & Democrat Party (S&D) that Mrs. Gurmai belongs to is strongly opposed to these cuts.

[Read more…]

IGS Conversations: The International Debt Crisis

This fall IGS will be hosting “IGS Conversations,” a series of panels on the hottest current world issues. Global leaders and IGS seniors will the share the stage as they analyze the pressing issues of our times.

Our first discussion panel is scheduled for Wednesday Oct. 26, 2011 at 7 pm and will focus on government debts and their effect on the faltering world economy.

Are the United States and Europe bankrupt?  What can be done about the international debt crisis?  What happens if the European Union can’t bail out Greece – or Italy, or Spain?  As the world economy teeters, should governments be cutting back or spending much more?  And what effect does fear itself have over faltering economies of the West?

We are honored that Mr. Kent Lucken, a managing director with Citigroup, will join us for this conversation.  As an international banker Mr. Lucken has extensive experience in global finance but he also knows European politics well.  In his past career as a U.S.diplomat Mr. Lucken served in several embassies in Europe and is familiar with the roots of the continent’s economic crisis.

Joining Mr. Lucken will be our own Craig Elman and Adina Weissman, both recently returned from studying abroad in Europe. Craig, a double Economics and IGS major, will speak briefly on the debt crisis in Spain, where he studied for a semester, while Adina, a double major in economics and psychology, will talk about the intersection of public perception and economics in the debt crisis in England.

It all happens next Wednesday, October 26th in the Mandel Humanities Center Reading Room, up on the third floor.  Come at 6:30 for pizza and informal conversation, then enjoy the panel and discussion from 7 pm on.

The “IGS Conversations” series is being managed by Joshua Cracraft, a PhD candidate in History who is also IGS’ Assistant Director for Academic Programming.  Please do get in touch with Joshua (cracraft@brandeis.edu) if you have ideas for future conversations.

London Calling, Yes I was There Too

Bryan Flatt

I spent the semester of Spring 2010 working for Taylor Hampton Solicitors, a small law firm in London, England. We received a lot of phone calls and emails from concerned people at our office. Most of them were pulling at strings – people looking for attention, crazies with conspiracy theories, tipsters with no backing – but we followed up on every claim we could in case there was a bite on the other end of the line. During my four months, I got to experience some of the big bites but it was just after I left did the whole world realize that my last bite would end up snapping the line.

Taylor Hampton Solicitors specializes in media law and is located in the heart of London’s legal center. The lawyer I worked for at the firm was named Mark Lewis. Since mid-June he has been quoted in hundreds of publications all over the world. Why? He is one of the first, and one of the largest solicitors (a type of lawyer in the UK) working on the News of the World Phone Hacking case. His paramount case is that of the family of Milly Dowler – the 13-year-old girl whose phone was hacked while she was kidnapped and eventually found murdered. It was the case that brought down Rupert Murdoch’s historical tabloid ‘The News of the World’ and set into motion a chain of events that experts allege may eventually bring down Murdoch himself. [Read more…]

Another Side to the War in Libya

By Tess Raser

Every year millions of people come to Italy to see the Vatican, Renaissance art, and UNESCO sites, and to eat fine cuisine. I studied abroad, in the southern Italian island of Sicily (the largest in the Mediterranean). People come here for the beautiful beaches, Mt. Etna—Europe’s largest, most active volcano – and again, of course, the food. These people are tourists.

However, there is also another new group coming to Italy these days, especially to Sicily. Most of the people in this group are not Catholic or even Christian and have little interest in making a pilgrimage to the Vatican. Many of them did not study Botticelli and Michelangelo in school and are not flocking to the Uffizi in Florence. These people are immigrants and refugees. Before I came to Sicily, I had an interest in immigration in Italy because I took a course on modern Italian culture at Brandeis before going abroad. Immigration is a new phenomenon in Italy as Italians, specifically Sicilians, emigrated to other countries. The Italian government does not know how to deal with immigration and because of this does not have as many restrictions against immigration as other European Union countries do (e.g. France and Switzerland).

With all of this information in mind, and curious to learn more, I decided to volunteer at a center for immigrants and refugees in Catania, during my free time. At the center I taught Italian to the newest arrivals. At first, in February, most of my students were from western Africa, countries like Mali and Senegal.  But then the war started in Libya.  Due to my close proximity to an American military base I would often hear and see helicopters headed toward Libya that was relatively nearby. The second experience I had of the war was one rainy day when I had two new students. The two new students were 17 year old girls of Eritrean descent. They spoke a bit of English and were relieved to have finally found someone else at Centro Astalli that could speak a common language. They also felt comfortable around me because of my age and my familiar East African appearance. [Read more…]

Spain after the economic crisis

by Craig Elman, writing from Madrid

Spain has been experiencing very rough after-shocks since the economic crisis, even worse than that which occurred in the United States.  The unemployment rate has spiked up to 20%, double its natural rate of unemployment (which happens to be equivalent to the U.S.’s current unemployed rate under the crisis).  I live in Madrid, and everywhere I go I see the effects of the crisis: people begging on the street, and even approaching people and pleading for a helping hand.  It’s a terrible site to see. 

The government has also decided to increase the age to receive pensions (from 65 to 67.5 I believe) in order to increase working hours and reduce the public debt.  Although balancing the budget is one of the most essential macroeconomic policies that a government should tackle during a recession, there are several potential adverse effects that could follow.  Social unrest and protests in Madrid have been occurring because the government is essentially cutting benefits for the next generation of elderly people. 

Spain has also become extremely energy conscious and green as a result of the crisis (which happens to be the one positive effect coming out of the crisis).  Spanish households have recently transitioned to more energy-efficient lighting, for example, and the government is trying to reduce motor vehicle emissions by cutting the costs of public transportation and making it more accommodating to the public.  Germany has offered a helping hand during Spain’s crisis, and German chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to help Spain’s economic advisors to the government.  She has also offered to employ Spanish engineer students in Germany who will be looking for work soon. 

While this helps to alleviate the problem of unemployment in Spain in the short run, this is, in my opinion, a poor choice for Spain in the long run.  Economic growth requires technological innovation, and without a new generation of engineers, Spain’s economy would suffer dire consequences. 

There have also been debates about whether or not Spain should forego the Euro and return to the peso, since the crisis has hit other European countries on the Euro as well.  However, abolishing the Euro would create fewer incentives for foreign investment within Spain (I’m not too clear on the Economics behind this, but I have been told that this is a possible adverse outcome).

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